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Mr. Wallace: I have indeed asked her that same question. Even if there is provision, there is no choice, and we are told that choice is the key. Many parts of Scotland will not have provision. We still have not received an answer to our question: the Minister cannot answer it by asking another question.

There is a growing body of evidence from the pilot schemes south of the border that the voucher system neither expands provision nor extends choice. In some areas south of the border, local education authorities try to retain the money by encouraging early entry into reception classes. That is not what was intended, but that is what has happened.

The Select Committee on Education and Employment has had evidence that, in Norfolk, eight playgroups closed in November, and six more are expected to close by the end of March. Some playgroups have had their numbers reduced due to the local authority's policy of taking children into school early. We do not believe that that is the way forward.

The report of the Commission on Scottish Education, which was published last year, concluded:


It remains my party's position that the first claim on the revenue raised by the 1p increase in income tax would be for high-quality education for early years.

Even where we had high-quality education, it is essential to build on what has been achieved. The quality of schools varies, but generally it is right to say that inspectors have praised the quality in many of Scotland's schools. A recent inspectors' report says:


We do not want to throw away that achievement, but we are concerned that we are in danger of doing so because of the cuts that are being imposed on many local authorities. It is no use Ministers talking about standard spending assessments, or saying, as the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said when he intervened on the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), that the

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Government have passed on more money for education. In the global budgets--the money allocated to local authorities--once inflation has been taken into account, and even before all the other responsibilities of local authorities are taken into account, less money is available.

Across Scotland--it was obvious from the debate that it applies to England as well--concern is growing about the effect of the cuts. Catalogues of concerns were expressed when we debated this issue on Monday in the Scottish Grand Committee held in Selkirk. My concern is that the Government will start to believe their own propaganda that there are no cuts, until the cuts that were very real in 1996-97 become even more real in 1997-98.

As many as 1,500 teaching posts could go, on top of the 1,200 that have been lost this year. That will lead to bigger class sizes. There will be less support for children with special needs and less breadth in the curriculum, and the delivery of highers will be even more difficult. The number of peripatetic teachers will be cut. Spending on books and equipment will also be cut. An average of £35 per primary school pupil is spent on books and equipment, but reading schemes can cost £28 per pupil, and it is therefore almost impossible for a school to change its reading scheme in one year. The hon. Member for Cathcart spoke of the importance of using information technology in education, and of using computers as a learning rather than a teaching tool, but it is clearly not possible to embark on any such provision with budgets that have been cut rather than increased.

The lack of repair and maintenance is causing more and more difficulties. An average of £15,000 per school is available for repair and maintenance in Scotland, but, in 1995, the Public Accounts Commission reported that an average of £150,000 per primary school and £350,000 per secondary school was necessary to bring those schools up to scratch. That does not take into account the upgrading that was necessary as part of curriculum development, or the cost of replacing old, battered accommodation.

Charges will be made where they do not currently exist. There will be charges for music tuition--if, indeed, such tuition continues in some parts of our country. There will be charges for transport. At present, councils are sometimes generous in providing free bus transport for pupils who live within a statutory distance. In return for the 1p cut in income tax which the Conservatives supported--while Labour Members sat on their hands and acquiesced--many parents will be faced with increased costs. They will pay higher council taxes, and receive fewer education services.

The hon. Member for Eastwood had some fun at the expense of the hon. Member for Monklands, East. He recited a penetrating question that he had asked in the Scottish Grand Committee, which elicited no answer. He asked whether Labour would spend one penny more in the aggregate external finance for local authorities in Scotland. He received no answer because the Labour party has no answer, but he himself has not said how he would deal with the concerns of those who campaign in Selkirk, the 20,000 who marched in Glasgow the other weekend and the 40,000 who marched through Edinburgh last year to complain about education cuts.

Much of the debate has come down to the basic question of finance. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) pointed out, it is all

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very well to talk about standard spending assessments, but this year's SSA for Northumberland is no higher than spending was in the year that has just passed.

Mr. Congdon: It has always been like that.

Mr. Wallace: It has not always been like that. The SSAs are lower today than they were at the time of the 1992 general election. While I believe that there is a good deal of agreement on the fact that money is not the whole answer, I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman honestly believes that things were so much better in the 1950s than they are today. In the 1950s, many children who were branded as failures after failing the 11-plus were denied achievements that would have been possible if they were being educated now. The number of people proceeding to further and higher education was much lower then than it is today. We have moved forward immeasurably in the past 40 years, but that also costs money.

The Labour party has accepted the Government's expenditure plans. I think it rather odd that a party whose members were saying, "Enough is enough," in November should now be saying, "Two more years of the same." It does not really stand up.

When the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) berated my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and the Liberal Democrats, she sounded like an aspiring Conservative junior Minister. Her figures were even more inflated than those of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). Oddly enough, in the earlier debate on health, my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) said the same about the hon. Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell). It is like Tweedledum and Tweedledee: there is no difference.

Perhaps the only difference that we shall see as we go into the next general election will come in the form of a party that is prepared and bold enough to say that it will make a difference, and is prepared to say that, by investing an extra 1p on the standard rate of income tax in education, there will be the necessary investment for our country's future and for the aspirations and opportunities of our young generation.

9.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Raymond S. Robertson): I am glad to have the opportunity to respond to the debate. In opening on behalf of the Government, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment clearly set out the Government's position. We fully recognise the importance of education. We are committed to ensuring school education of the highest quality, and we are making resources available to achieve that. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary set out the Government's plans and priorities for England and Wales. In summing up, it is my intention to show how that same commitment is taking effect in Scotland.

The Government's amendment draws the attention of the House to the investment that we have made, and continue to make, in early-years primary and secondary education, and to the reforms that we have introduced that ensure that available resources are used to the best effect.

I take particular pride in the evidence of those commitments in Scotland, and I wish to set them out clearly. The House well knows how we in Scotland pride

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ourselves on our education system. It knows that we are not shy of blowing our own trumpet when it comes to education achievements. The House knows also that we have good schools, a highly proficient teaching force and a proud record. It knows further the priority that the Government have attached to education in Scotland. The House will share my surprise, therefore, at the speeches of the hon. Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). Members from south of the border may be asking:


    "Stands Scotland where it did?"

I am glad to reassure the House that a system described as in collapse and bled dry is nothing more than a travesty. The House may find it helpful if I remind it of a situation that will be found if it focuses on the good work that is going on in schools throughout the country. If the hon. Gentleman did so, he would find evidence of the additional resources that have been made available and the achievements and the progress that they are bringing. The Government's reforms have stimulated quality, diversity and choice in our system, and some simple facts might help the hon. Gentleman.


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