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Higher Education

13. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): What recent representations he has received on the financing of higher education. [119636]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received a number of representations on funding for higher education. His announcement on 23 November 1999 outlined the Government's plans up to 2001-02. To maintain the high quality of our higher education and to encourage research and innovation, we plan to invest more than £1 billion extra over the four years from April 1998--an increase of 11 per cent. in real terms.

Mr. Syms: Can the Minister confirm that the last Labour manifesto did not mention that higher education would be given a lower priority under the present Government than it was given under the Conservative Government? A recent parliamentary answer revealed that the last Conservative Government spent 1.29 per cent. of gross domestic product on higher education. The present Government are spending 1.14 per cent. of GDP on higher education. Perhaps the Minister will assure the House that the Government will be more honest about that dismal failure.

Mr. Wicks: Of course, GDP has increased substantially under the present Government and expenditure in universities is increasing in real terms. If the Conservatives are interested in statistics, let me say that, between 1989 and 1997--the Tory years--there was a real-terms reduction of 36 per cent. per unit cost. That was the reality during the Tory years. That meant--let me spell it out--£2,553 per student. We will maintain quality while seeing numbers rise in our universities.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Is my hon. Friend aware that more than 1,000 Scottish students go to the universities of Durham, Northumbria at Newcastle and Newcastle Upon Tyne? Does he share my unease that Scottish students may not find it as easy as they did to go on the course that is deemed correct for them and, equally, the concern about English students who might be going to Scottish universities? What is the Government's attitude to the present financing arrangements?

Mr. Wicks: The logic of devolution is that the different Governments in this country and in Scotland may make different judgments about the funding of higher education and student finance. We should not grumble about that diversity. In this country, we are confident that our funding system is fair to students and their parents and fair to the taxpayer. It is fair because some 40 per cent. of students are not having to pay tuition fees in this country.

On the broader point, I am confident that there will be a proper flow of students from both England and Wales to Scotland and vice versa. That has always been a strength of the system and it will be maintained.

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Training and Enterprise Councils

14. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What representations he has received about the abolition of training and enterprise councils; and if he will make a statement. [119637]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks): We have been holding regular discussions with TECs and the TEC National Council since the publication of the "Learning to Succeed" White Paper in June last year. Throughout those discussions, individual TECs and the TEC National Council have been supportive of our plans to introduce a new coherent approach to post-16 learning. I welcome that support and the contribution that TEC board members and staff are making to the development of the learning and skills councils.

There are obvious anxieties in the period of transition between TECs and the new learning and skills councils. We are talking with the TECs all the way. I thank all involved in the TECs for helping during that period.

Miss McIntosh: The Minister obviously understands that it is a period of great uncertainty and instability for those working in the TECs. Will he join me in paying tribute to those in such TECs as the North Yorkshire one, which have achieved a certain degree of excellence, particularly in bringing together business expertise and placing those in schools in future employment?

Will the new organisation be so complex and so big, as indicated by Baroness Blackstone in evidence to the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, that everyone will be placed, or will some people who are currently employed by TECs be made redundant?

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Mr. Wicks: The situation regarding individual TECs is complex because TECs' responsibilities vary a great deal. Many staff will perhaps transfer from TECs to the learning and skills councils. Others, given their functions, may seek places with the Small Business Service or other agencies, including the Employment Service. We are working very closely with TECs to ensure that anxieties can be met and that we have a good future. I join the hon. Lady, as I did earlier, in paying tribute to TECs for much good work, not least the North Yorkshire TEC, which I have some knowledge of and which I visited recently.

Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon): Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the establishment of the South London learning and skills council and the new lifelong learning partnership in my borough of Merton? Does he agree that the Government's new lifelong learning initiatives will be a golden thread that binds the strands of the Department for Education and Employment and will give greater strength and coherence to the Government's approach to welfare reform, labour market reforms and economic reform?

Mr. Wicks: I do indeed agree with my hon. Friend. The great lesson is that we have to make lifelong learning a reality--not only, at the first chance, for those who are aged 16 to 19 but for everyone of whatever age, including those who are in their 50s and early 60s so that they can reskill and retrain. I look forward to the work of the South London learning and skills council, in which my hon. Friend and I have a common interest. I should add that the new Learning and Skills Council will save much money: there will be a £50 million reduction in public spending, which is money that can be used in the front line for learning. Much of that money will be used across the country, but not least in south London and in Greater London. I say that on a day when democracy returns to Greater London.

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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Will the Leader of the House give the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 8 May--Remaining stages of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill.

Tuesday 9 May--Progress on remaining stages of the Transport Bill.

Wednesday 10 May--Conclusion of remaining stages of the Transport Bill.

Thursday 11 May--Debate on the common agricultural policy on a Government motion. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Friday 12 May--Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

Monday 15 May--Second Reading of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Tuesday 16 May--Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 17 May--Remaining stages of the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Thursday 18 May--Second Reading of the Care Standards Bill [Lords].

Friday 19 May--Private Members' Bills.

Sir George Young: The House is grateful for next week's business and an indication of the business for the following week. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government motion for Thursday's debate will be tabled in good time?

The right hon. Lady has not announced the Northern Ireland policing Bill, which has been widely trailed and expected. May I ask what has happened to it, as it is getting rather late in the Session to introduce new Bills?

Although we are grateful that the debate on Lords reform is not being held today, when many hon. Members are reconnecting with their electorates, it is an important debate, and it is important that the House should address the key issue of the role and composition of the second Chamber. I therefore hope that it will not be too long before we can have that debate.

There is continuing concern in the House about the future of Longbridge and Dagenham, and it is some time since we had a statement from the Trade and Industry Secretary. Might we expect such a statement next week on progress in the negotiations between BMW and possible bidders?

If there are any developments on Zimbabwe, could the House be kept informed?

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In today's elections, there are new methods of voting--which are always of interest to hon. Members. Could we have a debate on the implications of those experiments, in case they are extended and applied in future Westminster elections?

The Leader of the House may have received an e-mail message saying "I love you". I have to tell her that, sadly, that affectionate greeting contains a virus which has immobilised the House's internal communications system--the parliamentary data and video network. That means that no Member can receive e-mails from outside, nor indeed can we communicate with each other by e-mail. That has important implications for how we set about our duties and how we keep in touch with our constituents. I understand that, currently, our suppliers have no known cure. Is the right hon. Lady satisfied that everything possible is being done to restore the system? Does she agree that a review is needed to ensure that, in future, our system is adequately protected from such viruses?

The line of route is to be opened during the summer recess for the first time. It is therefore more important than usual for the dates of the summer recess to be known, so that proper planning can be made for that facility. Can the Leader of the House shed any light on that important event?


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