Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Mackinlay : When listening to parents, does the Secretary of State have regard to the legitimate expectation of parents that their children shall be taught by qualified school teachers ? Will he review the decision to experiment with so-called "specialist teaching assistants", who are not qualified and simply do not have the skills to teach our children the key stage 1 basics of the national curriculum ? Is not that education on the cheap and a great deception of parents ?

Mr. Forth : No. I cannot recall offhand any of the delegations whom I have met--or the teachers in the staff rooms that I have visited--raising that particular question. I can recall that parents show an interest in the educational outcomes of the education process. They are concerned that their pupils are taught well and in an appropriate environment, and in that we support them. Everything that I and my colleagues in the ministerial team do is aimed in that direction. The hon. Gentleman would do better to concentrate on the outcome of the education process rather than on its input.

Mr. Congdon : Does my hon. Friend agree that, since the early 1960s, too much time has been spent listening to education theorists and not enough on listening to the views of parents ? What parents want, particularly those who send their children to primary schools, is to ensure that their children get a good and firm grounding in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Column 584

Mr. Forth : Yes. My hon. Friend reflects the anger and frustration that are often felt at the domination of education over the past two or three decades by boffins and egg-heads. When he stays, as I know that he will, to hear the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the Second Reading of the Education Bill, he will find that what he has to say is greatly to his satisfaction.

Mr. Don Foster : Given the Minister's stress on the importance of links between parents and schools, is he aware of the recent National Consumer Council report on that matter which criticises the Government's market approach to education, saying that it "precludes concepts of partnership and co-operation between home and school" ?

Does he believe that it was the following of the Government's divisive approaches that led the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) to call for the sacking of his right hon. Friend ?

Mr. Forth : The example that the hon. Gentleman gave pays tribute to the broadmindedness of the Government, who are prepared to fund that council with a considerable amount of taxpayers' money and give it the freedom to report in the way that it has. We will, of course, study its report with great care to see in what ways its conclusions are relevant and useful, and how--if at all--we can meet its requirements.

Mr. Dunn : Is the Minister aware that if he were to visit the county of Kent, he would discover that parents and teachers strongly support the Government's education policies, but give very little support to the policies of our county council, which is controlled by Labour and the Liberal Democrats and which seeks to destroy all choice in Kent ?

Mr. Forth : I suspect that my hon. Friend, with his deep and intimate knowledge of the wishes and desires of those in his constituency and in Kent as a whole, has put his finger on the degree of frustration felt in the county by those who voted in the way that they did last year for a certain set of reasons, and are now rather appalled at the outcome in terms of education. I hope that that has taught a lesson to many people up and down the country.

Mr. Hardy : If people give the Government advice that the Government do not like, will the Minister ensure that a rather more gracious approach is adopted than that of the Minister of State ? On learning the result of a vote on opting out in my area--80 per cent. voted in favour of good sense-- the right hon. and noble Lady decided that Members of Parliament were responsible ; she appeared to deplore our exercise of a democratic responsibility that we are rather more entitled to exercise than anyone in the other place.

Mr. Forth : There are no known limits to the graciousness of my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Blatch.

School Sports --

12. Lady Olga Maitland : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what plans he has to increase the provision of team and individual sports in schools.

Column 585

18. Mr. Barry Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what is his policy concerning competitive sports in schools.

Mr. Robin Squire : Competitive sports are an important part of a balanced physical education curriculum. With the PE national curriculum, for the first time, games are mandatory for all pupils aged five to 14, and an option for those aged 14 to 16. We shall be looking to strengthen further the position of sports in schools as part of the current review of the national curriculum.

Lady Olga Maitland : I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to sport in schools. Is he aware that the decline of sport in our schools is largely due to teachers who regard sport, in the competitive sense, as elitist and demeaning to pupils ? Does he agree that children benefit from competitive sport in learning the skills of leadership, discipline and loyalty ?

