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Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside): I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor as shadow Education Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), to the listening that she did and to the success that she enjoyed, as shown by the fact that the former Secretary of State for Education left his post in July after one of the least-ever satisfactory contributions from a Cabinet full of people with least-ever satisfactory contributions.
The contrast between what has happened over the past six years in education and what the country needed is a sad reminder of the Government's lack of direction. Tonight I thank my hon. Friends for their efforts to bring home in this debate the truth of what is happening to our manufacturing industry, our skills and our education service. Is that service equipping us for the challenges of the 21st century; is it providing sufficient special needs education in our schools?
One word that is not mentioned anywhere in the entire Queen's Speech this year--there is not even a hint of it--is education. Despite what the Prime Minister said at the 1993 Conservative party conference and despite his eulogy to nursery education only six weeks ago, there was not a word about education, training or skills in the Gracious Speech. The Government are not committed to the necessary investment for lifelong learning or for improving the chances for young and old alike to make a contribution to our future. It ills behoves the Secretary of State for Education to accuse me of doing U-turns, as she had the audacity--nay, the political effrontery-- to do yesterday on "Breakfast with Frost". The Government, and the Secretary of State, have done nothing but perform somersaults for the past 12 months--over the Post Office, over the national curriculum and over their favourite ideological experiment, grant-maintained schools. They have been doing double flips when taking policy or ideological decisions. The Secretary of State has crossed the motorway barrier and is driving on the left-hand side of the road--erratically and out of control, but still
Column 429moving over to our side of the road. The super-highway of which the President of the Board of Trade spoke is now being travelled along in our direction.
The hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) offered the national curriculum as an example of how the Government were implementing their policies. Let us take the 1992 Tory manifesto. In fact, anyone can take it, because virtually none of it has been implemented. Certainly the ideological thrust that the Tories inherited from the former Prime Minister has not been carried through. It said:
"We will complete the introduction of the national curriculum offering 10 subjects at a nationally defined standard--English, mathematics, science, history, geography, technology, art, music, PE and, in secondary schools, a foreign language."
Anyone who knows anything about education knows that what was announced two weeks ago represented a complete volte-face by the Secretary of State, who capitulated after an ideological experiment that made children guinea pigs in the laboratory. It also failed the nation. Time and again those in the profession, in the Labour party and in local government had pleaded with the Government not to implement the curriculum in the way that they intended.
As for the commitment to testing, the manifesto said:
"Regular and straightforward tests will be in place for all seven, 11 and 14 year olds by 1994."
We know what has happened on tests. I welcome the decision that future tests and assessments will have equal weight. I welcome the fact that common sense has prevailed on balance and consensus and on the way in which standards can be achieved and quality attained if those who are committed to national education and those who are teaching in the classroom and the laboratory work together. What about the Government's commitment on grant- maintained schools? Targets were set, there were commitments in the White Paper and it was said that, by now, almost all the 3,000 secondary schools would be grant maintained. It was believed that a substantial number of pupils in primary education would be in grant-maintained schools. Let us look at the reality. Nationally, 8 per cent. of pupils are in grant- maintained schools and 80 per cent. of secondary schools remain within the local education authority fold. The experiment has failed. It is a sideshow that is completely irrelevant to the future of our children and of education.
Mr. Pawsey: The hon. Gentleman is making quite a point about grant- maintained schools. What is his party's policy on grant-maintained schools? Will it leave them where they are or take them back into LEAs? What is Labour's policy on education? We should like to know.
Mr. Blunkett: I am not surprised that a Conservative Member wants to know our education policies because Conservatives have certainly abandoned all theirs. The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) may be interested in the commitment to grant-maintained schools of the previous Prime Minister, now Baroness Thatcher. She said, in a press conference on 25 June 1987:
"Schools which opt out will have precisely the same budget as they would have had under the LEA. They certainly will have more latitude"--
Column 430that is an interesting word--
"as to how they deal with it."
That is to say, how they deal with the money. What does the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth have to say about the way in which that promise has been broken? In August 1991, the present Prime Minister said:
"We have made no secret of the fact that grant-maintained schools get preferential treatment in allocating grants to capital expenditure."
