HC Deb 24 March 1987 vol 113 cc173-94 4.11 pm
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

It is with great pleasure that I commence what one gathers will be a lengthy debate on the Consolidated Fund. My pleasure is mixed with relief because every few years I hazard a chance in the ballot and usually end up making a 'nocturnal contribution. My pleasure in initiating this debate is doubled, therefore, by the unfortunate experiences of the past.

Education is a vast and important subject. I shall not range over it all, but shall fix on specific parts and, I hope, leave time for other hon. Members to participate in what is surely one of the most relevant debates that we can hold at this time. I shall deal with two aspects, both of them of national significance, although the first is of considerable local significance to my constituency of Leominster. I shall deal first with school closures, about which my hon. Friend the Minister of State has spoken in the past. School closures are of particular relevance to my constituency in terms of the future of rural schools. I shall deal secondly with teachers' pay and conditions, because this debate could not take place without talking about them.

In referring to school closures I shall emphasise rural schools in particular. I immediately declare my constituency interest because my constituency is one of the largest in south and central England, comprising 800 square miles and having within its circumference the grand total of one traffic light.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Ha, ha.

Mr. Temple-Morris

I see that my hon. Friend from Oxfordshire is bursting with merriment. Perhaps there are a few more traffic lights in Banbury. Nevertheless, it is a very pleasant constituency.

The education authority responsible for my constituency and the Hereford and Worcester county council remain, I am proud to say, Conservative-controlled. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree, and heed the fact, that Conservative-controlled areas such as mine feel strongly about some of the actions that the Department of Education and Science is rumoured to be thinking about—I say that advisedly.

Councillor David Muffett, the chairman of the Hereford and Worcester education committee has shown himself to be a champion of the small school. Pursuant to the injunctions of the Department of Education and Science, my local authority has been conducting a review. I am delighted that Councillor Muffett and his working committee have recommended that there should be no closures in the rural west, an area about which my constituency and I are particularly concerned. I am extremely relieved. Under the review, no fewer than two secondary comprehensive schools, two sixth forms in two other comprehensive schools are threatened with closure and numerous primary schools could be affected.

The Government and my hon. Friend the Minister of State should note some aspects of this review. I must say in their defence that this exercise is necessary whoever is in government. Both sides of the House are bound to ensure that the great amount spent on education—I shall not quibble about how much is spent here or how much there—is spent in the best interests of pupils.

In talking about closures, there must be a certain balance. I should like to give what is perhaps a slightly extreme and personal example. Obviously, every closure is a battlefield and every Member of Parliament becomes involved in virtually every campaign on closure. The first one in which I was involved concerned a small village school in my constituency in 1975 when Labour was in government. I pursued the matter right through to the then Minister of State, Department of Education and Science and I thought that I argued my case as well as most hon. Members could. But I found that I could not argue that the continuation of a school which then had 16 pupils, and whose population was to come down to 14 pupils, was a good thing. There must be a balance.

There is another side to the coin. Bearing in mind the pronouncements in recent years by the Department of Education and Science, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to beware of the sweeping macro solution, whether it comes from White Papers or from beautifully named circulars or is the result of a numbers game, appropriately played by that distinguished body, the Audit Commission. When I mention that name, I am sure that some of my hon. Friends shudder at the thought of the effects if some of its numbers are applied strictly and dogmatically and, perhaps above all else, if the case involving the numbers on which we settle is not argued with the British public and won. I do not think that we have embarked on that yet.

I said that each school represents an individual battlefield. I do not want to heighten the nightmare for the hon. Friend the Minister, but I must point out that 4,000 rural primaries and comprehensive schools could be affected. There are 2,000 village schools with fewer than 50 people. Many comprehensives, including Tenbury high school and Weobley high school, have well under the sacred numbers game mark of 900 pupils. Whatever we do in the House, we have to sell our case. In doing so, we must learn more about the economic, educational and social factors involved before we put up the backs of the entire rural world.

Hereford and Worcester county council, as part of its review, is commissioning a report on rural secondary schools from Warwick university. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), who is in his place, and I are pleased to hear that. We know that our country will have something on which to base future decisions and will perhaps have a much better input when it comes to influencing the Department of Education and Science. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have shown that they have some sympathy with my comments.

I would like to quote a press release issued by Conservative central office, which contained remarks made by my hon. Friend the Minister during her recent visit to Truro during the by-election campaign. That release is dated Thursday 19 February and it shows her general support for the points I am trying to make today. I wish to quote those comments because I believe that my hon. Friend may have something to say about them when she replies. The press release stated: We are aware that there is concern in Cornwall and throughout Britain about the future of many rural schools and particularly about the effects of the Government's circular on the viability of smaller schools. We are re-thinking our policy on rural schools because we feel that parental choice is extremely important. We recognise that there may be a case for a more relaxed attitude to the size and future of these schools. There may be costs involved in allowing smaller schools to stay open. But we must also consider children—especially younger children—in rural areas such as Cornwall and the distances they might otherwise have to travel. I have deliberately put that on the record because it is relevant—indeed, we will welcome any further comments about that from my hon. Friend.

The second aspect that I wish to discuss is teachers' pay and conditions. It is appropriate to discuss this at the present time. Let me say—I am sure to the relief of both sides of the House—that I will do my best not to be overly partisan, unless provoked. Frankly, I believe that the subject is far too important to be over-partisan. Surprising as it may seem, there is considerable agreement among the various parties to the dispute which should deny justification for the exacerbation of the present conflict.

Yesterday, in preparation for this debate, I re-read some of the long history of the matter. I went through the Burnham committee, up hill and down dale, from the days of Lord Burnham, I went through Acts of Parliament, Houghton's, Clegg's, Nottingham, Coventry and everything else. I have mentioned those quickly because I will not refer to them in detail—I am sure hon. Members will be pleased about that.

After several hours reading about the various matters, I reached the conclusion that it is utterly wrong that the Government of the day—dare I say, any Government—should not act to ensure that the present chaos does not continue to harm our children and our children's futures. Such was the conclusion that I inevitably reached having studied the regrettable mess involved.