Mr. Squire : I agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that she, too, will agree that one of the reasons for the introduction of the PE national curriculum was the need to tackle the anti-competitive ethos that grew up during the 1970s. She may be interested to learn that, according to evidence from the Office for Standards in Education, games continue to dominate that curriculum : more than half the PE lessons in secondary schools last year were games lessons.

Mr. Barry Jones : Can the Minister remember the days when he used to play cricket and rugby union, which are now losing out under his Government ? May we please have more cash for more teachers and more competitive sport ?

Mr. Squire : I am shocked that the hon. Gentleman should overlook the fact that we currently lead the world with our women's cricket and rugby teams. He has written off half the population : I am very worried about that.

Mr. Pawsey : Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the best ways of improving sport in schools is to improve teacher training ? Does he agree that one of the best ways of doing that is to ensure that student teachers spend more time training in the classroom ? In short, should we not adopt the sort of measures that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will introduce later this afternoon ?

Mr. Squire : My hon. Friend, with his wide knowledge of education matters, has it exactly right. School-centred initial teacher training will be an important arm in raising the quality of teaching in our schools.

Mr. O'Hara : Does the Minister recognise, however, that the decline in school sports has a great deal to do with successive Government policies --starting with the imposition of the 1,265-hour contract, and continuing through the imposition of an over-burdened and discredited national curriculum and the selling of school playing fields ?

Mr. Squire : I disagree. I think that the causes are many, but that the heart of the problem lies in teaching attitudes and a curriculum that we look forward to strengthening.

Column 586

Sixth Forms --

13. Mr. Llwyd : To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on the Government's current policies with regard to the retention of sixth forms in schools.

Mr. Patten : Wherever possible, we want young people to be able to choose whether to continue their studies in a school sixth form or a college. Where there is demand, therefore, I hope that

grant-maintained-- [Interruption.] It is clearly a popular policy, Madam Speaker. I hope that grant-maintained and voluntary schools and local education authorities will come forward with high-quality proposals in order to add to diversity in choice.

Mr. Llwyd : Does the Minister agree that, welcome as they are, sixth form colleges are not the be all and end all ? Where there are secondary schools without sixth forms should not they be allowed to develop them in order to enhance the level and standard of education and, very importantly, the calibre of teachers coming to those schools ?

Mr. Patten : I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a particular case in mind at Bala in his constituency. My writ does not run over Offa's dyke, but I understand that the parents of students at that school will shortly begin a ballot about grant-maintained status. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and members of his party will be out there campaigning with the parents to make sure that that happens.


Engagements --

Q1. Rev. Martin Smyth : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 May.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : 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.

Rev. Martin Smyth : While congratulating Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk on the success of the recent elections, does the Prime Minister share with me praise for the South African people who, in the face of terrorism, came out in such numbers to exercise their vote with enthusiasm and good manners ? Is not there a real lesson for any dissident group that it cannot, by terror, overthrow the will of a people dedicated to democratic practice, especially in this nation ?

The Prime Minister : I agree very strongly with the hon. Gentleman about that. I think that the democratic elections have been an enormous success for the people of South Africa, for Mr. Mandela and for Mr. de Klerk. I am delighted that we had so many British parliamentary observers there, of which I believe the hon. Gentleman was one. I am delighted also that British personnel and police were able to help with the elections.

I spoke last evening to Mr. Mandela and assured him of our continuing help as his Government carry forward reform and change in South Africa. What has clearly happened in South Africa, as the hon. Gentleman intimated, is that the power of the ballot box has prevailed over force of arms. That should apply everywhere.

Column 587

Mrs. Peacock : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very great support in the United Kingdom that there would be for the introduction of identity cards, particularly if the cards could incorporate a photograph and a driving licence ?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, I have considerable sympathy with that view. Two examinations are under way at the moment : first, identity cards particularly in so far as social security is concerned ; and, secondly, a wider look at the prospect of identity cards more generally. As I have said to the House before, there are some practical difficulties, but we are examining them to see whether they can be overcome.

