HC Deb 04 November 1991 vol 198 cc204-301
Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the Secretary of State for Employment, I must tell the House that because of the numbers of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate in today's debate, I am placing a precautionary limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 and 9 pm. If those who are called before that time are relatively brief, it may not be necessary to impose the limit. However, under the Standing Orders I must make my announcement now.

3.7 pm

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)

The policies set out in the Gracious Speech will expand opportunity, choice and quality in our nation's education and training. They will lay the foundations for the creation of yet more jobs, in addition to the 800,000 created since 1979 and the 2.6 million created since 1983. They will ensure that Britain is ready for the challenges of the 1990s.

Those who report on our deliberations in this place have predicted that our exchanges over the next few months will be blighted by charge and counter-charge, by accusation and counter-accusation, and by statistics from both sides crossing each other in the night. I have now faced the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) across the Dispatch Box on nine occasions during the past 21 months. Neither of us could claim that those exchanges have been free of the features that I have just identified. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman might acknowledge that his universally pessimistic approach to these matters is at times all too reminiscent of Private Fraser in "Dad's Army", whose response to every situation is to cry out, "We're doomed—doomed, I tell you." I offer the hon. Gentleman an opportunity this afternoon to engage in more constructive debate.

I begin by identifying those objectives which—I hope he agrees—the hon. Gentleman and his party share. I will describe the extent to which the considerable progress has been made by the Government towards achieving those objectives. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have the grace to acknowledge that progress and those achievements. I will consider what more needs to be done—because undoubtedly more needs to be done and formidable challenges remain—and whether further progress towards the achievement of those objectives is more likely to come about if the policies of the Government continue to be pursued than if the policies that the hon. Gentleman's party advocates were introduced in their place.

We all want to see better education and training for our people. That is fundamental to the needs of our economy in the years ahead; fundamental to the prospects for unemployed people; and fundamental also to the creation of opportunities for our people not only to obtain work, to have and to hold down a job, but to obtain work and jobs which give them satisfaction, which are truly rewarding and which enable them to fulfil their potential to the greatest possible extent.

We need to see more of our young people staying on at school, more of them going into further and higher education and more of them achieving qualifications. We need to improve the levels of skills and qualifications of all our people and to increase the quantity and quality of the training that is available to them.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the Secretary of State send a message to those Rolls-Royce apprentices who will soon complete their training at what once was one of Britain's best motor car factories, but who will be unable to obtain employment in that factory or in any Rolls-Royce subsidiary? What does the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggest that those apprentices should do with the training to which they committed a lot of their time?

Mr. Howard

I am sure that those young people fully understand that no Government could ever offer them a guarantee of employment with any specific employer or at any particular workplace. However, I am equally sure that the qualifications and experience that those apprentices have gained will stand them in excellent stead in achieving employment when they come to look for jobs.

We need above all—because it is the key to everything else—to increase the productivity and the competitiveness of our industries, because that alone will encourage more job creation. That alone will provide the resources that are essential if we are to build a steadily more prosperous society.

Those objectives are scarcely controversial. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman accepts them—although it is true that he has surprised me more than once in the past by failing to agree with the most obvious proposition.

Let us then examine the progress that the Government have made towards achieving those objectives.

First, on education and training, more young people are graduating from higher education than ever before—the number is up by nearly one third since 1979. More of our young people have higher education qualifications than do young people in Germany or Italy. More of our school leavers have qualifications than ever before, as do more of our work force. For the first time, no fewer than two thirds of those who work have a qualification, and 39 per cent. have A-levels or higher qualifications—an increase of no less than one third since 1979.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Were not the training and enterprise councils, the employment training programme and the youth training programme all the brainchilds of the present Government? They did not exist under the previous Labour Administration?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely correct and it would be as well if the House bore that important fact in mind when considering some of the allegations that are made—although I hope this afternoon for a more responsible tone in the remarks of the hon. Member for Sedgefield.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

In my borough, unemployment has risen by 69 per cent. over the past year, but, because of poll tax capping, virtually no one in Lambeth will receive a discretionary grant for vocational training. Often, a graduate has to complete a year at college or at law school after taking a degree. Such a period of further study could qualify for a discretionary grant, but, because of poll tax capping, almost no one in my borough will receive one. Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it would be better to replace dicretionary grants for vocational training, which are a burden on local authorities, with mandatory grants paid for by central Government?

Mr. Howard

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is citing Lambeth council as a model of efficiency and good practice. If that council harboured its resources sensibly and deployed them effectively, it would be able to spend them in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will no doubt point out in due course, Lambeth spends less than its standard spending assessment on education. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman direct his remarks to Lambeth council: a reordering of its spending priorities seems to be long overdue.

