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Column 924

as high in the United Kingdom as in a number of other countries. It has declined here, particularly among younger groups, among which it fell 30 per cent. between 1970 and 1985. Those younger groups seem to be maintaining a more healthy lifestyle as they move into the older age groups, along with me.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) and other hon. Members emphasised what they saw as the disproportion between expenditure on prevention and on treatment. It would not be sensible to expect the numbers to bear any mechanical or arithmetical relationship. We recognise the importance of prevention, and in England we are introducing the "Look After Your Heart" campaign, which I understand is the first multifaceted campaign in the world directed at coronary heart disease. It recognises the many aspects that render people liable to the disease. Quite considerable sums are being spent, not only from the public purse but by private companies, which are being encouraged to participate in the campaign. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield mentioned the importance of tobacco taxes. They are a crucial way of discouraging smoking, which is a major cause of heart disease. In my previous capacity--Lilley of lacuna--I was the guilty man responsible for not raising tobacco taxes as much as my hon. Friend and other hon. Members would wish. I assure the House that the Treasury discusses this issue closely with the Department of Health and takes health considerations into account. It is in part because of that, and apart from our insatiable desire for money, that we have such a high tax on tobacco. As I recall, it has increased in real terms by about 40 per cent. since 1979. The main decline in the use of tobacco over the years resulted from cultural changes, undoubtedly helped by the rise in tobacco tax.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West mentioned the importance of defibrillators and training for ambulance personnel. The voluntary extended training of ambulance staff is new ; 1988-89 was the first full year of the National Health Service training authority's package. It is not therefore surprising that some doctors and consultants find it difficult to accept that a sea change is taking place and that ambulance staff are now capable of being trained for, and able to supply, advanced resuscitation and life-saving skills. The Department of Health is convinced that paramedic training and practice will form an increasingly important element within the accident and emergency ambulance service, which is why the proposal for increased salary to paramedics was made. We are taking action on that front.

Mr. Page : I appreciate the advances that are being made, but does not my hon. Friend find it frightening that only last year we began to get our act together on this vital matter? The spread of best practice and the introduction of defibrillators should have been done by the National Health Service through the Department of Health years ago, not last year. Does my hon. Friend share my concern?

Mr. Lilley : I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but many of those better qualified than he or I believed until quite recently that it was not desirable for treatment to be carried out by ambulance personnel. Who are we to ignore medical advice? My hon. Friend's attitude is much more in tune with the majority of the medical profession than it was in the past.

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The other medical report that we debated was on the use of operating theatres in the National Health Service. I agree with the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne that it is a matter of concern that such important pieces of plant and equipment are not fully utilised. He said that only half the available theatre time was fully employed. That is significant. The report gives a figure of 20 per cent. spare capacity. That demonstrates that there is scope for improving value for money in the Health Service. I noted a comment in the report that :

"Traditional practices and habits, framed for the convenience of consultants and staff, must be revised as necessary".

That is in line with the Government's attitude and probably with the attitude of the whole House. Indeed, it is part of the philosophy of our planned National Health Service reforms, although they will not necessarily have universal support.

The NHS reforms wil help make better use of operating theatres within the NHS by making two changes. First, contractual arrangements for health care will become more widespread. Hospitals will have a direct incentive to use their facilities efficiently, attract patients and use theatres more fully because cash will follow the patient. That is a vital and important reform of the NHS which will encourage greater efficiency. The other change will be in capital accounting. Until now, there has been no proper capital accounting in the NHS so it is not surprising that proper use is not always made of the large amount of capital resources in the NHS.

I now come to the report on the highway maintenance backlogs, which was mentioned by several right hon. and hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne who is Chairman of the PAC said that roads were not built to last long enough and that the Department of Transport would prefer to press on with building roads rather than fill gaps in knowledge about road design. The United Kingdom is a leader in road design backed by major research programmes. Over the years, national roads have usually performed better than expected by carrying more traffic than they were designed for before having to be rebuilt. Designs were substantially upgraded in 1985 and roads are now being built to last 40 years before they need to be rebuilt. Over £670 million was spent on the capital maintenance of national roads and bridges over the past three years. That is a 220 per cent. increase in real terms over the 1978-79 budget.

