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Mrs. Rumbold : No, Sir. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the people of Bradford elect their local councillors. They did so recently, and Bradford's Conservative-controlled council is doing extremely well.
Mr. Riddick : When my hon. Friend next visits Bradford, will she congratulate its Conservative council on its successful efforts to encourage a city technology college to Bradford? Will she also congratulate Councillor Riaz on his good sense in resigning the Labour Whip and going over to the Conservative group, thereby doubling the Conservative majority on Bradford council?
Mr. Doran : I understand that the scheme is to operate commercially. Has the Secretary of State any plans at this stage to privatise the loans company, and as part of its commercial operations will it allow the sale of lists of student addresses and names and the debts of students?
Mr. MacGregor : The answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question is no. We are still setting up the company. It must be commercial in the sense that we shall have to pay commercial rates for the staff with the kind of expertise we want. It is being set up as a private company and that is how we intend to run it.
Mr. Mans : Will my right hon. Friend consider discussing with the Open university the possibility of extending the student loans scheme to Open university students? During those discussions, will he take the opportunity of congratulating the Open university on the first 20 years of its existence and the graduation of its 100,000th graduate?
Mr. MacGregor : We have no plans to extend the loans scheme beyond where it is. I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that I did indeed congratulate the Open university this morning, when I presented the 100,000th graduate with her certificate. There is no doubt that from many points of view the Open university has been a great success and one which the United Kingdom has been pioneering.
Mr. MacGregor : The council was established by royal charter to promote, support and carry out research in the earth sciences and ecology ; to provide and operate ships, equipment and other facilities for common use in such
Column 153research ; to provide advice and disseminate knowledge in the fields of its responsibility ; and to make grants for such research.
Mr. Mullin : Does the Secretary of State accept that it is important that the Natural Environment Research Council be kept independent of pressure from farmers and food manufacturers and that therefore it should not be merged with the Agricultural and Food Research Council?
Mr. MacGregor : I have already made it plain that I hope to make an announcement on that issue as quickly as possible. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise, as the ABRC recommendation and the report of the Select Committee from another House recognised, that there are many areas in agriculture, land use and on environmental questions where there is an overlap and an identity of interest. Therefore, it makes sense to look at how better co-operation can take place. But I hope to make an announcement on the matter as soon as possible.
11. Mr. Robert B. Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimates he has of the average sum from central education overheads of local education authorities which would be available to schools seeking self-governing status.
Mr. MacGregor : The addition for services previously provided centrally by a local education authority amount on average to £94,000 in 1989-90, which is 15 per cent. on average of the direct costs of grant- maintained schools. Grant-maintained schools have the freedom to choose how to spend most efficiently their share of this central spending.
Mr. Jones : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that it confirms that the additional money will be available, if schools want it, to spend on additional staff or extra equipment instead of on the salaries of bureaucrats and providing offices for them to work in? Does he further agree that it would be available for all schools if there were a big cut in the amount of bureaucratic overheads that schools have to carry?
Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend that this gives much greater scope for flexibility for resources to be deployed as the school wishes--as the head teacher, staff and governors wish--and to use the resources more efficiently. There is already considerable demonstration that that is happening, and that is one of the many merits of grant- maintained schools.
Mr. Fatchett : Will the Secretary of State explain how he equates last week's statement on opt-out schools when he made available in capital terms 42 per cent. more to each of those schools than to equivalent maintained sector schools? How does he justify that when he told the House that there would be no difference in treatment between those schools and maintained sector schools? Is it really a case that the social division of this programe can be maintained only by the political bribes that are involved in that amount of money?
Mr. MacGregor : That is a nonsensical question. There is no social division in this programme because the schools continue to draw, and their character is precisely as it was before. As for the comparison, the hon. Gentleman makes
Column 154a point that fails to take into account many other factors--for example, that the grant-maintained schools are concentrated entirely on the secondary sector, whereas 80 per cent. of all maintained schools are primary schools and are therefore smaller ; that in the maintained sector other sources of revenue are available for capital expenditure, including capital receipts ; and that the maintained schools have to pay VAT. The hon. Gentleman really does not have his facts right.
Mr. Jacques Arnold : When considering the reallocation of central education overheads, will my right hon. Friend consider extending that principle to schools operating under local financial management? Is not their track record one of obtaining more value for money than the central bureaucrats?
Mr. MacGregor : As local management of schools comes into operation, I expect savings to be made in the central administration of local education authorities, reflecting the direct transfer of a considerable amount of their responsbility to the schools.
