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Mr. Squire: My hon. Friend, in his typically understated way, has put his finger on it. Although I am not a member of the TGWU, what is good enough for its members and for those sponsored by it should be good enough for and on offer to all parents. That will happen as self-governing schools become the norm under the Government.
Mrs. Mahon: Are not the Minister and the Government engaged in a huge bribery exercise? Surely that is why the Government have given more than £400,000 for the capital building programme to just one grant- maintained school in Calderdale, Holy Trinity, while the remaining LEA schools have just £125,000 to spend between them for 1995-96. How do the Minister and the Government justify such blatant discrimination against LEA schools?
Column 138it is not. Capital allocations for LEA or GM schools are treated on the same basis. If she visits the GM schools in her constituency or in Calderdale she will generally find that, far from being bribed to become grant maintained, schools are pleased to become GM and they would not dream of doing anything differently.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Did my hon. Friend see the news item in last Tuesday's Evening Standard , which proved conclusively that support for grant-maintained status is not confined to Conservatives? Eric Hammond, a well-known trade union leader, said quite categorically that it was not in the interests of the school in his area to be part of an expensive bureaucracy such as Lancashire county council.
Mr. Squire: My hon. Friend, in her inimitable fashion, adds her voice and her own references to the examples that have already been given of prominent socialists who have seen the light and who are now embracing the advantages of grant-maintained status. We can only wait until all Labour Members take that view and, more particularly, encourage their local supporters to remove their tanks from the lawns of schools whose only crime is to seek to run themselves.
Mr. Forth: The Government's education reforms, including the introduction of the national curriculum and testing, performance tables and independent inspection arrangements, are all driving up standards in schools. More pupils than ever before are achieving five or more GCSEs at good grades, and more are going on to further and higher education.
Mr. O'Brien: Is the Minister aware that his statement will ring hollow in Warwickshire, where angry parents, teachers, councillors and Members of Parliament from all political parties believe that education standards will fall as a result of the Government's financial settlement? What do the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education have to say about declining education standards in Warwickshire, where school classes of more than 40 pupils are anticipated and 200 teachers may be sacked? What will be done to ensure that education standards in Warwickshire do not fall?
Mr. Forth: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and parents and governors in Warwickshire ask some pretty searching questions of their local authority. They might look to a neighbouring authority, such as Birmingham, which is able fully to fund the teachers' pay rise in spite of the fact that it faces the same stringency and demands as other local education authorities. I believe that the hon. Gentleman's local education authority has many questions to answer and I hope that he will start asking them.
Mr. Dunn: Is the Minister aware that the Labour-Liberal Democrat- controlled Kent county council spends £12,000 per day on conferences? What contribution does that expenditure make to raising standards in Kent schools?
Column 139country are facing. His example follows on very well from what I said to the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien). I suggest that my hon. Friends should advise any parents, teachers or governors who approach them to look very carefully at the books of their local authorities. They should examine their local authorities' priorities and what they are spending taxpayers' money on. If that money is being spent on useless conferences of the kind that my hon. Friend mentioned, I suggest that local education authorities should give much more positive answers than we have had so far.
Mr. Blunkett: Will the Minister give priority to improving the teaching of history and geography in order to bring home to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the full impact of what 16 years of Tory government have done to this country's industrial base?
Mr. Forth: It is perhaps regrettable that Members of Parliament are unable to take advantage of the excellent national curriculum that we have introduced in our schools. I am sure that had many hon. Members had the benefit of the national curriculum, they might have been better able to face the present policy challenges.
Mr. Harris: Does my hon. Friend agree that a fair system of funding is important in improving standards in schools? Will he join me in condemning the contemptuous campaign run by Liberal Democrats in Cornwall, who claim that the Government allow Cornish schools £100 less per pupil than the rest of England? Does he agree that that claim is completely and utterly untrue?
Mr. Forth: I was shocked to hear of the scurrilous misinformation being spread by Liberal Democrats in Cornwall. Unfortunately, I suspect that it is not unusual and the people of Cornwall should be getting pretty fed up with it by now, but I confirm absolutely that the assertions made by Liberal Democrats in Cornwall are utterly and totally baseless. I hope that the people of Cornwall will realise that and will ask some searching questions of the county council.