The Autumn Statement prepared by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury showed that we would spend £1.3 billion on capital maintenance on roads over the next three years which is a further real increase of 40 per cent. Planned spending over the next three years should be enough to eliminate backlogs of road maintenance as currently estimated. That will be welcomed by members of the Committee, both in their capacity as guardians of the public purse and as frequent users of the motorways.

The next report is on the reliability and maintainability of defence equipment. The Ministry of Defence is in full accord with the Public Accounts Committee's recommendations about improved procurement procedures. A director of reliability was appointed in July 1989. The Ministry is reviewing the future requirement for reliability

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and maintenance specialists both within the directorate of reliability and in the service departments and other parts of the procurement executive to support that increased emphasis. The services defect reporting systems are being reviewed to see how they can be adapted to provide information for statistical analysis to support the plans for improvement. Greater attention will be paid to life cycle costs at all stages of projects and the new emphasis has been widely publicised within the services. The Ministry of Defence and the industry are being made aware of it by meetings, seminars and video presentations, all of which have attracted considerable interest.

The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne commented on the report on urban development corporations. The report was a little out of date when it was published because it was overtaken by other developments. Many of the suggestions for tighter control and monitoring have been implemented since the Comptroller and Auditor General's report was published. The new urban development corporations have been set up, taking into account his criticisms of earlier guidance, and a comprehensive guidebook has been issued to all UDCs together with a revised financial memorandum.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West made several points about the road planning report. The Department of Transport has studied the PAC report carefully. It is not complacent about traffic forecasting methods and there is no evidence that the methods are fundamentally flawed. It has a system of checking forecasts against actual traffic, as the Committee recommended. Of the 41 road schemes cited, 60 per cent. had forecasts with an accuracy within plus or minus 20 per cent.--that is within the level of accuracy determined by the technique. Those checks show that there is no systematic bias. Forecasting errors at the extreme of minus 50 per cent. up to 105 per cent. were quoted. They were largely due to planned changes in land use not taking place. Traffic forecasting is inherently uncertain. The methods have been and will continue to be improved. The new national road traffic forecast provides a more up-to-date basis for appraising road schemes. I am pleased to note that my hon. Friend was encouraged by the Treasury response to the report and by the White Paper "Roads for Prosperity".

My hon. Friend mentioned his anxiety about the environment associated with the future widening of the M25. The consultants' report has been published and the standing advisory committee on trunk road assessment has been expanded and asked to examine the evaluation of environmental effects.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) apologised to the House for leaving early and we are grateful for that apology. We welcome his speech. He is an hon. Member for whom I have great respect when he is not muck-raking. He commented on information in reports to Parliament, particularly about the secret services and GCHQ. The House has long accepted that it is not in the public interest to reveal details of the security and intelligence services, but the NAO has full access to expenditure on GCHQ. Given the nature of the expenditure on the secret vote, there are long-standing conventions that Parliament has accepted that there should not be detailed external examination of that expenditure, but obviously the PAC can examine it in private session.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough raised an important point about the public sector borrowing requirement and its arcane definition. I can well understand that he may be puzzled by it. It has perplexed me in the past. It is a complicated matter, but there is logic behind the definition. As he said, if a subsidiary of the Commonwealth development corporation borrowsabroad to lend abroad, it does not count against the PSBR for the good reason that it has no impact on the British economy. Borrowing by British Nuclear Fuels plc does not count against the PSBR because it is a Companies Act company borrowing on the ordinary markets. The Government's guarantee of that borrowing does not involve any expenditure unless the guarantee is called, in which case any Government payment would count as public expenditure.

Sir Michael Shaw : Government agencies or local government could often adopt the same policies as those of British Nuclear Fuels. The arguments are more or less the same. That would allow it to compete in the open market for genuine, commercial objectives that are necessary. I cannot help but feel that from time to time the Government use the PSBR definition to stop developments. Certainly the variations due to Government changes in policy on PSBR make continuous planning in some areas uncertain.