12. Mr. Turner : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what decisions have been made about the publication of standard assessment tests at seven years ; and if he will make a statement.
Mrs. Rumbold : Standard assessment tests for seven-year-olds in English, mathematics and science will be piloted in a sample of schools this summer. In the light of lessons learned, revised SATs will be produced for the first full national assessments in these subjects in summer 1991.
Mr. Turner : How will the Secretary of State ensure that the tests are used diagnostically to improve education development, rather than being employed simply to pit one seven-year-old child against another?
Mrs. Rumbold : As I think hon. Gentleman knows, we are very keen to ensure that the purpose of assessments, and standard assessment tests, is to help teachers, parents and the children themselves obtain the best possible education, and assessments will be undertaken with that in mind.
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.
Mr. Maclennan : Is the Government's dogged inflexibility a fair response to the exceptional sense of duty shown by our ambulance men when dealing with injured and dying victims of this week's gales and tempests? What greater catastrophe is required to bring home to the Prime Minister the justice of our ambulance men's case?
Column 155moved on the ambulance men's case for more pay ; it is the ambulance men who have not moved at all since their unions recommended, a long time ago, that they accept a 6.5 per cent. increase. The Government moved to an 18-month settlement, which would offer the men increases of between 9 and 16.3 per cent.--a considerable increase that would cost £6 million more to implement in this financial year. That is far from being inflexible ; it represents actual movement.
Mr. Townsend : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when we are faced with the present historic uncertainty in eastern Europe and the collapse of law and order in East Germany, idle talk of a peace dividend is premature? Would it not be prudent for the United Kingdom to look to Vienna for serious and constructive negotiations, rather than slashing our defence forces unilaterally?
The Prime Minister : I agree wholly with my hon. Friend. Piecemeal reductions would be fatal at this time of great uncertainty. In such circumstances, the right way is to negotiate through the conventional force reduction talks in Vienna. That is how we managed to secure effective reductions in the Warsaw pact forces--larger reductions than those on our side, indeed--and also some verification. NATO is already considering precisely how those reductions should be shared out equitably between its members.
Mr Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister tell us her response to yesterday's statement by Church leaders appealing for the Government to set up an independent inquiry with the purpose of resolving the ambulance dispute?
The Prime Minister : Had the right hon. Gentleman listened to my previous answer he would already know that the Government have moved on the ambulance dispute. There is already a negotiating body, which is the right body to conduct negotiations, and the increases that the management has offered would cost the taxpayer some £6 million more this financial year.
Mr. Kinnock : On the subject of the cost to the taxpayer, can the Prime Minister confirm that she has already spent £10 million of the public's money on keeping the dispute going? That is more than it would cost to settle it. Where is the sense in that, either for the public or for the ambulance personnel or, indeed, even for the Government? When the public so clearly support the ambulance workers' case why is the Prime Minister so completely out of touch with the feelings of the British people?
The Prime Minister : The sense is to stick to established methods of negotiation, whether a pay review body or a Whitley council. Once one departs from that, it is very difficult for those who have honoured their own methods of negotiation and, indeed, settled at the amounts they were offered, as 85 per cent. did early last summer. It is a great pity that ambulance men did not accept the advice of their union and settle at that time.
Mr. Carrington : My right hon. Friend will know that my constituents who live around Stamford Bridge greatly welcome the determination of herself and of the Home Secretary to bring football hooliganism to an end. Is not this in marked contrast to the attitude of those who reject all- seater stadiums and, incredibly, even seek to deny that football hooliganism exists? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to use the licensing powers under the Football Spectators Act to close any ground where football hooliganism persists in the street outside the stadium?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, and as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made clear yesterday in his very robust way, the Government accept the Taylor alternative strategy for dealing with these matters in football stadiums, and we accept Lord Justice Taylor's recommendations. During the passage of the Football Spectators Bill we made it clear that having all-seat stadiums could be made a condition of a licence being given by the Football Licensing Authority. It would be open to the licensing authority to do that. I think that the conditions for a licence do not apply to hooliganism outside the grounds. That matter is already dealt with by other measures, such as the Public Order Act, and by some of the changes that have been made to prohibit the availability of alcohol on buses and trains travelling to designated football matches.
The Prime Minister : Of course I am always quick to praise ambulance men, as I am quick to praise other people who work in the Health Service, 84 per cent. of whom accepted pay increases between 6.5 and 6.8 per cent. last summer. We have, in fact, offered the ambulance men, according to where they work or their qualifications, increases of between 9 and 16.3 per cent. over a period of 18 months. That offer represents an increase on the first one, which was rejected.
