HC Deb 21 March 1991 vol 188 cc432-48 5.27 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the Government's plans for the reorganisation of further education in England.

We are determined to achieve better standards throughout the education service. The national curriculum is improving teaching and motivating young people in schools as never before. Parental choice is being exercised in more and more schools. A new and clearer system of vocational qualifications is beginning to open up exciting opportunities for school leavers. The proportion going on to higher education has nearly doubled since this Government took office, but we still lag behind our competitors in the participation of our school leavers in further education and training, and their achievement of useful qualifications.

I believe that the further education colleges have a vital role in providing education and training for both school leavers and adults. They have never in the past been given the attention that their importance in education policy should justify. Through links with business they are well placed to provide the knowledge and skills needed in the workplace. The Education Reform Act 1988 has given them greater managerial autonomy and they are recruiting more students, but they are still subject to bureaucratic controls from local authorities. They lack the full freedom which we gave the polytechnics and higher education colleges in 1989 to respond to the demands of students and of the labour market. The polytechnics are demonstrating quite spectacularly the gains in increased student numbers and increased efficiency without any loss of academic standards that can be achieved with full independence.

The Government therefore propose to introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to form a new sector of post-16 education from April 1993, by taking all further education colleges offering full-time education and all sixth form colleges out of local authority control. They will be funded directly by the Government, through a council appointed by and responsible to me. The funding regime will consist of a basic annual budget together with an element dependent on the numbers actually enrolled. It will be designed to provide a powerful incentive to recruit additional students and reduce unit costs. The further education colleges will also assume responsibility for some adult continuing education.

Spending by local authorities on further education colleges and sixth form colleges in England currently totals over £2 billion of current spending and £100 million of capital. That will become central Government spending with a corresponding reduction in grant to local authorities.

The colleges will work closely with the training and enterprise councils. The Government attach great importance to the developing partnership between TECs and other local interests in education and training. We have already given TECs specific responsibilities in work-related further education. They and the new independent colleges will have much to gain from close co-operation. The colleges will own their assets and employ their own staff. They will provide for an ever-increasing proportion of our young people the preparation they need for their working life in the rest of this decade, and in the 21st century.

I have a duty to ensure that the interim period before the establishment of the new independent sector is as smooth as possible. We must place the interests of the student first and ensure that the work of colleges continues undisturbed. I intend to give the right of transfer of employment to the staff of the colleges that will form the new sector.

I intend to vest the institutions, which I propose will be free-standing corporate bodies, with the land, buildings and plant which they currently use. I intend to seek Parliament's approval in the legislation that I shall introduce for a measure which requires my specific consent for all disposals by local education authorities of land or interests in land, including buildings used or held or obtained for or in connection with the purposes of the institutions.

I am concerned that from now on local authorities should not enter into new contracts which bind the colleges beyond 1 April 1993 when they begin to manage their own affairs. Such contracts should be entered into only with the specific consent of the governing bodies of the institutions affected. Contracts for a consideration having a value in excess of £50,000 will in addition require my consent. The forthcoming legislation will seek Parliament's approval to a measure with this purpose. I shall also seek Parliament's approval for appropriate sanctions where consent has not been obtained in advance.

I shall seek Parliament's approval for these transitional measures to have effect from midnight tonight. In this way, I intend both to put beyond any doubt the long-term future of the colleges and to enable the transition period to be as smooth and trouble-free as possible. I am placing further details of these measures in the Official Report. My Department will write to all LEAs to explain how these measures will be applied.

These developments will still leave much of the education of young people with school sixth forms. I assure the House of my determination to see good sixth forms continue. Whether under local authority control or in the grant-maintained sector, proposals for the opening of new sixth forms and the closure of existing sixth forms already have to come to me for approval. I shall use the powers available to me to ensure that sixth forms thrive, and to encourage choice between schools and colleges wherever possible.

This new sector of education will have a great deal to offer our young people. Indeed, it is the education and training of our 16 to 19-year-olds which will be at the heart of a White Paper which will come jointly from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and myself in due course. That White Paper will contain further details of the proposals that I have just described. I believe that the proposals will be widely welcomed by all sections of the community, especially those which have always sought to further the interests of further education in Britain. I commend the proposals to the House.

