HC Deb 05 June 1997 vol 295 cc560-634 4.10 pm
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 20, leave out `1996–97' and insert '1999–2000'.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 29, in clause 2, page 1, line 22, leave out '1997–98' and insert '1999– 2000'.

No. 30, in page 2, line 25, leave out '1997–98' and insert '1999–2000'.

No. 15, in clause 3, page 3, line 25, at end insert— '(g) prescribe circumstances in which existing participation agreements due to terminate at the end of the 1997–98 school year may be extended by a period of up to two years.'. No. 31, in clause 5, page 4, line 40, leave out '1997–98' and insert '1999–2000'.

No. 32, in page 5, line 4, leave out '1997–98' and insert `1999–2000'.

No. 33, in page 5, line 8, leave out '1997–98' and insert `1999–2000'.

No. 17, in clause 7, page 6, line 36, leave out '1997' and insert '1998'.

Mrs. Gillan

First, Mr. Martin, I welcome you to the Chair. I take the opportunity of extending a welcome to the occupants of the Government Front Bench. I think that I welcomed all of them individually on Second Reading except for the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris). We shall be covering some familiar territory that the hon. Lady and I enjoyed debating during the Education Bill 1997. She was then joined by her redoubtable colleague the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). We shall miss the hon. Gentleman greatly from our education debates both this afternoon and evening and in future.

I offer the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), the shadow Secretary of State. She is not in robust health at the moment. We wish her a speedy recovery. She will be back with us, no doubt, at the beginning of next week.

The Second Reading debate took place as recently as the beginning of this week, and the tone of it certainly set the proposed legislation in context. We have tabled the amendments because of that tone.

The Bill was introduced with indecent haste. It seems that the Government could not wait to rush headlong into abolishing assisted places. I accept that the then Labour Opposition promised to do so 18 years ago, which means that they had to wait 18 years before fulfilling their promise. The tone of the debate on Monday, however, showed their true hostility to independent schools and their hostility to the admirable assisted places scheme.

The APS has widened opportunities for able children from less well-off families throughout almost the entire period during which we had Conservative Governments from 1979. More than 80,000 children have been educated in a variety of schools under that admirable scheme. The list includes some of the most well-known independent schools, not least Fettes, the school of the Prime Minister, which provides assisted places to many children who come from less well-off families than the family of the Prime Minister.

I am proud that my old school, Cheltenham ladies college—I believe that I have been joined in the House by two old girls from the college, albeit not on the Opposition Benches—is represented on the Government Benches. Like me, they attended at a time when only those parents who could afford the astronomical fees were able to have their daughters educated there. The opportunity that they and I received is now being summarily taken away from children whose parents do not have enough money to meet those fees.

The effect of the Bill is to turn independent schools into a socio-economic exclusive zone. Only the children of the very well-off will be able to take up a place at those schools, unless schemes are introduced to replace the present Government funding under the assisted places scheme.

The take-up of the scheme has been practically 100 per cent. at all stages. It is extremely popular with parents. Although the Government have pooh-poohed the results achieved by children holding assisted places, there is no doubt that when we examine the academic results across GCSEs and A-levels, children who hold assisted places repeatedly out-perform children in other forms of education.

4.15 pm
Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Can the hon. Lady tell the House whether that statement is universally true? Will she acknowledge that, although at the first schools involved in the assisted places scheme, 50 per cent. of the students were gaining five or more good GCSEs, at the schools that have more recently entered the APS, only 19 per cent. of the students are getting five or more good GCSEs? Will she accept that standards are not uniformly high at all the schools involved in the scheme?

Mrs. Gillan

No, I do not accept that. The proportion of pupils in assisted places who achieved grades A to C at GCSE, if I remember correctly, was of the order of 90 per cent. Over the period that the scheme has existed, it has been shown consistently that pupils holding assisted places have out-performed pupils in other areas of the education system.

The Government have rushed headlong to end the scheme. Conservative Members have continually challenged their intentions. The Government said that the abolition of the scheme was based on two premises: that it would reduce class sizes and that it would benefit the many, not the few.

The claim that class sizes would be reduced has been challenged by the independent schools and by commentators without a vested interest. When the Chartered Institute of Public Finance examined the goals that the Government had set to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds, it estimated that there was a gap of at least £250 million between the money that may be saved by the abolition of the APS and the money required to keep that pledge.

The Government have consistently failed to give us details of the financial mechanisms. How are the 38,000 pupils who are currently being educated in the assisted places scheme to be absorbed by the state system? What provisions will be made for the extra numbers of pupils who will have to be accommodated by the local education authorities?

Can we be assured that the type of education that would have been available to pupils who could reasonably have expected to take up an assisted place will be available to them in the state sector? I refer to the variety in the curriculum offered by independent schools, the amount of sport played at those schools and the general terms and conditions surrounding education in independent schools. How can the Government ensure similar provision for those pupils in the state sector?

The costs have been fudged over and over again. One of the ways in which the Government have tried to hide the real costs is by saying that an assisted place costs some £800 more on average than a place in the state sector. But they have failed to take into account the capital costs that LEAs will incur in expanding schools to take the extra pupils.

I hope that the Minister will tell us how he will find the money to ensure that LEAs, such as that in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), do not find themselves in dire circumstances as a result having to absorb those pupils who will no longer be eligible for assisted places.

The amendments have been designed to make the Government stop and think. There is no doubt that they will ride roughshod over the scheme, abolishing it as soon as they can, but why have they introduced the measure so quickly? Why could they not take some time to examine the implications of abolition? Why are they not consulting? In other areas of government, reviews and consultations appear every 10 minutes, but not on the assisted places scheme.

Why not allow all the children to finish their education, not just to the end of primary, but right up to the end of secondary? The amendments would achieve that, and I hope that the Government will consider them seriously before the Bill starts to affect the lives of children in a way that they will come to regret.

Why not allow schools such as Manchester grammar school more time to take the lead? That school is admirably trying to set up a fund to replace the money that it will lose as a result of the Bill. Only today, the Evening Standard reports that some 25 schools of the Girls Public Day School Trust are attempting to get together a fund to cover the 3,000 places in those 25 schools that the Government are casting aside.

Those schools have no time to get together, so 26 schools are effectively working on a scheme and the remainder are being rushed into a timetable which they cannot possibly achieve. If the scheme is to be abolished, it is admirable that those independent schools that have taken part in it should seek an alternative way of providing places for children from low-income families. I strongly recommend that the Government take the amendments seriously. They would provide time to ensure the protection of the education of a future generation of children.

The amendments would allow schemes to be set up properly to provide money at present provided by the assisted places scheme. They would ensure that there were schools of a suitable nature in the state sector to absorb the children who unfortunately would not get an assisted place. In addition, they would give LEAs time to plan for what will be an overwhelming increase in numbers in many areas.

Where will children go if the scheme is abolished and if the schools do not manage to mount a rescue plan? Where will children go who, for example, want to attend a single-sex school or a school of a particular religious denomination? It is important that those questions are answered. We have had no answers, so I presume that the Government have none and so need time to find them.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

Does my hon. Friend agree that any problem involving the availability of places at a denominational school or a single-sex school—caused by the abolition of the assisted places scheme—might mean that a local education authority unintentionally breached the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 or even the Race Relations Act 1976? The Government would have landed that LEA in a legal difficulty that was no fault of its own.

Mrs. Gillan

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Local education authorities could have some difficulties with equal opportunities legislation. We have received no explanation from the Government, and we are not satisfied that they have even considered those points in their headlong rush to introduce the Bill.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Following on from that point, does my hon. Friend agree that, in some circumstances, it might be more expensive for an LEA to meet its statutory duties—to provide appropriate education for individual children—outside the private sector and the assisted places scheme?

Mrs. Gillan

My hon. Friend has much experience in education, and he is right. That is another example of the questions that are raised by the destruction of the scheme that have not been answered by the Government at any stage. I see no evidence that those questions have even been considered by the Government, which is very worrying.

Have the Government considered the effect of the scheme on individuals? I believe that the Government need time to consider that effect. An article in The Times outlined the fact that lone parents will be worst hit by the end of the assisted places scheme. That is one of the aspects that worry Conservatives. Single mothers would be among the biggest losers if the scheme were abolished. A survey carried out in October 1996 by—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Lady, but the amendments restrict her to a discussion of the date of operation, not the general matters that she is raising.

Mrs. Gillan

I thank you for your guidance, Mr. Martin. I am seeking to—

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

The hon. Member is filibustering.

Mrs. Gillan

The Secretary of State, from a sedentary position, says that I am filibustering. I am certainly not filibustering. I have never filibustered in my life. [Laughter.] Labour Members may laugh, but the record shows that I have never filibustered.

I am trying to point out to the Government that if the amendments are accepted, they will have time to consider the questions that I am raising and they are therefore pertinent to the argument about the delay suggested in the amendments. With your permission, Mr. Martin, I will pursue that line of argument, but I do not intend to take up the time of the Committee—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. It was not so much guidance that I was giving the hon. Lady, but more of an instruction.

Mrs. Gillan

We all like the smack of firm leadership, Mr. Martin.

If the Government accepted the amendments, they would have time to consider the implications for single mothers. In October 1996, the Girls Public Day School Trust carried out a survey that showed that more than a third of those who benefited from the scheme were single parents. Most of the 1,710 families who responded to the survey had low incomes of under £10,000 a year. More than half of the parents in the survey said that they had applied to the scheme because they would like an independent education for their child. They believed that that style of education was best fitted to their child, but they could not afford it themselves. It is single mothers who will suffer from the Bill.

The amendments would give the Government time to consult their supporters. The Government argue that they were swept into power on their manifesto and that they must keep each and every pledge in it. I can admire a political party for that, but I do not admire a Government who bring in legislation with such rapidity that they do not discuss with their supporters who will be affected by the Bill whether it is a good idea. A survey conducted by MORI for the Independent Schools Information Service showed that more than 55 per cent. of Labour party supporters backed the scheme, but the Government have given themselves no time to consult Labour voters—and, probably, Labour party members—who will be affected badly by their proposals.

4.30 pm

The amendments simply ask the Government to pause and reflect. We ask them to take time to consult schools and parents, examine the educational outcomes and the alternative provision—to ensure that the alternative provision is similar to what is currently provided—and talk to local educational authorities, which, after all, will have to bear the burden of the legislation. I have no evidence that the present ministerial team has consulted LEAs about the implications of the Bill.

We need to safeguard the education of all our children. The Government say that they care deeply about education—in fact, it is "education, education, education"—but, instead of taking a responsible attitude to the Bill, they have introduced it with indecent haste. It is a short Bill, but it is far from simple in terms of the effect that it will have. It would be easy to introduce a very short Bill to abolish the House of Commons, but that, too, would not be simple in terms of its outcome.

I ask the Government to take a breathing space and consider how they will approach the legislation in a proper fashion. I believe that many families, including children, will suffer directly as a result of the Bill that they have introduced so abruptly, without examining its implications.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply to the questions that I have raised. I hope that he will be able to give us evidence that adequate consultation has taken place and that he has thought about how he will tackle what will follow the passage of the Bill.

Mr. Don Foster

I do not intend to delay the Committee, but this is clearly a delaying amendment. The Opposition are trying to prevent the speedy passage of a Bill which my party supports, and wants to see on the statute book as quickly as possible. Later in the proceedings, we shall want to probe the Government a little further and suggest some minor amendments to the Bill, but we consider it vital for it to be passed quickly.

We believe that the assisted places scheme has created a two-tier system, that it is divisive and that it did not even succeed in meeting the criteria laid down for it by the previous Administration. As I made clear on Second Reading, we do not oppose the independent schools sector, and would like a much closer relationship between it and the state sector. One of our amendments suggests ways in which that could be achieved.

I rise merely to place clearly on the record the Liberal Democrats' opposition to the assisted places scheme. We want it to be abolished as quickly as possible, so we shall strenuously oppose these amendments.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

I begin by declaring a personal interest in this subject, as my two children attend schools that have a large number of pupils on assisted places. My children are not in receipt of assisted places. The schools are in the constituency of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster)—my successor as Member for that city—but many of their pupils come from families and households in my constituency and in the rest of Worcestershire.

I am keen that we should give the Government, local education authorities, schools and parents additional time to think about the consequences of this measure, which is why I shall speak so strongly in support of the amendments. I wish that the Government would understand our concerns. They should take advantage of the time that would be given to them if they accepted the amendments, and should reflect on the fact that it is not schools that benefit from the assisted places scheme, but pupils from ordinary families.

During the election campaign, I met many parents who should have been natural Labour voters but who voted Conservative because they wanted to protect the benefits that they receive from the scheme. [Interruption.] There is no point in hon. Members scoffing at parents from relatively under-privileged backgrounds and families on low-incomes who want to take advantage of the scheme. They will take such scoffing very seriously and badly.

I urge the Minister to take the opportunity provided by the amendments to rethink his position. There is no doubt that the measure will produce some savings, but they will be modest. The main problem posed by the Bill will be faced by the schools. By delaying its implementation for a year or two, the Government would show that their approach is not dogmatic and that they are prepared to be open-minded and flexible and to govern in the interests of all the people, as they frequently claim.

I believe that Worcester Royal grammar school, which my son attends, should have more time to plan for the serious impact that the changes will have on it. It is not an elitist school: its fees are low. It was in the state sector until 1983, and it has offered an outstanding education to bright boys in Worcestershire from any background for more than 700 years. The Bill will, suddenly and dramatically, severely endanger that process.

A sign could be put up outside the Worcester Royal grammar school saying, "Rich kids only at this school. By order, T. Blair." That is the problem. The school does not want that to happen; it wants to continue to offer an education of quality to bright boys in the county from any background. It wants to raise more money for bursaries and scholarships, so that it can carry on offering those opportunities while the assisted places scheme is being phased out. The amendments would give the school another year or two, which would be of huge benefit in enabling it to do that.

I and many people in Worcestershire want to help the Worcester Royal grammar school, King's school, Alice Ottley school and St. Mary's convent—the four schools in Worcester city—some of whose parents and pupils benefit from the assisted places scheme. We want to give them more time to cope with the serious challenge that this dramatic development will present to them.

The development of new bursaries and scholarships will play a crucial part in ensuring that those schools do not become elitist. I do not want them to be elitist: that would be wrong. As I said, the Worcester Royal grammar school has offered a broadly based education to pupils from any background for more than 700 years. It is crucial that it is allowed to continue to provide that. I hope that the Government will take this group of amendments very seriously.

Ninety per cent. of Worcester Royal grammar school's intake on assisted places comes from maintained primary schools. Those pupils are from ordinary backgrounds. The scheme is not a scam to get rich kids educated on the cheap. It is a genuine attempt to provide a different form of education for a specific group of people who can benefit from it. There are some 260 assisted places at the Worcester Royal grammar school. That is a large number. It may be the largest in the west midlands, and that fact has preserved the diverse, non-elitist character of the school. It desperately needs to be given the time that the amendments would provide to enable it to maintain that character.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) urged the Government to seize this opportunity to stop and think about the implications of their policy. I also urge them to seize the opportunity that is presented by the amendments to consider the matter in detail. Even if they wish to press ahead with the abolition of assisted places—as my hon. Friend said, Labour has been committed to that for 18 years; it is one of the few policies on which it has been consistent—they should pause for breath rather than rush helter-skelter into a policy that is born of a misunderstanding of the role of assisted places. Perhaps it is a misunderstanding in good faith, but it is a misunderstanding nevertheless.

By stopping and thinking, the Government would give opportunities to others to do that. Local education authorities need to be able to plan for the increase in the number of pupils in maintained schools. Some of Worcestershire's schools are full. The sixth-form college in Worcester, which is outside the LEA sector and has separate status, will face a severe increase in demand because the schools offering assisted places are the only schools in the city with sixth forms. Children who will no longer be able to go to those schools will have to go to the sixth-form college, and some will go to the technical college. The sixth-form college is already bursting at the seams and unable to cope with the current number of pupils. It desperately needs time to develop increased facilities and improved buildings to enable it to cope with the large increase.

By considering the amendments favourably and not treating them as a cynical attempt to wreck the Bill, the Government would be doing those institutions a great favour. They would also be conferring a great favour on parents who have one child in an assisted place and hope later to send its sibling to the same school. Those parents will now face difficult decisions about different educations and logistics, and those decisions will be forced on them because they will have children at different schools when they had every reason to expect that they would be at the same school. Of course, delay would enable some parents to take advantage of the scheme for a year or two and perhaps not face those consequences at all.

I accept the Government's sincerity. They think that it is wrong to pay extra to educate children in the independent rather than the state sector. The Government have their sums wrong. I would not be surprised to find that, because of the low fees that are charged by the schools in Worcester city which the children of my constituents attend on assisted places, there would be no saving at all as a result of abolishing assisted places.

If the Government took a little time to look at each area, they might take a different view. They might reach the compromise of limiting the total amount payable under the assisted places scheme to a sum approaching the per-pupil SSA formula figure for that LEA area. That would mean that the assisted places scheme would remain, and disruption would be avoided. Savings would also result, because the difference in the two figures would be available to the Treasury. I suspect that my constituents who use those schools would still be able to take advantage of the scheme without the adverse knock-on consequences for the rest of the education sector in Worcestershire.

I offer that thought to the Government, although I do not like it. It is an unattractive solution, but if I shared the Government's objectives I should think about it. If they accepted the amendments, they would have time to consider such a scheme and it would deliver the same modest savings without the adverse consequences that I have described.

The amendments would also enable the Government to rethink their arithmetic on the scheme. I do not think that they have done that because they cannot fund their pledge on class sizes and bring about abolition. If they gave themselves a few months to sit down at the Treasury and work that out, the facts would stare them in the face. I urge the Government to give themselves an extra year by accepting the amendments, and to look at the figures in detail.

I understand that the savings from the scheme after phasing and at the end of seven years will be about £268 million. The cost of educating pupils who can no longer go to independent schools and of meeting the pledge on class sizes will be at least £418 million. That is a deficit of £150 million. Therefore, if the class size pledge is met it will put £150 million on the Government's public expenditure total. That is not a huge deficit, but it will not be welcomed by the Chancellor, who is trying to meet his tight public expenditure commitments.

4.45 pm

Independent estimates put the amount much higher than £150 million. I have heard the figure of £250 million mentioned on the basis of good authoritative research. The Government should look again at their figures and pause for breath, as the amendments would allow them to do, and think in detail about the scheme's implications for their objectives.

Acceptance of the amendments would also give the Government time to reflect on how to achieve their class size reduction vis-a-vis the phasing of the savings from the scheme. Initially, the savings will be modest. I give the Government credit for not rushing precipitately into abolition in September. I thank them for that because such timing would place a huge burden on schools and parents and would have caused complete chaos as parents scrambled for places elsewhere.

The consequences of the Government's timing are that there will be no savings at all this year. Only in the first year after the phasing out will there be a saving of about £13 million. I understand that at the peak the Government will save about £49 million a year. Therefore, these sums become available only slowly. How will the Government reconcile such phased savings with their class size objective? They need time to think about that, and the conclusion that they will have to reach is that they will need to go into the public expenditure pot more generally. I urge them to seize the opportunity that the amendments present.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who is no longer in his place, made an important point about the need to maintain good relations between the independent and state sectors. One of the chief attractions of the assisted places scheme is that it has done precisely that. It has blurred the edges between the two systems and has prevented the sharp demarcation of "them" and "us" in education. It has made for better relationships between the two sectors. If the Government propose to press ahead with abolition of the assisted places scheme they will have to think about how those relationships can be maintained. I understand that Liberal Democrat Members may have some suggestions on that later in the debate.

We do not want ghettos of excellence in the independent sector that are entirely isolated from the rest of the education system. I was educated in a maintained grammar school that was very like Worcester Royal grammar school. Sadly, the drive to comprehensivisation drove Worcester Royal out of the state sector and into the independent sector against its wishes. I agree with any clever researcher sitting behind the Ministers who may say that it was a Conservative county council which voted for the transfer to comprehensive education in Worcestershire—more is the pity. That was done because of the great pressure of conventional educational wisdom at the time.

A sharp divide was introduced between the independent and state sectors, and that need not have been so. I deplore the fact that schools were forced to transfer across the boundary. I ask the Government to be open minded, original and thoughtful and to respond constructively to the amendments. They should say, "Yes, another year or so would help us to think about these issues in more detail." I am sure that they will say that they are still committed to the abolition of the assisted places scheme and I accept that, although I regret it. It is a fact which I shall have to live with. I again urge the Government to stop and think.

