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Lady Olga Maitland : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I totally agree that nursery education in one form or another is essential for young children. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that 90 per cent. of children in this country already have nursery provision and, more important, there must be a diversity of provision for them ? We do not want to be so prescriptive on the development of toddlers that we are forcing them down a road which is unsuitable. Surely, we need to be flexible with toddlers, and 90 per cent. of them are already provided for.

Mr. Griffiths : That is a myth. Ninety per cent. of three and four- year-olds in England and, indeed, in Wales do not receive nursery education. It is true that 90 per cent. of three and four-year-olds have some experience in a social grouping for some part of the week. That may be in a nursery school, a nursery class or a playgroup, and the provision is often only part time.

The way in which Labour would tackle the problem is to meet parental demand. If parents want nursery provision, it will be provided over a period. If they want playgroups, we will ensure through the standards we set and the support we give to playgroups that that will be a good-quality experience. We would not want to have a total blanket and say that everyone must do this or that. We are saying that nursery education gives children an excellent start to their learning lives. We would set in motion a programme to provide nursery education for those parents who want it for their children. If parents want playgroups, we will ensure that there is good financial support and a good standard set to ensure that the experience is good for children. Let us have no doubt about that. We would not force anyone to take up a nursery place. What I am saying is that we would develop a programme to meet demand.

I shall examine some of the issues on expenditure. First, the Government already provide money for under-five services through the standard spending assessment. Some local education authorities use all that money and more on providing a large number of nursery places. Other local education authorities do not use any of the money for that sort of provision. By a system of meeting parental demand,

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those authorities where the money is not spent on such a provision, but where there is a demand, would have to begin to reorder their spending priorities. The money is already provided by the Government, so no extra cash whatever would be involved.

Mr. Forth : That is startling news which we should like the hon. Gentleman to develop--my colleagues would agree that he should be given time to do so. He seems to be introducing a new element of central Government compulsion on local education authorities. It is an interesting thought which I should like him to develop. The hon. Gentleman might also suggest which other elements of education would be sacrificed to this new priority which he would compel LEAs to adopt.

Mr. Griffiths : For a start, there will be no element of compulsion in the sense of making it a statutory duty for places to be provided. There is, however, a duty for the education authority to look at ways of providing nursery education where there is demand for it. The hon. Gentleman's Department, the Department of the Environment or the Treasury-- place the responsibility where you will--already provides money which is theoretically available for this purpose, but many LEAs do not use it. That is all I am saying.

In some authorities where the Conservatives lost control at the election, there has been a re-ordering of priorities. Money has been provided for nursery education without any increase in the tax being levied by those authorities, other than for inflation. We do not need to raise any scare stories about how it will be done. In the Government's own immortal words, it will be--to a certain extent--as resources allow.

In addition, we will divert spending from areas such as city technology colleges--although that aspect has more or less died a death--and the assisted places scheme. Those who are in the system would continue to be served, but money earmarked for the future of those areas could be brought in to nursery education. There are a number of options to be looked at before we begin to think about the additional spending.

It is an important area and, as I was saying before that series of interventions, the best-researched account of what happens where good- quality nursery education is provided is an American study which covered 27 years. Children from the same area were studied, and those who had the nursery education experience were compared with those who did not.

At the age of 27, those who had had nursery education had higher earnings. More of them were home owners, and had attained a higher level of education in school. The cost of meeting their special educational needs was not as high as for those who did not have nursery education, and fewer were receiving social security benefits. Far fewer of them had been involved in crime and there were far fewer teenage pregnancies.

All in all, through extra taxation, fewer benefits and less money paid in relation to crime and imprisonment, there was a saving of $7 for every dollar invested in the system for those children who had gone through the nursery system. It is difficult for the Government to look at the

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long-term situation, but that is an investment in children which not only did well for them but, over a period, was good for the country.

Far fewer of them were involved in crime. Is not that something which we all want to achieve ? The American experience suggests that that is one way of doing it.

A part of the Highscope system is the close and cultivated relationship between the schools, teachers and parents. We would want to encourage such a partnership throughout the schooling system. One way of catching the parents, and catching them young, is by having nursery education. Parents are far happier being involved initially at that stage than when they are involved in secondary schools. We believe that that is one way of improving those relationships, and it will help to make schools more effective.

We do not believe that there is one blueprint which the Government can impose on every school. We know that there is a series of ways in which successful schools are organised and led. It should be the Government's job to make sure that the examples of good practice are widely disseminated, and that schools have the opportunity to look at them and to take them up.

