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Mr. Hopkins: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Conservatives would devolve more spending to the front line. Gershon's report suggests that in fact, pooling resources and scaling up—particularly to local authorities or even to Government for matters such as ordering—would be a more efficient way of spending money. One could save money by greater centralisation, rather than by more devolution.

Mr. Collins: Gershon came up with a number of very interesting recommendations in his report, but if his bottom line is that—to summarise the hon. Gentleman's intervention—centralisation is a way of saving money, I   should point out that that flies in the face of the experience of all Governments in at least the past 50 years. The fact is that the more decisions are taken in   Whitehall, the less value for money one gets. That is   why we are determined—on the basis of independent advice received from the extremely respected James committee—to proceed in entirely the opposite direction, and according to the view that value for money will proceed from devolving power and decision making, rather than from taking it upwards.
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I was going through a list of some of the ways in which we will spend money differently from this Government. We will scrap the top-heavy, expensive and unpopular learning and skills councils, transferring money away from their huge administrative costs and into the proper provision of vocational education and training instead. We will abolish the failed Connexions programme and use the savings to fund the re-creation of a proper careers service.

Mr. Willis: I have heard the argument for getting rid   of the Learning and Skills Council, which is in the James review's report. How would a college get its money under the Conservative proposal? Would a Conservative Government directly fund each student, or would a new quango be created to distribute funds to the colleges?

Mr. Collins: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. We propose to merge the Higher Education Funding Council and the Further Education Funding Council, reducing the number of quangos by one. We do indeed intend to apply to further education the principle of money following the student, as we already propose to do in secondary education, and as is the logical consequence of the changes taking place in higher education. We furthermore intend to offer both FE and HE a much simplified funding structure that involves no top-slicing and getting rid of all the silos. The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the frustration that many FE colleges and HE institutions feel when the various bureaucracies that interfere with their work tell them how to do their job. We propose something much simpler and much more cost-effective.

In our first term, we will invest in providing 600,000 additional school places as part of our commitment to giving 100,000 extra parents their first choice of school. We will invest in building new "turnaround schools" to sort out the problem of disruptive children in mainstream schools who cannot be educated, and who do not allow others to be educated. That is in clear contrast with the Secretary of State. She said that she is in favour of drawing lines in the sand, of zero tolerance and of cracking down hard on misbehaviour, but it transpires that that means that head teachers still would not have the final say on exclusions, and that she believes that she knows better than they do whether a child should be excluded. Moreover, we will invest in keeping special schools open, rather than allowing more and more of them to close in pursuit of a politically correct and often entirely inappropriate strategy of one-size-fits-all inclusion.

Ruth Kelly: I am very much looking forward to the moment in the hon. Gentleman's speech when he discusses his proposal to take money out of the state system, through a voucher policy, and to put it into the independent sector. He disagreed with my figure of £1 billion last week; will he now confirm how much his proposal will actually cost?

Mr. Collins: What we established last week was that the Secretary of State had produced a figure that she alleged was the cost of the Conservative policy, but she could not provide a single Conservative quotation to justify it. We also established last week that the policy
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that she criticises us for advancing in respect of education is exactly the same policy that her Government are currently implementing in respect of health. In other words, a patient is usually paid for by the taxpayer, and a child is usually paid for by the taxpayer when access to a state hospital or school is required. People who want to access a school that is not owned or run by the state are, in the Secretary of State's view, taking money out of public services in education, but if they want to use a hospital that is not owned or run by the state, they are acting in accordance with the spirit of proper reform in health care. In our view, that is   a sensible policy to pursue across the whole of the public services. How, then, does the Secretary of State distinguish what we are proposing for education from what her Government are now doing in health?

Ruth Kelly: It is interesting to note that the hon. Gentleman is giving an entire speech on education without mentioning his party's policy of introducing vouchers, under which money can be taken out of the state system and put into the private sector. He asks me where I came across the £1 billion figure, and I can tell him. I got it from Lord Blackwell, head of the No.   10 policy unit between 1995 and 1997. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman knows that, and if he is going to disagree with the Conservative head of that unit, perhaps he will tell us how much money his voucher proposal will take out of the state education system.

Mr. Collins: The Secretary of State should apply one of the rules advanced by a former Labour Front Bencher in the House of Lords. It became known as Healey's first law of holes: when in one, stop digging. If the best that she can come up with is a reference to someone who has not been associated with the Conservative Government for nearly a decade—

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Twigg): There has not been a Conservative Government for nearly a decade.

Mr. Collins: Well, he has not been associated with the Conservative Front Bench for nearly a decade either. The Secretary of State will have to do rather better than that. If she wants to get into the business of quoting independent think-tanks, I was interested to hear that earlier in her speech she quoted the Institute for Fiscal Studies. I would have thought that that was somewhat unwise for any Minister in a Budget debate. It is perfectly in order for me to point out, Mr. Speaker, that the Institute for Fiscal Studies believes, and has said on the record, that the Chancellor will have to increase taxes very substantially after the next election, by something in the order of £11 billion. That has been said again and again, and we are happy to go into the general election on the basis of a battle of the think-tanks, if that is what the Secretary of State wants.

The choice at the next election will not be about how much money should be spent on our schools—both parties wish to spend broadly the same—but about how it is spent. Labour says more and more of it should be spent on bureaucrats, form fillers and top-heavy quangos. We say that more and more of it should be
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spent in schools by head teachers on their own priorities and, yes, money should follow parental preference. Labour says that quantity is all that matters—more exams, more years of education, more places at university. We say that quality, merit and proven effectiveness are what really matter in child care, exam credibility and access to university. No one is benefiting if more and more graduates leave with higher and higher debts in pursuit of fewer and fewer well-paid graduate-level jobs.

In this Budget, as ever, the Chancellor has been boastful. We say that the fundamentals of education are no more secure under this Administration than are those of pensions, taxation and competitiveness. With truancy up, violence up, a teacher assaulted every seven minutes, confidence in exams falling, literacy and numeracy standards unacceptably poor, and the quality of school meals a national disgrace, we do not want more of the same. It is time for a change, so let us have that general election right now.

4.28 pm

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): I was sorely tempted to discuss the initiatives of the Design Council and its chair, George Cox, particularly examining the products of small businesses. However, I changed my mind and decided to talk about how small businesses came about in the first place. Here in the Chancellor's document is a seven-page initiative about science, innovation, technology and engineering. We do not usually hear those subjects discussed in such a full-hearted way, so I am extremely encouraged by the   contributions of Labour and, in particular, the Chancellor to developing ideas in this sphere.

There has been a slow realisation of the importance of such subjects, which has led to the doubling of the science budget under the Labour Government. A long time ago, I promoted a ten-minute Bill asking for that and never believed that it would happen, but it has—I   should have asked for the budget to be quadrupled. The Government have given great encouragement. I am pleased about that and congratulate them.

The importance of science and technology in developing the economy and business and in employing people and so on is seriously to be welcomed.

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