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Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West): It is a great pleasure to follow the voice of--to use the phrase of the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn)--a once great party, with its £15 million overdraft, its disappearing membership and its universally reviled policies. It is very nice to hear the hon. Gentleman talking about Stalinists in Kent--

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: And Liverpool.

Mr. Pickthall: No, he did not mention Liverpool.

The Government have a simple purpose behind the cuts that they are inflicting on education, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) explained. Our school and college students are to pay for the core of

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the Government's next election campaign: income tax cuts. All their efforts are now bent on shifting the blame to local education authorities. They will use every statistical lie and every myth that they conjure to that end. Their efforts are not succeeding and their sheer desperation has been indicated by the Secretary of State's decision to encourage her Back Benchers to give the black spot to nursery spending. Tory Back Benchers seem wisely to avoid being seen doing that. Indeed, they are usually at the front of the queue, demanding more nursery provision from their LEAs for their constituents; and who can blame them.

The basic figures which explain what is happening are clear enough. I shall, of course, use Lancashire as my example. Lancashire's education standard spending assessment for next year is £484 million--£37.6 million less than it spent last year. Lancashire's SSA per secondary pupil is £133 less than it was in 1992-93.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Surplus places.

Mr. Pickthall: I shall come to surplus places. Such reductions cannot be sustained without pain and disruption and, probably, without sackings.

Lancashire is one of the four biggest shires in the country in terms of population, but it is the only one of those four which does not benefit from the area cost adjustment. For example, in Essex, the SSA per secondary pupil is £2,755, plus a few pence. In Lancashire, the SSA per secondary pupil is £2,610. So a secondary pupil in Essex is deemed to be "worth" £145 more than a pupil in Lancashire. Within that comparison, weighting for free school meals in Essex is £42.62, while in Lancashire it is £45.67. Weighting for the additional educational needs index in Essex is £353.13 and in Lancashire it is £428.04. But for the ACA, Lancashire would have an SSA per secondary pupil £75 higher than Essex. Similar comparisons can be made with the primary figures and between Lancashire and Kent and Lancashire and Hampshire, the other two counties of similar proportions.

It has always been recognised by all hon. Members that London's needs are special and that the ACA should account for them, but it is unacceptable to those outside the south-east that the counties surrounding the capital should benefit equally from that adjustment. Twelve of the 13 counties with the highest SSA per pupil benefit from the area cost adjustment. In no way do I suggest that Kent, Essex and Hampshire should have their funding cut, but how on earth can counties outside the south-east provide the same service to pupils and achieve the same results in league tables, across the board, with such resource differentials? I am astonished that more Conservatives who represent constituencies in the midlands, the north of England and the far west are not up in arms regularly about it.

The result for Lancashire of all the proposals is a 5.5 per cent. cut in school budgets. The blow falls especially heavily on those schools with a settled and stable work force where teachers are at the top of their scales. Visiting St. Thomas the Martyr primary school in Up Holland in my constituency last week, a first-class school with an excellent reputation, I encountered just such a school. It will have to lose the equivalent of 1.5 staff. A member of the staff told me bitterly:

"We are an expensive staff so we have to be clobbered."

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It seems that this time the Government cannot pass off the viciousness of their cuts by picking on a handful of LEAs that they most dislike to pour on them their vilification. Almost all local authorities and their citizens are up in arms. Even among those lobbying the House on Tuesday last week, I came across a large contingent from Buckinghamshire, the last of the Tory shires. Moreover, parents and governors know where the blame lies. I have had hundreds of letters, as I assume have all hon. Members, but not one of them blames a local education authority. Some of them, I have to say, blame me because I have not stopped the Government. They think that I can do that. Indeed, the letters have included all sorts of suggestions, from talking nicely to the Prime Minister, who will obviously understand and change his mind, to knee- capping various members of the Cabinet. Gently, I have to tell the parents and governors that neither method is likely to work.

Many desperate myths are being perpetrated to justify what the Government are doing. In some parts of Lancashire, the Tories are encouraging schools and governors to go for grant-maintained status so that they can secure additional funding to get round the cuts. That is an absolute fabrication. Grant-maintained status can do nothing for those schools about the cuts that the Government are now instituting, however legitimate the discussions. The funding formula will still apply.

