§ Order for Second Reading read.4.44 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Before I explain the Bill, I should like to welcome the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) to his new position as education spokesman for Her Majesty's Opposition. I look forward to a number of vigorous debates with him on the subject.
Education is both a national and a local service. The national character of education is derived from the fact that all local education authorities have the same duty to secure the efficient full-time education of children within their areas. The local character of education derives from the fact that duties imposed on LEAs are in general terms which permit considerable local variation.
The holder of my office has a national contribution to make through his statutory responsibilities such as the power to approve proposals for changes in the pattern and character of LEA-maintained schools. What the holder of my office has lacked in the past is the financial influence to reflect his statutory responsibility. I believe that it was the need more appropriately to reflect in the financial mechanisms the balance of statutory responsibilities between central and local government that was in the minds of the members of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts when it made the very clear recommendation thatThe DES should have the ability, or use existing powers where is has them, to fund direct such new developments on a temporary basis as may seem to it to be desirable.The Bill is principally concerned with implementing that Select Committee recommendation. I look forward to hearing the way in which the hon. Member for Durham, North will seek to explain why that recommendation should not be accepted.
In making that recommendation, the Select Committee gave very careful consideration to the argument that proposals for direct funding for certain parts of the education service might inevitably mean closer and closer control by central Government. The Select Committee stated:The principle of indirect funding had been breached in practice too many times for it to remain plausible as an over-riding consideration.It concluded that the present funding arrangements had become distorted. Its recommendation that the holder of my office should have a specific grant power was based on the viewThat local authorities have a duty to make the best possible provision in the light of local wishes and local circumstances; with Government and Parliament having the duty to see that the overall quality of provision matches national aspirations and that it is distributed with some degree of equity through the country".The idea of paying grants to local education authorities in support of particular items of education expenditure is not new. Indeed, to a limited extent it already exists. The Department currently pays grants in accordance with regulations made under the Education Act 1962 in respect of teachers undergoing in-service training in a number of subjects.
630 In addition, some of the grants paid under other Government schemes, for example the urban programme, go to support local authorities' expenditure on particular aspects of education. The grants available to assist lower-attaining pupils are a particularly good example. The MSC is also making an important contribution through the technical and vocational education initiative. Yet the scope of these existing grants is limited. They were not designed specifically to enable the Government to encourage developments and improvements in the education service, although, as I have said, in certain cases they can be used to that effect. In fact, the holder of my office and the Government are limited, if they wish to influence the deployment of local education authority resources, to using mechanisms that rely upon the money and agreement of other Departments. That is an indirect way of providing some encouragement in the LEA's deployment of resources. The Bill proposes a direct and limited method. I hope that the House agrees that it makes sense.
The aim of the Bill is completely in line with the Select Committee's recommendation and reasoning. I hope that it will be supported by the House for that reason and because of its intrinsic merits. The purposes that I envisage would be served by the Bill include helping LEAs to respond swiftly to new demands on the education service, encouraging LEAs to redeploy their expenditure at the margin in accordance with objectives of particular national importance, promoting qualitative changes and improvements in standards of provision in areas of particular importance and assisting in the financing of pilot projects within a limited number of authorities, the results of which could be of potential benefit to all authorities. Those are the general headings under which we envisage the educational support grants proposed might fall.
I shall say a little about the activities that might be supported by ESGs, but before I do so I shall comment on some of the concerns that have been expressed by local authority interests. I understand the reservations of those who think that the Bill represents the thin end of the wedge—the first step towards eroding the independence of LEAs. However, the journal of the local education world, Education, described the Bill asbending over backwards"—if a Bill can bend over backwards—to allay local authority sensibilities.I recommend that quotation to the House. It is an accurate description of what we have done. The Government are nervous of any action that appears to be excessive centralisation. The Bill's aim is not to centralise but to influence as effectively as possible expenditure by LEAs at the margins.
In response to local authority concerns, checks and safeguards have been built into the Bill. Clause 2 places an upper limit of 0.5 per cent. on the proportion of the Government's plans for expenditure by LEAs on education that can be partly supported by ESGs. Should Parliament agree that such a limit should be included in the Bill, new primary legislation would be necessary if any future Government wished to increase the limit. Secondly, the purposes for which the grants are to be used will be determined by——
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)
What would happen if the Government gathered more money than they spent? Could they keep what they did not 631 use, or would they have to give it back`' In other words, if the Government's 0.5 per cent. raises snore money than they have projects for, what would happen to the surplus?
§ Sir Keith Joseph
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the spending of the limited money envisaged will depend in almost every case on bids from LEAs being approved by the Department of Education and Science. If there were not bids that seemed sufficiently sensible to attract approval by the holder of my office, the money concerned would remain unspent for that purpose. We would learn lessons for our next approach to the House and the policy behind the Bill. However, I do not envisage that that will happen. Judging from previous education specific grant schemes initiated in the period of office of this and the previous Government, LEAs are keen to apply for the money available.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The right hon. Gentleman has not explained to us that the Bill is holding back moneys to which LEAs previously had access. He is now about to force them to apply for a share of what will amount to about £47 million out of about £9,000 million. Some of them will not apply for the money and others will apply for money to use, for example, on remedial education and will be refused it. Is it not a fact that no extra money is involved and that the freedom that LEAs previously had to use moneys will be taken from them and control will be centralised in a way that is alien to the spirit of decentralisation to which I know the right hon. Gentleman has always adhered?
§ Sir Keith Joseph
It is true that the money concerned will be withdrawn from distribution in the rate support grant. The hon. Gentleman may mislead the House inadvertently if he puts the figure of £47 million into hon. Members' minds. Under present circumstances that would be approximately the expenditure identified by consultation for support under the Bill. The hon. Gentleman will have observed that the Government propose a maximum rate of 70 per cent. of any expenditure approved by the holder of my office, at which, and the conditions under which, grants are to be paid to any approved project. Therefore, total expenditure under the Bill is likely to be about 70 per cent. of 0.5 per cent. of the total education budget, which means about £30 million. We anticipate that it will take a little time—at least more than one year—before that amount is deployed by the bids that are attracted.
Should Parliament agree that such a limit should be included in the Bill, new primary legislation would be necessary if any future Government wished to increase the limit.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
The primary legislation refers to 0.5 per cent. of the total education budget, which is the limit to the aggregate of the cost of all the forms of expenditure to which ESGs are directed after consultation between the Government and the LEAs. That 0.5 per cent. is subject not to change by regulation but only to change by primary legislation. I can be categoric about that.
The purposes for which the grants are to be used will be determined by regulations subject to the affirmative resolution procedure to ensure that Parliament will have an opportunity to debate each activity for which the grants might be used. The Bill ensures the right of the appropriate local authority associations to be fully consulted about the operation of the grants, including the activities to be supported. All that adds up to extensive provision for scrutiny of the use of those grants.
The other concern of the local authority interests which may be voiced by hon. Members is whether the Government will be providing new money for education support grants. That thought has already been expressed in the questions put to me.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
The Select Committee debated this subject at great length. The local authorities must consider the Government's attitude to staffing. Do the Government consider that the staffing of schools should be curriculum-led or not?
§ Sir Keith Joseph
We think that curriculum-led staffing is a desirable trend. I am not clear as to how my hon. Friend links that matter with the Bill.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
I was referring to the question which may be in some hon. Member's minds of whether the money involved in the Bill might be new money. That is not the simple question it sounds, because both the expenditure to be supported by the grants, and the grants themselves, will be for determination year by year. For example, the first grants paid under the provisions of the Bill would not be paid until the 1985–86 financial year. The Government are in the process of considering their plans for expenditure by local authorities in that year and their decisions will be set out in the public expenditure White Paper which will be published early next year.
A decision about the proportion of that expenditure to be met by aggregate exchequer grant for 1985–86 will not be made until next autumn. The Government will take a wide range of factors into account — including the expenditure to be supported by specific grants—before making a decision about the level of aggregate exchequer grant for 1985–86. Nevertheless, the grants are not in themselves intended to lead to increased overall levels of expenditure above the Government's plans for expenditure in a particular year. That fact is made very plain in the first sentence of the part of the explanatory and financial memorandum dealing with the financial effects of the Bill. The intention of the Bill is not to increase local authority expenditure on education, but to assist in the redeployment of resources. The purpose of the Bill is to influence the deployment of resources in education by local education authorities.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
If we are discussing new money, will the Secretary of State 633 confirm that he would not need the proposed legislation as we could deal with the matter by giving specific allocations of money as the Department has done in the past? The fact that the Secretary of State proposes new legislation proves that new money is not involved.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
It is not like that at all. The hon. Gentleman is diametrically wrong. If a windfall, be it a vast or small sum, descended suddenly into the hands of the holder of my office, there is no direct power by which that money could be focused upon any specific form of spending except to the limited extent—of which we have taken advantage, as a result of the wording of the regulations under the Education Act 1962, in respect of in-service training—of the small loophole concerning the general impotence of the holder of my office in relation to the deployment of educational resources.
The hon. Gentleman cannot generalise from such a narrow window—given to us by the regulations under the Education Act 1962 — which was only recently discovered by the experts in the Department.
I hope that the results of some of the activities financed by the ESGs, if Parliament approves them, will lead to the more effective use of resources and to improvements in the quality of the education service.
The Bill provides that education support grants could be payable in respect of expenditure for, or in connection with, educational purposes. This wide provision will give maximum flexibility to the holder of my office in responding to the priorities and needs that will face the education service in the coming years. The activities to be supported will be set out in regulations subject to affirmative resolution. At the start of this debate it is important that I give some idea of the scope of activities which, in my view, are the main candidates for support by these grants in 1985–86. These are only initial possibilities which I want to consider in some detail with representatives of the local authority associations. Hon. Members will also have suggestions to make which I shall want to consider.
In the Gracious Speech, reference was made to the use of these grants to assist in innovations and improvements in the curriculum. There are, of course, innovations and improvements which have been and are being pioneered by individual local education authorities. I do not wish to say anything that would tend to the thought that no local education authority pioneers on its own. Of course they do. I hope that the Bill will enable the Government to encourage such local education authorities to expand faster or wider than they might have done, and continue with innovations on which they have already embarked without the Bill. Subject to that recognition of the pioneering activity of some local education authorities, I wish to turn to some areas which the Government consider to be particularly useful.
I shall shortly be issuing a consultation document about records of achievement for all school leavers. I should like to encourage a few pilot schemes in developing records of achievement — an ideal purpose to be supported by ESGs. Following the Cockcroft report, there is widespread concern about the need to improve certain aspects of mathematics teaching in schools. I should like to discuss with the local authority associations whether ESGs could be used to help in the implementation of the Cockcroft 634 recommendations. Some primary schools, including some in both rural and inner city areas, face particular problems in providing their pupils with a rich and stimulating curriculum and environment. Some, in similar circumstances, achieve more than others. I believe that ESGs could be used to promote the spread of good practice.
I also suggest that education support grants might be used to promote desirable development in the management of the teacher force. Suggestions for the improvement of such management were discussed in chapter VI of the recent White Paper, entitled "Teaching Quality". I should be surprised if some hon. Members were not to suggest that grants might be used in a limited way to support the meeting of special educational needs, either through assisting with the establishment of resource centres or providing micro-electronic aids for handicapped children. We all rejoice in the fact that micro-electronic aids have started to be used quite widely in special schools.
The Government have taken initiatives in encouraging developments in information technology in universities and in advanced further education. The grants might well provide a means of encouraging similar initiatives within non-advanced further education.
Following the consultations which will canvass these and other suggestions, I envisage a limited number—possibly eight or nine — of main activities being supported by education support grants in 1985–86. My present view is that the level of expenditure supported by these grants should build up over a period of years and that the level of expenditure supported by the grants in the first year or two would thus be less than the statutory ceiling of 0.5 per cent. of the Government's plans for local authority expenditure on education. We shall have to take into account that build-up in identifying the amount to be laid down by regulations for any particular year.
The details of the Bill will be subject to proper scrutiny in Committee, but I shall say a few words about the main clauses. Clause 1 empowers the holder of my office and the Secretary of State for Wales—I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales on the Government Front Bench — to pay education support grants to local authorities in England and Wales. The precise types of expenditure eligible for grant will be specified in regulations made under the clause, which also provides that the rate of grant paid on approved expenditure will be determined in regulations, subject to an upper limit of 70 per cent.
Clause 2 places a maximum limit on the total amount of expenditure in support of which grants could be paid. The proposed limit is 0.5 per cent. of the Government's plans for local authority expenditure on education, which in 1983–84 is over £9 billion, so the statutory ceiling of 0.5 per cent. would have been £45 million in 1983–84.
That is the maximum amount of expenditure in support of which education grants could be paid. The actual amount of grant paid would be significantly less than the level of expenditure supported, depending on the rate of grant. If all activities were supported at the rate of 70 per cent.—the stipulated maximum amount of support for any area of work—the maximum amount of grant that could have been paid in 1983–84 would have been just over £30 million.
The total amount of education support grants will be deducted from the total of aggregate Exchequer grant, along with the other specified grants, before the balance is distributed as rate support grant. In 1983–84 the total of 635 specific grants paid to local authorities was about £2.4 billion. Even if education support grants had been used up to the statutory ceiling in that year, the total of Government specific grants would have been increased by less than 1.5 per cent.
Clause 3 deals with the making of regulations under the Bill. I have already mentioned the main features; regulations defining the precise activities to be supported by the grants would be subject to affirmative resolution in this House and in another place and the Secretary of State would be obliged first to consult representatives of the local authorities.
Clause 4 deals with a separate purpose of the Bill. The clause is a simple, technical measure which is necessary following the merger of the Business Education Council, the BEC, and the Technician Education Council, the TEC.—I apologise for the acronyms. That is the marriage of BEC and TEC into BTEC — the Business and Technician Education Council.
Full-time courses leading to the higher diploma of the TEC and the higher national diploma of the BEC have hitherto attracted mandatory awards. To ensure that courses leading to the comparable qualifications of the new BTEC will continue to do so, it is necessary to substitute a reference to the BTEC in the primary legislation in place of the present references to the BEC and the TEC. That is what the clause does.
Clearly it would be wrong for BTEC students to be deprived of mandatory awards in the meantime simply because of that technicality. Therefore, local education authorities have been advised that, pending the passage of the legislation, the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Wales, exercising their powers under section 19(1) of the Local Government Finance Act 1982, will be prepared to sanction expenditure on awards to BTEC students. Local education authorities are, therefore, free to continue to make awards to such students in the usual way.
The Bill represents an important change in the financing arrangements for education that is within the responsibilities of local education authorities. However, it is not a radical proposal. Local authorities will remain free to determine their priorities within education and between education and other services. The Government will continue to set out the policies and priorities underlying their plans for local authority expenditure. but the decision about priorities will rest with individual local authorities, having regard to their statutory duties and powers.
However, the existence of education support grants will provide a limited means of encouraging, at the margin, local education authorities to deploy their expenditure in response to objectives of particular national importance. The identification of those objectives will be a joint process, involving both central and local government.
A Select Committee of this House gave added weight to the need for the holder of my office to have a limited power of specific funding. I hope that the House will welcome the Bill as a modest but constructive initiative.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)
I thank the Secretary of State for his kind words of welcome. I am sure that we shall both enjoy ourselves in the next year or so.
It is a great honour for me to address the House as shadow education spokesman. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know that two of my predecessors in this 636 post are now Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, which suggests that being the Opposition spokesman on education is a good launching pad for higher things. However, I reassure my right hon. Friends that I have no designs on their offices. My ambition is to join my colleagues in government and to replace the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) as Secretary of State for Education and Science.
There are two main reasons why I believe education to be important. The first is my personal experience. My education, at Winchester and Magdalen College, Oxford, convinced me of the socially divisive effect of having such a large and prestigious private sector. It also convinced me of the need for changes to open up educational opportunities for all, not just for a few.
The education of my children, first at a state primary school, then at state comprehensive secondary schools and now at different types of higher and further education, has taught me at first hand about the great achievements of the state education system — and about some of its problems.
The second reason why I regard education as so important is perhaps best described in the Warnock committee's statement of what education should be for. It should aim, said the committee,first to enlarge a child's knowledge, experience and imaginative understanding, and thus his (or her) awareness of moral values and capacity for enjoyment; and secondly to enable him (or her) to enter the world after formal education is over as an active participant in society and a responsible contributor to it, capable of achieving as much independence as possible.In short, when we talk about education, we are really discussing the future of this nation and its citizens. What could be more important?
We shall vote against the Bill. That is not because we object to specific grants in principle. Indeed, as the Secretary of State said, there are a number of specific grants already in existence. Some directly benefit the education service, for example, the mandatory awards for higher education students, the urban programme, grants under section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 and the new in-service training grants under the Education Act 1962.
However, the specific grants proposed under the Bill—the so-called education support grants—are different from those other grants. Unlike those grants, education support grants do not represent additional or new money. The Secretary of State made that clear when he said that there must be no increase in overall education expenditure. Instead, the grants will be funded by the Secretary of State taking away, or hypothecating, part of the total education grant which is distributed to local authorities through the block grant. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman is taking away money which local education authorities can spend as they think fit, in the light of local circumstances, and he proposes to use it for purposes which he thinks fit.
Both the Labour-controlled Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Tory-controlled Association of County Councils have objected strongly to the Bill. That is hardly surprising, as it is not as though a great gush of money is flowing forth for education. On the contrary, local education authorities are having great difficulty in meeting their statutory obligations with the resources that are now being spent on education. The figures are clear. By the end of this financial year educational spending will have declined by more than 6 per cent. in cost terms since 1978–79—the most recent 637 year of Labour Government. If the Secretary of State wants to check my sources, I refer him to table 1–14 of the public expenditure White Paper and the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury's written answer of 17 March 1983.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
The hon. Gentleman has not reminded the House that since that date the number of children in schools has fallen by far more than 6 per cent. Their numbers have fallen by rather more than 10 per cent.
§ Mr. Radice
The right hon. Gentleman will be surprised to learn that I was coming to that point.
The percentage of the national cake that goes to education is now lower than it was in the last year of the Labour Government. For the first time for many years, spending on defence will be greater in 1983–84 than spending on education. That reveals the Government's priorities.
The Secretary of State likes to refer to spending per child and the pupil-teacher ratio because, in a period of falling rolls, those figures are more favourable to his case. Being an honest man—I am certain that he is—I am sure that the Secretary of State will also admit that, when rolls fall, concepts such as spending per pupil and the pupil-teacher ratio are less useful as a means of assessing the health of the system than they are in a period of expansion. If he does not believe me, he should at least believe educational experts, such as Her Majesty's inspectorate. The reason is simple. A school can lose pupils and have its teaching staff cut, but still be obliged to maintain the same number of classes and the same curriculum if it wishes to retain the same standard of service.
There is an alternative — cut the service. Unfortunately, that is precisely what has happened, as successive inspectorate reports on the effect of expenditure policy show. The past three reports make extremely disturbing reading. The 1982 report was conveniently published in July—just after the general election. It is as disturbing as its predecessors.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the innuendo in that sentence. The publication of the report was authorised the moment I received it. I did not receive it in draft or any other form until after the general election.
§ Mr. Radice
If the Secretary of State says that he never saw the report in any form before the general election, I accept his word for it. Nevertheless, it was convenient for the Government that the report was not published before the general election. The previous year's appeared in March.