We are laying the foundations for further progress. More of our young people are now receiving higher education than ever before—an increase from one in eight in 1979 to one in five today and nearly one in three by the end of the decade. More 16-year-olds are staying on at school than ever before—more than 50 per cent. of the age group, for the first time ever. Indeed, last year it is likely to have been as high as 60 per cent. and it will be higher still this year.

As for training, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) has just reminded us, the Government have introduced the first and only guarantee anywhere in Europe of a two-year training place for every 16 and 17-year-old who needs it. That has been made possible by an increase in the number of training places for young people from a grand total of 6,000 in 1979 to more than 260,000 today. Taken together, the progress that we have made in education and training has led to an increase of more than two thirds in the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds receiving full-time education or training since 1980. It is not just a question of quantity; the quality is improving, too. In our schools, the reforms introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and his predecessors are bringing results.

A recent academic study compared the training available to young people in this country and that available to young people in Germany—for so long held out as the model that all other countries should follow in this regard. It reached the conclusion that, in many important respects, our training was not merely the equal of that provided in Germany; it was actually its superior. My Department's spending on training and enterprise has increased two and a half times in real terms since 1979.

The proportion of our gross domestic product devoted to taxpayer-funded training is higher here than it is in Germany, the United States or Japan.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Howard

I will always give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Haynes

I do not know which gramophone company the Secretary of State works for, Mr. Speaker, but we hear the same old gramophone record every time he comes to the Dispatch Box. When the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), occupied his post, the unemployment figures were going down. Ever since the right hon. and learned Gentleman has occupied it, they have gone up. Now they are rocketing. He is flipping useless and it is time that he was looking for another job.

I am not talking about statistics. I am talking about the real world—about what is happening out there. The Secretary of State should join that lot out there who keep losing their jobs and the people who cannot get a job. He has been to my constituency recently, although he did not inform me of the fact. He was telling people how wonderful things would be in the future; I want to see that future. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not told me about it yet. He should get stuck in, or get out.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. It is perfectly true that some of the things that I am saying today I have said before; that is because they are true. It does no harm to repeat the truth, or to establish a degree of consistency. Of course, that is not something that the hon. Gentleman is used to observing on the Opposition Benches. I quite understand why he is somewhat mystified by consistency, with which he is not entirely comfortable or familiar. It is, however, something that he will be given by Conservative Members and I am sure that he will want to make the most of it before—sadly—he retires from our midst at the next general election.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept the good news, contrary to what was said by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), that although in recent times my constituency has experienced economic difficulties, so successful has my right hon. and learned Friend's training and enterprise programme been that the Crawley and District Industries Association has told me that this is the first time during a downturn in the economy when training by companies has increased rather than decreased?

Mr. Haynes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is bragging about unemployment in his constituency being 3.4 per cent., but unemployment is between 9 and 11 per cent. now. The hon. Gentleman has got a nerve.

Mr. Speaker

I have heard better points of order than that.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) makes an extremely important point. The experience that he reports in his constituency is mirrored throughout the country. It is one of the most significant and important respects in which the recession from which we are recovering is different from all previous recessions.

We are using the additional resources to excellent effect. We are improving both the quality and the quantity of our training and we are improving and creating the skills that our people will need in the 1990s. Our progress in these vital areas can be summarised as record resources, record commitment, record results. I hope that there will be some acknowledgement by the hon. Member for Sedgefield of the progress that we are making.

Of course, the Government cannot do it all alone. Their success in these matters has been matched by record increases in the commitment of employers to training. There has been an 85 per cent. increase in the proportion of employees being trained over the last seven years alone. Over the last year alone, 92 per cent. of employers have increased or maintained the volume of off-the-job training that they provide. The latest Confederation of British Industry survey of manufacturing companies shows that more than six times as many companies expect to maintain or increase their investment in training over the next year than expect to reduce it. Today the Industrial Society published a survey of its members which shows even higher expectations of increased training over the next year.

