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Mr. Foster : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Shoreham for giving me an opportunity, but I fear that if I go into the question of health and other matters you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will rule me out of order. I shall perhaps simply remind you that at the time of the last Budget my party put forward a fully costed alternative budget. It included significant improvements in the education service. Although we suggested that taxation should increase, the level that we had in mind was nowhere near that proposed and implemented by the Conservative party. We said at the last election that we would raise taxes if necessary, in marked contrast with the Conservative party, which said nothing of the sort. Indeed, the Conservatives implied to the electorate that they hoped to reduce taxation. Our estimate of the cost of a massive expansion of nursery education is less than half a penny on income tax, at both income tax rates.
The hon. Member for Bridgend has failed to make it clear where the Labour party stands on that matter. That is a pity, because the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has been going round the country telling people how bad
Column 58the Conservative party and, to a lesser extent, the Liberal Democrats have been in their nursery education provision. Will the hon. Member for Bridgend remind the hon. Member for Blackburn that his local education authority provides nursery education for less than 19 per cent. of the relevant population, whereas the average for the country as a whole stands at some 24 per cent ?
A report published today, entitled "Major's children 94", discusses the feelings and attitudes about which the hon. Member for Romford is so concerned. He would be as disappointed as me to read in that report that the vast majority of young people say that the only reason that they go to school is to meet their friends. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that we should develop our education service in such a way that schools become places which children want to attend because they see the benefits of schooling and a good, rounded education.
One step that we could take would be to deal with the state of our school buildings. Estimates show that the backlog of repair and maintenance amounts to some £4.3 billion. Although the Government have made some interesting and helpful suggestions to tackle truancy, I hope that they will consider tackling the state of school buildings because, if we could make schools attractive, it would go some way towards reducing truancy.
The main thrust of the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Romford, however, linked education with the family. It is crucial that parents are involved in their children's education. Early last week, the National Consumer Council produced a report called "Home and School : Building a Better Partnership". It contained some interesting ideas to develop the concept of the school-parent partnership. I suspect that the Minister will say a few words about that important matter in his winding-up speech.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that the relationship between schools and parents is not just about parents charters. Only today, we learnt that few people understand the content of the patients charter. I suspect that the new parents charter will not go far in developing the link between schools and parents. One way to develop that partnership is by ensuring that parents are given adequate, meaningful and useful information about what is happening in schools, particularly as it affects their children.
The Minister and Conservative Members may say that the Government's current testing and assessment procedures linked to league tables are providing that information, but I entirely disagree. The information is collected through educationally unsound tests. The information from the testing system is partial and does not help parents. The Secretary of State appears to be back-tracking from what he accepted only a few months ago.
The Dearing report, to which reference has already been made, recommended collaboration with the Office for Standards in Education and the School Curriculum Assessment Authority in mounting a research project into the potential of value added as a measure of achievement. In accepting the Dearing report in its entirety, the Secretary of State was presumed by people outside to have accepted the principle of the urgent need to consider the concept of value added as a vital component of league tables and tests.
Mr. Forth indicated assent .
Mr. Foster : I note the Minister's acceptance. If that is so, it contrasts strangely with the remarks in a document produced by the Conservative party, in which the Secretary of State, in his capacity as a Member of Parliament representing Oxford, West and Abingdon, referred to my comments and said :
"Mr. Foster proposes to make the tables value-added' . . . distorting the facts and making them unintelligible."
That is strange, given that the Secretary of State accepted the principle of value added. I hope that the Minister will now intervene and put the record straight.
Mr. Forth : I am happy to do so. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State accepts the need for the SCAA and Ofsted to look into ways of establishing meaningful "value-added" concepts in the publication of school results. But neither he nor I, nor any other sensible person, accepts massaging the figures to give the outcome which many people would prefer rather than a true portrayal of the performance of schools that value-added measures would give. We are asking the SCAA to establish a validity of approach, and we eagerly await that.