Mr. Boswell

I, too, support the amendment, to which my hon. Friends the Members for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) have spoken so eloquently. I do not think that I need to speak quite at the same length.

I should properly begin by declaring a personal interest in that, until last year, one of my daughters attended a school that availed itself of the assisted places scheme—although few hon. Members' children would qualify for an assisted place, and mine did not.

I put it strongly to the Government that the problem with their proposals—a problem that was identified in the Second Reading debate, in which I did not participate, is that the savings from them are very small. Savings would be made only if they were achieved on the basis of an average cost of funding the places. They would be very small, if not negative, if achieved on the basis of a marginal cost, yet moving such a number of children from the private to the state-maintained sector would have to be secured at a marginal cost. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire said, the savings would build up over time and would be tiny at the beginning. There is therefore a premium on proper planning. It would be sensible if the Government took time within their political pledge and their mandate, if they so regard it.

The Government should in particular consider the position of local education authorities because they need time to plan for the reprovision of places and the capital costs that may apply, especially in cities such as Worcester, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire had the honour to represent, where there is a high concentration of independent schools that offer assisted places.

I see that my hon. Friend's successor, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), has just joined the debate. I know of his interest—which we all share—in education. If the Government want to do a good job by LEAs, they should take time to enable them to plan. Capital costs can be more easily accommodated over a planning period than they can if rushed into in an emergency to meet the duty to educate in the maintained sector.

Having said that, I am more generally conscious of the Bill's impact on education. We must consider the impact on not only institutions and authorities but individuals and the institutions that deliver education. Some of the impact on individuals—families and the children concerned—may be more properly explored in debates on subsequent amendments. I merely flag up my concern now, and I may wish to comment on those matters later.

I would very much like Ministers to consider the institutional impact in a couple of respects. The first is on the schools themselves. The impact is all very well in schools where there is a small minority of assisted places—2 per cent. is being quoted as the lowest participant—but very different for schools that offer 40 to 50 per cent. of their places under the assisted places scheme. There is a risk of destabilising good schools, making them unviable or facing them with some most unpalatable planning options in coping with the new situation. Time to think, plan and make alternative arrangements will soften that impact.

The second and more important impact goes to the heart of what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire said about the division between private and state sectors. Wherever we were educated, many of us were distressed by the outcome in practice of the move to comprehensivisation in the 1960s and 1970s. The move, it was argued, was so conceived as to try to bring children together, but actually succeeded in driving the sectors apart—not by destroying the private sector but by making it more exclusive and, to some extent, more remote from the state sector.

Providing time, within the context of policies for which the Government have a mandate, would enable the independent sector, especially schools offering assisted places, to plan and cope with the change. Of course, many of them, especially the strongest academically and those with the lowest participation in assisted places, could easily float through. They could go on being very successful independent schools almost as if nothing had happened, but something would have happened: the mix of the socio-economic base that had participated in the schools, from which, for example, my daughter benefited indirectly, would come to an end. Incidentally, my daughter never encountered any discrimination between the various children. I do not think that anybody knew who was on an assisted place or not. Ending such a mix would be wrong. I pray in aid George Walden, the former Member for Buckingham, who wrote most eloquently on the dangers of dividing those two sectors of education.

It would be much better to look at ways in which we can use the time set out in the amendment to enable schools, either individually or collectively, to try to hammer out some arrangements so that they can obtain the social advantages of integration without the scheme to whose abolition the Government are committed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham has already mentioned that the Girls Public Day School Trust is considering the possibility of providing bursaries. That is very welcome. It is a strong organisation, of which I have a good deal of experience. Providing such bursaries may be more difficult for individual schools. Would it not be worth considering at, say, the average cost in the maintained sector, enabling a scheme to be set up whereby schools could offer bursaries with a state contribution—not over the odds or at excess cost but at equivalent cost—which could be used on condition that it levered in contributions from the private sector?

Such contributions to provide funds to support integration in education might come from one or two sources. One might be a charitable or, as it were, altruistic source. The Government might also consider whether it was possible—my experience is that to a very small extent it is—to top-slice the fees of fee-paying parents. I would not want to speculate on a figure, but if it were possible to raise some money through the school to provide bursaries—I suspect that many schools would want to do so anyway—and the Government were prepared to produce some viable scheme, they could achieve their social objective of ensuring that relatively affluent parents such as—let us make no bones about it—me and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, were chipping in to obtain the benefits of the integration that we all want.

I clearly remember the Secretary of State for Education and Employment enunciating on Second Reading his commitment to a greater partnership between the state and the private sector. The amendment centres on the need to find practical ways in which to advance such partnership. If the assisted places scheme is no longer acceptable to the Government, it is incumbent on them to take the time to enable those who are working in the sector to work out practical solutions which can no longer be in the same form but which deliver the same benefits. For that reason, I strongly support the amendment.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

I strongly support the amendment. I make the same declaration as my hon. Friends. My principle concern is that assisted places are of great benefit to many of my constituents. I probably have as many, if not more, children who have taken up assisted places in my constituency than in any other constituency—400 from low-income families. My constituents would want me to support the amendment because the longer that the scheme remains in place, the longer such opportunities are available for future generations of parents and children. The benefits are real.

There is no deficiency in any way in the maintained sector in my constituency. We have secondary schools that perform with considerable distinction and have been given national recognition for what they have achieved. They offer a high quality of education and do well by any objective measure of performance.

The schools to which the assisted places children go are of national, if not international, importance, and offer an extremely high quality of academic education. Most of the assisted places in my constituency are at the Haberdashers' Aske's school, which has 230 assisted places out of a total of 1,300 places at the school. I know that this is of interest to the Minister because he once did some analysis of the assisted places scheme, and he included Haberdashers' Aske's in a list of schools that he said were receiving a subsidy from the assisted places scheme.

That is an interesting idea of what constitutes a subsidy, because I understand from the headmaster of that school that there are 450 applicants for 100 places. Of course, the school could fill the places occupied by children with assisted places many times over with parents paying full fees. It is not in any way, shape or form a subsidy for the school. It is a subsidy for the parents and children who would not otherwise be able to enjoy those opportunities.

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Mr. Lidington

I am sure that my hon. Friend will not mind me reminding him that when the direct grant was withdrawn from Haberdashers' Aske's and other schools by a previous Labour Government, the school had no trouble recruiting more than enough pupils to fill every place available several times over. The big difference was that those places could, in those new circumstances, be made available only to children of well-to-do parents. If the school, as well as the parents, were opposed to those changes—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. That intervention is far too long. Also, the amendment is about the date of operation, not the qualities of a school or what children it is prepared to take in. We must talk about the date of operation.

Mr. Clappison

In spite of the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) may have been slightly out of order, he is a great advertisement for that school.

My point is that, the longer the scheme remains in operation, the longer the opportunities will be available for children in my constituency. I am trying to counter the argument that has been advanced by the Government many times, which is that perfectly good opportunities are available at other schools. I will not go into further detail about schools in my constituency except to say that Haberdashers' Aske's school for girls—I do not wish to be sexist—offers an equally high quality of education and is equally highly oversubscribed. There are other very good schools such as St. Margaret's in Bushey and Aldenham school.

Labour Members will be interested to know that, not far from my constituency, there are other independent schools offering a high-quality of education such as St. Alban's high school for girls and Haileybury school. Labour Members will be interested to know that, until recently, Haileybury was the only public school to have educated a Labour Prime Minister. I am not sure that that Prime Minister, Earl Attlee, would have been in favour of the proposal. My understanding is that the founding fathers of the Labour party and the early Labour Ministers and Prime Ministers were in favour of throwing open the doors of great institutions and providing opportunities for members of the lower-income classes.

The Government's justification for phasing out the assisted places scheme within this time scale is that they want the money to reduce the class sizes of five, six and seven-year-olds. I do not want to go into the argument about the validity of the assumption about class sizes, but the Minister's interpretation of the Ofsted report in his reply on Second Reading was interesting. He said that the Ofsted inspector had conducted an analysis of class sizes and was in favour of smaller classes. The Minister gave that as the principal justification for the Bill, but it is based upon an ambitious interpretation of the report. I note that the press release for the Ofsted report states: Ofsted finds no clear link between class size and lesson quality. If the Minister examines carefully the conclusions of that report, particularly paragraphs 90 and 91, he will find that it states: The main finding of the Report, that reductions in class size do not necessarily lead to better teaching and higher standards, suggests, however, that schools should not automatically seek to use new resources to reduce class size. The report recognises that, where the resources are used to reduce class sizes, it is most appropriate to do that for children of earlier ages, but it does not come to the conclusion that that is necessarily the most effective way to spend the money. In fact, it seems to point in the opposite direction and suggest that it is more important to look at other things such as teacher quality and performance.

I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to say a little about the financial justification for the early phasing out. We are told that, the sooner the assisted places scheme is phased out, the sooner the Government can spend the money on reducing class sizes. I remind the Minister of the promise made by Labour in its manifesto. It is the basis on which the Government have put the Bill before the House and the basis on which the Labour party went to the country. It says: We will reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds to 30 or under, by phasing out the assisted places scheme, the cost of which is set to rise to £180 million per year. In other words, the Labour party was putting this forward as a straightforward reallocation of resources which would be sufficient to pay for reducing class sizes. Anybody who read that might have taken a different view if they had been told at the same time, "By the way, we do not think that enough money will be raised by phasing out the assisted places scheme, and we will have to reallocate money from other things as well." The Minister will be well aware that the Government have pledged to stay within education spending targets for his Department so that any other money being used to reduce class sizes would have to come from somewhere else such as secondary or higher education. The Minister is trapped within that straitjacket. That puts a different complexion on the Government's promise.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

Will my hon Friend reflect on the fact that a delay of three years in the implementation of the Bill would give the Government an opportunity to plan public expenditure properly beyond the ambit of the present planning timetable?

Mr. Clappison

That is an important point, and many of my constituents would agree with it.

I want the Minister to tell us whether he still maintains that the savings from the assisted places scheme will be sufficient in themselves to pay for the reduction in class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. He seemed to be tip-toeing away from that proposition in his reply to the debate on Second Reading. I should like him to address that question specifically and say whether, in his view, the savings will be sufficient.

We have been told by the Government that they estimate that £100 million will be saved by 2000 by phasing out the assisted places scheme. That is the justification for the early phasing out. We have yet to know from the Government what will be the cost of reducing class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. I asked the Government that in a written question and, in view of what was said earlier, I feel quite honoured because I have had an answer. However, I was told that the Government do not have a clue what the cost will be, so I was not much better informed.

Mr. Boswell

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have been silent on any mechanism by which they can enforce the reduction of class sizes because there is no such mechanism in the local government finance settlement?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. We must keep to the terms of the amendment. Class size reductions and other matters are for other amendments. We must keep to the date of operation. If hon. Members are exhausting the argument, the thing to do is to dispose of this amendment and move on to something else.

Mr. Clappison

I am bound by your ruling, Mr. Martin, but I would like the Government to deal with the question of the early phasing out and what resources it will make available. I ask the Minister that specific question, because my constituents will be interested in his answer. They have been told that they will have to sacrifice the assisted places that offer them so many opportunities, so that reductions in class sizes can be made in the manner described by the Government.

Mr. Lansley

In South Cambridgeshire, the constituency which I am privileged to represent, we have a number of schools with assisted places. It would be very much to the benefit of parents who have children in assisted places in those schools if the Committee passed this group of amendments, thereby delaying by three years the coming into operation of the Bill.

There would be several benefits in such a delay. The first—which I hope that we shall discuss in greater detail—is that a three-year delay would significantly reduce the number of siblings of students in assisted places who would not be able to follow their older brothers or sisters to the same school. Moreover, parents would not be placed in the invidious and often very inconvenient and costly position of placing children in a different school, which may have a different ethos, orientation or geographical location.

St. Mary's school, in South Cambridgeshire, illustrates the second reason why delay would be advantageous. It is the only school available to parents in my constituency who want their children to be educated in a single-sex school—in this example, a girls' school—with a Catholic orientation. If assisted places were not available at St. Mary's for parents who want to send their children to a Catholic school in the maintained sector, no other school with the same character would be available.

It may not be possible, even if the Committee were to accept the additional delay proposed by this group of amendments, for the maintained sector to provide the same types of diversity. It is very unlikely, however, that the grant-maintained sector—or the voluntary-aided sector, in the case of St. Mary's—would be able to provide the same types of diversity in the time allowed by the Bill. A three-year delay, which may seem extravagant to some people, is not a long period in which to change a school's character, orientation and its ability to offer additional places offering a specific type of education, thereby enabling parents to make a choice.

The third reason why there should be greater delay in implementing the Bill's provisions is that parents with children in assisted places hold considerable expectations that their children will be able to keep those places until they finish their education. Parents of children at St. Faith's school, which is in my constituency, have such an expectation. St. Faith's and the Leys school are linked and are essentially the same school, holding the same charity number, and children at St. Faith's who are almost 11 had a reasonable expectation of continuing their education in assisted places, at the Leys school, until they reached 18. Under the Bill's current provisions, however, they would lose that place in the year in which they were 10 years and six months. That not only denies their reasonable expectation of continuing their education in an assisted place to the age of 18 but curtails their expectation of continuing at St. Faith's, which educates children to the age of 13.

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Delaying the implementation of the Bill by three years would enable a significant proportion of children in assisted places at St. Faith's to complete their education at that school. Delay would not fulfil the reasonable expectations parents had when their children first took up a place in an assisted places school, but it would at least give parents an opportunity to plan ahead to their children's education at 13, when, through common entrance examinations, they would be able to take places elsewhere.

The Department for Education and Employment dispatched a letter to schools with assisted places, in which Ministers made it perfectly clear that parents with children in assisted places who expected to continue their education in the same school until age 13 were to be disappointed. A particular grievance of the parents and schools who will be affected is that, on 1 April 1997, the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service—who was then Labour's schools spokesman—wrote to the chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, stating that places would be honoured until age 13. The letter from the Department, however, writes that support would be extended to ease integration into the maintained sector in those areas where the normal age of transfer is later than age 11. That will deny children's reasonable expectations.

Conservative Members have already mentioned the fourth reason for delay, but I should like to elaborate on it. In the maintained sector, it is difficult to plan the transfer of pupils from the independent sector and assisted places into the maintained sector. Moreover, I suspect that the Government have little information about where parents with children in assisted places would like to send them in the maintained sector.

During the general election campaign, I visited St. Mary's school and talked to many children in assisted places who were doing extremely well under the scheme. I asked them which school their parents would like them to attend if they did not have an assisted place. In many cases, they said that, because of their parents' desire for them to attend a single-sex school, the alternative would not have been the school closest to their homes but perhaps the Herts and Essex high school, in Bishop's Stortford, which is a considerable distance from their homes.

It does not automatically follow that local education authorities in areas with assisted places will be the authorities that provide places for children leaving assisted places. It is therefore very important that hon. Members are given time to learn what choices parents will have, where parents are likely to send their children and where additional places will be provided.

The Government make much of surplus places, but those places may not be in the areas to which parents want to send their children. It is regrettable if the Government were proposing that parents of children on assisted places should be required to send their children to schools with surplus places, because those parents have the same rights of choice as other parents. There may therefore be additional pressure on currently over-subscribed schools—which brings me back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), that there may be implications not only for revenue expenditure but for capital expenditure in the maintained sector.

The final reason for delay is that the Government do not have a formula for distributing the resources that would be released from abolition of the assisted places scheme. They have not consulted on any such formula, and there are considerable reservations and concerns among schools in my constituency about how that aspect of abolition will be implemented. It may well be that the released resources will be relatively small compared to overall resources in the education budget.

When the Minister was on the "Today" programme, he referred to this Bill as the reduction of class sizes Bill. If the additional resources are to be released only where schools have class sizes in excess of 30 pupil, the Government may miss out on what is, in the judgment of schools and education authorities, the most educationally advantageous distribution of resources.

In South Cambridgeshire, for example, some schools that have about 30 pupils in a class are able to maintain a high standard of education, despite the difficult circumstances. They struggle under less difficult circumstances than some village and rural schools that might not have 30 children in a class, but have to deal with more than one age in a class. Children of five, six, seven and even eight are together in one class.

We surely all recognise that, in those circumstances, it is important to give teachers the opportunity to have classes in which they can undertake differentiated teaching relevant not only to different abilities, but to different ages. A mature judgment may be that, in educational terms and for the benefit of children, it is sometimes better to make greater resources available to village schools that have to deal with different ages and abilities in the same classroom, rather than to focus on the limited aspect of the absolute number of children in a particular class. That is especially true in South Cambridgeshire, which combines the urban schools of Cambridge city and the village schools beyond.

Those are all good reasons for delay, but they are reasons that the Government do not appear to have taken into consideration. That shows the undue and unreasonable haste with which the Government are trying to push through the Bill before any of the questions have been adequately answered.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). It is clear that he has a good grasp of the education sector.

I should be grateful to know, Mr. Martin, whether you expect me to keep strictly to the group of amendments, or whether you will allow a wider debate now and then a short debate on clause stand part. I shall temper my remarks according to your advice.

The First Deputy Chairman

I should not have to educate hon. Members on procedure—they should know the rules before they participate in the Committee. The amendments are clearly laid down and are restricted to certain matters. The hon. Gentleman should speak to them. If he is out of order, I shall soon tell him so.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Thank you for that guidance, Mr. Martin; it is most helpful.

A great deal has already been said on this group of amendments, so I shall make just three brief points—first, the financial effect of the Bill; secondly, the disruption for the pupils involves; and, thirdly, the effect on the viability of the independent schools.

I want to deal, first, with the general principle of the Bill in regard to the savings from the abolition of the assisted places scheme and the cost of reducing class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. The amendments make a great deal of sense. I do not believe that, under the proposed timetable, the Government have correctly assessed the financial effect on the public expenditure round. The are a number of points about that, some of which have already been made and some which have not.

I do not believe that the savings from the abolition of the scheme will be £100 million; I think that they will be a great deal less. Furthermore, I believe that the cost of reducing class sizes will greatly outweigh any savings. As my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) said, the marginal cost of establishing extra places in the maintained sector can be very great. For example, if a new building is needed to house two, three or even a dozen additional pupils, the cost could be high. It would be slightly less in revenue costs if a new teacher had to be employed.

I wonder whether the Government have done their sums correctly. The Institute of Public Finance says that the net cost of reducing class sizes—over and above the savings from abolishing the assisted places scheme—will be about £150 million, and that assumes that the Government's savings estimate of £100 million is correct. Therefore, it makes a great deal of sense to delay the implementation of the Bill on financial grounds, if on no others.

Secondly, to minimise the disruption for pupils it would be sensible to allow all pupils currently involved in the scheme to finish their education at the schools they attend. It is dogma to take pupils away from their schools in the middle of their education and move them to different schools. Anyone who has been involved in that exercise, as I was when I was adopted as a prospective parliamentary candidate, knows that changing children from one school to another is disruptive. However bright the child, it sets back his or her progress in the new school. Therefore, I urge that the amendments are accepted so that disruption can be avoided.

My third brief point—before you call me to order, Mr. Martin—relates to the viability of the private sector schools that will be affected. In every one of the five years that I have been a Member of Parliament, I have tried to persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) that St. Edward's school—an excellent school in my constituency—was up to the required standard to qualify for the scheme. I was always told that there were many more schools applying for places than there was finance, or even Government inclination to provide.

However, I was finally able to persuade my hon. Friend. The school has made huge improvements in its standards and has now been granted a number of assisted places, which will be removed in the next year or so. There should be a special concession for schools that have just been brought into the scheme—

Mr. Don Foster

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, without assisted places money, some independent schools would no longer be viable? If so, it is in marked contradiction to the previous Government's stated view.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the third of my categories, so perhaps he will be patient and listen.

I ask the Minister to consider whether some extension could be given to schools that have joined the scheme in the last year so that they have time to replan their finances.

My answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is that obviously schools that have a block of pupils and a block of finance withdrawn will experience disruption. Any school—from Eton downwards—will suffer from that. For some smaller schools, the withdrawal of pupils and finance could threaten their viability because a number of factors affecting private schools have come into play in recent years.