There is an overwhelming body of evidence that British employers are more aware of the importance of training for their future than has ever been the case in the past. The proportion of employers with a training budget has increased by more than a tenth in the last year alone. The proportion of employers with a training plan has increased even more rapidly. The key to our success in this area, the cornerstone of our achievements, is the establishment of a nationwide network, now complete, of training and enterprise councils, ensuring that training is delivered in a way that fully respects the needs and requirements of local areas and is fully tailored to local circumstances.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield spends a good deal of time travelling up and down the country proclaiming his devotion to training and enterprise councils. I welcome that. Even though the hon. Gentleman occasionally speaks with forked tongue—and, as we shall see later, his views are not shared by his Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish)—I welcome the fact that he proclaims his support for the TECs. But when is he going to give an ounce of credit to the Government for having set up the TECs, for having put in place the instrument of the training revolution that is now taking place in this country, and for having taken the most imaginative step that we have ever seen in our training history? The hon. Gentleman has been noticeably reticent in this respect in the past. I invite him to be more forthcoming here and now.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman supports the TECs so much, why has he started them off with a significant cut in funding?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is not, I hope, going to return to that. Today the shadow Chancellor told the nation that the Government are spending too much money and that this is a profligate Government. However, in the very first debate in the House after the shadow Chancellor's statement, up pops the hon. Gentleman and, in the first intervention from the Opposition Front Bench, says, "Spend more, spend more." It is about time that there was some consistency among Opposition Members.

Mr. Blair

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman gets too carried away, does he accept that he started the TECs with a cut in funding? Has the funding been cut—yes or no?

Mr. Howard

I have explained to the hon. Gentleman and to the House on countless occasions that we have provided TECs with the resources that they need to do the job that I have asked them to do. We carefully considered—I explained how we did so—how best to help unemployed people back to work. Survey evidence showed that although training is an important and effective way of helping some unemployed people back to work, it is not the only way or always the best way. We adjusted our provision to take that into account. I hope that the hon. Member for Sedgefield will not tell the House that he gives the Government credit for having set up the TECs. Will the hon. Gentleman, just this once, give us an ounce of credit for that?

Mr. Blair

I would understand it if the Minister were saying merely that he is reorganising the same amount of resources, but he has cut resources. Does he accept that there has been a cut in the TEC's budgets and that many are expressing concern about meeting his guarantees as a result? Will he accept that or not?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman has been exceptionally churlish this afternoon. He has talked about TECs and has risen three times to intervene, but has declined to give the Government an ounce of credit for having established the TECs and for having taken that most imaginative step. One thing is clear from the hon. Gentleman's attitude: were there ever a Labour Government, there would be no review of programmes and there would be no assessment of the way in which help is given to ensure that it is cost effective or of how Government resources are deployed to ensure that the taxpayer gets the best value for money. According to the hon. Member for Sedgefield, once a programme is introduced it must carry on for ever, regardless of whether it is the most effective way of achieving those aims.

The Government's job creation record is remarkably successful. There are now more than 800,000 more jobs in our economy than in 1979 and 2,600,000 more than in 1983. The key to job creation lies in productivity and competitiveness. In the 1980s, Britain achieved the fastest growth in productivity of any major industrialised country. We had been bottom of the league in the 1960s and 1970s, but our GDP, business investment and manufacturing productivity grew faster during the 1980s than in Germany, France or many other countries. That was the best relative performance by Britain in any decade since the second world war.

The new competitiveness of British industry has been sharply shown by the increase in our share of world trade for two years running, halting and reversing decades of decline. The attractiveness of Britain today for new business and job creation has ensured that we have consistently secured more Japanese and American investment than any other member state of the European Community.

One of the most important factors in the creation of jobs during the lifetime of the Government has been the sharp reduction that we have achieved in the number of strikes. Few people will dispute that that is largely a result of the legislation that we passed to reform industrial relations. That legislation was passed in the teeth of the unflinching opposition of the Labour party and of the hon. Member for Sedgefield in particular. He described the introduction of trade union ballots as a scandalous and undemocratic measure against the trade union movement. The reduction in strikes has been overwhelmingly important in attracting foreign investment to this country on a scale for which there is no precedent. That observation is not just my unsupported assessment; an independent survey conducted by the Invest in Britain Bureau which was published in July showed that 96 per cent. of foreign firms believed that Britain's industrial relations improved significantly in the 1980s.

Those are some of the achievements for which the Government can take substantial credit. I am prepared to wait until the hon. Member for Sedgefield makes his speech for some sign of acknowlegment of that progress.

But what of the future? On training, we plan to take forward the dynamic of the TEC movement. The enthusiasm and excitement that TECs have generated are without parallel in our past. They will harness those qualities to ensure that we continue to make progress. Employers and, indeed, trade unions have committed themselves to the CBI's testing and challenging education and training targets. Those targets will sharply improve the qualifications of the British work force.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

The Government did not adopt them.

Mr. Howard

The Government supported them. I was on the platform with the general secretary of the TUC and the president of the CBI when the targets were announced.

