Since the Secretary of State's inspectorate has expressed grave disquiet at the position in many secondary schools, is it not incumbent on the Minister to do something to remedy the position? Is it not disgraceful, at a time when we need to encourage the ability and talent of our young people, that the Government are denying them that opportunity through cuts in the education services, including cuts in the provision of textbooks? Does the Minister accept that, at the same time, the Government are prepared to embark on expenditure of at least between £5 billion to £6 billion to produce means of extermination? Does the Minister think that they are the best priorities?
In the answer on 16 June I expressed concern about the shortage of textbooks in certain parts of the country. For that reason, at least in national overall planning, we had assumed a 2 per cent. increase in rate support grant for expenditure on equipment and books. I repeat that I think that textbook expenditure is an important part of education. I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman into the latter part of his argument.
Yes, certainly. The answer is that the overall expenditure on books in the country, at current prices, is about £60 million a year. The cost of implementing the Labour Party's proposals would be £400 million a year. Many people will feel that it is far better to spend money on books than to spend six times that amount on merely providing for the State to educate children whose parents are at the moment prepared to pay for their education.
Is it not a fact that many people who produce textbooks and cater for other needs in schools are faced with a catastrophic fall in demand for their products? What sense is there in rendering unemployed people who might produce goods for schools, when pupils are being forced to go without these goods?
There is nothing particularly novel in the fact that in certain areas there is a shortage of school books. Of course, if there is a shortage of school books there will have been a reduction in sales by educational book manufacturers. However, many such manufacturers have substantial markets overseas as well as in Britain. I repeat, we have assumed a slight increase in expenditure on school books. I remind the House, as I have reminded it before, that expenditure was 33 per cent. a year less when the last Government left office than when they took office.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend look into the growing use by schools of textbooks containing questions with special spaces for the answers to be written straight into the book, which is subsequently thrown away? Does he agree that that seems extraordinarily wasteful when contrasted with the traditional method of the child writing the answer to the question either into an exercise book or on to a piece of paper, the textbook being retained and passed on to other children?
I am not sure why the use of such text-books should prevent pupils writing the answer into their exercise books rather than into the book itself. Clearly, one does not want wastage of books by unnecessarily throwing them away. However, the type of textbook used must be for the individual schools and the local education authorities to decide.