§ Q11. Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)
Is the Prime Minister persisting in his policy of 50 per cent. participation in higher education by people between the ages of 18 and 30 before the year 2010?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, we want to make sure that we get as many people into university as possible. We 844 have set a target of 50 per cent., but I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education that that should be open only to people who pass the requisite standard. At the moment, 43 per cent. of the relevant age group go to university. Extending that to 50 per cent. will mean that there will be about 250,000 extra students a year. In the past four years, for example, we have had very nearly 100,000 extra students, so the target is not impossible. However, reaching it must not involve a drop in standards.
§ Q12. Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the two biggest problems in Burnley are the 4,500 empty houses and the fact that our main core budget is less, in real spending terms, than it was 11 years ago. The forthcoming housing renewal pathfinder project and new financial arrangements will help the area tremendously. However, will my right hon. Friend assure the people of Burnley that next year's transitional and bridging arrangements will enable Burnley borough council to tackle the two important problems that I outlined?
§ The Prime Minister
My hon. Friend raises an issue that is of great concern to people in his area and in other parts of the north-west where houses are lying empty or are falling in value. He will probably know that there is due to be a community statement at the end of January, which will set out the pathfinder initiatives to deal with the problem. The overall investment that the Government will put into housing over the next few years will mean that hundreds of millions of pounds more will be available. I hope that that extra money will play some part in enabling affected communities to rebuild themselves. Again, of course, that is all part of the investment that the Government are committed to putting in, and which the Opposition are committed to taking out.