Mr. Lilley : I understand what my hon. Friend says. What is surely not in doubt is that the Government must exercise control over public sector borrowing. I can understand the difficulties of comprehension to which companies such as BNFL give rise. Plainly, the solution to all our problems of definition is to privatise as much as possible and have a much smaller public sector to which the definition will apply.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) spoke in telling terms of his concern about prisons and law and order and I recognise the importance of the matters that he raised. The Treasury minute responds to some of them, notably on prison building where the programme is on target to yield an additional

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7,000 places at new establishments by March 1993 and a further 2, 500 new places at existing establishments somewhat earlier, in March 1991. In addition, there is a new programme of integral sanitation which should provide 6,500 cells with access to it within the next seven years. Ways of expanding that programme are being considered. However, I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the matters that my hon. Friend has raised and I am sure that he will be influenced by them. If my hon. Friend permits, I shall write to him about some of the more detailed aspects that he drew to the attention of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield appealed for a change in the format of the Treasury minutes. The Treasury is happy to redraft the form of those minutes in order to meet the wishes of the Committee and I hope that the next minute, which will be presented to the House early in the new year, will be in a form that better meets my hon. Friend's wishes and those of the Committee as a whole. On that happy note I shall end my contribution to the debate. I renew the debt of gratitude that the whole House owes to the members of the Committee and to hon. Members who have taken part in this interesting debate.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of the 37th to 40th and 42nd to 52nd Reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 1987-88, of the 1st to 33rd Reports of Session 1988-89 and of the Treasury Minutes and Northern Ireland Department of Finance and Personnel Memorandum on those Reports (Cm. 533, 563, 624, 648, 697, 717, 747, 831 and 850), with particular reference to the following Reports :-- 1987-88 :

Forty-fourth, Quality of service to the public at DHSS local offices ;

Forty-eighth, Sale of Royal Ordnance plc.

1988-89 :

First, Management of the collections of the English national museums and galleries ;

Twenty-sixth, Coronary heart disease ;

Twenty-eighth, Backlog of maintenance of motorways and trunk roads ;

Thirty-first, Reliability and maintainability of defence equipment.

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Deaf Television Viewers

9.42 pm

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : I am pleased to present a petition to the House signed by more than 1,200 of my constituents and other citizens of the city of Leicester on behalf of deaf television viewers. The petition draws attention to the fact that broadcasters are not providing complete access for deaf television viewers, for example, with subtitles or sign language. It states that at least 4 million viewers are affected and that deaf viewers, as equal members of the general public, are entitled to equal access to television programmes.

The prayer calls upon the Government and the House to ensure that legislation is

passed placing an obligation on television channel operators to make their programmes more accessible to deaf people by using Teletext subtitles, sign language or other means, and to reach complete coverage by a fixed date.

May we please help deaf people to understand the debates in this House when they are shown on television?

It is a pleasure to present the petition.

To lie upon the Table.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : Like the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), I have pleasure in presenting a petition on behalf of deaf people in and around my constituency, including my daughter, who is profoundly deaf.

The petitioners are strongly of the view that the arrangements for televising the House do not provide complete access for deaf television viewers, specifically by the use of sign language and the provision of subtitles. They point out that some 4 million people in the United Kingdom are affected by deafness, and that they are as entitled to equal access to television broadcasting of Parliament as other members of the community. If they are to participate in the democratic and political process, it is essential that they are provided with that support.

The petitioners therefore pray

that your Honourable House will ensure that legislation be passed placing an obligation on television channel operators to make their programmes more accessible to deaf people by using Teletext subtitles, sign language or other means, and to reach complete coverage by a fixed date.

I have pleasure in presenting this petition, which I wholly support.

To lie upon the Table.

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Rural Schools (Humberside)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Chapman.]

9.45 pm

Mr. David Davis (Boothferry) : I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for selecting my subject for the Adjournment debate. Rural schools in Humberside face specific problems. I will come to the details in a moment, but I suspect that those problems are replicated in many counties with large rural areas and a majority urban population. In recent years, much of Government policy has focused on the problems of the inner cities, recognising the specific problems there and attempting to do something about them. On the obverse side, there is a general belief that life is healthier in rural areas and that people in small towns and villages have a better quality of life than people in cities. They have less unemployment, less crime and fewer social problems. In my view, rural life is better than urban life, and I think that it should be made available to as many people as possible.