The general economic climate during the recession severely affected many private schools. Some of the more successful schools have gone out into the world and marketed themselves not just in this country but abroad and have successfully rebuilt their pupil numbers. Other schools, however, are still struggling and the Government should allow them more time to find other forms of finance.

It has already been said that a certain body may be prepared to establish scholarships for private schools. The Labour party, with its financial hat on, thinks that the cost of educating assisted places pupils is higher than the cost in the maintained sector. That is not necessarily the case. The average cost of an assisted place in the scheme is £3,900. The average cost in many secondary schools in London and elsewhere is higher than that, so the strict financial argument does not necessarily make sense. That aside, it is reasonable to allow the private institutions time to reorganise their finances. There are a number of possible sources of finance that they could tap, including establishing scholarships and sponsorship from industry or special research establishments. No doubt they could think of many more.

There is a good case for accepting these reasonable amendments. I hope that the Government will consider them sensibly.

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Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

I echo the arguments of my hon. Friends for a delay in the implementation of the Bill. I should genuinely like to be constructive and help the Government, to pick up on a point alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley).

In opposition and during the election campaign, the Labour party always linked the abolition of the assisted places scheme with a reduction in primary school class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. If the Bill is passed under the current timetable, parents will see the abolition of the assisted places scheme, but no reduction in primary school class sizes. The Government will find it difficult to manage the expectations of those parents. I understand that the Minister for School Standards has described the Bill as the reduction in class sizes Bill. Parents will ask, "Why, when you have removed the assisted places scheme, is my child still in a class of 32, 33 or 34? You said that you were going to reduce class sizes. Why is that not happening?"

It is in the Government's interests to take time to stop and think about the proper implementation of every aspect of the Bill, as my hon. Friends have argued, including the reduction in class sizes. What will the mechanism be for that? How will it be achieved? How will local education authorities be encouraged to carry out the Government's aim? Many other issues relate to that, including appeals bodies and popular schools. It is in the Government's interests to delay implementation and use the time to stop and think. When they put the measure through they can ensure that both sides of the policy come into effect at the same time, not one without the other. That would also be in the interests of parents.

Mr. Eric Forth> (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I am impressed by my hon. Friend's genuine attempt to help the Government, which demonstrates her generosity of spirit. She is asking the Government to stop and think about this important issue, but does she have any reason to suppose, given the Government's track record to date, that they are likely to stop and think about anything, let alone this issue?

Mrs. May

I thank my hon. Friend for that interruption. [Interruption.] Sorry, intervention. Sitting down for the first time in the House is always risky. I am afraid that I have little expectation that the Government will listen to my advice because so far they have shown a remarkable reluctance to stop and think about any of their measures. Rather, they are showing arrogance in pushing through measures without thinking thoroughly about their practical implications. That is a real concern not just to hon. Members, but to local education authorities, teachers, parents and children, who will suffer from the measure being passed hastily, as is proposed.

I should also like to pick up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). Another reason for delay is the real need to ensure that local education authorities can plan properly for the increased number of children that they will have to accommodate in their schools. When I was a local councilor—I am sure that this experience is shared by hon. Members who have been local councilors—a frequent complaint, particularly on the education committee, was that the Government did not give councillors sufficient time to think through and plan for changes.

The Labour councillors on my education committee told me not to worry, because everything would be all right under a Labour Government. How wrong they were. The Government are pushing legislation through arrogantly without properly considering the implications for local education authorities. I urge the Government to take time, stop and think, and show good faith with local councillors.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend is making a valuable point. She may know that the Government have said that existing surplus places will be filled by the children leaving the assisted places scheme. Does she agree that it is important in her area, as it is in mine, to see whether the surplus places match up to where the assisted places are? In my Hertfordshire constituency, most secondary schools are bulging at the seams.

Mrs. May

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is right. Having been involved in an education authority, I know that one of the greatest problems is matching where parents want their children to go to school and where there are surplus places. It is imperative that local education authorities are given time to plan properly, to assess the impact and to ensure that they can continue to provide parental choice to the extent that we want.

My final point ties in with the problems of planning for local authorities. Local social services departments, as well as local education authorities, will have to prepare for the implementation of the Bill. I do not think that the Government have properly considered that. I urge them to accept the proposals for delay so that they can do that. Some children are helped by the assisted places scheme to have boarding school education because of genuine social difficulties or problematic family backgrounds. I have spoken to the chairman of one of the charitable foundations that makes use of the scheme to help children from families with such difficulties to have boarding school education. He said to me, "I mind if the assisted places scheme goes, because I mind about the children."

I understand that those foundations were having constructive discussions before the election with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). They have also made representations to the Minister about the problem, encouraging him to find a way of continuing to allow such children to be provided with boarding school education even if the assisted places scheme is to go.

I urge the Minister to think about those children in genuine social need. They must find a way to provide for them. That cannot be done with the current timetable. The Government must stop and think, accept the amendments and give themselves time to work with the private sector and the charitable foundations to find a way to help children in genuine need. If the Government do not accept the amendments, they will turn their backs on those children.

Mr. Lidington

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made a forceful speech, putting her points very well. I, too, find it astonishing that the Government are pressing ahead with such undue haste. Their proposals for reductions in class sizes, intended as a consequence of the Bill, appear to be muddled and ill thought out.

It is incredible that the Government have so far given no convincing explanation of why they are determined to override the provisions for delay in existing legislation. Schedule 35 of the Education Act 1996 says: The proprietors of the school may terminate a participation agreement by giving three years' written notice to the Secretary of State and that Secretary of State may do the same with the same period of notice. Those arrangements are there for a good reason. The school taking part in the assisted places scheme, the families involved and the maintained schools that might have to take in additional children when assisted places are no longer available need time to adjust. For the Government to press ahead so precipitately only makes life much more difficult for the families and organisations most directly involved.

We know from the helpful note published by the Library something about the distribution of assisted places among education authorities across the kingdom. However, we do not know how many pupils each local education authority is likely to have to deal with as a consequence of the Government's proposals. The Government owe it to LEAs to allow a period of delay, as proposed in the amendment, so that LEAs can see how their areas will be affected and then make proposals to furnish adequate education for the additional pupils with whom they will be expected to cope.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does my hon. Friend agree that the uneven distribution of the assisted places, in addition to the possible problems of population expansion in certain areas, will put severe strain on LEAs? Hampshire, for example, has 1,500 children on the assisted places scheme.

Mr. Lidington

My hon. Friend makes a very telling point. It is true that areas such as Hampshire and south Hertfordshire—my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) referred to the latter—and, I suspect, Cheshire on the fringes of the Greater Manchester conurbation, are likely to experience severe problems in providing educational accommodation for pupils displaced from the assisted places scheme.

We know from studies undertaken by the Institute of Public Finance that the savings claimed by the Government are pretty bogus. Indeed, even Ministers are now very half-hearted in their defence of the arithmetic that they put to the electorate in recent weeks. However, I shall focus on the likely capital cost of the abolition of the assisted places scheme—a matter that is very pertinent to the amendments that call for a delay in the implementation of the proposals.

The Institute of Public Finance has estimated that cost as approximately £100 million. Of course, we have no idea how the capital cost would be spread among the various local education authorities, and one compelling reason for urging delay is to give the Government time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead said, to consult local education authorities so that the apportionment of the capital costs can be properly calculated.

We all know from our constituency experience that when a local education authority talks about the need to provide extra school places, it is not simply a matter of passing a resolution in the education committee. The LEA has to seek borrowing approval from the Department for Education and Employment, and that can take quite a long time. It also needs to seek planning permission from the appropriate planning authority.

Mr. Boswell

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that a number of legal procedures must be gone through, which in my experience in the Department are often very protracted? I am thinking of, for example, the setting of the maximum admission number. Such matters have to be properly sorted out.

5.45 pm
Mr. Lidington

That is another extremely valid point, which again shows how ill prepared Ministers have been in trying to rush the scheme so precipitately.

Before my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) intervened, I was talking about the need to seek planning permission. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham and I know of schools in our county that are located in the middle of the green belt. The planning authorities are very cautious about allowing the construction of extra school buildings because they wish to keep those areas as green as possible. Other schools in my constituency are heavily oversubscribed but are in urban areas where it would be difficult to find extra land on which to put new classrooms or laboratories without severely reducing the space available for playing fields or for other activities integral to the life of the schools.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)

My hon. Friend and other colleagues have referred to the final report of the Institute of Public Finance on the cost of reducing class sizes, but no one has yet got down to the specific net cost of doing so, taking into account the capital and revenue cost. We have to add the two together and consider the net cost over time and the on-going cost thereafter. It is significant that in the first five years of the proposals being in operation, the average net cost, taking into account all the savings resulting from the abolition of the assisted places scheme, is on average £45 million a year and thereafter £16 million a year ad infinitum. That is something that the Government have not taken into account but which they should.

Mr. Lidington

I am sure that my hon. Friend is correct when he says that the Government have not taken that into account. Another reason for urging delay is to allow Ministers time to take advice and consult their colleagues in other Departments, most notably the Treasury, on how they can possibly deal with the problems that my hon. Friend highlights.

Mr. Colvin

I should perhaps have mentioned in my previous intervention that the data on which the figures are based come from the Department for Education and Employment, although the report was commissioned by independent schools. The figures have not been conjured up out of the air to support a particular case; they are the Government's own figures.

Mr. Lidington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That suggests that perhaps Ministers were not ignorant after all of the consequences of rushing the proposal but that they are rather shy of explaining in detail to the House how they propose to deal with the consequences of their policy.

I referred earlier to the delays caused to local authorities' providing extra classrooms by the need to seek planning permission. Of course, that is only the first hurdle. Applications may go to appeal, which leads to further delay. LEAs then have to seek tenders and appoint contractors; only then would building begin. I suspect that there would be at least a couple of years between a local authority realising that the abolition of the assisted places scheme required it to provide additional classrooms in particular schools and that LEA being in a position to bring those classrooms on stream to accommodate the additional pupils. That is yet another reason for the Government to reflect and take advantage of the delay that the amendment would allow them.

The Bill's impact would not be restricted to LEAs. Another important reason for allowing a period for thought is, as one or two of my hon. Friends have suggested, to allow schools that at present participate in the assisted places scheme to launch appeals to raise money for bursaries to enable the academically gifted children who can currently take advantage of the scheme to continue to benefit from the education in those schools.

I know from my experience and my conversations with the head teachers of some of the schools that they are, in the main, wholly committed to allowing greater access to the sort of education that they can provide at their independent schools to pupils from a wide variety of backgrounds. It is a matter of great regret that the Government, rather than seeking a new dialogue with the independent sector and rather than trying to find ways in which to enhance that partnership and create more places in independent schools for pupils from relatively poor families, should instead try to knock down the ladder and deny those opportunities. That strikes me as dogma triumphing over education common sense.

The third reason for delay is to allow pupils, parents and schools to know in detail what the Government propose for them in the immediate future. Later tonight I am sure that we will have the opportunity during our debates on clause 3 to discuss the arrangements for the regulations that the Government propose. The amendments to those proposed regulations are relevant. As the Bill is presented to us, Parliament is being asked to approve the abolition of the assisted places scheme and to give the Government an enabling power to introduce transitional regulations to deal with pupils who currently benefit from assisted places without Parliament having sight of those regulations, even in draft form.

I recall attending various Standing Committees in the previous Parliament where Labour Member after Labour Member rose in his place to say that it was disgraceful that there should be any thought of giving a Minister the power to act through secondary legislation without that legislation being available, at least in draft form, for the Standing Committee to examine and debate. I hope that the Government will be prepared, even now, to accept the opportunity for reflection that the amendments provide and to introduce draft regulations so that Parliament can consider them alongside the Bill. That strikes me as being only fair to the schools, parents and pupils.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Conservative Members have advanced many compelling arguments as to why there should be a delay in implementation. The most compelling arguments, and those to which I should like to return, relate to the simple human consequences of the Bill. There is a mismatch in what the Government are setting out and there is something missing from the logic of their proposals. They say that they wish to remove the assisted places scheme and, instead, reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds, but there is no correlation between the benefits that may be achieved by the one action and the damage done by the other.

I am concerned that, by removing assisted places for children, whatever their age and whatever their stage in the educational process, the Government are taking something away and not replacing it. I speak as someone who is fortunate enough to represent a constituency with good schools. Pupils from my constituency who go to independent schools on assisted places—mostly in Manchester—do so, unless they have specific religious or other reasons, mainly through choice rather than necessity. If those places did not exist, and provided there was an increase in the number of places available at the schools in my constituency, those pupils would not lose out too much, but that, of itself, raises a major concern.

Many of the excellent schools in my constituency—the grammar schools and the high schools, many of which are grant-maintained—have asked for funding to increase their size so that they can take more pupils. They are already bursting at the seams and the proposal to remove assisted places will result in increased demand for places at them. What is proposed will not provide any further capital funding for the expansion of those schools or necessarily provide more places in terms of teaching capacity in secondary schools. There is a mismatch within the proposals, and we need more time for consideration.

I am thinking particularly of pupils who do not live in my constituency. We are on the fringes of Manchester. There are good schools in the borough of Trafford, which have been maintained and nurtured over the years by what has generally been, and will soon be again, a good local education authority; but what about children across the city of Manchester who currently have little recourse to good education beyond the assisted places scheme?

There are 300 pupils on assisted places at Manchester grammar school and 242 at William Hulme's grammar school. What is to be done to provide new educational opportunities for the individual children who will lose the opportunities they currently enjoy? When we consider the state of affairs in many areas of Manchester it becomes plain that local schools are not good enough to provide genuine opportunities and alternatives. I should like to hear some guarantees on that issue.

Another argument for delay that has been advanced concerns the importance of allowing schools such as Manchester grammar, which is trying hard to raise funds to provide bursaries for pupils who are currently on assisted places, to find alternative funding to ensure that the education of those pupils is not interrupted, and to continue the centuries-old tradition of providing free education for pupils from poorer backgrounds.

The position of pupils who are currently on assisted places in independent schools is crucial. I should like to bring the argument down to an individual level. What about those children? We have heard grand, seductive statements about reducing class sizes, but that will occur only after a period of years. The reduction will depend on capital expenditure, and the Government have not stated clearly where that money will come from. Even when class sizes are reduced, that move will affect only a small part of the school population. That fact will not provide comfort to families in my constituency or across the city of Manchester who currently benefit from the assisted places scheme.

Other parents and pupils will be similarly affected owing to the pressures that will be placed on state schools in my constituency. I should like to hear some guarantees. What will happen to those schools? How can we guarantee that they will have more places? There are good schools and they want to expand, but they need money to do so. That money will not come from the abolition of the assisted places scheme as it has been made clear that the money has been hypothecated to reducing class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. That is one of my major concerns.

I should like a further guarantee for children who currently enjoy assisted places in independent schools in Manchester or elsewhere: that they will not lose their places until other places become available to them in acceptable state schools nearby. Assisted places could be removed from pupils, and the nearby state schools, even were they of an adequate standard, might not have available places owing to capacity constraints. That scenario seems likely: the Government say that they will reduce class sizes, but how can they do so without a major programme of capital expenditure, if not by limiting the rolls of, and admissions to, popular schools? If admissions are limited and school sizes reduced or pegged at a certain level, I cannot see that the Government can guarantee places in local schools for pupils who are currently on assisted places. I would very much welcome some guarantees on that.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

I want to dwell on the timing aspect of the amendments. Had the Government gone in for calmer and wiser reflection, the Bill would not have been rushed in as a wholly negative piece of legislation. The fact that the first education legislation proposed by the new Government contains such a negative and pernicious set of proposals will be judged harshly by historians and, I dare say, regretted in the fulness of time by many Labour Members.

The Government should have taken the assisted places scheme, built on it and developed it. It is entirely natural and acceptable that a new Government should have a different perspective—that is in the nature of the democratic process. A new Government will arrive with fresh ideas and a new approach; but to abandon the scheme completely seems most undesirable. Indeed, it is not worthy of the Labour party or the House.

In the heady and excited atmosphere that prevails among Labour Members—one can hardly blame them for that—a certain lack of calm, studied reflection has delivered a hasty, harsh and extreme proposal.

6 pm

Our country has a long tradition of scholarships, bursaries and assisted places—in short, an approach that has allowed poor children from working-class families to enjoy an education that they would not have had without financial assistance. That tradition is embodied in my own home. I happen to live in a house that used to be part of a grammar school that was founded in the first Elizabethan age on the principle of giving poor children a better education. It is a principle with which I would expect many socialists and Labour party members to have some sympathy, but these proposals pay no heed to that long and noble tradition.

The Bill is a class sizes Bill. Abolishing assisted places has been seen as a way of facilitating the smaller classes that were a key part of the proposals that the Labour party put to the electorate. The proposal certainly found some resonance with the electorate: people bought the argument lock, stock and barrel. They believed that classes needed reducing and that the Labour party would bring that about.

This approach has three problems. First, smaller classes have been presented as a panacea that will deliver automatic short-term benefits. I notice Labour Members shaking their heads at that suggestion. It may not have been explicitly presented in that way, but it has certainly been presented in that way by allusion, suggestion and implication. That in turn has raised expectations that cannot be met.

There will be no automatic or direct benefit solely from reducing class sizes. Quite apart from the logistical problems, even if classes are reduced in the way suggested by the Labour Government there will be no immediate tangible benefits of the kind that many people have been led to expect. That is the problem with raising expectations that cannot be fulfilled.

Secondly, the concentration on smaller classes has eradicated from public consciousness all the other factors that affect children's performance at school. As I said on Second Reading, many of those factors are just as important as class size and some may be even more important—the jury is still out. There is a paucity of empirical information, but it is certainly arguable that many other factors are just as important as class size. I shall not go through them this evening, but we all know what they are. Relegating all these other issues to the sidelines and concentrating on class size as the panacea for delivering enhanced teaching and pupil performance has had a misleading effect.

Thirdly, class size is usually debated in the context of a didactic pedagogic model. People think of a teacher standing in front of a class, teaching by exposition and instruction. These days, however, most teaching in schools is not like that. It is more of an exchange between the teacher and the taught; the relationship between the teacher and the taught is changing, as is the role of the teacher.

I could take hon. Members to any one of 50 schools in Britain where class size in the traditional sense is not an issue because of changing group organisation and because of changes in the manipulation and use of information. It is easy to forget, when concentrating on class size, that teachers and learners are interacting differently. Schools operate differently, and the way people gather, exchange and use information is different, too. A range of technologies has changed our gathering, exchange and use of information in education, in the House and in the world of work. If we fail to grasp that fact and take advantage of it, we shall sacrifice one means of improving the education process. We shall also fail to prepare children adequately for the world of work.

Several of my hon. Friends have already made a point that perhaps needs amplifying. It concerns—time is critical in this context too—the impact of abolition of the assisted places scheme on other schools. We have only limited published information so far on the mechanisms by which these children are to be absorbed into other schools, and that information is unclear and rather dubious. The costs, too, are unclear. Several of my hon. Friends have asked questions about the arithmetic governing the process.

For me, the most important point concerns the effect on the schools. The National Association of Head Teachers has not always been particularly friendly to the Conservative party, but even that body acknowledges that this move will inevitably limit choice. To keep class sizes down, popular schools will have to restrict admissions. Moreover, in some areas—this will differ from region to region—a large number of children will have to be absorbed into state schools.

As a result, a child who currently expects an assisted place will not get their first choice, because that would have been the assisted places scheme school. They probably will not even get their second choice, because that will be the popular school that now cannot admit them because its admission level has had to be lowered to keep class sizes down. They may end up with their third or fourth choice of school. That may be one of the many unpopular schools, where there has not been essential rationalisation of provision by the LEA—I think of my LEA in that respect—which has numerous surplus places.

The Bill will therefore be used as a way to soak up surplus places in unpopular schools. That is a serious implication. The Government have not fully explored it and they certainly have not fully justified it. Popular schools will be obliged to admit fewer children, private schools will no longer be able to offer an assisted place, and less popular schools will soak up the children who do not want to be there and whose parents have had their options limited.

Mr. Colvin

That point is clearly made in the Institute of Public Finance report. On page 2, in a paragraph headed, "Eliminating Infant Classes over 30", it says: Where there is no local shortage of places, and schools are reasonably close, the change could be implemented simply by re-distributing admissions from schools with larger classes to schools with smaller classes. No new teachers or classes would be needed. However, to bring that about, we would have to return to the bad old days of direction, which we had under previous Labour Governments. People would be told, "Because you live in this area, your children will attend that school," and there would be no question of choice.

