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House of Commons

Tuesday 2 November 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

PRIVATE BUSINESS

Woodgrange Park Cemetery Bill

[Lords]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third Reading) be suspended and that the Bill be now read the third time.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.

British Waterways Bill

[Lords]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Promoters of the British Waterways Bill [Lords] shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with the Bill, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office not later than the day before the close of the present Session of their intention to suspend further proceedings and that all Fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid ; That, if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the next Session, the Agent for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by him, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the present Session ;

That, as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be read the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) ;

That all Petitions relating to the Bill presented in the present Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill, together with any minutes of evidence taken before the Committee on the Bill, shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the next Session ;

That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the present Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business ;

That, in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words "under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against Bill)" were omitted ;

That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the present Session ;

That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.

Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Bill [Lords].

Ordered,

That the Promoters of the Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Bill [Lords] shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with the Bill, if they think


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fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office of their intention to suspend further proceedings not later than the day before the close of the present Session and that all Fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid ;

Ordered,

That, if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the next Session, the Agents for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by them, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the present Session ;

Ordered,

That, as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be read the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) and shall be committed to the Chairman of Ways and Means, who shall make such Amendments thereto as have been made by the Committee in the present Session, and shall report the Bill as amended to the House forthwith, and the Bill, so amended, shall be ordered to lie upon the Table. Ordered,

That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have alrady been incurred during the present Session ;

Ordered,

That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Mr. Bennett rose--

Madam Speaker : Is the hon. Gentleman objecting to the Greater Manchester Bill?

Mr. Bennett : My objection, Madam Speaker, was to the British Waterways Bill, which I thought was the first question that you put.

Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman actually objected to the first motion. The Question that I put was,

That Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third Reading) be suspended and the Bill now be read the third time.

That is the motion which the hon. Gentleman objected to. The objection must stand for the moment, although I take it that he is also objecting to the Waterways Bill.

Sir Michael Neubert : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is obvious that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) did not understand the position when he objected to the first motion. Could you not exercise your discretion and allow it to pass on this occasion?

Madam Speaker : Of course I can. I think that is a very common-sense approach. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have the support of the House.

Woodgrange Park Cemetery Bill

[Lords]

Considered.

Ordered,

That Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third Reading) be suspended and that the Bill be now read the Third time.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means].

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.


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Oral Answers to Questions

EDUCATION

Capital Expenditure, Manchester

1. Mr. Bradley : To ask the Secretary of State for Education whether he will approve in full Manchester's bid for capital expenditure on schools for 1994-95 ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Eric Forth) : Manchester's capital bid will be decided on its merits. We shall announce our decision on all the local education authority bids in December.

Mr. Bradley : I hope the Minister has read the brilliant documentation of disrepair in Manchester schools in my constituency. I know that he is having a meeting with a delegation from Manchester city council next month, and I hope that he will work positively with its members to ensure that resources are made available for remodelling, repair and rebuilding of Manchester's schools, particularly Parrswood high school and St. Paul's school in my constituency. Will he ensure that all Manchester's children receive a quality education in quality schools and buildings?

Mr. Forth : I am looking most carefully at Manchester's bid, as I look at all education authority bids. Manchester has done remarkably well over the last few years, and I do not wish to embarrass other local education authorities who might be envious of just how well it has done. I remain conscious of the needs of Manchester and other local education authorities. We will not only listen carefully to what the delegation has to say, but do our best to meet all reasonable requests from Manchester and other places.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my hon. Friend agree that Manchester council would have more money to spend on its schools if it ran its affairs generally in a more efficient fashion? Have not the local government ombudsman and the Audit Commisssion identified numerous areas where money is wasted? For instance, 60 lecturers have been told to stay at home while the council spends £1 million on their salaries.

Mr. Forth : I am not sure that I can take those precise factors into account when considering Manchester's capital bid ; however, I expect Manchester and all the other local education authorities to take full advantage of the Chancellor's generosity in allowing them to use all capital receipts this year, without let or hindrance. I hope that they will do that, and direct a good deal of the money towards educational needs.