If we are to understand the background against which local education authorities regard the Bill, it is essential that I quote some of the report's conclusions. It examines the impact of education spending on schools, and on primary schools it says thatdeficiencies … were quite commonly noted in respect of remedial teaching, mathematics, science, music and art and design … primary schools were frequently dependent upon parental contributions, not only for 'extras' but to buy books and basic materials".It says that that was animportant factor in widening the differences in resources available to schools".638 On secondary schools, it says thatthe cumulative effects of financial constraint noted in previous reports still put at risk and in some cases undermine attempts to maintain standards, particularly as the wave of falling rolls moves through the secondary sector".That is precisely the point that I was making. The report goes on to say thatshortages of specialist teachers were noted in a quarter of all returns on individual … schools … option choices for pupils in years four and six were restricted … Overall provision of books in secondary schools was judged to be satisfactory in only two-fifths of LEAs … only half the observations in respect of sixth form colleges recorded satisfactory provision for less academic pupils or for those whom a prevocational programme might be appropriate.The report summed up thus:Last year's report pointed out that LEAs and schools were surviving financially by doing less and that they were obliged to take the less in the form it came to hand rather than shaping it to meet educational priorities. Even with evidence of much sharper management, that is the ground that is being held. It is characterised by levels and standards of resources which are sometimes inadequate to maintain the status quo (already limited in many cases); by significant disparities between and within schools; and by schools in general being less that well placed to respond constructively and enthusiastically to the many calls for educational improvement and change that come from the education service itself and from parents and society, and which often require either extra educational range or diversification or both.It is small wonder that local education authorities are disturbed by the news that they are now being asked to turn over what they considered to be their money to the Secretary of State. There is no sign that they are likely to get more money in real terms for education next year. On the contrary, we already know that the Government have announced that they are keeping the rate support grant to 52 per cent. of local authority expenditure.
The Sunday Telegraph of 6 November reported the fierce reaction of the Tory-controlled Association of County Councils to the Secretary of State's £9.8 billion rate support grant settlement for education. The ACC and the AMA have costed it as a reduction of 6.2 per cent. on present policies. The expenditure steering group on education, which comprises members of local education authorities and officials from the Department of Education and Science, has produced figures which confirm that the ACC's and AMA's assessment is correct. The ACC believes that that settlement will mean 12,600 fewer teachers and a 40 per cent. reduction in spending on school meals and milk and no improvements in spending on books and maintenance of schools. That has already been condemned in HMI reports as unsatisfactory.
It is no wonder that the Secretary of State told local authority associations thatthe rate support grant settlement is tough.That is the overall expenditure figure about which the Secretary of State has told us. Local authorities are worried, not simply by the overall level of RSG, but by the tough penalties for so-called overspending authorities.
This is not the time to question the assumptions on which assessment of GRE is based or whether it is remotely fair to authorities which have special educational needs. It is relevant, however, that it is the Tory-controlled authorities, such as Somerset, Buckinghamshire and Kent, which are hardly renowned for being over-generous—Her Majesty's inspectorate criticises Somerset — and many others like them which argue that they have been 639 given spending ceilings which can be achieved only by drastic cuts in educational provision. They have told the Secretary of State that.
In addition to local authorities' anxiety, the alarming prospect of rate capping is on the horizon. I understand that that will arrive at the same time as the education support grants.
Given all those threats, one can quite understand why the Prime Minister is having to call Tory local authority chiefs together to appeal to their party loyalty, and why the Secretary of State himself is facing such determined opposition to the Bill from Tory local authorities. Confronted by spending cuts, tough spending ceilings and in many cases deteriorating education services, local education authorities are extremely reluctant to give away any of their spending to the Secretary of State.
Bearing in mind that nearly 70 per cent. of education expenditure is already accounted for nationally by teachers' salaries, 0.5 per cent. is a more significant amount than the Secretary of State has admitted, as I think he will agree. To get their money back, local education authorities will have to put up at least 30 per cent. of the expenditure on which the education support grant will be paid. In some cases this may put local education authorities over spending ceilings, thus exposing them to penalties. That is a point which has been put to the Secretary of State. In other cases it may mean local education authorities having to cut in other areas. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he wants this to happen. That is what his talk of redeployment is about. Will he tell local authorities where they should cut, in view of the inspectorate's reports?
Local education authorities which are already spending money on activities of which the Secretary of State approves may cut back those activities where, provided they put up 30 per cent., they can get 70 per cent. back from the Secretary of State. That would be the perverse effect of what he is trying to do. Hard-pressed authorities may be reluctant to bid, while other authorities with far fewer education problems may be successful in getting awards. Thus the disparity between local, authorities and between schools may widen.
We have to ask the Secretary of State some detailed questions — and we shall in Committee — about the mechanism for administering these awards. He has told the House very little about that. The Secretary of State quoted the Select Committee in his support. I hope that I shall be supported by those members of the right hon. Gentleman's party who served on the Select Committee when I point out that the report makes it clear that the kind of educational specific grant that they were recommending was for "pump priming", to use their phrase, or additional money. They were not considering a scheme such as that which the Secretary of State has put into the Bill.
I warn the Secretary of State that the danger is that by using local authority money to finance his grant he will so discredit the concept of specific grants that local education authorities will become hostile to any kind of education support grant, even if it is new money.
I come to the right hon. Gentleman's reasons for introducing education support grants now. The Bill gives very little clue. If the Bill becomes law,the Secretary of State will be able to pay grants for any kind of expenditure that he thinks would be good for education, provided that it is approved by an affirmative resolution of the House.
640 We all know that successive Secretaries of State for Education and Science have been concerned to acquire greater weight in the traditional see-saw between the Department of Education and Science and the local education authorities. This is not new. We are also told that this Secretary of State and his Department have become extremely jealous of the initiatives taken by other Departments and educational bodies, including the Department of Industry, the Department of the Environment and especially the Manpower Services Commission over the youth training and technical and vocational education initiative schemes.
The House must ask itself what activities this Secretary of State is likely to support. We have heard from him today about that, and his Department has issued to the press certain items on his shopping list. We do not quarrel with some of those items, including action on the Cockcroft report on the provision of mathematics and mathematical teaching and the provision of micro-electronic equipment to very seriously physically handicapped children, but I have to warn the right hon. Gentleman that we are far more doubtful about some of the other initiatives which apparently he has in mind. We are especially sceptical about his attempt to enter by the back door what one of his Conservative predecessors, Lord Eccles, called "the secret garden" of the curriculum.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has recognised the pioneering activities of a number of local authorities, and I mention the inner London authority, especially on race relations, education for disadvantaged children and education for girls. The right hon. Gentleman is right to do that, but we are somewhat sceptical because 'we see from the inspectorate's reports that great damage is being done to the curriculum in many schools by the decline in education spending against the background of falling rolls. We are also critical of the right hon. Gentleman's ad hocery. He gives a bit for mathematics, a bit for the TVEI and and a bit forthose pupils for whom examinations at 16 were not designed.It is a rag-bag of proposals.
It is important to look at examinations and curricula together and not separately, as the Secretary of State seems to imply in his decision to close down the Schools Council and set up separate bodies for examinations and curricula. We are reminded by the Select Committee that examinations starting with universities and polytechnics down to A and O-levels and CSE still dominate and set our curriculum.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State goes round making speeches on behalf of the so-called non-academic 40 per cent., though his definition is at the same time both too optimistic and too pesimistic. If looked at strictly from the point of view of five O-level passes, 75 per cent. do not achieve it. That must cast some doubt on the usefulness of that approach. On the other hand, as the Select Committee said, many of the so-called non-academic 40 per cent. take one subject or other at either CSE or O-level. So 40 per cent. is a somewhat arbitrary figure.
In the right hon. Gentleman's approach, what also needs close watching is his implicit assumption that the 40 per cent. need only a narrow technical training, when most experts point out that no one knows precisely what skills will be needed in our uncertain future and that what is required is a broad education, including an awareness of technology, not just for the so-called non-academic 40 per 641 cent., but for all young people. It might have been good for both the Secretary of State and me if we had had more technical education when we were young.
The curriculum must prepare all young people to face the world of work and to take advantage of further education. That means that we must have a broader education system.
I hope that the Secretary of State can reassure the House that his education support grants will not be used to stimulate the setting up of selective schools. If that is not his intention, it would be helpful if he told his junior Minister, the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), to stop making weekend speeches exhorting local authorities to go back to grammar schools, which is what the hon. Gentleman has been doing.
§ Mr. Radice
It does not matter if the hon. Member for Dartford looks silly. What is important is that he makes the Secretary of State look silly. As the recent Solihull fiasco shows, what he says is also deeply unpopular with parents, including Conservative parents.
In conclusion, I want to say a personal word to the Secretary of State. I hope he will not mind my saying that he is a strange mixture of contradictory ideas and notions. We see in the Bill how the Secretary of State—he is a believer, and he repeated it this afternoon, in decentralised decision-making — is trying to increase the power of central Government at the expense of local government. Then there is the problem that, as a former Fellow of All Souls—or is he still a Fellow?
§ Mr. Radice
That makes my point all the stronger—he must believe in high standards of academic research. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman cannot bring himself to reject publicly a deeply-flawed piece of research by the so-called National Council for Educational Standards. I wish that he would do that.
The right hon. Gentleman shows great concern for the less academic 40 per cent., but much of his time and a considerable amount of money have been devoted to encouraging not only the brightest, but the most privileged of our children. He has a genuine personal compassion and tolerance of other points of view. Nevertheless, he was the Minister who told the Institute of Directors:Schools should preach the moral virtues of free enterprise and the pursuit of profit.The right hon. Gentleman's record as a Minister, as he characteristically admitted, has not always been totally successful. In particular, I have in mind his support in previous posts for high-rise flats and his well-known reorganisation of the National Health Service, which I remember when I first came to the House. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we want to assist him to be a successful Secretary of State for Education and Science. Anything that he does to devote more resources to the state system of education and to widen educational opportunity for all our children will get our support. On the other hand, if he continues to cut expenditure on education and to 642 diminish educational opportunities, and if he continues to encourage private education and permit selection in the state system, we shall oppose him fiercely and implacably.
§ Mr. Radice
No, I shall not give way. I have only one more sentence.
The Labour party is the party of state education, widening educational opportunities, and achieving a good standard of educational achievement, not just for a few but for all. I give notice that we intend to press the issue of education and the need to improve it, not only in this Chamber, but outside. We intend to join parents, teachers, local councillors and pupils in a common campaign for a better education system for all our children.
§ Mr. Timothy Wood (Stevenage)
I am pleased to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For some time I have been one of that dark-suited band elected in June, witnessed by a correspondent of The Times sitting silently before him.
It is both an honour and a pleasure to follow the precedent of describing my constituency and predecessors. The constituency of Stevenage combines urban and country areas. The borough of Stevenage was built largely under the guidance of the Stevenage development corporation. To the east and south of the town is attractive countryside with several small villages.
Originally, Stevenage was a Hertfordshire coaching town on the Great North road, with many inns for the weary traveller. The A1(M) now bypasses the town, but much of the old high street remains to remind the visitor of its historic past.
The growth of the new Stevenage has taken place over the past 35 years. Its industry reflects the modern age. British Aerospace, with 9,500 employees, dominates the scene. Stevenage is the headquarters of the dynamics division of this major modern firm, and there it develops missile systems and satellites. The employer with the next largest presence is but one-tenth of the size—ICL. It and numerous other firms reflect the trend towards electronics and other modern industries.
The rural areas of the constituency consist of small parts of the north and east Hertfordshire districts. To the south of Stevenage lie the larger villages of Knebworth and Cadicote, and to the east there is undulating countryside stretching to the A10, with numerous small and charming villages. As the representative of the constituency, I have to reconcile the hopes, fears and concerns of both country and town dwellers.
The new constituency of Stevenage comprises parts of three former constituencies. The largest part formed about half of the former Hertford and Stevenage constituency. I want to pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who has combined his work for his substantially changed constituency with much good advice and help to me. It would be an omission, of course, if I failed to mention the previous incumbent of the Hertford and Stevenage constituency, Mrs. Shirley Williams. Her hard work for Stevenage is still well remembered, but her defeat in 1979 may well have contributed to the creation of the Social Democratic party.
The villagers of Knebworth and Codicote were formerly in the Hitchin constituency, then most ably 643 represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Stewart). The more eastern reaches of the constituency were included in the Hertfordshire, East constituency, represented by Sir Derek Walker-Smith, who has now entered another place as Lord Broxbourne. To follow in the footsteps of my predecessors is an honour and a challenge. I can only hope to emulate them in their able representation of their constituents' interests.
I turn now to the Bill before us, and I hope to avoid being too controversial. If I understood the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) aright, the Bill is not a matter of too great controversy. We all know that Opposition Members would like to spend more money and that Government Members realise that there needs to be restraint on public expenditure. That, I think, is not a matter of controversy.
Concern has been expressed that the Bill will stimulate the centralisation of education provision. It has been suggested that local education authorities will be the losers and that, as a result, so will schools and other local education provision. However, although education authorities—like many other groups—have of necessity experienced budgetary constraints, I believe that this move can be of considerable benefit. In the provision of housing, sporting and arts facilities the responsibilities of local authorities have been supplemented by initiatives from other sources. To have only the local authority as the source of funding and initiative almost inevitably lowers the variety and originality of suggestions that might be implemented. That does not imply criticism of local authorities; it is simply an appreciation that the greater the sources of initiative, the better are the prospects.
I have spent much time during the past few months talking to firms both large and small in my constituency, many of whom expressed worries about the degree to which our education is fitting young people to fill the jobs and opportunities there may be for them. Several major firms told me that, even with the current high unemployment, they are experiencing extreme difficulty in recruiting key people with the necessary training and skills. Some of these firms were highly critical of our education system at schools, colleges of further and higher education, and universities.
Those firms have contrasted our education system with the systems of our international rivals, where the orientation of education is more often inspired by the need to maximise a country's industrial success and prosperity. I am, of course, aware that such comment has been made for 20 or 30 years, or more. However, the tragedy is that adverse comment has resulted in a negligible change of approach. The changes have been dismally slow. One can still find many schools and other educational institutions where the concept of working in industry is anathema and where profitable industry is regarded with suspicion and disdain.
The case for continued innovation in our education system is overwhelming. The rate of scientific and technological development in the world today means that not only must older disciplines be re-evaluated and refined. but that new techniques must be, introduced for teaching in the classroom and elsewhere. There is no doubt that in my constituency of Stevenage various initiatives of the Department of Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry have been widely welcomed and actively pursued. Computer classrooms have been 644 introduced in various schools and a technical and vocational education initiative scheme is under way. An information technology centre has also been established.
However, the paradox is that such initiatives emanate from Departments other than the Department of Education and Science. The powers that the Bill seeks to confer on the Secretary of State will change that. For that reason, I warmly welcome the Bill. I hope that when it is enacted the various schemes and initiatives that are pursued by the Secretary of State will act as a bridge between our education system on the one hand and industry and commerce on the other. As the nature of our industrial society alters, so must our education system be developed to meet its requirements. If we involve industry and commerce both locally and nationally in the development of new schemes, both our education system and our prosperity will be the better for it.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton)
It is always a great privilege and pleasure to speak after a maiden speaker. However, it is very rare to follow, in effect, two maiden speakers: the hon. Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) and my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice).
I am sure that the whole House will agree that the speech of the hon. Member for Stevenage was in the best tradition of maiden speakers. It was a particular pleasure to listen to it, as the hon. Gentleman and l have several things in common. Both his constituency and mine are within new town areas and no doubt have similar problems. Modestly, the hon. Gentleman did not tell the House that he has had considerable experience of local government, having been for many years a member of Bracknell council and, I believe, leader of it before becoming a Member of Parliament. I had similar experience in local government before I came to the House. However, whereas I came to the House as one of dozens of lawyers—they are two a penny on both sides of the House — the hon. Gentleman's discipline is computer studies. In the modern world his expertise will be invaluable to our debates. Therefore, I warmly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his speech, and wish him not only success but happiness here. This is a very happy place in which to work.
Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North—it is difficult to get used to the new constituencies—and I have something in common. Like me, he was once that humble figure a Parliamentary Private Secretary, and was at the Department of Education and Science when I was a Minister there. He always worked assiduously and hard for the Secretary of State, and I am sure that the experience that he gained during those three years will be invaluable to him in his duties as a Front Bench spokesman. Indeed, that was evident in his first speech as spokesman today.
The Bill is a viperous little measure. It is another step towards the erosion of local government by central Government, and must be seen in that context. 'The Secretary of State was at pains to stress that it involved only £30 million, but that is very significant given what the Government are doing to local government and democracy. There have already been attacks on local government in general. Education is one of the main services provided by local government. I refer hon. Members to the local government Acts of 1980 and 1981.
645 Central Government have now made proposals for the rate capping of all authorities, thus forcing local authorities into an expenditure mould set by Government by denying them their inherent centuries-old right to raise their own taxation.
Today, a leader article in The Guardian pointed out the dangers to the inner London education authority from the Government's proposals to abolish the Greater London council and to create a new ILEA which will be rate capped. If the Government do not like the composition of local authorities, they simply abolish them, just as they are doing with the metropolitan counties and the GLC. Thus, the Bill is not so much an aid to educational research as a further attack on local democracy.
§ Mr. Pawsey
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government are urging the abolition of the metropolitan counties not because they dislike them, but because they are wasteful and inefficient? That is the basic reason for wanting to get rid of them.
§ Mr. Oakes
I suppose that it is a pure chance that all those metropolitan counties happen to be firmly Labour controlled. If some of them were Conservative controlled, the Government might have a different approach to them.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North said, the local authority associations oppose the principle of the Bill. That includes the Association of County Councils, of which I am an honorary vice president. The overwhelmingly Conservative controlled ACC regards the Bill with the greatest possible suspicion, because no new money is bring provided under it. If the amounts involved are so modest — £30 million at the maximum, and probably much less for several years—why take it out of local government money? Why not provide such money in a pump-priming exercise? That is what the Education, Science and Arts Committee was talking about. I know of nowhere in the Select Committee report where it is suggested that pump-priming should be carried out at the direction of the Secretary of State with local authority money. The Bill is robbing many Peters to pay a few Pauls who are favoured by the Secretary of State. For that reason alone, the local authority associations are very concerned about the Bill.
Has the Secretary of State considered whether the Bill might be counterproductive? For instance, if I were the chairman of an education committee I would say that certain projects were highly favoured by the Secretary of State. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned microcomputers to aid disabled children. As chairman of an education committee, I would say that I had intended to spend quite a lot of money on those microcomputers, but shall not do so now and will spend the money elsewhere. After all, the Secretary of State regards that issue as important and will provide 70 per cent. of the cost if we go along with his scheme. I wonder whether the Secretary of State, with all his wisdom and expertise, is not being a little naive about the reaction of local authorities to such specific grants, especially when those local authorities are strapped for money for the many schemes that they have to consider.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
What the hon. Gentleman has said about the attitude of local education authorities hardly squares with their statement at the recent 646 meeting of the Council of Local Education Authorities that they would very much welcome improved partnership arrangements with the Department of Education and Science.
§ Mr. Oakes
But where is the partnership in an arrangement where the Secretary of State takes upon himself the power to decide educational needs and who shall receive the money? Partnership implies two people talking together. Although the Bill mentions consultation, we all know what that means in Government-local authority relationships.