Mr. Hayes

My hon. Friend highlights the history of admissions. Hon. Members will remember that the previous Government freed up admissions. That did not mean that everyone got their first choice—Labour Members said that, as everyone did not get their first choice, no one should have a choice—but it meant that, as schools were able to expand to take in more pupils, many more got their first choice of school than did under the previous Labour Government. Under Labour, admission limits were set rigidly, in a way that frustrated choice, propped up bad schools and limited the flexibility of heads and governors in admissions.

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the fact that we will return to those "bad old days" as a direct consequence of this proposal. Obviously the consequence is not being headlined by the Government because it will be deeply unpopular with the many children who will be affected.

Mr. Colvin

Old Labour.

Mr. Hayes

It may be old Labour; I would not want to suggest it. It could be old Labour resurfacing.

The private schools will be affected. I am a grammar school boy, so I have no vested interest in private education, but it seems to me that the private schools that will be affected are bound to be detrimentally affected. It is an open point whether they will be financially damaged, and I do not have the expertise to offer a view. Some have said that it will affect some of the smaller schools and may impact on their future; others have said that they will be able to make up the difference and that it will not be a problem.

Whatever happens, the Bill will change the character of private schools' admissions and limit the diversity of pupils. That is unhealthy and undesirable, and it flies in the face of the tradition of a range of people being educated in one school, with all the social and cultural benefits that accrue from such an experience. In that sense, the Bill will damage those schools.

When people think of private schools, they always think of the "Tom Brown's Schooldays" type of school—the grand public schools, the great schools. They do not remember that many of the most radical schools in the education system could have flourished only in the private sector. Would A. S. Neill's Summerhill or the Rudolf Steiner schools have existed under an LEA? Of course not. We should have a broader, more wide-ranging view about the impact that the Bill might have on the private sector and the relationship between the private sector and new ideas and the evolution and development of education.

With hindsight and on calm reflection, the Government will regret the fact that their first piece of legislation was negative. I believe that history will judge harshly the fact that their first Bill was an attack on the poor—on people who cannot afford to pay. One might argue that it is ironic and surprising that a new Labour Government's first piece of education legislation should be an attack on the poor; or perhaps it is not ironic and it is no surprise.

6.15 pm
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)

I shall start by going to the nub of the Bill and supporting my hon. Friends' amendments proposing a delay. Broadly speaking, the Bill is a dog's breakfast. It is wrong on a point of principle. I remind hon. Members of what Reginald Brent, second Viscount Esher, a Liberal politician and great constitutionalist, a man who knew a lot about Parliament, said: The moment that—in a great controversy—a politician finds himself struggling, not for a principle, but for an expedient—his battle is half lost. The present Government have not half lost it, but lost it completely.

Is there not a certain irony in the fact that, in the past two or three weeks, Minister after Minister has offered a review whenever an issue appears complex or difficult? We have more reviews in the House and in Westminster than Brian Rix was ever able to put on. Some time, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Minister without Portfolio will produce a review of reviews. [Laughter.]

There is a serious point here. The Labour party has nurtured this measure for about 18 years. The Bill is nasty and selfish. If the Labour party has been thinking about it for 18 years, it frightens me profoundly that it has managed to produce such a dog's breakfast. If this is what they have produced after 18 years, what will they produce as a result of forthcoming reviews that are to take only six months, such as the strategic defence review?

The Bill is riddled with contradictions. We should oppose it on a point of principle. Labour Members should welcome the fact that we are asking for a delay for some clear thinking, because the Labour party, in spite of 17 years in opposition, has arrived in government not yet knowing how to go about the practical business of governing.

The Bill is shot through with hypocrisy. The Government will do away with assisted places, not really to save money, but in response to the worst kind of old Labour socialism. On Second Reading, the class element came out strongly. New Labour is supposed to be classless, but there were a lot of rumblings on the Labour Back Benches about class.

As my hon. Friends have pointed out, the irony is that the assisted places scheme has helped ordinary boys and girls, giving them a helping hand up—something that many of us have had as a consequence of our education. The inconsistency is that the Government have gone out of their way to say that places involving music and ballet will not be affected. Why not? Why should music and ballet not be affected? In theory, we are talking of gifted young people; that applies to many of those who are on the assisted places scheme. We are confronted with a major inconsistency.

Mr. Luff

I hope that my hon. Friend is not urging that music and ballet should be included in the abolition of the assisted places scheme.

Mr. Simpson

Certainly not, but there is an inconsistency. Why are music and ballet not to be included? I would welcome the Minister's explanation.

Before the general election, the Labour party said that the most important issue was education, education, education. We relish the debate because we on the Opposition Benches will say during consideration of this Bill and others that there are inconsistencies in the Labour Government's education, education, education.

A golden thread runs through the debate. Indeed, it lies at the heart of the Labour Government's overall policy. It does not, however, remain intact. I remember that, during the lead-up to the general election, the Leader of the Opposition had a question-and-answer session with several hundred sixth formers. The right hon. Gentleman spelt out Labour policy, and a sixth former said, "Excuse me, Mr. Blair, but I do not follow the logic. You have criticised the Conservative Government's education, health and social policies and said that they are underfunded, but you have said that you will not increase public expenditure. One part does not equal the other."

The Bill, like much else, is a desperate attempt to try to squeeze out bits and pieces of money to produce an overall education policy that will not be properly funded. It will not be properly funded at this stage and I suggest that when the Labour party's new economic policy is fully implemented we shall see what we have had before under previous Labour Governments; it will not be education, education, education, but cuts, cuts, cuts. I urge hon. Members to support the amendment.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

As an amendment in my name will come before the Committee later this evening, I shall confine my comments on this group of amendments to the haste with which the Government are trying to introduce their proposals. I welcome, however, the comments that have been made so far that go to the harm that the Bill, if implemented, will do to children of talent who do not otherwise have opportunities of such value as the assisted places scheme open to them. When the amendment that I have tabled is before the Committee, I shall explain why it is wrong to think that bright children are being cherry-picked and taken out of the state system and put into a sort of gilded cage. The Government have the wrong idea of what the APS is all about.

We have heard about social divisions. We all regret, of course, that there should be any social divisions in our society, but given the haste with which the Government propose to implement the Bill, there will be increased social divisions, not a reduction of them.

Given the haste of which I have spoken, I am concerned about the Government's honour. It is clearly stated in schedule 35 to the Education Act 1996 that there will be a three-year rule for participating schools. I am pleased, of course, that the Government are proposing to continue with the private finance initiative. They see, as we always have done, a vital need to include the private sector in funding the needs of our society. Indeed, in this instance, the private sector is helping to do exactly that. Unfortunately that is hastily being stopped, on terms that are, in effect, a breach of contract with the participating schools.

It will be no use for the Minister to say that he is allowed to proceed because he has a mandate from the people. If that argument is advanced, any contract that a Government enter into with the private sector can be broken by a new Government on the ground that they have a mandate from the people. The effect on the attractiveness of private sector funding and initiatives will be extremely damaging and will go far beyond education, to every area where we might hope to see the private sector involved.

I move on to think of my background in the business sector. Ask anyone in business about a change in direction, and he or she will always say that it takes a great deal longer than one would expect. The Government are pretty scanty in the reasoning behind their calculations. Indeed, it is obvious that they have undertaken only a paper exercise. In reality, there will be many hidden costs in closing down the APS. Given the Government's haste, there will be many unexpected costs. Alternatively, the Government will find that the provision of education across the board will suffer.

When, 18 years ago, the Labour party pledged to do away with the APS, the seeds of the scheme had not even been scattered. Since then, the seeds have found healthy ground and have grown from saplings into strong oaks. There are many areas where the APS is strong, doing extremely well and delivering excellent results. A sapling can be cut down in next to no time, but if a great oak is to be felled, the ground has to be prepared extremely carefully. There is obviously a need carefully to consider what might be hit or hurt in the process of the oak hitting the ground.

There are two figures of significant illustration. We know that 80,000 children have benefited from the APS. Currently, 34,000 are taking part in it. The scheme is only now reaching maturity. Its scale now was never dreamed of when the then Labour Opposition made their promise 18 years ago. The timetable of closure, however, is as if the scheme remains on the starting scale of 1981.

I am concerned about the haste with which it is proposed to close down the scheme, especially in the context of Surrey's local education authority. I know that the chairman of the education committee is concerned that when more and more children who would have gone into the APS are required to be taken into secondary schools, the funding adjustment paid by central Government to Surrey county council will be a year in arrears.

That means that, year by year, as more and more children come off the scheme, more and more will be going into secondary schools. At the same time, year after year, money will not come through until the year after. That means in effect that, in the case of Surrey, where we have a concentration of assisted places, there may be as much as a 3 per cent. shortfall in funding for our secondary schools—a real cut of 3 per cent. for Surrey's secondary schools, not in one year, but every year for five years. That is the nature of the problem, as a result of the haste with which the measure is being introduced.

The problem is that Ministers have devised the scheme to destroy assisted places with no costings, mechanisms or answers to the questions that the Opposition have raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) mentioned a series of Whitehall reviews. In this case we face the prospect of a Whitehall farce.

6.30 pm
The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Byers)

I welcome you, Mr. Lord, to the Committee. The debate has at times ranged wider than the amendments relating to clause 1, but I shall restrict my comments to the amendments under consideration.

The amendments seek to delay the implementation of the phasing out of the assisted places scheme for a further three years. The Opposition said that we were moving with haste. We believe that we are moving in a way that will deliver on a clear pledge that we made to the British people during the general election. We make no apology for that. We have had 18 years of a Government who failed to deliver on their pledges. This Government will honour the pledges that we give to the British people. The Bill provides the Committee with the opportunity to do that tonight.

Mrs. Gillan

If the Minister is so determined that the Government will honour each and every one of their pledges, will he explain why they have already broken their pledge to women by failing to create a separate Minister for Women, and giving those responsibilities instead to the Secretary of State for Social Security? That pledge has already been broken.

Mr. Byers

It would be helpful if the Committee turned its attention to the assisted places scheme. I understand why the shadow Minister does not wish to address the issues before the Committee. She has no strong arguments to defend the fact that fewer than 40,000 pupils benefit from the finance under the APS, at the same time as one in four five, six and seven-year-olds are in classes of more than 30. The Government consider that unacceptable, which is why we are introducing the Bill.

Mr. Luff

Precisely when will the Government achieve their pledged objective of class sizes of less than 30?

Mr. Byers

We made that abundantly clear during the general election campaign. I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman did not look at our clear manifesto commitments. For the benefit of Opposition Front-Bench Members, I reiterate that, at the end of the lifetime of this Parliament, every five, six and seven-year-old in Britain will be in a class of 30 or less. That compares with the record of the Conservative Government, who allowed class sizes to increase year on year on year. We do not intend to go down that road.

Mr. Luff


Mr. Hayes


Mr. Byers

I shall take no more interventions at this stage. I shall reply to the issues raised during the debate, and I shall take interventions at the appropriate time.

We are honouring the commitments made to the 1997 intake of young people who were offered an assisted place. By honouring that commitment, we are demonstrating that we are not motivated by dogma. We put the interests of the majority of young people first. That is why we shall allow those young people to continue to receive an assisted place.

Mrs. Gillan

Is it not true that the Government are honouring so-called places because they are determined to get more money into the scheme so that they can then take more money out of the scheme? When they looked closely at the details, the Government realised that they did not have enough money to rob from the APS to reduce class sizes. In fact, the sum is so negligible that it will not have any effect on class sizes, according to some independent commentators.

Mr. Byers

The hon. Lady may be right—we may be in a win-win situation, delivering on the pledge to reduce class sizes and also allowing those young people to receive an assisted place this September. That might well be the outcome, and parents throughout the country will rejoice at it.

Conservative Members spoke about a point of principle, and said that the Bill was a nasty, selfish piece of legislation. It says a lot for their principles, if the fact that we are to offer improved education opportunities to 440,000 youngsters at the expense of 40,000 young people is seen as selfish. Conservative Members seem to have their own definition of selfish. It confirms the view that my father long expressed, that the Conservative party was based on three fundamental principles: envy, self-interest and greed. The debate over the past two hours shows precisely that.

Mr. Hayes

Do the Government believe that it would be possible for local education authorities to absorb into the maintained sector all the pupils displaced by the abolition of the assisted places scheme, without any additional net cost to LEAs?

Mr. Byers

That is an important point, and I was about to deal with it. Because we have decided that there will be not an outright abolition of the assisted places scheme, but a phasing out effectively for a seven-year period, we believe that there will be no difficulty in ensuring that the pupils who may have gone into an assisted place can be catered for by the maintained sector.

The figures are interesting, and the Committee should be made aware of them. It is calculated that there would be a maximum of 10,000 young people entering the assisted places scheme in September 1998, if the scheme were to be continued. If we assumed that not one of those young people went into the independent sector but that they were all to be educated in the maintained sector, they would add one eighth of 1 per cent. to the total national maintained school population of 8 million. They can be accommodated within the sector, particularly because, as some Opposition Members will be aware, the local education authority concerned will have its education standard spending assessment amended in the light of the increased number of pupils who will be attending those maintained schools.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am afraid that the Minister has ignored the fact that one eighth of 1 per cent. means nothing. What is significant is the number of pupils in relation to the year group that they are entering, and the impact on that year group. Furthermore, in some parts of the country, including the area that I represent, the concentration of children in assisted places is higher than the average by a factor of six or seven. The Government's calculation of the impact on such areas is widely astray.

Mr. Byers

I understand why, as a constituency Member of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman defends the interests of his area, Guildford. We intend to govern on behalf of the entire country. That means introducing a measure this evening that will ensure that we deliver on the pledge that we made to the British people. I understand why the Opposition, used as they are to a Government of drift and dither, do not like the idea of a Government who are prepared to deliver on behalf of the British people. The Government will do precisely that.

There is no need for any delay this evening. Tonight we begin the process of delivering on that pledge, and that is why I urge the Committee to reject the amendments.

Mrs. Gillan

That was an incredible performance.

Mr. Luff

On a point of order, Mr. Lord. I think that I know the answer to this point of order before I raise it, but do you have any power to encourage a Minister to answer the points raised during a debate?

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

It is not the job of the Chair to decide how Ministers respond to debates.

Mrs. Gillan

I almost feel like saying, "Further to that point of order." That is one of the most appalling performances that I have heard at the Dispatch Box. The Minister has come to the Committee to talk about a Bill that is destroying a style of education available to 40,000 pupils in Britain, yet he does not have the courtesy to give straight answers to straight questions posed by my hon. Friends. People inside and outside the House will notice that the Minister has run away from those issues. He talks of dogma, but the Bill is based on nothing but socialist dogma.

One of the questions that the Minister has failed to answer concerns the fact that LEAs will be given extra money in the standard spending assessments to cover the additional pupils they will have to absorb. That will be in Hansard and a matter of record. How will the Government guarantee that that money will be spent on children and extra teachers in order to reduce class sizes? At the moment, there is no mechanism to transfer the money directly to the classroom.

Obviously, the Labour Government will become so arrogant, dictatorial and authoritative that they will change the basis on which all LEAs operate. I hope that all LEAs are listening to the debate. They should look out, because the Government will tell them exactly how to spend their money in future. That is the only way in which the Minister can keep the pledge that he has made at the Dispatch Box tonight.

Mr. Colvin

Conservative Members have become used to the fact that the fifth column in the Labour party has traditionally been the trade union movement. But looking at the new Labour intake, one recognises another fifth column, which is local government. Although the Chancellor has said that he will honour the spending commitments, there is no commitment to provide the extra £250 million net that the scheme will cost, and unless the Government can deliver to local government their manifesto commitments, Labour Back Benchers will begin to shout the odds and demand that that money be provided. I do not yet know where that money will come from.

Mrs. Gillan

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. The Government have on their Back Benches many unknown quantities. I am sure that they have been busy finding out more about them. They never expected to be elected, and the Government never expected to have to deal with them. However, I am sure that the hon. Members who were surprised at their own election are still Members of integrity, and they will start asking questions of the Government—questions which patently, from the Minister's performance tonight, he is unable to answer.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend raised an important point about how we can ensure that the extra money granted by the SSA system will be given to individual schools. This year, £500,000 of the increase that the previous Government gave Gloucestershire LEA has not gone to the schools. If a similar thing happens in this regard, we shall be in difficulty.

Mrs. Gillan

My hon. Friend makes his point and reinforces it. I remember, in the dim and distant days when I was a Minister, a delegation from a Labour council from the north of England, who asked for more money for several schools in her area. She was surprised to find that the Department had already allocated money to those schools which, mysteriously, had never reached them.

The Minister still has so many questions to answer that I do not know how he has the gall to sit down after such a short speech.

Mr. Luff

I did not receive an answer from the Minister. I sought to intervene, but he suggested that he would make a longer speech. I asked him about the phasing out of the assisted places scheme and the class sizes pledge. How much will the Minister have saved from the abolition of the assisted places scheme at the end of this Parliament to enable him to meet his class sizes pledge? Surely he will not have enough. I wanted to ask him that, but I was denied the opportunity.

Mrs. Gillan

My hon. Friend is right, and I shall give the Minister the opportunity to answer that directly. How much money will be available at the end of this year?

Mr. Byers

By the end of this century, £100 million will be available, and that will be enough to deliver on the class sizes pledge.

Mrs. Gillan

I repeat the question to the Minister. How much money will be available at the end of the first year? The Minister is repeating parrot fashion the lines written by his officials. He does not have an original thought in his head. I ask him to answer the question directly.

Mr. Byers

As we all know from our days in opposition, when the hon. Lady was a Minister, she certainly parroted the lines prepared for her by civil servants.

We have always made it clear that the pledge will be honoured at the end of the lifetime of this Parliament. By 2000, £100 million will be freed up from the assisted places scheme, and that will make an important contribution towards achieving our class sizes pledge.

6.45 pm
Mrs. Gillan

That intervention really was not worth giving way to, was it, Mr. Lord?

Mr. Lidington

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Gillan

Yes, I think that my hon. Friend will have a worthwhile contribution to make.

Mr. Lidington

As the Minister has just reasserted that the Government hope for savings of £100 million by the end of the century, yet the independent Institute of Public Finance says that the savings will be about £34 million net before taking account of the £100 million capital expenditure that would then be needed, does my hon. Friend agree that we might be able to have a more informed debate if the Minister were to place in the Library of the House a detailed analysis of the Government's calculations, so that we could see exactly why the Government argue that the Institute of Public Finance is wrong?

Mrs. Gillan

My hon. Friend has made the point, and I hope that the Minister has been listening to it. I shall give way to him if he would like to agree to put a detailed explanation in the Library. He does not want to intervene, so he obviously does not want to do that.

We have had some excellent speeches. My hon. Friends have spoken with great passion and feeling on the subject, compared with the derisory miniature speech delivered by the Minister just now. It is good to see so many Labour Members, because at one time so interested were the Government in education, education, education that about five Labour Members were listening to the debate. Yet the Government asked for this Committee stage to be taken on the Floor of the House. There was no interest in the debate, because they have closed their mind. The Government are just pushing the scheme aside, out of sight, out of mind. The guillotine is coming down.

What is the hurry? The amendments asked the Government to stop and think. Let us put in proportion what we are talking about. The Minister said time and again that by the end of the century the Government will have saved £100 million. That is less than 0.001 per cent. of the education budget. It is a derisory amount. For the sake of raising such a derisory amount, the Minister will end a system that is providing a first-class education to 40,000 of our children. Will that £100 million contribute to reducing class sizes to the level that the Minister wants? A little, but nowhere near enough to reduce class sizes to 30 by the end of the Government's life. He has failed to answer any of the questions that have been posed by me and my hon. Friends.

Mr. St. Aubyn

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister's disgraceful response to my intervention shows that the Government will look after people on low incomes if they are in a Labour area, but that the Government have no care for the future benefit of people with low incomes in Conservative areas?

Mrs. Gillan

That is obvious from everything that was said on Second Reading, and if my hon. Friend reads Hansard for that debate, he will see the theme of envy running through all the contributions from Labour Members.

The questions that the Minister has not answered are very serious. For example, how should local education authorities prepare for the increased number of children they will have to accept? Not all parents who would have an assisted place for their child will be able to make the sacrifice to spend the money and send their child to an independent school.

