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Column 847Waterson, Nigel
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Mr. James Arbuthnot.
Question accordingly negatived .
Question , That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER-- forthwith declared the Main Question, as amended, to be agreed to .
That this House strongly supports the Government's substantial aid programme aimed at sustainable economic and social development, particularly in the poorest countries, which draws on the skills and excellence of British institutions, companies and non-governmental organisations, and creates significant jobs and wealth in the United Kingdom.
That this House, recognising the importance of high quality education provision to all, regrets that, as a result of the policies of Her Majesty's Government, there is growing chaos and division within the education service ; is saddened that one of the many adverse consequences has been reduced morale and increased stress among those working in schools ; deplores the growing backlog of repairs and maintenance of educational buildings, the increased drop-out rate of students in higher education and the erosion of democratic accountability for education ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to increase investment in education by at least the equivalent of one penny of income tax, and to reconstruct the partnership of parents, teachers, governors, local education authorities and central government as an essential ingredient in achieving high quality education.
This is the second time since Christmas that the Liberal Democrats have initiated a debate on education, and that is a reflection of the importance that we place on it. Investment in the education and training of the nation's citizens is the most important investment that we can make to ensure a successful future for our country. We want an education service that enables each individual to achieve his or her potential, by providing a first-class education for all, in which quality is the key.
To that end my party, despite the accusations in the Government amendment, has a well-developed and well-defined set of education policies, which are to be found in our document, "Excellence for All". Our top priority for additional education spending is a significant expansion of nursery education. As other recent debates have highlighted, investment in nursery education makes sound educational and economic sense.
Our policies cover all aspects of the education service, including, for example, radical policies on the development of a curriculum for people between the ages of 14 and 19, an alternative to the Government's testing and assessment regime, the establishment of a general teaching council, and much more.
The expansion of nursery education will have an initial cost, as will our plans to increase the availability of books and equipment in our schools, and to provide more support for special educational needs. I do not deny-- no doubt this will be stated by Conservative Members--that in recent years the Government have increased expenditure on education. However, we believe that much more is needed. That is why my party is pledged to invest an extra penny of income tax on education to pay for our plans. The use of that increased investment will be clear for all to see.
Our policies to ensure excellence for all are in marked contrast to Government policies. Our motion addresses the two key crises facing the education service--the failure to invest sufficient resources in education and the break-up of the partnership established by the Education Act 1944.
I hope that the Secretary of State and other Ministers will wake up and notice what is going on outside their comfy sanctuary in Sanctuary buildings. From those buildings, and from their previous offices in York house, Ministers' actions have led directly to the chaos and division in our education service. The 17 major education reforms that have taken place over the past 15 years--yet
Column 849another is on its way--coupled with a failure to make the necessary investment, have created a complete mess, for which the Government alone are to blame. That mess has led to the lowering of morale throughout the service, and to a loss of direction.
The House does not have to take my word for it. Last week, a committee member of the Oxford University Conservative association said in a letter to The Daily Telegraph :
"Mr. Patten's attitude to education has betrayed a staggering capacity for incompetence and ineptitude".
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Tim Boswell) : Just for the record, I should make it clear that the letter was written by somebody claiming to be a member of the Oxford University Conservative association, but that the chair, chairperson, or chairlady of that organisation and other responsible officers subsequently wrote and corrected the record.
Mr. Foster : The letter stands on the record as coming from that individual, and it is known to be well supported by many other people in Oxford university, as demonstrated by recent statements about the Secretary of State's fellowship.
In response to a recent National Association of Head Teachers survey covering almost 200 schools, one head teacher said : "resourcing is but one aspect of a deteriorating situation. Teacher morale, public respect, a sense of partnership with DFE, the wondering whether anyone in high places has ever been inside a state school are all major factors which, unless corrected, will see the education system in this country in terminal decline."
Let us consider the effects of underfunding. Nearly two years ago, in my maiden speech, I said :
"Schools must choose between sacking teachers and doing without books, colleges must choose between decent accommodation and up-to-date equipment and universities between overcrowded lecture theatres and empty bank accounts."--[ Official Report , 12 May 1992 ; Vol. 207, c. 522-23.]