The background to the problem is tortuous, to say the least. I will not recite the details, but will extract a few essentials. First, I wish to concentrate on the Burnham committee. In many respects that committee is at the heart of the matter. Hon. Members will be aware that it is virtually agreed that, for many years, there has been general dissatisfaction with the Burnham committee. The problem is not that dissatisfaction, but what to put in place of the Burnham committee. Moreover, the problem is how to achieve the necessary agreement to put anything in its place.

I wish to draw attention to three relevant reasons for such dissatisfaction—it is necessary to highlight those reasons to find the answer to the problem. The first is the old historical chestnut which, to a large extent, rendered Burnham inadequate and signalled its demise—the fact that Burnham could not deal with conditions of service, but only with pay. That had much bearing on the present problems. In this, Burnham is almost unique in terms of a pay-settling body and its inability to deal with conditions has been at the root of the current problems. This has to be altered and there is a good measure of agreement among the parties involved about that.

The second problem concerns the multiplicity of union representation. For better or worse, there has been a constant history of disagreement between the various unions involved with the committee. Should the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) ever be in government, he will appreciate that such disagreement represents a negotiator's nightmare when trying to reach agreement.

The nightmarish aspect continues because of the problems connected with the employers' side of the negotiations. That represents the dichotomy of the control of education—that between national and local government. That is a subject for a one-and-a-half-hour debate in its own right. For the purposes of this debate, however, we must accept the present position. It is always likely—it has been the case since May 1985—that there is different political control of the employers' side whoever is sitting where in this House. Should the Government of the day not control the employers' side of the Burnham committee, that is bound to create friction, especially when the ideologies of the various parties in the House are so different.

In addition to the national and local friction, there is the friction between the local authority representatives. They are politically divided and must cope with the additional pressure in negotiations of keeping in either with the Government of the day or with the Opposition. They attempt to play the national game as well as trying to deal with the future of education. That is not easy. Everyone must accept that this system should be changed.

I wish to give some relevant quotations covering a time span that is also relevant to illustrate how long the problem has continued. Successive Governments have had a desire to play a role, to a greater or lesser extent, in Burnham. Successive Governments have been increasingly concerned with the pay negotiations because of the increasing financial constraints that are involved when the country's economy is increasingly under pressure.

In 1963 the late Sir Edmund Boyle, Minister of Education, and hardly a person who could be called one of the more desperately partisan elements of the House, rejected the Burnham committee and set in train the arrangements that were in existence for Burnham until a matter of weeks ago. He said: In essence, the Burnham Committee's provisional agreement seemed to me to have got its priorities and thus its balance wrong. It gave too much weight to the young and inexperienced teacher and too little to the older … It rewarded insufficiently those who have the prime responsibility for organising the life and work of the schools. In short, it seemed to me that it was not just the details but the whole strategy…which was wrong."—[Official Report, 25 April 1963; vol. 676, c. 431.]

That illustrates the time span of this problem. In my view, if the Minister of State or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made such a statement right now, it would be just as relevant. There seems to he an awesome prophetic quality in that quote. That speech led to the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1963, passed by a Conservative Government on an interim basis and then led to the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 passed by the then Labour Government. Indeed, since that time, successive Governments have implemented the new Burnham structure. It led to the Government's involvement in the Burnham committee via the so-called "concordat" which dictated the weighted vote, the veto and everything else with which hon. Members are extremely familiar.

An eminent Member of another place, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, when speaking on the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill in another place on 9 February 1987, touched on the union differences, which are an admitted fact. I do not claim that Lord Houghton is generally in support of what I am saying but I shall quote one part——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not quote directly from the speech of a Member of another place.

Mr. Temple-Morris

I am obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I was becoming carried away by my quotations. My hon. Friends will be relieved to hear that the quote from Lord Houghton's speech was to be my final quotation.

Lord Houghton made it clear, with all his experience, that it is not a good basis for negotiation to have a body representing staff within which there are political and ideological differences, not to mention a different emphasis in militancy. Lord Houghton said that it was with a great sadness that he felt obliged to make that comment. He made it clear that the business had to be sorted out, that seven voices were far too many, that an interim solution was proposed and that, perhaps, most important, a permanent solution still lay ahead.

In the light of those important words it seems that the joint negotiating committee that emerged from the Coventry and Nottingham negotiations and those that took place elsewhere is an inadequate solution and must be reconsidered.

I have referred already to the concordat and to the spring of 1985. Whatever he the merits, it seems utterly wrong, if not downright asinine, that about half way through a four or five year dispute with serious implications for the future of education, central Government, following repudiation of the concordat, should be excluded from participation within the Burnham committee. For many years the concordat had rightly allowed the Government to participate, and the exclusion augured badly for the future. It was an example of a lack of responsibility or of over-enthusiasm following the takeover of political control of the Burnham committee by those whom Opposition Members support.

Everything that I have said is relevant to present and perhaps even more relevant to the future. First, we must get away from the ghastly past. I have tried to underline the fact that the past is ghastly and that we must get away from it.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Temple-Morris

I am glad to hear that the Liberal party has an opinion on these matters. It has not had responsibility for anything for many years, and perhaps it will not have any in future. That being so, it can laugh at just about everything that my right hon. and hon. Friends and Labour Members say about serious topics. We deserve from Liberal Members a little more than laughter. It would be more appropriate if they acknowledged the faults of the past. It would be encouraging—we would be lucky if this were to happen—if we were to hear a few of the things that they have in mind on this score.

We must take a realistic and objective view. For better or worse, the Burnham committee is dead. We shall not return to anything like it. It is important that that is underlined. Secondly, there has been a fair and generous pay offer, which will soon be in effect. We can argue about the details and the structure, but that must he done in an atmosphere of peace. The first priority is that that should be done through the right national negotiating machinery.

The action of some of the unions will get us nowhere. I think that it stems—I am not trying to be emotive or emotional—from frustration about pay and conditions, and that can be attributed at least in part to the actions of some of the unions over the years. Their present stance will exacerbate differences, cause friction with parents and harm children.

There is no option but to have talks with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science about the future machinery. I think that the entire House should accept that my right hon. Friend is only too willing to talk. I am sure that he wants to establish suitable machinery for the future. As a human being, he probably wants to get these matters off his back and get on with dealing with the future of education.