The Secretary of State admitted that the Bill marks a significant change — indeed, it certainly does in the relationship between central and local government in the provision of educational services. Does not the Secretary of State believe that local authorities read reports, such as the Cockcroft report? Is he not aware that local authorities are concerned about mathematics education in their areas? They want to spend money to put that right. They do not need to be led by the nose by the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State was vague when he described how he would use the money. He mentioned microprocessors and Cockcroft. The £30 million will go nowhere towards the few items that he mentioned. It will not even provide for pilot schemes throughout England and Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North was right to draw attention to the tremendous powers that the Bill gives the Secretary of State. He could decide that it was educationally advantageous to reintroduce selection, and therefore aid those authorities in favour of that. Even worse, he could decide that some local authorities providing places outside the state system should be assisted from the £30 million.
The Bill is a step in the wrong direction for both local democracy and educational provision. At the end of the day it might prove to be counterproductive to the true aims of the Secretary of State.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)
It is a pleasure to be the first Conservative Member to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) on an excellent maiden speech. He mentioned his constituency, which is not far from mine. Stevenage relies on the appliance of science, successfully carried out. My hon. Friend mentioned his predecessors, but none of them had his scientific background. His contribution to debates, especially education debates, will be warmly welcomed. We are bound to have a number of debates on how science and industry tune in with education. We all welcome him to the House and look forward to hearing him in education and other debates.
I am also the first Conservative Back Bencher to speak following the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) from the Opposition Front Bench. In the past we frequently discussed industrial relations matters. I hope that he enjoys his education brief. I note that he intends to see the job through and is not looking for additional responsibilities.
I welcome the Bill because, for the first time, it closely involves the Secretary of State and his Department in the curriculum. The curriculum itself is changing, and must change quickly as new technologies and industrial processes advance. The Bill should be seen in the context of the new curriculum development board and the new examinations board. It should not be seen in isolation.
647 The Bill owes a great deal to the Select Committee report on the curriculum and examinations, with special regard to 14 to 16-year-olds. It brings together recommendations 62 and 63. Recommendation 62 refers to the need for the DES touse existing powers where it has them, to fund direct such important new developments on a temporary basis.Recommendation 63 refers to the need for more direct funding for in-service training. The Bill puts those two recommendations together and uses the same mechanism for both purposes.
The Select Committee was opposed to the long-term involvement of the DES in curriculum developments and funding. It was in favour of a degree of pump priming. The DES has not yet accepted recommendation 63, which is that the Department should agree to 85 per cent. of direct funding for in-service training.
There is no new money in the Bill. However, the position does not rest there—there could be new money. A press notice from the DES on 14 March, outlining forthcoming legislation, said:The needs for which the grants could be applied, however, would be taken into account by the Government in arriving at their planned level of expenditure on education in a particular year.In other words, the curriculum and in-service demands from local education authorities, or those arising from negotiations between the DES and the LEAs, could trigger more money in the totality of education spending and grants as referred to in that press notice.
As no new money is involved, the DES feels that there is too large a gap between high and low spenders and that there is a need to balance that. When the Bill reaches Committee we must ask whether local education authorities are spending money on the wrong things, or whether they are not spending money on DES priorities, or whether it is a combination of both.
The advantage of some central control over education initiatives and in-service training is that at a time of financial constraints, as at present, there can be a degree of parity among local education authorities. The question is how the Bill will give the Secretary of State power to operate any attempt at equalisation of spending. Will the Department elicit proposals from local education authorities? If they are currently spending money unwisely, will they be told what not to do to follow DES priorities?
It is also a problem to interpret parity. The Select Committee suggested that the distribution of in-service allocations should be according to some agreed formula, such asthe incidence of falling rolls, minority ethnic groups and London weighting.Will the Secretary of State hold discussions with LEAs about the appropriate way of weighting notional allocations under the Bill?
It is early days, and the Bill is only at its Second Reading stage. What other criteria might be used by the Secretary of State when considering how the money will be distributed — for example, school population, the historic level of provision by an education authority, the academic and achievement indicators and statistical measures of the ability to hire teachers?
How will local education authorities claim money under the Bill? Will they be able to claim funding for existing provision and/or provision that they would have made anyway? I assume that the answer to both those 648 points is in the affirmative, because it has been said that the allowance of money in the initial stages for such funding will come from the rate support grant. If the rate support grant has been reduced substantially because a local authority has got itself into the penalty zone, how will that match in with central funding as a result of the Bill? Will the Secretary of State weight grant according to the penalties imposed on local education authorities either now or previously? — [Interruption.] Opposition Members appear to be amused by that, but local education authorities can change. Only one or two by-elections in certain wards of certain authorities are needed for a change of political control. If there has been a penalty in the past, will a change of political control be taken into account when considering whether a local education authority should be entitled to central funding?
The Bill says:The increase, if any, in … manpower will be very small.How will the effectiveness of the programmes funded under the Bill be monitored? I assume that Her Majesty's inspectorate will be responsible and that therefore the senior chief inspector will be consulted on how he will carry out his work under the Bill and on whether he will need new staff or whether existing staff will need to be retrained as a result of the new central funding.
In recommendation 53, which is relevant to the effectiveness and monitoring of the Bill, the Select Committee said:Her Majesty's inspectorate should monitor in-service provision and initiate regular surveys of good practice in in-service training and publish the results.The Government's response last year was that they expected that there would bea survey of the volume and cost of local authority in-service training provision in 1983.I imagine that when the Government wrote that they had not drafted the Bill, and therefore that recommendation 53 on the monitoring and the publishing of results will be altered somewhat following publication of the Bill.
Another reason why the Select Committee was in favour of what is proposed is that it felt that it was time the Department of Education and Science should have power itself to fund new developments in the curriculum. If one studies the list of what other Departments do in the education world, it is obvious that there was pressure for the Department of Education and Science to take some powers to itself. It has been mentioned that the Manpower Services Commission does the technical and vocational education initiative, and that the microelectronics programme is done by the Department of Industry——
§ Mr. Radice
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Select Committee in its first proposal was proposing pump priming or new money? Is that not a different proposal from that being put forward this afternoon?
§ Mr. Madel
The hon. Gentleman has taken me back to an earlier part of my speech. At first sight that could be the case, but, bearing in mind the press statement of March 1983—I do not wish to requote it and detain the House — and depending on what local authorities come forward with, the Government have said that that will be borne in mind when considering the total amount to be spent centrally on education. At first sight the hon. Gentleman may be right, but first sight is not necessarily correct sight in this case.
The Home Office has section 11, most of which is spent on education. The Department of Industry does the 649 microelectronics programme. The Department of the Environment has its partnership programme, the Department of Employment has the careers service, and the Home Office does the urban programme. Therefore, it is only sensible and correct that the Department of Education and Science should have some powers itself.
We said in the Select Committee report that the sheer complexity of the education service today requires that the principal Department should carry out some funding of the curriculum. We asked the Government for their view on the complexity of the education service, and they replied:The Government endorse the view of the Committee … that the 'sheer complexity of the education service requires an exceptionally high level of involvement on the part of the specialist department in the forming of expenditure plans.'What might qualify for central funding? I believe that three things must be considered. First, we are told that the Secretary of State is involved in discussions with the Manpower Services Commission on new initiatives by the education service to help the unemployed. That will need central funding. Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned rural areas and what might be done in that respect. I hope that local education authorities have heeded his words and will think twice before shutting some of the rural village schools, as some local education authorities have been far too keen to do. Thirdly, as the youth training scheme develops, there will be an extra dimension to the further education service provided in this country. I am convinced that, as young people finish YTS, many will want to go on to further education. That, too, will open the way for additional central funding from the Department of Education and Science, because in a year's time local education authorities will not necessarily be able to fund and to make provision for some of the demands on the further education service.
The Bill is but a small step, but it is an essential step when one bears in mind what we are trying to do to improve the education service. It can lead to additional money and additional initiatives. It is very much in line with the recommendations of the Select Committee, and, as that Committee was all-party and reached unanimous agreement on this issue, I hope that the Opposition will not divide the House, but will support the Bill.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)
I compliment the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) on a great example of criticism in code. I should like to be the first from the Liberal Benches to congratulate the hon. Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) on his translation from pinstripe trappism to being a walking, talking, fully-fledged Back Bencher with a maiden speech out of the way. It was a good, careful, intelligent and uncontroversial speech, the first part of which would have made Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and the AA guide proud of him. If I did not totally agree with the end of his speech on education, I listened with interest and look forward to hearing many more speeches from him. I, too, hope that he will enjoy his sojourn in the House.
I should also like to say how much I appreciated the speech of the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) who represented Chester-le-Street when I represented Isle of Ely. We have both changed but I have 650 not changed in my admiration of his intellect, and we who speak on education in the House welcome a man who puts education before taunting the enemy. I was pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman's speech.
As the Secretary of State said, the Bill is a minor measure. We who sat on this Bench as £1 billion went through on the nod to sustain fortress Falklands, who sit helplessly as £17 billion is to be spent on Trident and who read in The Observer yesterday that £168 million was wasted in a planning blunder over a secret headquarters for the Navy must admit that £48 million, which works out at £70,000 per constituency, or the loss of five or six teachers in each constituency, is small beer. I am concerned about from where the money is coming. We object to this trend in legislation—the interference with, instead of greater support for, local education authorities.
The Secretary of State talked about local variations. Would that we had the money to effect them. Local education authority budgets are so fully committed that there is no opportunity to have the input of local excellence that was the idea and ideal of the 1944 Act.
The House will accept that the Association of County Councils is more Conservative than it is anything else. It said:The educational service will not benefit from thisand I mention only that one sentence from its comments on the subject because, when so influential and unbiased an association of people comes to that conclusion, we must pay careful attention to what is happening. Its argument deals with the amount of new money. I listened with care to the Secretary of State as he argued with himself whether it was new money, and I believe that he came to the conclusion that it was not; "no" seemed to be the word for which he was searching.
Above all, the Bill manifests a lack of faith in local government. I wonder whether the Department of Education and Science is trying to emulate the Manpower Service Commission, with its centrally-controlled budget. The MSC has recently been used by Government to take initiatives in education, a sort of vote of no confidence in the Department of Education and Science. Perhaps the Bill is an attempt on the part of the DES to get its own back. Let us remember, however, if that is what the Secretary of State has in mind, that the MSC budget for the coming year is £1,906 million.
I asked the Secretary of State in an intervention about the possibility of less than full take-up of this award scheme. He thought that that would not happen and said that there were many schemes about and that they would be taken up. However, LEAs are already pruned so as not to have any excess; there is no slack in their budgets. The 70 per cent. rule means that local authorities must put up 30 per cent. ——
§ Mr. Freud
Yes, they must put up at least 30 per cent. before they can obtain the other 70 per cent. and that is a task that they will not be capable of doing fairly, certainly not as the Secretary of State thinks. There will be some interesting ways in which people will claim the extra 70 per cent. for something that they were going to do in any case, if not for something that they have already done. I hope that in Committee we can discuss that more fully.
My contention is that if a Minister has new ideas in Government—as, it must be granted, the Secretary of 651 State has had new ideas in many areas of government, and disastrous ideas they have been—they should be carried out with his Department's money, and one should not deprive LEAs of theirs. It seems to be a sort of new Robin Hood of Leeds concept that one gives to those of whom one approves at the expense of all the others. That is why we oppose the measure and will vote against its Second Reading.
We do not believe much in centrist legislation, not because we disagree with many of the points that the Secretary of State instanced of what he might spend money on. We disagree with it because it is not new money. Had it been the reallocation of 0.25 per cent. of the educational money — provided that 0.25 per cent. came from the assisted places scheme—we would have been for it. I remind the House that educational expenditure comes out of the rates, which means that richer localities already spend more, to the disadvantage of underprivileged children, and to exacerbate that is wrong. We argue that the Government should redistribute on grounds of need, not on grounds of priority decided by the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)
I am not sure that Opposition Members are not manoeuvring themselves into the position on the Bill of not only opposing the principle of it but bemoaning the lack of money available to implement that principle. The views that Opposition Members have been putting forward have shown signs of that inherent muddle. By contrast, I welcome the principle and am not too worried that there is only a modest amount of money available to implement it at the beginning of this new initiative.
The Secretary of State does not have enough power and control, and, if people are concerned about him having more power and control, then 0.5 per cent. of total educational expenditure will give him an excess of that in the development of education. At present he can only urge and cajole LEAs in directions which he believes would be beneficial. Experience shows that that ability does not always get Secretaries of State as far as they would wish to go.
I therefore treat with some reservation the generous offer being made by the Association of County Councils that it would be happy to talk with the Secretary of State about identifying national priorities in education. Experience shows that consultation of that kind can go on almost for ever without any initiative getting off the ground. Therefore, I welcome the fact Mat the Secretary of State is prepared to take the reins in his hands, at any rate to a limited extent.
We have already heard something of the background, in that events have been passing the Department of Education and Science by for many years. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) referred to the initiatives that now lie with other Departments of State. That is undoubted, and I do not regard the action of the Secretary of State today in presenting this measure for Second Reading as somehow his jealous attempt—as the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) implied — to win power back for himself. Perhaps it is a re-establishment of balance between the Department that is charged with overall resposibility for education and what has happened in other Departments of State.
652 The Bill may not have the scope to tackle the whole of that wider question, but in part at any rate it is trying to recover some initiative for the Department of Education and Science, and a degree more central control may not go amiss. It is not control in actuality; it is influence that the Secretary of State is seeking to gain as a result of this legislation.
It appears to some that this is the thin end of the wedge; that the power that the Secretary of State may try to adopt will be the forerunner of himself or his successors trying to grab more power for the centre, as against the designated LEAs. That is not a serious danger. Nor does it constitute any basis for opposing the Bill or being mildly worried by it.
To move from the present ceiling of 0.5 per cent. requires further primary legislation and no Government of the future, whatever their political colour, could be denied the opportunity, if they wished, to introduce legislation which would take to the centre a larger percentage. Thus, the fact that the present Government are taking the initiative—in saying that they wish to exercise some influence over 0.5 per cent. of educational expenditure — does not seem something that could start an avalanche of power and control moving away from LEAs.
The complaint has been made that there is no money or insufficient money. As my right hon. Friend said in a perfectly reasonable manner, we shall have to wait and see exactly what money will be available. We do not know whether we are dealing with new, old or borrowed money. Perhaps when the legislation reaches the statute book there will be an extra lever in the Secretary of State's hands to gain more money to do more good in education than was possible without that lever.
The principle of the Bill is not whether there is sufficient money, but whether the Secretary of State should be able to exercise some influence over part of the total education expenditure. If one argues that we cannot move in that direction because there is insufficient money, there will never be a time when such an initiative can be taken. I welcome the fact that the Government have recognised that the time is right to take that initiative.
The question then is how the Secretary of State should use the influence that Parliament may grant him. The justification for the Bill may be found in the schemes promoted under it and in the innovative qualities that the Secretary of State brings to his task. I hope that one characteristic of the schemes that will be picked by the Secretary of State and his successors is that they will deal with the educational deprivation in parts of the country to which hon. Members have referred. A prime purpose of the scheme is to have that influence coming from the Government.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will indulge tentatively in breaking down the barrier that exists between education and training, and that, in conjunction with local education authorities the Bill will promote patterns for school curricula which may allow some pupils to move out of the confines of their classrooms. From my direct experience of talking to people and seeing educational needs in various places, I am convinced that some youngsters would gain more if some of their time were spent outside the classroom environment and if they were given a chance to develop practical skills, which would be of benefit to them when seeking a job. I hope that other legislation will 653 not prevent the Secretary of State from moving in that direction under this legislation and from increasing the vocational content of some classes.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not limit too narrowly the regulations that will be set before the House. I fear that the first set of regulations, when formed, may become a sort of holy grail and be difficult to expand upon thereafter, for two reasons. The first is that the consultative process, to which I have already referred, may be too cumbersome to enable him to amend them in the light of experience. The second is that there may be no parliamentary time to make changes. I hope that the first set of regulations will be cast as widely as possible.
I hope that the consultation with other bodies can be a little wider than is implied in clause 3(5), which refers to those which represent local education authorities. There may be bodies in addition to those which represent local education authorities which could fruitfully be consulted during the working out of the regulations. The Business and Technician Education Council, which also features in the Bill, might be able to offer some useful ideas about injecting a vocational flavour into the curriculum, and other groups may be able to help the Secretary of State if he wishes to experiment with ways of improving economic awareness among pupils.
The Bill is modest, but it is sensible and practical. I suspect that it will be welcomed more in the country than the institutionalised response suggests. I welcome it, and I hope that it will be used to good and imaginative effect.
§ Mr. Sean Hughes (Knowsley, South)
The Bill has been condemned by the Opposition as a further erosion of the freedom of local authorities to decide their priorities and to provide for them. Clause 1 empowers the Secretary of State to pay educational support grants to local authorities in support of expenditurewhich it appears to him that those authorities should be encouraged to incur in the interests of education in England and Wales.On the face of it, such a proposal is not unreasonable, although it smacks of increased central control over local education authorities — the sort of control that the Conservative party opposed so vehemently before 1979. The reasoning behind the proposals is that the Government will take money from local authorities, ostensibly to return it in a favourable manner. In practice, however, it means that they will impose conditions on its recovery.
Local education authorities will lose out in two ways. First, they will lose 0.5 per cent. of their education allowance, a point which the Secretary of State quaintly described as significant but not radical; and, secondly, they will lose by having to find at least 30 per cent. of the difference in the cost of the project. Since the Bill stresses that there will be no additional finance from central Government, that means that a local authority must divert funds from other projects already in operation. Thus the principle of the Bill is not redistribution. To qualify to regain some, if not all, of the 0.5 per cent. originally taken from allowances, education authorities will suffer a loss of discretion in their policy making and a forced redirection of funds from existing projects.
The Secretary of State would claim that his purpose is to promote changes and improvements in the standards of 654 provision in areas of special importance. This begs the question whether the Secretary of State is in a better position to identify those areas than is the local authority. The Secretary of State pinpointed five areas of priority, and said today that there may be eight or nine. I do not dismiss those priorities out of hand, but I am worried by their limited scope. I refer to the limited scope of what the Secretary of State sees as priorities, not the nature of the powers to be given to him.
I am especially worried by the lines along which the right hon. Gentleman's thinking seems to have developed. At the north of England education conference in Leeds at the beginning of last year, the Secretary of State made a speech which seems to have prompted this measure. While rightly expressing concern that so many 16-year-olds leave school unfulfilled, and while rightly declaring that our aims must include the secure possession by all of them of reading, writing, speech and number skills, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be travelling on a dangerous road. I was encouraged to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) refer specifically to this when he opened the debate for the Opposition.
Speaking in Leeds, the Secretary of State claimed that much was already being doneto make the content of what is offered to this target group closely relevant to working life.While genuflecting to the need to provide a broad programme of general education, he added the words, "with a practical slant", and went on to suggest that the future development of the curriculum should develop such personal attributes as a sense of responsibility and a capacity for independent work while at the same time helping pupils to discover what kind of job they might expect to tackle with success.