How should schools gear themselves up and make provision for the change? In a written answer to a question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), it is obvious that the Minister does not know. He was asked: what estimate he has made of the number of extra primary teachers to be provided from the abolition of the assisted places scheme in each financial year from 1997–98 to 2001–02. He replied: It will be for individual LEAs to judge what adjustments will be needed to primary teacher numbers to ensure smaller classes. He obviously has not consulted LEAs about the numbers needed to provide smaller classes. He has therefore certainly not consulted the LEAs about how they will prepare for the increased numbers of children who will no longer attend independent schools.

The Minister is being stupid. He should accept the amendments and proceed more slowly. I understand that the Government want to get rid of the assisted places scheme. I understand their hatred for it and the way in which they despise independent education, notwithstanding the fact that more than 40 Labour Members were educated in independent schools.

Had the Minister not been so pig-headed and slowed down, time would have solved his problems. The Girls Public Day Schools Trust would have had time to get its fund up and running, to try to replace the moneys from the assisted places scheme. Other schools throughout the country might have had time to make provision to replace what the Government will rob from the community. By proceeding so rapidly, the Minister will cause children to fall back on the local education authorities' provision, and, by his own admission, those authorities have not been consulted and are not prepared for what might happen.

By failing to accept the amendments, the Minister will damage individuals. He obviously does not care about the effect that the Bill will have on families, because he is not listening. What will happen to the families who expected, the year after next, that their child would have a good chance of getting an assisted place? He has dashed their hopes by not accepting our sensible proposals. We do not suggest stopping abolition, because we understand that that is what the Minister wants to do, but we ask him to take more time to do it for the sake of the children.

The Government obviously have no respect for children, and certainly they have no respect for the education of the 40,000 children we are discussing. We shall therefore press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 138, Noes 353.

Division No. 15] [6.54 pm
Amess, David Cash, William
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Chope, Christopher
Arbuthnot, James Clappison, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Baldry, Tony (Rushcliffe)
Bercow, John Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey
Beresford, Sir Paul Collins, Tim
Blunt, Crispin Colvin, Michael
Boswell, Tim Cormack, Sir Patrick
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Cran, James
Brady, Graham Curry, Rt Hon David
Brazier, Julian Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Davies, Quentin
Browning, Mrs Angela (Grantham & Stamford)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Day, Stephen
Burns, Simon Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Butterfill, John Duncan Smith, Iain
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Evans, Nigel Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Faber, David May, Mrs Theresa
Fabricant, Michael Merchant, Piers
Fallon, Michael Moss, Malcolm
Flight, Howard Nicholls, Patrick
Forth, Eric Norman, Archie
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Page, Richard
Fraser, Christopher Paice, James
Gale, Roger Paterson, Owen
Garnier, Edward Pickles, Eric
Gibb, Nick Prior, David
Gill, Christopher Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Robathan, Andrew
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gray, James Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Green, Damian Ruffley, David
Greenway, John St Aubyn, Nick
Gummer, Rt Hon John Sayeed, Jonathan
Hague, Rt Hon William Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hammond, Philip Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Hawkins, Nick Spicer, Sir Michael
Hayes, John Spring, Richard
Heald, Oliver Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David Steen, Anthony
Horam, John Streeter, Gary
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Swayne, Desmond
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Syms, Robert
Hunter, Andrew Tapsell, Sir Peter
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Jenkin, Bernard (N Essex) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Key, Robert Tredinnick, David
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Trend, Michael
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Tyrie, Andrew
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Viggers, Peter
Lansley, Andrew Walter, Robert
Leigh, Edward Waterson, Nigel
Letwin, Oliver Wells, Bowen
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Whitney, Sir Raymond
Lidington, David Whittingdale, John
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Willetts, David
Loughton, Tim Wilshire, David
Luff, Peter Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
McIntosh, Miss Anne Woodward, Shaun
MacKay, Andrew Yeo, Tim
Maclean, Rt Hon David Young, Rt Hon Sir George
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David Tellers for the Ayes:
Malins, Humfrey Mr. Richard Ottaway and
Maples, John Mr. Peter Ainsworth.
Abbott, Ms Diane Benton, Joe
Ainger, Nick Bermingham, Gerald
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Berry, Roger
Allen, Graham (Nottingham N) Betts, Clive
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Blackman, Mrs Liz
Anderson, Janet (Ros'dale) Blears, Ms Hazel
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Blizzard, Robert
Ashton, Joe Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Atkins, Ms Charlotte Borrow, David
Austin, John Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Banks, Tony Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Barnes, Harry Bradshaw, Ben
Battle, John Brinton, Mrs Helen
Bayley, Hugh Brown, Rt Hon Nick
Beard, Nigel (Newcastle E & Wallsend)
Begg, Miss Anne (Aberd'n S) Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Buck, Ms Karen
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Burden, Richard
Bennett, Andrew F Burgon, Colin
Butler, Christine Foster, Fit Hon Derek
Byers, Stephen Foster, Don (Bath)
Caborn, Richard Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Foster, Michael John (Worcester)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Galbraith, Sam
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Galloway, George
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Gapes, Mike
Campbell-Savours, Dale George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Cann, Jamie Gerrard, Neil
Caplin, Ivor Gibson, Dr Ian
Casale, Roger Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Caton, Martin Godman, Dr Norman A
Cawsey, Ian Godsiff, Roger
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Goggins, Paul
Chaytor, David Golding, Mrs Llin
Chidgey, David Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Chisholm, Malcolm Graham, Thomas
Clapham, Michael Grant, Bernie
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Griffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E)
Clark, Dr Lynda Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
(Edinburgh Pentlands) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Grocott, Bruce
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Grogan, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Gunnell, John
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hain, Peter
Clelland, David Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Coaker, Vernon Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Coffey, Ms Ann Hancock, Mike
Cohen, Harry Hanson, David
Coleman, Iain Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
(Hammersmith & Fulham) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Colman, Anthony (Putney) Healey, John
Connarty, Michael Heath, David (Somerton)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cooper, Ms Yvette Hepburn, Stephen
Corbett, Robin Heppell, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Hesford, Stephen
Corston, Ms Jean Hill, Keith
Cousins, Jim Hinchliffe, David
Cranston, Ross Hodge, Ms Margaret
Crausby, David Hoon, Geoffrey
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hope, Philip
Cummings, John Hopkins, Kelvin
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Curtis—Thomas, Ms Clare Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Dalyell, Tam Howells, Dr Kim
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Hoyle, Lindsay
Darvill, Keith Hughes, Ms Beverley
Davey, Edward (Kingston) (Stretford & Urmston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Davidson, Ian Humble, Mrs Joan
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hurst, Alan
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Hutton, John
Dawson, Hilton Iddon, Brian
Dean, Ms Janet Illsley, Eric
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)
Dobbin, Jim Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Jamieson, David
Doran, Frank Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)
Dowd, Jim Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Drew, David Johnson, Ms Melanie
Drown, Ms Julia (Welwyn Hatfield)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Jones, Ms Fiona (Newark)
Eagle, Ms Maria (L'pool Garston) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Edwards, Huw Jones, Ms Jenny
Efford, Clive (Wolverh'ton SW)
Ellman, Ms Louise Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Ennis, Jeff Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Fearn, Ronnie Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Field, Rt Hon Frank Keeble, Ms Sally
Fisher, Mark Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford)
Fitzsimons, Ms Lorna Kemp, Fraser
Flint, Ms Caroline Kennedy, Charles
Flynn, Paul (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Khabra, Piara S Pollard, Kerry
Kidney, David Pond, Chris
Kilfoyle, Peter Pound, Stephen
Kingham, Tessa Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Prescott, Rt Hon John
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Primarolo, Dawn
Laxton, Bob Prosser, Gwyn
Lepper, David Purchase, Ken
Leslie, Christopher Quin, Ms Joyce
Levitt, Tom Quinn, Lawrie
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Radice, Giles
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Rammell, Bill
Liddell, Mrs Helen Rapson, Syd
Linton, Martin Raynsford, Nick
Livingstone, Ken Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Livsey, Richard Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lock, David Robertson, Rt Hon George
Love, Andy (Hamilton S)
McAvoy, Thomas Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McCabe, Stephen Rooker, Jeff
McCafferty, Ms Chris Rooney, Terry
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McDonagh, Ms Siobhain Rowlands, Ted
Macdonald, Calum Roy, Frank
McDonnell, John Ruane, Chris
McFall, John Ruddock, Ms Joan
McGuire, Mrs Anne Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McIsaac, Ms Shona Ryan, Ms Joan
McKenna, Ms Rosemary Salmond, Alex
Mackinlay, Andrew Savidge, Malcolm
McLeish, Henry Sawford, Phil
MacShane, Denis Sedgemore, Brian
Mactaggart, Fiona Shaw, Jonathan
McWalter, Tony Sheerman, Barry
McWilliam, John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mahon, Mrs Alice Shipley, Ms Debra
Mallaber, Ms Judy Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Marek, Dr John Singh, Marsha
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Skinner, Dennis
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Maxton, John Smith, Miss Geraldine
Meale, Alan (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Merron, Ms Gillian Smith, Ms Jaoqui (Redditch)
Milburn, Alan Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Miller, Andrew Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Moffatt, Laura Soley, Clive
Moonie, Dr Lewis Southworth, Ms Helen
Moran, Ms Margaret Squire, Ms Rachel
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Stevenson, George
Morley, Elliot Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stinchcombe, Paul
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Stoate, Dr Howard
Mountford, Ms Kali Stringer, Graham
Mudie, George Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)
Mullin, Chris Stunell, Andrew
Murphy, Dennis (Wansbeck) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen) (Dewsbury)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Norris, Dan Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Timms, Stephen
Olner, Bill Tipping, Paddy
O'Neill, Martin Todd, Mark
Opik, Lembit Truswell, Paul
Osborne, Mrs Sandra Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Palmer, Dr Nick Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Pearson, Ian Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pendry, Tom Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Perham, Ms Linda Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Pickthall, Colin Vaz, Keith
Pike, Peter L Vis, Dr Rudi
Plaskitt, James Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire Winnick, David
Watts, David Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
White, Brian Wise, Audrey
Whitehead, Alan Wood, Mike
Wicks, Malcolm Woolas, Phil
Williams, Rt Hon Alan Worthington, Tony
(Swansea W) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Williams, Dr Alan W Wyatt, Derek
(E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy) Tellers for the Noes:
Willis, Phil Mr. Greg Pope and Jane Kennedy.
Wills, Michael

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Gillan

The heart of the Bill is contained in clause 1: it is the vehicle which the Government are using to snatch the assisted places scheme from the grasp of 34,000 children. We had a good debate on the amendments to clause 1, but they did not cover the scheme as a whole or the principles behind the abolition of the scheme.

The scheme played an integral part in the previous Government's policy of promoting choice, diversity and excellence in education. It gave choice to parents, especially parents on low incomes. As we heard on Second Reading, more than 40 per cent. of children who attended independent schools on assisted places came from families with an income of less than £10,000. More than 80 per cent. of the pupils currently in the scheme come from families whose income is below the national average.

It is amazing that, for the purposes of other debates on other subjects, the Government deem a family that has a total income of below £10,000 to be in poverty, but for the purposes of abolishing the assisted places scheme, it was suggested on Second Reading that some of those families were Lloyd's names or other undeserving individuals. I find that abhorrent, because it has been obvious from the examination of the scheme over many years that the families who benefit have incomes in the lowest quartile.

Mr. Clappison

I think that it was the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), who said on Second Reading that about 1,000 families with an income of more than £24,000 received assistance. Is my hon. Friend aware that a family in such circumstances has to make a contribution of more than £3,000? Does she agree that that is a substantial sacrifice for a family on such an income, and it shows how highly those families value the assisted places scheme?

Mrs. Gillan

My hon. Friend is right. The Government have no concept of the sacrifice that families make to obtain what they consider to be the right education for their children.

Mr. Byers

The hon. Lady asserted that it was outrageous to say that children of Lloyd's names received an assisted place. Will she confirm that that statement was made by the former Conservative Member for Buckingham, George Walden?

Mrs. Gillan

Unlike Labour Members, I will not confirm something that I do not know. The Minister quotes the former Member for Buckingham, but it was obvious to everyone that I did not hold the same views as him on this subject. That comment was quoted and endorsed by Labour Members, so the politics of envy is alive and kicking.

The guide issued by the Department for Education and Employment says that, at the top of the scale, a family whose combined income in a tax year is £26,000 would have to make a contribution out of taxed income of £4,059. A family with two children in the scheme would have to pay £3,042 for each child, so they would be paying more than £6,000 out of taxed income towards their children's education.

7.15 pm

Families are prepared to pay that contribution because they believe in the scheme and think that it is worth while. They are willing to make the sacrifice. I know parents who are on incomes much higher than that but are not willing to make the sacrifice to send their children to independent schools. Perhaps they believe that that form of education is not right for their child.

The parents who have applied for assisted places and whose children have been clever enough to obtain places in independent schools believe that that form of education is right for their children. The Government are now telling them that they will no longer have the opportunity to obtain the education that they believe and know is best for their child.

There is no doubt that the Government are treating independent schools with great disdain. They have broken the contract with independent schools. As one of my hon. Friends rightly said in the debate on the amendments, there was a three-year contract with these schools and the Government have broken it. The breaking of that contract will go down in history as one of the biggest acts of political envy that the Government could perpetrate.

The raison d'etre for abolishing the scheme comes down to two Labour soundbites: "We will reduce class sizes" and—

Mr. Phil Woolas (Oldham, East and Saddleworth)

Govern for the many, not the few.

Mrs. Gillan

The hon. Member has repeated it very well—"We will govern for the many, not the few."

The effect of a reduction in class sizes has been examined over and again. The Government's sums do not add up. They have consistently tried to pull the wool over our eyes about the amounts that are needed to meet their targets. If they do not know the amount of money that is required to reduce class sizes to below 30 by the end of the lifetime of this Parliament, how can they possibly justify destroying the scheme and saving a small amount of money that will go only part way towards reaching that target?

Where will the extra money come from to reduce class sizes? The Minister is not listening, because he does not care and he does not know the answer. If he knew the answer, he would have given it in the previous debate. Once again, I am giving the Minister the opportunity to answer the questions that he failed to answer in the previous debate. How much money must he find to reduce class sizes to 30 by the end of this Parliament?

I feel strongly about this subject, which is more than can be said for the Minister. How will LEAs prepare for the increased number of children who may be thrown into their schools because of the abolition of the scheme? Why have the Government not delayed the scheme to enable independent schools to replace the money that they currently receive from assisted places? The Minister does not have the resources to fund his pledges. He will take a meagre amount from the abolition of the scheme, and that is the pathetic excuse for the legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) asked the Minister in a written question what estimate he had made of the amount of money that would be available for education from the abolition of the assisted places scheme, net of the cost of educating within the state sector those pupils who would otherwise have been on the assisted places scheme. The Minister replied: There will be no significant additional burden on Local Education Authorities from educating children who would otherwise have entered the assisted places scheme each year. Does that mean that those children will be educated free? The Minister's answer suggests that he has no concept of the cost of each place at a maintained school. He has said that there will be "no significant additional burden" on LEAs. Will he define a "significant additional burden"? The Minister's answer to my hon. Friend was a fudge, and I expect him to define that answer when he replies to the debate. It is another question in addition to all those that he has disrespectfully failed to answer in Committee.

Will the Minister give an undertaking, based on his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, that no LEA will face additional costs as a result of taking children who would otherwise have been educated under the assisted places scheme? He could probably give an undertaking on that—if he is prepared to stand by his answer to that written question, which he answered today.

I should like to deal with the soundbite on which this vicious legislation is based.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Alan Milburn)


Mrs. Gillan

Yes, I said vicious, and I hope that the Minister heard me correctly. I am glad that I have the House's attention.

The Government have said that they will govern for the many, not the few. Have Labour Members analysed that pathetic little soundbite? If they believe it, we face one of the most dangerous Governments that the country has had. Any Government who take their responsibilities seriously would appreciate that they have to govern for the few. It is essential to protect the interests of minorities, and sometimes to enhance their lives. To govern for the many and not the few would mean that many programmes would be abolished. That is what is to happen to the assisted places scheme.

If the Government intend to govern for the many and not for the few, I presume that they will abolish section 11 funding. The Government of which I was a member provided that funding, and I presume that the present Government will continue to do that until they fall back on their soundbites. That funding is not for the many: it is for the few people for whom English is not the first language. If the Government intend to keep their pledges, they will do away with section 11 funding. Governing for the many and not for the few means that money will not be put into the travellers education unit. That money is for the few children of travellers who might need a special type of education which costs more than the average place in the primary or secondary sectors.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. I have allowed some latitude, but I should be grateful if the hon. Lady returned to the debate on the clause.

Mrs. Gillan

I mean no discourtesy to the Chair. The clause is the heart of the Bill. I have said that the Government's pledge is that they will govern for the many, not the few, and I shall relate that directly to assisted places.

If the Government are to stick to that pledge, why should they continue to support the music and ballet scheme? I am thrilled that that scheme is to continue. It has provided specialised education for 644 of our most talented youngsters who have expertise in ballet or music. The scheme costs nearly £8 million. That is governing for the few, not the many, so why could not the assisted places scheme be retained? It is for the few, as are section 11 funding, special education needs funding and funding for the travellers units. Those are the few in our society.

Labour Members should bear in mind the fact that government has to be for the few as well as for the many. The Government's soundbite is bankrupt.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gillan

No. I am in full flood. My adage is, when in full flood do not give way to a Flynn.

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Lady may be in full flow, but I should be grateful if she would return to the clause.

Mrs. Gillan

For the sake of a soundbite, clause 1 destroys the assisted places scheme. The Government operate double standards on other schemes and their expenditure on some children is far in excess of the average expenditure on each child in the scheme. The clause takes abrupt action to finish the scheme in its entirety. It is motivated by hatred and based on double standards, and it uses arithmetic that has never added up. The Minister has so far failed to answer questions. I hope that he will later answer all the questions that my hon. Friends and I have put to him. I hope that he has made a note of each question and that he will provide us with full answers. If he cannot do that, he should withdraw his Bill because it will destroy a valuable scheme for many children.

7.30 pm
Mr. Hayes

I rise to introduce some further issues. I hope that the House will forgive me for being fairly comprehensive in taking an elaborate tour of the local education authorities of Great Britain.

I shall start with the Nottinghamshire LEA, of which I have been a member for a dozen or so years. It is absolutely clear—the Bill is relevant to this—that class size is of diminishing importance. I said in the previous debate that although the Government—and, by implication, the Bill—focus on class size, it is of diminishing importance due to the changing nature of teaching and learning. Some hon. Members looked a little mystified at that. I know that not all hon. Members, especially Labour Members, are fully briefed on and acquainted with such matters. [Interruption.] I do not mean that in a patronising way—really. I was talking about the nature of technology, technology support in schools and the way in which teachers use technology to facilitate better teaching and learning.

Labour Members and the architects of the proposals before us have not grasped such a change. Perhaps they feel that the wider public have not grasped it, so it is not politically sensible to base policy around it. Perhaps people have not come to terms with the change because they are not familiar with what is happening at the leading edge of education. Surely Ministers have a responsibility to reflect such a fundamental change in the nature of the Bill.

The proposals are based on the false premise that to eliminate disadvantage one must restrict opportunity. It might be laudable to want to eliminate disadvantage, and considering the way in which socialists typically run LEAs, I am sure that they would claim that as their motivation. I do not, however, believe that the method of eliminating disadvantage by pulling people down is either laudable or acceptable. It is all born of the notion that if everyone cannot have it, no one should have it. That is the core principle of the Bill.

Just under 40,000 people are enjoying the advantages of the assisted places scheme. One might argue that that is a very small number and that the scheme therefore does not touch the lives of many families. To use the word of the Minister for School Standards, I have no envy—or bitterness or jealousy—about the opportunity, advantage and choice being given to those 37,000 or 40,000 people. Since I have none of those feelings, I have no desire to frustrate or restrict their opportunity and choice. I do not believe that that is true of many—I do not say all—Labour Members. I do not take a naive view that they are all wicked; some are just misguided. Such feelings are fundamental to some of the thinking of a number of the architects of the proposals.

