|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 788assessment, which represents an increase of 2.4 per cent. over the previous year. That is a record of resourcing local education authorities that allows them to assume and, we hope, discharge their proper responsibilities.
Mr. Garnier : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to achieve such progress is to invite teachers and parents in Leicestershire to visit the three schools in my constituency--Abington, Bushloe and South Wigston ? Will he agree that it is hardly surprising that, outside those schools, there is a queue of parents who come from outside the schools' catchment areas and who want to place their children at those schools, despite the fact that Leicestershire is, as my hon. Friend from Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) has just said, a Liberal-Labour LEA ?
Mr. Squire : My hon. Friend is right. The story that he tells of Leicestershire is the same one that is repeated across the country for GM self-governing schools. I have some good news for all of my hon. Friends : from next Friday, a further 110 schools will formally become GM schools.
Mr. Forth : The most valuable assessment of LMS is that by the schools themselves, the overwhelming majority of whom support its principles and practice. Schools do not wish us to bring back the arrangements previously in place.
Mr. Shepherd : Is my hon. Friend aware that the schools in Herefordshire certainly share the opinion that he has given the House ? However, I draw his attention to the concern that has been expressed to me by the Barrs Court special school in Hereford, which has a very high level of students with severe and multiple learning difficulties. It is concerned that, with nationally agreed pay awards, it may not be able to accommodate those within the LEA assessed grant. Will my hon. Friend be reviewing the way in which local education authorities assess the allocations made to special schools so that they can continue their valuable work, and what advice might he give to LEAs ?
Mr. Forth : Local education authorities have remarkable freedom and flexibility in devising and implementing their local management of school schemes, and special schools' budget shares are very dependent on the decisions made by local education authorities within a broad framework, which should be sufficiently flexible to allow the needs of all individual schools to be met. In particular, they can take advantage of the many concessions made for small schools--those with fewer than 330 pupils. I hope that the school will be talking to the local education
Column 789authority, to ensure that the provision that it receives is adequate to its needs. There is no reason why that should not be the case.
Mr. Bell : Further to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and of the Secretary of State, would not it be appropriate for the House to offer its condolences to the parents of Nikki Conroy who so tragically lost her life yesterday in Middlesbrough in a stabbing attack ? The House will share with the entire nation its sense of sadness at the death of so young and so lovely a person, cut down even before her prime in a senseless and dastardly attack. Does the Minister agree that no blame can be attached either to the management of Hall Garth school or its teachers, that the teachers, not least the head, have coped extremely well in the circumstances and that Cleveland county council has responded magnificently in giving counselling to those involved ? Would not it be appropriate for the Secretary of State to ask all managements in schools to review their own security as a matter of urgency and for him to report back to the House on the outcome of such a review ?
Mr. Forth : I associate myself and all my colleagues with the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I am sure that our heart-felt sympathy goes to all those involved in the tragedy and I share the hon. Gentleman's admiration for the role played by all those most closely involved, not least the teachers. I have been very impressed by the measured and dignified way in which the chairman of the governors and the head teacher have responded to what happened in their school. I believe that the best service that we can provide for all school children throughout the land who, with their parents, will be upset and appalled at this incident, is to examine carefully what happened and draw whatever lessons can be drawn. However, I believe that, as a result of what happened yesterday, all schools will already be looking at their own arrangements and deciding what they can best do. We will certainly be examining what happened to see what lessons can be learnt and what advice, support and help we can give.
Mr. Spring : Is my hon. Friend aware that some 71 per cent. of 14- year-olds receive fewer than two hours' physical education a week in school ? Does he agree that sport and exercise, as opposed to the watching of videos and television, are desirable for young people and should be encouraged ?
Mr. Squire : My hon. Friend must be right about the importance of games. As I am sure that he knows, it is compulsory for five to 14-year- olds to have such games. He may be interested to know that Ofsted, the independent inspectorate, recently collected evidence which showed that, on average, PE took between 7 and 12 per cent. of curriculum time.
Mr. Forth : A total of 101 schemes were suggested by local education authorities for inclusion in the 1994-95 truancy and disaffected pupils grants for educational support and training programme. Half the 86 approved schemes include a "truancy watch" element along the lines of a pilot scheme currently operating in Staffordshire. My right hon. Friend has been much encouraged by the many expressions of support for those schemes from senior police officers and representatives of the business community.
