Mrs. Dorries: Over the past five years many science departments in universities have closed, and the largest proportion of science students are from the independent sector, so the position is far worse than my hon. Friend suggested. There is little point investing in science labs in the state sector, because there is nowhere for those students to study science if they obtain qualifications.
Mr. Willetts: I agree, and I hope that when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury makes his winding-up speech, we will obtain an authoritative statement about what happened to the £250 million that was announced during the election. I am afraid, however, that we must leave the judgment to John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who said:
"During the election campaign, the DTI announced out of the blue that it was putting £250 million into improving school science labs. After repeated requests to the DfES and DTI, we have at last discovered, as we feared, that this money does not exist."
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Government, with Wellcome Trust money, have renewed and rebuilt laboratories, and have also built new laboratories in every university in the county? Has he visited a university that does not have a huge amount of building under way? His constituency may be a bad example, but in my constituency of Norwich, North, five science labs have been built in schools, and I have opened every one.
Mr. Willetts: I am pleased that that has happened in the hon. Gentleman's schools, but we have still not received an authoritative answer to the question of whether we should take seriously the pledge made by the Prime Minister during the election.
John Bercow: Again, we need to focus on outputs, not merely on inputs. As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's international student assessment shows that the United Kingdom has fallen from fourth to 11th in the international league table for science, ought we not to be told by the Government why?
My hon. Friend is right. I was hoping to ask the Secretary of State for a little more information about what she was doing to tackle that. I intended to devote a section of my speech to the 3,000 new science
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teachers mentioned in the Chancellor's Budget statement, but not mentioned in the Red Book. Perhaps we will hear more about them in the winding-up speech.
I turn to the subject of further education, about which the Secretary of State spoke and on which we have had a White Paper today. I agree with the right hon. Lady about the importance of FE. I served on the governing body of an FE college for six years, after it was incorporated. Many FE colleges greatly welcomed incorporation, although I fear that the present direction of policy is slowly and insidiously to take away many of the freedoms that FE colleges had an opportunity to seize then.
FE has rightly been described as sometimes being the middle child in the world of education, which does not get the attention that it merits, between schools and higher education. Sir Andrew Foster's report on FE was excellent. I hope the Secretary of State will agree that if we ever want to assess the Government's performance when it comes to opening up skills and opportunities for our young people, nothing beats table D4 of Labour Market Trends. That says it all. I shall give some edited highlights.
The table is entitled "Economic Activity and Economic Inactivity", broken down by age. It shows that among 16 and 17-year-olds, 95,000 are unemployed and not in full-time education. There are a further 122,000 who are economically inactive and not in full-time education, which adds up to a total of 217,000 16 and 17-year-olds alone. That compares with a figure of 170,000quite bad enoughwhen the Government came to office. I should like to hear from the Secretary of State why she thinks that figure had deteriorated so much during her years in office.
The next line in the table provides figures for 18 to 24-year-olds. A total of 997,000 18 to 24-year-olds are neither working nor studying nor training. Again, that is a bad figure; the total was 912,000 when the Government came to office. After nine years of initiatives, the new deal and all the other investment, the number of young people who are neither working nor studying nor training has significantly deteriorated since the Government started. Instead of the complacency that we heard from the Secretary of State, I hoped that for once she would tell us why the figures are still deteriorating. None of us can take any comfort from the fact that the position is so bad. The Opposition are entitled to be sceptical about the Government's chances of tackling this very serious problem.
On page 27 of Sir Andrew Foster's report there is a little box that tells the story that we hear from anybody working in the world of FE. The box is entitled, "List of organisations with a monitoring/inspection/improvement role in FE colleges". I will not detain the House by reading out the full list. Suffice it to say that 17 different bodies are listed in the report as having a role in the regulation of FE. My understanding of what today's White Paper proposes is that one of the bodies, the adult learning inspectorate, is merged with Ofsted, but one new body is createdthe quality improvement inspectorateleaving us still with a net total of 17 bodies improving, regulating and auditing FE. That is far too many bodies supervising FE. It is clear from Sir Andrew Foster's report that that is the problem that he wants tackled.
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The report is clear. There should be more autonomy for FE colleges, and fewer bodies endlessly inspecting, auditing and checking thembut there is nothing in the White Paper that tackles that problem. Instead, we still have a multiplicity of agencies.
The Secretary of State spoke today about some of the measures in the White Paper. One of the features of it is the focus on the under-25s. We would like to hear more about how that balances outwhat it will mean, for example, for programmes and courses that are particularly valued by older people, and whether the shift in funding will mean more of the kind of problems that were brought to all our surgeries in the past couple of years involving older people who enjoyed courses at FE colleges that did not lead to an official vocational qualification, but had found that their costs rose or their courses closed because the Learning and Skills Council was no longer willing to fund them.
Many people get real social value from a range of coursesbe it learning the piano or the guitar, or basket weaving. We would like to hear from the Secretary of State whether buried in the White Paper is a further shift of funding away from such courses, so that when people come to our surgeries again next year to ask why, yet again, the cost of those courses has gone up, we can be clear about when the Government made the statement, and what its implications were.
There is a big focus in the White Paper on national vocational qualifications. Is the Secretary of State, like me, concerned about many employers' lack of confidence in NVQs? The paradox is that the funding is being shifted to NVQ levels 1 and 2, when those qualifications command no premium whatsoever in the labour market. They are not worth any increase in pay. That tells us something about what employers think of those NVQs. Why are the Government trying to funnel Learning and Skills Council funding into courses that, sadly, are of the lowest value in the labour market, and away from courses that have other values?
I hope that in the course of the Budget debate we will get more information about these important points, which will enable us to get behind the rhetoric of the Budget statement last week and the Secretary of State's speech today, so that people working in education can have a little more hard information on which they can plan. The right hon. Lady failed to provide that information in her speech. I hope that we will hear more in the winding-up speech.
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Let us be clear that as regards the world of education, we have a Chancellor who can only talk money, does not understand the importance of reform, and failed to commit himself to the Education and Inspections Bill in his Budget statement. We have a Prime Minister who talks reform but can deliver it only with Opposition help and support. It is only the Opposition who have a commitment to the proper funding of education, combined with real reform of education. That is why only we can deliver higher educational standards.