The public expect and deserve progress. They are entitled to greater cohesion than has been shown in years past when the vital issue of education has arisen. It is up to us in this place to give them a better future.

4.37 pm
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I listened to the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), with some interest. I must congratulate him on two instances of refreshing candour. Two sentences will be prominent within the Hansard report of his speech that we shall remember in future. First, there is his blunt and candid recognition of the past—his Government's past in education—which he described as "ghastly". That will be the burden of the speech that I am about to make. I shall give him some figures to go home with.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ashdown

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman said that it is time that we got out of this ghastly mess. I could not agree more. The ghastly past in education has been created by the Government over the past seven years.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Not only the present Government.

Mr. Ashdown

It is not good enough to go back to 1979——

Mr. Thompson


Mr. Ashdown

I have a good deal to say but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. I make it clear that I shall not give way a second time.

Mr. Thompson

I understand that the past in education goes back at least to 1960, when I started teaching. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) was right to describe the past in education as "ghastly". To try to pretend that that situation has occurred only in the past few years is a travesty, and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) must acknowledge that.

Mr. Ashdown

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen carefully to the rest of my speech. I believe that the past in education is ghastly, and that it has been especially ghastly over the past eight years. I say that—[Interruption.] I ask the hon. Gentleman to sit tight and listen to some of the figures that I am about to produce. If he feels like making a speech countermanding them or questioning them, he may have the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ashdown

No. I have given way once already and I made it clear that I would not give way again. The hon. Gentleman has just made a 25-minute speech, and he has had the opportunity to advance his arguments.

Mr. Temple-Morris

It is a quick point.

Mr. Ashdown

I do not wish to be discourteous, but the hon. Gentleman has made a 25-minute speech and I think that the time has come for me to advance my arguments. I have given way once and I have made it clear that I shall not give way again.

The second part of the hon. Gentleman's speech that we shall remember is his contention that we cannot afford to invest in education because the economy is under pressure. We have just finished a four-day debate on the Budget, during which Opposition Members argued that the economy is under pressure. To this charge the Chancellor of the Exchequer contended that it was in wonderful condition. The hon. Member for Leominster cannot have it both ways. If the economy is under pressure, there will have to be spending constraints, which means that the burden of the Budget debate amounts to nothing. Alternatively, the economy is not under pressure, which means that the Government can invest in education for the future.

When we talk about policy we should not listen to promises. Instead we should examine the record. The Bible states: Ye shall know them by their fruits". Some of the "fruits" should be catalogued for the benefit of the Minister of State, who is to reply. Since 1980, 1,791 schools have been closed.

What about the state of our schools? Twenty four thousand schools—about 66 per cent. or two thirds of the total—need substantial repairs or substantial decoration. That is the present position. One in three schools have leaking roofs, one in four schools have outside lavatories and one in five schools are overcrowded. Her Majesty's inspectorate report of 1984—I can take no more objective view than quoting it—states: Many of the country's schools are in a sorry state of repair and getting worse. That is the legacy that the Government have left our schools.

The level of truancy in Britain is rising. One hundred thousand pupils regularly play truant. If Conservative Members wish me to put that information into terms that they will understand, that is equal to the populations of 50 full comprehensive schools regularly playing truant. I remind hon. Members that the crime figures published the other day stated that the peak age for offenders is 15, at a time when 100,000 children regularly play truant. A total of 141 schools have been forced to drop special subjects for less able, handicapped children because of lack of resources.

On average a child in a private school has 10 books. In state schools children have on average fewer than half that figure—slightly less than 5 books per child. Only two authorities in the whole of Britain—incidentally, both of them are London boroughs—provide enough books to meet the international standards that govern or at least, advise on such matters.

Last week, I asked the Minister of State about the GCSE. We discovered that resourcing for GCSE is almost a disaster and is producing something close to a crisis. Last week, I went to Bulmersh school in Reading. That school is not in any sense atypical. The teachers simply could not deliver the kind of resources that were required for rising 14-year-olds who are to take the GCSE next year. I was told by a master who is to take GCSE students through chemistry that there is one book between three students. Mock exam papers were withdrawn because they were inaccurate and gave a wrong impression. No further mock exam papers could be produced because, I was told, there were no financial resources to print them. The criteria for assessment of GCSE students of business studies were not even published until after the first assessment had to be made.

Our 14-year-olds who are rising towards taking GCSE are getting, as a national newspaper stated recently, a raw deal. That is putting it at its best level. At its worst, many are having their chances for the future completely blighted. When we talk about Government policy, it is fair to look back at what the Government promised. I have glanced through the Tory party manifesto for 1979. [Interruption.] Conservative Members might listen. This is its promise: We must restore to every child regardless of background, the chance to progress as far as his or her abilities will allow. I see the hon. Member for Leominister and the Minister of State nodding their heads. Let us consider whether that promise has been fulfilled.

Commenting on the same matter, Her Majesty's inspectorate's report for 1986 stated: Disparities of provision within and between schools and, in turn, opportunities available to pupils, are widening. They are widening under the Government, seven years after the commitment was made. The Government have not taken one step towards it. In fact, the disparities are positively widening.

Let us now consider higher and further education. It is reckoned that reductions in funding to universities will now mean that, to stay solvent, universities have to get rid of about 2,000 teaching jobs in the next impending period. University departments are closing and whole universities are having to amalgamate. Indeed, I am told that the figures show that about 20,000 academic posts have been lost. As a result of a want of £8 million, all research funded by the Science and Engineering Research Council has halted. The brain drain from British universities and institutions is reaching flood proportions. Eighty two fellows of the Royal Academy—Britain's premier research and academic brains—are now permanently resident in the United States.

But that is not my greatest indictment. That is that, in a period of 3 million unemployed, perhaps costing Britain between £18 billion and £20 billion a year, and with the prospect that it will cost four times that amount, British industry is being held back because of a massive skill shortage.