The quality of rural life is reflected in the schools, which have fewer behavioural problems, more parental involvement and a more positive attitude among the children. Accordingly educational attainment levels in rural schools are as good as--and sometimes better than--those in big urban schools. All those are virtues to be cherished. The thrust of my argument is that in Humberside all those virtues are at risk due to a policy of neglect.

Humberside has a large rural area, dominated by three major cities--Hull, Grimsby and Scunthorpe. My constituency of Boothferry is a predominantly rural area in the west of the county, furthest from Hull and Grimsby.

We all know how the mechanism for county councils obtaining money from central Government works--in practice if not in theory. On an annual basis, a typical county council makes a bid, which is almost always for more than the amount that it could reasonably expect to spend, because of the way the system works. It justifies the bid in the best way that it can and the Government agree to meet a proportion of the bid. In the past 50 years the average proportion nationwide has hovered at around 40 per cent. In other words, the Government have paid a typical council an average of 40 per cent. of its bid. Humberside has done much better than that. Although the bids have been large, the Government have allowed more than 60 per cent. of the bid submitted--almost half as much again as the national average. The Government have been generous to Humberside, and that generosity has allowed Humberside to spend £44 million to £45 million in capital on educational establishments.

More than £22 million of that money, however, has been spent on the Hull reorganisation alone. When it is finished, that reorganisation will have cost £23.6 million--50 per cent. more than the original bid. That massive overrun must be put down either to poor planning or to poor control --in other words, to poor management. There is considerable evidence that Humberside is not well blessed with good management in that respect. For example, the Audit Commission study of the provision of school meals in Humberside led to a number of salient

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criticisms about the way it was managed and identified management weaknesses accounting for some £2 million per year in excess costs. In the reorganisation, the local authority did not send teachers to the schools that they ought to have attended, but left them for a considerable time in places where they were no longer needed. The local authority then offered an early retirement package so generous and so loosely managed that, instead of the 178 people that it needed to retire, 372 left. The county thus had to pay out for all those extra ones and then employ 200 new ones. That cost at least £4 million, which does not take account of the effect of the loss of a great number of experienced staff.

Such sloppy management is bad news for the ratepayer and the taxpayer, but the capital overrun is even worse news for my constituents in rural areas. For one school after another completion has been deferred, expansion has been put back and replacement has been denied. Many schools in my constituency are now overdue for capital expenditure. The most outstanding- -there are many more--are the schools at Howden, Walkington and Rawcliffe. So as not to take too much time, I shall take just one as an illustration-- the Howden infants school.

Plans for a completely new infants' school were drawn up in the 1960s, and it was opened in 1971. At that time, the school operated on a split site-- the new site, called Hailgate, and the old site, called Pinfold. As a temporary measure, in 1981, the children were moved from the Pinfold site to the Hailgate site and the Pinfold site was sold. The money from the sale went back to the county council. The children were put in temporary buildings on the new site. The county council got the money, but provided only half the school. I will read an extract from a letter from a constituent, who takes up the story and describes better than I can what has happened since. She writes :

"For the past 8 and a half years, more children have been housed in temporary classrooms than in permanent accommodation. Continuous housing developments in Howden during the past 10 years have led to increased numbers of children at the school. In the summer term of 1986 there were 199 pupils on the roll. It does not take a mathematician to work out 3 30 in each mobile classroom plus 80 in a permanent building adds up to 170. That is a theoretical accommodation level at 29 less than the actual pupil numbers. In the summer of 1987 pupil numbers stood at 189. Having experienced severe difficulties the previous summer, pressure was brought to bear and the authorities agreed to the school's use of a vacant classroom in the adjoining junior school. Such a measure would not be possible in the future as the junior school is now at full capacity. The numbers for summer 1989 were 164, within the school's present capacity, but it is predicted that pupil numbers will rise again in the next few years. Numbers at the moment are expected to be 165 in 1990, 178 in 1991 and 180 in 1992."

I think that those are very optimistic and low estimates. The letter continues :

"In December 1988, Humberside County Council stated that late January 1990 start and completion of the building was expected and there was no intention of delay, unless the current budget review dictated otherwise. Following a visit by the assistant education officer (sites and buildings) it is now understood that the completion is unlikely to take place for at least two years. The proposed completion (or extension as the authority mistakenly call it) has been in the building estimates for several years. Each year the authority has deferred the building programme.

