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parents and the local community. I do not want such good institutions to be destroyed. My recent visits to local groups--including a first-class group at Christchurch in Erith--have shown me the educational content, the dedication of group leaders, the support of mothers and the enthusiasm of the children. We must not destroy good organisations; we must ensure that balance and choice are available in future provision.

Much has been achieved in post-16 education, and there is a good story to tell. I congratulate the Ministers, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), the Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education, who recently visited our local university in south-east London--the university of Greenwich, where so much good work has been done.

I stress that, like other speakers, I strongly support the traditional A- level examination and school sixth forms, both of which provide a benchmark of excellence which should not be destroyed. Sixth-form education also enhances schools in many ways. Sixth-form education and A-levels are not popular with the Labour party, but Conservative Members believe that they have a vital part to play in education for those over 16.

My borough is fortunate in having a first-class further education college, Bexley college. Under its principal, Dr. Jim Healey, it is another success story. The Government's policy of giving colleges autonomy and freedom from LEA control has helped the sector enormously. The expansion of Bexley college's pupil numbers and courses is a worthwhile consequence of that development. More resources, vocational courses, students and mature students have given post-16 education a boost. I welcome the Government's achievements. I am a great believer in continuing education, and welcome the post-16 development.

We have only to remember the way the Inner London education authority operated to know that money alone does not guarantee good education. More money per pupil was put into ILEA than into any other authority. More money was also wasted by that profligate authority. The results were disastrous. We abolished ILEA and gave more power to parents, teachers and governors.

That is the way forward in increasing success and raising standards, and Government policies are the right policies. They are supported by parents, and the results will show in educational achievement--and the pupils will be the beneficiaries.

7.10 pm

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). In 21 years in the House, I have never heard a more snivelling and ingratiating speech. Such a speech makes Uriah Heep sound like a man of principle. It was appalling.

The one good thing about the hon. Gentleman's presence in the House is that at least it means that he is not lecturing schoolchildren. One can say little else about such a speech. Any resemblance between it and educational realities is purely coincidental. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's opponents at the next general election, whoever they are, will point that out.

The picture in the metropolitan borough of Sandwell is a good deal less rosy than that painted by Conservative Members. The four of us who have the honour to

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represent constituencies in that borough are, as you know, Madam Speaker, seeking a meeting with Ministers to discuss education provision and the shortfall arising from the settlement that we are debating. The capital programme allocation for the borough totals only £275,000 for a population of 250,000 people, which is parsimonious to say the least. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will offer some hope.

At that level, the settlement represents a loss of £1 million per annum on recent years. Given the problems and backlog of work in the primary and secondary sectors in Sandwell, the settlement is intolerable. For primary schools, there is a backlog of £10 million, including £8.5 million for three replacement schools for Warley infant, Black Heath primary and Great Bridge primary schools. The head teacher and chair of governors of Tipton Green junior school in your constituency, Madam Speaker, have written to all four Members of Parliament about its phase 2 project, describing as a paltry sum the capital building allocation-- particularly that for Tipton Green. Given that phase 1 has been completed, it would be scandalous and wasteful not to proceed with phase 2. I hope that the Minister will comment when he winds up, or when he meets the borough's Members of Parliament, as I hope he will, in the near future.

There is a similarly sad story to be told in respect of secondary schools. We have heard much about the so-called irresponsibility of local education authorities. Most are controlled by the Labour party because of the present Government's prolonged incompetence. It will not do for Conservative Members to shrug off all responsibility for the crisis facing schools in Sandwell and elsewhere by blaming the LEA.

I will pick at random one item of secondary education expenditure in Sandwell--Menzies high school in my constituency, where a serious fire last year destroyed one building. The insurance claim shortfall for the cost of replacing that building is £500,000. One cannot blame the LEA, but the Government are giving no consideration to meeting that shortfall.

Dartmouth high school is the biggest LEA school in the west midlands, with more than 1,700 pupils. It faces a £1.1 million bill for replacements and general repairs. Its all-weather sports pitch cannot be used, because of lack of money for repairs. Three teachers retiring this year cannot be replaced, according to the chair of governors to whom I spoke this afternoon, because the school does not have the funds. He said, "It's a blessing that we had a comparatively mild winter, because we have spent money allocated to the gas bill on general upkeep and repairs"--broken windows and the other things that happen in schools these days. Again, no provision has been made for that in the school's capital grant settlement.