Following are details of the measures: The Government propose to introduce legislation this autumn to form an independent sector of post-16 education fromApril 1993. All further education colleges, maintained or assisted by a local education authority, offering full-time education, including tertiary colleges, and all sixth form colleges, that is maintained schools which normally provide education only for pupils who have attained the age of 16, will be taken out of local authority control. They will be funded directly by the Government through a new council appointed by and responsible to the Secretary of State. New sixth form colleges and further education colleges, including tertiary colleges, which are established after this announcement will also be funded through the new council, including any grant-maintained sixth form colleges. Institutions in the new sector, apart from volutary sixth form colleges, will be free-standing corporate bodies, and will be vested with the land, buildings and plant which are currently used by them. I intend to seek Parliament's approval to legislation which requires the specific consent of the Secretary of State for all disposals by local education authorities of land or interests in land, including buildings, used or held or obtained for or in connection with the purposes of the institutions. I shall seek similar powers to ensure that the LEA's interest in any land, including buildings, used or held or obtained for or in connection with the purposes of a voluntary sixth form college are not disposed of without the specific consent of the Secretary of State and that the LEA conveys its interest in these to the trustees of the school. The disposals of land or interests in land requiring the consent of the Secretary of State will include outright sale, granting or otherwise disposing of any leasehold or other interest in land, direct sale and leaseback, any mortgage or other charge designed to raise capital on the security of the land. It will also include any disposal which is made in return for the supply of goods or services. In referring to disposals I include entering into any binding obligation to make a disposal of the kind in question. To ease the interim period before the establishment of the new sector, I am concerned that local authorities should not enter into contracts which bind the colleges beyond 1 April 1993 when they begin to manage their own affairs. Such contracts should be entered into only with the specific consent of the governing bodies of the institutions affected. Contracts for a consideration having a value in excess of £50,000 will in addition require the consent of the Secretary of State. The forthcoming legislation will seek Parliament's approval to a measure having this purpose. I shall also seek Parliament's approval for appropriate sanctions where consent has not been obtained in advance. With the disposal of land or interests in land without the consent of the Secretary of State, there will be a power of compulsory purchase with a right of recovery from the local authority of any compensation payable. In the case of contracts, including contracts for disposal, entered into without the consent of the governing body concerned or, where applicable, the consent of the Secretary of State, there will be a right of repudiation, and such repudiation will be deemed to be a repudiation by the relevant local authority, so that any liability in damages will remain with the relevant local authority. I shall seek the approval of Parliament for these two measures to have effect from midnight tonight. This statement does not affect enforceable obligations entered into before midnight tonight.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

As the timing of the statement so exquisitely demonstrates, the Secretary of State's announcement has been motivated by nothing whatever to do with the needs of the education service. Instead, it has simply been dictated by the Government's blind poll tax panic. The right hon. and learned Gentleman comes to the House this afternoon not as Secretary of State for Education but simply as the Environment Secretary's subordinate.

The whole House will be delighted that the Secretary of State has at last noticed, after 12 years of Conservative government, that we still lag behind our competitors in the participation of our school leavers in further education". That is a major admission by the Secretary of State of 12 years of Conservative failure—12 years in which the share of Britain's national wealth devoted to education has fallen, while almost all our major competitors have invested more and have had far better results in their education and training services.

Is not it typical of this Government that, faced with the yawning education and training deficit between the United Kingdom and its major competitors, the only solution that Ministers can find is to set up a centralising bureaucracy, establish a new national quango and deny local people both a voice and choice? The Secretary of State could adduce no evidence whatever to back his claims of a lack of responsiveness to the needs of 16 to 19-year-olds among either further education colleges or local education authorities. The problems that colleges and LEAs have faced were imposed on them by central Government and central Government alone.

Does not the Secretary of State realise that the major problems in increasing opportunity and choice at 16-plus are educational, not bureaucratic? Does he realise that there is an urgent need, as Her Majesty's inspectorate said, to end the jungle of qualifications, with over 200 examining boards for those between 16 and 19? Does he realise that instead we must establish a coherent, unified system of 16 to 19 examinations? The statement said riot a word about that. Instead, the Secretary of State has blighted all chances of sensible reform of examinations for those between 16 and 19.

Does not the Secretary of State also understand that there is the widest support for setting clear national and local targets for improvement in participation rates for 16 to 19-year-olds, as the Labour party has proposed? That sensible reform, backed by both the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress, has been rejected out of hand by the Secretary of State's friend, the Employment Secretary.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, despite what he says, his proposals will place school sixth forms at risk and in financial limbo, with less financial support than sixth forms in further education colleges? What will be the position of both church schools with sixth forms and voluntary-aided sixth form and further education colleges? What guarantees does the Secretary of State give about the future of adult and community education, especially where that provision is contained within existing further education colleges?

Although one understands—especially in view of his record in the health service—the Secretary of State's profound contempt for those who are locally elected to represent their communities, and his desire to place all institutions under quangos appointed by him, what planning or strategic role will local education authorities have in respect of planning 16 to 19 provision?