The reason given this time is that the County Council has discovered that it needs to build a new school in Hull's dockside area. Why should Howden have to suffer for the County's poor planning and lack of foresight? It is not even known how large a school will be needed. Children from the

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new Dock side area could be bussed to one of Hull's half empty schools as a temporary measure. The children of Howden are here now ; they are not a projected figure for the future and they should have their school completed now. It always seems to be the case that money is available for building in the cities but not in the rural areas." That view is widely held by my constituents. Indeed, it is a commonplace belief. The letter continues :

"This year 77 year 1 and year 2 children aged 5 to 7 years are starting the new year in mobile classrooms ; they have to trek across the yard to the toilets, to the hall for Physical Education, movement, dance and drama and collective worship. It is time wasting, and on a wet day they are soaked, and on very cold days it is just miserable and unnecessary. Please can something be done now?"

That letter is calm, collected and factual, but for all that, it is a plea from the heart from someone who has children in a school that is more than half temporary and has been so for a long time. It is not the only case. From my own visit there, Walkington seems to be a similar problem. Rawcliffe school is so old and bedraggled that it needs complete replacement. The reasons for the delays and deferrals given by various representatives of the county council vary enormously--so much so that they smack of excuses rather than reasons. Sometimes they say that the school will be completed, and sometimes that it will not be, either because there are plans for a new school in Howden or because the money is to be used for something else. I illustrate that with a response from the director of education explaining why Howden is to be deferred again, just one more time. He blames the Government first, of course, for not meeting his bid in full. He then says that there is only enough money for four new schemes. He writes :

"One element of the new scheme is a new primary school to serve the new housing development in the Victoria Dock area of Hull. This is a development which has been planned since we planned the Hull Schools reorganisation."

That would be in about 1986. The letter continues :

"There are no schools that are within reasonable distance of the new houses which could provide relief."

"Reasonable distance" is, of course, a rather subjective measure. Many of my constituents' children travel much further than the whole diameter of Hull to get to school, and they have no alternative. The letter continues :

"The size of the school is 240 places and facility to expand to 360. You will understand that forecasting the size of a school in this housing development is difficult until the mix of housing types is known. We are now confident we know the balance and can forecast accurately. I am sure that you will appreciate that substantial developments such as this constantly bring new factors into our planning process."

In other words, the Hull school has been planned since about 1986. Howden has been planned, nominally, since 1981. The Hull school is for predicted numbers, whereas the Howden completion is for current numbers of pupils and Howden is already overcrowded. The county council's priorities will prevent pupils in Hull having to travel perhaps a mile to another school by frequent bus services. Many of the children at Howden school have to travel quite considerable distances and there is no alternative.

There is a saying in my constituency that Humberside is longhand for Hull. Such political favouritism towards Labour-voting urban areas is, I suppose to be expected, but it is unacceptable that it should continue year after year to the penalty of my constituents' children.

I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to allocate the money for this year's budget for Humberside to specific projects so that my constituents could be

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guaranteed fair treatment, but I know that that is no longer an option under current rules. The law expects and assumes that the county council will behave in a responsible manner. However, I ask my hon. Friend to make a generous allocation to Humberside again. Humberside has particular needs and I have no dispute with the county council about the fact that those needs--not least the reorganisation of schools in Goole which is also in my constituency--will prove expensive.

I want my hon. Friend the Minister to make it clear to Humberside, however, that in giving it a generous allocation, he expects it to behave fairly towards the rural schools, especially those in my constituency. The other parts of Humberside have the same right to a good education and proper facilities for their children as are enjoyed by children in the Labour areas of Hull. When my hon. Friend reviews the bid in subsequent years, he should take into consideration just how the money given this year is used and whether the rural population has had a fair deal, because I want a fair deal for rural children in Humberside--no more and no less.

9.58 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Alan Howarth): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Memberfor Boothferry (Mr. Davis) on securing this Adjournment debate, and I am grateful to him for providing the House with an opportunity to discuss the important issues that he raised tonight. I have noted, of course, what he has said about the way in which Humberside local education authority has proceeded in implementing the reorganisation proposals and his belief that, as a consequence, rural schools have been neglected. I can well understand his feelings of frustration and those of his constituents as they see much needed work on their schools deferred. I know that projects have been planned but not yet implemented for work at the schools to which he has referred--Howden, Hook, Airmyn, Rawcliffe and Walkington.