Mr. Eastham : Will the Minister give some consideration to the serious position of schools in Manchester? In north Manchester--which constitutes about one fifth of my constituency, Blackley--each of 18 schools needs expenditure of more than £100,000. Is the Minister prepared to spend the money, or else find himself having to replace those schools with new buildings in four or five years' time?


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Mr. Forth : I hope that the hon. Gentleman is directing such questions to Manchester local education authority--in the light of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) has said, in the light of what I have said about capital receipts and in the light of the fact that the LEAs have enormous discretion in prioritising their own work. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is quizzing the LEA ; it is to the LEA that he should look.

Single European Market

2. Mr. Ian Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what aspects of the curriculum prepare school children for the opportunities of the single European market.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Timothy Boswell) : The national curriculum provides for all pupils a broad and balanced education which will equip them with the skills, knowledge and understanding appropriate for adult life and for the world of work within the European Community. The Department has issued informal guidance on how this European dimension can be addressed through individual subjects, particularly modern foreign languages, geography and history.

Mr. Taylor : While education must remain very much the responsibility of national Governments, does my hon. Friend agree that preparing young people for the opportunities and challenges presented by the single market--and also for the needs of companies that now operate on a pan-European scale--requires schools to take more and more children post- 16, and to broaden their education by giving it a European dimension? Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the work of the United Kingdom Centre for European Education in this regard?

Mr. Boswell : I agree very much with my hon. Friend on two counts. First, I approve of his emphasis on the fact that the European dimension must respect the national education systems that must deliver education ; secondly, I endorse his praise for the United Kingdom Centre for European Education, where he and I shared a platform this morning. I was able to introduce to the conference, and the consultative process, the Commission's Green Paper, which is designed to set up proper measures for co-operation-- but not harmonisation--in European education policies.

Mr. Madden : Does the Minister accept that the teaching of children will be made immensely more difficult in places such as Bradford if section 11 funding, and other funding aimed at tackling deprivation and disadvantage, is reduced? Will he take this opportunity to confirm or deny recent reports that Bradford's section 11 funding is to be substantially reduced?

Mr. Boswell : The hon. Gentleman could take a few lessons in relevance before asking such questions. I have noted what he said, as have my colleagues ; I hope, however, that he will remember that there is only one broad pot for education spending, and that any money that is spent for one purpose may not be available for another.

Mr. Quentin Davies : The national curriculum's requirement that every child learn a foreign language undoubtedly represents a major step forward, but is there


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not a long way to go before our children are as well prepared for business in the single market as children in some other Community countries such as Germany--not to mention Holland and Sweden? Do we not need to invest more in training language teachers, and expanding the range of opportunities for children to learn foreign languages?

Mr. Boswell : Our education system undoubtedly has some strengths-- for example, in information technology--but it also has a number of weaknesses. I think that most of us feel that in respect of our performance in modern foreign languages. A strong emphasis has been placed on the issue, and we have discussed it with the Commissioner in the context of his proposed changes to the Lingua programme.

Student Awards

3. Mr. Hain : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what plans he has to provide special funding next year for discretionary student awards.

Mr. Boswell : That is a matter for local education authorities. They are already free to devote to discretionary awards whatever portion of their total resources they consider appropriate to local needs and circumstances.

Mr. Hain : Surely the Minister is insulting the House with that reply. He knows that every local education authority that wishes to fund students who need discretionary grants is prevented from doing so by the cuts in budgets which have been imposed by central Government. Is he aware that he is consigning many thousands of students, from those of medicine to those of music, who depend or would depend on a discretionary student grant, to an impossible position in which they cannot continue their further and higher education? Why does not he grasp that nettle? Why has he not published the study of the subject by the Gulbenkian and Sir John Cass foundations, which was promised by the Prime Minister in the summer?