Nothing has caused greater resentment or loss of efficiency in the education service or greater unpopularity for the Government than piling one hasty and impulsive change after another on the service. Has anyone told the Secretary of State that the last major changes in further education took effect only 11 months ago and have yet to be established? Those changes were made under the Education Reform Act 1988 and, in commending them to the House, the former Minister of State for Education and Science, the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), praised the work of local education authorities. Given the ghastly mess that the Government have made in education and on the poll tax through impulsive decisions taken without proper consultation and consent, would not it be sensible for the Secretary of State to consult those who run 16 to 19 education, those in colleges and schools and the public, before seeking to ram these ill-considered and hasty proposals through the House?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friends and I have been working for some time on these further education proposals and I commend them to the House for education reasons. I have met principals of further education colleges who have pressed me to be allowed to have the independence from local government that we are now giving them. Our proposals will be widely welcomed in the world of education, especially by those in further education colleges, tertiary colleges and sixth form colleges which concentrate on 16 to 19-year-old provision.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) comes in as a little Sir Echo from our debate on the previous statement and tries to imitate his colleagues in their exchanges on the poll tax when he should be addressing the education issues that are involved. When he goes outside he will find that my proposals are welcomed by those in education whose advice he should heed.

Secondly, I am not taking anything under central control, but I am taking colleges out of local government control. The body that we are setting up is a funding council which will distribute the funds and will bear in mind quality that is assessed as I have described. It will otherwise leave the management of the colleges to themselves. Colleges will be free to spend the money and the funding regime will ensure that they increase the participation of students and improve their efficiency at the same time, exactly as the polytechnics have done.

That is modelled on the freedom that we gave to polytechnics in 1989. Polytechnics are not controlled centrally by me, although funds are distributed to them by a funding council. Polytechnics are brilliantly successful in increasing the participation of students in higher education, and we have seen 36,000 more students this year alone. They are at the same time increasing efficiency and maintaining excellent academic standards. Therefore, removing from local government control those responsible for higher and further education institutions which want to be entrepreneurial and to expand opportunities for young people is a good education policy which the hon. Gentleman should not oppose.

The hon. Member for Blackburn made rather strange remarks about funding having more to do with this. He knows that we spend a higher percentage of our GNP on education than do most of our competitors, and that spending per pupil in this country has gone up by 40 per cent. He was right in what he said about the jungle of qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds. We are already addressing that with the help of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications which we have set up. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and I are closely addressing that matter and some of the others that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We shall shortly produce a White Paper setting out better opportunities for young people which will include further clarification of qualifications.

I have already said that I shall use my powers to protect sixth forms and certainly good sixth forms which are of benefit to the schools to which they are attached. Parents would also like to have local choice of sixth forms. Voluntary-aided sixth form colleges will be affected by my proposals. They will acquire the new status and join the new sector and I have today written to people in the churches involved to set up a way to have discussions about the mechanics.

Adult education presently carried out and delivered by colleges will also be covered by the proposals and the funding arrangements that I have described. Details on that will be contained in the White Paper. My statement should be addressed by the hon. Member for Blackburn in his capacity as spokesman for the Opposition on education matters. If he addresses it objectively and uses educational judgments, he will welcome and commend my proposals.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will reject the unfounded allegations by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a serious point of order, not an attempt to interrupt the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey).

A written statement was issued to hon. Members when the Secretary of State started to give details of his proposals. The Secretary of State said that from midnight tonight he would take certain action to prevent local education authorities from entering into arrangements with further education colleges. In the written statement issued to hon. Members, the Secretary of State says that he will not seek legislative powers to do that until the autumn. That seems to pre-empt a decision of the House in relation to the Secretary of State taking powers. Is it in order for a Secretary of State to implement proposals from midnight when he has no statutory right to do so and will not have such a right until the legislation is passed by the House in the autumn?

Mr. Speaker

I am concerned with what the Secretary of State has actually said, not with anything that may have been written.

Mr. McCartney

This is serious, Mr. Speaker. I am speaking about what is contained in the written statement that accompanied the oral statement by the Secretary of State. He has said that from midnight he is implementing proposals which will be contained in legislation in the autumn. As I have said, that pre-empts a decision of the House and I seek a judgment from you, Mr. Speaker, on the powers under which the Secretary of State proposes to do that. Is what he is doing ultra vires, because the House has not given him the necessary power?

Mr. Clarke

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. What I have announced is well precedented. My statement had to contain details towards the end about what I proposed because I was announcing to the House that certain measures would take effect from midnight tonight and that I would later seek parliamentary approval for those steps. That was done when polytechnics were given independence and it is frequently done for changes in taxation and for changes in regimes of this kind. It is to make sure that from midnight tonight local authorities will not be tempted to strip assets, sell land or enter into contracts.