Worst of all for Dartmouth high school, given that its orchestra is well known throughout the west midlands, £7,000 has been cut from its music budget. What is wrong with the Government that they cannot see the damage being done to schools and education in areas such as mine?

Many figures have been bandied about, and most of those from the Secretary of State were misleading. In Sandwell, budget share per pupil in the primary sector in the financial year 1993-94 was £1,322. In 1995-96, it will fall to £1,319. The share per pupil is even worse in the secondary sector. In 1993-94, it was £2,041. In 1995-96, it will be down to £2,000.

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Taking 1993-94 as a base, and allowing for inflation of 3 per cent. in 1994-95 and 2.5 per cent. in 1995-96, just to stand still Sandwell should have a budget share per primary pupil of £1,396, but it is receiving £77 less. In the secondary sector, it should have £2,155, but it will have £155 less than that per pupil.

Why is Sandwell's allocation per pupil done on the cheap? Why do each of the pupils whom I and my hon. Friends represent have a budget share of £200 less than pupils in the borough of Westminster? Why do the Government think they can continue getting away with rigging standard spending assessments to favour a few chosen boroughs? There is no fairness in the allocation of resources, particularly for education, when a borough such as Sandwell suffers from real terms cuts.

Much has been said about the Government's failure to fund the teachers' pay rise. It is a collective act of hypocrisy to agree a figure at national level but refuse to fund it, saying that it is someone else's problem and that local authorities such as Sandwell are supposed to find the money from their own resources. Do not the Government accept any responsibility for their decisions? Will it always be somebody else's fault? The Government are fooling nobody. One week ago, there was a lobby of thousands of teachers, governors and parents from all over the country. None of them is fooled by the Government's propaganda. They know full well who is to blame. At least one good thing came out of that lobby. On the day of the lobby, national officers of the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters met in my office at Millbank. If those two unions can come together under one roof without falling out with each other, clearly something serious must have happened. They were not discussing wages, or funding the 2.7 per cent.; they knew who was to blame for that. They were more concerned, as professionals, about the damage being done to the education of the children for whom they feel responsible in boroughs such as mine. The next election cannot come quickly enough for most Opposition Members--although of course the opposite applies to the Conservative party. The Government are planning to give away some money in taxes before the election. That is why money is being withheld from school budgets all over the country--to fund tax cuts. Meanwhile, the Government have done incalculable damage to our education infrastructure and the prospects of many of our children, especially in boroughs such as Sandwell. We shall hang that around their necks, and they will suffer for it at the next election.

7.20 pm

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark): I should like to sound a slightly different note. Although I hold no brief for Labour-controlled Nottinghamshire county council, I must point out that if it had adopted the budget that the Conservatives suggested, things would have been a lot easier. Like many other county councils, our county council must look much more carefully at its overall spending--that message has come through time and again this afternoon. The council's overtime bill for staff, for instance, is £10 million.

We have 20,000 surplus school places in our county: one in four desks is empty. That problem has persisted for many years. If the county did not have those surplus places, we would be able to fund every child by another £250. That is a fundamental point.

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I must however suggest to Ministers, who sometimes believe that dealing with surplus places provides the only answer, that it may not. I have followed the advice frequently and rightly given us by the Secretary of State, and have found out what is going on in my local authority. We need to know that, although sometimes it is difficult to find out what is happening. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister, with the resources available to his Department, to consider finding out, county by county, where there are inefficiencies and where improvements could be made, so that we can target and make responsible the people who should be far more active in funding our schools.

Here I sound the note of caution which has not thus far been expressed by any other Conservative Member. Ministers will be aware that there is a great deal of disquiet about how schools are to be funded this year--in Conservative as well as in Labour constituencies. I have expressed that concern in correspondence with the Secretary of State on behalf of schools, parents, teachers, and governors. I am sure that colleagues in the House have done the same.

What is not always clear--I hope to have the answer from my right hon. Friend when she replies to me--is what has gone wrong and who is at fault. Still, the anxiety is genuine, and it is non-political. We need to know exactly what funding is going into our schools. I have corresponded with the director of education on the county council; he has been most helpful, and I have no complaints about how he has informed me of what is going on. He tells me that there has been a reduction in the aggregated schools budget in Nottinghamshire of £11.280 million for 1995-96. That represents almost exactly the equivalent of the amount that I quoted earlier which is paid out in overtime to county council staff.