Our high technology industries, upon which the future of our nation will depend, are now growing at about half the average world rate for high technology industries. At least one of the reasons for that, as any high technologist will say, is the skill shortage that is affecting Britain. There are 30,000 too few graduates for new technologies. Next year, Siemens, the West German firm, will qualify more people at all levels of high technology than will the entire British education system. There are more graduate applicants for first jobs in Taiwan than in Great Britain. Whereas 40,000 people in Britain——

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)


Mr. Ashdown

I shall not give way. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for my discourtesy. He will no doubt have a chance to make his own points in a moment. I allowed one intervention. I made it clear that I would not take another.

In Great Britain today, some 40,000 young people are going into apprenticeships. In West Germany, 90 per cent. of children aged post-16 go on to training and education. That compares with Britain's 31 per cent. who go on to post-16 full-time education up to the age of 18. The level of 31 per cent. who go on to post-18 full-time education is the lowest of almost all of our sister nations. It is even lower than the number that Portugal sends on to post-16 full-time education. Meanwhile, to meet the gap of skilled teachers in Britain, if the whole output of the physics graduates this year went into teaching—which they certainly will not do—there would still be too few to meet the needs for physics teachers.

The problem for teachers is even worse. Some 5,000 of our teachers—usually the best—have left the job to go to better-paid employment elsewhere. Our teaching force is demoralised and dispirited and lacks the commitment that it needs. I make it clear that I do not blame the Government for all that. The unions have their share of blame as well. But there is no doubt that 12 million lessons have been lost through disruption. At least a part of that disruption has been the Government's deliberately provocative actions in taking away teachers' rights to negotiate their pay and conditions without necessarily a limit on the Government's power. [Interruption.] Conservative Members know perfectly well what our policies are. We have said what they would be.

Education in Britain has been seriously damaged since the Government came to power. The Government claim that they have increased resources, if they are read as a teacher-pupil ratio. I do not deny that statistic. It is true that education resources per pupil in Britain have increased marginally, but the real point is that, with school rolls dropping, the Government had the opportunity, by maintaining spending, massively to improve education spending per pupil, but they have chosen not to take that opportunity. What a wasted opportunity that was. Education as a percentage of public spending has not risen. Even during the Secretary of State's term, it has fallen. Indeed, it now stands at 19.2 per cent. of public spending. That is lower than in any other OECD country. It is lower than Italy, Belgium and Ireland. The United States devotes about 24 per cent. of its public spending to education, and Japan about 36 per cent.

Education as a percentage of gross domestic product has again dropped under the Government, from 3.9 per cent. to 3.6 per cent., whereas the percentage for our sister nations is above 4 per cent. At the 3.6 per cent. level of GDP, we are significantly below the average of our sister nations. It is significantly less than the average for Austria, Ireland and Australia.

If the Secretary of State for Education and Science and other Members of the Cabinet believe that they should invest some of their personal finance to provide their children with the best education at private schools, why do they deny to other people the right to invest some of their personal finance in the education of their children at state schools? These are the bitter fruits of this Government's stewardship.

Many believe that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is using education much more as a vehicle for his personal ambitions than as a means of achieving something that will be lasting and useful. Many believe that he is using his ministerial post to drive forward his vendetta against local government. Whether or not that is true, it is assuredly true that this is a gimmick a day Secretary of State. The city technology colleges will do nothing to remedy the lack of specialist teachers in the inner cities. The interim advisory committee is his poodle to command teachers' pay tomorrow. Benchmarks were his next invention. He wants to centralise the curriculum, although 80 per cent. of it is already a common curriculum throughout Britain.

Does the Secretary of State intend to go over to the French system? He says that he does not want a state curriculum, but in an interview in The London Evening Standard on 17 March 1987 the Prime Minister said: Don't forget we are also considering having a model syllabus which makes jolly certain that your youngsters are going to be taught some of the proper things. Is that the official view of the Conservative party? The country would like to know.

The Secretary of State's policy is a gimmick a day. A gimmick a day keeps attention away from the real problems of education. Those real problems are slum schools, demoralised teachers, disruption in the classroom—for which this Government bear at least part of the blame—falling resources, the closing of universities, the widening skill gap in our industries and the yawning gap that is now opening up in terms of the opportunities that are provided for our young people in a two-tier education system, which means that the best education goes to the few who can pay, the rest having to put up with what is left over.

There is one step that we must take. We must begin to invest in education. That is not an investment that this Government cannot afford to make; it is an investment that they cannot afford not to make. Spending on education should be nearer that which is common in other nations. We ought to be aiming at 4–5 per cent. of GDP. We believe in that investment. To make that commitment now would produce the education system that this country so desperately needs.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind the House that this debate must finish at 5.41 pm. Therefore, I appeal for brevity.

4.53 pm
Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)

One must always listen with a strong sense of scepticism to Liberal spokesmen on any subject. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) scattered around statistics with the abandon of a hired guest at a shotgun wedding casting confetti. He has thrown them at an inappropriate target and it gives no cause for celebration. I shall cite just two of his points. He referred to the ghastly past and attributed it largely to Burnham.

Mr. Ashdown

No, I did not mention Burnham.

Mr. Bowden

I recall that Burnham was wished upon us. It was born to the Liberal party in 1918.

Mr. Ashdown

I never mentioned Burnham.

Mr. Bowden

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Burnham in relation to the ghastly past. He also deplored the fact that there is a lack of training in technological subjects, yet when it comes to finding a solution, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has done, by means of the city technology colleges, it is dismissed as a gimmick-a-day approach.

I felt my age the other day when I was invited by the old boys association of my school to sponsor a dinner in Parliament for the association. It was not a grand school of the kind that the Opposition are so anxious to wish upon the Conservative party. It was a small grammar school in the slums of London. To those who lived in that part of London the school offered a ladder of promotion. They discovered their strengths by means of the teaching that was offered to them. When I first went into the science laboratory at that school, I remember that a saying was inscribed on the wall. It has stuck very clearly in my mind. It said: No structure without function. No function without purpose. It is as well to remember these three words, since they are the elements of education—purpose, function and structure.

Those of us who oppose the current educational nostrums and the modish educational theory that is propounded by education authorities such as the Inner London education authority are conscious of the fact that the educational priorities have been distorted or even inverted. The prime purpose of education is to educate children, not to employ teachers or to maintain buildings, important though that is. The second aspect, the function, is that teachers should work to a curriculum. The third aspect, the structure, takes into account the administrative back-up, the buildings and the education authority. We have indeed been placed in a ghastly dilemma over the last few years because these priorities have been put in the wrong order.

