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Mrs. Gillan: If, as the hon. Gentleman has said, Labour intend to govern for the many and not the few, can he tell the House what will happen to the music and ballet scheme? Every year, £7 million is spent on that scheme

2 Jun 1997 : Column 111

for a small number of children. The average expenditure per child is £12,750 a year. Do the Government plan to abolish that scheme because it is a form of assisted place that benefits the few and not the many?

Mr. Byers: I am delighted to be able to demonstrate in the clearest possible way that the Government will not be dominated by dogma but will adopt a practical, reasoned approach to such matters. We have always made it clear that specialist provision will not be under threat as a result of our policy. In fact, the ministerial team decided about two weeks ago that there would be no change to the music and ballet scheme. That is a clear demonstration of our commitment.

Three main issues were raised in the debate to which I wish to respond. The first was the question of choice. That was raised most persuasively by the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard). She said that parental choice would be denied as a result of the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. She seems to have forgotten the document published in 1996 by her Government when she was in office. It was a guide to parents who were considering applying for an assisted place for their children. The guide is very clear. It says:

In the previous Government's own words, it is a question not of parental choice but of schools selecting. That is the reality behind the former Government's rhetoric about parental choice.

The second issue was that of class size. We were asked whether we could meet our commitment to reducing class size and about the educational benefit of such a policy. Class sizes rose substantially during the previous Government's tenure in office. In 1996 there were more than 300,000 more primary pupils than in 1992 in classes of more than 30.

We will make reductions progressively as we receive the money from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. The clear difference between us and the Conservatives is that our priority will be investment in state education at the critical infant stage. Our respective positions reflect a profound difference of values.

We want to and will tackle the frustration and under-achievement caused by overcrowded classes. We will give priority to the 440,000 young children in England alone in classes of more than 30; but Conservative Members dwell on the 43,000 or so places under the assisted places scheme. We are certain that the money spent on the scheme would be put to better use in the state sector. The Bill ensures that we can make the earliest possible start on fulfilling our class size pledge.

The previous Government's plans provided for expenditure on the scheme for the current year of £140 million in England, £14 million in Scotland and £4.5 million in Wales. They had embarked on a substantial programme of expansion. They wanted to spend more than £200 million by the turn of the century on the assisted places scheme. We believe that we will be able to free up £100 million by 2000 to be used to reduce class size.

2 Jun 1997 : Column 112

Some argue that class size does not matter--that it makes no difference to the quality of education. Try telling that to the parents who buy reduced class size by sending their children to a private school.

Mr. Forth: How then would the hon. Gentleman interpret the motivation of parents who strive to get their children into an already successful, over-subscribed school with relatively large classes? Why, even in the state sector, do parents opt for a good school, providing good education with large classes, and ignore the half-empty school down the road with small classes that performs very badly?

Mr. Byers: Labour Members recognise that there is a combination of factors that will raise standards. The main two are smaller class size and teacher performance. In government, the right hon. Gentleman's party did nothing to improve teacher performance and was prepared to accept under-achievement in our schools.

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

Mr. Byers: I am sorry, but time does not allow it.

The chief inspector of schools said that, as far as he and Ofsted were concerned, a reduction of class size in the early years would make a real improvement in the quality of education.

The third, and perhaps the most important, issue that has been touched on is the view held by Conservative Members that bright children need the assisted places scheme to ensure that they receive a good education. In the words of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine),

I prefer the analysis of a practitioner rather than a politician and agree with the view expressed by John Rae when, as headmaster of Westminster School, he said:

    "the scheme is based on a false premise that an independent school is automatically a better place to educate a bright child."

The reality, which Conservative Members are not prepared to acknowledge, is that the assisted places scheme was the ultimate opt-out by an opt-out Government. It provided a subsidy to leave the system rather than taking positive action to tackle the underlying problems in our education system.

In that context, the assisted places scheme was simply a diversion and a distraction. It provided an excuse not to address the real issues facing our schools. It was one of the grounds for complacency under the previous Administration--a Government of drift who were not prepared to tackle the issues of underachievement and failure in our schools. This evening I give a commitment that the new Government will tackle under-achievement and failure with urgency and commitment--an approach that we did not see from the previous Conservative Government.

Nearly half our 11-year-olds do not reach the appropriate standard in English. What did the previous Government do to remedy that problem? Did they invest in support for literacy? No, they scrapped the reading recovery programme. Did they cut class sizes? No, they allowed 300,000 more primary pupils to be in classes of more than 30 in 1996 than in 1992. What the previous

2 Jun 1997 : Column 113

Government did was to announce plans to double the number of assisted places, a proposal that would have affected less than 1 per cent. of the school population. However, in many respects that reflected the priorities of the previous Administration--an approach that took from the many to benefit the few.