I can accept a 1.2 per cent. increase this year, tough though it is. What I find more difficult is learning how school after school in my constituency is having trouble balancing its books for the coming year. I offer two examples. Tuxford comprehensive school, a fine, large school, is experiencing a cut of £160,000. That is extremely difficult to live with. It must be very difficult to maintain the school's standards following a cut of that order.

A school at the opposite end of the range, Muskham county primary school, is receiving £6,363 less than it got last year, while taking on five more pupils than it had last year. That brings its pupil numbers up to 138. The head quite properly wants to balance his books--he does not want to get into deficit--but the way he has to do so is worrying. He is cutting down on midday school supervision. His governors tell me that health and safety cover in the playground is minimal and a cause for worry. He is cutting his secretarial assistance to two and a half days a week. In a school of 138 pupils that is clearly ridiculous. He is doing most of his own typing. What a waste of a professional man's time! He is an excellent and experienced teacher, and this should not be happening.

Something has clearly gone wrong, and teachers, parents and governors tell us that it is our fault. So the time may have come for Ministers to look more closely at how schools are funded this year and at the effects of the cuts on education, school by school. This has gone beyond being a political matter. It is an education matter now.

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It is quite true that the county council is guilty of inefficiency. In theory, the regime can be rejected at the next local elections, but that is of little comfort to parents and schools now.

Mr. Hawkins rose --

Mr. Alexander: I am sorry, I have only three minutes left. There is some mileage in the argument that the county has surplus school places. This afternoon, I took a deputation to see my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for Schools to discuss the amalgamation of schools--not to object to it, but to make certain improving suggestions. Of course, until those amalgamations are approved and take place, the surplus places will not be available for savings for the county. Although we have far too many surplus school places, it is not always easy to wipe them out at a stroke and thereby to save money this year.

I also took up with the director of education the amount of school balances in the county. Interestingly, of the nearly £15 million of balances in the schools, 37 per cent. in primary schools and 43 per cent. in secondary schools is being used to pay for the schools' survival this year. So we are right to point out that there are school balances that can be used, but sometimes we need to look more closely and see whether they are just floating about unused or whether they are allocated and unavailable. I am informed by the director that 77 per cent. of primary balances and 84 per cent. of secondary balances are specifically earmarked. If a school has no balances, it is not terribly satisfactory to be told that there are balances somewhere else. School by school, there is not a great deal of fat that can be used.

For those reasons, I support the Government. I believe that there are savings that our county councils can make, but I want to alert my hon. Friend to the situation in many schools, particularly in my constituency.

7.30 pm

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking): I must tell the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) that education essentially is a political matter. The Government have had 16 years to show the nation, parents, employers and children that they can be trusted on education, that they can be trusted to deliver excellence and high standards for all our children.

Today's debate is an opportunity to judge the record of the Government. It is a record that shows an unforgivable betrayal of trust, a betrayal which some Conservative Members will try to hide by being economical with the truth, but a betrayal that is felt by thousands of men and women, boys and girls in communities, families and industries the length and breadth of the country.

Let us examine the record on what counts--whether enough money has been invested in the most effective way to achieve the appropriate outcomes for our children, and they are "our" children. Too few hon. Members who occupy the Conservative Benches trust the system for which they are responsible. Too few of them use state schools for their own children, and that indictment speaks for itself. So what is the record? I am not thinking here of those at the top of the pile, who are likely to succeed whatever the state of our schools. My concern is for those from less-privileged backgrounds, who will be able to fulfil

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their potential only if we ensure that they have the opportunity of well-resourced and rigorous schooling. It is for them in particular that we need proper investment in education. We know that schools do make a difference. All the many studies tell us that. It is therefore the overwhelming duty of Government to ensure effective policies and well-resourced schools, so that our schools can make a difference for all our children.