Mr. Foster : In that case, I agree with the Minister. If he says that he wants a new vehicle that will enable us to make judgments about schools based on issues that include value added, I am more than happy to agree with him, and I hope that that will be introduced as rapidly as possible.
The issue of parent-school relationships means that parents should have more opportunity to know what is going on and have a voice in it. I hope that the parents' advice shops that have been established in one or two parts of the country, and the conciliation centres to which parents can go in cases of dispute, will be expanded. Although I do not advocate it, I see some merit in looking into the possibility of establishing an educational ombudsman.
The hon. Member for Bridgend mentioned the proposed legislation on teacher training. Although I share his anxieties about the proposed legislation, which we shall have much opportunity to debate in the House and in Committee, I hope that during the Bill's passage we shall discuss the importance of ensuring that teacher-training courses instruct student teachers on how best to work with parents and the local community. That should be part of teacher-training programmes, but currently it rarely is.
Once in post, teachers need to be given time to develop their relationships with parents and with the wider community. That is very difficult for many of them, because of the overloading that they have experienced through the national curriculum, testing and assessment procedures and the massive increase in bureaucracy that has resulted from much of the Government's recent legislation.
Above all, it is crucial for parents to have a better chance of a say in the education process. Education, after all, should be everyone's business. Many parents currently find it difficult to know how they are expected to have a say, however--partly owing to recent legislation that has centralised power, transferring it from local communities and local government to the Secretary of State and often passing it on to quangos. Such bodies are undoubtedly remote and undemocratic, operating at some distance from parental groups and holding many meetings in secret.
Column 60he agree that it was parents who opted for grant-maintained schools ? Given that parental choice brought the schools into that sector, does the Liberal party intend not to sweep them away ?
Mr. Foster : This is, I think, the third time this year that the hon. Lady has asked me that question. I shall give her the same reply again. I do not agree with grant-maintained schools. I do not think it right for a particular group of parents, at a particular time, to vote on the future for all time of an individual school which, after all, should be the property of the wider community.
Given that the hon. Lady is so concerned about parental choice, and believes that balloting for grant-maintained schools is a good example of the exercise of that choice, I do not understand why she has never agreed with the following proposition : if she is right about that form of voting, why is it not equally right for parents to be allowed to vote, if they so wish, for schools to opt back into local education authority control ? But the hon. Lady will never agree with that. She is prepared to vote for parental choice only on the rare occasions when it supports the party- political dogma of the Conservatives.
Unfortunately, evidence from around the country suggests that very few parents support that political dogma. Only recently, the Secretary of State spoke at the most ill-named conference of all time : "Grant-Maintained Schools--Maintaining the Momentum". There is no momentum towards grant- maintained schools : the number of ballots is declining, as is the number of schools voting yes--to a marked extent. I hope that I have explained to the hon. Lady where I stand and why I disagree with her ; but I also hope that I have made clear the crucial importance of parental involvement.
The motion refers specifically to the need to
"encourage a wide diversity of choice in schooling".
The hon. Member for Romford and I agree with that wording, but I suspect that our interpretation of it differs widely. For instance, I would expect the hon. Gentleman to support the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) in her view that the introduction of grant-maintained schools is an example of an increase in diversity and choice ; no doubt he supports the principle of city technology colleges for the same reason.
I disagree with that interpretation. I disagree with the concept that is implicit in the hon. Gentleman's reference to choice, which suggests that he assumes that all parents can choose where to send their children. In fact, the vast majority of parents have no choice at all--which is why it is crucial for the choice and diversity that he mentions to apply in each school. Each school should be able to meet pupils' specific aptitudes and abilities--words used by the hon. Gentleman.
The Government are offering a false prospectus in regard to choice. If parents had the choice, they would choose smaller classes, more books and equipment and teachers with much higher morale. I was disturbed to learn today from a report that the number of teachers retiring on grounds of ill health has almost doubled since the introduction of the national curriculum.