Since then, much has changed--sadly, for the worse. Never has there been greater need for increased investment in our education service.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset) : What would the hon. Gentleman say to Dorset county council, whose members said exactly, almost word for word, what he has just said about educational investment ? But as soon as they got into power, they cancelled a new school in Crossways, in my constituency, for which £800,000 had already been found by the Conservative administration, cancelled the expansion of Wey Valley school and of Purbeck school, and broke all their promises to the electorate.
Mr. Foster : I do not know all the details of Dorset's education policy, but I can be certain that the members of my party on Dorset county council will do everything they can to increase educational provision in that county--unlike the Conservatives in Suffolk, for example, who only last night proposed in their budget debate the abolition of all nursery education and a cut of £1 million in their capital education programme.
Ms Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley) : The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has already mentioned nursery education three times, and said how much importance he places on it. Does he not agree, however,
Column 850that the words often uttered by Liberal Democrats in the House are not matched by action in the local authorities that their party controls ?
Can he explain why Liberal authorities appear three times in the bottom 18 local authorities for the provision of nursery education, why Gloucestershire, where Liberal Democrats share control with Conservatives, is at the bottom of the table, and why, in the Isle of Wight, which the party has controlled for years, only seven children in every 100 are offered a nursery place ?
Mr. Foster : If the hon. Lady were to examine the press release on nursery education by her party, she might update her figures a little for the past 12 months. If she did that, she would discover that the Liberal Democratic party's position on support for nursery education has changed dramatically. She should also bear in mind the fact that, in many of the authorities to which she has referred, Liberal Democrat influence is relatively recent.
Liberal Democrats have had to pick up a considerable amount of mess and a number of problems. The hon. Lady represents a Birmingham constituency, so it is a bit rich for her to talk about education expenditure, because her local education authority has diverted £40 million from education funding to prestige buildings.
Never mind that ; the argument about the need for increased investment has never been more urgent. That was demonstrated only last Friday, when the headline for the front-page story in The Times Educational Supplement was :
"Schools caught in the jobs-or-pay trap".
Even this year's modest teachers' pay award
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not customary for Members to declare their interests in connection with a subject before launching into their speeches ? Is it not remiss of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) not to declare his interest in two specific items that are declared in the Register of Members' Interests but have not been mentioned in the Chamber ?
Mr. Foster : As I did not intend to promote the claims of either of the two teacher unions that I serve as an adviser, and as I have already made clear my involvement with the two unions on previous occasions, I did not think it necessary to restate my interests. However, if it will help the hon. Lady, I am more than happy to put on the record yet again my involvement with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the National Union of Teachers. As a result of the Government's unwillingness to fund the latest pay round, The Times Educational Supplement contacted 50 local education authorities. Of those, only four are now able to increase their budgets. Those authorities able to fund the award in full will have to do so by cutting other departments and services, but in many authorities it will be mean cuts to the schools' budget.
For example, in Leicestershire, schools will have to find £1.6 million to meet the pay bill, and in Shropshire they
Column 851will have to find £200,000. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that another head teacher said recently in the NAHT survey :
"We are running a medium-sized business on peanuts and goodwill." It is interesting that, when the Government want to find money to suit their own purposes, they are perfectly able to do so. We know about the increased funding to grant-maintained schools, we know about the £200,000 spent, for instance, on advertising
grant-maintained status. It is also strange to note that, in February, Buckinghamshire faced cuts of more than £2 million to its education budget, and head teachers were warned to expect cuts of 2 per cent. to their school budgets. Now, the only Tory
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) rose
"better-than-expected spending limit set by ministers."
simulated--prudently, as it does each year--a series of analyses of what grant might be forthcoming from Government, so that it plans for a good outcome and for a bad. It is sensible stewardship--exactly what one would expect from a prudent county council such as
Mr. Foster : On the basis of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, Buckinghamshire is also an authority which goes round scaremongering all those involved in the education service--hardly in the best interests of that service.