We are against preferential treatment for schools. We favour equity. We are against some children getting preference over others and some children in some schools being given either extra capital or revenue resources that give them an advantage over others. We are against unequal access to schools, with schools choosing pupils rather than pupils and parents being able to choose schools. We are against inequity wherever it exists, and that is why we oppose grant-maintained status.
As I have said, in debating education, I will talk to those working in, and currently committed to, grant-maintained schools to win them over so that they enter the fold of a wider community of education which offers real chance and opportunity to children from all backgrounds and in all neighbourhoods and situations. If I can win them over, so be it.
I make no bones about the fact that we oppose the Government's ideological payment to grant-maintained schools, the bribing of such schools. We shall seek an equitable education system for the future so that parents will not be bribed any more. They now understand the situation. The subject of Monmouth West school was raised at the last Education Question Time. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) said that videos had been supplied at public expense to every household because the first time round the parents had not voted for grant-maintained status. In other words, they had not followed the ideological line and had to be given a second opportunity, at which public money provided them with the latest technology to get them to change their minds.
The efforts were in vain because, on the second ballot, 70 per cent. of parents voted against grant-maintained status--some 10 percentage points more than had voted against it the first time round. I recommend that the Government either get a better video or link up to the cable network advocated by the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon.
The truth is that, in every sector, the Government have either capitulated or admitted defeat. For example, on nursery education the Conservative party conference took the great decision that four-year-olds would be provided with nursery schooling, and that has been trumpeted ever since. Let us examine exactly what the Secretary of State now says, and the problems that she is having--not surprisingly, because at a conference fringe meeting she said that she was having difficulty winning over her colleagues to the notion of investing in early education.
The right hon. Lady recently did an interview with David Frost on the programme to which I referred earlier. It was very revealing. David Frost asked her:
"Do you agree that you can do it by the year 2000--place every four-year- old whose parents want it in nursery education?" The right hon. Lady said:
"I'm not putting a date on it."
David Frost said:
"The cost--£400 million, £2 billion? What do you think the figure is? It's new money. How much?"
Column 431The right hon. Lady replied:
"I'm not putting a figure on it."
Then, David Frost said:
"A universal primary school place for four-year-olds--that's still an aspiration?"
The right hon. Lady said:
"Early years education for children below the statutory school age, that's what we're to provide."
That is not nursery education for four-year-olds, never mind three-year- olds. It is a change in the policy and a change in the commitment. That is not surprising as it was only a year ago that the Under-Secretary of State for Schools declared that it was impossible to provide all three and four- year-olds with nursery education. Of course, not long before that, the previous Education Minister, Michael Fallon, declared at a Carlton club dinner that it was not even desirable. It is not a U-turn; it is a series of U-turns--a complete capitulation in terms of the previous agenda and, now, of the new agenda. Everything that the Government have said on education is being reversed.
I shall take head-on the issue of league tables--the crude, flawed league tables; the sugar beet we would not put in our tea until it had been refined. What is the Secretary of State now saying? It is that perhaps, on their own, they are not so good after all. What is the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority about to say? It is--the right hon. Lady has accepted this--that added-value league tables and improvement indices are the way forward, not crude figures provided at a national level. She has even accepted--I congratulate her--that breaking down the national league tables into local authority areas and packaging them by alphabetical order is the best way to deal with the crudity of the information currently available, and that is what will be published tomorrow.
Let us be clear about the fact that the issue for children is standards and achievement in the classroom; it is opportunity at every level and in every part of the country--the opportunity to get the first foot on the ladder of lifelong learning. It is the opportunity to have the education for which, in the past, only the privileged could pay. That is why we will root out mediocrity wherever it exists. We want inner-city children to enjoy the opportunities that others have taken for granted, and we want to lift standards in every school. If that means intervening and using the information and drawing the comparisons provided by modern technology so as to spread the best to the rest, we shall do it.
We shall ensure that good example is spread from one school to another. Where a school is failing, we shall establish whether prior attainment in nursery and primary school has affected the progress of that school's pupils. We shall determine also whether the gender gap is affected by social and economic circumstances or by achievable intervention in the classroom.