I do not question the good faith of the Secretary of State, but the words of the Bill ring hollow in a borough such as Knowsley where the total registered youth unemployment and young people on YTS programmes is estimated at 62 per cent. In October this year there were 1,719 unemployed young people, of whom 1,478 had never had a permanent job and only 425 were eligible for the YTS. That is the prospect facing young people in that borough in the final two years of compulsory education —one of the areas to which the Secretary of State referred. Teachers and education authorities have to try to combat the blight of youth unemployment and to motivate pupils to achieve higher standards of education.
Some years ago the north-west joint planning team produced a report commenting on the future of our part of the country. It recognised that the achievement of higher standards in education was fairly easy in areas of good quality housing and a pleasant environment. The real problem lies in those parts of the north-west which are handicapped by a poor environment, in which there is little tradition of education and where a substantial number of people are socially deprived. In those parts of the north-west in which the nature of employment in the past demanded a low level of skill, the bulk of the work force has been engaged in semi-skilled and unskilled jobs and there has been little encouragement to children to do well at school. It is often in those very areas that dereliction, poor housing and inadequate school buildings are concentrated, making them less attractive to the staff whose contribution is so badly needed. That problem has been intensified by the current massive unemployment.
655 The Secretary of State warned against the lowering of expectations, but that is part of the damage done to the morale of pupils, parents and teachers in areas such as mine. Taking away resources, on however small a scale, will only exacerbate the problem. By classifying huge groups of children as what is euphemistically called "less academic" the Secretary of State contributes to the very lowering of expectations that he decries. Those who argue that certain areas of the conventional curriculum are unsuitable for the so-called "less academic" children are judging children by the fallacious IQ test that the comprehensive system was intended to abolish.
I have what many would regard as a naively optimistic view of education. I really believe that school can make a difference. I accept, of course, that schools cannot put right all the social evils or compensate for all the deprivations and lack of opportunity, but they must be part of any move to eradicate those evils and inequalities from our society.
The concern of the Secretary of State to improve educational standards is not borne out in the Bill. The Bill falls into the category of Government proposals characterised by short-sightedness and a total lack of understanding of what life is really like in constituencies such as mine.
The Secretary of State has recognised that the needs of what he calls the "less academic" pupils cannot be tackled in isolation because so many issues bear on them. No Opposition Member would disagree with that. I only wish that he could convince his colleagues in the Government. Nevertheless, it is extremely dangerous to categorise pupils in that way. The Bill is therefore based on a faulty premise. The borough which my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and I represent has a higher percentage than most of pupils with literacy and numeracy difficulties. Out of 103 education authorities it is third from the bottom in terms of the number of young people who go on to higher education at 18, and it recently had the lowest rate in the country for pupils staying on after turning 16.
It is a bitter indictment of so-called progress in education that there is little difference in the percentage of working-class children who go to university today compared with the 1930s. A minuscule 1.1 per cent. of the children of unskilled workers and only 4.8 per cent. of the children of semi-skilled workers go to university. Yet there is no immutable law of nature that decrees that such children are less academically gifted than any other group in the country. There is no law of nature that decrees that we should not expect children in Knowsley to attain the same educational standards achieved by children in the more favoured parts of the country. I do not believe that academic potential is innately denied to those of us who were born and brought up in socially deprived areas, but teachers and education authorities cannot redress the imbalance on their own. The totality of deprivation must be attacked.
One of the greatest crimes that we commit in a so-called civilised and sophisticated society is our failure to allow all our children to develop the skills and attributes by which we measure civilisation and sophistication. When I was at school in the 1960s, public debate often referred to the "brain drain" — the export of talent from this country—but the greatest brain drain is the scandalous 656 waste of talent that our education system encourages. The Bill does nothing to eradiate that. The Secretary of State should withdraw it and address himself to the real issues.
§ Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) on his excellent maiden speech. He made Stevenage sound almost as attractive as Rugby and Kenilworth—a task calling for eloquence indeed. He made a helpful and useful contribution and we look forward to hearing him again on many occasions, not just on computers, but on a whole range of activities. I hope that he will have a long and happy stay in the House.
In view of the comments of the hon. Members for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) and for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes), it might help if I tell the House what the Bill is not. It is not an assault on local government. It is not some form of major radical change. It is not an attempt on the collective virtue of local authorities. I believe that the Association of County Councils exaggerates its case. I give two quotations in evidence. The association has said:We see the proposals, as they stand, as a further erosion of local democracy".In a press release it stated:We cannot, however, support a Bill which proposes that money should be taken from us"—I emphasise the word "us"—regardless of local needs and priorities. This is another step along the path of substituting central decision for local decision".That is a gross exaggeration of the true position.
§ Mr. Radice
The ACC makes this point clear. The chairman of the association, Mr. Philip Merridale — I believe that he is chairman of the Hampshire education committee — says that he is prepared to accept the concept of specific grant, provided it is new money. This is not a Neanderthal approach by local government. He is rightly complaining that the Government propose to lake away some local government money which local authorities have used according to local circumstances. The Secretary of State will use this money for Government purposes. That is what the association is complaining about. I believe the ACC's case should be put fairly.
§ Mr. Pawsey
It is fair to remind the hon. Gentleman that we are talking about Government money and that this measure in no way constitutes an attack upon the virtue of local authorities. I served as a councillor for some 21 years. I have served on parish, rural, borough and county councils, and therefore I shall not give way to anyone in my admiration for local government. I am aware of the good done by councils and I have considerable admiration for the elected members and officers who work in local government.
Local government is not perfect, but in general local authorities discharge their duties and responsibilities fairly. I am however worried about the gulf that appears to be opening between central and local government—although not on this issue. I hope that Ministers will take note of the anxiety that has been expressed on both sides of the Chamber. Ministers should be bending their minds to healing that breach and to removing some of the distrust that is evident between central and local government.
Councils complain about the erosion of their powers, referring to rate capping and penalties—matters which were touched on by Opposition Members. Councils regard 657 this measure as an assault on their independence, but it is wrong to see this moderate measure in those terms. Specific grants are not a new principle in local government. Prior to 1958 and the introduction of general grants, all education expenditure was on that basis.
That was well recognised by the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts in its 1981 report. Opposition Members have mentioned that report, and I refer to those sections dealing specifically with grants. The report stated:Proposals for direct funding for certain parts of the service have been constantly resisted by the local authorities and teacher associations on the grounds that once the underlying principle of local government finance was breached, then the system would inevitably move down the path of closer and closer control by central government.The Select Committee made the key point:In fact this so-called principle has already been breached many times".The Committee continued:The point about principles is that they should be kept to. If they are not, then there is no point in retaining them as principles, and they should either be replaced by new principles which correspond more closely to changing circumstances, or they should be abandoned altogether. We are persuaded that the principle of indirect funding has both been breached in practice too many times for it to remain plausible as an overriding consideration, and that the attempt to keep to it has resulted in some distorting features.The hon. Member for Durham, North and the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) mentioned pump priming. The Select Committee's report stated:To this end we propose two modifications to the principles which at present govern the relationship between central and local government in the educational system. The first is that the DES should have the ability, or use existing powers where it has them, to fund direct such new developments on a temporary basis as may seem to it to be desirable, and we so recommend. The intention behind this provision is that, as the government department concerned, the DES should be able to 'prime the pump', in conjunction with local authorities, such experimental or innovative schemes which it considers of potential national importance.This is what the Bill is about. I cannot understand why the hon. Member for Durham, North argues against it.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I cannot understand why, even in the face of that quotation from the Select Committee's report, he persists in shaking his head.
I believe that the ACC has over-reacted to the moderate proposals considered in the Bill. Educational specific grants are seen as another attempt to erode the powers and responsibilities of local government, but that is just not the case. My right hon. Friend referred to that point during his excellent opening speech. Local authorities are mistaken if they believe that they exist in some unalterable time frame. Local government is not, and cannot be, frozen in the attitudes that existed 10 or 15 years ago. Councils are living entities and must change as circumstances change or as this House directs. Parliament is sovereign. That is not a new concept; it has existed for centuries.
I should be the first to admit that not all change is good and not all change that affects local government is good. The 1973 changes were unfortunate. They brought into being the metropolitan authorities and swept away old counties and changed old familiar names. They swept 658 away the urban districts and rural districts. That was all bad news, and, were it possible, I would put the clock back.
I welcome the proposals before us. They will enable the Secretary of State to focus funds on specific areas that merit attention. He will be able to use funds to enable the local education authorities to adjust and to respond to changing educational circumstances. The costs are not excessive; they can be described only as moderate. I should have liked, as perhaps other hon. Members would, "new" money to be made available. Economic constraints are such that new funds cannot be found, but it is better that funds come from the global education budget than not at all.
Clause 2 states that the total expenditure on which educational specific grants are based should not exceed 0.5 per cent. of planned spending on education by local education authorities in any one year. That would be £46 million, but since only 70 per cent. of the education support grant is funded by the Government, with the other 30 per cent. coming from local education authorities, in round terms expenditure is about £30 million. Hon. Members might agree that this is a modest sum, especially when it is compared to the £9,155 million which is relevant to education expenditure. An amount of 0.5 per cent. is scarcely an all-out attack on local government integrity.
The Bill provides funds to finance experimental projects and to promote improvements in standards. This point was well made by my right hon. Friend when he opened the debate. It is worth recalling that the technical initiatives in our schools had to be funded by the MSC because the DES was not empowered by statute to initiate such a scheme. That alone would be justification for the Bill.
I am not a Wykehamist. Unfortunately, I am not even a fellow of All Souls. I am the product of a technical school and technical college. That is my educational background, which is why I argue so passionately and intensely for grammar and technical schools. I know from first-hand experience exactly what those schools and that form of education can do. I speak, not from theory, but from knowledge and practice.
I do not seek to knock or attack the MSC. It is clearly doing an excellent job, which is proved by the way in which local education authorities have grasped the opportunity presented to them by the technical initiative. However, it strikes me as odd that, although the DES has the schools and the expertise, the MSC had the money. In this instance it has proved to be a happy partnership, a coming together of minds. It could have been acrimonious or anomalous. The fact that it was not reflects enormous credit on both Departments. The technical initiative is an excellent idea and the technical schools, which I hope will spring from it, will I am sure do much good.
It must have been a little confusing to the LEAs to discover that they have two masters, two DOEs — Employment and Education. That is one DOE too many getting in on the schools' act. It would be far more efficient if only one Department were to be involved, and I believe that the Bill will ensure that that is the case in the future.
The Secretary of State is able to use funds to improve standards, and I would like to recommend to my right hon. Friend one such scheme. It will come as no surprise to him — an award scheme with a difference, which could, perhaps, be called the Secretary of State's award. It would 659 be designed to reward innovation, initiative and improve standards and, above all, to encourage individual schools to break new ground and use the pupils, staff and parents' collective imagination. It would both challenge and reward. It would be a simple and inexpensive scheme which would not take much of the £30 million which my right hon. Friend has been so successful in obtaining. It would provide awards for those schools which during the previous 12 months had shown a substantial improvement in standards. The scheme's object would 13e to promote an improvement in generally accepted standards of behaviour, discipline and academic work and to encourage local initiatives. It would take advantage of the rewards system operated by teachers, whereby pupils are encouraged by incentive to improve their work. The only distinction would be that the award would go to the school rather than to the individual.
The scheme would introduce a spirit of competition, which would provide a spur for heads, staff and pupils alike. The scheme should be open to all secondary schools. Applications should be judged by a panel set up by the Secretary of State. Criteria for the awards could be, for example, examination results, inspectorate reports where applicable, community participation and above all a spirit of innovation. The number of awards should be such that a high standard is guaranteed and maintained. If they wish, local education authorities could nominate schools which they considered to be particularly deserving.
If the principle of the award were accepted, there would be no difficulty in the early implementation of the idea, because the cost of the scheme would be small. There would merely be the cost of the scrolls to be provided to the schools. The panels could comprise those people known to be interested in education and could include magistrates, representatives of employers' organisations and those involved in higher education. The idea is not new to my right hon. Friend. He may have had prior sight of what I suggest but, nevertheless, I urge him to view the idea with a less jaundiced eye than previously.
§ Mr. Greenway
If it is to be free, who will pay the expenses of the magistrates and others? If it is to be a serious scheme, what incentives will there be for schools to participate?
§ Mr. Pawsey
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because it gives me the opportunity to elaborate further.
§ Mr. Pawsey
It will teach the hon. Gentleman to interrupt. The scheme will be based on the principle of the Awards to Industry scheme. There will be no financial inducement. The only cost involved would be the setting up of the panels. I hope that people will be prevailed upon to give their services free for such an excellent scheme.
§ Mr. Pawsey
As the hon. Gentleman says, of course I would. I am as aware as he is of the importance of education. I believe that people would give their time to such a scheme.
Time presses on, and I fear that I ought not to pursue my hobby-horse further. I commend the Bill to the House. 660 It is imaginative and will do enormous good. I hope that it will soon be on the statute book and that when Opposition Members talk about resistance to the Bill it will be a token resistance. I believe that the Bill will do much to improve educational standards in our schools, which is something for which all of us, irrespective of party belief, should be striving.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)
I am a new Member, although I have made my maiden speech. As a new Member, I am pretty naive. My naivety lies in not recognising constituencies. I was desperately trying to recall a constituency called "filibuster". I thought that the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) came from there. I realise that there is no such constituency. I was astonished to learn that the hon. Gentleman had 21 years' service with local government, because I have also had experience in local government.
I was leader of the opposition of the Northumberland county council for two years from 1979. From 1981 to 1983 I was leader of the county council, chairman of the policy and resources committee, and a member of the education committee and I have had experience of being at the receiving end of diktats from central Government, Secretaries of State in particular. I say that in the plural and not the singular because it is significant in relation to the Government's proposals. The Bill provides for central Government interference with the way in which local education authorities operate. It has been argued by Conservative Members that that interference is only slight. They called it the thin end of the wedge. In this case, it may be the thin end of the wedge, but when one adds this proposition to those which come from the Secretaries of State for Transport, the Environment, Energy and the Social Services, it rapidly approaches the thick end of the wedge.
I am still a sitting member of my county council. Many of my colleagues and many people in other authorities are getting heart-sick of the way in which local authorities have been dealt with over the past four years. People of all political faiths are saying that they will not seek reelection at the next elections. That means that many valuable people will leave local government simply because of the pressures over the past four years.
I suffered from those pressures for two years. I had sleepless nights because of the Government's directives. This is not my first experience of rate-capping. That has gone on for four years. It is not the first time that there has been interference with education or transport supplementary grants, and so on. It has gone on for years. All that local government wants to do is to get on with its business. As a leader of the council and a county councillor for many years, I have had the fact pushed down my throat that Parliament is supreme. I accept that. However, if Parliament wants to run the whole shooting match, let us get on with it. If the Government wish to have no local government on the democratic basis on which it operates at the moment, they should say so rather than chip away a little bit here and a little bit there so that in the end there is nothing left. We are now approaching that state of affairs.
Three or four hon. Members said that this is a small issue, but it is part of a big issue. It is part of the destruction of local government as it is now, and as I hope it will continue to be. I used to be a member of the 661 Association of County Council's policy committee and the executive committee on education. I was astonished when it was said that the ACC over-reacted. I served for four years on the ACC and it took three and a half years to make it act at all, let alone react or over-react. I was pleased at the statement by the chairman of the ACC education committee. At last it is coming out of its shell. It took much time and encouragement for it to do so.
I agree with the comments of the Association of Metropolitan Councils and the Association of District Councils on local government issues, and on the effect of the Government's attitude on local government. However, I take particular note of what the ACC says, because it has always been reluctant to challenge the Government on issues affecting local authorities. At last it has come out of its shell and said that this proposition is not useful for local government, will be detrimental to it and will chip away at its foundations. Such proposals, of which this is just one, could damage local government so much that it disappears.
§ Mrs. Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)
Although my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) is not present, I should also like to congratulate him on his maiden speech on behalf of the minority group, that most splendid but small group of women in the House of Commons. His speech was excellent. I hope that we shall hear much more from him. Apart from his expertise in speaking, my hon. Friend has other expertise to offer hon. Members.
I welcome this measure. It is not a menace to local authorities' democratic rights, as many Opposition Members describe it, but a means of enabling one of the most important services for which local authorities have responsibility, education, to respond more swiftly to new initiatives, which hitherto it has not been able to do.
I should like to clarify the educational world's explanation of how education is run. I listened to many hon. Members' contributions, and understood everything that was said. I have listened to education debates for the past six to seven years. All of us with a little experience in education fall into the trap of using colloquialisms when we discuss education. That mystifies the outside world. We are Members of Parliament, supposedly representing the people outside, who are desperately trying to understand exactly what is happening in education.
Most people know that the education service is run as a partnership between the Government and local authorities, local authorities having the major responsibility for the organisation of education and the disposal of the moneys that come to them. However, many people are greatly confused about the area of public accountability and the relationship between the Government and local authorities. The Secretary of State touched on that. The outside world is confused when it tries to understand who is accountable for what in education. Is it the Secretary of State's fault that there seems to be little money for education? Is it the local authorities' fault? If so, why?
The public understand that the Government annually go through the process of budgeting. In our colloquialism we call that the "bilaterals". The public can then discover, if they read the newspapers, what amount has been allocated to education. This year the sum is well over £9 billion. It 662 will be dispersed in part to LEAs according to the needs and criteria of local authorities that require educational moneys.
The confusion arises from the Secretary of State saying, truthfully, that a certain sum that should be sufficient has been allocated to local authorities, and the local authorities saying, "We are sorry. We cannot allocate that sum. We shall cut back on education spending." The differences are accounted for by the weight that local authorities give to education spending, as against that given to the other services for which they have responsibility, for example, social services, planning, road maintenance and housing, to name but a few local responsibilities. It sometimes occurs to me that hon. Members are not certain about the way in which local government divides up its spending.
Specific grant is anathema to those who uphold the sanctity of local priorities set at local level — it is a heresy. I warmly welcome the recent appointment of Mr. Bob Morris to the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, as education secretary. He once said:A little bit of heresy can do a lot of good.I think that Mr. Morris will forgive me for quoting him in this context.
I have often marvelled at the mild hypocrisy of the anti-specific grant lobby. What is urban aid? What is slum clearance aid? What is the police grant? What is the youth training scheme? What are all these except specific grant? I have done considerable service in local government. We in local government welcome that aid. Therefore, why are Opposition Members questioning the possibility of specific grant within education?
Curiously, the argument reaches a crescendo if the proposal is for education. It reaches a crescendo in local government. All the old jealousies come to life. A little problem might arise and I hope that the Secretary of State will take note of it. When budgets are put together following the introduction of the Bill, events may take the following form. Let us assume that £100,000 has been budgeted by the education department for scientific equipment and that the chairman of the finance committee has reminded the chairman of the education committee that such a sum of money can be claimed under the specific grants. As a result, the allocation in the budget is reduced by £70,000. Let us also assume that a bid for the project is received but not accepted by the Secretary of State. The education committee must then return to the finance committee for more money for the scientific equipment. The finance chairman may tell the chairman of the education committee that no more money is available in the current year's budget. The victims in that story will be the children whose education may not just be impaired, but diminished. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State examines such projects, will he examine carefully those that may be regarded in that manner? Otherwise I foresee a danger.