The Prime Minister himself accepted that it is the job of Government to tackle inequality. Nowhere is that more important than in education, yet the Prime Minister's deeds belie his words. That will never be the case for Labour in government. We intend to tackle inequality, and for that reason, education is our passion. So let us look at the record. It is a national scandal that one in three of our seven-year-olds fails to reach the Government's set standard in handwriting. A similar number fail in spelling, and almost one in four fails to reach the grade in arithmetic. It is not good enough to say two out of three succeed. The reality is that one in three fails. Yet the Government have so under-resourced primary schools that 1 million children are being taught in classes of more than 30. Think of it. Hon. Members should imagine themselves in the place of a teacher of five and six-year-olds, with 30 children. It would take that person five hours a day to hear each child read. If one cannot hear them read, how can one expect them to reach the required standard of reading? Of course class size counts, especially at the primary level, and that is why the financial settlement is wrong.

Furthermore, we know that an effective school depends on effective leadership--a first-class head. Yet reports earlier this year showed that governing bodies were finding it increasingly difficult to recruit head teachers. In London, three in 10 headships were not filled at the first attempt in 1994. In primary schools, the number of vacancies nationwide rose from 1,509 in 1993 to 1,790 in 1994. Why? One reason is that we simply do not value and pay primary head teachers enough. Secondly, we do not invest sufficiently and effectively in head teacher training. We get what we pay for, and that is often not good enough for our children.

Again, the Government ignore the evidence. How a child performs at seven is one of the greatest influences on GCSE scores. Extensive research by the Institute of Education shows that nearly 25 per cent. of the variation in GCSE scores was accounted for by performance at age seven. The Government's failure to resource our primary schools properly betrays our children. At the age of seven, they begin to fail. By 14, the results are worse. One in three cannot master basic English, maths and science. That national failure places the country at the bottom of the league table of advanced industrial countries. Taking the most recent set of comparable statistics, only 27 per cent.--just over one in four--of 16-year-olds secured GCSE passes in maths, English and a science in 1990-91. That compares with 66 per cent.--two out of three--in France, 62 per cent. in Germany and 50 per cent. in Japan. At A-level, the figures are 80 per cent. in Japan, 68 per cent. in Germany and 48 per cent. in France, yet just 29 per cent. in England.

What an indictment of our education service. Why is that happening? Because the Government have focused their resources on those who are most likely to succeed anyway, not on those who most need support. We should not be

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surprised. They are a Government who reward the rich and punish the poor. They have done so in tax. They have done so on wages and they are doing so in education.

The Government tell the nation that they believe in choice for parents. Yet in practice their policy does not deliver that choice. By focusing on the few, not on the many, they are creating oversubscribed schools, which, in turn, become more and more selective, so that the schools are choosing the parents, rather than the parents choosing the schools. That is why appeals by parents for places in their chosen school have increased by a staggering 420 per cent. in four years. The way to increase choice is to improve quality, not just in a few centres of excellence but in all our schools for all our children.

Our schools are in crisis. The Secretary of State knows that, but she cannot admit it publicly. Nobody out there believes the Government's figures. It is a classic case of lies, damned lies and statistics. Out there in the schools, they know the truth. Parents know, governors know, teachers know. Tory councillors--admittedly a rare breed these days--know that their Government are letting us down. The Government's formula for the standard spending assessment for education is woefully inadequate. In my borough of Barking and Dagenham, the Government use 1991 figures to calculate the number of children entitled to free school meals. In fact, poverty has increased since then, mostly as a direct result of the Government's policy, so the council is losing around £1 million, which it could have spent on educating children in the classroom.

I now address another crucial point. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said, it was 1972 when Baroness Thatcher, then Secretary of State for Education, said in her White Paper that, within the following 10 years

"nursery education should become available without charge, to those children of three or four whose parents wish them to benefit from it."

The Prime Minister, at the Conservative party conference last year, placed great emphasis on the importance of nursery education. Although his was a lesser pledge, the speech was welcomed as a step forward.

Since then, we have heard much but seen nothing. Sheila Lawlor, the architect of many of the Government's disastrous education reforms, has been pushing for vouchers because she is so hostile to publicly funded and publicly provided nursery education. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has put in his oar and has shown up yet more divisions in the Government ranks by suggesting a beauty contest between competing providers. There has been reference to a leaked letter from the Secretary of State to her Conservative colleagues. Is that yet another example of the Government breaking their promises? The evidence that the availability of services for under-fives gives children a head start in life is overwhelming. A recent study in Wandsworth showed that children will benefit.