We shall make sure that improvement indices tell us how schools are changing and improving their performance, so that we can reward them, changing the funding formula under local management of schools to help schools that are deeply disadvantaged. They will then be able to help children who are in difficulties, be it because of their language or because of the high incidence of special needs.
Column 432We shall make sure that no school can choose pupils simply because of their academic background and success, and that no school can exclude a child because of the cost of meeting his or her special educational needs. That is why we favour comprehensive education and reject the crudity of past league tables, which used the market and not intervention to punish and to denigrate rather than to lift and to bring about greater achievement.
At the heart of our policies is using information to bring about change and improvement, and providing the ability to use intelligent information to enable those in the classroom to do their job. We shall work with teachers and give them the backing that will ensure that the ideological experiments of the past few years are a forgotten nightmare. Those experiments to implement, revise and further implement the national curriculum alone cost £744 million, and brought constant turmoil and change that affected the life chances of many children in recent years.
If one views the whole vista of our education, one can see why it has been failing compared with industrial competitors in every other part of the world. Eighty per cent. of Germany's 18-year-olds are in some form of education or qualification training, compared with 43 per cent. in Britain. That is a disgraceful record, and to catch up with other countries that have already invested in the future will be an enormous task. That will be achieved not by turning college against college or by establishing super leagues at universities, but by ensuring that we get the best out of the investment that we make and design the system to be accountable and accessible, and by offering the diversity that meets the challenge of a learning society for the future.
We do not want a system that results in business ethics that turn colleges and universities into places that some people believe are commercial enterprises--as was clearly the case at Derby college, where the buying of French restaurants and the purchase of night clubs despoiled and undermined confidence in public investment and accountability. That is true whether it is St. Philip's college in Birmingham, or the situation that arose in Huddersfield, which my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) vigorously revealed.
We want new probity in the education system. I moved from health to education only to find that the same problems of nepotism and of potential corruption are raising their heads in the education service because the same market-driven attitudes exist there as in the NHS of the 1990s. In the week of youth awareness--a week when we should be turning our minds to how we can help to provide a confident future of citizenship and achievement for our young people--it is time that we had a positive agenda for the 750,000 young people who are not in a training scheme, who are not in further or higher education and who do not have a job.
The Government have abandoned 750,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25. Those 750,000 illustrate why investment in education and training is an investment for our economy and for social cohesion. The two go hand in hand and lead to the ability of people to earn their living, to use their enterprise and to take advantage of the information technology explosion that faces Britain and the rest of the world. They must have the ability to provide for themselves and for their families--independence and interdependence going hand in hand.
Column 433The Labour party's agenda is one for the future. It is focused on how lifelong learning can be achieved for everybody, not for the few. It should no longer be the privilege of those who went to public school or those who previously were able to get into university. We want to see the opening up of education as a central tool of the next Labour Government in implementing our economic and social policies. That Government will ensure that investment is directed to giving everyone the life chance that we wish to extend to him or her, wherever the individual comes from and whatever his or her background. Their future is assured with us.
The Secretary of State for Education (Mrs. Gillian Shephard): We have had an extremely wide-ranging debate. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade opened the debate by reminding the House of the Government's successes over the past decade. He made it clear that higher levels of skills and better qualifications are the keys to the long- term competitiveness of the United Kingdom. In reply, the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), rather disappointingly, demonstrated that, first, he had not been in his Opposition Front-Bench job for too long and, secondly, that he prefers to rely for his material on leaked letters and press cuttings rather than on facts--for example, that the economy is in good shape, that output and productivity have increased, that unemployment is lower, that exports are at record levels and that inward investment has safeguarded 600,000 jobs since 1979.
On privatisation, one wonders when the flip-flop, to take the memorable phrase of the right hon. Member for Copeland, will occur within the Labour party. He failed to say that in 1979 the taxpayer paid £35 million a week in subsidies to the same industries that are now returning more than £50 million a week to the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman omitted all those facts from his contribution. Other colleagues, thank goodness, made more constructive contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) talked of the importance to competitiveness of sound basic education. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) spoke of the importance of vocational qualifications. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) emphasised the importance of choice and diversity in education to produce quality, a cause to which Opposition Members are not yet converted but, I think, will be.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) was right to draw attention to developments in technology and the explosion of associated knowledge. The Government will shortly publish their response to the Trade and Industry Select Committee's report on fibre optic networks. In the meantime, I can point out to the hon. Gentleman that the United Kingdom has the world lead in the curriculum use of information technology, backed with cash and teacher training.