If the hon. Member for Romford is truly concerned about improving education and upbringing, perhaps he will ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education--the Lynda Snell of British politics--to end the constant stream of quick-fix gimmicks and concentrate
Column 61instead on investing in education, returning to the co-operation and partnership that should be the basis for it and ensuring excellence for all.
Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : I am pleased to be able to speak, and privileged to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert)--a valued colleague in London politics--and my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). Both are very sound on the topics that they have discussed at some length. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford on his success in the ballot and his tabling of this important motion.
I want to concentrate on a specific part of the motion which caught my eye- -the following words :
"That this House, recognising one generation's responsibility for the next".
The implication is that the House must seek to educate the next generation.
I have a particular interest in London politics. Inner London has now experienced four years of education without the unlamented Inner London education authority. Education in inner London has been conducted by the 12 new education authorities, three of which are excellent Conservative authorities ; eight are Labour and one, in Tower Hamlets, is controlled by the Liberal Democrats. What we sought to do in the Education Reform Act 1988 in dispensing with ILEA, which had failed a generation of London children--if not two--is now coming to light.
For many years, ILEA had been at the bottom of the list of education authorities. That is why, following the 1987 general election, the Conservative Government sought to abolish it in that historic 1988 Act. Now, after four years of the new education authorities which came into being in 1990, we are seeing results. The three Conservative authorities-- Wandsworth, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea--gained higher than average GCSE results, according to the 1993 tables, than their Labour and Liberal neighbours in the other nine inner London boroughs. The same Conservative authorities gained more A-level points per student than the Labour authorities, and many more than the Liberal Democrat authority in Tower Hamlets.
Mr. Win Griffiths : The hon. Gentleman has given us some interesting statistics. Will he tell us what the equivalent performances were four years ago for those schools in Westminster, Wandsworth and Kensington and Chelsea ?
Mr. Tracey : The performance of those schools in the last years of ILEA was far worse than it is now. Their performances are far better now. As I shall explain later, there is a desire among parents in Labour authorities in inner London to move to neighbouring Conservative authorities across borough boundaries. That is causing problems. One is now far less likely to gain successful GCSE passes in the Labour and Liberal boroughs than in Conservative boroughs. If one lives in a Labour borough, one is 39 per cent. more likely to leave school with no GCSE passes. If one lives in a Liberal borough, the figure is 50 per cent. That proves why there was a real need for this generation of politicians to correct the iniquitous position that existed before.
Column 62Minister agreed with me about the vital importance of considering the issue of value added ? In that respect, is the hon. Gentleman aware that Article 26 produced a value-added-based league table of local education authorities and that the position of Tower Hamlets rose dramatically to eighth in the entire country ?
Mr. Tracey : The hon. Gentleman is new to this House and he was not here at the time of the debates on the Education Reform Act 1988. We have heard all about the Liberals' value-added results and the word is that they have been massaged by the Liberal Democratic party to try to deceive the people of this country.
The claim that Labour authorities and Liberal Democrat authorities have a desire to spend more money on education than Conservative authorities, which seek to make cuts, is fallacious. The education spending of the Conservative authorities in inner London--Wandsworth, Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea--has totalled on average £14.01 million more than the Government have recommended. The Labour authorities, by contrast, have spent on average £5.82 million less than was recommended by the Government. The Liberals in Tower Hamlets--here is another figure that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) may wish to massage--have underfunded education by £18.46 million. That completely blows asunder the claim by the Labour and Liberal parties that they are committed to the education of our children. There is no evidence of that in inner London.
I am sorry to have to build on the pain of the Opposition parties, but the band D council tax charge in inner-London Conservative authorities is £171.67 less than in Liberal-controlled Tower Hamlets, and £249 less than in Labour authorities in inner London. The evidence of the quality of Conservative education in inner London has led to parents in surrounding boroughs wishing to move across the boundary line, as is their right, to seek a good Conservative education for their children. That has meant that 4,000 pupils from surrounding boroughs have come into Conservative boroughs in inner London. In Wandsworth, 2,255 pupils travel from Lambeth each day. That is an example of parents voting with their feet to seek a better education for their children.