Building blocks of the training revolution are being put in place—this country's first national system of job-related qualifications—with new qualifications being produced,recognised and attained every month. Three hundred vocational qualifications are now accredited. By the end of next year, about 800 will have been accredited, covering 80 per cent. of the work force. That means that over the next 14 months new national vocational qualifications will be accredited and put in place at a rate of well over one a day. Perhaps the hon. Member for Sedgefield will tell us whether he approves of that development. Perhaps he will at least acknowledge the progress that is being made.

Last month, I presented the first Investors in People awards. The companies that received them had achieved tough, testing and challenging targets of commitment to training. I presented 29 awards and was able to announce that a further 500 companies are committed to meeting this standard. I believe that that standard has an important part to play in enhancing employer recognition of the importance of training and career development for the whole of a company's work force. Investors in People is a standard designed by business, which will be met by business, because it is in the interests of business. That is why it will succeed.

From next April, tax relief will be available for the first time for individual training expenses—encouraging a further increase in the commitment of individuals to train to improve their future career prospects. Career development loans—about whose future the hon. Member for Sedgefield registered such heartfelt concern a couple of weeks ago—are being taken up with increasing enthusiasm. Well over 20,000 people have already been encouraged to invest some £53 million in their own training with the benefit of those loans.

Other new measures are foreshadowed in the White Paper "Education and Training for the 21st Century." Some of them were included in the Gracious Speech: removal of the artificial divide, imposed by a Labour Government, between universities and polytechnics; independence for further education colleges; and more information for parents, leading to higher standards of education in our schools. I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will have more to say about those matters later in the debate.

Progress is also being made on the other matters referred to in the White Paper. I refer in particular to the expansion of training credits. Training for young people is being revolutionised by the phased introduction of training vouchers across the country. Already, one school leaver in 10 is offered a training voucher—a means to encourage a sharp improvement in the quality and quantity of training available to that age group while increasing the choice and opportunity open to young people. By the end of the next Parliament, every 16 and 17-year-old school leaver will be offered a training voucher—perhaps the biggest single leap forward of individual choice since the introduction of the right to buy.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

As the Secretary of State knows, training vouchers are being piloted in Devon and Cornwall and other areas. I have had many meetings with those involved. There is a problem with training vouchers, just as there is without them. Because of the economic climate, it does not look as though training places will be available. That is the guarantee for which people are looking and which the Government appear to be failing to deliver.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The guarantee is in place. We are committed to it and we shall continue to deliver it.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield has been uncharacteristically coy about the Labour party's attitude to training credits. Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of them, or is he not? Perhaps this afternoon he will tell us the Labour party's attitude to this imaginative development.

I referred to the Government's record on job creation. Despite that record, it is, of course, the case that unemployment has risen in this recession, as it has in all other recessions. Of course, the problem is not unique to this country. In fact, unemployment is rising in every member state of the European Community except Spain—where it is already nearly double our level—and in every member country of the European Free Trade Association, and it is higher today than it was a year ago in every G7 country.

The response of government to rising unemployment must have two elements. We must strive to create the economic framework in which record numbers of jobs will once again become available. I have already referred to the progress that we have made in increasing productivity and competitiveness. Competitiveness is the key to job creation and the key to competitiveness is the control of inflation. Clearly, we have made great progress in bringing inflation under control and we shall soon have a lower rate of inflation than Germany for the first time in a generation.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Will the Secretary of State reconsider his answer to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor)? The truth is that the youth training guarantee is not being delivered by Devon training and enterprise council. Those are the facts. Does he not know what the facts are'? Is he telling me that every young person in Devon who does not have a job has a YT place? if he is, I am telling him that he is wrong.

Mr. Howard

The guarantee will be met in Devon and Cornwall as in every other training and enterprise council, and every young person of the relevant age who leaves school and cannot get a job will be offered a training place. That is a commitment which the Government will deliver. That will be the case and I can give the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) that undertaking.

When the hon. Member for Newham, North-East mentioned that important matter I was referring to the progress that we have made in bringing inflation under control. That is already improving our competitiveness and we shall see its effects on job creation before much longer. A reduction in the rate of inflation is the only route to reduction in unemployment. Of course, unemployment brings great difficulties in its train and no one regrets that more than I. That is why in recent months we have put in place the widest range of measures that we have ever had to help unemployed people get back to work. I have described them to the House on many previous occasions and, although he is no longer in the Chamber, I do not wish to incur the wrath of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) by repeating them.

Mr. Haynes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am here.