Mr. Boswell : We increased education spending by about 2.6 per cent. last year, and that is available for local authorities to spend on what they regard as their priorities. If they choose to take funds away and spend them in some other sector, that is a matter for them. The hon. Gentleman would be the first to complain if we took away that discretion from them.

As for the point that the hon. Gentleman made about discretionary awards, we have not published the Gulbenkian and Sir John Cass foundations' study because it is not ours to publish. The document is being prepared by the National Foundation for Educational Research. I shall read it--as will the hon. Gentleman, I am sure--with great interest when the detailed findings are available. I have already told the House, from the early part of that study before the detailed work was done, that there was evidence of a continuation of spending and the number of awards made, both of which are slightly higher than they were three years ago.

Mr. Garnier : My hon. Friend must be aware that in my constituency there are premises of Leicester university and of De Montfort university. Is he aware that students at those universities find it difficult to manage on their grants because the socialist council in the city of Leicester is


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imposing hideous regulations on private landlords, pricing private residential accommodation out of the reach of students? Will he, with the co-operation of the Department of the Environment, ensure that unnecessary regulations affecting student housing are not implemented?

Mr. Boswell : I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. I am very much in the business, from this Dispatch Box, of promoting academic deregulation wherever possible and preventing unnecessary and expensive regulations either in the capital programmes of universities and colleges or, indeed, in student accommodation. Although it is not a direct responsibility of the Department, and it has relevance to my colleagues in the Department of the Environment, I have noted what my hon. Friend said and I will take forward his specific suggestion.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : Whether the Minister likes it or not, the discretionary grants provision is now in a state of crisis. He promised the results of the Gulbenkian study before the summer and said that they were imminent, but we still await the results of that report. Even if he does not know, we know already that four local education authorities have cut discretionary grants altogether, another 10 have cut grants down to fees only and the majority have cut back on provision of discretionary grants. Is the Minister aware, as he ought to be, that the people who depend on discretionary grants are those who would not get into education without the grants? Will the tell the House here and now what steps he is taking to ensure that next year those grants will be available for the people who need them?

Mr. Boswell : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is such a slow learner. I have already explained to the House why I cannot publish the survey, which is not in my hands to publish. We are not sitting on it.

The hon. Gentleman made a series of assertions in a paper that he submitted to the Department in July, including, at that time, the assertion that three local authorities had decided to make no discretionary awards. I have not, as far as I am aware, been given the names of those authorities. He has now increased the number to four. As I told him at the time, if he is prepared to name them, my Department will investigate because not to make any payments is an improper use of the discretionary procedure.

Mr. Batiste : Is not the sad reality that too many Labour local authorities, such as mine in Leeds, simply do not attach sufficient importance to education to make a fair share of resources available for discretionary grants?

Mr. Boswell : My hon. Friend is exactly on the point. It is no good giving discretion to local authorities if they then turn round and dislike the discretion that they have been given because they have put it into directions which are their own priorities and not the priorities of students.

I noted the suggestion of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). Of course, in certain areas less is paid. We shall know more when the detailed survey is completed. I am as anxious as he is that it should be completed. It is no excuse for a local authority to say that it has not been given the money--it has.


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School Leavers

4. Mr. Mandelson : To ask the Secretary of State for Education what plans he has to improve the transition of school leavers from school to work.

Mr. Boswell : All the Government's policies for school education, and particularly the national curriculum, are designed to prepare pupils for adult and working life.

In addition to raising the standards of skills and knowledge achieved by all pupils, the Government are ensuring that they will benefit from a planned programme of careers education and guidance. This should assist them in taking advantage of the three clear qualifications pathways that we are developing.

Mr. Mandelson : In the light of two reports on education standards-- one published last week and the other, from the National Commission on Education, which will appear shortly--does the Minister accept that thousands of school leavers, mostly from deprived backgrounds and communities, are being badly let down by the school system? Is it not time for the Government to undertake an urgent examination of education provision for those above and below the school leaving age, so that the full range, quality and the co-ordination of education and training opportunities are significantly improved?