I have referred twice already, and I shall again, to the NAHT survey, because it brings to light perhaps the most up-to-date evidence of the physical impact of continued underfunding in our schools. Almost 70 per cent. of schools from that survey were planning to set aside less money for capitation in 1993-94, over half were putting off decorating buildings, and two thirds were planning to minimise spending on repair and maintenance. That backlog of repair and maintenance to school buildings across the nation is estimated to be more than £4 billion, with another backlog of £1 billion in further education.
The picture in higher education is especially grim. If one updates the information from the Pearce review for universities and the Hunter report for the former polytechnics, it reveals a need for £2 billion-worth of capital investment in our higher education institutions. There is an urgent need for £400 million to be spent solely on health, safety and legal requirements. That £400 million alone--not the £2 billion--will not be covered by the increased capital expenditure of £322 million announced by the Chancellor for next year.
Even the greater increase of 20 per cent. over the next three years is too little and too late and, of course, does not take into account the capital repair needs in Scotland or Wales. The repair and maintenance backlog seems set to grow.
The House will recall that, in December, the Secretary of State boasted of the expansion of the number of students
Column 852in higher education. He told us that it was equivalent to 12 new universities. Yet, when pressed to explain whether the equivalent amount of capital investment had been made, answer came there none--hardly surprising when one considers that the expenditure per student in further and higher education has fallen by 22 per cent. since 1979.
The result is clear for all to see--overcrowded lecture theatres, inadequate supplies of books and equipment, a growing backlog of repair and maintenance, falling morale among lecturers and high drop-out rates among students.
As I have said, it is not only the failure to provide sufficient investment that has led to a crisis in education. The Government have systematically torn up the education partnership created by the Education Act 1944, and have put in place the flawed dogma of the free market, setting school against school, teacher against teacher and parent against parent.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds, the Rt. Rev. David Constant, said in a letter to governors of his diocesan-maintained schools in the past month :
"Sustaining education partnerships at local and national levels is of great importance. At present it is not clear how that can be achieved with the new funding agencies in place of the elected local authorities. Moreover one policy clearly underlying current Government thinking is that market forces are intended to regulate the pattern of education provision. The Bishops' conference has consistently warned against such an emphasis because it considers regulation by market forces to be quite wrong for a service like education...I continue to have certain reservations about GM schools, arising from inequalities of resourcing, from the emergence of a two tier system of schools and from the loss of democratically elected local regulatory and planning bodies."
That goes to the heart of Liberal Democrat concern over the break-up of the partnership in the education service. How can there be an effective education service with 24,000 quasi-independent schools all vying with one another in the marketplace ?
Liberal Democrats do not accept as the basis for an education service one which has at its heart the assumption that some children will fail. We find it difficult to accept the concept of market forces applying to education, when we know that the practical reality is that the vast majority of children have no choice whatever about the school that they will attend.
Mr. Lidington : The hon. Gentleman is making a serious point. May I take it from his criticism of the operation of market forces in education that his party is committed to getting rid of the policies of open enrolment and local financial management, which, far more than GM schools, have given rise to that operation ?
Mr. Foster : We have clearly said, as I shall outline in a little more detail in a second, that we believe that there is a great deal of merit in giving more power and responsibility to individual schools--but not to the point at which all the decisions are made by them. That is why we resent the break-up of local government, which has, and should have, a responsibility in determining strategic planning matters, for example, which would take into account the issue of which pupils go to which school and so on. Those are the issues which should be determined by more people than those at the individual school.
Another aspect of the break-up of the educational partnership is the erosion of democratic accountability, not least through the continued attacks, as I have mentioned, on local government, but through the centralisation of power into the hands of the Secretary of State.
Column 853The most obvious manifestation of that is the growing frequency with which it is impossible to find out who is in charge and who should take responsibility. Many hon. Members will be increasingly familiar with the answer to parliamentary questions, in which a Minister replies that the issue is no longer a matter for him, but for some, usually unelected, body. For example, try to get a Minister to answer a question about the Office for Standards in Education. To give another example, when some lecturers at a further education college in my constituency recently went on strike over new contracts of employment, I asked the Minister to intervene to establish a process of arbitration. He said that he was unable to do so and added :
"You don't pay a dog and then bark yourself".
The Further Education Funding Council also said that it had no powers to intervene. That is strange when one considers that, when it suits him, the Minister can announce a massive holdback of £50 million-worth of grants to colleges, unless they introduce new or flexible contracts for new staff.