Sixteen years of Conservative education has failed our children. The latest round of education cuts has awakened middle England. Most governors, teachers, parents and children know that. We look forward to an early opportunity to implement our policy in government. 7.40 pm

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): I am not prepared to take any lectures from the hon. Member for

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Barking (Ms Hodge). I spent 23 years teaching in comprehensive schools and in adult education and my three children attended state schools. That is characteristic of my hon. Friends and it is wrong of the hon. Lady to try to say that the reverse is the case. She has a great deal to answer for. She presided over the borough of Islington which demoralised excellent schools, such as Highbury Grove, by disgraceful and unsatisfactory appointments of heads and teachers. Such was the extent of it that the leader of her party will not use any school in that borough. What sort of tribute to the hon. Lady is that? What did she do for children? She did nothing but put them down the drain. For her to deliver such a sanctimonious speech is totally unacceptable and absolute nonsense. It convinces no one, and I am sure that it will not convince any of her electors or anyone in her party.

Labour has no ideas for education. It simply suggests that we must go back to what it attempted to give the country when it was in government. There has been no new thinking at all, and that is serious. If I were a Labour party supporter I would be terribly worried. The party has no dynamism on what is perhaps our most important subject for debate. It produces nothing except grumbles. But what is happening in education is important and valuable and it is a tribute to the Government.

There are many more nursery places than ever before and, as I said in an intervention during the speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), a former leader of the Labour party came to my constituency and promised a nursery place for every child if Labour won the local election, which it did. That deceit helped the party to victory and it now resolutely refuses to implement that pledge. I was at well-attended public meetings of parents who demanded that Labour implement its promise. But it will not, and the party will pay heavily for that because parents know that they have been sold a pup and deceived.

Willow Tree primary school has a great need for expanded nursery school education, but it has not got that. Wood End infants grant-maintained school also wants to expand nursery education. It has the room and has everything in place, but the local council will not allow it. Compared with the record of its predecessor Conservative council, which put in no fewer than 400 new nursery places during its term of office at a cost of £1 million, that is a pretty dismal performance and Labour will answer for that as for so much else.

There is no point in the Labour party spokesman talking to the heads of grant-maintained schools, as he did last week, because they report to me. All but one secondary school in my constituency are grant-maintained. In some instances the parents, governors and head teachers achieved that status against bitter opposition by the Labour party. On one occasion not only the education committee chairman, Hilary Benn, but the deputy chairman of education and the education officer and deputy education officer in Ealing opposed

grant-maintained status.

The parents could not have been more pressurised not to go grant- maintained. Every attempt was made to intimidate them. On my recommendation, a former leader of the Labour party, Mr. Neil Kinnock, had sent his daughter and son to that school in my constituency. I am glad that he did because they have both done well. That is a tribute to them and, in a way, to him. That school had

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to work hard to become grant-maintained and it will not give up that status. It will not be cheated out of it by weasel words such as, "We will try to find some way to work with grant-maintained schools." The school is determined to retain its independence and the Labour party had better understand that.

The value of the school maintaining its independence is that it does so well. The parents support the school, which is

oversubscribed. Maintenance is of a standard that has not been seen before. As I have said before in the House, Northholt

grant-maintained high school saved £70,000 on cleaning by cutting out the cleaning services of the local authority. I can tell the hon. Member for Barking and everybody else that that money is used to buy books, pencils, rubbers and teachers. That is the advantage of such a saving. The hon. Member for Barking shakes her head, but how does she know? I can tell her that that is the truth. That is what parents want and it is what they will have.

Labour is already giving out the jobs that will follow the next general election. It has another think coming. Labour has done that four times in a row and is doing it again, but it will have a big surprise. Opposition Members have convinced themselves as never before that they will win the election but they will not because Labour has nothing to offer people and people know that.

As we have heard, spending on education has increased by 50 per cent. since 1979. Is not it a great tribute to our Government and to the people and children of this land that one child in three goes on to higher education compared with one in eight formerly? If that is not a tribute to every level of education and to dedicated work by teachers I do not know what is. It is not as if there are high failure rates. Students going into higher education achieve good degrees and there are very few drop-outs. That statistic speaks for itself.