Mr. Hill: In his busy day, has the Prime Minister noticed that his plea for peace within the ranks has failed and that the Chancellor and Lord Tebbit are at each other's throats again over Europe? How does he feel now that it is apparent that all sides of his party share the same view as the rest of the country--that he has no authority and is not up to the job?
The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about differing views in Europe, I suggest that he has a look around the Benches beside him. If he seriously thinks that the deputy Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), agrees with the Leader of the Opposition, or
Column 140that the Leader of the Opposition agrees with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), he is living in a fantasy world.
Mr. Duncan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that most calls for more funding are really calls for higher taxation and that most calls for greater economic well-being are really calls for higher inflation? Will my right hon. Friend, therefore, undertake to continue his policy of keeping a firm grip both on inflation and public expenditure and not to do what the Opposition always seem tempted to do--cheaply to buy people's votes with their own money?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right about the necessity of holding down public expenditure, and equally right to point out that it is simply economically illiterate to object to taxation levels and at the same time to call for higher expenditure, as the Opposition so frequently do.
Mr. Blair rose --[ Interruption. ]
Mr. Blair rose --[ Interruption. ]
Does the Prime Minister agree with his Education Secretary who this morning admitted that in funding the teachers' pay award some schools and authorities would face "considerable problems"?
The Prime Minister: Of course we recognised from the outset that this year's settlement is tough in education. We have never made any secret of that fact. We have made it clear that local authorities must choose their priorities. We believe that teachers in the classroom are a priority and should be a first priority among education authorities.
Mr. Blair: But what does the Prime Minister say to schools and authorities that, as the Secretary of State for Education admits, do not have the reserves and balances to fund the award? If it is proven to the Prime Minister's satisfaction that such schools and authorities exist--for example, in Tory Buckinghamshire--will he take action and intervene?
The Prime Minister: I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly what I would say to such authorities. If any local authority is thinking of cutting the number of teachers in the classroom, I would ask it what savings it had made in non-teaching aspects of education. I would ask if it has two administrators for every three teachers, as happens across the country. I would ask what administrative savings it had made. If the answer is none, I would ask, "Why have you made no savings, and why are you singling out teachers in the classroom?"
Column 141costs are Labour--and that all are facing cuts? The right hon. Gentleman talks about non-statutory funding. His Secretary of State for Education said what that means--nursery education, youth work and school transport. Is that an option? Why does not the Prime Minister listen to the voices of parents, governors and teachers, who speak for Britain when they say that if we fail to provide properly for our schools, we are not just letting down our children but betraying our country's future?
The Prime Minister: We have provided more adequately for education and for choice in education than the right hon. Gentleman would ever contemplate. If he wants to know what the priorities are, I suggest that he addresses authorities--most of which are run by Labour--about the 1 million surplus school places, which cost £250 million a year, about making use of the estimated £700 million in unspent balances held by schools and about cutting bureaucracy at county hall, where they have failed to take account of the responsibilities of schools and where for every three teachers there are two support staff. Those are the questions that the right hon. Gentleman should address to education authorities. If he thinks that there are no savings to be made, I suggest that he refers to the Audit Commission report, which made it clear that better management of pay bills would save £500 million--5 per cent. of the whole pay bill.
Mr. Heald: Does my right hon. Friend agree that regional assemblies for England would be confusing, expensive and divisive? Does he accept that people in Hertfordshire do not want to be governed from Norwich? When he exposed that policy, the Labour party fell into confusion and chaos. Will he say today that we are not going to do it?
The Prime Minister: There certainly seems to be some confusion on the Opposition Benches about regional assemblies. Almost every statement about them that can be made has been made. As Labour examines its policy, it realises that it is the total nonsense that I pointed out some time ago.
Mr. Prescott indicated dissent .
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head; clearly he does not understand that his party's policy is nonsense. When Labour examines its policies for Scottish and Welsh assemblies in further depth, it will find precisely the same.