I appreciate the difficulties that pupils, teachers and parents have experienced at Howden. My hon. Friend has been in contact with the authority and with us about Howden. Howden infant school is a named school for a 120 basic need extension in the authority's bid for the coming year. It has, however, as my hon. Friend suggested, featured in the authority's bids in previous years, along with other basic need projects--

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Sitting suspended--

10.2 pm

On resuming--

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Chapman.]

Mr. Howarth : As I was saying, Howden featured in the authority's bids in previous years. As basic need was allowed for in the allocation made to the authority in the past it would seem that it has decided not to give priority to this project and presumably has channelled its allocation into the reorganisations. I do not need to remind my hon. Friend that my Department cannot direct a local education authority on how it should spend its

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money. The authority is responsible to its electorate for its spending policies, capital and recurrent. In the case of recurrent expenditure, the community charge will make all authorities more directly accountable to their electorates. It is my hon. Friend's constituents who must make their voices heard if there is to be criticism of the way in which Humberside local education authority has spent the money provided for it.

Humberside LEA, in common with every other, has received allocations from us over and above those calculated as necessary to implement proposals for school reorganisation for spending on improvements to other schools, including those in rural areas. If my hon. Friend does not consider that the resources available to the authority have been properly distributed, these are matters for him to continue to take up with the authority, as he has done already on behalf of his constituents.

My hon. Friend has referred to the reorganisation in his constituency--the Goole area--and in particular to the significant increase in the costs of the project. I understand that that has arisen as a result of the authority bowing to local pressure. It has developed, or is in the course of developing, a modern sixth form centre for pupils at the local comprehensive school in the premises of Bartholomew school, a former middle school. This was originally intended to house a primary school. It is now proposed to establish the primary school instead in the premises of the former Boothferry road first school, again in deference to local wishes. I am glad to be able to announce to the House that approval of the new proposal has just been given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and the authority notified accordingly. I hope that my hon. Friend's constituents will be glad that their pleas in respect of the proposed new primary school have not been in vain.

I note my hon. Friend's view that not enough money has been allocated for the Goole reorganisation, and that the authority has spent disproportionately large sums on the establishment of the new sixth form centre. I can only say that the estimated cost of the original proposals, as indicated by the local education authority, was fully taken into account in Humberside's allocations. Where an authority chooses to increase expenditure, or where cost increases occur, these have to be absorbed within its existing capital programme. It is up to local education authorities to get their costings as accurate as possible.

On the more general question of capital resources for schools, the Humberside LEA has submitted ambitious plans for capital spending to my Department. So have all the other local education authorities in England. I am glad to be able to remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State secured an increase for local authority capital, and for grants to voluntary aided and grant-maintained schools, in this year's public expenditure round. This extra provision will allow continued progress on improvement programmes in schools. Allocations to individual authorities of what are now to be called annual capital guidelines under the new capital control system will be announced by Christmas. We shall be looking at Humberside's needs, including the needs of some of the schools he has described which feature in the authority's plans, against that background. But I would not seek to give the House the impression that what we can distribute will meet all the spending needs identified by all local education authorities.

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Hon. Members will have seen the Labour party's report published on Monday on the state of our schools. It is an opportunist and emotive document. Many of the figures are wrong, and some of the conclusions drawn are fanciful. But we would be the first to recognise that a great deal needs to be done to the fabric of schools all over the country to bring them up to scratch and to fit them for delivery of the high standards of education to which parents and teachers alike aspire, not least in the rural areas, and which our children should have. Local education authorities, and governors of voluntary aided schools, spend substantial sums of money each year in tackling the problem. They do this by means of borrowing power which we distribute, of receipts generated by sales of education assets--typically school sites sold as part of a reorganisation --by the use of revenue funds, and grant from the Department in the case of voluntary aided schools. Of course there is never enough to satisfy. The same is true of all public spending programmes.

Capital spending per pupil has nevertheless increased by 10 per cent. in real terms since we came into office. But more needs to be done, and it is against that background that there is to be an increase in local authority capital guidelines and in the money available for grant to governors of voluntary aided schools to which I referred earlier.

