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Claire Ward (Watford) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Illsley: No, I am sorry. I have given way once already and time is limited.

Why should not industry and commerce contribute to higher education? Why should not people such as me, a graduate—several years ago, obviously—contribute through some form of graduate tax? Why should the students of the future be landed with the historical costs?

I have heard the arguments about the dustman subsidising the barrister, but we already do that in the national health service. If we have the same pride in our education system as we do in our health service, we should apply the same principles to both. The arguments are the same. It is as if we were to say that people who have never been in hospital should be exempt from paying national insurance contributions. The same principle applies to the argument that because only one person benefits from their degree, they should pay for it. There is no reason why we should not have different methods of taxation. Certainly, there should be contributions from graduates—as there should be from a wide range of people—to cover fees.

In view of the comments of the hon. Member for Newbury, I shall not say much more about thresholds. Using the hon. Gentleman's lower estimate of a £25,000 debt, let us consider the situation of two young people who meet at university and marry. At graduation, they have a joint debt of £50,000. How will they plan for a life and a family? At the age of 22, how could they plan for

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a mortgage with a joint debt of £50,000? It is ridiculous. How would they afford to pay for the rest of their life? That is not lifelong learning; it is lifelong debt.

When I intervened earlier, I referred to a story that I heard a few years ago at a conference in Canada. One evening, I was talking to the MP for Prince Edward Island who told me that he had been celebrating because he had just paid off his student loans and fees. That MP was in his 40s and a general practitioner, yet he had only just managed to pay off those debts. I said to him, "Well, you've taken some time because surely those loans, like the ones that we are about to introduce in the UK, were at the minimum rate of interest and there must have been thresholds". He replied, "Yes, we started at a zero interest rate. Now our student fees and loans are subject to a commercial rate." The Government say now that the repayments will be made at low interest rates, but those rates could rise in two, three or four years. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills said that the interest would be subsidised by the Government. That is interesting, but future Chancellors of the Exchequer will look at what is being paid in interest rate subsidies to support the cheap loans. They could well be tempted to increase interest rates and take the burden away from Government. The personal anecdote that I have related has stayed with me for many years. I have great concern about what will happen in respect of top-up fees.

It has been argued that the fees could be variable, with some universities charging £3,000 and others nothing. That is ridiculous. Which university would turn down the possibility of charging each student £3,000 per annum, given—so we are told—that they are strapped for cash to pay off their historical debts and to fund an increase in student numbers? The chances are that most will charge fees at the highest level. A recent survey suggested that the vast majority of universities will go straight to that level.

It has already been noted that, if variable fees are introduced, the result will be a system with two, three or four tiers. People will opt for cheaper degrees. The Bill will create a marketplace in further education, and people will choose their higher education on the basis of what they can pay and afford.

It seems strange that the Government should want a big conversation so that they can hear people's views, when 140 Labour Members have said that they oppose the policy on student fees. However, the Government are pressing ahead with the policy, and it seems that no alternative will be offered.

I plead with my Government to think again. The cost of higher education should be spread more broadly. Everyone should pay for it, and the cost should not just be dumped on future students.

4.42 pm

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I shall comment on two proposals in the Queen's Speech that relate to my constituency, before enlarging on health and education issues.

I welcome the inclusion of a housing Bill in the Queen's Speech. I assume that it will be based on the draft Bill published in April, which includes a national licensing scheme for houses in multiple occupation. That would undoubtedly assist the regeneration of

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Boscombe in my constituency, where poor housing conditions and unscrupulous private landlords continue to exist.

I hope that the Bill will also include reform of the law on travellers, as I have urged on the Deputy Prime Minister. I hope that the reforms will be along the lines of my private Member's Bill, which the House has allowed me to introduce during the last two Sessions of Parliament. Many hon. Members of all parties believe that such provisions are necessary to resolve the never-ending problems that unauthorised encampments cause, not least in Dorset.

I hope that the housing Bill will also include reform of the management of home parks, which are the sites of so-called mobile homes. Sadly, the management of two such sites in my constituency—Iford Bridge park and Hengist park—have long caused concern to their residents, the local neighbourhood, the council and me. The site owners have failed in their duty of care, and that amply demonstrates the need for reform of the licensing system for mobile home parks.

The Queen's Speech refers to the publishing of further draft clauses of a Bill on gambling. The draft Bill includes much of what I called for in my Adjournment debate on casinos, which was held seven years ago on 28 February 1996. We in Bournemouth have two rather modest casinos. I want Bournemouth to realise its full potential as Britain's premier seaside resort of world class. There is no reason why more casinos cannot contribute to our local economy. I do not want Blackpool to grab the market in casinos when the reforms become law. I therefore urge the Government to introduce the Bill.