That must, and will, change. It must change because education is vital to Britain's future. High standards and skills for life are the key to individual achievement, to social cohesion and to economic prosperity for our country. To achieve that, we must provide high-quality education for all our children.

The previous Government lacked ambition for our country and for our people. As a result, policies for a few were promoted at the expense of the many. Labour makes no apology for rejecting a system of education based on the philosophy that only a few can be winners and that as a result, the majority have to be losers. We believe that high-quality education can be made available to all our children. That is why the Bill is so important. It moves away from the Conservatives' fixation with the educational needs of a small elite. It reflects this Government's commitment to raise standards for all our children in all our schools, children who have been woefully neglected over the past 18 years by a Government that failed to address the real issues.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): What about Labour local authorities?

Mr. Byers: Much good practice has been promoted by Labour local education authorities. We will build on that in the years ahead.

The assisted places scheme was born out of dogma but tonight reason will triumph, as we give notice that its days are numbered. The reduction of class sizes through the phasing out of the assisted places scheme was one of our key pledges to the electorate. Now, just over a month after winning the general election and forming a Government, we shall deliver on that promise. By giving the Bill its Second Reading, we will take an important step towards honouring our commitment to reduce class size--a commitment that we gave to the electorate. We will only promise what we can deliver and, tonight, we will deliver in government. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 413, Noes 153.

Division No. 6
[9.59 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Ros'dale)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Ms Charlotte
Austin, John
Baker, Norman
Ballard, Mrs Jackie
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne (Aberd'n S)
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Mrs Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Robert
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Boateng, Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brand, Dr Peter
Breed, Colin
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick
(Newcastle E & Wallsend)
Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burstow, Paul
Byers, Stephen
Cable, Dr Vincent
Caborn, Richard
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Canavan, Dennis
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Chidgey, David
Chisholm, Malcolm
Church, Ms Judith
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
(Hammersmith & Fulham)
Colman, Anthony (Putney)
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Ms Yvette
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Ms Jean
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Ms Clare
Dafis, Cynog
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Ms Janet
Denham, John
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Drown, Ms Julia
Eagle, Ms Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Ms Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Fatchett, Derek
Fearn, Ronnie
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Ms Lorna
Flint, Ms Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Ms Barbara
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael John (Worcester)
Galbraith, Sam
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St Ives)
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Gorrie, Donald
Graham, Thomas
Grant, Bernie
Griffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Gunnell, John
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Harris, Dr Evan
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate
Home Robertson, John
Hood, Jimmy
Hoon, Geoffrey
Hope, Philip
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley
(Stretford & Urmston)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Brian
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, Adam
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Ms Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Jones, Ms Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mon)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Jowell, Ms Tessa
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford)
Keetch, Paul
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby)
Kingham, Tessa
Kirkwood, Archy
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Laxton, Bob
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Livsey, Richard
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Lock, David
Love, Andy
McAllion, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
McDonagh, Ms Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McGrady, Eddie
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Ms Shona
McKenna, Ms Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McLeish, Henry
McMaster, Gordon
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Ms Judy
Mallon, Seamus
Mandelson, Peter
Marek, Dr John
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Merron, Ms Gillian
Michael, Alun
Milburn, Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moore, Michael
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Mountford, Ms Kali
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Mudie, George
Murphy, Dennis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Opik, Lembit
Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Mrs Sandra
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Ms Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Giles
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Rendel, David
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rogers, Allan
Rooker, Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Ms Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Snape, Peter
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stott, Roger
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Swinney, John
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Touhig, Don
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr Rudi
Wallace, James
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Webb, Steven
Welsh, Andrew
White, Brian
Whitehead, Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Dr Alan W
(E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Willis, Phil
Wills, Michael
Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Kevin Hughes and
Mr. Graham Allen.


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baldry, Tony
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Burns, Simon
Butterfill, John
Cash, William
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cran, James
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Davies, Quentin
(Grantham & Stamford)
Day, Stephen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Forsythe, Clifford
Forth, Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
(Old Bexley & Sidcup)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard (N Essex)
Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Major, Rt Hon John
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mates, Michael
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Merchant, Piers
Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Prior, David
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Ruffley, David
St Aubyn, Nick
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Temple-Morris, Peter
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Wardle, Charles
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Woodward, Shaun
Yeo, Tim
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Richard Ottaway and
Mr. Bowen Wells.

Question accordingly agreed to.

2 Jun 1997 : Column 117

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills),

That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.--[Mr. Byers.]

Question agreed to.

Committee tomorrow.

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