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Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East): I am intrigued by this passage on funding, because presumably--if the hon. Lady is upset about it--she will make a spending pledge to make that funding available, which she says is not there.

Ms Morris: The hon. Gentleman is anticipating comments that I will make later in my speech. Perhaps he will wait, and I will make those comments.

Ministers have not only failed to invest sufficiently in education, but they have wasted some of the resources that they have spent. Millions of pounds were wasted because the Government got the national curriculum wrong; £220 million has been spent on propping up the assisted places scheme; £3 million has been wasted on advertising the nursery voucher scheme; and £10 million has been wasted on administering that scheme. Millions of pounds have been spent on wrong priorities or on waste, and that money could have been spent on raising standards for children in our schools.

We need to invest more money in our education service--but we need more than money: we need to invest in people. We need to ensure at that all our head teachers have appropriate qualifications so that schools get the leadership that they need and deserve. We need to invest in our children under five, so that they get the benefit of nursery education. We need to concentrate and target early literacy, so that children do not transfer to secondary schools without the levels of literacy necessary to cope with a secondary school curriculum.

The hon. Member for Bath was honest enough to say that his party wishes to increase income tax by 1p to cover increased spending plans. The only problem with that is that it is the Liberal Democrats' solution to everything. They make more uncosted pledges than the Home Secretary has court judgments against him. Education, health, you name it--they put a penny on income tax to pay for it. In fact, the cost of some of their major pledges would mean increasing income tax by 5p in the pound.

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Were the Liberal Democrats ever in a position to set the level of taxation, they might reflect that it would be wholly irresponsible to increase income tax by that amount.

Mr. Don Foster: Does the hon. Lady believe that it would be irresponsible to increase it by just 1p?

Ms Morris: The hon. Gentleman cannot change his policy in an intervention--[Interruption.] But then again, he is a Liberal Democrat. His party's policy is to increase income tax not by 1p but by 5p in the pound. If we are to have a bargain basement in which I have persuaded the hon. Gentleman to drop his proposed income tax increase by 4p, let him produce new policy documents so that we can have another debate. But I am happy to argue with the Liberal Democrats about their costings and their commitment to increase taxes by 5p in the pound.

The hon. Member for Bath knows that people are taxed more heavily now than in 1979, and that 22 new taxes in the lifetime of this Government is enough. To them, however, he proposes to add a Lib-Dem special tax. That is easy to say, but when people are already reeling from the Tory tax increases of the past five years, it does not make sense to suggest another. The public would not buy it.

I share the hon. Gentleman's wish for more resources to be spent on priorities on which I suspect he and I agree, but the first course of action must be to use the existing money, and to use it more wisely. Switching money from the assisted places scheme and using it to reduce class sizes to no more than 30 for five and seven-year-olds will give a better start to thousands of primary school children. By using the money spent on nursery voucher bureaucracy, we can make sure--this is the Government's own costing--that every four-year-old has a pre-school place. By taxing the excessive profits of the privatised utilities, we can provide employment and training to 250,000 young people who are currently unemployed and claiming benefit.

We will invest in people by making sure that all heads are appropriately qualified; we will invest in school buildings by bringing together the public and private sectors; we will invest in the under-fives and in the primary years; we will invest in out-of-school learning and in education and training--

Mr. Nigel Evans: Where will the money come from?

Ms Morris: I have just explained where it will come from.

We can make a difference by changing priorities and cutting waste. Over the lifetime of a Parliament, we will make a further difference by getting people back to work and reinvesting the money that is currently paid in benefits.

Mr. Nigel Evans rose--

Ms Morris: I have given way several times already and I am keen to make progress. I have nearly finished, so I will not give way now.

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The Government insult people by pretending that they have invested more in education. The Liberal Democrats make extravagant, uncosted promises in the sure and certain knowledge that they will not be called on to implement them. What we need, however, is a switch in resources to benefit the many, not the few, and to create an economy that uses the skills and talents of our people and gets everyone off benefit and back to work. That is what will make the difference in education standards, and it is exactly what a Labour Government will do.

8.33 pm

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood): I rise to speak a few minutes earlier than I had expected as I was waiting for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) to say what Labour party policy was. However, like my hon. Friend the Minister, she dealt very effectively with the Liberal Democrat policy of putting an extra 1p on income tax. It is worth pointing out in passing that the justification for the tartan tax in Scotland is extra expenditure on education. In other words, under the Liberal Democrats, the poor Scots would pay twice as much as the English and Welsh.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South): Three times as much.

