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Mrs. Rumbold : At a time when we are supposed to be working hard to ensure that children have teachers, it is a great pity that Opposition Members can try only to talk up a crisis, as they did in the summer. There is no crisis in the teaching profession as a whole. There has to be urgent consideration of the difficulties in inner London which we are trying to attack. The Inner London education authority, whose responsibility it is, came late in the day to this problem.
Mr. Thurnham : I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his new responsibilities. Given the growing problem of drug and alcohol abuse, will my hon. Friend require all schools to give appropriate education on the dangers involved?
Mr. Howarth : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. He has made representations to me on behalf of his constituents and the House knows of his commitment to the interests of disabled people and children with special education needs. I am happy to give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. The place of personal and social education, which embraces education on drug abuse and alcohol misuse, is safeguarded by section 1 of the Education Reform Act 1988, which requires the school curriculum to prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.
Column 12schools it is used as a substitute for religious education, as required under the Education Act 1944, to the extent that religious education seems to have disappeared altogether from many schools? Is he also aware that although the Education Reform Act 1988 requires religious education in schools to be predominantly Christian, many local education authorities are producing syllabuses which do not even mention the word Christian? Will he investigate those authorities and make sure that they fulfil their statutory responsibilities?
Mr. Howarth : There is a distinct requirement that schools should provide religious education and that requirement was reaffirmed in the Education Reform Act 1988 which reiterated and strengthened the provision in the 1944 Act. If my hon. Friend can give me any instances or evidence of what he says, I shall be happy to look into it.
--that one of the subjects in the national curriculum must be the history of the Tory party?
Mr. Howarth : As is right, one of the requirements of personal and social education under the national curriculum is education in citizenship. Surely both sides of the House should welcome the obligation placed on schools to educate children to participate in our democratic process.
11. Mr. Teddy Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what percentage of children in secondary schools are being educated in grammar schools operated by local education authorities ; and what was the percentage 10 years ago.
Mr. Taylor : Is that not rather disappointing progress after 10 years of Conservative Government? Does my hon. Friend agree that grammar schools offer a better opportunity to able children from working-class homes than the territorial comprehensive scheme which, basically, creates class segregation in education? Would the Minister be willing to spare some of his busy time to visit either Southend-on-Sea--where we have four grammar schools operated by the local authority--or Northern Ireland, to see how better overall results can be obtained in A-levels and GCSEs through that form of education? Will the Government at least look into the educational consequences of grammar schools?
Mr. Howarth : It is no part of our policy--as it was part of the policy of the last Labour Government--to impose any particular scheme or organisation on schools. Under the Education Act 1980, it is for authorities to put forward
Column 13proposals for reorganisation when they judge such action appropriate to the needs of their areas. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State considers any such proposals on their merits, although he certainly has regard to the academic record and academic prospects of individual schools, and will of course recognise that many of our grammar schools embody a fine academic tradition. That factor, and parental preferences, are always taken into account by him.
Ms. Armstrong : I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. I have it on the highest authority that he is a listening Minister, but that he was not very interested in resources when he was a Whip. The real meaning of the figures that the Minister has read out is that the Government have closed 100 grammar schools--40 per cent. Does that not demonstrate that parents throughout the land are saying that they want their children to be educated in comprehensive schools which are committed to equality of opportunity for all children, regardless of their background, race or gender? Can we hope that the Government's future policy for dealing with the children of this nation will demonstrate a commitment similar to that of their parents?
In fact, I did not read out any figures, as such, so perhaps the hon. Lady herself was not listening very closely. What I said was that we had no dogmatic view about the virtues of any particular system of organisation. We have regard to the quality of schools, and to the particular needs of local areas. One of our guiding purposes is to enhance freedom of choice, so that parents have a right that we regard as proper : that is why I am glad to note that
grant-maintained schools and CTCs, along with grammar schools, add to the elements of choice and variety in our system.
Mr. Harry Greenway : Has not diversity of provision in various types of school--including single-sex schools--been the strength of education in this country? Is it not a fact that what parents and pupils want above all are good teaching and good quality education, and is that not what the present Government have sought, successfully, to establish?
Mr. Howarth : I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who speaks with enormous experience and authority. That is why the twin thrusts of our policy are to enhance choice, and to ensure a proper curriculum that enables children to have the skills, knowledge and understanding that they require.
12. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to ensure that there will be sufficient teachers qualified in all the necessary subjects to teach the national curriculum in its further stages from September 1990.