It is also worth reiterating that the modest sum available would be decided upon before the total sum available is known. That is important. That is not necessarily the case as put forward by Opposition Members. They seem to be saying that if there were no specific grant the sum available to education authorities would be greater. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the Government decide the total sum to be given to education before, and not after, determining local government expenditure. That is why I believe that the 663 concept of new money is irrelevant to the Bill. I await further information from my right hon. Friend about that important matter.
My real reason for welcoming the measure—as no doubt will many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have worked in the education service for many years—is that it is an opportunity for the Secretary of State, when having discussions with local authorities, to identify projects requiring financial support, so that initiatives can be taken quickly. Education has suffered from the sad problem of having good ideas, of wishing to further the children's education and of responding to the Warnock and Cockcroft recommendations, hut, alas, not having the ability, through the Secretary of State's guidance, to take up such initiatives.
The youth training scheme did not come as a blow to education. We welcome it because it enabled us to follow through the ideas proposed by many people in education for meeting the needs of 16 to 19-year-olds, especially by helping them to begin a training scheme at a vital age. The money to finance such a scheme came from another Department. Had the Secretary of State for Education and Science been able to call upon specific grant, he might have been able to take that initiative.
I believe that the Secretary of State could re-establish himself in the eyes of local education authorities as being a friend who could further the partnership between local and central Government, in contrast to what the Opposition have suggested. Not only do I urge the House to welcome the Bill, but I urge hon. Members not to divide against it on a party political basis.
The hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) said that the Opposition were most devoted to the cause of the maintained sector, but not many of the great educational measures have come from the Labour party. Far more have come from the Conservative party, which has ensured that education is possible for all children irrespective of their means, but geared to their ability. I trust that the House will welcome and approve the Bill.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs Rumbold) hoped that we could put children in the forefront of our priorities. She then warmly welcomed the initiative. I sought in vain among the hon. Lady's concluding remarks to understand how the initiative could benefit those children about whom she spoke. I believe that Opposition Members would have no right to be present if we did not divide the House against such so-called initiatives. I am sure that, although many Conservative Members realise that the Bill will harm children, they will still vote for the measure.
The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) had no sooner asked how much money was to be taken from the education authorities than he was wetting his lips about how to use the loot. He referred to a wonderful plan, which no hon. Member could understand, but it brought one or two hon. Gentlemen to their feet in fear that the Secretary of State's "initiative" might take some of the money from local authorities.
The word "moderate" always bespatters the speeches of Conservative Members. That is touching. I have listened to that word applied to the most draconian legislation. It was continually referred to when the House discussed the Industrial Relations Bill, which led to a general strike and 664 put five dockers in gaol, and was used by Lord Justice Donaldson, who is doing much the same job on behalf of the Tory party now.
When did the Tory party even claim that its measures were not moderate? That is its password and catchword. As the sword goes into the children in the form of education cuts, it is all done in the name of moderation. I am reminded of the Victorian values, about which we have heard much from the Conservative party and about which Dickens told us so much.
The "moderation" and the "little measure" remind me of the second housemaid's baby, who, I gather, was only little. No one who knows anything about politics could fall for that. One of my hon. Friends put the matter into context. There is a little measure here and a little measure there. It goes on all over the place, and the measures never harm the Conservative party, but, taken together, they become a massive measure against the education of our children. The Bill is another straw on the camel's back and that is precisely how we should regard this so-called moderate measure.
Her Majesty's inspectorate is a body of good people but they have drawn in their horns in this years' report. I like to be fair and I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for publishing the first HMI report. As an educationist and ex-head teacher, I have read the report with great care. It is an indictment of the Conservative party and what has happened to education under this Government.
This year's report bends over backwards and in every other direction in an effort to be fair to the Government, but it starts:When standards in the basic curriculum and the applicability of education to earning and work are, as now, at a premium for pupils and students of all abilities, access to them has to be assured. Yet observations show that some pupils in some institutions, from primary schools to further education in some parts of the country, do not have that access.It is a small report this year. I wish that it were bigger and I should like to encourage inspectors, many of whom I know, to go further and expand on the indictment in that sentence. Vast sums are not being used in the education of our children and many of them are suffering even further through lack of access to education.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
Does the hon. Member believe that what the report is saying relates to the fact that there is riot enough money in education, or does he agree with me that the equality of teachers is the most important aspect in getting the best for our children?
§ Mr. Flannery
I agree with him to an extent, but not in the way that she poses the quality of teachers against money. That is a typical Tory tactic.
I have served on a teachers' union executive and worked with them for many years. I know that the hon. Lady has worked hard in local government. I pay tribute to her, because her speech was one of the most reasoned contributions that I have heard from a Tory Member, although I profoundly disagreed with most of it.
The hon. Member suggests that the quality of teachers is dominant. We have splendid teachers, but we need money to pay them. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) set himself quite a task when he decided to read all the HMI reports. He has a complete picture and he knows that the main point emanating from those reports is that the education system lacks cash., the children in poorer areas do not have enough books or teachers and the fabric of their schools is in a parlous state.
665 All that is pointed out in the HMI reports, yet we still have the assisted places scheme which is taking public money for the already well-off. Parents in richer areas can donate books and equipment. Unemployed parents in poorer areas cannot possibly afford to do that. We are back to the old class set-up again. Money comes freely from wealthy parents, but the children of the poor suffer. It amazes me that anyone can square that with his conscience.
Tories used to boast proudly, and with some justification, that they were the party of local government. In this debate, not a single Tory Member has failed to attack local government and defend further centralisation. The Secretary of State used to say that he believed in decentralisation, but he is now the arch-centraliser. The party which proudly boasted that it believed in local government is launching endless attacks against it, while trying to pretend that it is not doing so.
If local government is to be local and to govern, it needs money. Those who are trying to take money away from it are actively conniving at centralisation. The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth waxed lyrical in defence of local government. His speech could almost have been set to music, yet he is prepared to support centralisation and to take money away from local authorities.
The hon. Member asked where the money would come from. The answer is simple and he knows it, but I will put it on the record. Cruise and Pershing missiles have been brought to this country against the wishes of 94 per cent. of the British people That fact cannot be denied. Those who wilt not listen to such facts are refusing to listen to the voice of the people who feel deeply about those missiles. The cost of the missiles is unbelievable.
It may be said that the missiles are coming through President Reagan, the victor of Grenada, over whom we have tons of controls.
§ Mr. Flannery
No. The hon. Gentleman went on far too long and engaged in tedious repetition. I must get on with my speech.
§ Mr. Pawsey
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has referred to me several times. I merely seek to intervene on a point of clarification.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
Unless the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) gives way, the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Flannery
No doubt we shall have more points of order if we do not let the hon. Gentleman have his way, but he is not going to get it.
We are planning to spend £10 billion on Trident, yet the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth asks me where the money in the Bill will come from. If this nasty little Bill were not so vicious, it would pale into insignificance. It will take away a few million pounds from the education service for ordinary children, while vast amounts are being spent on the machinery of slaughter and overkill. We are told that that money is being spent wisely. That is typical 666 Toryism. While weeping crocodile tears about the lack of money for education, the Government pour out money on useless armaments.
I do not know whether he was quoting from an HMI report, but the Secretary of State said that the duty of LEAs is to secure sufficient full-time education for children in their areas. I am neither a fellow of All Souls nor a Wykehamist. If such people believe in high standards I compliment them, as I believe in them as well. I should have been interested to hear the family feud that might have developed. If such people believe in the same high standards as I have always believed in, I welcome them to the fold.
The education support grants are not new. We have all known about them for a long time. Select Committees are not new either. I shall tell the House a little secret. The present ones have Tory majorities and the next ones will have even bigger Tory majorities. Therefore, they will come out with what are, by and large, Tory reports. The nonsense that has been peddled in the House today about what we decided in the Select Committee having led to the Bill is silly as to be unbelievable. Such suggestions will not get past me. Moreover, I was a member of the Select Committee. The case boils down to the fact that money has been withheld from LEAs. Now even Tory authorities are complaining bitterly. That has been evidenced by successive speeches. When those authorities complain bitterly about what the Government are doing, something must have gone seriously wrong.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Bob Dunn)
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Select Committee report in regard to the education support grants. It was a unanimous report. Can he explain that?
§ Mr. Flannery
No. I can only assume that I was not there. For the benefit of hon. Members who do not know, I shall explain how Select Committees work. Often, the full report is so massive that all sorts of things go through quickly. I saw my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North indicate by motions of the head that he did not believe that the report could possibly lend itself to the interpretation that money should be withdrawn. If it is argued that we agreed with that interpretation, I should like to make it clear that that argument is completely wrong and I denounce it.
Money that LEAs used to receive must now be applied for. A reference sheet provided by the Library says that:In Britain, the principle on which the financing of education has always been based is that central government should not have too much direct control over LEA expenditure.Earlier, it says:The Bill thus represents some extension of direct government control over the school curriculum, and, as such, raises important issues of local autonomy in education, the nature and responsiveness of the existing and future curiculum, and the finance of education.That is one of the fundamental reasons why the Opposition and the teachers' unions are opposing the Bill. The result will be that, when applying for money which LEAs should have had anyway, the Minister might look with favour on those LEAs that have projects that coincide with the list of priorities that the Government hold. Therefore, the Government could intrude crudely into the curriculum.
Teachers are deeply worried that there are almost two Departments of Education and Science. The one that we know is poverty-stricken and the other, the Manpower 667 Services Commission, is swilling in money. The MSC therefore decides that it wants to reintroduce the old technical schools, but in a new form. Many hon. Members and educationists outside have striven to achieve a curriculum that provides broad general education before specialisation. It is difficult to support education for 14 to 16-year-olds. There is a danger that head teachers who want to provide a broad general education but desperately need money will reach eagerly for that offered by the MSC and the MSC will insist on a technological bias in schools, which, by definition, militates against a broad general education. Teachers are deeply worried about intrusions into the curriculum. Lack of funds will also limit education authorities that do not have curriculums that coincide with the Government's priorities. That represents an attack on local autonomy.
The most important feature of this apparently little Bill is that it is part of a much wider and bigger attack on the education of ordinary children. It is part of the attack to get rid of comprehensive education. It springs from the mentality which tried to introduce the voucher schemes. That did not work because Tory parents of children who have had comprehensive education realised that the 11-plus was a dreadful thing, as did Socialist parents. It was the Tory parents who insisted on maintenance of comprehensive education. They opposed the voucher scheme and the resurrection of grammar and secondary modern schools. It is to those ends that this nasty little Bill points. In isolation it would not be so awful but we cannot ignore the schemes of which it is a part.
Why do the Opposition object so strongly to a Bill that seems superficially to be of little importance? We, like Tory LEAs, now see clearly that the attack on LEAs and local government is serious. The shires and cities are beginning to voice their opposition together. The struggle for real education is one of the things that bind them. It is time that the Government had the good sense and political perspicacity to realise that the warning bells are ringing. Circumstances in the past two years have been deplorable and it is unbelievable that Conservative Members have tolerated them. Because of the excellent education that comprehensive schools give our children, more and more young people are ready to enter higher education. Because the teaching and help that they have received is so good they could flood into the universities were it not for the fact that the UGC has cut the number of university places.
§ Mr. Flannery
The result is that young people with immensely high qualifications are not being allowed a place at university. Their educational careers are being curtailed. They are denied the chance to take a place at university either because of unemployment or because of the Government's refusal to allow them to go there.
This Bill may seem to be a minor measure. However, its lessons are major. As it continues the developing attack on the public sector, we shall fight it every inch of the way. This is one of those inches.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
I intervene in this debate the poorer and sadder for not having been present to hear the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood). As I came into the Chamber 668 to hear the plaudits from the Labour and Liberal Benches, I felt rather like a man who had come into Wembley stadium at the end of the Cup Final only to hear the cheers. I am sure that I shall enjoy reading my hon. Friend's speech tomorrow. My hon. Friend is someone whom I have learned to recognise as a quiet, shrewd man. He has taken a little longer than some of us to dive in at the deep end with his maiden speech, but I am sure that the House has profited greatly from hearing his wisdom today.
I must first declare an interest in the debate as a parliamentary adviser to the Independent Schools Information Service. However, I need mention that only when I say that the Bill has nothing to do with grants for independent schools. I might say in passing that I find a certain rampant hypocrisy when I hear the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) announce at the beginning of his attack on the Bill that he is an old boy of Winchester and of Magdalene college, Oxford. I find it very strange when I hear Labour hon. Members talking as they do about the maintained sector of education and then telling us that they profited from an independent school education. I often wonder where the great conversion took place. Was it on the road to Damascus, or was it on the way to the general management committee of their local Labour party?
I welcome the Bill. I welcome its potential for improving the maintained schools provision by focusing on special projects and special needs in schools and by identifying weaknesses in certain schools and education authorities and being able to cope with them. That is quite simply what the Bill is about. But, perhaps not too amazingly, the Opposition have turned the debate into an overall discussion of education—and a bit more. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said a great deal about cruise missiles, and I began to wonder where he would go next.
The debate is simply about the Secretary of State identifying needs and weaknesses and then being able to move from his position as the holder of the office of Secretary of State to cope with them.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I noted that my hon. Friend was listening carefully to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). I wonder whether my hon. Friend can enlighten me. Can he tell me how to reconcile two points made by the hon. Member for Hillsborough? He referred to the HMI reports and used them as some form of pretext to say how the education system was being slashed. In almost the same breath he spoke of vast numbers of qualified young people who were unable to get into universities. The hon. Gentleman says that our children are suffering and underqualified. Then he says that so many are qualified that they cannot get into universities. If my hon. Friend can square that circle I shall be grateful.
As my hon. Friend knows, I sought to put this question to the hon. Member for Hillsborough. Sadly, he would not give way to me. Can my hon. Friend help me because, in helping me, he will help the House?
§ Mr. Tracey
It would take someone with more experience than I have to divine the mind of the hon.
669 Member for Hillsborough. Many have tried; few have succeeded. I am afraid that I must pass over the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey).
During the remarks of the hon. Member for Hillsborough about the HMI reports he said that he noticed how short this year's report was. I can only assume that the inspectors found little to criticise in this Government's administration of education.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to accept that the report is short because there is very little left to inspect?
§ Mr. Tracey
The conclusion that I reach is probably the more accurate one.
I was saying that the Bill seemed to be providing the ability to identify specific weaknesses in our schools and then moving to put right those weaknesses.
We must recognise the position of the Department of Education and Science as the public perceive it. I notice in correspondence I receive from my constituents that, when they find something that they believe to be lacking in schools, they very often ask whether I as the Member of Parliament can press the Secretary of State to do something about it. More rarely do they talk of me asking the chairman of the education committee to do something about it. I believe that it is to the Department of Education and Science that the public look for deep-seated problems to be resolved.
When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) was Secretary of State for Education, he said that he felt like a harlot in reverse in his office because he had all the responsibility but no power. He handed out budgets, but he could not direct them to their problems. It makes great sense where such problems as weak maths teaching have been identified in certain education authority areas for the Secretary of State to be able to move straight in and put them right. If he identifies areas where pilot projects are needed, there, too, he should be able to move in.
We have heard a great deal about the Select Committee. I support what it talked about in its report. Its members believe that money should be applied for pump priming in education, and that makes a great deal of sense. Bearing that in mind, it is highly desirable that the Secretary of State should be able to move along the lines laid out in the Bill.
The Bill comes as no surprise. The first mention of specific areas such as this was made in the Green Paper on alternatives to local rates. We all, including Opposition hon. Members, read that carefully, and I am sure that they made considerable comment about it. What is more, a number of Opposition hon. Members served on the Select Committee, whose chairman was one of them at the time. I cannot believe that the hon. Member for Hillsborough was taken by surprise in the way that he described when he discovered what was in the Committee's report.
Then the Secretary of State went out to further consultation on specific grants with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils, and I find it rather pathetic that they are now bleating about the points made in the Bill.
670 The Gracious Speech in June clearly said that the Government would move in this direction. It said:Legislation will be introduced to enable grants to be paid to local education authorities in England and Wales for innovations and improvements in the curriculum.That is clearly set out, and that is what the public are expecting us to do.
The complaints that we have heard are just part of a great ritual of opposition to a measure that is sound and will receive great support from the public. I was heartened by the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), who has much experience of local government, particularly in education. Indeed, she was the chairman of the education committee of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. I was glad to hear her support the Bill, and, having heard her assurances, I am certain that the Bill does not contain the defects that the Opposition claim.
Recently I spoke to a distinguished member of the directors of local education authorities. He said that the complaints that are coming from local government were hypocritical and pathetic. He believed that the balance had slipped to such an extent that now the Department of Education and Science was simply handing out large amounts of money without having any control over it, and that the time had come for the balance to be redressed so that the Secretary of State could give grants in a more meaningful way to projects that he considered worthy.
It is unbelievable, with a total education expenditure in this country of more than £9 billion, that there is such a furore on the Opposition Benches about expenditure of £46 million, as seen from one point of view, and, of course, £30 million when seen from another—that of the Bill. It is a storm in a teacup.
I end with a word of sadness. I should like the Bill to provide much bigger grants and have greater objects in view. Many people regret — so do I, as a former grammar school pupil—the passing of the grammar and direct grant schools. Many people would like them back. I see little likelihood of grammar schools returning, but by a system of grants that come direct from the Department of Education and Science we may be able to return to a system of direct grants to a fund for specialised schools that need help. Many types of specialised schools could benefit, but in general terms the public would be happy if the Secretary of State were to put money in that direction. I hope that this Bill is a precursor of such a move. It is something that the country would welcome, and in my opinion the country would be better for it.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) asked why there is such a furore over a mere £46 million of education expenditure. The answer is simple. The Bill raises two central and important problems—a democratic problem about how Governments should raise money to finance expenditure, and an education problem about what curriculum development is necessary and how that should best be achieved. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State, in introducing the Bill, failed to address himself with any great vigour to either problem. Although he did refer, with some apology, to centralism, he glossed over the democratic problem in the Bill.
It is not true to say that there are not fears about centralism. Many people will see the Bill as a direct 671 contradiction of the Education Act 1944, in which responsibility for the curriculum was placed firmly on local education authorities and, through articles of government, the governing bodies of individual schools. Indeed, it could be said that the Bill goes further back than 1944, to 1926, to the last full edition of the elementary code. The Government are keen on political nostalgia and Victorian virtues, but few people would want the reemergence of the elementary code.
Unlike many Members on the Opposition Beches, I am not concerned solely or centrally with the problem of central Government control. In my view, there is a more positive role for the Secretary of State to play. Having heard the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) in his new capacity, I am confident that when he becomes a Labour Secretary of State for Education and Science he will contribute much to the improvement and expansion of education by increased and additional expenditure, while this Tory Secretary of State is diminishing and debasing education by cutting expenditure and taking powers away from local education authorities, as exemplified in the Bill.
I do not see the problem mainly as one of central Government involvement in local government, important though that is—it is one of local government taxation. The idea behind the Bill is to tax all local education authorities so as to fund a selected few. That is a new perversion in education expenditure, and it is one that I deplore. It is wrong in principle, and it is even worse in practice. Unless grants are given to the most deprived authorities, the Government will be taxing—in effect, fining — the weakest education authorities in financial terms, and giving extra funds to the less weak. It is an ill-thought-out scheme, and does no credit to the Secretary of State.