Mrs. Gorman : In view of the Hansard Society's report on women at the top, does not my right hon. Friend agree that it makes sense that a job created in the home, or elsewhere, that helps a woman to go out to work is just as valid as any other job and should be treated in the same way for tax purposes? While we are on the subject, what about a few jobs for top women in our own Whips' Office and in the Cabinet--
Column 157The Prime Minister : I am sure that all my hon. Friend's comments were interesting, but I heard only the first half. I should like to reply to the half that I heard. My hon. Friend asked for tax allowances for people who look after children. As she knows, this is not allowed for tax purposes, any more than are the expenses of travelling to work or of having someone at home to look after an elderly relative would be allowed. That is the present law. A change in the Finance Bill would be needed to change it. I hope that my hon. Friend will make her representations to different quarters, because I can say nothing about that matter.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary will have heard my hon. Friend's other request, and will consider what further action to take.
Dr. Owen : What is going wrong with Anglo-American relations? The United States President is cutting defence expenditure by 2 per cent ; further, faster and deeper reductions are emerging in the conventional forces European negotiations ; and the United States President is openly advocating a NATO defence review. The Prime Minister refuses to do any of those things. The two Governments cannot even split their differences between six months and a year on the compulsory repatriation of Vietnamese boat people.
The Prime Minister : That is two questions in one. As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, the United States spends a much bigger proportion of her national income on defence than does any other major NATO country. She spends 6 per cent. of her national income on defence whereas, on a similarly calculated basis, we spend 4 per cent., so I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can criticise the United States if it makes some changes.
Any changes that affect the mainland of Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, are made through the CFE negotiations. Any proposals go through the NATO machinery first, so that we are all consulted and agree what should go forward to the CFE negotiations. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman realises that that is perfectly right. I agree that there is a difference of opinion on the Vietnamese boat people--possibly because of America's history in Vietnam and because she lost 55,000 people in her fight there which kept communism back long enough to prevent its extending throughout the area. We shall, of course, go forward with compulsory repatriation.
Sir Hal Miller : Does my right hon. Friend agree that whatever other Governments feel able to do, the main responsibility for maintaining the confidence of the people of Hong Kong, on which their prosperity and stability must depend, inevitably lies with the People's Republic of China? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the conclusions of the draft basic law committee on elections in Hong Kong are hardly likely to add to their confidence? Are we yet ready to say what we will do?
Column 158the only part--in maintaining confidence in Hong Kong, as do the Hong Kong people and as does Britain during our administration until the lease is terminated in 1997. Ideally, we obviously wish to agree with China improvements in democracy and increases in the democratic process in Hong Kong which could be continued through 1997. We shall continue to do our best by the people of Hong Kong and to observe the Sino-British agreement on the future of Hong Kong, in the belief that that is in the best interests of the future beyond 1997.
Ms. Short : Does the Prime Minister agree that the ambulance workers have overwhelming public support? Does she consider herself to be a democrat and, if so, why does she not listen to the view of the people and agree to binding arbitration so that this dispute can be brought to an end?
The Prime Minister : No. The ambulance people have their own negotiating body through which the negotiations should take place. As the hon. Lady is aware, this claim comes from last year when 84 per cent. of the people with whom the ambulance men work in the National Health Service settled at 6.5 and 6.8 per cent. Since then, the ambulance men have been offered an increase, so it is not the management which has not moved, but the ambulance men themselves.
Dame Jill Knight : Bearing in mind that the union leaders of the ambulance men have not always been straightforward in the matter, will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is a question not only of a 9 per cent. increase on offer now, but of an offer that goes back to April 1989? That should also be taken into consideration.
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is quite right. The offer is backdated to April 1989 and for those who have still been working at their posts, considerable back-dated lump sums are to be picked up now, which vary from about £650 to about £1,400. They will be available when the ambulance men settle in respect of their back pay.
Mr. Boateng : Why does the Prime Minister continue to set her face, like stone, against the ambulance workers while giving a £40 million tax handout to the private medical insurance industry? If she were to fall under a bus tomorrow--and it would have to be a brave one--would she call for BUPA or for an ambulance man?
The Prime Minister : As I have already indicated, the ambulance men had an offer, according to where they work and their qualifications, of an increase in pay varying from 9 to 16.3 per cent. Many of them are still maintaining an accident and emergency service--and we honour them for it-- although others are not. I should have thought that 9 to 16.3 per cent. was a very fair and reasonable offer.
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