I continue to live in the part of London in which I was brought up. My children have gone to schools in the locality that I knew when I was a child. When I first qualified I taught at one of those schools. Then I became a governor of it, and subsequently I became a member of ILEA. I have wept over the fact that ILEA no longer provides the children of inner London with the same opportunities to find their place in life as existed 40 years ago when I went to Battersea grammar school. Many Conservative Members feel passionately about what has happened in inner London and in other education authorities that have been politicised. We believe that education has become a political football. Therefore, we are encouraged by the approach of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We are pleased that a proper sense of vocation is being reintroduced into the teaching profession.

Education debates provide an opportunity for hon. Members to reminisce. I recall that when I first went to school the rigour of education, based on the classroom curriculum, was of great importance. It was through literacy and numeracy that one obtained the skills with which the other delights and opportunities of life could be enjoyed. Apart from the classroom curriculum, there was another curriculum. I refer not to a covert or secret curriculum but to a curriculum that demonstrated that teachers were committed to their pupils. They were prepared to give up time to referee games at weekends, to play chess with their pupils at lunch time, or to rehearse and produce plays late into the evening. That is what education was about. Alas, those opportunities no longer exist in very many of the schools in that part of London in which I live. That is to the great detriment of London schools, but, more important, it is to the great detriment of the children who attend those schools.

The hon. Member for Yeovil made great play of those who can and those who cannot pay for education, but it is more sinister than that. Those who can pay move out of the inner-city areas to the leafy suburbs. Many of the comprehensive schools in those suburbs are the kind of school that Conservative Members wish could be found everywhere. When people move out of the inner-city areas, they leave behind them pits of deprivation in the inner cities.

We shall still have to deal with that problem. If we as a party do not deal with it, no one else will. There is no evidence that the Opposition are able to deal with it in the places where they control the education authority. The efforts that have been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to introduce technological education through city technology colleges for those from deprived inner-city areas—where they can gain the skills that will give them the opportunity to proceed to work for Siemens or any other great organisation that requires that sort of skill—are a way towards that end.

I must confess that when I first came to the House and the abolition of the GLC was being considered I had grave misgivings about the abolition of ILEA, to the extent that I fought keenly for its retention. I did that, not because I had a great admiration for what ILEA was doing, but because I had an even greater fear of what might happen if it were transferred to the boroughs in which the various schools were situated. There was some benefit in inner-London boroughs being grouped together. There was strength that came from size and expertise that could be employed through that size. I feared for the children of Southwark if ILEA were to be broken up and they were to be subjected to the whims and wiles of a Southwark education authority, and I feared for the children of Lambeth if they were to be subjected to a Lambeth education authority.

In the intervening years, ILEA has not responded to the opportunity that was given by its being independent of the Greater London council and by having its members directly elected for educational reasons. That is something in which it failed to fulfil the opportunity and promise that was offered.

For that reason, we must seriously consider the future of ILEA: not because we want to destroy the structure, not because it is not functioning well, but because the future of ILEA and the purpose for which it is there is not being fulfilled. It is not giving the necessary skills, education or opportunities to the pupils that it is there to serve. I believe that there should be changes.

5.1 pm

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

I can probably express on behalf of the small group of us who have attended education debates for some time a feeling of disappointment that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) is no longer spokesperson for the alliance. He brought a certain wit and charm to our proceedings and, as this afternoon's deliberations have shown, we may well miss that wit and charm from our future debates.

I should like to speak on one or two of the points that the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) made. I realise that time is short, so I shall be brief and concentrate on a few small points. The hon. Gentleman rightly said—I do not say this in a critical sense; it is a somewhat trite comment, but an important and obvious one—that education is about children. That clearly must be right and we must develop a system in which we can give the best possible education to children. One of my grave concerns at the moment is the level of morale among those who are crucially important for delivering high-quality education—teachers. That brings us back to the themes that were developed by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) in his opening contribution about teachers' pay and conditions and the negotiating machinery.

I have felt for a long time that the Secretary of State has developed a risky strategy. It is risky in two senses. First, it is risky because it plays around with principles, rights and freedoms. In a democracy there is a basic right to bargain collectively with one's employer. I know that Conservative Members have said on numerous occasions that the Burnham machinery was not working. On that point there is some accord across the House and between employers, unions and the Government.

However, I fear an argument that then goes on to say that, because practice in one form does not work, a principle must be abolished. In this case, that principle is the right to bargain collectively. I would be happier with the Government's intentions if I could genuinely believe that we are dealing with short-term interim provisions. The record of the Government suggests otherwise, and I can understand the concern of teachers who feel that we are dealing with the long-term abolition of the right to bargain. That has led to frustration and industrial action.

That brings me to the second part of the Secretary of State's risky strategy. By allowing that frustration and industrial action to continue, the Secretary of State is responsible for the disruption that is occurring in our schools. He cannot impose a settlement and at the same time expect acquiescence or high morale from the teachers. That is an important equation that the Secretary of State has failed to understand. In a dictatorship—but not in a democracy— a settlement can be imposed, but we are not dealing with an agreement, because there is no consent. In a democracy and a system as sensitive as education, morale cannot be imposed on teachers. I fear that, in the aftermath of this dispute, however it is settled, our education system will be damaged for a number of years.

I say to the Minister that we should be not just talking, but talking with the possibility of some movement on the part of the Government. The hon. Member for Leominster said that the Secretary of State's door was open. That may be right— I do not deny it— but if the Secretary of State's door is open, to maintain the metaphor, his mind should be open as well. He should be prepared to discuss and move. There will be no substantial loss of face for the Secretary of State, but if he moves towards the teachers there will be a substantial gain for parents and children in our education system. I urge him, even beyond the 12th hour, to think again about his proposals and think again about the implementation of his powers.