Mr. John Smith : Does not the Prime Minister think that it is a quite extraordinary situation that, even before the local government election campaign is over, a senior member of the 1922 Committee should demand, on grounds of incompetence, the resignation of the chairman of the Conservative party and the Secretary of State responsible for local government ?

The Prime Minister : Unlike the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I have not faced senior members of my party emigrating to New Zealand.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order.

[Interruption.] Why ? Because if you are here you must come to order, that is why ; otherwise you can leave the Chamber.

Mr. John Smith : But can the Prime Minister tell us why he presides over a Government in which one Cabinet Minister, the Minister of Agriculture, openly condemns Cabinet colleagues for plotting against his leadership ? Was she right to do so ?

The Prime Minister : The whole Cabinet is completely determined to carry through the programme on which we were elected, and we propose to do so. That means low inflation, less regulation, low interest rates, strong defence, an active foreign policy and moving Europe in our direction. There is complete unity on that matter, much to the dismay of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. John Smith : If the whole Cabinet is united, does not the Prime Minister think that he should remind some members occasionally to demonstrate that fact in their public utterances ? While Ministers are permitted by the Prime Minister to squabble and plot as they please, is he surprised that public confidence in his Government has almost completely broken down ? If he cannot control his own Cabinet, is it any wonder that we doubt whether he can run the country ?

The Prime Minister : I must say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman ought perhaps to look more closely at what is said by many members of his own shadow Cabinet and his own party from time to time. What we are in the process of doing is moving this country into a position of the most sustainable growth with low inflation that we have seen in this country for several decades. That will affect to the good the living standards of each and every person in this country and it will be as a result of the policies followed unitedly by this Cabinet.

Column 588

Mr. Ottaway : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the recent Wellcome Foundation report on sexual attitudes and behaviour revealed that 19 per cent. of Britain's teenagers under the age of 16 were sexually active ? Under those circumstances, does he agree that, where such children have been prescribed contraceptives at the discretion of their GP, there might be cases where it is inappropriate to report that fact to the parents ?

The Prime Minister : I do not think that anyone condones that sort of activity by under-age children. I think that it is the responsibility not only of parents but of other people in responsible positions to try to put sexual activity in a proper context for young people.

Mr. Beith : Does it remain Government policy that British participation in a single European currency is not ruled out but will be decided by Parliament at a later stage ? If so, how can the Prime Minister have a senior Treasury Minister who believes and states that to join a single currency would involve giving up government of the United Kingdom ? Have things gone so far that he cannot sack the young pretender ?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend has made it clear this morning that he fully supports our policy on a single currency, a policy agreed by the whole Cabinet of which he is a member. So that there need be no misunderstanding anywhere about it, let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what that is. We shall retain the right, confirmed in the opt-out that I negotiated in the Maastricht treaty, to make our own decision on whether to move to a single currency for Europe. That will be the subject of a separate decision by our Parliament here at Westminster if and when that decision needs to be taken, and it will be taken then in the light of our interests and needs. It will not be taken now. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has made it clear that he subscribes wholly to this position.

Mr. Jacques Arnold : Has my right hon. Friend noted that the councils charging the highest council tax band-for-band are all controlled by the Labour party ?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I had heard that, and I also hear the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) shouting at me, "Some £40 less." I am pleased that he shouts that out because in front of me I have a quote from the deputy director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies who said :

"Labour figures are misleading. The average bill may be higher not because of higher charges but because the average house is worth more".

Like for like, the Labour party is charging far more council tax than the Conservative party and so, although not quite so severely, is the Liberal party. However the hon. Member for Blackburn wriggles, that remains the case.

Q2. Mr. Donohoe : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 May.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Donohoe : Will the Prime Minister take a cursory glance at his own Front Bench and tell the House who he thinks Brutus will be ?

The Prime Minister : I think that the hon. Gentleman has mistaken the time of year. We are past March.

Mr. Waterson : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that, under the national health service,

Column 589

all patients are treated according to clinical need, irrespective of age ? Thus, for example, in Eastbourne the 25 per cent. of the population who are over 65 account for 64 per cent. of the total resources and bed days.