I could say much more. Britain now spends more on education than on defence. For many years Labour said that we had our values wrong because we spent more on defence than on education. It did not care about the fact that there could be no education if the land was not defended and was overrun or demoralised. Labour Members made much of that moral argument, as they called it. Now that the balance is so greatly changed it is right to draw attention to it. It is right that the balance should be in favour of education because that is where the future of the country lies. At £28 billion a year, our spending on education is high and compares with that of any other country. I must mention my constituency. In Ealing the local council has £17 million in reserve so there is no excuse for selling schools short. I question the figures that Labour puts about. A few days ago I went into a primary school and the chairman of the governors, who is a Labour party supporter and a former councillor, said to me, "Harry, there will be a shortfall of £45,000 on the school budget. That will mean two teachers going and I shall make sure that the parents know that it is your Government who have done it." I said, "What is the pay budget? What is the cost of teachers this year?" The head teacher got the figures out. The cost was £302,000 for the year. I said that the award was 2.7 per cent., and that that did not come to £45,000. We do not always hear the right and honest figure. Every time a figure is thrown around, we should quote the true figure, question the first figure, and find out whether it is right or wrong and what the true facts are. We shall find that, for political purposes, there is quite a lot of misrepresentation of figures.

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In my professional life in schools, I always stood for high standards in work, attendance and behaviour. Over many years, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) and I worked together to that end. High standards of work, attendance and behaviour are the policies of the Conservative party and the Government. With such policies, we stand by children in the way that we must for their future achievement.

7.50 pm

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): This year's education budgets have left teachers, parents and governors bewildered and angry. They are even more perplexed by the attempt of the Secretary of State for Education to pretend that that is somehow the fault of local education authorities, but parents are not so easily fooled. They know who to blame and why that has happened.

Governors and parents are fully aware that the Government are cutting public expenditure so that they can make Budget tax cuts next year in time for a feel-good factor before the general election. People are angry that their children are being made to suffer for cheap political expediency. On this occasion, the Secretary of State and her friends in the Cabinet will find that they have made the worst mistake of their political lives.

Let us consider what has happened in the Secretary of State's own county of Norfolk. She says that spending on schools there has increased, but the standard spending assessment per secondary school pupil in Norfolk is £100 less than it was in 1992-93. I wonder if she thinks that she can disguise that as an increase in spending. The Norfolk education budget has had a cut of £3.3 million. The local authority has chosen to cut discretionary awards, community education, adult education and school meals.

What about the next-door county of Cambridgeshire, in which the Prime Minister and I have our constituencies? In Cambridgeshire, the SSA per secondary school pupil is £64 less than it was in 1992-93. It is difficult to disguise that as an increase in spending. The education budget is being cut by £4 million in Cambridgeshire. Even that is not as bad as was originally feared, because the county has taken £7 million out of county budget reserves, which were put aside for a rainy day. It is a rainy day today, and the trouble is that, if it continues to rain next year and the year after, nothing will be left in the reserves to bail out the county's budget--and schools are looking to make a £10 million cut in 1996-97.

The education committee in Cambridgeshire has had to consider cuts in a number of sectors. They have included the community education service, in which Cambridgeshire once had a proud record, charging for school transport, and changing arrangements for admission for the rising fives. Presumably, that has resulted from pressure from Conservative Members of Parliament in the county, who have had their statutory letter from the Secretary of State urging that schooling for under-fives should be one of the sectors to be cut.

The Secretary of State has said that councils are capable of putting more money into education if they choose to do so, but that they do not choose to do so. In Cambridgeshire, we have always spent well above the SSA on education. Even when the county council inherited the budget from Conservative control in 1993-94, spending on education was 4.1 per cent. above the SSA. Education spending in 1994-95 was 6.1 per cent. above the SSA and it is predicted

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that in 1995-96 it will be 6.6 per cent. above SSA. That is not without pain. Education spending increases mean cuts elsewhere. The county council has already had to make some difficult and painful decisions.

Let us consider another of the Secretary of State's statements. She said:

"Too much money is kept back by the Education Department for central costs. A recent Audit Commission report showed that local authorities could make efficiency savings of £500 million". In Cambridgeshire, this year's spending on administration per pupil is £34.55. The county average is £43.47, so Cambridgeshire is spending 20 per cent. less on administration than the county average.

The other extraordinary statement made by the Prime Minister was that there are two administrators for every three teachers. In Cambridgeshire, there are 10 teachers for every administrator. If we take cleaners and caretakers out of the definition of an administrator, the ratio of teachers to administrators is more than 20 to one. I wonder where the Prime Minister obtained those extraordinary figures. Is he still sticking by them? They sound as if they came out of some random number generator.