Mr. Hawkins: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickthall: No, I shall not give way to the hon. Member, who has flitted in and out of the debate like Marley's ghost and expects to intervene all the time.

We are told that the Government have increased spending on Lancashire education by 1.4 per cent., but they have also told Lancashire that it cannot increase spending by more than 0.5 per cent. The education share of that increase is £2.7 million, but an increase of more than £30 million is needed to meet existing commitments--for a standstill budget. That £2.7 million would not even cover the increased number of pupils coming on stream in 1995-96: an increase of 1.5 per cent.

The Government's extra funding of 1.4 per cent., in itself only a tiny part of what is needed, must be put alongside the 0.5 per cent. limit on spending. So, 1.1 per cent. may be used only to reduce the increase in the council tax; it cannot be used for schools. It has been said that Lancashire has reserves to deal with the problems. Some absurd figures have been put forward by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman). I notice that she did not refer to them today so she has probably now read the proper material. From £33 million in schools' reserves, much is being spent now and most is committed to development projects.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickthall: No I shall not give way, I have only about 30 seconds left. The LEA--

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickthall: No. The LEA has no control over those resources. Local management of schools encourages independent control by governors over those funds.

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Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): I hope that it is a point of order for the Chair.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: It is a point of order. The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) is deliberately misleading the House. I am not--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is a not a point of order and the hon. Lady, with all her experience, well knows it.

Mr. Pickthall: The county balance at the moment stands--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must withdraw the words "deliberately misleading the House".

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: I withdraw the word "deliberately", but I shall say that the hon. Gentleman is unintentionally and entirely misinforming the House.

Mr. Pickthall: The hon. Lady knows all about being misinformed, I am sure. The county balance stands at £9 million--the minimum that the county treasury will allow as an appropriate level, having regard to the council's legal duty to set a balanced budget.

Stories are also being put around about the amount being spent on central services. I do not have any time to go through all the figures--

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman rose --

Mr. Pickthall: Perhaps the hon. Member for Lancaster would like to take them up with me in detail, at some other time.

Central administration costs in Lancashire stand at 3 per cent.--right at the bottom section of the county league table. And if we look properly at how the funding is divided between teachers and administrators, we see that the ratio of staff providing direct services to schools and teachers is 1:74.7, not 1:17, as the hon. Member for Lancaster said--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Time is up.

8.19 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): I am grateful to be called in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was beginning to wonder whether there was something wrong with the annunciator, because there are only three Labour Back Benchers in the Chamber for what we are told is such an important debate. [Hon. Members:-- "Where are they?"] Ah, here comes another one--the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes).

The Government have been radical in their education policy, and I greatly welcome the diversity that has been introduced into the state education system. We have introduced the national curriculum, grant-maintained schools and local management of schools. The Labour party bitterly opposed each of those policies. Our radical approach to education is wholly to our credit. All that the Labour party has ever been is the mouthpiece of the National Union of Teachers and the education establishment, and Labour Members prove that time and time again.

Yesterday I asked the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), a question about spending in Derbyshire schools in 1994-95

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prices. In 1978-79--I do not think that we were responsible for that budget--spending in primary schools was £1,064 per head; in 1993-94 it was £1,632 per head. That shows our true commitment to education, because over a long period there has been a substantial and consistent increase. That is most important.

I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister, however, that we have to find a way of getting the figures over to the public and explaining to them what is being spent on the education budget. The trouble is that the explanations are so confusing, what with standard spending assessments, general schools budgets, potential schools budgets and aggregated schools budgets. How on earth is anybody supposed to get to the bottom of what is going on in school funding with all those variations?

Derbyshire county council has excelled itself in efficiency. One would not often hear me praise that authority. But last week I asked the Secretary of State a question in which I pointed out that there were about 17,000 surplus places in Derbyshire. Unfortunately, I was wrong; there are more than 20,000. However, within 12 hours of my saying that the chairman of the education committee put out a press release showing where all the surplus places were in west Derbyshire. He did not cover the rest of the county, just west Derbyshire. I wrote back to him saying that his response had been very good and efficient, and that perhaps he could let me have the figures for the whole county within the next 48 hours. We are now 28 hours on, and I am still counting.

