HC Deb 17 May 1988 vol 133 cc794-5
9. Mr. Sedgemore

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received about the future of education in inner London; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

Since my announcement on 4 February my Department has received many comments from many sources.

Mr. Sedgemore

Can the Secretary of State give the House an assurance that, if the House of Lords stiffens its spine and decides that there should be a review of ILEA before any decision on abolition, he will recommend that the House accepts that decision? Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm the message on the tapes today that he is running so scared, and so frit, and is sweating so profusely with fear, that he has cancelled all his engagements and left them to the office boy?

Mr. Baker

I do not appear at the Dispatch Box as a trembling, blushing violet. I understand that the House of Lords has just started, or will shortly start, a debate on ILEA. We shall all watch the outcome with great interest.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there are 20 times as many residents in inner London as those who took part in the so-called phoney parents' ballot? Will he also disregard the jaundiced remarks of ex-Prime Ministers, however eminent they may think they are?

Mr. Baker

Yes, as to the last, most certainly I will. As regards the parental ballot, decisions to transfer education responsibility from one sphere of government to another have always been taken by Parliament. That is the constitutional position. It is for Parliament to weigh up all the arguments, taking account of the views, not only of parents, but, as my hon. Friend says, of all those ratepayers who have to bear any consequences. As regards the ILEA ballot, the method chosen for the organisation of the ballot makes it next to impossible to determine how many parents actually voted.

Mr. Tony Banks

Does the Secretary of State remember those days when he was the PPS to the then Prime Minister? Does he not pay any attention whatsoever to his right hon. Friend's wise words these days over the future of the Inner London education authority?

With regard to that parents' ballot, does the Secretary of State say that that ballot is completely invalid and was fixed? Is that what he is telling the House?

Mr. Baker

All I am saying is that it was impossible to determine how many parents voted in that ballot. As regards the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), I think that he was wrong about ILEA while he was in office, and he is wrong now.

Mr. Bowis

My right hon. Friend will have seen the Gallup poll, which shows that the majority of parents in inner London have no worries about the transfer of education to the local boroughs. However, will he confirm that those who do have anxieties will not have their interests served by a delay in the implementation of the Education Reform Bill?

Mr. Baker

As I have said, this is being debated by the House of Lords. I have considerable sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said. I confirm that I saw a poll yesterday which declared that 62 per cent. of London parents said that they were not at all concerned about the abolition of ILEA. When it came to the inner London parents, 49 per cent. said that they were not concerned.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

To help the debate, what can the Secretary of State tell us to allay the fears of all those who enjoy adult education within ILEA and take part in access courses? Will they be able to continue? Can he assure us that there will not be major problems with cross-borough transfers?

Mr. Baker

I have made it clear that we want to ensure that the good things being done by ILEA are retained. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in the other House will be referring to this is a speech which she will be making shortly.

Mr. Ashby

As someone who has been a governor of ILEA schools, who has served on the Inner London education authority for four years and seen at first hand the high cost of ILEA as against the poor responses and the bad education that children receive, may I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that ILEA is abolished? The children of London will then have the opportunity to have a decent education.

Mr. Baker

I can assure my hon. Friend that his facts are right. ILEA accounts for some 4 per cent. of the school population of the country and 8 per cent. of the national school budget. It is a very extravagant spender. The new arrangements will ensure that money is better spent, to the benefit of the children of London.