Mr. Booth : Is the Minister aware of the widespread support for the Government's truancy initiative, especially in areas such as Finchley, where there is great support for education generally ? Will he also tell us what steps are being taken to encourage, enhance and train parents to support those truancy efforts ?
Mr. Forth : My right hon. Friend and I lay an enormous stress on dealing with the problem of truancy. We believe that young people should be in school, being educated, and should not be at risk outside school. We believe that that is of the greatest importance. I have been encouraged by the positive response from schools and from local education authorities, which have been involving their community, the police, education and welfare officers and, I hope, increasingly involving parents, on whom rests the statutory responsibility for ensuring that their children are in school and learning when they should be.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Byers : Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the work force at the Swan Hunter shipyards on Tyneside, who, despite the fact that the company is in receivership, have continued to produce a high- quality product on time for the Ministry of Defence with the receiver close to securing a new owner, but with work running out ? Will the Prime Minister, as a matter of urgency, consider steps that the Government can take to safeguard the future of shipbuilding on the Tyne and thereby retain 1,000 highly-skilled manufacturing jobs ?
The Prime Minister : I support what the hon. Gentleman has to say about the workers at Swan Hunter. As he will know, officials are continuing to support the receiver's efforts to sell Swan Hunter as a going concern.
Column 791I know that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) have been active on its behalf. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has told the company that foreign ownership would not preclude Swan Hunter from bidding for MOD work. As the hon. Gentleman will know, all MOD work is bid for on a competitive basis.
Mr. Trotter : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the bid from France is successful, the new owners intend to use Swan Hunter to obtain substantial additional export orders for Britain and that the continuation of Swan Hunter in those circumstances would be good not only for the Royal Navy--by maintaining competition--but for Britain--by obtaining additional exports--and for Tyneside--by retaining an excellent work force ?
The Prime Minister : I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. I think that it would be the collective wish of the House that Swan Hunter should continue its work in the future. I very much hope that it will be possible for a buyer to come in, so that Swan Hunter may be able to continue.
The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, I shall make a statement on that matter in just a few moments. When there is dissent between 22 and 27, there will not be automatic-- [Interruption.] Between 22 and 27, there will not be automatic agreement, and I shall set out the circumstances then in a few moments.
Mr. John Smith : I am aware that we shall have the opportunity to ask the right hon. Gentleman more detailed questions, but I asked him about what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday in the House. Is not it the case that, if no agreement is reached in the Community, the blocking minority is 27 ? That is a fact, is it not ?
The Prime Minister : If no agreement is reached in the Community, the blocking minority at the moment would move to 37. That is the point at issue. After agreement is reached, if agreement is reached and everything proceeds satisfactorily in the next 24 hours, the position would be that, if any country was part of a blocking minority that did not reach 27, but was over 22, that is 23 to 26, it would not automatically be 27. There would be a considerable delay and much further discussion.
The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman misunderstands-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"] I am afraid that he misunderstands, as the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) did yesterday. There is no time limit.
Miss Emma Nicholson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that enlargement of the European Community is in Britain's best interests and that the four strong and stalwart possible new members will not be put off by the knowledge that to fight hard for national interests is still possible when one is at the heart of Europe ?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend will know, we have been the foremost proponents of enlargement of the Community, because we should like a larger and more loosely knit Community. I very much hope that all the four applicant nations will win their referendums and become members of the Community from 1 January next year.
Mr. Ashdown : May I put the question to the Prime Minister a different way ? I disagreed with him at the time, but does he recall saying last week that the principle to which he would wish firmly to adhere was that the Governments representing 30 per cent. of Europe's population should have an unqualified right of veto over the rest ? Will he now confirm that that principle has been abandoned ?
The Prime Minister : No, the right hon. Gentleman is misquoting what I said last week--but he is absolutely right that I am concerned about the legitimacy of Community decisions as an ever-larger part of the Community can be overridden under qualified majority voting. That is precisely why we have reached the safeguards in the past 24 hours and precisely why we have now obtained an absolute assurance that both the thresholds and the voting weights will be reconsidered and redetermined in 1996.
Mr. Devlin : Will my right hon. Friend take time during his busy day to send a message of sympathy to the staff, pupils and parents at Hall Garth school in Middlesbrough, which a considerable number of my constituents attend and which was the scene of the awful tragedy yesterday ? Will he also send a message of commendation to the teaching staff for their prompt and effective action in dealing with the madman who broke into the classroom ?