My final argument relates again to people moving across borough boundaries. My hon. Friend the Minister will not be surprised to hear that I am about to raise with him one of the most serious issues of concern to parents in my constituency of Surbiton and in the education authority of the royal borough of Kingston upon Thames. It relates to the Greenwich judgment in the High Court, which considered the situation that arose as a result of the break-up of the Inner London education authority. Parents in Lewisham wanted their children to have a better education and began to move them into Greenwich. Greenwich tried to stop them, and was challenged by parents in Lewisham. The High Court ruled that parents in Lewisham had the right to move their children to Greenwich.
My education authority is top of the GCSE league table. Parents in the education authorities that surround Kingston upon Thames--Richmond, Surrey, Epsom and Ewell and Merton--seek to send their children into Kingston upon Thames. We have two excellent maintained grammar schools--the Tiffin boys' school and Tiffin girls' school. Every year, about 1,000 parents from the surrounding
Column 63boroughs seek to gain entry for their children to those schools, but there are only 120 places available in each school.
There is a knock-on effect in that the other, non-selective schools in Kingston upon Thames find themselves under pressure from other parents in Kingston who are seeking places. The result is that some parents in my constituency feel that they are being denied a proper choice of school because, as a result of the Greenwich judgment, people are crossing the borough boundary to seek places for their children in our schools.
Parents, especially of girls, seek single-sex schools for their children. That is very true in relation to two schools in the royal borough of Kingston : Tolworth school in my constituency and Coombe girls' school in the Kingston upon Thames constituency, for which at any given time between 20 and 100 people are on the waiting list. There is enormous frustration among those parents who believe that choice is being denied to them. My hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues in the Department for Education will say that those parents can seek other schools, possibly in other boroughs, but the parents do not wish to do so. They say that if they live in the education authority with the best standards in the country, they should be able to send their children to those schools. They say that schools in surrounding boroughs are not so good.
That is the dilemma that they face. They live in a borough with a high standard of education. It is about time that there was true justice for those parents. The Government should consider this problem and ensure that my constituents are able to look after the generations to come by ensuring that their children have the best possible education.
"Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends."
They were the words of Benjamin Disraeli and they were echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), another Essex man. I was especially taken by the part of my hon. Friend's motion which states that there must be
"resistance to harmful influences to which"
The motion is in two parts : it refers to the education provided in our schools and to the education that we, as parents, give children at home.
I listened to the utterances of the two Opposition socialist parties, but heard no new ideas, and all their proposals would cost money. I do not believe that one necessarily has to spend more money in order to provide a better education. My children go to excellent state schools in my constituency of Basildon and I also went to an excellent state school.
Column 64local elections and when Mrs. Smith comes to the door and says that the tax changes are shocking and that she is worried about the changes in value added tax, the canvassers will be honest and admit that if they were in government, they would increase her taxes even further. However, I take my hon. Friend's point.
I was also worried by what I heard about nursery education. There are excellent pre-school playgroups in my constituency. They do a magnificent job, but they are worried about what is being said about nursery education. They do not wish their role in the education of our children to be usurped by new plans.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools has visited my constituency and will agree that standards are improving in all the schools there. Two years ago, the head of one of the seven secondary schools in my constituency criticised the league tables because he was worried that his school would be towards the bottom. He wrote a leading article earlier this year, praising the same league tables because he was delighted that his school now seemed to be climbing to the top. Of course, Chalvedon school in my constituency was the first grant-maintained school in Essex. I am delighted that, just a short while ago, it was announced that it is to be one of the 12 schools that are to have city technology college status. That is an excellent commendation of the wonderful education that children receive there. Standards in all schools in my constituency are improving ; I have cited two examples in particular.