How will the weak and taxed local eduction authorities react? There are only two ways in which they can react. They will have to cut more services and choose whether to cut teachers and books even further — if that is possible—or to cut options out of the secondary school curriculum. Alternatively, they can attempt to raise their rates to compensate for the money that is being taken away, and thus risk incurring Government penalties. The cause of their overspending—that is what it is called by the Government—will, in effect be the Government's policy. That would be ludicrous if it were not so serious.
I suspect that the Secretary of State simply has not done his homework properly. He has not the first idea what impact this legislation will have. In Committee, he will have to produce evidence to show that he knows the details of the local needs of the education authorities that will lose money and not have it returned through grants, and what impact that will have. Unless he shows that he has considered the matter, made allowance for it, and knows how to cope with it, he will be doing his Department no credit by introducing this legislation in this ill-thought-out manner.
Similarly on finance, the Secretary of State confused the House and gave us the distinct impression that he does not fully understand his own Bill. He said—or many of us understood it from the figure of 0.5 per cent. of total education expenditure—that this measure will potentially raise approximately £46 million. I understood the Secretary of State to say that it would raise only 70 per cent. of that. He referred to £30 million. However, if he reads his own clause 1(3)(b) he will see that the 70 per 672 cent. represents the way in which the Secretary of State will use the money, and the education authority will have to provide the 30 per cent. The 70 per cent. does not refer to the 0.5 per cent. of education expenditure. The Secretary of State was very confused about that, and I hope that the Minister will clear it up at the end of the debate.
The Secretary of State did not convince the House with his arguments. He left many key questions unanswered and he will have to deal with them in Committee. However, he must be aware of hon. Member's concerns about certain areas that are left undecided. The right hon. Gentleman covered to some extent the most important area when he referred to the projects that the measure was likely to support. He referred to Cockcroft, the teaching of mathematics and, I am glad to say, to the problems of special schools, which we welcome. However, with the exception of a vague and generalised reference to creating a richer and more stimulating environment in primary schools, his examples concerned the organisation and administration of education and had nothing to do with curriculum development. He referred to the record of achievement and to the management of the teaching force. Both are important subjects in education, but are not central to the development of the curriculum.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) put his finger on the point when he said that it was almost inevitable that intelligent and canny local education authorities would apply for grants for work that they were doing already or were going to do, anyway. Local education authorities throughout the country will be reading Hansard tomorrow and looking at the checklist of examples that the Secretary of State gave and that will be financed. Canny local education authorities will pm in for those projects. They will not go for the innovative and developmental projects that they might otherwise have decided on. They will inevitably apply for what they think they can get, rather than for what is needed in their area or for what is best for the development of education in their areas.
Sadly, the Secretary of State did not outline the scale of the projects. He gave us no information about the financial size of the projects. Some of the Schools Council projects that have taken place in the past 18 or 19 years have been very expensive and long term. The Secretary of State will have to give us some idea of the length of the commitment that he is prepared to give as well as of his financial commitment. He should set upper and lower limits for the grants, so that local education authorities have some idea of the variation in the scale of projects that can be applied for.
The Secretary of State did not tell us how his Department intends to assess or monitor the grants once they have been given. Who is to do the monitoring? Her Majesty's inspectorate is already over-pressed and understaffed. If that body is to carry out the monitoring, will he be providing additional inspectors? Similarly, will he allow local education authorities to increase their staffs to meet the responsibilities of the grants for which they are successful? Most importantly, will the Minister tonight give an absolute guarantee that no money will go to the private sector through this legislation? If the Secretary of State is taxing local education authorities he has a duty to ensure that the money is paid only to local education authorities and not to the private sector. I am grateful to the Minister for his acknowledgement. However, it would be most helpful if he could give us a categoric assurance 673 at the end of the debate instead of indicating as much to me across the Floor of the Chamber. Such matters must be explored in Committee. To date, the Secretary of State has left them very vague and open.
Finally, what is important is not the mechanics of how the legislation will work, or the taxation or finance element, but the educational element and, more particularly, the question of curriculum innovation and development. The Secretary of State might have done better if he had looked at the record of the Schools Council in the past few years. He might have seen how unnecessary such legislation is in its present form and how much better things might have been done. The Schools Council was founded in 1964 as a result of the Lockwood report, which suggested that it should keep under review curricular teaching methods and examination in primary and secondary schools.
By and large, the council has done that well. In the past 18 years it has initiated 180 curriculum projects. In the Bill, the grant is left to the Secretary of State's subjective edict. However, the Schools Council is representative of all sides of education. It is representative of the providers of education, of teachers and education authorities, and also of consumers, parents and employers. Regrettably, it is not representative of the students. However, its representative nature makes it an extremely knowledgeable consensus body, which understands the true needs and problems of curriculum development.
The council's record, particularly in the late 1970s—under the chairmanship of John Tomlinson, one of the most distinguished educationists in this country and the director of education for Cheshire education authority—deserves great respect. The sort of projects that it has funded shows the scope available if we are to get the best out of the money, however unhappily it has been raised. The Secretary of State should address his mind, for example, to the development of the Nuffield Foundation's work on mathematics and science — which is still continuing through the Schools Council; to project technology, which took place in 1967; to computers in the curriculum; to language in use; to the breakthrough to literacy; and not least to the council's very valuable work in the arts, particularly the visual arts, and in its recent studies in art education, which included the role of active visual artists and the part that they can play in helping children's education.
Those are all complex areas. I have had some experience of them as I was once the principal of an education centre that was specifically set up to develop curriculum initiatives. The one thing that I learnt from my eight years of doing that job was that planning curriculum developments, making them relevant to children's needs and capable of being put into practice, was extremely difficult. Such initiatives as those in the Bill are not the answer. The curriculum is a complex and delicate balance of initiatives, responsibilities and problems. Forcing local education authorities to make competitive bids against each other for a finite sum of money is not the best way of obtaining the most from our teachers or from our elected representatives in local education authorities who are responsible for the planning. It is not even the best way of getting the best from students in our education system. Competitive bids simply are not the answer. The problem is far too complicated and difficult for that. Answers to 674 such difficult questions can be found only through wide discussion and by achieving a consensus among all parties in education.
The only glimmer of hope in the Bill can be found in clause 3, where the House is at least reassured that an affirmative resolution will be necessary. Clause 3 states that there must be consultation with such bodies representing the LEAs as appear to him appropriate. I hope that the Secretary of State will take that seriously. If he talks to the Tory-controlled ACC, to ILEA, to the unions, the Schools Council or to any local education authority he will find out that this Bill is not the way to go about curriculum development. As such, it is a bad Bill. We desperately need new curriculum ideas. In many ways education still lags badly behind the needs and educational ideals that we have for our children.
Secondary schools are hampered in providing the standards of education that students could be achieving by the desperate requirement for knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and the assessment of such knowledge throughout the examination system. That, more than anything else, is hampering curriculum developments. It is smothering the imagination of both teachers and students, which could be used in the development of the true potential and greater ability, both academic and emotional, of all children. That is an enormous challenge for the Secretary of State.
From what my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North said in his speech, I know that when he becomes Secretary of State he will rise to that challenge. He will ensure that there is curriculum development along those lines. The Bill is educationally misconceived and democratically positively malign. It will do nothing to improve education. The Secretary of State must recognise that reducing expenditure on education in some local education authorities will damage education. For that reason I cannot commend the Bill to the House. The Opposition will vote against it tonight and oppose it in Committee.
§ Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)
I welcome the proposals in the Bill for particular and personal reasons. The particular reason is that I am interested to discover how it will apply to the ILEA—the largest spender on and provider of education in Britain. The personal interest is my long-term, indeed lifetime, relationship with the ILEA. I was a pupil in one of its schools, a teacher in one of its schools, a parent of children in its schools, I am a governor of two of its schools, I was a member of the ILEA and I am a co-opted member of the ILEA's education committee.
I find it a charming irony that Conservative Members who have been involved and educated in the maintained sector should be hectored and lectured by the old Etonians and Wykehamists who throng the Opposition Benches.
I understand and recognise that the ILEA has been a most innovative body, introducing education and academic initiatives that should be commended. It is the envy of many other education authorities. But during the past few years some initiatives have been developed and introduced which are at best silly and at worst sinister and subversive. That has happened against a background not of shortage of money but of ample funds. The ILEA, as a single service authority, has never been short of money. It has always been capable of providing generously for its 675 chosen projects. In recent years, however, rather sinister, silly and educationally unnecessary activities have been developed. In the present economic climate, crackpot, harebrained, half-baked ideas have been developed suggesting that there is something subversive or sexist about gender roles that are recognised throughout literature and the world at large.
It is a great absurdity to hold inquisitions, abolish a number of recognised textbooks and introduce new material that shows granny with her Black and Decker putting up a shelf and grandad darning the socks. Not only is that absurd, but pupils recognise that it has no relevance to the world in which they are growing up.
The preoccupation of the ILEA with political education has its sinister undertones and overtones. Under the veil of what was once seen as a proper study of constitutional aspects of our life—we could call it "civics"—a number of subversive political nostrums have been introduced. The art of protest is emerging. Much of what is essentially fundamental to education has been lost sight of in the tangle of new initiatives.
There are two guiding principles on which the Opposition and the Government agree. First, education is about pupils and their needs—and secondary schools should be directed towards that end. Secondly, but less acceptable to the Opposition, it is about money and priorities. We must face the fact that in the years to come budgets and expenditure cannot rise uncontrolled. The balance of priorities and the needs of pupils must be taken together into account. The pupil requirement is that education should be relevant to life. That view has been accepted in 40 different sharps and flats during this debate. It should enable a person to enjoy a richer and fuller life as a result of his education. It follows that in enjoying an enriched life there should be opportunities to find employment. There is no contradiction and conflict between training and education in their broadest sense. The two go hand in hand.
I am disturbed by what employers in London tell me—that when they interview pupils from inner London schools they are horrified by their lack of basic learning. They say that the standard of literacy and numeracy in many schools is not acceptable either for the pupil or those who may wish to employ him. We are in the ironic position that many education initiatives in London are simply a return to basics.
The point was raised earlier in the debate of whether we have a curriculum-led staffing policy. About three years ago in London there was a shortage of teachers of mathematics. None could be found to give the basic mathematics teaching needed in the majority of schools. Advertisements both within and without the London education authority area could not find them. A deputation was sent to Canada to recruit mathematics teachers. If ever there was in indictment, an indication of direction being lost or the wrong direction being taken, that was it. Planning did not provide the opportunity to teach basic mathematics in our schools, yet every other peripheral activity was encouraged and flourished. The provision of adequate basic learning skills holds an important initiative that could apply to the education authority in the capital. It would be practical and academic; it would be relevant; it would be what employers and parents want and have a right to expect. Indeed, more to the point, it would be what pupils want and have a right to expect. I am saying obliquely and directly that ILEA. for its good intentions 676 and innovations, has not prepared itself to meet the needs of the future in inner London and the need for employment for those who go through its schools.
When the future structure of ILEA is to be reviewed and when we put forward proposals on how it is to be controlled, we must consider seriously how a responsive and responsible authority, accountable to the public at large, can be introduced to run it. ILEA members have not a God-given right to decide the curriculum. Nor, indeed, do teachers have a divine right to decide what they should teach. The needs of the pupils and the preparation of those pupils for life should lie behind the provision of an Inner London education authority's initiative. The Bill will provide a nudge, a touch on the tiller of setting the right direction for the biggest education authority which, at the moment, has slightly lost its way.
For the major part of the debate we have dwelt on the provision of education and the initiatives for school children. But another need is emerging. There are those who through no fault of their own find themselves unemployed in mid-career, and there are those who decide in mid-career that they want to change direction and do a different job. The education system should provide an opportunity for them to make that change, to be retrained, and to have the opportunity to set out on a different course at a later stage in life—the opportunity for the mature student in higher education. In many trades and professions there is a need for updating and mid-career training. Such initiatives should be considered in the provisions of the Bill.
I should like to deal for a moment with adult education—as opposed to higher education—which has received very little support in the past. Indeed it might now be considered the Cinderella of education. In future people's working lives will be shorter. People will be retiring earlier and training for leisure must be a positive consideration and provided for in our education system so that lively minds and lively bodies at 60 can find fulfilment in their later years while they are still active enough to enjoy them.
While I commend to the Secretary of State the need to consider initiatives in the secondary school area, there is a continuing need for these initiatives to be reflected throughout the whole of a person's life. Education is about people and educational initiatives are about ensuring that they live their lives to the full. In this spirit, I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
I should like to refer to my experience with a measure that was remarkably similar to the proposal in part I of the Bill for the removal of up to 0.5 per cent. of education expenditure and its use for education specific grants. During the mid-1970s I was governor of an education body. I found to my horror that the education authority to which the education body was subject had made proposals almost identical to those contained in the Bill, except that the figure was a fixed 1 per cent. of our total spending rather than up to 0.5 per cent.
I was charged by the chairman of the governing body with marshalling the arguments against that proposal to put to the education authority. I admit that most of the arguments that I found at the time I have heard adduced by Opposition Members today. I found myself arguing against the measure to remove 1 per cent. of our budget 677 and replace it with spending on certain initiatives. I argued that the removal of that money would make impossible our task of providing efficient education in that institution. I argued that our spending was already so stretched that to remove 1 per cent. from our provision would make impossible our task of providing education of the standard that we required.
I argued that to remove that 1 per cent. of spending power and replace it with schemes decided on centrally would create an unacceptable loss to us as governors in controlling the education in our institution. I argued that that 1 per cent. would be no more than the thin end of the wedge; that if the authority took 1 per cent. of our spending away from us that year in favour of spending under its control, the following year it would take more than 1 per cent., and so on. I found myself arguing at that time that we were being asked to replace education of which we knew the quality with education of which we could only be suspicious, as we would have no say over the direction of new projects. I also argued that we should be forced into making competitive bids over what was previously under our control.
I used all those arguments to the local authority at the time. All those arguments have been heard in various forms from Opposition Members today. I am delighted to tell hon. Members, and particularly the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), that experience showed all of them to be ill-founded. Once the scheme to remove 1 per cent. of our funding and replace it with centrally selected projects came into operation, we found that we were able to provide education of the standard that we found acceptable with the money that we had available.
We discovered that, although we had previously thought that our spending had been stretched to the limit to provide the standard of education that we required in the institution that we governed, we were able to recast matters so as still to provide education of a standard and breadth that was acceptable to us. We found that, despite the loss of 1 per cent. of our spending, we still had sufficient power to adapt the education in our institution to the local requirements which, as governors, we identified. We discovered that the authority, having said that it would remove only 1 per cent., kept to its word that year and in future years, so that we remained reasonably certain of the level of spending that we would control. We also found that, although we had been suspicious of centrally-directed projects and initiatives, we were able to put in a bid for part of the funding which directly affected the institution we were governing, which received considerable support from the central authority and which gave rise in the long term to an improvement in education in that authority.
When I say that the institution to which I am referring and of which I was a governor was the St. Marylebone institute of adult education and that the authority which took those measures was the Inner London education authority, hon. Members who know my background may be surprised to learn that I come here today not to bury ILEA but to praise it. I have explained that an initiative of which initially I had tremendous suspicion—I can therefore understand the suspicion and fear with which virtually the same initiative is approached by Opposition Members—was found to be beneficial, was not found to 678 be nearly as damaging as I and many of the governors had anticipated and acted to the long-term benefit of adult education in inner London.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman heard his colleague point out that ILEA was well funded. Therefore, a reduction in its expenditure would be likely to cause fewer problems than those faced by most other state education establishments, which are finding the squeeze and the cuts hard on them. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that in other parts of the education system it is possible to impose those cuts to release the money?
§ Mr. Stern
I am thinking of the situation some years ago when, the hon. Gentleman may feel, education was well funded. Speaking from many years' experience as a governor of several education institutions while Labour Governments were in power, I know that no institution is ever well enough funded in the view of its governing body and that no education service has been created which could not find ways of using additional funds were they to become available.
I accept that a cut of 1 per cent., whatever the sums involved, can be nothing other than potentially serious, yet at the time we coped well with such a cut. Therefore, I suggest to Opposition Members that, in the light of ILEA's experience, they should look with more favour on a smaller cut, especially as they are in the ideal position of being able to go to ILEA and seek reassurance about the lack of harm caused and positive benefit gained from the initiative that it proposed and carried out in the mid-1970s.
Several references have been made to the statement by the Association of County Councils that it has doubts about the measure. I have great respect for the association. It does not consist entirely of education authorities, and often members who serve on it are not directly concerned with education. I have always listened to that association with respect, but in recent months I have formed the impression that, in seeking to preserve what it sees as the best form of local government, the association is in great danger of ossifying local government.
Local government, in education and in other spheres, must undoubtedly change, and this modest measure is clearly designed to change it in favour of greater innovation and opportunity for experiment. It is unfortunate that the association attacks the measure purely because it removes initiative from one area and places it in another.
The initiatives that are greatly needed in education will come more readily if more bodies and areas of Government are considering initiatives. We are seeking new initiatives in education. In many areas the formal structure of education can be too slow to respond.
I wholeheartedly support the Bill because I believe that it will speed up the response to changing demands on the education services and enable greater discussion and experiment within the service, with initiatives designed to adapt to today's conditions rather than to those of five years ago.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
I understand that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) is an accountant by profession, but his mathematics were not entirely correct. His speech reminded me of Caligula trying to justify the election of 679 his horse. It appears that the Association of County Councils, because it is Conservative-controlled, must be lauded and praised when it is on one's side, but when it shows some sense and realism it must be castigated and questioned. The hon. Gentleman may not know it, but the ACC has an education section with various committees, which have prompted the opposition to the Bill. Those committees have understood what is plain to anyone who has any sense or knowledge of education. It is that if we take £46 million out of the general education pool, there will be £46 million less in the general education pool for the education of our children. I know that the £46 million will be returned in specialised grants, but let us consider what remains for education in Britain.
I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) to ask him whether he believed that the HMI report was a little smaller this year because there was a little less to investigate. There is less education available in Britain today, and perhaps two examples from the report will make the case for me. The first is that the overall provision of books in secondary schools was judged to be satisfactory in only two thirds of local education areas. That means that there are insufficient books in one third of education areas. The hon. Member for Dulwich referred to standards, but it helps children to learn if they have books. We are not giving them books, and in some areas the local parent-teacher associations are raising money to buy books. We are supposed to have an education system, yet parents must buy books. How far backwards can we go?
The report also states:In most secondary schools, existing levels of resources could not now be stretched to meet the demands legitimately placed on them by the community at large, nor could they in all cases maintain the existing basic provision.That is the present position, yet £46 million is to be taken away.
If one examines the schedules of the areas that must reduce their educational provision, especially in the shire counties, it is no wonder that the ACC has woken up and has suddenly realised that £46 million will be taken away and then given back for the special projects. It will hit the fabric of the system. It is all very well for employers to complain that children do not have the right levels of numeracy and literacy, but we should provide adequately staffed remedial departments in schools.
§ Mr. Flannery
The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) equated the awakening of the ACC to the great danger that lack of money is causing to the education of our children with ossification, as though the association were dead and gone. Does my hon. Friend agree that the proof that the association is not ossifying is that it has awakened to the realities of the problems facing our children?
§ Mr. Bermingham
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). It is, indeed, an awakening.