Mr. Howard

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I had not appreciated that he had moved in the Chamber. He has changed his position and perhaps there is still time for him to cross the Floor before he leaves the House at the end of this Parliament.

Those measures provide practical positive help to unemployed people. This year, I have set the Employment Service the task of placing 1.3 million people in jobs—5,000 every working day—and it is achieving that target.

What is the Opposition's attitude towards job creation? They support a whole range of policies, the inevitable result of which would be to make unemployment higher than would otherwise be the case.

Every Labour Government since 1929 have increased unemployment. Putting Labour in charge of reducing unemployment would be like sending a fire fighter to tackle a blaze with his hoses full of petrol. Their unpicking of our trade union law reforms, which would deliberately make strikes easier, longer and more frequent, their support for every last dot and comma of the European Commission's social action programme, just one directive of which could add £5 billion to the costs of British employers——

Mr. Blair

For the sake of clarification, could the Secretary of State say whether his position has changed on maternity leave and the pregnant women at work directive of the EC? A few weeks ago, he told us that that would ruin employment opportunities for women. We understand from the Sunday papers that he will not now dissent from it. Is that correct?

Mr. Howard

The Commission's original proposal on maternity leave would have added £0.5 billion to the costs or either employers or taxpayers in this country. We have been negotiating steadily and patiently—and I hope successfully—to reduce that burden. The attitude that the United Kingdom Government will take to that directive will depend upon its final form. We do not yet know what that will be, as the negotiations are continuing. I should like to know whether the Opposition welcome the reduction of that £0.5 billion burden on British employers or taxpayers or whether they regret it and I am happy to give way now to the hon. Member for Sedgefield if he will answer that question.

Mr. Blair

We do not believe that the proposal would add significantly to costs. We believe that it would be good for work in Britain. As the Secretary of State was never coy about telling us that he opposed the directive, will he tell us—as there is a meeting on Wednesday, I assume that he has made up his mind about whether he will agree to that part of the social charter—whether he has changed his mind or whether the Prime Minister has changed it for him?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to have the first idea of what happens at Social Affairs Councils. What happens is that negotiations take place. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman now what my attitude will be at the end of a meeting that is due to take place on Wednesday because the whole purpose of that meeting is for negotiations to take place.

I am sure that the House will have noted the hon. Gentleman's invention of a new doctrine—cost-free pay. He says that he does not accept that the new regulations, which will have the substantial effect of increasing pay, will lead to any costs. The Labour party approaches all economic matters on the basis of the new wonderful world of cost-free pay. That is the world inhabited by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend at least give the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) the benefit of consistency? He says the same thing about a range of measures, including the measures advocated by the Labour party, which would put many part-time women employees out of work.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely right. That is the kind of consequence to which Labour Members are characteristically blind, as they are blind in their continued support for the national statutory minimum wage.

Last month, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson), perhaps aware—given her shadow portfolio—of the immense damage that the proposal would do to jobs for women, told Channel 4 news that if the minimum wage caused job losses, "We'll look at it". She may wish to look at it, but the shadow Chancellor has made it plain that he will not, telling readers of the Morning Star, the only newspaper to support the minimum wage, that he regards it as an unwavering commitment not open to negotiation. I want to put to the hon. Member for Sedgefield some important and fundamental questions relating to his party's attitude to training and I hope that he will do the House the honour of answering them. While the hon. Gentleman has been travelling up and down the country assuring the training and enterprise councils of his support, the hon. Member for Fife, Central, his fellow Front-Bench spokesman on these matters, has been singing a somewhat different tune. He wrote an article in the magazine Training Tomorrow which he entitled, unequivocally if rather presumptuously, "Labour's Approach to Tees". I have a copy of the magazine and the hon. Member for Sedgefield may like to read it. Perhaps the first thing that he will tell us is whether his hon. Friend cleared that article with him in advance. Do the views expressed in it represent his views and the views of the whole of his party, or the views of only one part of his Front-Bench team?

Let us examine the views of the hon. Member for Fife, Central on the subject of TECs. The hon. Gentleman thinks that TECs are a symbol of deep rooted mistakes of political philosophy". Does the hon. Member for Sedgefield agree?

Hon. Members


Mr. Blair

When the Secretary of State last raised the point in debate in the House, he was told unequivocally by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) that he fully supported the TECs. I do not know what the Secretary of State is doing now to an article.