What do parents and governors think? I have had more than 400 letters about education service cuts and it is difficult to find anyone who believes that the county council is to blame. All of them know that the Government are imposing the cuts. I am surprised not to see some of the right hon. and hon. Members who represent Cambridgeshire constituencies in the Chamber. At least one of them has been outspoken about the cuts, particularly when speaking to my local newspaper, the Cambridge Evening News . I wonder why he is not here tonight to express some of those views so that Ministers with responsibility for education can hear them.

In my brief visit on Monday to a special school, the Rees Thomas school for children with severe learning difficulties, I saw some excellent work by dedicated staff, some worrying deterioration in playground furniture--which is due to be condemned by health and safety officials next year--and overcrowding that severely restricts education opportunities for those children. Two of the governors invited me to visit the school so that I could see for myself the difficulties that it is working under even before further cuts are imposed.

A letter on behalf of one of the secondary schools in my constituency states that staffing will be cut from 32.7 to 30.4. It says that that will mean that some classes will increase from 24 to 30 pupils. One of the parents from that school wrote to me: "Good education is not cheap. But the results of an inadequate education system are too costly to contemplate."

Another person writes that she would rather education standards were maintained than have one or two pennies off her income tax. I know that that view is widely shared in my constituency.

Another school that wrote to me is one of the few ecumenical schools in my part of the world. I remember that the school was threatened with closure in the mid-1980s. Since then, it has made great efforts. Its standards are now excellent and it has a strong parental following. One of the reasons why people are able and choose to send their children there is that the county council promised that it would provide children with free transport to that school. That promise has had to

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be broken. The county council is having to impose a charge of £25 per term for each pupil travelling to that school. The school's very existence depends on pupils travelling from a distance. I fear that the only children who will be able to attend that school in future will be those whose family have money or who live nearby. I finish by quoting from a letter that I received from Cambridge and district chamber of commerce and industry. It points out that the southern part of the county may lose 75 teaching posts and states that industry and commerce depend on a well-trained work force and are afraid that it will not be possible to maintain proper standards because of the freezing of money spent on education and because of the failure to fund the teachers' pay increase. Those people would not complain about education cuts if they did not believe that education in the county was in crisis. I urge Ministers to listen carefully to what is being said by such people because we are talking about the future of our nation and of our country.

8 pm

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford): The Labour motion refers to

"the threat to standards, opportunity and achievement", yet nothing has been said or done by the Labour party in the House or in the country to contribute ideas that would lead to the raising of standards, an increase in opportunities and the full recognition of achievement. Nor do I believe that Labour supporters in control of local authorities in areas such as Kent--and Kent in particular--have any other agenda than the policies of the 1960s.

This education debate, like so many others, shows the state of intellectual honesty in the Labour party today. Principles have been hidden and commitments fudged because nothing must be said or done unless it is to the benefit of the Labour party. Wheeling, dealing, dodging and downright deceit have always been the posture of the Liberal Democrats, but it is only in the past two years that we have begun to realise that they are also the stance of the Labour party. It is very sad that a once great party should descend to the level of the Liberal Democrats in the way that it chooses not to present its policies as it should. The Labour party is revealing not its intellectual honesty but its intellectual dishonesty.

A few days ago, the Leader of the Opposition said, "I have a passion for education, for order, for law, for cold water and for apple pie." The trouble is that no one knows precisely what that means. Of course, it is evidence of the soundbite mania of the spin doctors who have now been "Mandelised" into the Labour party, that the Leader of the Opposition is having to say that he has a passion for this and for that--it does not matter for what, as long as it wins votes. Labour is being told to forget its principles; winning is all that matters. There is no longer any intellectual honesty in the Labour party.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) has shown great interest in the county of Kent. I welcome that because whenever left wingers from Liverpool come to Kent our majorities shoot up even higher than they were. However, the hon. Gentleman has taken an interest, and we are having a real debate.

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Like his colleagues, the hon. Gentleman will have to learn that to find the true voice of the Labour party in Kent one needs to speak to those who control the county council, who wish to abolish grammar schools, take back grant-maintained status from schools, close the city technology college and do away with all that we have done. That is the true voice of the Stalinist Labour party, as I have known it all my life.