I turn now to the provision of public services. I fear that what is proposed in the Queen's Speech and in next year's local government finance settlement will do nothing to help the beleaguered hospitals and schools of Bournemouth. Last week, I attended a meeting of the board of the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch hospital trust. Also present were the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). We heard of the continuing problems posed by bed blocking. There simply remain insufficient beds in the local community for frail, elderly patients awaiting discharge from hospital. As a result, operations are being postponed. In October, Bournemouth's Daily Echo reported 60 operations cancelled in a week because of delayed discharges. What is proposed in the Queen's Speech offers no new encouragement. The hospitals serving Bournemouth, Christchurch and east Dorset will continue to face a critical situation arising from bed blocking, which is bound to increase waiting lists.

Turning to education, I want to tell the House of the crisis currently facing the schools of Bournemouth. All of us in Bournemouth welcomed the restoration of unitary authority status in 1997. As well as being our own education authority once again, we also looked forward to a better deal on funding. Unfortunately, that has not proved to be the case. Since 1997, Bournemouth has received the lowest percentage increase of any local education authority. Funding for schools in Bournemouth continues to fail to take account of the constant fluctuation of the population and the

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significant number of pupils coming into our schools with little knowledge of English. It fails to reflect the pockets of social deprivation in the town, which contains four wards in the highest 20 per cent. and two wards in the highest 10 per cent. of national deprivation figures. That was confirmed by last year's Ofsted-Audit Commission inspection of the LEA in which Bournemouth was judged to be one of the best in this country—on grade 1—but was more poorly funded than those LEAs on grade 5.

Despite this discouraging situation, some of our schools had managed since 1997 to build up revenue balances to allow long-term planning for their continuing improvement. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Under the new methodology introduced on 1 April, in which Bournemouth received the minimum grant with an increase of 3.2 per cent. per pupil, those balances have been reduced by more than £1 million, and many schools are being forced to look for support through licensed deficits.

In response to several letters that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) and I received from local heads warning us that teachers would have to be made redundant and class sizes would rise because they were facing budget deficits, we wrote to every head to ask to learn of the situation that they face. Their ready responses have made sorry reading, and represent the clearest possible confirmation of the disaster that has been the Government's funding of schools for this year. Concerning those primary schools that responded to our survey, one school that did not want to be named has made redundant three excellent teachers—two of them assigned to pupils with special needs. It can no longer afford to send teachers on training courses. Stourfield junior school has reduced staffing by the equivalent of 2.5 teachers. It has put the replacement of computer equipment on hold, and its head teacher tells me that it is

The current budget shortfall facing King's Park school is £10,000. Its head has taken a cut in pay, and it cannot afford to build a new reception and year 1 building, as recommended by Ofsted. The Epiphany school, which has always lived within its budget since it opened in 1987, faces a deficit of £130,000 this year. That is a school whose finances, says Ofsted, are "very well managed". Its head teacher's appeal to me is that he needs not jam tomorrow but bread today.

Regarding our secondary schools, Bournemouth school faces a budget deficit of £150,000. Unless funding increases significantly, its governors will face a recommendation to place part of the school on part-time education. The Bournemouth school for girls has not replaced its deputy head teacher, who has retired. It desperately needs to replace four dilapidated mobile classrooms, which students cannot use on health and safety grounds, and for which two capital fund bids for a new replacement block of £60,000 under targeted funding have been unsuccessful. And Avonbourne school faces a deficit of £70,000 this year unless it makes redundancies and increases class sizes after having cut GCSE music altogether and abandoned its proposed upgrade for computers that are five years old.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West has asked me to record the experience of Oakmead college of technology, which faces an £80,000 deficit this

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year. It is not replacing teacher assistants when they leave. The loss of its standards fund is having an enormous impact on the most vulnerable pupils, as is the reduction in anger management classes. Winton school faces a deficit of £144,000. Class sizes have increased from 25 to as much as 38. Training projects have been cancelled, and a stop has been put to taking in more students with visual impairment. Glenmoor school in my hon. Friend's constituency faces similar problems.

That is the experience that Bournemouth schools have of a Government who, according to the Queen's Speech, are committed to:

Will the situation that I have described improve for Bournemouth in the light of the Secretary of State's statement to the House on 28 October? No, it will not. The deficits of all the schools that I have mentioned total nearly £1 million, but the transitional grant allocated for Bournemouth for 2004–05 is £670,000. So Bournemouth's schools will remain in the red.

To help to remedy our situation, the director of education for Bournemouth has asked me to tell the Minister to move from the formula spending share methodology to a fairer, activity-led resourcing model—ALR—which our LEA uses. He has also proposed the inter-LEA recoupment for mainstream school places, which is already done for special school places.

If the Government do not repair the damage that they are doing to Bournemouth's schools—indeed, to schools everywhere—they will have no one else to blame when parents, teachers and governors demand freedom for their schools to set their own policies, to run their own budgets and to give every school a fair deal on funding, which is what the next Conservative Government will do.

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