Langdon Hills special school is embarking on a project for children with special learning difficulties. The children are taught in small groups and, in the past 18 months, the schools has managed to achieve remarkable results. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues will reflect on those results. In Basildon, we are especially concerned about dyslexia. Many parents worry when their children have special learning difficulties. Thanks to a wonderful lady called Christine Haggerty, groups of children with special learning difficulties are encouraged to participate in special programmes.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) kindly referred to my clash with yobboes a few weeks ago. There is not time for the House to hear the details of the incident, but the vicar involved, whose wife is a schoolteacher, released my private letter to the press and it subsequently hit the headlines. I had written to him privately to say how shocked I was that a child of theirs could support the yobbo element that I and others had confronted. In this week's local paper, another local vicar has written in support. Schools certainly have a very important job to do between 9 am and 3 pm, but the education of our children cannot be left to the schools alone. That is why I especially applaud the present Secretary of State for Education who, when he was first appointed, made a marvellous speech about partnership between schools and parents. What happens at home is also important. It is no good some parents leaving their children in front of the television or giving them computer games and expecting them to educate themselves. Unfortunately, not all children go to bed at 7 pm, even when they are told to do so. The general idea is that material that one does not want one's children to see is shown after the 9 pm cut-off point, but that is not always what happens. It behoves us all to ensure that children receive careful supervision.
One hundred and fifty years ago, a Prime Minister said :
Column 65"The Youth of a Nation are the trustees of Posterity"
we must not fail them.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Eric Forth) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir MNeubert) and thank him for enabling us to have this debate, which has been important and valuable for a number of reasons. It has reflected accurately the widespread concern about what is happening in society and what we can do about it--an important function of debates such as these. It has also set those concerns mainly in the context of education which, I believe, is correct.
It was instructive that my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) said the supportive things that he did. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting the great efforts that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State have made to introduce new standards, especially in the vital spheres of religious education and collective worship. My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby made no apology--one would not expect him to do so and, in acknowledgement of the nature of our society, nor should any hon. Member--for highlighting the importance of the established Church and of our established religion in providing a framework and point of reference for building what we want to build in our schools in terms of ethical and moral values. That is a point often repeated by the Secretary of State. His favourite phrase in this regard is that schools cannot and should not be value-free zones. In the past two years, that has very much been the message of my right hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford raised another important point, which was reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and which is one that we must face directly. Whatever we do in terms of legislation and statute ; whatever accountability we establish at school level to parents via governors ; whatever independent inspection regimes we establish through the excellent work of the Office for Standards in Education ; and whatever we ask of our teachers, headteachers and governors, all of whom are vital, in the end we always come back to the role that parents play.
Lady Olga Maitland : Does my hon. Friend agree that parents' role is to provide their children with a stable home and that they should therefore think twice before they divorce, bearing in mind the fact that divorce has a detrimental effect on children's development ?
Mr. Forth : My hon. Friend is correct. I hope that all parents think about the effect on their children of anything that happens in the home or in the family. I am sure that in many cases--although not all and not enough--such considerations are paramount in parents' minds when they think about such matters.
The problem is this. The Government have been right to give parents a prime role in education, whether in terms of expressing a preference in school, playing a role as governors or whatever. We have encouraged their participation. However, with that goes an element of risk. The risk is that the children of parents who cannot or will not rise to the challenge and co -operate may be vulnerable ; in some cases, that vulnerability will go beyond the children of those parents. That is very much our challenge
Column 66as a society. It is a responsibility which the Government must share, but which they cannot accept in totality. My hon. Friends' concerns so often come back to that point.