Mr. Straw

Further to. that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Tony Banks: (Newham, North-West)

We still have six hours to go.

Hon. Members


Mr. Straw

As my hon. Friend knows, I am stone deaf in one ear and therefore do not have a clue about what he said.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) raises an important issue. The Secretary of State tried to wriggle out of it by saying that his action is well precedented. It is precedented only by actions of this Government when they introduced retrospective legislation.

Mr. Clarke


Mr. Straw

This is not about taxation. The suggestion that local authorities will asset-strip further education colleges to which they are committed and have expanded and are up and running is absolutely preposterous. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should withdraw that. It shows his hostility to local education. Will you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that no parliamentary approval exists for the Secretary of State's proposal?

Mr. Speaker

It is a matter for the Government. If they are found to be ultra vires, it will be a matter for the courts, but it is certainly not a matter for me.

Mr. McCartney

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not trying to delay matters but this issue is vital to the good running of the House and to you, Mr. Speaker, as the defender of the House. The Secretary of State has had two opportunities to indicate what powers under what Education Act he is taking upon himself to carry out certain actions after midnight. Clearly, he has no precedent in law. I do not want to see the Secretary of State before the courts next week arguing with education authorities about their proper and rightful duties in respect of colleges. Perhaps we need an adjournment and some discussion behind the Chair about how to proceed in this matter or we will find ourselves——

Mr. Speaker


Mr. McCartney

rose—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] What a bunch of louts. I apologise, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I must say to the hon. Gentleman that what the Government intend to do is a matter for them. I repeat what I have said to Front-Bench spokesmen that whether the matter is ultra vires is a matter for the courts, not for me.

Mr. Tony Banks

Jack-booted thugs.

Mr. Speaker

We would be well advised to keep the temperature down. I do not know who said that, but I shall allege that I am temporarily deaf.

Mr. Pawsey

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will reject the unfounded allegations by the hon. Member for Blackburn in the same way as the House will reject the vote of confidence motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that when we set colleges of further education free from local education authorities they will be able to blossom in exactly the same way as polytechnics?

Mr. Clarke

I have certainly been assured of that by many of the principals of further education colleges who have been pressing us to make precisely this change. Given their head and the right financing regime, they will have every incentive to improve their efficiency, extend the range of their courses and, most importantly, attract an ever-rising proportion of our 16-year-olds into further education.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

Once again the Secretary of State has managed to remove an element of local democracy without, as he admitted himself, tackling the problems of confusion or underfunding in this sector. Can he confirm that local people from whom power has been removed will see no financial benefit, as it is his intention to achieve the change entirely by removing Government grant without allowing any fall in local spending? Conservative Members who have argued for the centralisation of education are now faced with a measure of that centralisation, hut with none of its expected benefits.

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain to local people how they are to fare in future? In Truro, for instance, there is a proposal for a tertiary college on which we had expected a decision by the Minister next week. How are we to proceed? Is everything to come to a grinding halt until the Minister has published the White Paper and passed the legislation?

Mr. Clarke

The management of local further education colleges and polytechnics was not usually directly affected in the past by local democracy. They were not at the heart of the red meat of local politics—indeed, the sector was sadly neglected. Tertiary education achieves a great deal, but it has never attracted the degree of attention that it deserves. The test of whether it is anti democratic is to talk to some of the principals of the polytechnics. So far I have not found any lecturer in or principal of a polytechnic—including a number of the classic left-wing, bearded variety—who believes that it is a good idea to go back to local government control. Such people have been liberated by the change and have acquired, not lost, freedom. That is what will happen to colleges under my proposals. In the White Paper we shall deal with the details of how new colleges are to develop, but I expect that we shall adopt a system in which the funding council will make proposals of that sort to me.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend looking to members of the training and enterprise councils automatically to become governors of colleges of further education? Will he confirm that the choice facing an upper school now is to stay with the local education authority, to opt to become grant maintained, or to opt to become part of a college of further education?

Mr. Clarke

The answer to the first point is certainly yes. I would expect a member of the local TEC invariably to become a member of the governing body of these institutions. We are not talking about opting for the new status, because at the moment schools under local authority control can opt for grant-maintained status—although curiously further education colleges do not have that choice. So they do not have a natural constituency that we can ballot; their populations are more transitional; so the parent body is not so closely connected with them.

My announcement today means that all further education colleges, all tertiary colleges and all sixth form colleges will transfer to the new sector and be independent of local government from April 1993.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

The real danger of the Secretary of State's proposals is that they will entrench the division between sixth form FE colleges and sixth form colleges. The flaw in our secondary education system has always been the divide between the academic and the vocational, and these proposals will deepen that divide. We need to train all our young people together in a system in which vocational work and academic work are equally respected. This change will be destructive and will further entrench the divide.