The hon. Member for Dulwich talked about the inner cities and described some of them as "pits of deprivation". I welcomed his analysis of the way in which the welfare state works and the extent to which it almost redistributes resources towards the middle classes and away from the working classes. That means that we need much more positive discrimination and much more direct action towards the inner cities. What has happened in my constituency, and in many other inner cities up and down the country, is that, because of the action of the Government, money has been lost in rate support grant that is desperately needed in the inner cities.

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) referred to the recent reports in the Daily Mirror on our education system. That report concentrated a great deal on my constituency of Leeds, Central and referred to the Lincoln Green primary school in my constituency, where 197 children are on the roll. The hon. Member for Dulwich talked about pits of deprivation. I put it to him—I am sure that he will accept this— that there is a link between the physical fabric of education and the quality of education. Whatever teachers do in a school such as Lincoln Green— I know that its teachers perform excellently—the quality of the building will influence the climate and the ability of children to respond. That is why we need to invest in building.

The Daily Mirror pointed out in its excellent report that Leeds city council, using its own resources, will overcome the problems of Lincoln Green and a number of other schools. The council is coming up with devices to fund the inner city. How much better it would be if we had a relationship or partnership between central and local government to fund our inner cities so that children in schools such as Lincoln Green should not have to face the problems that they have in recent years.

The hon. Member for Yeovil made a point in relation to research and the problems which are facing the Science and Engineering Research Council. It is crucial— recognise the problems—that the Government make additional money available for research in our universities and polytechnics. That is a crucial investment in the future of the country. It is an investment in our higher education system and an investment in our economy. The sums about which we are talking are small in terms of the overall budget but their meaning in terms of the Government's recognition of basic research will be important.

I talked about morale in our primary and secondary sectors, but morale in higher education is also low. If the Government could come forward with money for research they would, at a stroke, substantially improve that morale. I hope that when the Minister replies she will give hope to our scientists. I remember that under the Labour Government of 1974–79, Conservative Members talked about taxation rates causing a brain drain. The only brain drain that we seemed to experience then involved pop stars and film stars. We are now experiencing a real brain drain of Britain's top scientists and potentially top scientists. The Government must act to stop that.

A Government's stewardship of the education system is measured by two criteria—their ability to maintain morale among those who work in the education system and their willingness to invest in that education system. On both criteria, the Government have failed badly. They have failed the country and our children. They have a deplorable record.

5.10 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), first, on choosing a debate on education policy, and, secondly, on his success in winning first place in the ballot. That is particularly appropriate today after a substantial lobby of parents here and in Westminster Hall.

I congratulate the parents on the way in which the lobby was organised, and, in particular, the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations and the other eight organisations which, uniquely, came together to make it a successful lobby. I hope that they will go on lobbying for education. It is sad that in recent years resources for education in Britain have been given far too low a priority, as has the public's interest in the issue. I hope that those organisations will be successful in lobbying for education from now until the general election.

It is important in a debate such as this to pay tribute to the vast majority of our schools, their pupils and teachers. The vast majority of our schools provide a high quality education. Although all will lament the lack of resources, we should pay tribute to the high quality of work in our schools.

High quality education is fundamental to Britain's future. Britain's future prosperity will depend almost entirely on the skills of the British people, not on the skills of a small elite. It is incumbent upon us all to ensure that we confer on future generations the skills that will enable them to pay Britain's way in the world.

I do not want just to argue the importance of education in terms of our future prosperity. High quality education is fundamental if we want to live in a peaceful society. We must give people the knowledge and understanding to put fear in its place. We must persuade people that they can solve conflict by democratic processes. That means that we must confer on people the skills necessary to participate in a democracy. They must have the skills to evaluate information and to make choices and the self-confidence to speak up for themselves and genuinely to participate in a democracy. A good quality education is fundamental if Britain wants a peaceful democratic society.

Good quality education is equally important if people are to enjoy their leisure. Most leisure activities are enhanced and made more enjoyable by good quality education. The example that I often throw out at meetings is that even day-dreaming is more enjoyable when woven with knowledge, ideas and information. Whatever one's leisure activity, good quality education is likely to enhance it.

Moreover, we are entitled to have beliefs and a philosophy of life. In developing that, most people need knowledge, information and ideas. I would argue strongly that Britain needs good education if it is to be a prosperous, peaceful and democratic country in which people can enjoy their leisure and understand their own nature.

The tragedy is that instead of making vast strides in improving education in recent years, many areas have slipped back and opportunities have been missed. The Government's oil revenues could have been used to improve dramatically the quality of education, but instead most has gone to pay for unemployment benefit. Falling school rolls could have been a golden opportunity to expand and improve our education opportunities. As a teacher with a class of 36 or 40 pupils, I was always told that my difficulties would be ended because falling rolls and smaller classes were not far off. Much of that opportunity has been missed. Far too many classes are still too large for the teachers to be able to do an effective job and for pupils to obtain full benefit from the education that they are being offered.

On many occasions the Government have pleaded poverty, saying that they could not improve standards because of the lack of resources. Yet in the Budget debate the Government claimed that things are going so well that they have money to dish out. They have taken 2p in the pound off income tax despite the fact that most people made it clear in opinion polls that they would much prefer to see that money spent on better services. Nevertheless, the Government are saying firmly that they are not prepared to put the money into first-class education.

Let me take one or two examples. When the Prime Minister was Secretary of State in 1972 she firmly set out the Conservative party's commitment to provide, over a period of 10 years, nursery education for all three and four-year-olds. We did not get off to a tremendously good start, but at least up to 1979 we doubled the provision of pre-school nursery education. Since 1979, the improvement has been small. About 23 per cent. of children now have a genuine place in a nursery class or school. More telling is the fact that in 14 Conservative-controlled authorities since 1980 the number of nursery places has been reduced.

Many of my hon. Friends have been out this week, and will be doing the same next week, looking at pre-school education in Britain. All of them tell me what a marvellous job is being done in nursery education, but they also report that almost every nursery school or class has long waiting lists. Many people do not even have a nursery class or school in their locality.

In this day and age we should, like France, be able to offer a place in a nursery class or school to all three and four-year-olds whose parents want it. I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate she will give us some idea of the Government's proposals for expanding nursery education and making a reality of what the Prime Minister claimed in 1972 was a necessity.