When I said earlier that the legislation was negative and pernicious, I was saying so more in sorrow than in anger. I ask the Government to look again at how to eliminate disadvantage without restricting opportunity. Was not it Abraham Lincoln who said, "You don't make the poor richer by making the rich poorer"? There is a parallel there somewhere—hon. Members may have to search for it, but it is there somewhere.

I turn to funding. Members of the fifth column, as having a background in local government was described earlier—well, I come from local government, too—will appreciate that there is no mechanism or structure for delivering the money from assisted places in a direct exchange of funds. The implication of what is before the House is that there could be a direct transfer of the money saved by abolishing assisted places to reduce class sizes, yet the mechanism for doing so does not exist.

We need to answer the question whether there is a precedent for the targeted ring fencing of money outside the LEA structure. Some hon. Members—probably more on the Opposition Benches—might not have a problem with that, but I should have thought that it would cause considerable problems for the Labour party and create considerable tension between the parliamentary Labour party and the many Labour-controlled LEAs, which will jealously guard the right to decide precisely how to spend the money allocated to them for education. We have not had a satisfactory answer to that question.

In order to facilitate a direct transfer of the money from the assisted places scheme to the reduction of class sizes in the very speedy way suggested, one would have to a devise new mechanism. There is certainly no evidence of that in any clause. Nor has it been evident in any explanation, answer, or lack of answer given in Committee or on Second Reading.

I should like to draw attention to the scale involved. Cost per pupil is, of course, variable. The cost per pupil in many LEAs—I could obviously name a number of examples in London—is much higher than the average, as has been said. The average cost per pupil of about £2,700 is very different from the extremes, which are much lower and much higher. There is a patchy picture of not only the cost of readmitting pupils to their LEA but the number of pupils affected.

Since the take-up of the assisted places scheme varies and, therefore, the number of children who will be reabsorbed into any one LEA is different, and given the varying cost of educating pupils, we need clear explanations of the implications that such variations will have in different parts of the country. That has not been adequately dealt with or explained to the satisfaction of—I would have thought—any hon. Member. We have not had a full, detailed and unequivocal statement on that.

I also want to draw attention, at the risk of being verbose, to the record on class sizes. It is not the parody or caricature that has been drawn for us today. Class sizes have been more a result of changes in the birth rate and local demography than they have of any Government's policy. That is best illustrated by the record of class sizes over the past 30 years. Many younger Members will recall their own education in quite large classes. Around about 1975, class sizes reached a peak under the previous Labour Government, not as a result—

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The clause stand part debate goes wider than debate on amendments, but class sizes have nothing to do with assisted places. The hon. Member must talk about assisted places.

Mr. Hayes

I am grateful for that advice. I am sure that you will appreciate, Mr. Martin, that as a new Member I have a lot to learn. I am always willing to take advice and guidance from any quarter.

The abolition of the assisted places scheme has been put forward as a means of delivering smaller classes. Indeed, the Minister made that point during today's debate. He said that the legitimate mandate he had from the British people—I have no argument with him about that because he and his colleagues put their case fairly and squarely—was about the relationship between the abolition of the assisted places scheme and the facilitation of the policy for smaller class sizes.

Mrs. Gillan

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. On the front page of the Bill, under the heading "Financial effects of the Bill" it says: The Bill's provisions will lead to savings which will be spent on reducing infant class sizes in the maintained sector. Can you confirm that, as that is on the front of the Bill, it is pertinent to the entire Bill, including clause 1? I should be grateful for your guidance because I am sure that that is why many hon. Members, including myself, have been referring to that. I should be awfully grateful for your advice.

The First Deputy Chairman

The hon. Lady will get my advice. People can mention various matters during a debate, but they must keep relating them to the clause. The clause is about the abolition of assisted places. If someone tells me that there is a connection with class sizes, I can accept it, but if someone debates class sizes for ever and a day, I cannot accept it. I must keep pulling the debate back to the clause. Perhaps that will help the hon. Lady and others.

Mrs. Gillan

Thank you very much for that clarification, Mr. Martin. Hon. Members have felt justified in referring to class sizes because of what it says on the front of the Bill. That has given me a clear indication of what the Chair wants. Thank you very much.

The First Deputy Chairman

Hon. Members need not worry about my intervening. I am here to try to keep things right. If there is any difficulty, I will soon let hon. Members know. There is no problem with that.

Mr. Hayes

That was extraordinarily erudite, Mr. Martin.

I want to return to the issue raised by the Minister which is the relationship between assisted places and class sizes and I want to do that if only to get the Minister off the hook. If the Bill were just about abolishing assisted places and was unrelated to the size of classes, it would be entirely negative. That is why class size has been put forward as a crucial element in the debate and has been mentioned on the front of the Bill. If it were simply the business of getting rid of assisted places for a negative reason—

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the key points being made by Conservative Members is that to say that this provision is for the purpose of reducing class sizes is just window dressing? That is not really the purpose; it is just a spiteful little measure.

Mr. Hayes

My hon. Friend is harsher than I am. I was being generous and trying to offer an olive branch to the Minister. I was trying to help him to justify why he is doing this, because I know that he is having some difficulties. I am suggesting that there may be a positive side as well as the pernicious, negative and unpleasant side to the abolition of assisted places. However, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) may be right and the issue of class size may be irrelevant.

The fact that all this cannot be delivered easily, that there are no figures available, that the sums do not add up and that there are no mechanisms for ringfencing and targeting this money for LEAs, may mean that this is all a charade. This may be just the negative business of taking away from working-class children the opportunity of attending private schools. However, I prefer to be generous and to assume that this is a two-sided coin.

7.45 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

Will my hon. Friend consider another aspect of this nasty little measure? Many of the children on assisted places come from emotionally deprived homes and are sent to residential schools in the private sector because there are no residential schools in the public sector for children who are emotionally deprived or from emotionally disturbed families. In fact, this measure is hitting not only children from poor homes but children who are emotionally deprived as well.

Mr. Hayes

One of the most fundamental problems facing education—I think that this will be acknowledged by both sides of the House—and which has been taken on board by a number of experts is the increasing number of children with special needs or statemented children with emotional or behavioural difficulties. As my hon. Friend said, there is a real mismatch between the increase in the number of such children and adequate provision to deal with them. What has happened in many LEAs—

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hayes

In a moment. I am getting rather good at this.

What is happening in many LEAs is that, as a result of the integration of special needs children into the mainstream, the specialist provision that previously existed for emotionally and behaviourally challenged children has been reduced.

Mr. Willis

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this point has nothing to do with the assisted places scheme? The vast majority of LEAs in this country are desperately short of resources and were squeezed to death by the previous Government. They have real difficulties trying to educate children with severe learning difficulties, particularly psychological or emotional difficulties. They make provision to teach such children through their existing budgets, not through the assisted places scheme. The hon. Gentleman made his point extremely well but extremely badly.

Mr. Hayes

The hon. Gentleman's intervention belies the fact that the motivation for the integration of special needs children into the mainstream came not from financial necessity but from the ideological perspective born of Warnock and the Education Act 1980, which was introduced by the Conservative Government. I make no value judgment about that, but initially LEAs, regardless of the party in control, were encouraged to integrate children into the mainstream—

Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham)

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. Is this still in order, because it does not have much to do with assisted places?

The First Deputy Chairman

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) must relate his remarks to clause 1.

Mr. Hayes

I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Martin. I flirted briefly with that subject because I was distracted by an irrelevant point from the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis).

Mr. Steen

My point, from which the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough tried to distract my hon. Friend, had nothing to do with children with special needs. The assisted places scheme helped children from emotionally deprived homes or from families with emotional problems to attend residential schools because there are very few such schools in the public sector. I should like my hon. Friend's views on that.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) should know better. Recent interventions have been very long.

Mr. Hayes

Hon. Members with considerably more experience than I are seducing me into all sorts of areas and I feel a little bewildered and confused.

It is true that the assisted places scheme offered an opportunity to go to a type of school that does not exist in the mainstream. In that sense, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes is absolutely right. The extension of diversity of provision offered by the scheme to a wider range of children was a fundamental aspect of it.

The counter-argument might be—again, I am attempting to be helpful to the Minister—that the scheme applied to only a small number of children. As I said earlier, however, that aspect of the scheme does not justify its abolition.

The appeal of the assisted places scheme was that, for 37,000 children, it offered diversity and choice. The Bill's passage will eliminate that choice, and that is undesirable. Although only a small number benefited, I celebrate the fact that that small number had such extended opportunities.

In conclusion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."] Yes, although I promised that I would make a tour of local education authorities, I was only teasing Labour Members.

Mr. Heald

In dealing with clause 1, my hon. Friend has been discussing whether the assisted places scheme should be abolished. A middle course proposed by the Liberal Democrats, however, is that it should be "sort of" abolished, although local authorities would be able to "sort of make something similar in a way" of an agreement with a local authority. What does my hon. Friend think of that patchwork quilt approach?

Mr. Hayes

Perhaps I can summarise the Liberal Democrats' approach to the issue. Whereas Labour Members, by using the issue of class sizes, are wolves in sheep's clothing, the Liberal Democrats are sheep in sheep's clothing.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

In cheap clothing?

Mr. Hayes

No, sheep's; they are sheep in sheep's clothing. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) has benefited from a good education—perhaps from an assisted place, although he looks a little too old.

Mr. Willis

On a point of order, Mr. Lord.

Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham)

He is Mr. Martin.

Mr. Willis

Mr. Martin, are the hon. Gentleman's comments at all pertinent to clause 1?

The First Deputy Chairman

The Committee is getting out of hand, so I will have to be a little more strict. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) must speak to the clause, and other hon. Members must not make sedentary interventions.

Mr. Hayes

Thank you, Mr. Martin. Liberal Democrat Members were diverting me from the straight and narrow, as they have done so often in so many constituencies across the country.

The assisted places scheme offered opportunity, hope and a new chance—not to the wealthy, to the privilege or to those whom one might expect the Labour party to have in its sights, but to ordinary people and poor children who would never have dreamed of an opportunity to attend the type of school that has been open to them because of the scheme. To abolish the assisted places scheme is not only negative and pernicious, it is a disgrace for which, in the fulness of time, the Labour party will have many regrets and full remorse.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

I should, first, declare a personal interest—not a financial interest—in that I am chairman of the governors of Abingdon school, which is the school that I attended. I undertake that office in a completely unpaid capacity.

Abingdon school provides an instructive example for this debate. When I attended Abingdon, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was a direct grant school. It is an ancient foundation, whose historic mission was to provide an excellent education for bright boys in the town of Abingdon and its surrounding areas, and it continued with that historic mission until that paring Social Democrat, Baroness Williams, came along and abolished the direct grant system. A few years later, when the assisted places scheme was devised, Abingdon offered places under the scheme, and it has continued to do so to this day.

Some schools were badly affected when socialism dealt that last blow to the direct grant school system. Some schools were weakened, although others were strengthened. Fortunately, Abingdon was one of the latter, and it has flourished as a fully independent school. One effect of axing the direct grant scheme was universal to all the schools that operated it: those schools became more, not less, elitist. All the talk about help for the many and not for the few is nonsense. Abolishing the scheme made schools more elitist, against the wishes of most of them. Today, many of those schools are the same ones that offer assisted places, continuing to provide an excellent education for bright children from less-advantaged backgrounds.

The Education (Schools) Bill shows the cycle coming round again. It is instructive to note that the Bill has been introduced so early in the Parliament and that Ministers are railroading it through as fast as they can. There is no pretence that this is a constitutional Bill. The only reason for having its Committee stage on the Floor of the House is so that Ministers can bang it through as quickly as possible. We are beginning to discover what lies at the heart of the brave new Labour Government and of their brave new world.

Ministers prate about modernisation, but the Bill is about destruction. It will do nothing to make life better for anyone. The Bill—with clause 1 at its heart—will not improve a single child's education. In the years to come, however, it will damage the education of tens of thousands of children. The Government claim that their priorities are "education, education and education", but the message that the public will draw from the Bill is one of "destruction, destruction and destruction".

The Bill does not build for the future, and none of its provisions will help anyone. Conservative Members have made that point with devastating accuracy, but we still await any convincing response from the Minister. He sits on the Treasury Bench, with all his smirking arrogance, and refuses to deal with the points that we are making—he smirks even now.

Where are the answers to the questions asked by my hon. Friends about the effects of the savings? What savings will the Bill achieve after children are displaced out of the independent system and provided places in the maintained sector? From where will the savings come? How many extra teachers to reduce class sizes will the Bill provide? The Minister does not know. He knows, as the independent studies have shown, that the figures do not add up.

The Bill comes down to destruction—from dogma, from envy and for the sake of a soundbite. At the beginning of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) spoke about soundbites, at which point, sure enough, a soundbite was delivered. I did not hear a bleeper—it must have been one of those silent devices—but, nevertheless, the words came from the hon. Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas): "for the many and not for the few."

I hope that the Committee will reject clause 1 for many reasons. The main reason, however, is that education should be about excellence. After all the previous Labour Government's actions on education, Ministers should have learnt—but they have not—that it is very easy to destroy and to eliminate the good, but that it is much more difficult to build. For a Government who claim to be about building the new Britain, they are off to a pretty poor start.

I should like to hear a reply from the Minister, and he had plenty of opportunity to do so during the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who gave a most splendid and accomplished performance. Today, we witnessed the birth of a parliamentary star. Will the Minister answer the questions? I doubt it.

At the end of the next academic year, when the first effects of this vicious measure begin to bite, how much money will be available? How will the Minister use that money to achieve the much-vaunted target of reducing class sizes? We do not know; he does not know—

Mr. Steen


Mr. Maude

Perhaps my hon. Friend knows.

Mr. Steen

I wonder whether my hon. Friend can help my understanding of what the Government are trying to do. All the schools in my constituency are full. Each year, 1,011 children join the assisted places scheme. Where will those 1,011 children go when the Government get rid of the scheme? I cannot get an answer to that from the Government, so perhaps my hon. Friend can help me.

8 pm

Mr. Maude

I would love to help my hon. Friend; it is a question I have been asking. My constituency contains one of the great historic educational establishments in this country, Christ's Hospital. Like my old school of Abingdon, Christ's Hospital has always had the historic mission of providing outstanding education solely for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Most of the support for those children comes from its own foundation. Because of the generosity of philanthropists over the century, the school has a large foundation which is used in the best possible way to help children from disadvantaged families. It also takes up places under the assisted places scheme, and it does a terrific job for those children.

As in my hon. Friend's constituency, most of the schools in my constituency are full. It is an area with an expanding population. I do not know where those children who are denied the opportunity to take up an assisted place, at Christ's Hospital and other local schools, will go. We want the Minister to answer those questions, but we see no sign of him doing so.

I want to make another point about the destructive kernel of the Bill, which is contained in this clause. It relates to the way it was justified by the Prime Minister and other Front-Bench spokesmen during and before the election campaign. They said that the assisted places scheme was a subsidy to the private sector, making it appear that profiteering organisations were making money out of the scheme. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that that remark was made out of simple ignorance and was not a deliberate distortion of the truth. The Minister will correct me if I am being too generous—[Interruption.] Perhaps the Government are too arrogant to admit that they are wrong and apologise. That was made abundantly clear yesterday.

The soundbite use to justify the Bill is that the scheme is a subsidy to the private sector. That is wrong. For reasons that I have explained, I know Abingdon school better than most. There, every assisted place is subsidised by the school to the tune of £750 a year. It does no service to the finances of Abingdon school to take on boys with assisted places. Indeed, the school would be considerably better off without assisted places. It is a flourishing school that can fill its places with boys paying full fees. Abolition of assisted places is not a problem for the school—but it is a problem for the boys who would have had those places. Incidentally, those places are subsidised by the full-fee-paying boys.

If the Bill is passed, that school, against its wishes, will become more exclusive and more elitist. It will continue to provide excellent education, but only for those who can afford it. Because we take seriously our mission to provide excellent schooling for disadvantaged children, we, like other schools, will do our best to provide assistance through our foundation—meagre though it is at Abingdon—so that the benefits of a social mix and excellent education can be provided as widely as possible. However, it will be difficult. The inevitable, destructive truth is that schools like Abingdon will be able to spread their benefits less widely.

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will make a better fist of justifying the Bill than he has done so far. All that I have heard from him and his colleagues is the language of destruction. They do not like the scheme because it is for the few. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham said, there are plenty of schemes that are for the few, but I do not hear the Government proposing to abolish them. Perhaps they will do that later. When the Minister gets going with his binge of arrogant and destructive activity, perhaps he will tell us that there is more to come. The language is one of dogmatism, spite, destruction and envy. It is an arrogant determination to drive the Bill through, regardless of its merits and regardless of the children who will be affected.

The arrogant way in which the Minister disdains to answer the questions put to him makes me think that he is ashamed of the Bill. I will do him the credit of believing that he wants to improve education overall and that deep in his heart he knows that the Bill goes in the other direction. He knows that the assisted places scheme provides, at a modest cost per place, an excellent education for a moderate number of disadvantaged children.

Mr. Byers


Mr. Maude

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he will answer our questions.

Mr. Byers

Will the hon. Gentleman, who is the chairman of the governors of Abingdon school, tell us why, if the assisted places scheme is so popular and such a success, of the 106 places available at the school in 1996–97, only 89 have been taken up?

Mr. Maude

Some governors saw the hon. Gentleman coming. They heard his vindictive language, and that of his colleagues. They thought—I tried to persuade them that they were wrong, but I failed—that a Labour Government might be coming and that the first thing they would do was to act in this vindictive and malicious way and destroy the scheme. They therefore reluctantly decided to wind down the number of places. It was very much against their wishes. The governors—this is true of all assisted places schools—would have preferred the scheme to remain, albeit at some financial cost to the school, so that the school could continue with its historic mission of helping bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds. I happen to mind about that; I am sorry that the Minister does not.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

I want to address my remarks to the first few lines of clause 1, in particular the words shall cease to have effect". I want to explain why I do not believe that the Bill should proceed—and clause 1 is clearly essential to the Bill. I believe that the assisted places scheme should continue.

I declare an interest in that my wife is a state school teacher. Because of her experience, especially in reception and primary classes, I have some knowledge of some of the reasons that lie behind the Government's arguments justifying the Bill.

It is true that, in certain circumstances, the size of a class can have an effect on the ability of the teacher to control it and provide good-quality education for the pupils in his or her care. During the general election campaign, when the matter first came up for discussion, I was much taken by Ofsted's report on the issue. It made it clear that it was the quality of education that counted above all else—it was the quality of the teaching rather than the absolute number of pupils in a class.

I watched on the parliamentary television link earlier as the Minister refused to give the Committee any information in answer to specific questions. I oppose the clause standing part of the Bill because we have no idea of the effects of the measure. It is like me giving a friend a blank cheque and telling him to go away and fill in the details later, hoping that my account will have the balance to stand it.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have sought information about the effects of the clause and argued that the scheme should not cease to have effect. They have been trying to elicit answers about finances. I am amazed that any Minister should come before a Committee unable to do better than say that, if the clause had effect, he might have £100 million by the end of the Parliament. The fact that he is unable to give us details of the phased release of the money, unable to give us details of how the money would be given to local authorities and unable to give us an assurance that the money would find its way directly to primary school classrooms is—or, to be grammatically correct, are—three good reasons why the clause should not stand part of the Bill.

The Government claim to have an interest in the people of Britain, but the little people of Britain will lose out as a result of the clause. I remember meeting Mr. and Mrs. Smith—they are real people—when I lived in Southport 15 years ago. Ellen Smith used to go out and do cleaning jobs to earn enough money to add to her husband's salary of £8,500 so that they could make their contribution to the assisted place for their bright son to go to Merchant Taylors' school in Liverpool. Those are the people whom the Labour party might at one time have thought of as their natural supporters, but the clause is designed to trample on the Ellen Smiths of this world and their children and deny them the choice and opportunity that allowed that young man go on to obtain a first-class degree at university. The Southport area did not have all the options that the Minister may tell me there might be in his brave new world of education.

I acknowledge that there is some logic in the Bill from the Minister's point of view. However, before the election, I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) about the scheme. She wrote to me last November, saying that officials in the Department for Education and Employment had calculated a net saving of £34 million, not taking into account any capital expenditure that would have to be made on secondary schools to accommodate those pupils not going on the assisted places scheme.