In the new mess and uncertainty created by the Government, even the appointment and dismissal of head teachers is confused. School governors have all the power, but no responsibility, while local education authorities have all the responsibility, but no power. More and more power is being delegated to quangos. We all recall the debate a few days ago.
I was able to reveal in the past week that, in the current year, more than 55 per cent. of the Department of Education's spending will be through undemocratic and often remote quangos. That is set to increase at an alarming rate, as the Funding Agency for Schools assumes responsibility for GM schools. All too often, those Government quangos are an opportunity for the Tories to featherbed their friends, as the debate last week showed.
I give the example of the Funding Agency for Schools, whose membership was announced last week. The chairman is Sir Christopher Benson, who will be on a salary of £34,430 for two days a week. Sir Christopher is also the chairman of Sun Alliance, which has reportedly given £280,000 to Tory party funds over the past six years. That is bad enough--I suppose that we are getting used to the Tory party rewarding its friends--but I can also reveal that Sir Christopher's company will benefit from the grant- maintained sector. Sir Robert Balchin, another member of the Funding Agency for Schools, as well as being the Tory party chairman for south-east England--clearly, he is fond of lost causes--is also the chairman of Grant Maintained Schools Mutual, an insurance scheme for grant-maintained schools. Who will provide the insurance for members of the mutual scheme ? None other than Sun Alliance International. Clearly, Sun Alliance's contributions to the Tory party have had the desired effect. The chairman of Sun Alliance has been given a lucrative part-time post on a new quango, and his company is set to make more money.
Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton) rose
Mr. Foster : I shall finish my point and then give way. That is further evidence of the Government greasing the palms of their friends with taxpayers' money. But Sun Alliance shareholders should be warned, because grant-maintained schools are not a safe bet.
Mr. Streeter : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and for reading the National Union of Teachers briefing note to the House. Does he accept that, with local management of schools, 85 per cent. of budgets are delegated to schools, giving them power and responsibility ? Does he accept that, with grant-maintained schools, we are giving power and responsibilities to parents and governors ? Perhaps the fact that we have deprived the hon. Gentleman's pet teacher union of power in the past 15 years is making him bitter. Is he bitter because the Government have rightly broken the partnership that existed between teacher unions and the Government when Labour were in government ?
Mr. Foster : I shall respond briefly. The hon. Gentleman is incorrect when he quotes the figure of 85 per cent. The Government intend to increase delegation to individual schools to 90 per cent. In response to an intervention by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), I made the point about our view of the role and importance of local democratically accountable bodies--the local education authorities.
As I said, Sun Alliance shareholders should be warned that grant-maintained schools are not a safe bet. That is certainly the case because, as everyone now knows, the policy is failing. The evidence is not simply in the latest opt-out figures which show that, of 13 ballots in the past month, only four schools voted to place themselves in the hands of the Secretary of State and the Funding Agency for Schools.
More immediate evidence can be seen in the wording of the Government's amendment, accusing my party of underhand campaigning against grant- maintained school ballots. The Secretary of State claimed exactly the same thing at the Tory party local government conference at the weekend. He even quoted one of our campaign packs, which said of the campaigns against opting out : "Give open Liberal Democrat support". In accusing us of being underhand, the Secretary of State quoted from a document that clearly contained that phrase. The signs of desperation are everywhere.
As I explained in a letter to the Secretary of State last week, Liberal Democrats do not believe that opposition should be merely party political. The issue not only crosses party lines but involves the whole community. If the Secretary of State wants examples of underhand tactics during a grant- maintained school ballot, perhaps he should consider what happened in my constituency.
During a parents' meeting, a governor in favour of opt-out told the parents that, without grant-maintained status, the school would have to lose three teachers, and he even went on to name them. It was only after the ballot was over--fortunately, with a large no vote--that the governors admitted that they were talking through their hats and that no redundancies would be needed while the school was still within the local education authority.
Clearly, the Government have lost the argument over
grant-maintained schools. Despite an expensive advertising campaign, double funding, and an offer of technology status, the Secretary of State is beginning to talk about forcing secondary schools to opt out, even against parental