Unless resources are available for special education in schools, it will not take place. Some children need special help and I do not deny that such help is expensive. Many other developments are needed, but they will not take place if the resources are not available. To take just one example, there have been adverse comments from the European Court of Human Rights. As the Minister knows, I have been asking questions about special schools, 680 punishment, and so on in relation to the new regulations. The probable outcome of the European Court procedures will be a ruling that corporal punishment in schools is degrading and should be abolished in accordance with the charter. If it is abolished the schools will need resources. Where is the money to come from if the paltry amount now available is further diminished by the withdrawal of £46 million?
It has been said that the proposals will encourage innovation and that we should see what can be done. With great respect, that is rubbish. It is the thin end of the wedge of centralised control for the education sector. I offer a simple scenario. The education authorities will be £46 million poorer, but they may then bid for a share in the pot of gold. Let us suppose that in year 1 authority A makes a bid for some special project. We do not yet know the qualifications, the qualities or the nature of such projects, but let us suppose that the bid succeeds. Is there any guarantee that the project will be allowed to continue in years 2, 3, 4 and 5? Will a lucky few in certain areas be the main beneficiaries of the Bill?
I believe that education is for all. That was the concept behind the 1944 Act. In reality, however, education is steadily becoming something for the rich few. Soon it will be for the selected few and the rich few. If the education system is to serve all the people, it should do just that. the priorities must be determined locally. The facilities and resources should be available for local authorities to do that. After all, their ears are closer to the ground than those of the Department.
Without wishing to be rude, I must say that some of the Department's decisions have left one a little puzzled. Politically, one may not always like the decisions made by education authorities in the shire counties or the metropolitan districts, but by and large they tend to reflect the views of the people in the area. In the metropolitan districts, at least, local councillors test their popularity and their judgment with the electorate not once in four or five years but every year. Moreover, local councillors tend to be governors of district schools and to listen to what the teachers, the pupils and the parents have to say.
As has been rightly said, this is a bad Bill. It is a mean Bill. It takes away from all to give to the few. I cannot see that there is ever any justification in our society for depriving the many to satisfy the whims of the lucky few.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I am pleased to speak after the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). As a noted solicitor, he speaks of the theory rather than the practice of education. If I may say so without meanness, that was clear from his contribution.
§ Mr. Greenway
No, I shall not give way.
The maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) was a notable first effort, and we look forward to hearing much more from him.
We have heard eloquent and striking lectures from a Wykehamist and an Etonian. Having run a school of over 2,000 pupils for seven years, I found it extraordinary to hear what an Etonian said about what will happen to comprehensive schooling. With respect, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) did not seem to 681 have a feeling for what happens in comprehensive schools. He referred to the valuable work of the Schools Council and said that it was essential that its work should continue. The Select Committee has recommended the abolition of the Schools Council. As one who was on the receiving end of the Schools Council's work, I can say that that body has made no impact on the classrooms. It has cost a great deal of money. To say that people who are assembled on the Schools Council are drawn from all walks of life and have, therefore, a great contribution to make is to speak without knowledge of the position. Opposition Members have been hectoring my colleagues who have a long experience of education.
§ Mr. Radice
Most of us learn not just from running schools but from having children in the types of schools about which we have been talking. I have learnt about state education by having my children go through it. I can pick out the achievements and the problems of education. The hon. Gentleman should not decry those Opposition Members who have been fortunate enough to have a privileged education and who have learnt about the state system by sending their children to those schools. I should like to know how many Conservative Members who have been so eloquent about maintaining this system send their children to those schools.
§ Mr. Greenway
The answer is most. I respect anyone who learns from secondhand experience. That is a form of learning, and it should be respected.
I look forward to hearing the reply by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). I extend a warm welcome to him in his new role. He has battled hard and long for education, although I have not always agreed with him. He has been a doughty fighter for his part, and it is good to see his efforts recognised.
I have been pleased to have been associated with the original impetus behind the Bill. As a member of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts during the last Parliament, I was party to recommendation No. 62 in the report on the secondary school curriculum. The recommendation states:the DES should have the ability … to fund direct such new developments on a temporary basis as may seem to it to be desirable".It is easy to jump to the conclusion that the Bill is a sad move towards centralism because the explanatory and financial memorandum states,"Clause 1 empowers the Secretary of State to pay education support grants to local education authorities … in support of expenditure which it appears to him those authorities should be encouraged to incur".If one comes to that conclusion, one misses the thrust of the Bill.
During the last Parliament, the Select Committee visited a large number of schools and other institutions, including non-advanced further education institutions and advanced further education institutions. We have no doubt that it was necessary to give a central thrust of the type that the Bill contains.
The Select Committee report includes the following important statement about these roles—the quotation has not been mentioned previously:Local authorities have a duty to make the best possible provision in the light of local wishes and circumstances; with 682 Government and Parliament having the duty to see that the overall quality of provision matches national aspirations and that it is distributed with some degree of equity through the country.I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend who will reply will bear that quotation in mind. A fair distribution will be of central importance. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) mentioned that point.
Given the delineation of roles, many of us would like to know what system of ensuring fairness will be adopted when allocating money to local education authorities after receiving their bids. I hope that my hon. Friend will answer that question.
The measure introduces greater flexibility as the Secretary of State can implement suddenly needed new schemes. They might include more software for micros in schools, as has been mentioned, and the training of more computer teachers equipped to handle computer education. New initiatives are needed to put more maths and RE teachers, home economists and craft teachers into schools. More educational psychologists are required to help implement Warnock. The recommendations contained in the 1981 Act pushed that point, and it seems to be an area of great need, as Mary Warnock pointed out in The Times Educational Supplement of 11 November when she said:I heard some educational psychologists complaining that just when their contribution was beginning to be better understood by schools and by parents, they found that they had no time to carry out their proper tasks because they were so busy completing statements for children with better needs. Far more children were the subject of those statements than we had envisaged.I should like to say many things about the Bill, but time is pressing. I offer a few suggestions where I believe new initiatives would be valuable once the Bill is passed. The education of 16 to 19-year-old children and young people with special needs requires research and new initiatives. Parents of such children and young people need to know what is available to their children and need to be enthused about it. They need the support of education at that level. The Act could result in useful experimentation.
I should also like to see holiday courses provided for bright children approaching examinations. We forget about the hundreds of thousands of bright children who are not achieving what they should. Under-achievement poses massive problems for schools. There is no way in which that can be glossed over by society.
There should be weekend courses for children of every level of ability and aptitude. I introduced some in my last school and found them successful. I managed to obtain some money from private sources to take children to the sea and to the country and put on special courses for them. Speakers were invited to talk and stimulate them. Bright children in our comprehensive schools do not receive that sort of stimulation otherwise. They do not have the good fortune of children at Winchester and Eton. I know that top generals and politicians visit and talk at those schools. We could set up courses which would enrich the lives of those children and stimulate their wish to learn more to become better motivated citizens. That is a possible option.
There should be more adventure courses for all. Children from all sorts of backgrounds are stimulated by them. The courses have suffered in recent years because they have not changed as they should. They have remained under the Outward Bound concept, which was notable and valuable, but there is room for change and new initiatives. Perhaps the Bill offers a way forward.
683 My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) said that new initiatives in adult education could do nothing but good. There is no question about that. Unemployed and elderly people would greatly benefit. I have seen 18-year-olds and centenarians alike enjoying adult education. There should be an initiative for them. I would not rule it out, particularly as it would keep the elderly people active in mind and therefore in body. They would be happy, and the scheme would benefit society.
I warmly welcome and support the Bill.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I thank the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) for his kind words and congratulate him on being one of those who brought to the end of the debate a little enthusiasm for education. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) on his maiden speech. I hope that we hear him speak on education many more times.
The Secretary of State, in opening the debate, did his Prince of Denmark piece of self-doubt and soul-searching; sadly it is no longer his tragedy. Increasingly, his failure to stand up for education has become a tragedy for education and the nation. For the past 30 years there was a political consensus that education was a good and desirable commodity. The only political arguments were about how quickly extra resources could be made available. There was a little argument about where they should go. In the past few years there seems to have been a complete change. The Government appear no longer to believe in the value or virtue of education. They certainly no longer believe in educational expansion. The Secretary of State seems happy to see much that has been achieved in education destroyed.
The Opposition believe that the Treasury's demands for cuts in Government spending for the next year and future years are unnecessary and wrong. Even in the Conservative party, the Secretary of State for Social Services and the Secretary of State for Defence strongly objected, even if it did not have much effect, to the idea that the budget of their Departments could be cut. The Secretary of State for Education and Science did not seem to realise that his share of the budget had been drastically cut. If he did realise, it appears that he did not want to do anything about it. Education has been and is being savagely cut in real terms. It is against that background that we have to consider the Bill. It is a viper of a Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) described it.
Our education system is extremely hard-pressed, yet the Secretary of State insists in the Bill that local education authorities can find extra cuts of half per cent., which is roughly £46 million, so that he can encourage experiments in education. Not only is it wrong to ask the LEAs to find the money, but it makes serious inroads into the principle of local democracy. He is insisting that LEAs should cut essential services so that he can carry out experiments that he considers desirable. He then asks the LEAs to bid for the money for them.
The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) asked, "What is half per cent., or £46 million?" He had his answer from the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud), who said that £46 million worked out at five or six teachers' salaries in each of our constituencies. It is not half per cent. anyway, 684 because local authorities have virtually no control over 70 per cent. or more of their expenditure. It is fixed. The Government fix the interest rates and more or less fix the teachers' salaries. It is not half per cent. that the Government are asking to have control over. They want control over 1.5 per cent. to 2 per cent. of the budget, where local authorities can choose how much they spend or where they can make cuts.
If it was new money, there would be a different reaction. The Secretary of State claimed that he had to have the measure if he was to carry out educational experiments. The Secretary of State does not need the Bill if he wishes to have new money. He can amend the Education Act 1962.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
I do not understand why new money, as opposed to the money that the local authorities already receive, would make any difference, since the local authorities have an enormous amount of discretion as to how they expend the money that they receive. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that many authorities fall into the trap of thinking that they have duties that do not exist. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why new money would make any difference?
§ Mr. Bennett
Local authorities do not have sufficient money to carry out their existing duties. Much as they would like to carry out experiments, and many do, if insufficient money is available, it is difficult to justify carrying out experiments when the authority is not carry out its basic duties. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) may be able to tell local authorities to cut this, that and the other. Having visited schools, my evidence is that further cuts cannot be made. If we were dealing with new money, we would be putting more resources into education. New money could be used to foster and encourage experiments. If the Secretary of State wished to do that, he could have introduced a simple amendment to the Education Act 1962. However, he has not. He is introducing a measure that enables aim to control the expenditure of local authorities. Several Conservative Members who were on the Select Committee developed that argument, though perhaps in code. The hon. Members for Ealing, North and for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) said that the Select Committee had favoured experimentation, but its underlying message was that extra resources had to be available. That is the key issue. If extra money is available such things are possible. Bearing in mind the hard-pressed position of most local authorities, providing extra money is more difficult.
I wish to cover four areas in my wind-up for the Opposition. First, I wish to show how hard pressed local authorities are and how the half per cent. cut will add to the existing cuts and cause damage to our children's education.
Secondly, I wish to show that local authorities are trying to do much of the experimental work to which the Secretary of State referred. Thirdly, I wish to ask some questions about the areas to which the right hon. Gentleman wishes to extend the initiative. Fourthly, I wish to point to the many areas in local education where experiments are not needed, but where we need cash to translate what has been done experimentally into something that is generally available.
Few Conservative Members seem to realise how hard-pressed education is, especially the schools. They seem to 685 have taken no notice of the warnings or reports by Her Majesty's inspectors or even to have gone into schools. They seem to believe that because rolls are falling spending can be cut on a 1:1 ratio.
Education cannot work in that way. Most education costs are fixed. If pupil numbers fall, the costs remain the same. The principal cost of school buildings is the loan charge. It does not make much difference how many children are in the building. Unless the buildings can be closed and sold, the loan charges remain. Building maintenance does not vary because of the number of children using the building. The cost of maintenance is caused by the elements. The cost of heating schools rises if there are fewer children, because there is less body heat in the building. Savings cannot be made because of falling rolls in areas such as visual aids. We may save a little on materials and paper.
The cost of running the office, telephone, rates, and the caretakers and most of the services provided by the local authority in the form of advisers and others have little effect on economies of scale.
The Government claim that savings can be made on teachers. Even that does not work. The primary school of a few years ago with 252 pupils on its roll was staffed by, for example, a head, seven teachers and, if it was lucky, a part-time teacher who could probably carry the remedial class.
If the number of pupils is reduced to 196—the sort of fall facing most primary schools—and staff numbers are reduced pro rata, the school will be left with a head, six teachers and no part-timers. It may be said that the school will have to get rid of the remedial class and then face a choice: either the head teacher will have to take a class and each teacher take one year or there will have to be six bigger classes—36 in each; still not unreasonable — and mixed-age teaching. That would be a very difficult choice for a head teacher. If a head teaches, every time someone wants to see him and every time another member of the staff is absent two classes will have to be put together. On the other hand, mixed-age teaching leads to considerable problems. It is distressing for a child never to get into the top or oldest class in a school.
I know of some village schools where mixed-age teaching was very successful, but there are some where it was very unsuccessful. Many schools are having to cope either with a head teaching a class or with mixed-age teaching, which is causing considerable difficulties. In most instances, the schools are making manful efforts to overcome the problems, but some children are suffering.
Falling rolls have caused acute problems in primary schools, and the same thing is happening in secondary schools. We should remember that comprehensive education was supposed to be comprehensive in two ways — children should be drawn from a wide range of abilities and social composition, and schools should be comprehensive in the range of subjects that they offered.
Large comprehensive schools can often cope with falling rolls and still offer a variety of subjects. However, we have many small comprehensive schools. There are good reasons for that; we did not want schools to be too large. Many comprehensive schools have sixth form entry, and some are even smaller. Such schools cannot maintain their range of subjects if, with falling rolls, they are expected to suffer a pro rata reduction in teaching 686 numbers. There may be schools where the person who teaches O-level craft subjects can also teach O-level Latin or where the PE teacher can also take German, but that does not happen often. Falling rolls do not offer automatic savings in staff numbers without major reductions in standards.
We got through the bulge in the school population because we benefited from economies of scale. Having enjoyed the benefits of those savings for 15 years, it is ridiculous for the Government to expect to get major economies from contraction. They want to have it both ways. It is like the schoolboy who plays hookey all week and expects to be in the school football team on Saturday.
Many education authorities have not been able to bring their teaching numbers down to the Government's target. The result is that they do not have enough money this year to meet their full costs. The Government are asking local authorities to reduce teaching numbers even further next year. There is a problem in making up the money in the teachers' superannuation fund, partly because of the Government's enthusiasm for retiring teachers early, and teachers will expect a pay rise next year. When all that is taken into account, it can be seen that local authorities will have great difficulty in making ends meet, without themselves imposing cuts. It is against that background that the Government are asking for a further half per cent. cut.
Have the Government looked at the figures involved in making teachers redundant? Local authorities may save money, but by the time the teachers are paid redundancy money, enhanced pensions and sometimes even unemployment money, the bill to the ratepayer and the taxpayer may be as much as the cost of keeping a teacher in work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes), in a powerful speech, said that a lot of experimental work is already going on in schools and that in his area the Government's scheme would divert resources from existing experimentation into areas that the Secretary of State might regard as useful.
Which of the experiments that local authorities are now trying does the Secretary of State want to stop and which does he want to encourage? I am amazed by the amount of work that has been done on the introduction of computers into schools. I have come across many schools that have done smashing work with computers but which suffer from a break-in or some other problem. Because the equipment is missing, the programme of teaching is broken. It is probably not good to go back to the traditional chalk but it was much easier to get replacement chalk than it is to get replacement computers if they are vandalised or damaged.
One of the problems with such innovation is that it is necessary to provide a back-up. It is vital that damaged equipment can be replaced, particularly in special schools, which have done excellent work teaching children how to use computers. The Government must make sure that they provide money so that schools can install not just new equipment but replacements if the original is damaged as a result of fair wear and tear or a break-in.
Much good work is being done by integrating traditional crafts into practical design courses. In some areas much experimental work is under way as a result of the Government persuading authorities to do so. The danger is that that will stop as a result of the Bill and local authorities will have to bid for money.
687 Some schools have developed links between primary and secondary levels for the teaching of science and French. That is an important development which breaks down the division between the two levels and ensures continuity. There has been some good experimental work in the north-west with girls who under-achieve in maths and science. Schools are seeing whether they can achieve better results by separating the girls from the boys to encourage greater expectations and intentions of excellence.
All the experimental work that I have described has been embarked upon as a result of careful study by LEAs. The Government are putting that at risk with their half per cent. Local authorities will either abandon such experiments or they will bid for the Secretary of State's money. If LEAs get the money back, the Government will have simply created a bureaucracy through which LEAs bid for the money that they want to do something that they used to do. If they do not get the money much valuable work will be lost.
The Secretary of State listed some of the subjects on which he wanted experimentation. The Opposition have considerable reservations about it. The Minister has been asked whether the Bill is a back door for the Government initiating experiments in grammar schools. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science has been travelling recently and making speeches in which he says that he wants to reintroduce grammar schools. He has done that at Conservative party meetings and not in his ministerial role. The Opposition would like a clear statement that the Government will not use the money to carry through that backward step. Having failed to persuade Conservative local authorities to go against the wishes of parents, it would be unfortunate if they dangled carrots of money to encourage them to embark on such experiments. I hope that the Minister will make it absolutely clear that the Government do not intend to use the money in that way.
We now have a long list showing what the Minister wants to be developed with the money. They are all being done. Curriculum development is already being pursued. Moreover, who have been pioneering records of achievement—education authorities. The Minister also talks of the Cockcroft report about maths. Many authorities are pursuing it. All that is stopping them doing more is lack of money. If there were some new money we would get somewhere, but without it progress is difficult. The nice bit is about primary schools in rural and inner urban areas being encouraged to adopt good practice. What does the Minister mean by that? It is rather like designing an advert—trying to bring everyone in so that there are some goodies for everyone. We have to remember that we are talking about only £46 million. If he tries to put out a generous prospectus, the Minister ought to fill in a little more of the detail.
Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will talk of teacher management, but what are the problems of that? The biggest problem in teacher management at present is that the career prospects for many teachers have disappeared with falling rolls. One of the easiest ways of encouraging teachers to take part in and improve the service is to offer a better career structure. The prospects for promotion motivate people, perhaps sadly, very effectively. How is the Minister to deal with that unless there is to be a very great deal more money for the education service?
688 Several of my hon. Friends argued for equal allocation. The trouble is that some of the poorest areas have the most problems in keeping up with present services and may not be in a position to bid for this money because of their lack of facilities. I ask the Minister to make it clear that there will be a fair distribution of the money over the whole country and that it will not go to a few selected local authorities, either because of the political party which controls them or because of the number of advisers that they may have who are in a position to put together and prepare bids. We all want to know what will be the mechanism for the allocation of this money.
It was suggested by the Secretary of State that it would be up to the local authorities to make their bids and that, if they did not make bids, less money would be spent. My advice from the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities is that they do not want to participate in this scheme. Is the right hon. Gentleman, in a sense, giving them a veto? If none of them makes any bid for this money, presumably he will not take money off them. It may be that in the end they will not be able to hold ranks. If they hold ranks, will the Secretary of State force them to take some of this money?