Mr. Howard

I have never raised the point before. It is a rather recent article in this publication and was drawn to my attention only a week or so ago. I hope that the hon. Member for Sedgefield will do the House and the TECs the credit of taking these matters seriously.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central says that TECs have been set up at breakneck speed with scant regard to the complex and interrelated problems underpinning Britain's skills crisis. He says that there are fundamental differences between the Labour party and the Government on the philosophy behind the TEC initiative. Does the hon. Member for Sedgefield agree?

Mr. Blair

indicated assent.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman agrees with that—I am grateful. Does he also agree, then, that the philosophy behind the TECs is, in the words of the hon. Member for Fife, Central, deeply damaging to the long-term need of this country"? Those are important questions and I hope that the hon. Member for Sedgefield will deal with them specifically. As he knows, we have given the TECs, at their request, increased flexibilities. The hon. Member for Fife, Central thinks that those flexibilities have produced a distortion of both priorities and policies at local level. I hope that the hon. Member for Sedgefield will say whether he agrees with that.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Minister has now been on his feet for about 40 minutes. During that time more than 100 people outside this place have lost their jobs. My constituents want to know what the Government will do about unemployment. The main employer in Creswell—the pit—has just shut and all the other villages are losing their pits, representing 600 or 700 jobs, yet the Minister just waffles on making jokes. The only thing that the Government know about jobs is how to hand them out to their friends, as in today's announcement that the spouses of three Tory Members will be given spiv jobs in the national health service. In the meantime, millions of people are out there without jobs. Why does not the Minister take his hook with the rest of them?

Mr. Howard

Labour Front-Bench Members constantly tell us that training is vital in reducing unemployment and helping people to get jobs. That is why it is so important that we should know what the Labour party's policy towards training and unemployment really is.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central says that TECs cannot be trusted to provide training for people with special needs and that such training should be provided directly by the Department, bypassing TECs entirely. Does the hon. Member for Sedgefield agree with that? Does he also endorse the view expressed by his hon. Friend that TECs should not have the status of private companies and should be subject to much tighter controls over their expenditure? Does he agree with his hon. Friend that TECs under Labour would not necessarily be the most important part of training policy?

Those vital questions go to the heart of the future of training. I hope that the hon. Member for Sedgefield will now tell us in clear and unequivocal terms whether the views expressed in that article by the hon. Member for Fife, Central are views which he shares or views which he disowns.

Our education and training policies will ensure that Britain in the 1990s will remain one of the most competitive countries in Europe and the world. During the years ahead, we shall continue to make considerable increases in the number of our young people who attain qualifications at 16, are in education or training at 17, and who enter higher education at 18. We shall expand individual choice and incentives with individual tax relief and with training vouchers. We shall build on the most dynamic training framework in Europe, centred on the training and enterprise councils.

These policies will make our industries more competitive, our young people better qualified and our economy more dynamic than ever before. They sharply contrast with those of Labour, which will destroy jobs, burden industry and take us back to the failed approaches of the 1960s and 1970s. Our policies will secure victory for us at the next election and a stronger Britain in the years beyond it.

3.48 pm
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

When the Secretary of State spoke today, not once did he accept responsibility for the 1 million more people made unemployed since he took office. Not once did he show understanding of the pain and anxiety of the men in their fifties who have been made redundant and who will never work again, of the women who want to return to work but cannot find it, or of the young people whose first taste of adult life will be the dole queue. Not once did he express concern for the thousands of small businesses that are struggling under the burden of high bank charges and interest rates and now going bankrupt in record numbers. Not once did he mention the growing skills deficit between Britain and its competitors or announce any new Government measures to tackle that. In other words, nowhere in his entire speech did the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept either that the Government bear responsibility for creating some of the problems or, more fundamentally, that they at least share responsibility for solving them.

With 2.5 million people now unemployed—even on the Government's figures—with increases in the numbers out of work in every sector of industry and in every type of occupation at the workplace, the Queen's speech should have had at its core measures to reduce unemployment. Instead, the text of that speech did not mention unemployment once. If the Government really believed that they had something to offer the country on unemployment or anything else, we would not have had a Queen's Speech but a general election campaign.

The price for unemployment is paid in the families that lose their breadwinners and now live in poverty. It is paid by those whose homes are now repossessed in record numbers when the mortgage can no longer be afforded. The price is paid in the stress and mental anguish caused by ever greater numbers of people chasing ever fewer jobs. However, that cost is paid not only by those people, but by the whole nation, financially as well as morally.