Mr. McKelvey: Has the Prime Minister no sense of shame at having dithered over obscene fat cat salaries, alienating low-paid workers in the health service, including nurses and midwives? Is not the right hon. Gentleman setting the scene for a summer of discontent throughout the NHS?
Column 142number of people treated in the national health service, the wider range of services and the better treatment that is available.
Mr. Thompson: Bearing in mind the fact that this is national science, engineering and technology week, has my right hon. Friend had time today to read the encouraging report from engineering employers, which states that economic recovery is developing in a way that will increase national prosperity in the longer term? Is not that a tribute to Government economic policies, and is not this the right time for young people to go for a career in engineering?
The Prime Minister: I agree about that, and about the need to encourage more young people into engineering and more people into learning skills of that sort. That is why we established the non-vocational qualifications some time ago. In engineering and manufacturing generally exports are growing and employment is increasing; that has not happened in manufacturing generally for many years.
Mr. Alton: I welcome the Government's decision to provide £1 million for the clearing of anti-personnel mines in Cambodia. Is the Prime Minister aware, however, that there are 100 million anti-personnel mines strewn around the world, and that there have been 1 million casualties and fatalities, especially among children? Does he agree that the time is ripe for an international moratorium that would bring within its scope the area- denial mines that are still shipped out of this country? Will he not agree with the terms of the early-day motion, now supported by more than 100 hon. Members of all parties, urging the Government to give a moral lead?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the fact that he wished to raise a detailed question about land mines. We have neither produced nor exported anti-personnel mines for some years, and we have contributed generously to the demining programme. In July we announced an indefinite moratorium on exports from the United Kingdom of mines without a self-destruct mechanism. We shall be hoping to use the review in September of the UN weaponry convention to strengthen the protocol on the use of land mines and to ensure that its provisions gain universal support.
Column 143authorities declare in their published budgets what is and what is not a statutory requirement and a statutory area of expenditure?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend suggests an ingenious method of ensuring that local authorities' priorities are met. I shall invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to examine it.
The Prime Minister: The people who have most felt the feelgood factor thus far are the 600,000 people who are no longer on the unemployment register, as a result of the fall in unemployment. In terms of economic management, we are seeking to make sure that we come out of the recession of two years ago in a way that avoids laying the seeds of future difficulties, which were sown on many other occasions since the second world war. Hence we have had to take long-term, difficult decisions; as a result we now have the best prospects of rising living standards, year after year, that we have had for many years. That will produce a very good feelgood factor.
Mr. Rathbone: Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Conservative Members share the qualms about land mines expressed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), but that none of us will accept the fact that Liberal Democrat county councillors are not funding education as they can--particularly in East Sussex, where they resisted and voted against a Conservative amendment to the budget that would have provided the necessary funds for education in the county?
The Prime Minister: I was not aware of the example to which my hon. Friend has drawn my attention, but the rather cavalier use of taxpayers' money by Liberal Democrat authorities is no new phenomenon.
Column 144Q6. Mr. Sutcliffe: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 March. 
Mr. Sutcliffe: Is it not true, from what we have seen and heard, that there is no policy area apart from Northern Ireland about which the people of this country believe anything that you, Prime Minister, have to say? In education, the parents and teachers are against you. In health, the midwives have been moved to militancy. Is not the best thing that could happen to this Government who cannot agree among themselves that you should resign and that we should have an immediate election?
Mr. Butcher: Will my right hon. Friend publish all the evidence, some of it garnered in response to hostile questions from Opposition Members, which shows beyond any doubt whatever that a reduction in the top rate of income tax has increased the proportion of tax paid as a total from the top 10 per cent., and that any proposal to increase the top rate of income tax will produce a shortfall in revenue which can then be obtained only from middle-income earners?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend sets out a matter that has been well understood for many years. I will certainly invite my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor to lay that information out in the House of Commons Library. It might be very instructive for the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who is giggling on the Front Bench because he does not understand it.
Madam Speaker: Time is up. We now have a statement from Mr. Secretary Gummer. [Interruption.] Order. Will hon. Members who are leaving please do so quickly, as we have a statement on local government reorganisation to deal with?
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