I know that the so-called assertive discipline method is being taken on by many schools. After using the system for a year, a school in the Wirral that I visited doubled the numbers of children who were getting the top three grades at GCSE. The school is expecting a further improvement in its results this year. The Government should be actively encouraging those things, and should not be trying--as they did with the national curriculum and its method of assessment and testing--to ram it down the throats of teachers and telling them that this is the way to improve results. With the Dearing review, we now have had a complete change.

We want to move forward sensitively with the best practice. We should not beat teachers over the head and lambast them. We should encourage them to do their best, and to make sure that the pupils do their best.

We will be taking a backward step if the Bill dealing with the education of teachers, which will be coming here shortly from the other place, goes through in the form originally envisaged by the Government. The Government have the concept of the school itself being solely responsible for the education and training of those who wish to enter the teaching profession.

An amendment has been passed in the Lords that will tie in the schools with the institutes of higher education. I hope that we will retain that amendment, because we need an improvement in our initial teacher education. I would have thought--and I hope that many other hon. Members agree--that, after 15 years of Conservative rule, there would be higher standards in our institutes of higher education. We must improve them.

Mr. Stephen : I have listened with genuine interest to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Is he aware that he has already spoken for nearly twice as long as did the proposer of the motion ?

Mr. Griffiths : I am aware of that. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record, he will find that more than half of that time has been taken dealing with interventions. I will say one or two more critical things about teacher education, and then I will give the hon. Gentleman the chance to make the speech that he is obviously bursting to make.

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We need better teacher education, and far better professional development and in-service training in our schools. We also need to introduce a one-year, or possibly two-year, induction for new teachers. New teachers far too often operate under the fear of failure. There is a culture where if a new teacher goes into a class and does not successfully teach or control it, he is dubbed a failure straight away. The teacher will feel a failure, and other teachers will regard him as such.

A proper method of induction could get rid of that approach, which has often stopped teachers from developing properly, and we could have good- quality teachers. I know that it is happening in some schools. The school in which my daughter started to teach two years ago had a superb induction scheme from which she benefited, and she has made great strides in settling down in that school. So it is being done.

If there is good-quality initial teacher education and good-quality professional development and training, one also must be able to say that those teachers who cannot teach must go. Let us make no bones about it. There must be proper and clear provision for teachers who, with all that help, turn out not to be able to communicate with children to end their connection with the school. That needs to be done clearly.

In our consultations, those involved in education have said that they are happy, given quality initial teacher education, quality professional development, quality induction and support, that when people cannot teach, they should not be in the classroom. Let us make no bones about that.

The issue of religious education and the role of assembly in schools has been mentioned. Let us make it clear that a school cannot be a substitute for either the home or the Church when it comes to religious education and assemblies. Yes, schools should provide religious education and should provide assemblies in which moral values can be inculcated or demonstrated to children. But we should not expect schools to make up for the deficiencies of parents or for the Church. Let us be clear about that. What the National Association of Head Teachers said about the difficulties for schools in the context of religious education was absolutely true. There are not people with the skills in our schools to take on such roles.

Dr. Spink : Train them.

Mr. Griffiths : Yes, they need to be trained, but one cannot go rushing in if one does not have the people to do it.

Lady Olga Maitland : It was done in the past.

Mr. Griffiths : If the hon. Lady thinks that the religious education and assemblies that we had in the past are the key to the future, I should point out that while there were good examples in many places, there were just as many, if not more, in which that approach failed. One might argue that that is one of the reasons why we are where we are today. It is obviously a fruitful area of discussion. I now give the Floor to other hon. Members.

5.32 pm

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby) : The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who admitted to us that he spent much of his life before coming into the House as a teacher,

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sitting in a raised position gazing at benches full of recalcitrant and obtuse pupils to whom he tried to impart the arts of spelling and learning, must rub his eyes this afternoon because he is in exactly the reverse position. He is in the learning seat this afternoon and he is confronted here by a line of persistent and patient teachers. He is the pupil. We are doing our best to penetrate his rather obtuse and impervious intellect with the lessons that he has to learn. The hon. Gentleman is being forced to take extra classes as a result of the arrangements of the House. It is to the credit of the great corps of able teachers, instructors and expositors on these Benches that they have turned out in such quantity and displayed such considerable wit and knowledge in trying to teach this pupil something. I believe that he is not entirely impervious and that by the time we get to 7 o'clock he may have learnt his lesson. We shall have to wait and see.