Mr. Clarke

I assure the hon. Lady that I share her concern not to deepen that divide. My colleagues and I are working to ensure that vocational education acquires the same status as academic education, so that there are no artificial divisions between them. Sixth form colleges will enter the new sector as a result of my announcement. They tend to concentrate on traditional academic courses, so many of the young people in the colleges that I am talking about will study, for instance, for A-levels; but many others will be doing vocational courses. I do not believe that she is correct to suspect that the proposals will widen the divide.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Will not my right hon. and learned Friend's statement represent a further enhancement of this important sector of education? Might it not also be an important step towards ensuring the universal involvement of 16 to 19-year-olds in some form of education and training?

Mr. Clarke

In our forthcoming White Paper we shall deal with the whole issue of how to increase participation by all 16 to 19-year-olds in some form of education or training. We shall set ourselves the aim of greatly increasing such participation. I share my hon. Friend's aim, and I trust that our White Paper will measure up to his expectations.

Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich)

Although I am persuaded that further education colleges will be better off independently funded than subject to the vagaries of local authority control, does the Secretary of State agree that there is a great danger in the proposals that local education authorities reconsidering the structure of their sixth form and 16 to 19-year-old provision will automatically turn their backs on the tertiary college or sixth form college solution in order to retain control over the education of this age group?

Mr. Clarke

If there is a risk of that it will show that the local authority in question is motivated more by a desire to keep its empire intact than by a desire to improve educational opportunities for young people in its area. I rather share the hon. Lady's fear that such councils exist—I encounter such attitudes frequently when I receive applications for grant-maintained status from schools. We shall have to consider ways in which the new funding council can make proposals to us for opening new colleges in certain areas. A council that was neglecting to create more choice in its area might find that the new sector was beginning to offer parents some choice in that district.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

I hope that I did not detect in one of my right hon. and learned Friend's answers that he is falling into the trap of beardism—that would be unfortunate and discriminatory. As a recent governor of a college of further education, may I say that it was crystal clear that it would be extremely desirable to do exactly what my right hon. and learned Friend has done—and that I welcome it. When he looks into the funding arrangements, will he ensure that the rundown state of much of the capital stock of these colleges is taken into account?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support, which is based on his experience. I am sure that he is not the only governor to have thought that colleges of this sort have been comparatively neglected by local authorities that attach far higher priority to other parts of the education system.

I take note of what my hon. Friend says about capital. Many of these colleges' revenue and capital have been comparatively neglected; we shall consider capital arrangements and probably again use the funding council as our agent to distribute the necessary capital investment.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Will the Secretary of State hesitate before proceeding rapidly on this course until he has considered the view that many people, bearded or otherwise, may express? It is that there is likely to be an excess of centralisation and a greater degree of bureaucracy. Whatever he may say, there will certainly be great anxiety in successful sixth forms. Will he subscribe to the view that education has suffered in recent years from undue turmoil and an excess of dogma?

Mr. Clarke

The universities receive their funds from the Universities Funding Council and are not centralised under the control of central Government. The polytechnics and higher education colleges receive their funds from a funding council and are not under my control or over-centralised. The same will apply to the new sector. The desirable pattern for education is not detailed control by either local or central government. More power should be devolved and delegated and responsibility for and control over funds go to those who work in the institutions themselves and serve on their governing bodies. That is the pattern that we are following.

The hon. Gentleman says that we should not rush into it, but it is necessary to make an announcement and to outline the provisions that will come into effect from midnight tonight simply to ensure that certain local authorities do not start apostating. We have much experience—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is protesting but his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) should know that we had to take that measure when the Greater London council began to take similar steps immediately after we announced that we would abolish it.

We are still sorting out problems in the case of the polytechnics. Only a week ago I met a principal who said that his local authority had accepted that the polytechnic now owned the building but still insisted that it owned the grass in front of the building. Such disputes exist throughout the country. Had we not made such arrangements, I am sure that great pressure would be put on many colleges to enter into long-term contracts, binding them to their local authority, and their assets would be clawed back into local authority control. All the tricks of the trade, which many local authorities know only too well, would be used to keep their bureaucratic empires intact.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals. Ealing's higher education college is doing well independently of the local authority, which has been a perfect nuisance to it in the past.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State follow through the logic of his statement and consider the position of school sixth forms? Would not it be right for high schools and secondary schools to have arrangements made for them similar to those that he has announced for non-advanced and advanced further education and tertiary colleges?