In terms of benefits paid and taxes lost, unemployment now costs the country some £20 billion a year—£1,000 for every taxpayer in Britain. Unemployment now affects every part of Britain, not just London and the south-east where unemployment has risen by 360,000 and where business failures are up by more than 60 per cent. In the south-west, there are now 89,000 more unemployed, and business failures are up 90 per cent. In the midlands, 125,000 more people have been put out of work. In the north, unemployment is up by 30,000 and business failures are up by 50 per cent. In Wales unemployment has increased by 37,000, and in Scotland it has increased by 30,000. Yet still we have had no response from the Government.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

Inward investment creates jobs. Therefore, will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to condemn the Trades Union Congress for describing Japanese inward investment as alien?

Mr. Blair

As I said when I was asked that question before, we fully support inward investment in this country. What is more, the single biggest inward investment project from Japan is situated in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster). It was brought there with the full participation of the local Labour councils.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

It is surprising to find that there is opposition to inward investment in this country, particularly by the Japanese. However, my constituency benefited from the establishment of a Sony factory, and that happened under a Labour Government in 1974.

Mr. Blair

My hon. Friend is right, and that practice has been replicated around the country. What is most worrying——

Mr. Howard

In the light of the hon. Gentleman's protestations and those of his hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), why will the hon. Gentleman not respond directly to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) and condemn the TUC?

Mr. Blair

I have made it absolutely clear that we support inward investment, and I have told the House about the biggest inward investment project that was supported by Labour councils.

What is most worrying is the sharp rise in youth unemployment. In the south-east, it has almost tripled, so that there are now 95,000 young people unemployed——

Mr. Batiste


Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)


Mr. Blair

I shall give way in a moment.

In the south-west, youth unemployment has doubled, as it has in London. In the north, it has increased by 32 per cent., in Wales by 52 per cent. and in the midlands by 70 per cent. In Britain as a whole, almost 300,000 more young people have been made unemployed since this recession began—720,000 in the nation. That is what should have concerned Ministers when it came to the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Batiste


Mr. Janman


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not quite sure to whom the hon. Gentleman is giving way.

Mr. Blair

There are so many of them, Mr. Speaker—it is nice of them to give me a choice. I give way first to the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste)

Mr. Batiste

If the hon. Gentleman could be persuaded that a statutory minimum wage would significantly increase unemployment, would he withdraw his support from it and oppose the relevant aspects of the social charter?

Mr. Blair

It will not—[Laughter.] As I shall inform the hon. Gentleman later, the Opposition do not believe that poverty pay is the answer to rising unemployment.

Mr. Janman

Germany and France have much higher youth unemployment than we do. Most independent experts ascribe that to the existence of a minimum wage in those countries, so why does the hon. Gentleman wish to bring the thing to Britain?

Mr. Blair

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I have been asked a question and then I am shouted at when I try to give answers. Youth unemployment in Germany is below ours, and a recent OECD study showed that the minimum wage did not have the impact that the hon. Gentleman describes.

We would expect that, as unemployment rises in the regions, regional aid would be sustained; that, as more young people face unemployment, expenditure on youth training would be maintained; that, as the adult dole queues lengthen, so would the urgency of the Government's response increase. Instead, regional aid in Great Britain has been cut by £1 billion: Scotland has lost more than £200 million a year, Wales £180 million, the north-west £220 million and the north more than £200 million—despite high levels of unemployment. The Government are refusing even to back the idea of a northern development agency, an idea now supported by the CBI as well as by others in the region.

Mr. Howard

I see that the shadow Chancellor is sitting just three places away from the hon. Gentleman. Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House and the nation that his party will increase expenditure on regional aid? Is that one of his party's spending priorities? If it is not, why is he wasting the time of the House by prattling on about it?

Mr. Blair

We would not have cut regional aid as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has and as the Government have every year in the past 12 years. Not only have they cut regional aid, but youth training has been cut, in the past four years, by £420 million in real terms. As unemployment has risen, there has not been a single initiative, new policy or fresh idea, except employment action, which, after 18 months of recession had not until a few weeks ago created a single job and which is due to be wound down after the election. At its peak, the scheme will employ up to 30,000 people—50 in every constituency, some of which have unemployment totals of 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000 to deal with. That is not the best of employment action: it is the worst of unemployment inaction.

Not only have the Government given up on the prospect of anything new to help the unemployed but they are even undermining the little that is already in place. The Secretary of State said today that the guarantees to young people and the unemployed were being met in full, and that there was no difficulty. He said that in answer to me, to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) and to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment.

Mr. Howard

I did not say that there was no difficulty. We must be realistic about this. Of course in a recession it is more difficult to secure employer placements for youth training than it would be in a different economic context. What I said—I repeat it—was that the Government are committed to this guarantee, and that the guarantee will be met by the Devon and Cornwall training and enterprise council mentioned by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) and by every other training and enterprise council in the country.