I suggest that if the Secretary of State really wants to do some innovating in education there are some really simple measures that he can take. Almost every primary school has empty classroom spaces. Large parts of the country have very few nursery classes. It would be easy to establish nursery classes in those schools. It would not cost the Government very much. Nursery classes can often be part-time, mornings or afternoons only. That means paying a teacher half salary. Comparing the pay of a teacher on half salary with paying that same teacher unemployment and other benefits produces only a marginal difference. The Government could usefully employ people in the community to teach in nursery school classes without adding to public expenditure. That would ensure that far more children got off on the right foot when they arrived at ordinary schools. They would at least have the language to be able to communicate and start to take advantage of the rest of the money that we spent on education.
I put to the Minister what has happened in most primary schools. His enthusiasm for falling rolls and wanting teacher numbers to be cut has meant that remedial department after remedial department has disappeared from our primary schools. Everyone knows the benefit of taking out those children who have learning difficulties, whether in reading or in numeracy, and teaching them in small groups. That was being done extremely well five, six or seven years ago. It has now disappeared from school after school. If the Government have any money, they could put back that provision. Many of the teachers who ran those remedial groups are now taking mainstream classes in the same schools. The skills are still there. It merely means giving the education authority the number of staff to re-establish that sort of teaching.
I also believe that much more has to be done to develop the curriculum. In my view, the best way of helping curriculum development is to put in teachers and make it possible for them to move from area to area. To do it, again the Government should be putting up new money.
The comprehensive system has not been completed. There are a great many schools that did not get their final bits of building. In this connection I make one constituency point. I have Audenshaw high school in my 689 constituency. It was built originally as a grammar school. There was an HMI report in 1938 stating that it needed a gymnasium. It still needs it all these years afterwards, even though today it is a successful comprehensive school. Nevertheless, three quarters of the children have to spend their time outside, whatever the weather, because there is no gymnasium. There are also the questions of community schools and education for life. These are all issues on which the Government could spend money.
This is a disappointing Bill. It offers teachers, children, students, lecturers, educationists, local authority councillors and administrators no new money and no relief from the present critical problems in education. There is the danger that existing resources will be diverted to the periphery, while essentials will be neglected. The evidence is that the Government do not trust local democracy and want to weaken the whole concept of democracy. If the Government continue to attack democracy in the way they have done, how can they expect people to stand up for national democracy? It is important that we, of all people, say that we have faith in elections, whether for local democracy or national democracy.
I ask the Government to abandon the Bill, even at this late stage, and turn their energy and resources to campaigning for decent education for all, from the cradle to the grave. They should remember that commercial advertising is only too willing to extol the virtues of consumer goods. The Government should be demanding and extolling the virtues of education and asking their colleagues to spend more in that direction. They should speak out loud and clear about the value and virtue of education. They should campaign for more and more resources to be spent on education, and not meekly lie down in the face of Treasury plans to cut education spending in real terms.
The trouble with this Bill is that it is a little cosmetic measure when the whole fabric of education is at stake. I hope that the Bill will be defeated, and that Ministers will turn their attention to saving education from the cuts and apathy that this Government are producing.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Bob Dunn)
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) on an excellent maiden speech. It was confidently delivered and showed the great expertise that he will bring to bear in our debates in this Chamber. I look forward to hearing him speak on many occasions.
This has been a stimulating debate, despite the fact that most Opposition Members to whom I have had the dubious pleasure of listening hardly referred to the Bill. About nine of them have spoken. I was delighted to see in the Chamber my old friend the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). If the share of votes that he achieved at the last election is any indication, this will be his last Parliament. In the formerly safe Labour seat of Hillsborough, only 37 per cent. of those who voted supported him, while 63 per cent. voted against him.
I wish to say two other things about the hon. Gentleman. It has been my general opinion that if the hon. Gentleman is against something, one is normally doing the right thing if one is for it. Secondly, he used great words 690 to condemn the recommendation of the Select Committee on which the Bill is based. The Select Committee said that the Department of Education and Scienceshould have the ability, or use existing powers where it has them, to fund direct such new developments on a temporary basis as may seem to it to be desirable".The hon. Member for Hillsborough condemned that. He said that it was bad, awful, malign—and other such words. The quotation is from the minutes of the proceedings of the Select Committee, paper 116, part I, dated December 1981. That recommendation, which is in paragraph 9.35 of the report, was agreed without a Division. I understand from reading the report that the hon. Gentleman was present. If he was, why did he not precipitate a Division to show his opposition? If I have read the report incorrectly, as I might have done, and the hon. Gentleman was not there, why was he not present to prevent such an alleged enormity from being enacted? We must understand the basis of that opposition.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) raised several points. Of all the speeches that I have heard from the Opposition tonight, including those from the Opposition Front Bench, his was perhaps the best, both in its content and in its questions. I hope that my remarks will not be considered the kiss of death to what might be a promising career.
The hon. Gentleman asked about money going to the private sector. I assure him that the grants will be paid only to local education authorities. Clause 1(2) clearly states:Education support grants shall be payable to local education authorities in England and Wales".The grants will be paid in support of expenditure by local education authorities. However, I should be misleading all concerned if I failed to add that the local authority expenditure supported by grant could take the form of payments to third parties. By that I mean voluntary organisations, youth clubs and other such youth service interests. However, I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and will attempt to allay it in Committee. I can do no more than that at this stage.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) on his maiden speech from the Front Bench, and I congratulate also his colleague the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). I have always liked the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, because in Committee on the Education Bill he was always a strong advocate of his case. He always managed to introduce a touch of humour to our proceedings which his fierce appearance wrongly suggests he lacks.
I listened to the comments about my advocating a return to selection. I might have been acting in a political or ministerial context, but my remarks have always been linked to the powers that the Government created under the Education Act 1980. In other words, local education authorities have the power to make proposals about the reorganisation of secondary education in their communities, subject to approval by the Secretary of State for Education and Science under section 12 of the Act. The hon. Member for Durham, North castigated me for doing just that. As the Minister responsible for schools, my role is to remind local education authorities of their precise powers under the law. If I did not do that, I should be failing in my duty.
Compared with the legislation that was passed by the Labour Government, our behaviour is as different as chalk from cheese. I remember circular 10/65, which requested 691 local education authorities to reorganise along comprehensive lines. Then 11 years later, Mrs. Williams, the former right hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage, who sadly—or, on reflection, not sadly—is no longer a Member of Parliament, enacted the Education Act 1976 requiring local education authorities to go comprehensive regardless of whether they wanted to. Therefore, I do not need any Opposition Member to tell me what speeches to make or to tell the Government what legislation to pass. The charge of centralism and interference must be directed to the Labour party.
I missed a number of speeches, including that of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud)——
§ Mr. Dunn
The hon. Gentleman must not behave as though he were as dim as a Toc-H lamp. Local education authorities have the power to reorganise. That is the law. We are not changing that.
I was sorry to miss the remarks of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire North-East and the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes). I shall read their speeches in Hansard tomorrow and write to them on any points that need clarification. That applies also to my hon. Friends the Members for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) and for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel). I was sorry to miss their valuable contributions.
Contrary to popular belief, this has been a good debate. I listened with great interest to Members from both sides of the House, and especially to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central. I am delighted to see him in the House. He is a worthy successor to a worthy father. However, he should be on the Conservative Benches, and one day we may see him there—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can look after himself. He had years and years of playing that ball game at Eton.
I appreciate the concern that has been expressed and will attempt to cover as many of the points raised as time permits. However, I wish first to stress some of the important points made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he opened the debate. The House will know that the idea of a limited power for the Secretary of State to pay grants to local education authorities is not new. It crops up almost every time a Government perceive a national priority which they wish to encourage. The Government have decided that the idea should be turned into statute law, in response to the Select Committee's unanimous recommendation. I dare say that we shall hear more from Opposition Members about that.
§ Mr. Dunn
There is no show without Punch.
I listened sympathetically to the anxieties expressed by some hon. Members about the scope of the Bill. I appreciate the fear about excessive centralisation, but that is far from the point of the Bill. I shall give the House figures to put the matter in perspective. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central misunderstood my right hon. Friend. The amount of expenditure that the grant could support will he limited by the Bill—and would require primary legislation to change it—to 0.5 per cent. of the Government's plan for local authorities' total expenditure on education. In 1983–84 this was £9.15 billion, and the 692 upper limit on grant-aided expenditure would have been less than £50 million. The primary legislation requirement to change the 0.5 per cent. upwards or downwards is a real safeguard for local authorities. The amount of grant paid will depend on the level of grant awarded for each activity. But even if expenditure were supported to its limits and grant was paid at 70 per cent., the amount of grant paid through ESGs would have been only about £32 million in 1983–4.
In 1983–84, specific grants paid to local authorities for various purposes totalled approximately £2.4 billion. Education accounts for less than £100 million of that total, although it is the largest local authority service. The proposed education support grants, even if they were used up to the statutory limit, would have increased that figure of £2.4 billion by less than 1.5 per cent. Those figures show that the Bill is designed to apply to expenditure only at the margin. Its purpose is to enable the Secretary of State to encourage local authorities in the direction of national priorities and initiatives. The House will readily accept that this could be enormously helpful. It would give a new financial dimension to the regular discussions which my right hon. Friend holds with his partners in the education service and would stimulate local education authorities into action, brought about by the need to bid for an item on the list of activities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), in an excellent speech, referred to funding in support of the youth service. I am pleased to tell her that under the Bill it would be possible for youth service activities to be supported by education support grants. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend's speech. She is far too modest to state the full credentials that enable her to speak with such authority, but, as a former chairman of the education committee of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, she can speak with more authority than virtually any other hon. Member. My hon. Friend told us some home truths, which Opposition Members did not like, about the mild hypocrisy of those who oppose specific grants and the way in which this proposal would react——
§ Mr. Dunn
My hon. Friend raised an important point about the timing of decisions as to which authorities would receive education support grants. I hope my hon. Friend will be reassured when I say that our aim is that bids will be invited and decisions taken prior to local authority budgets being settled in January or February of each year.
My hon. Friend stressed the importance of the partnership between central and local government. I should not expect most chief executives of local authorities to be immediate and violent supporters of our proposals, but the chief executive of Harrow, writing in the Local Government Chronicle about partnerships in the education service, said that the partnersshould support the DES attempt to stimulate development by retaining a small proportion of block grant for pump priming.Some Members, in connection with the activities to be supported, have suggested other areas where the grants could be used and some Members, such as the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes), have criticised the scope of the activities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to eight possible areas of activity, but I must remind the House that no decisions will 693 be taken until there have been full consultations with local authority associations, and of course any proposals that we make will be subject to the approval of Parliament.
In welcoming the Bill, I gather that my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden asked whether bodies other than local authority associations would be consulted. The interest of local education authorities is obviously more direct than that of any other group because it is expenditure by them that will be supported by the education support grants. That is why it seemed fair to us for their right to consultation to be included in the Bill. However, I am pleased to assure my hon. Friend that the views expressed by any other bodies with an interest will be taken carefully into account. However, I should like to add a cautionary word. Clearly the amount of grant available will be strictly limited and it would be wasteful to spread it far too thinly to be effective.
As my right hon. Friend said in introducing the Bill, it is our intention that the expenditure supported by ESGs should build up over a period of years, hence the level of expenditure supported in the first year or so would be lower than the ceiling of 0.5 per cent. of the Government's plans for local authorities' education expenditure. I welcome our commitment to include pilot schemes on records of achievement, matters to do with village schools and the special needs of special schools. Indeed, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) referred to the needs of special schools.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the use of education support grants to encourage initiatives in meeting special educational needs. Although the Government cannot promise that extra money will be available for special education in the near future, we are always keen to look for ways in which LEAs can be encouraged to develop their provision. One way in which education support grants might be used is to assist LEAs which want to put resources into ordinary schools to provide for children with special educational needs by, for example, furnishing and equipping special resource centres—perhaps making use of space made free by falling rolls.
The House will be pleased to know that the Department will shortly be publishing guidance on designing and adapting spaces for special educational needs in ordinary schools, and support for some individual projects will enable that advice to be tested and evaluated in practice. The assistance might extend to the provision of suitable microelectronic aids for teaching. Other applications could include the provision of interface devices for individual children with severe handicaps to enable them to benefit from microelectronic aids to learning and communications.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) and others raised the question of money. Several hon. Members suggested that the Bill would enable the Secretary of State to take away local authorities' money. "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" were, I gather, words used by the right hon. Member for Halton. In fact, the Bill is concerned with Government grants and money voted by this House. The Bill would enable the Secretary of State to influence at the margin the distribution of grants in accordance with educational priorities. I shall repeat that message as often as I can. To hear the remarks of Opposition Members, one would think that this was a 694 radical and novel proposal. It is nothing of the sort. The Secretary of State mentioned several grants already in existence. Some of those — for example, the urban programme — were introduced while Labour was in power.
Several hon. Members questioned whether the Government's expenditure plans for local authorities were large enough to justify new initiatives. As the House knows, the grants will not be paid until the 1985–86 financial year. As my right hon. Friend said, the Government are in the process of considering their plans for expenditure by local authorities for that year. Their decisions will be set out in the public expenditure White Paper to be published early next year. A decision about the level of aggregate Exchequer grant for 1985–86 will not be made until next autumn. The Government will be taking a wide range of factors into account, including likely expenditure arising from specific grants, before making that decision.
As for 1984–85, I accept that the rate support grant settlement for that year is tough and will require LEAs to take difficult decisions about priorities. For those local authorities with responsibilities for education, the targets allow in aggregate for just short of a 1 per cent. cash increase in 1984–85 over 1983–84 budgets. The impact of our proposals on the level and quality of the service provided will depend on the authority's ability to contain its costs and upon its success in making savings in other areas. Pupil numbers are continuing to fall by about 2 per cent. a year, and many authorities have made, and are malting, considerable efforts to remove surplus school places and to make other savings in response to this fall in pupil numbers.
The relationship between 1983–84 budgets and 1984–85 targets differs markedly between authorities depending on their level of spending relative to target and grant-related expenditure in 1983–84. More than a quarter of education authorities will be able to increase their budgets by 3 per cent. in 1984–85 compared with 1983–84 without exceeding their targets.
I welcome the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel), who expressed the view that the proposal was in line with the Select Committee's recommendation. He raised a number of detailed points which must be examined carefully in Committee. He was especially worried about how allocations would be divided between authorities and wondered whether a formula would be used to decide how much an authority would receive. It is important to maintain flexibility on that matter. The appropriate method for dividing allocations between authorities will vary according to activities and, therefore, the House will accept that we wish to consider the matter in some detail with representatives of the local authority associations.
The Bill should not be taken to imply a desire to impose central Government's views on local government. That is not its purpose. Many important developments in the education service originated in the policies of enlightened and imaginative local education authorities, and I am sure that that will continue. Other developments may owe their origins to the report of a group with wide experience in the education service, for example, the Warnock committee report on special educational needs, or the Cockcroft committee's report on maths. The purpose of the Bill is to 695 give financial encouragement to the implementation of important new policies and developments, whatever their origins.
The hon. Member for Durham, North quoted the recent HMI report. Contrary to the impression that he gave, the main messages of that report, which was published in July, are that overall provision for education has not deteriorated since 1981, and that most aspects of education in schools and colleges are satisfactorily provided for. Her Majesty's inspectors identified certain deficiencies in some areas. That also applied to some institutions, especially concerning the use made of existing resources. The Government are not complacent about those findings and we look to local education authorities to join us in our efforts to bring about necessary improvements. As the 1983 HMI report made clear, there is no simple relationship between expenditure on the one hand and the quality of education and achievements of pupils on the other. The ability and dedication of teachers is clearly important. The hon. Member for Durham, North said that he was in favour of state schools, but against private schools, the assisted places scheme and choice in all areas. We will mark him for that while he is the shadow spokesman on education. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 197, Noes 115.697
|Division No. 67]||[10 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Amess, David||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Ashby, David||Dover, Denshore|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Dunn, Robert|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Durant, Tony|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Dykes, Hugh|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Eggar, Tim|
|Baldry, Anthony||Evennett, David|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Favell, Anthony|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Benyon, William||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Berry, Sir Anthony||Forman, Nigel|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Fox, Marcus|
|Body, Richard||Franks, Cecil|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Freeman, Roger|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Fry, Peter|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Gale, Roger|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Galley, Roy|
|Bright, Graham||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Brinton, Tim||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Gow, Ian|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Greenway, Harry|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Gregory, Conal|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)|
|Budgen, Nick||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Bulmer. Esmond||Ground, Patrick|
|Burt, Alistair||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Butterfill, John||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Chope, Christopher||Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hayes, J.|
|Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hayward, Robert|
|Cockeram, Eric||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Coombs, Simon||Heddle, John|
|Cope, John||Hickmet, Richard|
|Couchman, James||Hirst, Michael|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Holt, Richard||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Hooson, Tom||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Hordern, Peter||Mudd, David|
|Howard, Michael||Murphy, Christopher|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Needham, Richard|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Neubert, Michael|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Newton, Tony|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Norris, Steven|
|Hunter, Andrew||Onslow, Cranley|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Oppenheim, Philip|
|Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Ottaway, Richard|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Page, John (Harrow W)|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Key, Robert||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Pawsey, James|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Knowles, Michael||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Latham, Michael||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Powley, John|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Raffan, Keith|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Lightbown, David||Rathbone, Tim|
|Lilley, Peter||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Lord, Michael||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Luce, Richard||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|McCrindle, Robert||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Sims, Roger|
|Maclean, David John.||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Stern, Michael|
|Madel, David||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Major, John||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Malone, Gerald||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Maples, John||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Marland, Paul||Thurnham, Peter|
|Marlow, Antony||Tracey, Richard|
|Mates, Michael||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Mather, Carol||Warren, Kenneth|
|Maude, Francis||Watts, John|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Mellor, David||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Merchant, Piers||Wilkinson, John|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Wood, Timothy|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Yeo, Tim|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Mitchell, David (NW Hants)||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and Mr. Ian Lang.|
|Alton, David||Crowther, Stan|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Dalyell, Tarn|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)|
|Barnett, Guy||Dixon, Donald|
|Barron, Kevin||Dormand, Jack|
|Beith, A. J.||Dubs, Alfred|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Eastham, Ken|
|Blair, Anthony||Evans, John (St. Helens N)|
|Boyes, Roland||Ewing, Harry|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Fatchett, Derek|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||Faulds, Andrew|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)|
|Cohen, Harry||Fisher, Mark|
|Corbett, Robin||Flannery, Martin|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Cowans, Harry||Freud, Clement|
|Craigen, J. M.||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Gould, Bryan||Parry, Robert|
|Gourlay, Harry||Patchett, Terry|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Hardy, Peter||Penhaligon, David|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Pike, Peter|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Prescott, John|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Radice, Giles|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Redmond, M.|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Loyden, Edward||Snape, Peter|
|McCartney, Hugh||Soley, Clive|
|McGuire, Michael||Spearing, Nigel|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|McKelvey, William||Stott, Roger|
|Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|McWilliam, John||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Madden, Max||Tinn, James|
|Marek, Dr John||Wainwright, R.|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Wallace, James|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Warden, Gareth (Gower)|
|Maxton, John||Wareing, Robert|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Welsh, Michael|
|Michie, William||Winnick, David|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Woodall, Alec|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Nellist, David||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Ron Leighton.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).