I agree with the hon. Member for Leominster that we should not close the small village schools. However, it is also important to have the resources to keep such schools open as effective institutions. I should particularly like to see far more of them developed as community schools. I am always happy when Ministers decide not to close these schools, but they must accept that when they turn down proposals for closure they must provide resources to keep those as viable schools rather than give the children who remain in the schools a second-class education.

I am particularly worried about class sizes. Although we have seen dramatic improvements in pupil-teacher ratios, well over 1 million children are still taught in classes with more than 30 pupils. I cannot see how good quality education can be provided in such circumstances.

I agree that the quality of buildings is essential. At least £500 million must be spent, almost as an emergency provision, to bring Britain's school buildings up to even a minimum standard. I recently visited Bradford and Sheffield and saw the appalling state of the school buildings there, caused not by neglect, but simply by lack of resources. Time and again the authorities have appealed to the Government, who accept the case but do not provide the money. Both cities have a substantial number of people in the building trade who are out of work who would be only too pleased to be working to put those school buildings into good repair.

We should also consider the question of books. I know all the statistics, but one has actually to go into a school and pick up a text book to understand the problem fully. I left the teaching profession in 1974, but I often see the text books that I used still in use. That frightens me because, particularly in subjects such as geography, many of the facts are out of date. I found a dramatic example of that when I visited a school in Corby and found a book with a large section setting out the importance of Corby as an iron and steel centre.

How on earth can children be expected to believe what is in their text books when they contain whole sections describing industries that have completely disappeared from their locality? It is important for text books to keep up with the very rapid technical changes that are taking place. In subjects such as geography we should not be content for expenditure simply to stand still. We must get new books and materials into our schools much more quickly.

I am very pleased that the Government belatedly came up with a little extra money for the new examination, but I am sure the Minister will find that very considerable problems remain over providing resources for its introduction. In some places, people may have opted for an especially imaginative syllabus without weighing up the full resource consequences. In physics and chemistry, for example, some schools are committed to introducing a greater element of practical experiments for continuous assessment, but they do not have the necessary equipment or resources. Even at this stage the Government must turn their attention again to the problem of resources if the GCSE is to be fair to the children and to lead to the educational innovation that many of us wanted it to produce.

I want to highlight one further problem—the number of youngsters who do not stay on at school or in education. I suggest to the Government that it is a scandal that so many youngsters leave education when they would clearly benefit from remaining in school, in sixth form colleges, or in tertiary education. In Tameside in my constituency, 24 per cent. of youngsters who get five or more good O-levels leave school and do not remain in full-time education. The Tameside education authority area is, sadly, one of the worst in that respect, but in many authority areas where there is plenty of parental enthusiasm, and no poverty, the number of children who drop out of the education system at 16 is far too high.

I plead with the Government to come up with some system to encourage those with good O-level results to stay in education. In the past, many of them went into apprenticeships and then back into further or higher education on day release but, sadly, in many areas those apprenticeships have now disappeared. I challenge the Government to come up with a scheme to meet that problem. Unless we are prepared to introduce education maintenance allowances and to give the same financial encouragement for people to stay on at school as we give for them to go into the youth training schemes, we shall have a continuing, if not accelerating, drain on the number of young people who stay at school. They will continue to leave school far too early.

The Government should examine the status of education. They have dealt a blow to that status by the way in which they have dealt with teachers' pay and are dealing with student grants and resources for research. Youngsters in schools think that to have anything to do with education is to engage in an occupation and interest of which the Government do not approve. They believe that the Government approve only of people who go into the City and make vast fortunes through speculation.

The Government must turn the whole atmosphere round to promote a new belief in the importance of education. Only by doing that can they begin to ensure that we get the best out of our schools rather than a continuing decline in morale. Only by doing that will they ensure that we get the best out of our further education colleges and out of higher education in all its forms. If we do not give education its proper status, it will be considered something in which people become involved only if they are unsuccessful.

While the present atmosphere remains, our future is at risk because education holds the key to a prosperous, peaceful, democratic society in which people can enjoy their leisure and develop their individuality. Unless we put resources into education and accord it a genuinely high status, our future will be very bleak.

5.28 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

I join the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) on introducing this wide-ranging debate on education. I am delighted to respond to it because hon. Members on both sides of the House have made some most interesting points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster wisely reminded me that his constituency was in Herefordshire. I recently visited Hereford and Worcester in the course of my ministerial duties. I was interested to learn that the chairman of my hon. Friend's local education committee,— who had no doubt studied the publication "Better Schools" and the draft circular "Providing for Quality" on which my Department has asked for comments— had recommended to his committee a no-closures policy for his county.

Such a decision is entirely at the discretion of individual local education authorities. My hon. Friend did well to draw the attention of the House to the importance of making such decisions with educational, as well as economic, considerations in mind. That is extremely important. In some rural areas—where a long journey to school would be detrimental to the health of children and worrying to their parents—it is difficult to imagine children receiving education in anything other than a rather small primary school. However, authorities are responsible for ensuring that children at those schools can have the benefit of a broad-based curriculum within the constraints of primary school organisation.

Local authorities have an important judgment to make. That judgment applies to secondary schools, too. It is obviously sensible for my Department to offer advice on criteria—but not lay down definitive criteria—for the size of secondary schools. In Truro, I tried to reinforce my belief—and the Government's strong belief—that it is important for parents to be able to choose the school that they believe will be right for their child. That choice should have a high priority in our education policy. It is not possible to have a policy whereby some very popular schools are eliminated, thereby depriving parents of choice, and at the same time enable them to have freedom of choice of schools. This is an extremely important point.

The other point which my hon. Friend raised concerned the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act. I am very grateful to him for pointing out that the reason why something had to be done was basically the existing disharmony— particularly the differences between the teachers' unions. He was quite right also about the local education authorities, and I would point out that very often in the past it was not merely that local education authorities were of different political views from the Government; even when they were of the same views, it was not necessarily the case that in the negotiations in the ill-fated Burnham committee they were in agreement. Indeed, I was present on two occasions when that was clearly demonstrated.

We have been left in some disarray as far as our negotiations with the teachers are concerned. The unions want a new negotiating committee, and I understand that. The problem is to devise a committee in which we, and indeed everyone else, can have some confidence. There does not seem to be any point in setting up new machinery which is no more effective than the old machinery which we have just abolished.