Mr. MacGregor : I am taking the requirements of the national curriculum fully into account in setting the intakes to initial teacher training, in revising the criteria for initial teacher training courses, in planning the LEA
Column 14in-service training grant scheme and education support grants and in managing the action programme on teacher supply.
Mr. Griffiths : I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he acknowledge that the secondary school staffing survey which has just been published shows that in 15 out of the 25 subject categories there are fewer teachers now with post-A level qualifications than there were in May 1984? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that an HMI survey for May of this year showed that 28 per cent. of English teachers and 27 per cent. of maths teachers did not have a post-A level qualification and that those entering teacher training now, in key subjects such as maths and English, are not up to the targets being set by his Department? Would he like his children to be taught by non-qualified teachers?
Mr. MacGregor : The answer to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is that a recent HMI survey on science in primary schools demonstrates that in primary schools, teachers without the specialist background can, with proper training, perform the role very effectively. I can of course deal now with only one or two of the points that the hon. Gentleman raised. There is a problem, which is shared by all employers, in relation to certain scarce skills where there exists in the economy as a whole a high demand. This is particularly so in maths and science. We are producing a flexible range of policies to deal with that, both in recruitment and in the way in which teachers are paid.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : I have been asked to reply My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
Mrs. Ewing : In view of the current crisis in the Scottish fishing industry, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to explain why the Government are steadfastly refusing to invoke the mechanisms that exist to give access to European Community funding for a temporary lay-up scheme and for longer-term decommissioning schemes? Or is it the Government's intention to allow that noble industry and the thousands of jobs that depend on it to be forced into sequestration and bankruptcy through savage quotas, soaring interest rates and Government inertia?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I--indeed, the whole Government--understand the hon. Lady's anxiety about the problems facing the Scottish fishing industry. We are urgently considering the measures that are needed to deal with the situation, but as she will appreciate in relation to laying-up and decommissioning schemes, one needs to be sure that they would be more effective and provide better value for money than alternative approaches.
Mr. Hanley : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that while high interest rates may be welcome to many depositors, particularly the elderly, they are difficult for many borrowers and in some cases are absolutely disastrous? Nevertheless, does he agree that the battle against inflation, which affects 100 per cent. of people in this country, is even more important?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's last point. He is right to draw attention to the fact that high interest rates not merely discourage borrowing but encourage saving, which is in itself advantageous. But far more important than that, they are a crucial instrument in the fight against inflation.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman should understand well that high interest rates have been used, and are an essential instrument, in the battle against inflation. They were used by the Government whom he supported, although he was not a member of that Government, and it must be said that the inflation rate achieved by that Government reached a pinnacle of 27 per cent., which was far more than anything else disastrous to mortgage payers.
Mr. Kinnock : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman obviously cannot answer the question that I asked, may I ask him to say for how long mortgage payers must go on paying huge monthly sums simply to foot the bill left to them by the incompetence of the Government's policies.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made plain that interest rates will have to remain at the level that is necessary for so long as is necessary to achieve success against inflation. I emphasise and repeat that that is of far greater importance than the immediate short- term hardship and consequence of paying high interest rates-- [Interruption.] The experience of the last Labour Government demonstrated plainly that if there is one enemy of home ownership as well as of saving and living standards it is the enemy of inflation. We are determined to succeed in the battle against inflation.
Sir Antony Buck : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one reason why our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is listened to with such care and attention in Kuala Lumpur is that she, alone of party leaders in this House, is backed by a party which believes in a strong, consistent and comprehensible defence policy?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have no doubt that my hon. and learned Friend is right in that respect. One sure way of diminishing the respect for the Prime Minister of this country would be for her to be supported by the defence policies of the Labour party.
Mr. Ashdown : Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman believe that it is mere coincidence that the average level of inflation for countries outside full membership of the European monetary system is double that for those inside it? How much longer will pensioners, mortgage holders and industry have to pay for the Prime
Column 16Minister's lonely obsession with keeping Britain out of the EMS and keeping in her own hands the power to fiddle the economy for electoral purposes?
"The Prime Minister expressed the view of the Government and that is very clear. There is just one Government view--that is the view of the EMS which the Prime Minister expressed at the time of the Madrid European Council. We are committed to joining the exchange rate mechanism of the EMS and she explained the circumstances. There is no change on that."