Mr. Clarke

I am sure that the opinion of those involved with Ealing higher education college is shared by everyone in higher education colleges that have been given their independence. Whereas at present we are offering to secondary schools, including those with sixth forms, the opportunity to seek grant-maintained status, the first step is that the local management of all schools will be placed in the hands of the governors and the head teachers shortly, with 85 per cent. of the schools' budgets under their control by 1993. Beyond that, the best will rapidly move to full grant-maintained status, with 100 per cent. of their budgets under their control and comparative freedom and autonomy from local authority control.

Thus, a parallel course is already set out. The pace at which schools are choosing grant-maintained status is accelerating at a remarkable rate, even in the few months that I have been in office.

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Will the Secretary of State accept my party's welcome of the proposal for a White Paper on the 16 to 19-year-old sector? Will he also accept that there will, indeed, be wide-ranging support from those who work in the further education sector in England and Wales—similar proposals will be made by the Welsh Office—and that the funding council will provide an opportunity to combine central funding with flexibility of institutional control in the locality rather than control by the aldermanic tendency, which still exists in too many local authorities? In what ways does the Secretary of State intend to enhance the relationship of adult and continued education with the further education sector? What relationship does he see, if any, between the new funding council and the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council and the Universities Funding Council to improve access from further education to the rest of higher education?

Mr. Clarke

First, I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome. He was a lecturer in his time, although I think it was in higher education, so he is knowledgeable on the subject. His opinion will be shared by professionals in education. As he rightly anticipated, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will make a statement because there will be a separate Welsh funding council and arrangements for Wales which I am sure he will welcome.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman asked about adult education and access from further to higher education. Those matters are important and we are working on them as part of our White Paper. We shall address those problems directly when we return with our White Paper and our proposals for opportunities for young people of that age across the board.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his statement will be widely welcomed in the further education sector, not least because it has been calling for precisely that measure? Those who work in that sector will not understand the Labour party hostility to the proposals. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one reason why his proposals are right is that the Government's funding of further education has not always been passed on by local education authorities to those institutions? At long last, it will go to them directly. Will he confirm that this is the clearest possible sign of the Government's commitment to the further education sector and its role in education and training?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right—we have had experience of approving capital for projects in further education, only to discover that when the local authority has obtained the capital approval for such projects the money was not spent in that sector. That shows the practical application of the way in which many colleges have been neglected vis-à-vis the schools sector. I agree that many people in further education will not understand why the Labour party has a blind commitment to keeping up the widest level of local authority bureaucracy and is instinctively hostile to a move that has been demanded by most people in further education for many years.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

How can students and staff have any confidence in their courses in view of the experience of many people now on employment training courses who are being given less than a week's notice of the termination of their courses, ahead of time, as a result of the advent of training and enterprise councils, which the Secretary of State wants to make responsible for running colleges of further education?

Mr. Clarke

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment assures me that arrangements are being made for people to continue their courses. The introduction of the TECs, which I warmly welcome, is not having the consequence that the hon. Gentleman fears.

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)

My right hon. and learned Friend is well aware of the valuable service of the Workers Education Association, not only in Nottinghamshire but in our rural communities. As he also knows, it had a raw deal from Nottinghamshire county council this year as regards funding. Will he assure me that it will be taken into consideration under the new funding arrangements?

Mr. Clarke

I have every possible reason for agreeing strongly with my hon. Friend's criticisms about Nottinghamshire county council's disgraceful behaviour this year. As I said, my announcement comprises certain responsibilities for adult education and we shall outline them in more detail and explain the funding regime when we produce the White Paper. The funding of adult education, especially that which is closely related to career opportunities for people of that age, must be protected. We shall take it into account when drawing up our new arrangements.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

When opening his statement, the Secretary of State emphatically said that the arrangements were for England. In replying to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), he said that the Secretary of State for Wales would make a separate statement on further education. However, in the order of business, I understood that the statement was on local government finance. Are we now being told that the Welsh statement will be on poll tax mark 2 and further education in Wales?

Mr. Clarke

Wales and Scotland have devolved government. As an English politician, I can never understand the constant controversy on devolution in both the other countries on the United Kingdom mainland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is Education Minister for Wales and my writ does not run there. Similarly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland deals with education in Scotland. Their statements will cover both local government finance and further education.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend point out to the House, especially to the Opposition, that on 11 June last year I brought a delegation from the Isle of Wight art and technology college to see the Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold)? The college principal and the governor-chairman urged my right hon. Friend to take that action because they were so fed up with the political shenanigans of the Liberal Democrats who have continually cut the budget and politicked with the courses at the college of art and technology. My right hon. and learned Friend's statement will be widely welcomed by the tutors, governors and students on the Isle of Wight. Taken together with the training enterprise councils, it marks a breathtaking revolution that will do us well in 1992.