I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) on his good luck in winning the ballot, his good judgment in selecting this worthwhile topic and, above all, on the very good speech that he made. It was one of the few speeches that we shall be tempted to look up and refer to again after Hansard has been printed to learn pearls of wisdom. My hon. Friend's motion specifies education in the context of the need to safeguard the younger generation. I should like to say a few words in that context about religious education. I believe that most people consider that religious education has a vital part to play in the safeguarding objective which my hon. Friend's motion specifies. Any mention of the topic of religious education immediately puts the spotlight on the Department for Education's famous circular 1/94--that is to say the first circular for 1994--entitled "Religious education and collective worship". The circular issued official guidance to local education authorities on the two vital topics of religious education and collective worship. It is a working guide or maker's handbook, so to speak, to the provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988 and the Education Act 1993. I believe that the circular, with which my hon. Friend the Minister will be familiar, is an historic document. It reflects a period of debate and decision making about religious education and collective worship in maintained schools of which future historians will not only take careful note but note with astonishment.

In our tolerant, secular and multi-faith age, is it really true that our House of Commons--indeed, our Parliament because the House of Lords was greatly involved--has legislated that

"All maintained schools must provide religious education and daily collective worship for all registered pupils and promote their spiritual, moral and cultural development.

Local agreed RE syllabuses for county schools . . . must in future reflect the fact that religious traditions in the country are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of other principal religions.

Collective worship in county schools and equivalent

grant-maintained schools must be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character, though not distinctive of any particular Christian denomination."

Is it really true that the House of Commons and the House of Lords have put into the statute book those clear-cut and specific requirements for the teaching of moral and ethical truths on a Christian basis ? Yes, it is true. It is an astonishing fact and one which future generations will scratch their heads about.

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The fact that the circular has been issued with the clarity and unequivocal commitment to the teaching predominantly of Christianity and Christian worship in our schools reflects enormous credit on the integrity and clear-headedness, not to say the political and personal courage, of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and his predecessors, ably assisted and supported by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools, who will reply to the debate, and perhaps especially the Minister of State in another place, Baroness Blatch.

Lest my right hon. and hon. Friends or anyone else should fear that they have performed a legislative confidence trick in the circular, and that the guidance, and the 1988 and 1993 Acts which it reflects, represent the work of unrepresentative zealots foisting unwanted provisions on a secular and irreligious, although correspondingly passive and apathetic, population-- lest that myth should ever gain currency--I remind the House of some significant background facts and figures. Some people are trying to promulgate the idea that we have slipped through an unrepresentative measure.

First, support for the religious education and worship provisions set out in the then Education Reform Act 1988 was massive and cross-party when it was considered, debated and voted on in the House. In a free vote on the relevant clauses in the Education Reform Bill--I emphasise that it was a free vote--the voting was 372 to 108, which was a majority of 264 in favour of writing into the face of the Act that religious education should be compulsory and predominantly Christian. It is not easy to score a large majority on a free vote. Secondly, the voting reflected faithfully, as free votes so often do, the British population's feelings on the issue. That national consciousness and preference is well reflected in the latest 1992- 93 report on religion, "British Social Attitudes", which found that 69 per cent. of respondents believed in God, 64 per cent. were associated with a religious denomination and 70 per cent. favoured school prayers. That is the real world and the real national pulse that that massive majority vote reflected.

Lady Olga Maitland rose

Mr. Win Griffiths rose

Mr. Alison : I will give way first to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) out of courtesy to the Front-Bench spokesman and then to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Win Griffiths : I am becoming a little worried because the hon. Member said that his purpose in this debate was to put me on a learning curve and educate me. I voted in favour of the amendment to which he referred and I am well aware of the survey. When people write to me about religious education I mention that to them.

Mr. Alison : I am happy to accept that rebuke from the hon. Gentleman and hope that it will be temporary. The art of teaching is reinforcing a pupil's knowledge and exposing the lacuna associated with it, which is what I shall do.

Lady Olga Maitland : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is symptomatic of the need for a properly structured

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Christian education in schools that a poll at Easter discovered that one in four children are unable to recite the Lord's prayer ? Does he also agree that it is disappointing that a vast number of local standing advisory councils on religious education have failed to provide a model Christian syllabus ? There is a strong tendency to undermine our efforts to bring Christian teaching into our schools in favour of what I would describe as a multicultural mish-mash.