Mr. Boswell : I will not comment on documents that I have not seen and which have not been published. I felt that the most striking aspects of the recent report by the Office for Standards in Education was the way in which it emphasised teachers' low expectations of their pupils in difficult areas and areas of social stress. I agree with the hon. Gentleman--if this is the point that he was making--that the problem needs addressing. Ofsted has produced an excellent report. Through our proposals for a large expansion in further education and, at school level, through the national curriculum, we are trying to provide a basis for all pupils, whatever their aptitudes and abilities and, above all, whatever their social backgrounds, to have the right to a decent education and to proper motivation from their teachers, as well as reasonable expectations of the very considerable progress that they can make.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Foyer project, which is one of eight pilot projects supported by his right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Employment? It is intended to help young people in the transition between school and work, especially those who have difficulty in finding housing in Norwich and other parts of the country and also those young people who may have some difficulty at home. Will he pay full tribute to the excellent work that is being done in Norwich and elsewhere on that splendid project?

Mr. Boswell : I most readily join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to that project. I must emphasise the importance of studying the period around year 11 and subsequent years at school, when pupils make extremely critical career choices. They are entitled to as much guidance and support as we can possibly produce for them.

Mr. Grocott : Will the Minister reflect on the simple truth that seems to be obvious to everyone except the Government, which is that the greatest problem that has consistently faced school leavers is that their prospects of finding employment are worse than under any other


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Government since the war? Will he reflect on the tremendous damage that is done within schools when pupils have the certain knowledge that, however hard they try and however many exams they pass, their prospects of finding full-time employment when they leave are minimal as long as this Government is in office? Does he not feel thoroughly ashamed to be a member of a Government who are responsible for that?

Mr. Boswell : I am staggered that the hon. Gentleman has not noticed that unemployment has already decreased by 84,000 this year. I hope that he will not put it about to our school leavers that it is not worth staying on to get skills and qualifications, because growing numbers of them are staying on and were already doing so before the recession--71 per cent. are now staying on full time. That is a good investment in their future and I saw a specialist class at a further education college the other day which had a turnout into employment of more than 90 per cent. because of the high level of skills achieved.

Mr. Forman : While I welcome the thrust of the Government's policy in that area, does my hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest needs is for more vocational courses to be taken in schools at an earlier stage? In that context, will my hon. Friend give a further push to the excellent general national vocational qualifications, which provide a good path for that purpose?

Mr. Boswell : I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) who, if not the father, was the godfather of general national vocational qualifications. They form a splendid path of new qualifications and are being taken up by upwards of 500 schools and 500 colleges this autumn. We have most ambitious targets for their uptake--we want a quarter of all children who fall within the appropriate age group to take them up within a short time. For the first time, the Government have pioneered proper and appropriate qualifications, blending education and vocation, and providing parity of esteem with the academic route with which we are familiar.

Special Needs

5. Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for Education when he last reviewed the statementing process for children with special educational needs ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Forth : The Education Act 1993 and the draft code of practice issued last week will significantly improve the arrangements for the education of all children with special needs--those with and those without statements. As a result, statements will be made more quickly and written more clearly--to the benefit of children and their parents. We also issued draft regulations which would, for the first time, bind local education authorities to time limits when making assessments and statements.

Mr. Janner : Is the Minister aware that a 13-year-old constituent of mine was, to use the odious phrase, "statemented" and, to the anguish of her parents, excluded from mainstream school? There is no other accommodation for her anywhere in Leicester so she receives her education at home for the statutory minimum of just five hours a week--only when her tutor is well, which she is not at present. Is it not disgraceful that the children who


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most need education receive the least education because local education authorities such as Leicestershire simply do not have the money to extend the hours? Will the Minister be good enough to look at that aspect of the statementing problem to see whether he can find a way to help local education authorities to provide education at home for those children who, through no fault of their own, cannot receive education at ordinary schools?

Mr. Forth : Obviously, provided all the existing appeals mechanisms have been properly exhausted, I shall want to look at the case raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Janner : They have.