The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) should be reassured that developments in nursery education do not need legislation. They just need the
Column 434commitment of new money, or new places, which I am happy to confirm to him and to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett).
The hon. Member for North Devon also confessed himself unable to see the link between a successful economy and education. But my hon. Friends, whom I thank for their constructive contributions to the debate, do see that link. Conservative Members have always understood that education is crucial to the competitive future of this country. It is on the skills of the work force that the economic success of the nation will depend in the 21st century, and that is why over the past decade the Government have introduced a profound and comprehensive programme of reform across all sectors of education. It is a reform the nature of which the hon. Member for Brightside has clearly demonstrated that he does not understand, but a reform whose benefits the rest of us can now see: a doubling over the past 10 years of the proportion of young people gaining five or more good GCSEs or the equivalent vocational qualifications.
Mr. Wilson: For the third time in the few minutes in which she has been speaking, the Secretary of State has referred to the past decade or 10 years. Is there something unspeakable about the first five years, or is it just a convenient point from which to extract bogus statistics?
Mrs. Shephard: I am very happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that all the improvements date over the past 15 years. He will know perfectly well why I choose that date and that statistic. I am sorry to say that the contributions from Opposition Members this evening will reassure no one that things would be better if ever there were a chance for the Labour party to come to power, which there most certainly will not be.
Some 73 per cent. of 16-year-olds are now choosing to stay in full-time education, and the great majority of the rest are continuing with their education and training part time. Nearly one third of 18 to 19-year-olds are now going on to university, and a higher proportion are successfully completing their degrees than in any other European country.
In schools, colleges and universities, the emphasis on standards, put in place by this Government, is working. We have a success story to tell and it is welcomed across the board by business and industry. But, as my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade pointed out earlier today, our competitors are not standing still, and our businesses know only too well that resting on today's success risks courting tomorrow's disaster.
I see three major challenges: first, to raise the standards of attainment of the less able, who otherwise may be ill equipped to play a full and productive part in our society; secondly, to embody a culture of life-long learning and development across the whole of the population; and, thirdly, to ensure that the new system of vocational qualifications, long overdue in this country, takes root and flowers alongside our more traditional educational routes.
That is why we have insisted in our education reforms on higher standards across the board, successful, effective vocational qualifications and ever- closer links between education, business and industry. [Interruption.] I thank Opposition Members for their close attention to my every gesture. I am delighted with the attention; I wonder how well they may have dined.
Column 435As for standards, first and foremost has been the establishment of the national curriculum, which has put in place a structured framework that is long overdue. The House will know that I have accepted in full the recommendations of Ron Dearing and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority; the slimmed-down national curriculum will remove the work overload from pupils and teachers, strip out unnecessary bureaucracy and give teachers more freedom to exercise their professional judgment.
Mrs. Shephard: I shall be happy to do so. I think the hon. Gentleman will understand that, when establishing something as new as the national curriculum--and we needed it; the French curriculum has been in place for 200 years--and asking subject specialists to contribute what they think it should contain, Ministers are bound to suffer from over-enthusiasm. That is what happened in this instance. I accept that the national curriculum was overloaded, but the Office for Standards in Education has made it clear that--even in its original form--the curriculum raised standards from the outset, and that it continues to do so.
It was right to note the overload and the concerns of teachers, however. I feel that the fact that teachers now have more freedom to exercise their judgment constitutes a vote of confidence in their professionalism, and that is how they have seen it.
Ensuring a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils, with the emphasis on the basics of English and maths, will clearly help to continue the improvement. Moreover, the curriculum's effectiveness will be closely monitored by means of rigorous tests in English, maths and science for all pupils aged seven, 11 and 14. We shall have an annual check on schools' progress with the arrival of performance tables: as the hon. Member for Brightside said, this year's will be issued tomorrow. We shall also have regular four-yearly cycles of inspection of all schools, instituted by Ofsted. With the curriculum, test and exam results, performance tables and Ofsted reports, there will be copious information about schools for all of us--but especially for employers and parents. With that wealth of information, no school or college should be able to get away with a shoddy performance.