Under the new Act, the Secretary of State is required to set up an interim advisory committee to consider school teachers' pay and conditions. At present, he has no choice. The committee will consult the unions and the local authorities before making recommendations for April 1988. The Secretary of State is then required by the Act to discuss those recommendations with the unions and the authorities before putting proposals before Parliament. Those discussions will inevitably have something of the character of negotiations. The interim advisory committee will bring a welcome respite, as my hon. Friend has so wisely said, with regard to the breakdown in sensible negotiations. I cannot emphasise strongly enough that the arrangements set up by the Act are interim. The Act is due to expire in 1990 and can be extended beyond that date for a year at a time only with the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

On that point, will my hon. Friend confirm, as I hope she will be able to do, that during this interim period the Secretary of State's door will be open for informal discussions between the Ministers concerned, union leaders and members of the parent-teacher associations? There is a good initiative in Norfolk to try to bring people together. The unions are saying that the door is closed, but I believe that the door is open. Can the Minister confirm that?

Mrs. Rumbold

I am very happy to confirm to my hon. Friend and also to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) that my right hon. Friend has reiterated that his door is open. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) would be wise to wait and see how many of the teachers come to see my right hon. Friend to discuss. I am sure that he will be very happy to see them and to listen with the greatest care to what they have to say.

I hope that the Act will be recognised for what it is—a temporary measure to make it possible to escape from a negotiating cul-de-sac. It is most important that it is put into operation.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Can the Minister say whether the order is going to be laid this week or whether the Government are going to delay so that we can have these negotiations?

Mrs. Rumbold

We are not intending to delay any longer than we have to, because it is extremely important that we get the orders laid in time to allow the back pay to go into the teachers' salaries. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen would not wish that to be delayed at all.

It is very sad that the hon. Member for Yeovil should have made such a destructive speech. It is a shame to come to the House and do nothing but pull to pieces the whole education structure. We heard nothing but a saga of destructive comments about education in this country. I share with the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) the belief that there are many teachers throughout the country who work extremely hard, produce extremely good results and have a very important effect upon the life of young people in this country. So it seems to me to be an absolute disgrace that someone should come to the House and not recognise that.

Mr. Ashdown

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Rumbold

No, certainly not; under no circumstances will I give way.

The hon. Member for Yeovil mentioned truancy, which is interesting when one thinks of an authority which operates not a hundred miles from the House, where the schools are adequately resourced—indeed, according to an HMI report, in one case so adequately that the resources could be called lavish. The number of pupils is 900, the number of teachers is 118— an amazingly higher number than one can find in many parts of this country—yet it still has a problem because it does not have many children going to it. The reason is that the children are not motivated and do not want to go to school.

Mr. Ashdown

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Rumbold

No. I am very sorry, but the hon. Gentleman refused to give way to anyone on the grounds that he did not have enough time, and I do not have much time either.

With regard to the general certificate of secondary education, I must remind the hon. Gentleman that this new examination was introduced after long negotiations and discussions with the teachers' unions. They wanted this examination very badly indeed because they believed that it was the right thing. The Government agreed with that and thought that the best thing to do was to get on with introducing the examination. We have done exactly that.

The Government have committed substantial resources to the general certificate of secondary education. There was £20 million directly, in 1986–87, for books and equipment, £100 million through the rate support grant in 1987–88 for all aspects of GCSE non-teaching costs, including books and equipment, clerical and technical support staff and storage facilities; £10 million of this is for books and equipment going to local education authorities directly.

I understand that there is some concern about training among the teaching profession. It is quite natural when a new examination is introduced, one that is so testing to both teachers and children, that there will be a settling-in period, but I do not and cannot accept that it was wrong to introduce this examination, because I believe absolutely passionately that it is for the benefit both of the children and of the teachers themselves. I suggest that it is very important that we concentrate on that.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), who said that the prime purpose is the education of children. He is absolutely right; he has the priorities right. He is quite right, too, to draw our attention to the devastation of the grammar schools started by the Labour party and continued by the Liberal party at the present time where Liberals are in control of local authorities— as in Kingston, where I used to be the chairman of the education committee, in Sutton and even in Devon. So it seems to me that there is some point in asking Liberal Members just exactly how they are going to improve the standard of education throughout the country.

I want to say one or two things to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, on nursery education in particular. I understand the point that he is making, but I think it is important to draw to his attention the Government's belief that the devolved and discretionary basis on which nursery education is currently available is the best way to ensure the flexible and effective use of scarce resources. Furthermore, not every young mother believes that compulsory nursery education is the right thing for her child. There should be alternative methods of introducing children to peer groups when they are young. This can be done through nursery classes, through nursery schools or through the very valuable experience of pre-school playgroups.

I am very glad to be able to say that the Government have been making grants, in particular to the Pre-School Playgroups Association. The Government make grants in excess of £400,000 and this year the DES grant was increased by 50 per cent., from £60,000 to £90,000. I was very pleased about this because I believe that that experience is extremely important to children. But 1 have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I have heard from some of my own constituents expressions of concern that my own authority was planning to institute nursery classes attached to every primary school in the borough.

This would put pressure on mothers who choose not to send their children to nursery schools, because they would fear that they could not get them into the primary schools of their choice when the time came, simply because of pressure on primary school places. That is an important point.

A point was raised about participation rates for people of post-compulsory school age. Many figures were quoted but my figures come from good sources and show that participation rates for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds in any form of education or training, whether full-time or part-time, range from about 65 per cent. in 1981 in France, Italy and the United Kingdom to 84 per cent. in Germany. The level of take-up by 16-year-olds in the United Kingdom undertaking some kind of educational training, including the YTS, was 87 per cent. in 1983. That seems comparable with, if not better than, the percentage for other countries. We are proud of that and are planning to increase it because we are concerned about what happens to young people after they leave school. We want to see that they have the opportunity to increase their skills and to have educational opportunities which will bring them into a better work force in future.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before announcing the next debate, I should inform the House that there is a mistake in the title of debate No. 4. It will be on the beef industry and not just the Scottish beef industry.

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