As in recent years, priority will be given first to meeting committed expenditure on projects outstanding from previous years. This stands Humberside in good stead because of the large-scale reorganisations approved in Grimsby and Goole which are still being implemented. Priority is next given to meeting the cost of new school places in areas of population growth, and then to removing surplus places. I know that new places for schools in my hon. Friend's constituency figure in Humberside's plans submitted to us. Any remaining funds are distributed to LEAs through an objective formula for spending on school improvements. I must stress that this is the basis for our calculations of entitlement at the Department of Education and Science. How local education authorities choose to spend the money generated by the borrowing power we distribute is up to them. They will be free to supplement this from proceeds of receipts, and from revenue--including the proceeds of the community charge--if they wish.

My hon. Friend suggests that not enough has been allocated to Humberside in recent years. I have yet to meet an hon. Member who tells me that his authority has had a sufficient allocation of capital for schools. What is available within public expenditure constraints has to be shared out as equitably as possible. But, as my hon. Friend generously acknowledged, Humberside has done better than most authorities in recent years in terms of the percentage of its plans covered--72 per cent. in 1987, 53 per cent. in 1988, and 55 per cent. in 1989, against averages for all LEAs of 38 per cent., 39 per cent. and 34 per cent. I am pleased that we were able to offer Humberside an extra allocation this autumn of £213,000 to meet the need for new school places in place of a crumbling school--an example in Humberside of how bogus the Labour party is to claim that we do not care.

My hon. Friend has mentioned the difficulties under which rural schools labour, and the need to safeguard rural life. I entirely agree. It is immensely important that authorities ensure that rural communities have a fair share of the services that they deserve. As for education, we are

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well seized of the difficulties that rural primary schools face. Humberside is one of the local education authorities that has benefited from the education support grant programme launched by my Department four years ago to help broaden and enrich the curriculum in rural primary schools. The Department recognised, long before the Education Reform Act and the national curriculum, that small rural primary schools can have real difficulties in ensuring a rich curriculum experience for their children, and that such schools can only too often suffer from isolation, lack of opportunity for contact between pupils and their peer groups, and little chance for teachers, and even head teachers, to compare notes. That is why we have paid grant--at 70 per cent.--on expenditure of some £1.5 million per annum by the 14 local education authorities concerned, all of which had a substantial number of small rural primary schools, as pump-priming funding for a series of projects, developed according to the way in which each authority thinks that the funding should best be used. We have commissioned an evaluation study from Leicester university of the effects of the education support grant programme so that other authorities, which are not participants in the present programme, can benefit from the lessons learnt. But it is already possible to assert that the programme in general has been successful in meeting its prime objectives in reducing the isolation of small primary schools in our countryside, and enabling pupils to benefit from a richer variety of experience. As it happens, the programme could not have been better timed. Schools which have benefited from the programme, in Humberside and elsewhere, have told us that experience gained from projects funded by the programme has been invaluable in coming to terms with the introduction of the national curriculum.

In Humberside, for example, the local education authority has used education support grant money to fund the costs of five advisory teachers to offer a range of specialist curriculum expertise to schools where otherwise it would not be available. The teaching areas that they have chosen to cover are craft, design and technology, art, expressive arts, and environmental studies. One of their particular briefs is to explore ways of maintaining a degree of specialist teaching in these areas after the withdrawal of teacher consultants. This will enable schools to be more confident about curriculum development in these areas, which are important parts of the national curriculum, and which many small rural schools might not be able otherwise easily to deliver.

I should like to end by thanking my hon. Friend for drawing to my attention the consequences of decisions by his local education authority of changes in priorities for capital spending--consequences which impact directly on the quality of life in the rural areas that he represents. I am as concerned as he to see the quality of rural life safeguarded and enhanced. Rural areas must share in the increase in prosperity which the Government have helped to bring about since we have held office. This applies as much to the fabric of schools as it does to roads and other services.

My hon. Friend asked me to be generous to Humberside, and I assure him that I shall do my best to ensure that resources are made available to the Humberside local education authority at a level which reflects its needs and the needs of rural areas as far as is compatible with the need that we have to be fair to all authorities within the funds at our disposal.

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