The hon. Member for Brightside was clearly very upset by his experiences on "Breakfast with Frost". As his right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland said, he performed a political flip-flop; he declared that he was a convert to higher education standards and performance tables. He and his hon. Friends have come late to the party. It is a pity that, over the past 15 years, they have merely sought to obstruct our drive for higher quality in education; they have opposed the national curriculum, tests and the establishment of Ofsted and better teacher training.
A number of examining boards are currently seeking examiners for the national curriculum. Does that concern my right hon. Friend? I fear that the boards may appoint members of the National Union of Teachers to supervise
Column 436examinations and mark papers. Bearing in mind the NUT's opposition to the exams involved, does my right hon. Friend agree that such people should not invigilate?
Opposition Members have sought to obstruct every improvement that we have sought to put into place in every sector. The hon. Member for Brightside still shows no sign of fully understanding the nature of the education reforms that the Government have introduced. Grant-maintained schools, however, will be the litmus test. We shall find out whether political flip- flops are performed in relation to policies for more variety, more choice and more diversity in the school sector.
Opposition Members have not shown much constructive enthusiasm for new developments in vocational education, which we have long needed in this country. We need vocational education of a quality equal to that of the academic route, putting job-specific NVQs and broad vocational GNVQs alongside traditional GCSE and GCE qualifications. GNVQs have got off to a flying start. In just two years, the total number of GNVQ registrations has risen to almost 250,000. They are very popular and they are giving fresh motivation to students of all abilities. There is no room for complacency. The recent Ofsted and Further Education Funding Council reports confirm the high standards of GNVQs, but also emphasise the need to make them even more rigorous and more manageable for teachers. We shall ensure that work continues apace on an action plan that the Government announced in March. We have asked for it to be taken forward with renewed urgency because it is immensely important.
To achieve excellence in GNVQs, we must have constructive partnerships with employers--their active support and involvement is required. We need employer support for the pilot schemes, announced last week by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Education, for the new part 1 GNVQs. Those schemes provide an exciting opportunity for pupils aged 14 to 16 of all abilities to develop vocational skills. We must be confident that the new qualification commands broad acceptance, that it enables young people to achieve high standards and that it is manageable and deliverable by schools and teachers. That is why we have decided that from next year part 1 will be piloted, using the lessons that we have learnt from advanced GNVQs and that we have evaluated carefully, before we take final decisions about making it available to all secondary schools.
As I said, Opposition Members have performed a spectacular U-turn, finally accepting that standards matter and that it helps to be able to measure them. At this rate, can we assume that they will eventually also accept that an education system needs diversity and choice to flourish? Time will tell. Time will also show whether they can sink their traditional dislike of business to endorse the importance of links between education and industry. The importance of that partnership and of choice and diversity is well illustrated by the technology colleges initiative. Fifty schools have been approved since February this year, covering about 45,000 pupils. More are coming forward all the time. They are particularly relevant to the debate because those schools are committed to raising their standards in technology, science and maths, subjects which, as the hon. Member for Brightside said, are vital to the success of our economy.
Column 437The initiative is a natural development of the city technology colleges programme launched in 1986 to provide more and better technology and science education for pupils in disadvantaged urban areas, those very areas that the hon. Member for Brightside says he cares so much about.
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport): Will the right hon. Lady explain why Kingshurst city technology college was criticised in the Ofsted report for its technology teaching? Why is it that city technology colleges have a lower percentage of students achieving five or more grades of A to C than the average comprehensive?
With unprecedented levels of private sector sponsorship and commitment, the CTCs are now well established. They have achieved some marvellous successes and innovations and some impressive results with their all-ability pupils. But, of course, that is what the Opposition cannot bear.