The facts about overall spending levels are important. At the end of the day it is difficult to work out the true facts and statistics. Derbyshire county council consistently talks about standard spending assessments and says that it would like the same SSA as Surrey. But when I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), he told me that Derbyshire's SSA per head of population was £549, whereas in Surrey the figure is £524. If my county council really wants the same SSA as Surrey, it is calling for a reduction. We should judge the whole area of local authority spending rather than specific individual figures.

I note that these days Labour Front-Bench spokesmen pay great attention to the Library, regarding its staff as independent statisticians who will give us the true figures. Well, the Library has done some research for me, and yesterday we were told that in 1994-95 Derbyshire local education authority spent £720 per pupil in addition to the sums delegated to each school. That figure compares with £570 in Nottinghamshire and £550 in Staffordshire. In other words, Derbyshire spends an extra £150. If that money were going directly into schools, we would be talking not about reductions but about substantial increases.

Perhaps it is time that we thought about having a national funding formula, designated by the Government, for all schoolchildren throughout the country. As things are the Government get all the blame, but we do not have the responsibility. So let us take the responsibility and cut out the local education authorities. I believe that there is much inefficiency in LEAs, and it is difficult to get to the bottom of their budgets.

I also asked a parliamentary question about subsidies for school meals in Derbyshire. Today I received an answer from my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State telling me that the income for Derbyshire's school catering service was £9,051 million whereas expenditure on the service amounts to £22,959 million. There is

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therefore a subsidy, or a discrepancy--I do not know what the Labour party likes to call it--of £13,900 million on school meals. If the county wishes to pay such a subsidy, that is a policy decision that it is entitled to take. But the fact is that one cannot spend money in two places. The county cannot subsidise school meals and spend a huge amount on central administration, and then complain that it has not the money to delegate to schools. That is an important point, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to deal with some of those issues. I was encouraged by a story that I read on the front page of The Times Educational Supplement at the weekend suggesting that the Government might be considering a national funding formula. I do not expect my hon. Friend to comment on speculation in the papers, but may I tell him that if the Government are considering such a policy I should wholeheartedly endorse it? The sooner it is adopted the better.

I also have something to say about grant-maintained schools. I have a letter here from Michael Collier, the chief executive of the Funding Agency for Schools, and I am concerned about the way in which GM schools are notified of their budgets. The education budget is announced by the Chancellor in November, and local authorities hear about their budgets from the Secretary of State shortly after that. However, in the letter Mr. Collier writes:

"It is anticipated that the Final Annual Maintenance Grant will be issued in early May."

That is six weeks into the new financial year. I do not think that it is a fair way to treat large secondary schools with big budgets, or indeed primary schools, if they do not find out what their final budgets are to be until the year has started. That is an important problem which needs to be dealt with.

There is no question in my mind but that local authorities could find the money for this year's pay increases. However, I must tell my hon. Friend that although one can get away with a pay freeze for one or two years, it is not possible to do so beyond that point. I hope that when discussions take place on next year's spending round that thought will be at the forefront.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) said that he would like every school to become grant-maintained. I should like every school not only to become grant-maintained but to know, by means of a national funding formula, what its budget will be. At the moment there are too many dark holes through which money can be filtered away by local education authorities, and even some grant-maintained schools do not get the right amounts of money. I believe that we as a party and as a Government have a good reputation in education. We have changed the whole education system by diversifying and providing choice in the state system, and that is something to which the Labour party is totally opposed. It wants to bring everyone down to the same level, but we want to allow people to excel in state education--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

8.29 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): It is convenient for me to follow the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), who represents a neighbouring constituency to mine, as I can refer to some of his arguments.

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One argument that the hon. Gentleman used-- it has also been used by the Prime Minister and by other Conservative Members--was to compare the level of expenditure on education in 1978-79 with the current level of expenditure. That is a considerable period, and an analysis of what has happened within education cannot just be made with such a broad-brush approach. Some consideration must be given to what has happened in the past five years--particularly in Derbyshire--as that would show a different pattern.