The Prime Minister : Not only would I be happy to do that, but I think that the message would have the unqualified support of every right hon. and hon. Member. I believe that all hon. Members would wish to send their deepest sympathy to Nikki's family and to the school. The event was horrendous--the sort of random act of madness that it is almost impossible to guard against--and for the families and pupils involved it leaves a legacy of horror that will take a long time to wash away. I congratulate the teachers and others for the way in which they behaved yesterday. Clearly, we shall have to see whether any further guidance can be given to schools in view of that tragic incident.
Mr. Dunnachie : Does the Prime Minister realise that by ignoring the wishes of the people of Strathclyde, who overwhelmingly rejected the idea of water quangos, he is going against his own citizens charter ?
The Prime Minister : I answered two questions on that subject last week and the hon. Gentleman will know that I do not agree with the way in which Strathclyde set up its referendum. It was not possible to retain the previous methods of controlling water authorities and we have chosen the method that we believe is most apt for the future.
Lady Olga Maitland : Is my right hon. Friend aware that council tax increases in Liberal-controlled counties are well above the rate of inflation ? Indeed, in Somerset the rate of increase is twice the rate of inflation, in Dorset it is three times the rate of inflation and in Hampshire it is five times the rate of inflation.
The Prime Minister : I am aware of that in the case of Hampshire and in the case of Richmond in London, and I suspect that if we were to examine the situation we should find a very high level of council tax under Liberal authorities everywhere. It is clear that if people want a lower level of council tax, they ought to vote Conservative.
Mr. Hanson : Is the Prime Minister aware that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has now admitted that the average family tax rise from April will be £9 to £10--double what the Chancellor of the Exchequer says it will be, and more in line with Labour party predictions ? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whom he now believes--the Chancellor or his Chief Secretary ?
The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary was talking about the average wage earner ; my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was showing what the impact on the average family would be. They are both correct.
Mr. John Marshall : May I, as the chairman of the all-party friends of the Northern line group, welcome today's announcement about new trains for the Northern line ? Is not this good news for 400,000 Londoners who travel daily on that route ? Is my right hon. Friend aware that it will be particularly welcome in the London borough of Barnet ?
The Prime Minister : That does depend on successful bids from the private sector. What has happened today is that the Government have given permission for London Underground to hold a competition for the provision of privately financed rolling stock for the Northern line. We shall be looking to the private sector to take on some of the risks of ownership, but I am confident that the use of that competition will pave the way for greater use of private finance in the future.
Mr. Keen : I congratulate the Prime Minister, not just because it is his birthday but because some of my constituents are impressed by the quality of the answers that he gives. However, people often point out to me --I have to agree--that many of the right hon. Gentleman's answers are unconnected with the questions. I think that that has to do with the random access file from which he
Column 794reads. Would not the random nature of the question-and-answer session be reduced if the right hon. Gentleman were to read all the answers first and then we were to ask questions ?
Mr. John Greenway : Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to join me in congratulating the management and work force of Slingsby Aviation in Kirkbymoorside on securing the contract to supply more than 100 training aircraft to the United States air force ? The factory is being visited today by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Does not that order prove that small firms in Britain can compete in the toughest market anywhere in the world ?
The Prime Minister : I was not aware until now of that contract, but I am very happy to congratulate Slingsby. It is certainly the case that a large number of both small and medium-sized firms are now exporting a high proportion of their turnover. That reflects both their efficiency and the fact that the British economy is now acutely competitive.
Mr. Haselhurst : Does my right hon. Friend accept that a traditional feature of life in British towns is their main post office ? Is he aware of the consternation created in places such as Saffron Walden when the post office is threatened with having its services franchised out to a side- street newsagent ? Will he undertake to review Government policy towards the Post Office with those concerns in mind ?
The Prime Minister : I agree that post offices should remain very much a part of life in our towns and villages. That is why the Government are committed to maintaining a network of post offices across the country. What is important is the quality of service that customers receive, and that is what the Government want to see improved in Saffron Walden, as elsewhere. I will certainly reflect on the points made by my hon. Friend.
Column 795Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), whose constituents last week, for the first time ever, welcomed the election of a Labour councillor ?
The Prime Minister : Given the hon. Gentleman's constituency in Birmingham, if the electors did elect a Labour councillor, it certainly cannot be on the back of the record of the Labour Birmingham council.
Column 796Transport to see whether it is possible, before the Easter recess, to have a statement on the road-building programme in the hope that he will announce the abandonment of the hated proposed M12 from the M25 to Chelmsford, which no one in south and mid- Essexwishes ?
|Next Section (Debates)