Let us consider, for example, the concerns rightly reflected by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford about video nasties. I claim that we have gone a great distance, as a Government, to try to deal with the matter. An important role is played by the British board of control in establishing what videos are appropriate and suitable, and in which circumstances. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has recently introduced new and tough measures, which were widely welcomed in the House. However, when we come down to it, it must surely be the case that what is shown on video recording machines in people's homes can only be the responsibility of parents. Exercise whatever control we may, in the end we come back to that point again and again. With the best will in the world and providing the best framework in schools and in homes, we must face the fact that parents will ultimately determine the standards and responsibilities that are exercised in these important areas. The same point probably applies in areas such as sex education, from which we have given parents the right to withdraw their children if they believe that that is appropriate. I believe that that was the correct thing for us to do, although I acknowledge that concerns have been caused in some quarters. One of the reasons for such concerns is that, although some parents may have views and beliefs, and may be willing to give their children what they regard as an appropriate sex education, most parents still look to schools to provide sex education in a proper way and within a proper framework of values. In law, and through circulars and guidance, we have tried to encourage schools to provide sex education within the framework of values, ethics, standards and morality. I hope that the House will forgive me for so frequently quoting my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. As he said, schools must teach not just the plumbing, but the values, which must be built into all the guidance that we give our young people in our schools. That is essential and is part of what we are trying to do.
I believe that the very positive remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby reflect the real efforts that we have made in recent years to provide schools with the opportunity to give young people a framework, a sense of values and points of reference throughout the teaching that they receive, whether in the matter of daily collective worship and religious education, in the provision of sex education or in other elements of the curriculum. In the science curriculum, for example, schools impart knowledge to young people about drugs and other factors that can be damaging to their health. There are lessons that young people must learn about avoiding peer-group pressure and about avoiding substances that can be harmful to them. In all those ways, schools have a vital role to play. I hope that we are giving them the guidance, material and mechanisms with which to play those roles. However, yet again, if parents are not co-operative, not prepared to allow their children to receive that guidance in schools and not prepared to give teachers the backing that they need when they are trying their best to give young people that guidance, it is difficult to see what else can be done.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) made some revealing remarks, at which I shall look carefully. They gave us some interesting hints about his party's
Column 67attitude to certain elements of education, although there was some confusion in what he said. He gave credit to Sir Ron Dearing--I am grateful for that--for squaring up to the real problems that had emerged in the curriculum and in the testing regime a year ago, for coming forward with imaginative solutions and for providing something that could be widely welcomed and accepted, both by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and throughout education.
Having said all that, the hon. Member for Bridgend drew back somewhat, as a representative of, or adviser to, the National Union of Teachers, from condemning the NUT roundly in its desire, alone among the teachers' unions, to continue to threaten the disruption of education and of testing this year, even against the background of the progress that has been made thanks to the work of Sir Ron Dearing. I found that confusing.
Mr. Win Griffiths : I make it clear that the NUT whole-heartedly takes up the changes proposed in the Dearing review and wants them to be a success. I pointed out that the NUT had balloted its members who said that overall, they were not prepared to undertake this year's tests, but that they were prepared to take on the tests that were the outcome of the Dearing review. For my own part, I believe that all schools should look at the tests for this year and, if it is the wish of the staff, they should take them.
Mr. Forth : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bridgend. That is a helpful comment which, again, we shall wish to look at and consider ; it may move us forward. I hope that the NUT will look carefully at the hon. Gentleman's words given his shadow responsibility for education ; that may well be helpful.
It was regrettable that the hon. Member for Bridgend went on to imply that one of the ways in which he would fund his as yet unspecified commitment to nursery education would be by abolishing the assisted places scheme, which plays an important role in education and which allows access to excellent education for young people and parents who would not otherwise receive it. It is regrettable that the Labour party is prepared to be so destructive of something that has proved to be of such value and so popular among parents to fund an unspecified commitment to nursery education. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) reckoned that the commitment fell far below anything to which he and his party aspired. However, I leave that matter for the hon. Gentlemen to sort out between themselves.