The hon. Member for West Derbyshire stressed various issues such as surplus places. One of his solutions to the current crisis in Derbyshire is school closures and amalgamations, which he believes would solve a great problem within the vast rural areas of west Derbyshire. The hon. Gentleman also wishes to cut out the role of the local education authority. Unfortunately, the role of the LEA has just about been cut out altogether by the present financial arrangements. Because of the Government's policy, LEAs have virtually no options as to the policies that they can adopt. I assume that that call by the hon. Gentleman is a reflection of his lack of success in trying to get rid of Derbyshire county council and follows the arguments about boundary changes that he has been notably unsuccessful in pursuing.

Another matter referred to by the hon. Gentleman was price increases for school meals, but I suspect that he really means cutting out the school meals provision. Following assault upon assault by the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members from the county, Derbyshire increased the price of school meals. Following that decision, the take-up of school meals was not what it had been. To argue that school meals should not be a part of education provision seems to me to be entirely inadequate, so we can dismiss the arguments of the hon. Member for West Derbyshire.

Before the hon. Gentleman incensed me, I had initially planned to apologise to the House for not being in the Chamber for the entire debate. This was because of the subject matter that we are discussing today. There has been a mass lobby from Derbyshire at the House of Commons, which has included teachers, pupils, parents and governors.

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr. Eric Forth): They should have been in school.

Mr. Barnes: Those people are in school on many occasions. They are concerned about the major problems and they are here to represent their views. They have important points to make to which the Minister--instead of lecturing them--should listen. Many petitions and letters were presented to me concerning north-east Derbyshire, and other activities took place. The number who came here today--a limited number compared with the numbers who are incensed by what is taking place--presented their petitions, which will see the light of day in the House quite soon.

The Government's policy is to divide and rule, and they hope that a squabble will take place in areas such as Derbyshire about who gets what. Our policy is to unite and fight, and that is seen as important by some angry teachers, pupils, parents and governors. Thanks to Government policy, those governors have begun to

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understand the financing arrangements in schools. Local management of schools has turned governors and head teachers into accountants so that those in charge are no longer bemused by some of the arrangements, and they have begun to understand the problems. In 1988, I asked the then Prime Minister--now Lady Thatcher--to compliment Derbyshire county council on its teacher-pupil ratio. Derbyshire had the best ratio in special education and in secondary education, and in primary education it was second to Nottinghamshire. Since then, we have had cuts in real terms in the budgets of £152 million. Some £54 million of that has been in education, with £28 million being cut this year.

Those figures tie in with the development of changes in the structure of local government finance following the legislation which introduced the poll tax. Although the poll tax has changed into the council tax, the structure of the business rate and other arrangements which were determined then and the technique for the standard spending assessment--which gets bashed about in this House considerably and correctly--came within that area. Compared with Hertfordshire, Derbyshire is £90 million behind the level it had at that time; its SSA initially was very similar to that of Hertfordshire.

When addressing the governors at Holmgate school in Clay Cross, I attempted to explain the methodology of the SSA. One teacher said that he never knew that there was a formula for the SSA, and that he assumed that things were so bad in Derbyshire that the figures were just plucked out of the air. There has to be a formula as far as the law is concerned, but it is a fiddled formula.

The education spend this year is down in real terms, and the maldistribution which occurs within that is more serious. The hon. Member for West Derbyshire may have picked up some points about that maldistribution, as he has criticised the area cost adjustment in the House in the past.

Yesterday, I asked the current Prime Minister about the situation, but I could no longer ask him to compliment Derbyshire on its student-teacher ratio. I had to ask him how he could expect teachers not to be sacked and classes not to be increased in size following the cuts. I asked whether he agreed that education generally could be destroyed because the very fabric of our schools is facing problems. There was no answer. He simply said what the hon. Member for West Derbyshire said in his speech, which was that we should compare 1978-79 expenditure with current expenditure. The Tories think that that is the answer to every problem in the universe and that we need think about nothing else. But there are many other things to think about.

Unfortunately, my time has nearly run out. In the remaining minutes, I should like to mention a letter from the head of governors at Grassmoor primary school, in which he asked if the Secretary of State for Education would come to Grassmoor school and let the governors, parents and others explain their case--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up. 8.39 pm

Mr. David Faber (Westbury): I hope that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) and other hon. Members will forgive me if I do not necessarily follow them down the same route. I would dearly love to have time

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to debate choice, rising standards and the grant-maintained status system--I have listened with great interest to speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) and for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin)--but, like other hon. Members, I shall concentrate specifically on issues that affect my county of Wiltshire.