Mr. Stewart: Almost certainly, but I wish to give the Liberal Democrats the benefit of the doubt on this point.

It has rightly been said that education standards are not dependent on money alone--that is common ground between the parties--but it is worth noting some of the figures for Scotland as well as those south of the border.

Between the period just before the Conservatives came to power and 1993-94--the last year for which the figures are available--expenditure per primary pupil in Scotland rose in real terms by 50 per cent. That is a measure of the Government's commitment to improving standards, although people such as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) might argue otherwise. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the levels of achievement in England and Wales. In Scotland, the comparable figure is three or more highers. The percentage of pupils obtaining that number rose from 18 per cent. in 1979-80 to 29 per cent. recently. That is proof of a real improvement in standards under the Conservatives.

Mr. Maxton: Why is it that any improvements in education in Scotland are down to this Government even though education in Scotland is run almost entirely by Labour-controlled authorities? When any blame comes to be apportioned, it rests on those authorities. Will the hon. Gentleman be a little more even-handed?

Mr. Stewart: On education matters, I always listen to an expert such as the hon. Gentleman, especially as, earlier in his career, he exercised his choice to teach in a Scottish school in the private sector. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman's party wishes to deny many parents in Scotland the ability to choose to send their children to such a school.

The Government have set an effective framework within which those who deliver education in Scotland and across the country are able to improve standards. I wish

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to tackle the three controversial aspects of education policy in Scotland: total expenditure, the assisted places scheme, and nursery vouchers.

From the hon. Member for Yardley we heard cries about the lack of expenditure and the need for more investment. On hearing those cries, it is not unreasonable for people to say, "Well, the Labour party claims that it will be in government in a few weeks' time; what would it do about expenditure?" I asked that question on Monday in Selkirk at a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee. I asked whether a Labour Government would increase the aggregate external finance or the capping limits or do something about distribution, as they are the only options. I received no answer.

The question has been asked not only by Tories but by teachers and local authorities across the country. Perhaps the answer has wended its way to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson)? Has Labour told him what it would do? Answer comes there none.

Reference was rightly made to the assisted places scheme. The hon. Member for Yardley suggested that abolishing the scheme would in itself provide the resources for nirvana in education. Of course, the Labour party is against the assisted places scheme because it provides choice. Labour was also against the right-to-buy scheme for council house tenants. The scheme works in Scotland. Let me give the House an example of a Glasgow boy whose mother worked as a domestic cleaner. He has represented Scottish schools in sport. He got six highers and two A-levels. He is studying law and French at university. That outstanding achievement was made possible by the assisted places scheme. It is important to retain and develop such opportunities.

Labour Members have talked about phasing out the assisted places scheme and the resources that that would release for reducing class sizes. Of course, reducing class sizes does not guarantee an improved education. As the House knows, classes in the London borough of Islington are smaller than at the London Oratory. Abolishing the assisted places scheme--I am indebted to the Scottish National party for this analysis, which has not been challenged by the Labour party--would provide less than one thousandth of Scotland's total education expenditure, corresponding to about one teacher per school. Leaving aside the merits of the scheme and the philosophy, the idea that abolition would release resources that would enable anything significant to be done for the rest of Scottish education or for education south of the border is nonsense.

The hon. Member for Yardley referred to nursery education vouchers. The position in my constituency is clear. Under Labour-held Strathclyde regional council, we were deprived of resources. There was a huge unmet demand for nursery education in my constituency. It is now a pilot area for the vouchers, and everyone who wants a nursery place has one.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is in danger of appearing in "The Guinness Book of Records". He has introduced a major Government initiative in my constituency and no one has complained. Everyone is happy. I hope that any nonsense peddled by the Opposition parties that the scheme does not work will be firmly sat on. It works in practice. It has brought about

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an increase in local authority provision, in private provision and in voluntary provision in my constituency. The authority is Labour-held, but the scheme works.

My constituents would like to know what would happen if there were a Labour Government. I have asked on many occasions and there has been no answer. What would a Labour Government do? Labour Front Benchers told us on Monday at the Scottish Grand Committee that "in the medium term" there would be places for all four-year-olds. What about the short term? There are nursery education places now under the Conservatives for everyone in my constituency who wants one, but Labour would abolish the scheme. Ordinary people in Eastwood want to know what would happen. The Labour party cannot get away with ignoring the detailed questions while claiming to be an alternative Government.

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