Mr. Forth : If that is so, we shall want to look at the case. I believe that the Education Act 1993, which places new duties on authorities, the code of practice, which brings new uniformity and clarity to the process of making statements for children, the time limits and the SEN tribunal, all add up to a better deal for the children in our schools who have special educational needs. It is no excuse for any local education authority to hide behind the resources whinge if it is not fulfilling its duties towards children with special educational needs. If that is what the hon. and learned Gentleman's local education authority is doing, it is a disgrace.

Mr. Congdon : Does my hon. Friend agree that many parents will welcome the much strengthened provisions in the new Education Act for those with special educational needs, particularly the time limits on the statementing process? Does he also agree that it is up to the schools to ensure that they identify those children with special needs and ensure that their needs are properly meet?

Mr. Forth : Indeed. My hon. Friend played his part in bringing the Education Act to fruition and on to the statute book, for which I am grateful. He pinpointed the fact that we are rightly going to lay the onus very much on schools, which must have a special educational needs policy. The code of practice rightly lays on schools the principal responsibility for constantly assessing pupils' needs, identifying those needs and meeting them. That will be a considerable step towards providing properly for all children and their needs.

Mr. Win Griffiths : I thank the Minister and, having listened to his opening reply, may I say that I agreed with every word of it. The draft code of practice is a most commendable document--the only thing wrong with it is the colour of its cover, but we can stand that. For all the good ideas drafted in the code of practice, unless there are sufficient resources, all the fine words it contains will count for nothing--that is not a resources whinge by a local authority. Will the Minister do two things? First, will he undertake a survey on what has happened to special educational needs provision over the past four years? I think that he will find that it has not improved in many spheres. Secondly, when local authorities come forward, will he commit himself to providing the resources to implement the fine instructions given in the code of practice ; otherwise it will be a scandal?

Mr. Forth : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks, but I must say that the answer to both his questions is no. A survey of the kind that he suggests would be useless because it would be looking to the past,


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when the future is about the Education Act, the code of practice and all that is in them, together with the tribunal. I believe that, as a result of the Act and the code of practice, there will be a much better, more effective and efficient use of existing resources in directing them properly towards pupils in a structured and clear way. I do not believe, therefore, that we should necessarily assume that the improved provision for special educational needs that the Act and the code of practice will bring necessarily demands a blanket spraying of resources around local education authorities. The resources8f

-- Grant-maintained Schools

6. Mr. Rowe : To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many grant-maintained schools there are in Kent, distinguishing between (a) primary and (b) secondary ; and how many applications for grant-maintained status are under consideration.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr. Robin Squire) : Fifty-four secondary schools and 12 primary schools in Kenare already self-governing and enjoying the freedom that grant-maintained status brings. A further seven secondary schools and seven primary schools are in the process of acquiring GM status.

Mr. Rowe : Does not that remarkable figure clearly demonstrate how popular the policy of grant-maintained schools is? Will my hon. Friend comment on the recent article by the director of education in Kent, who, apparently relying on the convention that officials are immune from political attack, chose to attack in an exaggerated and extraordinary form the policy of the Government?

Mr. Squire : I agree with my hon. Friend's praise for self-governing schools. I also agree that the article by the director of education, which was published in The Times Educational Supplement, was both inaccurate and misleading. That is not only my view ; I notice that, the following week, the TES published letters from a significant number of head teachers and others making precisely the same points.

Let me reassure my hon. Friend that in Kent and elsewhere, as parents have those ballots, they will draw their lessons from the success of schools on the ground rather than from the articles to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Don Foster : Will the Minister acknowledge that the disgraceful decision to allow only voluntary-aided and grant-maintained schools to apply for moneys under the new technology schools initiative is nothing more than a bribe to persuade yet more schools in Kent and elsewhere to opt out? Will he explain why the advice of the chairman of the City Technology Colleges trust was ignored? What further bribes does he propose to offer to try to boost the flagging grant-maintained school initiative?


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