I listened carefully to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) who, sadly, is no longer in his place. He commented at length on the scare stories and problems that had arisen in his constituency and in Devon as a whole as a result of activities by Liberal Democrats locally. I readily acknowledge the presence of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) throughout this debate, but it is instructive that, although massive petitions have been organised by Liberal Democrats in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and throughout the west country, hon. Members who represent those counties have been ignominious by their absence tonight.

Mr. Sebastian Coe (Falmouth and Camborne): They cannot all be in Bosnia.

Mr. Faber: As my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) says, they cannot all be in Bosnia at the same time. When the funding settlement was first announced in Wiltshire, we faced no problems. Indeed, an opposition spokesman on Wiltshire county council said that there were no scare stories or talk of sacking teachers in Wiltshire, and that we faced no problems. Yet on 15 February this year, in an extraordinary letter which the chief education officer was mandated to send to all chairmen of governors by the Labour and Liberal Democrat ruling group on the council, he urged all chairmen of governors to write to the Chancellor asking for the teachers' pay increase to be funded in full.

Mr. Blunkett: Quite right.

Mr. Faber: The hon. Gentleman says, "Quite right." I shall explain how wrong and misguided he is.

Sadly, many governors have been hoodwinked and scared by the LEA into writing that letter. They have been led to believe that education funding in Wiltshire is not sufficient, whereas nothing could be further from the case. The chief education officer acknowledges in his letter:

"The budgetary prospects in Wiltshire are better than in many other LEAs, due to the Council's readiness to put front-line services first. The budget will meet the costs of increased numbers". It is certainly true that the budget and the grant handed down by central Government will meet the increased numbers of pupils in schools but, sadly, it has nothing to do with the local council's good housekeeping.

Pupil numbers in Wiltshire have risen more quickly than nationally. The upshot is that Wiltshire pupils now make up a larger proportion of the national pupil total, so Wiltshire gets a larger share of national funding. As a result, the education SSA for 1995-96 in Wiltshire will be £188.56 million, a 2.7 per cent. increase, against a national average of just 1.2 per cent., so the Government have fully funded the rise in pupil numbers in Wiltshire.

The letter goes on to tackle the problem of teachers' pay and to explain the LEA's position. Of the 2.7 per cent. increase agreed nationally, it says that the budget

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can cope with funding 2 per cent. and asks schools to find the remaining 0.7 per cent. Even on that, it is not strictly accurate. At primary level, all but 0.35 per cent. of the settlement has been funded, yet some primary school governors are still writing to me in the expectation that they will be 0.7 per cent. short. That shortfall represents just 0.2 per cent. of the total primary school budget in Wiltshire, a global figure of just £150,000, which the county council has the nerve to say it cannot find. At secondary level, 0.7 per cent. is not fully funded by the county council. That represents 0.45 per cent. of the total budget.

My hon. Friends who represent Wiltshire and I were not surprised that county councillors' initial reaction was to say, without daring to blush, that that was all they could fund and that, if teachers were to be sacked, it was the Government's fault. I put it on the record that the Conservative group on the council voted against sending that letter to the chairmen of governors.

Let us examine a little more closely the expenditure of the local education authority and of Wiltshire county council as a whole--expenditure which the LEA has conveniently ignored or glossed over. I am afraid to say that Wiltshire has done all too little to reduce central administration costs.

Why is it that, in neighbouring Dorset and nearby Hampshire, 4.5 per cent. of the total school budget is spent on administration? I understand that, in Lancashire--the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) has now left the Chamber--it is just 1.7 per cent., yet Wiltshire still spends 5.2 per cent. of its total budget on administration. That may sound a small percentage difference, but it is a huge sum when taken out of an approved budget of £201 million. Let us look, too, at how successful Wiltshire is at delegating its budget to schools under LMS. My hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire mentioned the potential schools budget, a figure that represents the LEA's total planned expenditure in respect of schools operating under local management, less the authority's planned central expenditure on items that are statutorily excluded. In 1994-95, Wiltshire, like other counties, excluded the normal sums for capital expenditure for school transport, school meals and other items. Yet last year, Wiltshire delegated less of its potential schools budget to schools than it had the year before. In 1993-94, Wiltshire held back 12.8 per cent. of its budget for its own use, yet in 1994-95, that figure rose to 14 per cent., an unexplained increase of 1.2 per cent. That means that, across the board, schools in the county had 1.2 per cent. less to spend last year than they had the year before.