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for helping to mobilise representations to the Government which led us to take that decision. Several other such representations by my hon. Friends led us to our conclusions. As my hon. Friend made clear, had we not experienced difficulties with the community charge, and were we not changing the basis for local government finance, I am sure that I should have wanted to come before the House with a statement to rescue further education from the vagaries of people such as the Liberal Democrats on the Isle of Wight.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I remind the Secretary of State that at 3.30 pm the Secretary of State for the Environment announced major changes in local government structures, and said there would be a consultation period. However, within three hours, the Secretary of State for Education and Science comes along to the House and makes announcements that will radically affect local government structures and responsibilities. Education is one of the most important local authority functions. How dare he do that and talk about democracy? He comes here like Hitler with a beer belly and says that changes will take place. Exactly what consultations are taking place with local education authorities on those proposals? As he is saying that legislation will be presented to the House in the autumn, does that mean that we are not going to have a June election?

Mr. Clarke

I am confident that educational opinion will support me, and any consultations carried out by the hon. Gentleman would confirm that. I prefer to base my judgment on the educational interests of colleges, not the advice of the hon. Gentleman, who clung like a limpet to his little chairmanship and little power in that completely useless organisation the Greater London council. It was a big car and a big platform for making statements, but he had no powers or responsibilities. Quite a few other spheres of local government would do well if subjected to the sort of scrutiny that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has said that he will give local government in the near future.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I can fairly confirm the attitude of one further education college to my right hon. and learned Friend. Recently, the principal and a majority of the governors of Kingston college of further education said that they thought they had been ill done by when Kingston polytechnic was allowed to become free-standing.

May I press my right hon. and learned Friend further on the subject of adult education? He will realise that much of it is conducted in the same buildings as further education. Will the whole or part of further education move out of local education authority control? What about accommodation?

Mr. Clarke

The colleges will continue to make provision for adult education, and the extent to which they do so has been encompassed by my announcements today. We will in due course address the detail, which will certainly include the funding arrangements for that essential part of adult education, preparing young people for their careers. I agree that it forms an important part of our proposals; we shall give more details in the White Paper.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does not the Secretary of State for Education and Science understand that these measures will be seen as accelerating the disintegration of the unitary system of education, which was introduced by a national Government and agreed to by all parties in the House in 1944? Will not it also mean that there will be three different types of institution competing for the education of 16 to 19-year-olds? What is the approximate proportion of local education authorities' current expenditure on education that the Secretary of State expects to be transferred by these measures? Do not the proposals mean that all existing sixth form colleges will achieve grant-maintained status by law? Were these proposals contained in the last Tory election manifesto?

Mr. Clarke

I will not debate the history with the hon. Gentleman, but the system of education that grew up did so rather by accident. The Education Act 1944 did not even impose a duty on local education authorities to provide schools. It was a matter of chance that they grew up as they did. We reached the position where every school was under the detailed, day-to-day management of local authorities—some good, some not so good and some bad. My preferred method of management is one that distributes the money by a fair method and retains some ability to monitor standards, but puts the day-to-day responsibility firmly in the hands of the principal, head teacher or governing body——

Mr. Straw

That is there already.

Mr. Clarke

That is now being described as "fair" by the hon. Member for Blackburn, who has gone through one of the quickest conversions on policy for a long time.

As for the proportion of local government spending, £2 billion will be affected by my announcement today. Off the cuff, I believe that the total local government spending on education is about £17 billion. Those who have successfully reached the right standard according to the school curriculum will rapidly be able to work out what percentage that is.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

When making this welcome statement my right hon. and learned Friend was right to ignore the advice of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), whose asset-stripping instincts were in keeping with the old activities of the Inner London education authority, which laid to waste academic standards throughout London.

The statement is particularly welcome to me. My right hon. and learned Friend knows that Esher sixth form college in my constituency was already considering applying for grant-maintained status, which shows that the system has been running longer than the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) suggested. That sixth form college was worried that it might have been alone, if it were one of the first and only ones to have applied for grant-maintained status. The proposals give a structure to post-16 education which is extremely welcome. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will now turn his attention to items such as inter-authority transfers, which sixth form colleges thought worked badly against them when attracting pupils from out of their areas.

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend's sixth form college will no longer be unique in its independence, but I am sure that it will be one of the best in the new sector. The problem of inter-authority transfers and their financing will disappear almost completely. The financing of the colleges will depend, first, on core funding, based on planning and judgments of quality by the funding council, then on their success in attracting young people from wherever in the surrounding area to come to good quality courses. That is a much better way of financing the expansion of colleges such as that in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor).