Mr. Alison : I take my hon. Friend's point and share her shock and dismay at the evidence of lack of knowledge and understanding that she exposes. Let us take comfort from the fact that the Education Reform Act dates back to 1988 and the subsequent Education Act back to 1993 and that sometimes it takes a little time for a rocket to lift off into orbit, but into orbit it will go. There is land to be possessed and we will possess it.

I was trying to suggest that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues are not out on a limb in any sense in the lead that they have given on religious education. I shall remind the House of one or two other people who are out on a limb. I have some information to impart to the hon. Member for Bridgend--Mr. Nigel de Gruchy is one such person. He is the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers and it is clear from his article in The Daily Telegraph on 20 April that when he calls for the scrapping of the legal requirement for religious education and worship--one can hardly credit it--he really wants secular schools. That is not what most people want, as I tried to suggest, and certainly not what most mums and dads want. However, that is what Nigel de Gruchy wants. Was the hon. Member for Bridgend fully apprised of the fact that that was what a major union leader was calling for ? Perhaps this is the time for him to enter a new learning curve.

Similarly, the recent statement by the National Association of Head teachers argues for all religions to be taught for the same amount of time. Think what it would mean--a supermarket shelf full of the religions of the world, all of which are to be given equal exposure and treatment. The NAHT argues that if that is not possible our schools should be secular.

Nigel de Gruchy and David Hart, the general secretary of the NAHT, appear to want cultural relativism or barren secularism in education--anything other than our Christian heritage.

Dr. Spink : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Nigel de Gruchy said that schools can provide a better and more relevant moral code of ethics than that provided in the Bible ?

Mr. Alison : That is the ultimate in presumption and arrogance. Union leaders are out of touch with their own members, let alone with parents. The NAHT argues that a daily act of Christian worship is an impossibility. I believe that David Hart has written in those terms to the Secretary of State. It is ironic that David Hart and the NAHT--a union which predominantly represents primary heads--should make that statement. A few weeks ago the Office for Standards in Education reported on religious education and showed that there is widespread compliance with the law in primary schools. Ofsted inspectors stated :

"all the schools complied with the requirement to provide daily collective worship".

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Yet David Hart, who primarily represents primary school heads, told the Secretary of State that it was impossible to provide a daily act of worship. Who is kidding whom ?

The real world is the world discovered by the Ofsted inspection. To elaborate on its report, it not only said that

"all the schools"

that it had visited

"complied with the requirement to provide daily collective worship"

but that

"Judged in terms of the quality of the opportunity they provided for social and moral development, standards in these acts of worship were satisfactory or better in 75 per cent of the schools". Yet the general secretary of the relevant teachers union still said that it is an "impossibility" to conduct an act of worship in primary schools. I am not pretending, of course, that all is well with religious education and collective worship--my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) made that vividly clear in her intervention.

The position in secondary schools is certainly not as good as that reported by Ofsted in its visit to primary schools. There is still much land to be possessed in the relaunch of religious education following the 1988 and 1993 Acts. The Ofsted report contained some daunting facts and figures on the inadequate provision for religious education in primary and secondary schools. For example, it reported

"A high proportion of teachers lacked the confidence, expertise, enthusiasm and interest to teach the subject effectively ; many had volunteered because they valued the contribution of RE to the pupils' moral and social education"

It is therefore still very necessary that greater confidence should be imparted to teachers, that more teachers specialise in religious education and that the status of that subject in the school curriculum and in subject provision should rise increasingly and be better regarded.

Let me quote a little vignette from paragraph 68 of the Ofsted report, which shows what could be done. It states :

"Primary heads generally took responsibility for planning and conducting the acts of worship and often used the occasion as a major vehicle for setting standards of behaviour and relationships in the school. Visiting speakers, including local clergy, were invited to most schools during the course of the year and often made an important contribution. Increasingly the teaching staff do not attend school acts of worship. Schools need to consider what such non-attendance signals to pupils and the limits which this may place upon following up themes from worship in the classroom."

Surely the way forward is for a good lead to be given by head teachers and for the maximum use and support to be derived from local clergy and laity. The local laity, who are committed and active in their own churches and denominations, live in the rough and tumble of the real secular world and they therefore have an immense contribution to make in the sphere of religious education. They could be of particular value in acts of worship, because they could help children to identify and integrate their view of life with work and religion.