I am sorry to say that those figures make Wiltshire one of the worst performing counties in the country when it comes to delegating its budget to schools. It is often said that the success of LMS has made opting out unnecessary. Those figures show just how much council schools are at the mercy of local politicians, who, as in the case of Wiltshire, have chosen to put the delegation process into reverse. Grant-maintained status gives the schools control over their budget as of right, not out of grace and favour and at the whim of local councillors.

Wiltshire county council has other so-called "crucial spending plans" in its budget this year. It has decided to continue with the employment of an environmental

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co-ordinator, plus support staff, and a crime co-ordinator, plus his support staff. Most outrageous of all, it continues to support neighbouring Somerset county council's legal quest to ban hunting on council land. Despite the legal decision of the Court of Appeal just two weeks ago, Wiltshire continues to fund Somerset's legal campaign. Just yesterday, it voted through an extra £13,500 to take on a survey to be run by the agricultural college at Cirencester to prove that hunting damages the environment.

Now is not the time to debate the merits or otherwise of hunting, and I have no interest in doing so. But surely children's education comes first. Those figures must rise from the £50,000 that has already been spent towards £100,000. I remind hon. Members that, just a few moments ago, I pointed out that the shortfall in funding the teachers' pay rise in primary education in Wiltshire is just £150,000, yet it seems to be more important to those councillors to spend money on banning hunting in neighbouring Somerset--not even in their own county--than on providing teachers in Wiltshire's primary schools.

Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors on Wiltshire county council are shamelessly playing party politics with children's education. They have jumped on a national bandwagon of protest when no such bandwagon need exist in Wiltshire, because no such problems exist. Local opposition spokesmen on the council admitted as much when the grant settlement was first announced.

The letter from the chief education officer to the chairmen of governors in schools is a shameful attempt to scare them and bully the Government. I pay tribute to the hundreds of governors in Wiltshire who give of their time so generously, and to the thousands of teachers who do such invaluable work in our schools. I appeal to them not to be taken in by what has been said by the local politicians. I appeal to them to ask those local politicians searching questions along the lines that I have tried to lay out today.

My message to Wiltshire county council would be to find the money, fund the pay increase in full and put children's education at the top of its agenda, and not relegate it below some of its little pet projects.

8.49 pm

Mr. Stephen Byers (Wallsend): I am delighted to have the opportunity to take part in the debate. For the information of the Minister, some pupils from my constituency were in Westminster today--pupils from the Sacred Heart primary school in Wideopen.

Mr. Forth: Why were they not at school?

Mr. Byers: The Minister will be glad to hear that they were here on an educational visit, and I hope that Hansard will note that the Minister objects to the fact that they were here. For the Minister's information, the guide who took them round commended them on their knowledge of history. Like many other hon. Members whose constituents have had school trips here, I am sure that it is a valuable learning exercise.

It is deeply disappointing that the Minister does not appear to agree that visits by schoolchildren are to their benefit. I believe they are, and it is deeply disappointing that the Minister who sits there on the Government Bench shakes his head, disapproving of that visit. I shall ensure

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that those schoolchildren and their parents are made fully aware of the way in which that Conservative Minister says that they are too young to benefit from such a visit.

The key is that all political parties should broadly agree that education is about raising standards and improving quality. I think that all hon. Members will agree that we must seek to do that. We disagree, because the Government do it on the basis of dogma and the introduction of market forces because they believe that that is the politically correct thing to do, while we, on the Opposition side of the Chamber, believe that the market has no part to play in education provision.

We believe that the market is about profit and loss, gainers and losers. It is our opinion that any philosophy of education based on the opinion that some of our children must be losers so that others can be gainers is unacceptable. We need an education service that meets the needs and demands of all our children.

We arranged the debate today--

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