The Prime Minister : I am happy to accept the figures used by my hon. Friend. I am in no doubt not only that people over retirement age are given excellent treatment by the national health service but that they are entitled to that treatment as of right. They are given the best possible treatment and, where appropriate, are referred to specialists to obtain it.

Q3. Mr. John Evans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 May.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Evans : Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that during the current local election campaign he has had a great deal to say about the levels of council tax charged by various local authorities ? Is he aware of the fact that if Westminster city council had received the same rate support grant per head of population as the borough of St. Helens it would have been forced to charge £1,079, instead of £245, for a band D property ? Will the Prime Minister explain to my constituents how a rate support grant system that throws up such huge disparities is not politically corrupt ?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman makes his usual assertion without any real examination of the facts. If he looks at the local authorities that lost a lot of money under the standard spending assessment this year he will find towards the top of the list Wandsworth borough council, which he neglected to mention. If he wants to know why Westminster sets the lowest council tax in England I can tell him that it is because it has tendered out more services than other councils. It saved £11 million on compulsory competitive tendering--equivalent to £110 on the council tax. The tendering of street cleaning is saving £1.8 million per year, yet the council spends more on arts than any other London authority. Those are some of the reasons why Westminster is so efficient and some of the reasons why the council deserves to be re-elected.

Mr. Evans : On a point of order, Madam Speaker ; in view of the ineptness of that reply from the Prime Minister I wish to give notice of my intention to raise this issue on the Adjournment at the earliest possible date.

Mr. Streeter : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the International Monetary Fund's recent assessment of the British economy as being one of the few economic bright spots in the world ? Is not this in stark contrast to the days, in the 1970s, when the Labour Government had to go, cap in hand, to the IMF to bail them out ? What a difference 15 years makes.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. Not only do we have both inflation and interest rates at historically low levels, but we have exports running at record levels and growth this year running at twice the rate in any other significant European country. This is expected to continue next year. It is a result of the policies that the Conservative Government have followed.

Column 590

Q4. Mr. Salmond : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 May.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Salmond : May this Bench join in the general celebrations and best wishes for President-elect Mandela and the new South Africa ? Do the Government intend to redeem the Prime Minister's clear pledge of three years ago that the Rosyth naval base would be sustained ? Can Scotland have a yes or no answer to that question, and not more waffle ?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made it clear last year that the Rosyth dockyard has a programme of allocated work stretching-- [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait for just a moment. It was made clear by my right hon. and learned Friend that the Rosyth dockyard has a programme of allocated work stretching well into the next century. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman shuts up he will get his answer. So far as the naval base is concerned, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that all defence bases are being examined as part of the defence cost study. Rosyth is being treated on the same basis as other naval bases. The study is continuing, and my right hon. and learned Friend has not yet received proposals.

Mr. Dunn : Given that industrial disputes are at their lowest level for decades, does the Prime Minister agree that the reintroduction of sympathy strikes would cause a nightmare at the workplace ?

The Prime Minister : I have no doubt that that is the case. Last year, the sum total of working days lost was about 600,000. In 1979, in one month alone--January, I think--more than 3 million days were lost. There is no doubt of the damage that sympathy strikes would do. Equally, there is no doubt of the damage that would be done if our trade union reforms were repealed, and people were again encouraged to take their disputes on to the streets rather than to some form of satisfactory agreement.

Q5. Mr. McFall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 May.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. McFall : Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to endorse the remarks by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who said that water in Scotland will never be privatised ? In addition, will he give an assurance that value added tax will never be levied on water and sewerage charges in Scotland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom ?

The Prime Minister : I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that. His party has been running a campaign referring to the privatisation of water in Scotland, yet he has just admitted that water in Scotland has not been privatised. I hope that he will now withdraw everything that he and his colleagues have been saying in recent months. They have been misleading the people of Scotland. The hon. Gentleman knows that Scottish Water is to be restructured into three new public water authorities. I hope that he will now go out and tell that to everyone in Scotland.

Next Section (Debates)

  Home Page