I kept that letter with me until a public meeting on the subject during the election campaign. When I pulled out the Minister's letter, which I had treasured for the occasion, and quoted the figure, my Labour opponent—this gave us an idea of the arrogance of the Government—said, "You're wrong. You can't believe Government figures." The same officials are now advising the Minister. He is already disagreeing with his officials, and a representative of his party says that the official figures are wrong.

I asked the Labour candidate for his figures. He said that the saving would be £68 million, which would buy 2,300 extra teachers. He must have been right on that, because all Labour candidates were programmed to give the right answer about the assisted places scheme and therefore the effects of the clause. A quick division of that figure by the approximately 100 education authorities around the country led me to believe that there would be all of 23 extra teachers, on average, per authority.

I challenged my opponent to guarantee that the plan would enable Labour to deliver on its pledge for smaller class sizes. No answer carne. If the Minister wants to convince me that the clause should stand part of the Bill—I do not expect him to give me a detailed answer now, because that would be asking too much in the light of his track record during the debate—will he, in the spirit of open government and making information available, put in the Library a detailed breakdown analysis?

8.15 pm

Half the work has been done for the Minister. There have been answers to parliamentary questions showing class sizes by local education authority. What is missing is information on how many teachers would be needed in each education authority to fix the problem. If clause 1 is passed, the Government will be able to get hold of some money to fix the problem. Perhaps the Minister will tell us, in a written answer or a statement placed in the Library, how the scheme will work. I do not think that they can deliver on their promise.

We do not know how the money will be released, how it will be allocated to local authorities and whether it will ever reach the schools that it is intended to reach.

Mr. Clappison

Perhaps I can help my right hon. Friend. Some research was done before the election, showing that the cost of employing the teachers required to reduce class sizes by the necessary amount was about £68 million. By some miracle, that was the figure repeated by the Labour candidates as the anticipated savings. Now that the Labour party has come into government, I have asked the same question, and the answer has vanished. They cannot now say what the cost will be.

Mr. Jack

I am grateful for that contribution. The Minister should go back to the author of the information and inquire. The Committee is being invited to endorse the clause. We ought to have the information if we are to do so. How can we judge the validity of the measure without it?

Mr. Steen

Am I right in thinking that the money saved from the scheme will go to primary schools, but the savings will come from assisted places for children going to secondary schools?

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend brings me neatly to a second area of concern—another reason why I do not believe that the assisted places scheme as defined in the clause should cease to have effect. Let me go back to the letter that I received from my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. I was anxious to discover the relationship between the amount spent on secondary schools through the standard spending assessment formula and the costs of the assisted places scheme.

My hon. Friend made it clear that I could not make a one-to-one comparison, because the money that went through the standard spending assessment formula did not take into account capital and other expenses, but there was a relationship. I was surprised by how close the cost of an assisted place was to the amount of money allocated to secondary schools in Lancashire under the standard spending assessment. I could not understand how Lancashire education authority would find any extra money to reduce primary school class sizes. Unfortunately—perhaps this is a comment against me—Lancashire is towards the top of the table for class sizes.

We could have a debate on classroom assistants and other matters, but you would rightly bring back to order, Mr. Martin, so I shall not. The Minister said nothing about where Lancashire would find the extra money to deliver smaller class sizes when the education authority would be busy paying the money to the secondary schools, almost pound for pound.

It is incumbent on the Minister, if he wants the Committee to allow clause 1 to stand part, to convince us with some detail. It is rank arrogance for him to say that he will have the money by the turn of the century and that everything will be all right. Governments do not operate with blank cheques, and he knows that, when he presents his proposal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury, the Treasury officials—I know this, as, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), I have been there—will crawl over it and will have him for breakfast, lunch and tea unless he has the detail. The Minister is new to the job so I am giving give him fair warning that he needs that amount of detail.

My third concern relates to the state schools in my constituency for which I have fought tirelessly and for which I eventually won large sums of money to assist them in their expansion.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

A real hero.

Mr. Jack

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his acknowledgement of my singular efforts in that regard. I shall carry on fighting because I believe in choice and diversity and I think that all schools require the right resources to deliver education to our children. I shall fight for my state schools as hard as I shall for any other schools in my constituency. Those schools, however, would be the first to tell me that, because they did so well under the previous Government and because they are attractive schools, they are already bulging at the seams and struggling to meet demand. Where is the money coming from in Lancashire to expand those schools?

Mr. Forth

In case anyone should doubt what my right hon. Friend is saying, I should point out that I was the recipient of his assiduous and almost unending lobbying on behalf of schools in his constituency when I had the privilege to serve in the Department for Education and Employment. In case some newly elected colleagues imagine that what my right hon. Friend is saying is a routine or ritual statement, I happily confirm that he was indeed assiduous and persistent and very often, I am happy to say, successful in promoting the interests of state schools in his constituency.

Mr. Jack

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for acknowledging and underpinning the thrust of my argument. That leads me to a further strand of thinking on the subject and another reason why I do not want clause 1 to stand part. I want to make certain that the existing legislation remains in effect.

Mr. Maude

On the issue of where state schools will get the money from to accommodate children displaced from the independent system by the abolition of the assisted places scheme, will my right hon. Friend confirm that, under the proposal, successful schools that are already full to capacity will have to accept more children as a result of displacement and that the effect will be yet more destruction—in this case, the destruction of choice because more places will be taken up by default? Is that not yet more reckless damage caused by this irresponsible Government?

Mr. Jack

My right hon. Friend is correct. I wish that he could have been with me during the general election campaign. I remember walking along one particular road alongside the Royal Lytham golf club. It comprised a terrace of modest houses. A lady said that she wanted to talk to me about education, and I thought that I was going to get a right earful. She was a single mother worried about assisted places. She was a woman of modest means trying to do the best for her son and his future. I put our arguments to her, and I trust that she listened. That is the human dimension that the Minister of the people's party chooses to scorn. To put it bluntly, to judge from his performance so far, the Minister could not care less about some of the people whom his party claims to represent.

I now develop my next line of thought. The Government have established a task force comprising Professor Brighouse and Mr. Woodhead. There will be a head-to-head confrontation, and I am sure that tickets will sold. It will be interesting to see what happens. However, I accept its establishment in the right spirit and believe that it is intended to improve standards. It is as though the Government have adopted a Pontius Pilate approach—they wash their hands of decisions and pass them on to other people. That is the route that they have chosen.

In the event of the task force—this august body—concluding that teaching standards and resources for teachers would contribute more to children's education at primary level than the abolition of the assisted places scheme, would the Minister be prepared to recognise that, if he gets the money, he may have other calls on it and therefore might not be able to deliver on primary school class size reductions? If the Minister is to be true to the Chancellor's edict that he stay within his departmental spending limit, I have a feeling in my bones that the money is not necessarily destined for the place about which the Minister has told us.

My final argument picks up a point already made by right hon. and hon. Friends and relates to a very real worry. In the last financial year, the county of Lancashire last year chose to keep back some £10 million of the additional funding provided by the former Government. The Government gave £26.3 million extra to Lancashire, but only £16 million reached the schools. The issue of class sizes in Lancashire could have been dealt with had the local authority remitted all the money to primary schools. Clause 1 should not stand part, because it provides no guarantee that the money will reach the schools.

There is a breathtaking lack of detail in the legislation. The research paper prepared by the Library contains the following sentence: Until the White Paper is published, no detail of the proposal is available although areas which might appear to require legislation include a duty on LEAs or governing bodies to reduce class sizes". Even if the money gets where it is supposed to, we do not know that anyone will have to do anything with it, but the Minister is asking the Opposition and the Committee to agree to clause 1 stand part without providing any of the detail that he needs to win his argument.

Mr. Nicholls

I should like briefly to develop a theme that my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) mentioned a moment ago and to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) referred. It concerns the missing ingredient in the clause stand part debate.

We have all been trying to understand the justification for the Bill. There is a great temptation to assume that the reasons for the proposals have something to do with the reasons advanced from the Dispatch Box. However, it does not work like that. If we are being asked to accept that the unhappy price of getting rid of the assisted places scheme is that there will be a great deal more money to spend on dealing with overcrowded classrooms, which is supposed to be the justification for this squalid little measure, it simply does not stand up.

My hon. Friend for South Hams gave us details from his own constituency—

Mr. Steen

For Totnes.

Mr. Nicholls

And Totnes, too. He asked the valid question, where were the 1,100 pupils currently on the scheme going to go? The short and brutal answer is that they will go into the existing classrooms of schools in his constituency. The idea that one can do an arithmetical calculation using figures plucked figures out of the air and disseminated to every Labour candidate, saying, "Voilà"—as we are supposed to say in these communautaire times, and probably in German, too—and that, suddenly, all the extra classrooms, the 23 or so teachers and equipment will materialise is complete nonsense. It is patently obvious that if a child who is currently being educated in the independent sector joins the maintained sector, an extra cost is placed on the maintained sector. It is not true that the state sector has a monopoly on economic excellence. If it is to cost money to educate a child in the independent sector, it will cost money to educate him in the state sector.

Mr. Steen

I have entered the debate because I am desperately worried about where the 1,011 children in Devon who are seeking assisted places every year will go. Is my hon. Friend aware that a number of schools in my constituency have limited the number of children they can take every year? In 1989, the Totnes Kevick school—the former grammar school—persuaded the then Secretary of State to place a limit of 240 on the number of children who could enter each year. Other schools all over the country have the same limits, under which they cannot, by law, take any more pupils. If that is so, the situation in Devon will be extremely serious.

8.30 pm
The First Deputy Chairman

Order. As I have already told the hon. Gentleman, interventions should be much shorter.

Mr. Nicholls

I understand what you are saying, Mr. Martin. Equally, I understand the passion of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen).

Some people will say that the class sizes in my hon. Friend's constituency are too large. If time allowed—and it may—we could talk about the significance of class sizes. We could have a debate about the fact that excellence in teaching is far more important than mere class size. Many people would say that class sizes in Devon are already too large. I shall give my hon. Friend an answer to his question. He may feel personal grief as the Member of Parliament for that constituency, but it is not his responsibility. The 1,011 children will go into classrooms that are, for the most part, already full.

If we are looking for justification for this nasty, poisonous Bill, we can see that it has nothing to do with excellence or choice in education or enhancing options for people. In short, it has nothing to do with money or class size.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith> (Chingford and Woodford Green)

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech and I simply wish to add to it and to ask him a question. When he looked at the league tables to see which schools were scoring highest, he will have noticed that a large number had class sizes well above the number that Labour Members maintain are necessary for success. My children attend a grant-maintained school that was 75th in the country and has class sizes that would be unacceptable according to the scales advocated by the Labour party. League table results are linked to the quality of teaching, not necessarily to the number of pupils in each class.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The clause relates to assisted places and their abolition, not class sizes.

Mr. Nicholls

I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) says. I remember a curious incident during the election campaign. I went to see the headmaster of a school in my constituency that featured highly in the league tables to ask him whether he found that numbers in his school were being depleted as a result of the assisted places scheme. He told me that they were not.

I said that, given the class sizes of his school, he must find that the assisted places scheme drew away his pupils. He replied, "No." He said that in his classrooms children sat in rows and were taught by a teacher who thought that it was his job to teach children, not to get them into little informal groups and ask them how they should be educated. The headmaster found that, even with class sizes that Labour Members would find unacceptable, the assisted places scheme was not a threat to the numbers in his school, because of the teaching methods used there.

If we were trying to justify the measure and the clause, we would not say that they related to money—they cannot. The economic arguments do not stack up. In some ways, the situation is even worse. It sounds such a good idea to say to the public that the money saved will go directly into the classroom, but it does not work that way in practice. Insiders involved in government or local government know that it does not work like that. We do not ring-fence money in that way.

The idea that the Minister will pick up the money and say that he is to send it down to the schools in our constituencies is not right—that is not how it is done. If there were to be a saving—and there will not be—it would go to the Treasury coffers to be disbursed through the standard spending assessment and the like. Even if there were to be a saving, the money would not go to the schools in that way.

Mr. Duncan Smith


Mr. Nicholls

I shall give way to my hon. Friend, but his intervention must be on the subject of the assisted places scheme.

Mr. Duncan Smith

The money saved on the APS presents another problem. Successful schools are popular and there is pressure on their class sizes. Are we saying that the local authorities, many of which have opposed those schools and the way in which they have been set up, will redirect more money to them and leave the other schools with a bad feeling? Or will they blanket the money across all the schools to no purpose?

Mr. Nicholls

Who knows? I suspect that the money will be spread across the whole lot. I hope that my hon. Friend can expand on that point in more detail in his own contribution.

Mr. Steen

I am sure that my hon. Friend will remember this incident—knowing how assiduous he is, I am sure that he was present at the time. I do not know how many of my other hon. Friends will recall it, as very few of them were Members of Parliament when the Conservatives were in government.

I asked the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), whether she would ring-fence money on education so that it could be applied exclusively to a particular school activity in Devon. She said that that could not be done without primary legislation. If that is so, can my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholla)explain how the money realilsed firm the abolition of the APS Can go to the schools without primaryu legislation?

Mr. Nicholls

It cannot be done. Under the present system and the funding of local authorities there is no way in which the money could be ring-fenced. My hon. Friend mentioned primary legislation. Perhaps he thinks that the Government, who have shown such breathtaking arrogance and contempt for parliamentary procedures, can pass the primary legislation that is necessary in double-quick time. But that cannot happen. The Minister is terrified of the idea of ring fencing. If we ever reach a situation whereby parcels of money can be ring-fenced for anything, every daft group in the country will say to the Labour Government, "You used to be one of us and we want you to fund our particular concern." The Camden lesbian refuge will say, "We want some money ring-fenced for us."

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is drifting wide of the clause.

Mr. Nicholls

There will be no assisted places for ladies in that category in Camden, because one cannot ring-fence sums of money in that way—the system would not work.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does my hon. Friend agree that the extra money that my LEA might get may provide a solution to the problem in Gloucestershire? The average expenditure per primary and secondary school pupils is about half that of the highest level of expenditure in London. Therefore, I may be able to argue with the Government that, according to their logic, they should give my LEA more money for the schools.

Mr. Nicholls

When my hon. Friend debates the APS with the Government, I wish him luck, but I am not sure that he will be successful. Conservative Members may try to give a new incoming Government the benefit of the doubt. We make the mistake of arguing against the proposition in the terms in which it is put to us. We have spent much time this evening considering the detail of the money that will be available to reduce class sizes in other schools, but there is no point in considering that, for two reasons. The first is that the money is not there and the second is that it was never intended that it should be.

The explanation for the introduction of the legislation does not lie in class sizes or money, but in one particular word. I hope that it is not unparliamentary and I shall stand corrected if it is. That word is socialism. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am quite happy to withdraw the word if necessary, Mr. Martin. I gather from your silence, however, that I am still allowed to use it in this House. The explanation for this measure is socialism.

The Government's problem is that they have come to power on a Conservative agenda. They have taken our values and our policies, but what are they to offer their Members of Parliament to keep them happy? How on earth are they to control 450 of them while they continue with their "Torier than thou" attitude? They have had to come up with one or two measures, such as this one, dressed up to look reasonable but actually generated by something else.

The Government's policy on assisted places cannot be reconciled with logic or economic sense, but it is justifiable in terms of socialism. This is a highly socialist measuire—

Mr. Maude

I agree with what my hon. Friend has been saying. I draw his attention to what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said on Second Reading, when he actually used the word: In short, it is a socialist Bill and as such it has my support"— [Official Report, 2 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 35.]

Mr. Nicholls

That is interesting. The right hon. Gentleman has always been an engaging and cheerful speaker; now he reveals himself to be an honest one, too. This measure is no more designed to assist children than the abolition of fox hunting will be designed to assist foxes. The latter is another measure that will be thrown to Labour Back Benchers as a good socialist idea.

The Bill represents the abolition of choice—making it impossible for people who cannot afford education in the independent sector to get it via the direct grant system or by way of the assisted places scheme. The result is one-way traffic in the system. During the election campaign, it was often said that the scheme was designed to assist the rich. Far from it. Someone has to live on very modest means to get a place on the scheme, and rightly so.

The idea that everyone who can afford private education in the independent sector procures it is nonsense. I know many people who can certainly afford to send their children to boarding school but choose not to do so. They take the view that it would not be right for their children, and that they want to educate them in the state sector—

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

The Prime Minister, for instance.

Mr. Nicholls

I shall come to him shortly. These people have the means to afford an independent education but have opted instead for day schools in the maintained sector.

The logic of the Labour party's position—it might once have been associated more with the Conservative party—is that, if people have the money, the Government do not mind if they spend it on private education; but if they do not have the money, the Government will make sure that they get no private education.

There is a certain irony in the fact that the Bill, socialist measure though it is, has been introduced by a party whose leader, the Prime Minister, did not have to rely on the assisted places scheme for a private education. In fact, he came from the sort of background where it was taken for granted that he would be able to go into the independent sector. He also had the quality of mind, I gather, to qualify for a scholarship. How long will it be before, on egalitarian grounds, those who are bright enough to win scholarships will not be allowed to take them up?

8.45 pm
Mr. Steen

I do not want to delay my hon. Friend's brilliant speech, but I thought I might be able to help him. Was he present when the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said, in answer to a question from me, that the assisted places scheme was not for the 40 per cent. with incomes under £10,000 a year; it was for Lloyd's underwriters and for women who had divorced with massive capital settlements? Not only is this a socialist measure; it is old socialism rearing its ugly head again.

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. Friend is right to remind us of that extraordinary statement. Lloyd's has not had an easy time of it recently, but I still do not believe that any Lloyd's underwriter is earning less than £10,400 a year. Abolishing the assisted places scheme is a hangover from the old days when the Labour party used to campaign on the promise to abolish private education, even though the Labour hierarchy had often benefited from it. No longer can Labour promise to do that, because the European convention on human rights states that abolishing religious education is illegal. So now Labour has to live with private education, but the Government intend to ensure from now on that the very people whom they are supposed to represent and who cannot afford such education by any other means will be made to suffer.

Not a single child will benefit from this legislation. No child who would have been able to join his brother or sister in a particular school will benefit from it, either; and people will not even be able to draw comfort from the idea that class sizes have declined or that teacher numbers have risen. In a sedentary heckle earlier this evening, perhaps prompted by one of those pagers that gives Labour Members their information, it was even suggested that, if something is good for the majority, what happens to the minority does not matter. That is an extraordinary statement for any party with pretensions to government.

Burke and a hundred other commentators through the ages have all agreed on the difference between democracy and mob rule. The essence of democracy is the protection of minority rights, not the extinguishing of minority rights.

Mr. Hayes

Given my hon. Friend's obvious breadth of reading and intellect, would he care to wax lyrical at somewhat greater length on the tensions between liberty and equality?

Mr. Nicholls

I would indeed, but only, Mr. Martin, in relation to the assisted places scheme—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. This is a serious matter and we must debate the clause.

Mr. Nicholls

I hope that I have been doing that, Mr. Martin. I shall not be tempted by my hon. Friend's eloquence on this occasion.

Whatever else unites or disunites us, we all want to do the very best for our children. It would be one thing if a parent could say that his child's class size had decreased as a result of a manifest unfairness being wrought on his neighbour. He might say to himself, "If the price of my child's smaller class is taking away someone else's rights, knocking away the ladder of opportunity and narrowing elitism, that is a price that has to be paid to ensure more teachers for my child's school." Such an argument is conceivable and would at least be understandable. But this Bill will not even achieve that, and it is not designed to help a single child. It is illogical and it makes no fiscal sense. It is all about telling Labour Members, before whom I gaily scatter my pearls, "We may pretend to be Tories but there is some socialist blood left in us yet."

Mr. Byers


Several hon. Members


Mr. Byers

Oh, dear. I am sorry.

We have had a very helpful debate on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill, which allowed Members to address more freely issues that we were unable to address in relation to amendments tabled to clause 1. I want to address issues that Opposition Members have raised in the clause stand part debate. It is the appropriate time to do so. It would have been inappropriate to do so on a narrowly focused debate on deferring the measures for three years. I hope that, in the time available to me, I can answer the questions that Opposition Members have asked, because significant issues have been raised concerning the thrust of the measure.

More than £1 billion has been spent on the assisted places scheme since its introduction. The issue before the House tonight is the reordering of priorities. Opposition Members have made their priorities clear, as they are entitled to, and have said that their priorities are to protect the assisted places scheme and the 40,000 or so people who benefit from it. Our priority is to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. That is where opinion in the House divides.