A more positive lead should be forthcoming from the leaders in my own Church of England--not least some of its bishops and our Church of England Board of Education--in helping to raise the status of religious education and boosting it rather than criticising and denigrating it and collective worship.

I should like to refer in particular to the Board of Education and to an article which appeared on page 506 of this week's edition of The Tablet . The board seems to be

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obsessed with the issue of religious pluralism and religious minorities and the lot and the role of other religions in state religious education rather than with the teaching opportunities offered for the faith of which it is the trustee and custodian. Surely its approach is out of perspective. Just 3 per cent. of children on our own maintained school rolls come from a non-Christian cultural or religious background.

I accept that there are a handful of areas, obviously Bradford is one, where there is a concentration of such religious minorities, but they are offered opt-out provisions under the religious education statutes. Surely the Church of England, through all its hierarchy and bureaucracy, should be seizing the opportunity to develop predominantly Christian religious education in our schools.

Mr. Rowe : Is not it also the case that in many instances those minorities have a far clearer grasp of the importance of religious education to the children of their communities than we appear to evince ? When the Archbishop of Canterbury preached to us at the start of this Parliament he said that in his estimation Muslims and other minority religions in this country respected Christians to the extent that they were bold and stood up for their faith and despised them to the extent that they were difficult to define.

Mr. Alison : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that important and significant reference on the record.

Anyone who has had any dealings with religious education in the maintained sector knows, for example, that the Islamic community, relatively small though it may be, would much prefer its children to be taught in a Church of England school or a maintained school where religious education is an important and constructive part of the curriculum. After all, for members of that community Jesus is a prophet as much as Mohammed. Those people would much prefer to have their children taught in a Christian context than in a wholly secular one.

I beg my revered superiors in my own Church--the bishops and the Church of England Board of Social Responsibility--to recall that no other European country has such liberal and multifaith religious education as we do in Britain. In virtually all European countries, religious education is almost totally Christian and Christianity is taught as true--the confessional approach. In many states, only practising Christians are permitted to teach the subject. Non-Christian faiths are taught, if they are taught at all, in the upper secondary schools. On this matter, we should take a lesson from Europe.

In the whole of Europe, only France has secular education ; even the former communist countries are now putting Christianity back into the timetable. In 1963, in the United States a humanist mother successfully got the Supreme Court to ban school prayer on the ground that it infringed the first amendment requiring the separation of Church and state. I am glad to say that that lady's son is now fighting to have that ruling reversed, because he suffered from a lack of religious education in school. That 1963 ruling is being widely challenged in practically every state of America and the dissatisfaction with the secular education is revealed by the growth in Christian private schools. According to Andrew Greeley, professor of social science at the university of Chicago, 73 per cent. of Americans want daily prayers in state schools. It is surely only a matter of time before the 1963 Supreme Court ruling

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is overturned. Our own Church of England bureaucrats should savour and increasingly represent that spirit and movement.

It is worth reminding my colleagues how inextricably our language, culture and history are bound up with Christianity. You, Madam Deputy Speaker and your successor in the Chair, will need to exercise the wisdom of Solomon in deciding who to call next. You will have to have faith, hope and charity in believing that Madam Speaker's plea for short speeches will be observed. You will need the patience of Job as you sit in the Chair and you probably often wish that you could nip off and watch "Love Thy Neighbour" in the television room. Looking at our colleagues in the round, not many of us are inclined to turn the other cheek. We are more inclined to pursue the policy of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. If one is my hon. Friend the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, one finds many of one's colleagues a thorn in the flesh. One is probably inclined to call some female colleagues Jezebels, some male colleagues Judases. One may even think that The Times , or even The Daily Telegraph , utters too many Jeremiahs. If one is my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), one is well known as a good Samaritan, as all those who followed his course to that housing estate where he confronted the yobbo the other day will only too readily know. We hope that the hon. Member for Bridgend in his learning capacity, will have a Damascus road experience before long.

Mr. Win Griffiths : I have already had it.

Mr. Alison : We very much hope that the hon. Gentleman who will follow me to speak will not be all things to all men. It will be difficult for my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), who does not suffer fools gladly, to be sympathetic towards what the hon. Gentleman has to say in that case.