Column 68In a superb speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby brought to light a worrying discrepancy. Ofsted, the independent inspectorate, pointed out the excellent steps taken by so many schools to provide quality collective worship and religious education. On the other hand, there were the bizarre comments made recently by the National Association of Head Teachers. The general secretary of the NAHT said that it was somehow impossible to provide a daily act of worship in primary schools. That simply will not do and it illustrates a worrying trend among some teachers' unions and their general secretaries. They are prepared to come out with negative, unhelpful and destructive comments when so many of their members--in this case, head teachers--are working so hard to meet the demanding challenges set by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to do what the law now requires. I hope that the House agrees that that is a matter of some regret.
Overall, the debate has been positive. It has highlighted a number of concerns, but it has also given us the opportunity to see the way forward in so many ways in the vital area of providing the correct value and moral framework within which our education must proceed. I am grateful to my right hon. and hon. Friends who have participated in and sat through the debate in such large numbers. I share the regret expressed by some of my hon. Friends that so few Opposition Members took the trouble even to attend the debate and that so few participated in it.
Sir Michael Neubert : This has been a lively and spirited debate. Having listened to every word of it, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part. In particular, I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends who have contributed either by their speeches, by their interventions or just by their attendance and vocal support. It has been an interesting occasion. It has brought forward one or two developments and has revealed, especially in relation to the post-Easter conference position of the National Union of Teachers on testing, some new prospects of progress, which I hope may be achieved. I hope that, overall, we have served the interests of the next generation by debating these important issues today.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House, recognising one generation's responsibility for the next and the critical importance of young people's development to a stable, healthy and well-ordered society, calls on the Government to continue to encourage a wide diversity of choice in schooling, greater priority for the needs of children within the family and resistance to harmful influences to which they are exposed in the media and elsewhere.
That the Travellers' Allowances Order 1994 (S.I., 1994, No. 955), a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th March, be approved.
The order applies to duty-free goods for travellers arriving from outside the European Union. I hasten to make clear straight away that it does not apply to cross-border shopping in other European Community countries for tax-paid goods, or to purchases made in duty-free shops on journeys in the European Community.
The order does a number of things, but most importantly it implements the increase in what is known as the other goods allowance for travellers arriving in the United Kingdom from outside the Community. That allowance is for goods other than tobacco, alcohol and perfumes, for which specific and unchanged quantity limits exist. The increase in the other goods allowance from £36 to £136 was set in train by the United Kingdom during our presidency of the Community and was agreed eventually by member states at the Economic and Finance Council on 25 October 1993 to come into force on 1 January 1994.
There was a need for the European Parliament to be consulted and, as a result, the necessary European Community legislation did not go through fully until March. Therefore, Customs and Excise introduced the increase by extra-statutory class concession on 1 January 1994, so that travellers could benefit as soon as possible from the extra allowance in anticipation of the Community legislation.
We are also taking the opportunity to simplify allowances for the crews of ships and aircraft by bringing them into line with those of travellers. We are also correcting a few small anomalies in the application of the allowances, which in fact go back to before the United Kingdom's entry into the European Community. Those will finally bring us fully into line with European Community law, but will marginally restrict the relief.
In the first place, we are withdrawing relief from payment of duty and tax on part of an item with a value exceeding the allowance, or an item that pushes a group of items over the limit. We are also disallowing groups of people from aggregating their allowances to obtain relief on a single item of a value exceeding an individual allowance. I do not think that those changes will have a large impact because, of course, there is a large increase in the allowance itself--from £36 to £136--which will supersede that impact. In contrast, all travellers will benefit from the increased allowance. The order also withdraws the entitlement to allowances from the crews of vessels and other travellers who do not land anywhere outside the European Community during the course of their journey. That will affect only a small number, such as the crews of some fishing vessels ; those who visit a country outside the Community will, as I have said, benefit from the full travellers' allowances, with an increased alcohol allowance, as well as a significant increase in the other goods allowance. We have also taken the opportunity to consolidate the legislation on such matters. If one consults the order in detail, it is apparent