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of the Labour party's passionate defence of ILEA, that singularly useless and unlamented education body that used to control London. The only Labour education policy is the defence of bureaucracy and the dead hand of local government on the day-to-day management of schools.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Why does not the Secretary of State answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) about whether the proposals were contained in the Tory party manifesto at the last election? The Secretary of State has no mandate for what he is doing here today. There is something sinister about a Government who take power away from people in local democracy and put it under the Government's jackboot. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I think that the Secretary of State is like Mussolini, who was Hitler with a beer belly.

Mr. Clarke

I look forward to the next Labour party manifesto to see whether it contains a commitment to hand back polytechnics and colleges of higher and further education to local government control. If such a promise appears in the next Labour party manifesto, I promise the hon. Gentleman that he will face deputation after deputation of lecturers and pupils demanding that the policy should not be carried out. It is symptomatic of the way in which many of the left-wingers with whom I have to deal in local education authorities behave. When their arguments fail, they resort to personal abuse, a level to which the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has finally sunk.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend about administrators and advisers who exist within the education departments of county councils? How will he ease the passage of reducing their numbers, which must clearly be done if their responsibility is taken away? After the removal of polytechnics from the control of education authorities, how many advisers and administrators were saved? That is a serious question and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will answer it. I know that Dorset county council already has some worries about losing various schools that want to opt out and reducing the burden of those administrators. Nothing will be saved unless those administrators move elsewhere or sell their services, thus taking the burden of expense away from the local taxpayer.

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. The changes that we have made, and the steady change to enabling authorities, gives local authorities the opportunity greatly to reduce their central staff, thereby reducing the burden on the community charge payer. I cannot give an off-the-cuff answer on Dorset, but the numbers of advisers should be reduced as a result of the decision that I have announced. Local education authorities are large enough to redeploy those people as they move from those duties. Far too many local authorities do not adequately reduce their central administration, even when they lose responsibilities. I shall not comment on Dorset—it is far away—but my local authority shows signs of having grown like Topsy for many years. Nottinghamshire combines extravagance and sometimes incompetence with poor supervision of its education services.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

Does the Secretary of State recognise that the most important element of his statement is the acknowledgement that after 12 years of this Government we still lag behind other countries in education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds? Does not that show the Government's failure in providing for our young people?

Does the Secretary of State recognise that his statement will cause much anxiety among schools that have sixth forms? How will he use what he called his "additional powers" to protect and secure the future of sixth forms?

What is likely to happen to free-standing adult education centres? The Secretary of State did not refer to adult education centres in his statement, but in response to a question he said that they will be included under the funding council. Is that the intention, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman mistaken or must he obtain that information from the Minister of State? If so, will he give it to the House?

Does the Secretary of State recognise that adult education, which is important to thousands of people, will be put at risk by the statement and by the Government's approach to funding?

All hon. Members recognise the need for a statement on an integrated approach to the education and training of 16 to 19-year-olds. It would have had more credence if the Secretary of State had made that statement first and the institutional reforms had flowed from it, but the education arguments are to be advanced second and the institutional arguments to be made first. That is final confirmation and evidence that the statement is not about education but about the chaos that has been created by the poll tax.

Mr. Clarke

The proportion of our young people in higher and further education is increasing dramatically. I agree that we are behind many of our competitors, but we are catching them fast and making up for past deficiencies in the service. The number of students in polytechnics and higher education colleges is 54 per cent. higher—more than half as many again as when the Government took office.

I expressed the importance that I attach to keeping good sixth forms and to giving parents the choice of a good sixth form where possible. My existing powers will enable me to protect sixth forms because any proposal to open or close one will continue to need my consent and because we can bear in mind the needs of sixth forms when constructing the standard spending assessments in the equalisation measures necessary to distribute grants to local authorities. We can thereby consider the weighting to be given to post-16 pupils.

I did not say that adult education colleges—free-standing institutions that deliver solely adult education—would be covered by my statement, but that the adult education responsibilities of an FE college would be considered. The details of the provision for adult education were addressed in the White Paper, and nothing that I have announced will diminish the opportunities for adult education.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) came near to welcoming the proposal of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and myself for a comprehensive statement of policy on 16 to 19-year-olds. He is quite wrong in believing that my announcement today is inconsistent with such a statement. As I keep pointing out to him and to the hon. Member for Blackburn, they are obsessed with the structures. It is extraordinary that they are most shocked by the idea that colleges should be taken away from their friends in local government. The people about whom we are all concerned will benefit from our giving colleges the independence that I have announced today.