Mr. Clappison

On priorities, may I have a straight answer to the following question? Does the Minister maintain that the savings from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme will be sufficient to pay for a reduction in class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds, or will other be money be needed? Will the savings be sufficient—yes or no?

Mr. Keith Simpson


Mr. Byers

Not maybe. I was coming to that, but as the hon. Gentleman raised it, I shall do so now.

Opposition Members referred to an independent work commissioned for the National Foundation for Educational Research on the cost of reducing class sizes, and to work commissioned by ISIS from the Institute of Public Finance. Those two reports differed enormously in their conclusions as to costings, but there is one cost on which they agree—a cost of £65 million to reduce class sizes of five, six and seven-year-olds to 30 or fewer. I am confident that, within the £100 million savings that we shall make by the year 2000, we shall deliver on that commitment and that, in addition, we shall have more funding available, in addition to the £65 million, to meet any additional costs that would arise from taking the 10,000 or so pupils a year who will not be going on the assisted places scheme but who will instead enter the maintained sector.

Our approach in government contrasts markedly with the approach of the Conservative Government. In the past 10 years, 450,000 additional pupils entered the maintained sector, while the number of teachers dropped by 6,000.

Mr. Jack

Last November, officials of the Department for Education and Employment confirmed by letter to me a saving effectively a third less than the figure that the Minister has quoted—I believe that it was £24 million to £68 million. What has changed since last November in the detailed methodology used to calculate those numbers? Although there has been a change of Government, I assume that officials give straight replies to Ministers, whichever Government are in power.

Mr. Byers

I am sure that officials do give straight replies to questions. As far as I am concerned, the information that we have given Opposition Members in replies to parliamentary questions reflects the fact that £100 million will be saved by the turn of the century. I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman tonight about the precise method by which those figures are calculated, but I shall write and let him know the process that has been used by officials. I am confident that the officials who replied in November were impartial then, they will have been impartial in the parliamentary replies given in recent days.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Can the Minister give the House a categorical assurance that any school that encounters extra pupils as a result of the abolition of the assisted places scheme will not be financially worse off—that the school will be fully recompensed for those extra pupils?

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman brings me to the points that I want to make about the White Paper, which we shall publish towards the end of June. If he can wait a few minutes, I shall try to address his concerns later, because the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) wants to intervene again.

Mr. Clappison

I appreciate the Minister's generosity in giving way again. The figures that he quoted from the NFER were an annual figure for teachers' salaries of between £60 million and £70 million. Those figures coincided with the Institute of Public Finance's assessment, without taking account of capital costs. Over two years, that amounts to teachers' salaries of £130 million without any capital costs, which is less than the sum that the Minister has told us will be saved—£100 million. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, on the figures he has given, the savings will not be sufficient? If he does know the costings, why did he not tell me so in the written answer?

Mr. Byers

I am afraid that the hon. Member is confusing two streams of finance—revenue and capital. The assisted places scheme is releasing revenue money, which we shall use for the benefit of teachers' salaries. As he is aware, capital is dealt with differently in terms of public expenditure.

Mr. Steen


Mr. Duncan Smith


Mr. Byers

I give way to the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), but then I must make some progress.

Mr. Steen

I am worried about only one issue. I have repeatedly asked this question: will the Minister give me an answer? In my county of Devon 1,011 children have assisted places. In my constituency, all the secondary schools are limited and full. What are we going to do with the 1,011 children on the assisted places scheme? Where will they go? Will more capital be available for building, and more grants of planning permission? How will we put those 1,011 children into secondary schools in Devon?

Mr. Byers

We have said that we shall publish a White Paper towards the end of June. It will address the specific issues regarding the way in which class sizes are to be reduced and the mechanism that we shall use, after consultation with the local education authorities, to achieve those class size reductions.

Mr. Maude


Mr. Byers

I give way for the final time.

Mr. Maude

Will the Minister give an undertaking that the mechanism that he devises to ensure that infant class sizes are reduced will be used to ensure that no secondary school's class sizes are increased by pupils displaced from the assisted places scheme?

Mr. Byers

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. That is why we are committed to phasing out the assisted places scheme. Had we gone for straight abolition, there would have been the difficulties that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. As we are phasing out the assisted places scheme, those difficulties will not arise.

I want to conclude by replying to two points that were made in the debate. Some independent schools are already making alternative provision. We very much welcome the steps that are being taken voluntarily by the independent sector to provide additional places, perhaps from bursaries and from their own finance. We feel that that is wholly appropriate and we have no difficulty with that approach. However, the reality is that the assisted places scheme is the ultimate opt-out. As the former Deputy Prime Minister said, it is an escape route for bright children from inner-city schools.

Mr. Clappison


Mr. Byers

No, I will not give way.

We disagree with that approach. We want to raise standards in all our schools so that all our children benefit.

Conservative Members have talked about parental choice. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) said that the essence of the assisted places scheme was to promote choice and to give choice to parents. A year ago, however, when she was a member of the Conservative Government, a leaflet was produced for parents about the APS, a part of which reads: How do I apply for a place"— this is giving advice to a parent, and the leaflet reads clearly and starkly: Schools select pupils according to their own rules. "Schools select pupils"—no parental choice. In other words, parental choice is a myth. I have quoted the Government's own words—"Schools select pupils".

Mrs. Gillan

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I ask you to give me the benefit of your advice. At this stage of our proceedings, when the Minister has intervened so prematurely, is it right that he should make remarks involving something that I did when I was a Minister and fail to give me the opportunity to intervene? I seek your advice in this instance, Mr. Martin.

The First Deputy Chairman

I can give the hon. Lady advice. The question that she raises is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Byers

Clause 1 stands at the heart of the Bill and it should stand—

Mr. Jack

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I seek your guidance because it is clear to me, given the Minister's remarks, that there may be further contributions to the debate. Might we continue with the debate notwithstanding that the Minister has made a somewhat premature entry to our proceedings?

The First Deputy Chairman

I can only say to the hon. Member: let the Chairman chair the Committee.

Mr. Byers

Clause 1 will reduce class sizes—

Mr. Clappison

On a point of order, Mr. Martin.

The First Deputy Chairman

I hope that it is a point of order.

Mr. Clappison

Indeed it is, Mr. Martin.

May I seek your advice, on the figures that the Minister has put before the Committee as to the cost—[Interruption.] If those figures are at variance with the Minister's written answer, might the Minister have the opportunity to correct the figures in that written answer? Might he now deal with costs and tell us how much the Government's proposals will cost? Should not the Minister be given the chance—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The Minister is responsible for his comments, and what he says is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Byers

Thank you, Mr. Martin.

Clause 1 will reduce class sizes for the 440,000 five, six and seven-year-olds. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I should explain that the monitor is not correct. The Committee is dividing on the closure. That fact should be placed on the record. The Question is, that the Question be now put.

The Committee proceeded to a Division.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Martin.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I have made a judgment. I merely put on record the fact that the monitor was wrong so that the House authorities might correct it.

Mr. Duncan

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Martin. May we start the Division again because the television screens in the Palace of Westminster were clearly wrong and colleagues were misled?

The First Deputy Chairman

Those who were in the Chamber knew what the Division was about.

Mr. Duncan

(seated and covered): Further to that point of order, Mr. Martin. Those who are outside the Chamber are guided by the monitors. Hon. Members outside were misled by what they saw on the screens.

The First Deputy Chairman

I can worry only about what goes on inside the Chamber. The fact of the matter is that the Division Bells rang when I announced a Division. It is up to hon. Members to come to the Chamber and discover what is going on. They can make their own judgment as to how they wish to vote, or they may decide to abstain. It is entirely up to them. The monitors are only an aid for hon. Members; they are not a necessity.

The Committee having divided: Ayes 306, Noes 52.

Division No. 16] [9 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Byers, Stephen
Ainger, Nick Caborn, Richard
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ashton, Joe Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Atkins, Ms Charlotte Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Austin, John Campbell-Savours, Dale
Banks, Tony Cann, Jamie
Barnes, Harry Caplin, Ivor
Battle, John Casale, Roger
Bayley, Hugh Caton, Martin
Beard, Nigel Cawsey, Ian
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Benton, Joe Chaytor, David
Bermingham, Gerald Chidgey, David
Berry, Roger Chisholm, Malcolm
Betts, Clive Clapham, Michael
Blackman, Mrs Liz Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Blears, Ms Hazel Clark, Dr Lynda
Blizzard, Robert (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Borrow, David Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Bradshaw, Ben Clelland, David
Brinton, Mrs Helen Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Brown, Rt Hon Nick Coaker, Vernon
(Newcastle E & Wallsend) Cohen, Harry
Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock) Coleman, Iain
Buck, Ms Karen (Hammersmith & Fulham)
Burden, Richard Colman, Anthony (Putney)
Burgon, Colin Connarty, Michael
Butler, Christine Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Ms Yvette Illsley, Eric
Corbyn, Jeremy Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)
Corston, Ms Jean Jamieson, David
Cousins, Jim Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)
Cranston, Ross Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Crausby, David Johnson, Ms Melanie
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) (Welwyn Hatfield)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Jones, Ms Fiona (Newark)
Darvill, Keith Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jones, Ms Jenny
Davidson, Ian (Wolverh'ton SW)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dobbin, Jim Keeble, Ms Sally
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Doran, Frank Kemp, Fraser
Drew, David Kennedy, Charles
Drown, Ms Julia (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Edwards, Huw Khabra, Piara S
Efford, Clive Kidney, David
Ellman, Ms Louise Kilfoyle, Peter
Ennis, Jeff Kingham, Tessa
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kumar, Dr Ashok
Fitzpatrick, Jim Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Fitzsimons, Ms Lorna Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Flint, Ms Caroline Laxton, Bob
Flynn, Paul Lepper, David
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Levitt, Tom
Foster, Don (Bath) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Foster, Michael John (Worcester) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Galbraith, Sam Linton, Martin
Galloway, George Livingstone, Ken
Gapes, Mike Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Lock, David
Gerrard, Neil McAvoy, Thomas
Gibson, Dr Ian McCabe, Stephen
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McCafferty, Ms Chris
Godsiff, Roger McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Goggins, Paul McDonagh, Ms Siobhain
Golding, Mrs Llin Maodonald, Calum
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McDonnell, John
Graham, Thomas McGuire, Mrs Anne
Grant, Bernie McIsaac, Ms Shona
Griffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E) McKenna, Ms Rosemary
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mackinlay, Andrew
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McNulty, Tony
Grogan, John Mactaggart, Fiona
Gunnell, John McWalter, Tony
Hain, Peter McWilliam, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hancock, Mike Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hanson, David Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Maxton, John
Healey, John Meale, Alan
Heath, David (Somerton) Merron, Ms Gillian
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Milburn, Alan
Hepburn, Stephen Moffatt, Laura
Heppell, John Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hesford, Stephen Moran, Ms Margaret
Hill, Keith Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hinchliffe, David Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hodge, Ms Margaret Morley, Elliot
Hoon, Geoffrey Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hope, Philip Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hopkins, Kelvin Mudie, George
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Mullin, Chris
Howells, Dr Kim Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hoyle, Lindsay Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Humble, Mrs Joan Norris, Dan
Hurst, Alan Olner, Bill
Hutton, John O'Neill, Martin
Opik, Lembit Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Osborne, Mrs Sandra Southworth, Ms Helen
Palmer, Dr Nick Squire, Ms Rachel
Pearson, Ian Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Pendry, Tom Stevenson, George
Perham, Ms Linda Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pickthall. Colin Stinchcombe, Paul
Pike, Peter L Stoate, Dr Howard
Plaskitt, James Stringer, Graham
Pollard, Kerry Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)
Pond, Chris Sutcliffe, Gerry
Pope, Greg Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Pound, Stephen (Dewsbury)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Primarolo, Dawn Timms, Stephen
Prosser, Gwyn Tipping, Paddy
Purchase, Ken Todd, Mark
Quin, Ms Joyce Truswell, Paul
Quinn, Lawrie Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rammell, Bill Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Rapson, Syd Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Raynsford, Nick Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Reed, Andrew (Loudhborough) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N) Vaz, Keith
Robertson, Rt Hon George vis, Dr Rudi
(Hamilton S) Walley, Ms Joan
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Ward, Ms Claire
Watts, David
Rooker, Jeff Welsh, Andrew
Rooney, Terry Welsh, Andrew
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) White, Brian
Whitehead, Alan
Rowlands, Ted Wicks, Malcolm
Roy, Frank Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Ruddock, Ms Joan (Swansea W)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Williams, Dr Alan W
Ryan, Ms Joan (E Carmarthen)
Savidge, Malcolm Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Sawford, Phil Willis, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian Wills, Michael
Shaw, Jonathan Winnick, David
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Shipley, Ms Debra Wise, Audrey
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Wood, Mike
Singh, Marsha Woolas, Phil
Skinner, Dennis Worthington, Tony
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon) Wright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale) Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch) Mr. Jim Dowd and Mr. Graham Allen.
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Arbuthnot, James Hague, Rt Hon William
Bercow, John Hammond, Philip
Brady, Graham Hayes, John
Browning, Mrs Angela Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hunter, Andrew
Clappison, James Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
(Rushcliffe) Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Lansley, Andrew
Cotvin, Michael Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Lidington, David
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Loughton, Tim
Duncan, Alan Luff, Peter
Duncan Smith, Iain MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Evans, Nigel Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Fallon, Michael May, Mrs Theresa
Forth, Eric Merchant, Piers
Gale, Roger Nicholls, Patrick
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Paice, James
Green, Damian Paterson, Owen
Gummer, Rt Hon John Ruffley, David
St Aubyn, Nick Whittingdale, John
Sayeed, Jonathan Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Wilshire, David
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Woodward, Shaun
Steen, Anthony
Swayne, Desmond Tellers for the Noes:
Tyrie, Andrew Mr. Richard Ottaway and Mr. Peter Ainsworth.
Walter, Robert

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mrs. Gillan

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. Is it right, after so many Conservative Members have sat solidly in the Chamber throughout the debate so far—unlike Labour Members, whose Benches have been empty for most of the debate—for the Government to show the arrogance that attaches to such a large majority, using the many to stifle the voices of the few? Does not such arrogance threaten the democratic process of legislation in the House, and prevent hon. Members with genuine constituency interests who have sat here for hour after hour from expressing the views of their constituents?

The First Deputy Chairman

The subject was fully aired and the amendments and clause were fully debated. The Government's majority has nothing to do with the Chair.

Question put accordingly, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 306, Noes 39.

Division No. 17] [9.25 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Casale, Roger
Ainger, Nick Caton, Martin
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cawsey, Ian
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ashton, Joe Chaytor, David
Atkins, Ms Charlotte Chidgey, David
Austin, John Chisholm, Malcolm
Banks, Tony Clapham, Michael
Barnes, Harry Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Battte, John Clark, Dr Lynda
Bayley, Hugh (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Beard, Nigel Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Benton, Joe Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Bermingham, Gerald Clelland, David
Berry, Roger Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Blackman, Mrs Liz Coaker, Vernon
Blears, Ms Hazel Cohen, Harry
Blizzard, Robert Coleman, Iain
Borrow, David (Hammersmith & Fulham)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Colman, Anthony (Putney)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Connarty, Michael
Bradshaw, Ben Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Cooper, Ms Yvette
Brown, Rt Hon Nick Corbyn, Jeremy
(Newcastle E & Wallsend) Corston, Ms Jean
Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock) Cousins, Jim
Buck, Ms Karen Cranston, Ross
Burden, Richard Crausby, David
Burgon, Colin Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Byers, Stephen Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Darvill, Keith
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Davidson, Ian
Campbell-Savours, Dale Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Cann, Jamie Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Caplin, Ivor Dawson, Hilton
Dobbin, Jim Keeble, Ms Sally
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Doran, Frank Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford)
Dowd, Jim Kemp, Fraser
Drew, David Kennedy, Charles
Drown, Ms Julia (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Edwards, Huw Khabra, Piara S
Efford, Clive Kidney, David
Ellman, Ms Louise Kilfoyle, Peter
Ennis, Jeff Kingham, Tessa
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kumar, Dr Ashok
Fitzpatrick, Jim Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Fitzsimons, Ms Lorna Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Flint, Ms Caroline Laxton, Bob
Flynn, Paul Lepper, David
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Levitt, Tom
Foster, Don (Bath) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Foster, Michael John (Worcester) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Galbraith, Sam Linton, Martin
Galloway, George Livingstone, Ken
Gapes, Mike Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Lock, David
Gerrard, Neil McAvoy, Thomas
Gibson, Dr Ian McCabe, Stephen
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McCafferty, Ms Chris
Godsiff, Roger McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Goggins, Paul McDonagh, Ms Siobhain
Golding, Mrs Llin Macdonald, Calum
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McDonnell, John
Graham, Thomas McGuire, Mrs Anne
Grant Bernie McIsaac, Ms Shona
Griffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E) McKenna, Ms Rosemary
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mackinlay, Andrew
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McNulty, Tony
Grogan, John MacShane, Denis
Gunnell, John Mactaggart, Fiona
Hain, Peter McWalter, Tony
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McWilliam, John
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Mallaber, Ms Judy
Hancock, Mike Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hanson, David Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Healey, John Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Heath, David (Somerton) Maxton, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Meale, Alan
Hepburn, Stephen Merron, Ms Gillian
Heppell, John Milburn, Alan
Hesford, Stephen Moffatt, Laura
Hill, Keith Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hinchliffe, David Moran, Ms Margaret
Hodge, Ms Margaret Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hoon, Geoffrey Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hope, Philip Motley, Elliot
Hopkins, Kelvin Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Howells, Dr Kim Mudie, George
Hoyle, Lindsay Mullin, Chris
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Humble, Mrs Joan Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Hurst, Alan Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hutton, John Norris, Dan
Illsley, Eric Oner, Bill
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd) O'Neill, Martin
Jamieson, David Opik, Lembit
Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth) Osborne, Mrs Sandra
Johnson, Alan (Hull W) Palmer, Dr Nick
Johnson, Ms Melanie Pearson, Ian
(Welwyn Hatfield) Pendry, Tom
Jones, Ms Fiona (Newark) Perham, Ms Linda
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Ms Jenny Pike, Peter L
(Wolverh'ton SW) Plaskftt, James
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pollard, Kerry
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Pond, Chris
Pound, Stephen Stinchcombe, Paul
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Stoate, Dr Howard
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Stringer, Graham
Primarolo, Dawn Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)
Prosser, Gwyn Sutcliffe, Gerry
Purchase, Ken Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Quin, Ms Joyce (Dewsbury)
Quinn, Lawrie Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rammell, Bill Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Rapson, Syd Timms, Stephen
Raynsford, Nick Tipping, Paddy
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Todd, Mark
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N) Truswell, Paul
Robertson, Rt Hon George Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
(Hamilton S) Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Rooker, Jeff Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Rooney, Terry Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Vaz, Keith
Rowlands, Ted Vis, Dr Rudi
Roy, Frank Walley, Ms Joan
Ruddock, Ms Joan Ward, Ms Claire
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Watts, David
Ryan, Ms Joan White, Brian
Savidge, Malcolm Whitehead, Alan
Sawford, Phil Wicks, Malcolm
Sedgemore, Brian Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Shaw, Jonathan (Swansea W)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Williams, Dr Alan W
Shipley, Ms Debra (E Carmarthen)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Singh, Marsha Willis, Phil
Skinner, Dennis Wills, Michael
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Winnick, David
Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Wise, Audrey
Smith, Miss Geraldine Wood, Mike
(Morecambe & Lunesdale) Woolas, Phil
Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch) Worthington, Tony
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Southworth, Ms Helen Wyatt, Derek
Squire,Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Tellelrs for the Ayes:
Stevenson George Mr. Graham Allen and Mr. Greg Pope.
Stewart,Ian (Eccles)
Bercow, John Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Brady, Graham Lidington, David
Browning, Mrs Angela Loughton, Tim
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Luff, Peter
Clappison, James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth Maude, Rt Hon Francis
(Rushcliffe) May, Mrs Theresa
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Merchant, Piers
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Nicholls, Patrick
Duncan Smith, Iain Paice, James
Evans, Nigel Paterson, Owen
Fallon, Michael St Aubyn, Nick
Forth, Eric Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gale, Roger Swayne, Desmond
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Tyrie, Andrew
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Whittingdale, John
Gummer, Rt Hon John Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Hayes, John Wilshire, David
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew Tellers for the Noes:
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Mr. Richard Ottaway and Mr. Peter Ainsworth.
Lansley, Andrew

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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