There have been other important developments in links between employers and education. We have adopted the employer-led national targets for education and training. Young people at 16 now have more choice of education and training options than ever. So it is particularly important that they make the right decisions to maximise their opportunities. That is why the Government are committed to providing high-quality careers education and guidance, which will help them to improve the match between the country's business needs and young people's skills and ensure a smooth transition from schools and colleges to the world of work. There will also be work experience for all young people before 16 and between 16 and 18, more teacher placements in business and industry and more local partnerships between education and business.
In all that, the role of employers is crucial. That is not much mentioned, it has to be said, by Opposition Members, but then they have traditional hostility to employers. We are working to secure the closest possible co- operation between colleges of further education and training and enterprise councils at national, regional and local level to ensure that college strategic plans take account of local labour market needs. That is being promoted by a new funding arrangement set out in the competitiveness White Paper, which provides a £300 million package to give young people and adults the skills that they and businesses need as we head towards the 21st century.
Mr. Blunkett: I have been confirmed tonight in my suspicion that the Secretary of State was put in place to bury education rather than to praise it. Perhaps the right hon. Lady will tell me what discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Employment, who made it clear in August, shortly after his predecessor and the right hon. Lady's predecessor launched a White Paper, that his
Column 438ambition as Chief Secretary and his programme as Secretary of State for Employment was to cut the training budget rather than to expand it.
Higher numbers of students than ever are now moving on to higher education: one in three compared with one in eight in 1979. There has been a similar increase in further education. Nowhere can the welcome interface between education and industry be seen more clearly than in the innovative and developing work that is happening in higher and further education. Our task is now to ensure that the welcome increase in quantity is accompanied by even higher quality and that we encourage the innovation in those sectors that is essential to our continuing economic prosperity.
Of course, the Labour party does not have much interest in all that. Its policy paper published in July this year made no mention of higher education. Indeed, Labour's policies in further education, vocational training and higher education are few and far between. So far, all that the hon. Member for Brightside has said about the 16-to-19 age group is that it is a major challenge. The Government have been dealing with that challenge for the past 15 years and Labour has opposed us at every turn.
To disagree with our policies is one thing, but to show hapless disregard for the future of young people and their place in the economy is another. Yet that is what the Labour party has done. Labour Members have voted against every major measure designed to improve standards and quality in education. Their so-called "White Paper" on education was introduced last July by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who said that it had been based on "wholly exceptional consultation". It must have been very exceptional, since it did not include either the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) or the hon. Member for Brightside, who have lost no time since in rubbishing everything that the paper contained.
Will Labour come to understand that it is business and not Governments that creates wealth? I doubt it. The Government will continue to insist on high, measurable standards in education, wholehearted development of vocational further and higher education, and close and continuing co-operation with employers, business and industry to ensure that a well-educated population will produce a healthy and prosperous economy.
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.
Motion made, and Question put,
That the Speaker shall--
(1) at the sitting on Thursday 24th November
(i) put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr. Tony Newton relating to Deregulation (Procedure) not later than two hours after their commencement, and such Questions shall include the Questions on any amendments to the said Motion which she may have selected and which may then be moved; (ii) put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to two and three-wheeled vehicles not later than one and a half hours after their commencement; and
(iii) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), put the Question on the Motion in the name of Mr. Tony Newton relating to the draft Ministerial and other Salaries Order 1994 not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings thereon; and
(2) at the sitting on Monday 28th November put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to the European Communities' 1995 Budget not later than one and a half hours after their commencement;
and the aforesaid Motions may be entered upon and proceeded with, though opposed, after Ten o'clock.-- [Mr. Burns.]
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York): I beg to present a petition signed by 1, 525 of my constituents on a day when the chief executive of British Gas saw his salary rise by £205,000 to a staggering £475,000. It reads as follows:
To the House of Commons
The Petition of the Citizens of York declares that the Government's decision to increase VAT on domestic fuel from 8 per cent. to 17.5 per cent. in 1995 will place a heavy financial burden on pensioners and others on low incomes, which they will find hard to meet.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons votes down this proposed increase and legislates to fully compensate pensioners and others on low incomes for the 8 per cent. VAT already introduced.
And the petitioners remain, etc.
The Hon. Mrs. Fiona Rudd, 19 South Parade, York.
It is also signed by more than 1,500 other of my constituents. To lie upon the Table.