Mr. Ian Taylor : Does my right hon. and learned Friend welcome the announcement by six police forces that they are combining to act against the outrageous acid house parties that have been taking place in constituencies including mine? Will he ensure that the Government's proposals to assist the police are brought forward as soon as possible?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : As a fellow Member for a Surrey constituency I share my hon. Friend's concern that there should be effective action against such events. I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is looking at the matter with the utmost urgency and that he will bring forward whatever proposals are necessary.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Wardell : While accepting that part of Britain's leisure class who sit on the Conservative Benches are basking in the luxury of high interest rates for their idle balances, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the majority of home owners and industrialists in Britain would derive some comfort from Britain joining the EMS rather than seeing the daily spectacle of the Chancellor of the Exchequer clinging desperately to the rate of interest like a dead man clings to a live electric wire?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Let me reaffirm our total concern and understanding of the burdens imposed by high interest rates, but our recognition of the fact that success against inflation is not possible if one rules out high interest rates. It is for that reason that we are sustaining the policies presently in place. We have also reaffirmed, as the Prime Minister did after the Madrid European Council, our intention to join the exchange rate mechanism, the ERM--we are already members of the EMS-- but, among the other things my right hon. Friend emphasised, we must first get our inflation down.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Column 17share my hope that doctors will quickly recognise the advantages of the new contracts to them and their patients?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Clearly, the whole House will welcome the agreement by the representatives of the dental profession to their new contract. Like the contract proposed for the general practitioners, it sets out to reward the hardest working who provide services that patients need. The general practitioners have always accepted the need for a new contract from next April, because the current one is some 25 years old. That contract is also in the patients' interests. It encourages preventive medicine, provides more services for the elderly, ensures the greater availability of doctors, and makes it easier for patients to choose their own GPs. We very much hope--and I hope that the whole House will join me in this--that GPs will be ready to accept their new contract in the same spirit as the dental profession.
I refer the hon. Lady to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Ms. Ruddock : What advice has the Lord President for people on income support, as it is calculated that they need to spend 40 to 50 per cent. of their disposable income on food in order to eat a healthy diet? Why have the Government suppressed the Health Education Authority report which proves that to be the case?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The simplest advice to those on income support as well as to other citizens is to continue supporting the present Government who have secured high and rising living standards for the population as a whole, who have ensured that those living standards are shared by those on income support and who have secured an increase in total social security spending of more than one third during their time in office. All those successes would be cast away if the people on income support were to neglect the advice that I have offered.
Mr. Atkinson : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that as more than one third of the Commonwealth member states deny human rights, it would be hypocritical for them to seek to pursue further sanctions against South Africa this week? Will he convey to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the Commonwealth should seek to put its own house in order first?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend will understand that the Commonwealth has frequently adopted standards which it sets itself and seeks to achieve in relation to human rights. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will remind the Commonwealth of those at the conference in Kuala Lumpur. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says about the futility of urging further sanctions against South Africa at present, when we see evidence from what is happening in South Africa that changes are taking place there. I cannot imagine a more futile time to step up sanctions than the present.
Column 18I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Eastham : May I inform the Leader of the House that yesterday I visited my local optician for an eye test? The young woman advised me that, during this Session, eye tests have gone down by 30 per cent. and in some of the worst areas, by 70 per cent. Already opticians are noting the deterioration in the condition of many people's eyes. May I therefore ask the Leader of the House how long it will be before the Government decide to relent on this policy, make some changes and revert it back to the National Health Service as it should be?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I must confess that it defies belief that observations of the kind that the hon. Gentleman reports should be made so soon after the changes of which he complains. I must remind him that if we were to follow the advice of the Labour party and remove all those instruments that have been introduced for increasing efficiency in the Health Service and all the charges currently in place, the Health Service would be some £1 billion worse off, to its great disadvantage.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Janman : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the finding of several guns and a nail bomb at the acid house party that took place over the weekend in my constituency adds a sinister new twist to the saga of acid house parties? Can he give the House and the country an assurance today that the Government will take effective but measured action to ensure that in future these parties will not be able to take place in the ad hoc and covert manner that they do today?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that aspect of that party, but it is worth remembering that the party was largely frustrated by prompt and effective action by police forces. That has been the experience with a growing number of cases in several of the home counties. We should pay tribute to the police authorities for the success that they are already achieving. I shall certainly see that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes account of the additional points that my hon. friend makes in relation to future conduct.
I have nothing to add to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.
Ms. Short : Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the problems that we have with the balance of payments and with inflation are very serious? Speaking on behalf of the Government, as he is today, will he accept responsibility for the errors of economic management that have brought this about?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Lady must acknowledge that there have been substantial successes in Government policy, including sustained success against inflation. The present level of inflation was only once bettered during the
Column 19five years of Labour Government. We have sustained eight years of continuous economic growth, surpassing all records in manufacturing investment, output and other economic indicators. We are determined to maintain those successes. That is why we are determined to maintain the balance and thrust of our present economic policy.
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