Tonight we need from the hon. Member for Walton some account of the row taking place between his team and the Leader of the Opposition. I would love to know what is happening because, clearly, there is no great joy or happiness but, rather, a darkness, between them. Indeed, we know that that is the case elsewhere. There is a darkness between the Leader of the Opposition and his spokespersons in the health team and, of course, there is absolute, total blackness between the Leader of the Opposition and the deputy leader. Perhaps we can look forward to a bit of excitement from the Labour spokesman tonight. I say, "Give us the beef. Tell us the truth about what is happening in the Labour party," and let us see whether John Humphrys uses it on the "Today" programme tomorrow.

The House knows that I have been a strong advocate for schools in my constituency for as long as I have been a Member of Parliament. There are nine grant-maintained schools in Dartford--the Dartford grammar school for boys; the Dartford grammar schools for girls; the Wilmington grammar school for boys; the grammar school for girls, Wilmington; the Horton Kirby primary school; the Sutton-at-Hone primary school; Wilmington primary school; the Holy Trinity Church of England primary school; and Our Lady Roman Catholic school in Hartley.

All of those schools have taken advantage of the opportunity to break free from the bureaucracy of local authorities. We also have a city technology college in Dartford, so we have a real choice which the Labour party would destroy. There are 60,000 children educated in grant-maintained schools in the county of Kent. I warn those 60,000 children and their 60,000 families- -many hundreds of thousands of voters--to watch out because Labour will destroy their schools. We have to read the press to find out what Labour party policy is, inasmuch as the Labour party knows what it is or inasmuch as its spokespersons are allowed to reveal it. On 19 March, Andrew Grice wrote an article in The Sunday Times with the headline, "Labour Pledge to ballot parents on handing back of opt-out schools". The small print states:

"Schools that vote against returning to town hall control, however, will not be permitted to operate in isolation from their community; some governors would be appointed by the local authority."

In other words, a school can have democracy--it can stay in local authority control or vote to opt out--but, if it does not vote to come back in, Labour will put a majority of governors on the governing body to ensure that it does.

That is the lesson of Liverpool and inner London in the 1970s and 1980s. Labour will appoint a majority of governors on the governing body and intimidate the head, the teachers and the parents and force the school back into LEA control because that is Labour's wish. Labour wants nothing but the comprehensive system. That is what Labour is about.

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It is a strange phenomenon but I feel that, at long last, we are having a dialogue--at least I am having one with myself--on what the Labour party believes. I like the hon. Member for Walton, who, is a nice chap. I am sure that he is--anyone who takes on the Militants in Liverpool cannot be wholly bad.

I want Labour's policy spelt out. It is an act of gross dishonesty not to reveal the truth. Under Labour, parents would see their schools going back into LEA control. They have to be told by the Conservatives what Labour will do. Labour would bring in the "thought police" and get them on the governing bodies of schools and, by hook or by crook, by intimidation, threat and sheer pressure from the organised vested interests in our communities, bring schools back into local authority control. That would be a monstrous thing to do. I expect the hon. Member for Walton's winding-up speech to be brief so I hope that he will explain to me in writing something that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said today. He said that Kent had spent £9 million on a nursery voucher experiment. I think that the hon. Member for Walton is nodding, or else he has a nervous tick. In any event, he is indicating that I am right. I have checked with the county council. There was an experiment that was financed and surveyed but not put in place. Had the county council put it in place in Ashford, the cost would have been £1.2 million but, as it was not put in place, the cost was not £9 million, nor was it £1.2 million. May we have an apology today, or later in writing?

I believe that the Government are going to make great strides with this policy. People like it and want it and do not want it taken away. If the Labour party wishes to protect its own interests, it should start to side with grant-maintained schools, the parents and governors. I hope that, in time, the Conservative party will decide that all schools should be grant- maintained. Let us have done with the dead hand of local authorities and the dead hand of Stalinism that exists in Kent and Liverpool.

I hope that the hon. Member for Walton will explain to the House in words of one syllable, so that even in Liverpool they can understand what he is saying, why Liverpool has domestic rates arrears of £23 million, community charge arrears of £68 million and council tax arrears of £10.7 million. That is the missing money; that is where the problem lies. It lies with the Labour party and with those in local government who support it and we must have none of it. 8.9 pm

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