We have here the opportunity of listening to words which represent pearls of great price from my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), since he went into the Whips Office, must have discovered the meaning of the phrase, "Wheels within wheels". My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) is a David confronting the Goliath of British Rail and the French consortium in the massive intrusions on his lovely constituency landscape. The Whip on duty, my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood), will be made a scapegoat if we finish the debate with the wrong vote at the wrong time.

One could go on with many such illustrations. I hope that my speech will not be weighed in the balance and found wanting. The point is that Christianity is deeply written into the texture of our national cultural, religious and social life and we must get RE on to a rising trajectory in the role and the significance that it occupies in the life and teaching of our country.

I am pleased to be able to support the great initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford in launching us into this important debate.

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6.2 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) : I join all the other hon. Members who have spoken in congratulating the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) on initiating this important, interesting and wide-ranging debate. I enjoyed his contribution and learnt a great deal from it. I shall not touch on many of his arguments, but I agreed with most of what he said. I especially agreed with his remarks about some of the things that we have seen on our television screens. I share his view that the decision made by the House recently in respect of video nasties was a victory for common sense and an example of the House operating at its best.

I agreed with more of what the hon. Member for Romford had to say than what was said in interventions by some of his hon. Friends. For example, the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) advocated that we return to the days when pupils sat before their teachers in serried rows. It was reminiscent of the ditty :

"Ram it in, ram it in, Children's heads are hollow ; Ram it in, ram it in, Still there's more to follow."

The world of education has learnt a great deal from those days, and some of the approaches to education that have been adopted in our classrooms are much more constructive than was suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Romford will agree with me in that respect because, in his interesting contribution, he made it clear that he believed--I agree with him--that our education system must be designed to cater for the aptitudes and abilities of individual pupils. That means considering, in part at least, a more individualised approach to what happens in the classroom. I hope that the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) will not think me discourteous if I do not spend much time in responding to his interesting contribution. He suggested that it was primarily intended as a lesson for the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). However, I was skulking at the back of the classroom and I picked up a few of the pearls of wisdom. I hope that there will be an opportunity for a full-scale debate in the House both on religious education and on the issue of collective worship in our schools. It may save time and avoid some of the interventions that may have been planned if I remind the House that, like the hon. Member for Bridgend, I am an adviser to the National Union of Teachers and, like the hon. Member for Bridgend, I attended briefly the NUT conference. However, unlike the hon. Member for Bridgend, I have said publicly in advance of the debate that although I agree with the anxieties of the NUT about testing, I believe that the tactics that it has adopted are incorrect.

The hon. Member for Romford said that he wished to speak about two subjects --education and upbringing. That links, appropriately, what happens in our schools with the role that parents can play in the crucial task of educating people.

Everyone in the House would agree that education is vital, not only for individual pupils, but for the future of our country. There can be no more crucial investment than investment in the education service. I hope that Members will agree that the cost of providing poor education is ultimately greater than the cost of providing a first-class education service for all.

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The hon. Member for Bridgend referred to one of those sectors of our education service in which we need to do much more- -nursery education. I was disappointed that it was not referred to by the proposer of the motion. I think that it is now accepted by all the major political parties that nursery education and the development of nursery education are crucial. Nothing could be more important than making the right start, and nothing is more damaging than getting it wrong.

The hon. Member for Bridgend made an eloquent case for nursery education. In view of the time, I shall not refer to some of the important issues that he mentioned. The hon. Gentleman was remiss in not being able to present to the House a convincing explanation of the way in which the Labour party would pay for the massive expansion of nursery education for which it calls.

The Liberal Democrat party has made it clear that we would like a massive expansion of nursery education. We believe that that expansion cannot wait, and that it must be instituted as rapidly as possible. We have made it clear that we believe that it will cost a great deal of money--about £806 million annually, although there will be some savings from the 40,000 jobs that will be created by that expansion. A massive building programme will be needed, possibly of the order of £1.5 billion, and a significant training programme will be needed to ensure that all the nursery teachers who will be required have the necessary skills.

We recognise that our programme is ambitious and costly, and that we need to say where the money will come from, which is why we have said honestly that we believe that the money must come from general taxation and, if there is a need and we cannot find it from any other source, general taxation will have to increase to pay for it. The hon. Member for Bridgend, if he is honest, is saying nothing different from the Government, and that is that nursery education must wait until resources become available.

Mr. Stephen : The hon. Gentleman has said frankly that his party would increase general taxation to improve education. Can he tell us by how much taxation would have to be increased to pay for all the other improvements that his party stands for in health, environment, social services and so on ?

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