Mr. Blair

I am not sure whether that was an admission or not. In the House about 10 days ago, when challenged by me and by the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said: On the subject of training guarantees, we are delivering and are committed to those guarantees. He went on to say: Those guarantees are being delivered."—[Official Report, 22 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 1782–84.] We have the answers from the TECs to the letter sent out by the Employment Select Committee on whether those guarantees are being met. There are 70 of them; they were in the Library for seven or eight days before the right hon. and learned Gentleman made his categorical statement that the Government were delivering on the guarantees to young people and the unemployed. I should like to know whether he knew about those letters before he gave us the undertaking.

Mr. Howard

indicated assent.

Mr. Blair

The Secretary of State did know. For the sake of the House, let me compare what he said with reality. He told us that the Government were committed to and were delivering the training guarantees. I shall read out a small sample of those letters. Milton Keynes and North Bucks TEC stated: The short response to the question of meeting the YT guarantee is NO. Northamptonshire TEC stated: It became clear to us in the early summer that we would not be fulfilling our YT guarantee. Calderdale TEC stated: I am grateful for the opportunity to explain the serious problems in meeting the YT guarantee. CENTEC stated: I know that we are not alone in our concern about our ability to meet the ET and YT guarantees, given current levels of funding. Central England TEC stated: In budgetary terms we, in common with all TECs, maintain that, if we are forced to continue with the present system, funding must be commensurate with the Government's guarantee. This has not been the case so far … with several results. a. Government credibility has been severely tarnished. South Thames TEC stated: I would argue that YT in London is underfunded. I do not believe we are fulfilling the YT guarantee. Lincolnshire TEC stated: We have had to reduce provision to 900 places.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Blair

Just a moment. Let me read out what the chief executive of Staffordshire TEC wrote. These are all replies that the Secretary of State has accepted he had in his possession before making that statement. The chief executive said: Since my assumption of the appointment of Chief Executive of Staffordshire TEC in May an inordinate amount of time has been spent discussing with TEED"— that is the training part of the Department of Employment— ways to resolve a range of problems relating to our meeting of aim and guarantee obligations in both the ET and YT programmes. Manchester TEC stated: 2,000 people in the guarantee group are waiting a place. How does the Secretary of State square those facts with his statement?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to intervene. The answer is quite simply that those letters are out of date. The facts of the matter, if the hon. Gentleman is interested in the facts, are that officials in my Department have been examining with every TEC in the country the position in relation to the youth training guarantee, what that TEC needs to deliver the guarantee and whether it needs extra resources to deliver the guarantee. We have reached agreement with 78 of the 82 TECs that they have what they need to deliver the youth training guarantee. The hon. Gentleman has had his fun reading out those letters, but they are out of date. The youth training guarantee will be delivered.

Mr. Blair

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said weeks ago that the guarantee was being delivered. Before any resolution of this problem, let me tell him that the letter, for example, from Milton Keynes TEC is dated 11 October—a few days before he raised the matter—and another is dated 17 October.

The National Association of Information Technology Centres in a letter dated 22 October—the day that the Secretary of State spoke—states: Although we have suffered steady funding reductions before the introduction of the TECs, under the new policies ITECs as a whole have suffered two successive years of swingeing cuts. The majority of ITEC closures have taken place over these last 18 months. 20 have closed as real TECs. How can the Secretary of State tell us that this problem has been resolved when TECs are saying that they are having to close their centres as a result of these funding cuts?

Mr. Howard

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to mislead the House. He knows perfectly well that the last letter that he read out is not from a TEC. It is not from a body that has responsibility for delivering the youth training guarantee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not taking the view that there must never ever be any adjustment affecting any single training provider. The TECs have responsibility for deciding which training provider can provide training most efficiently and cost-effectively. The TECs have the resources they need to deliver the youth training guarantee. The hon. Gentleman should not confuse the matter by referring to a document that does not even come from a TEC.

Mr. Blair

It is not me who is trying to mislead the House. I accept that the ITECs are not TECs. I have said what they are. However, they are funded directly through the TECs and they were saying, on the day that the Secretary of State denied that there was any problem, that these guarantees were not being met. The Secretary of State has said for weeks, not merely today, that the guarantees have been met. He did not say three weeks ago that there were major problems but he hoped to be able to resolve them. He said that they were resolved then, but they were not.

Furthermore, the figures reveal that between March and June this year, 45,000 people dropped off Government training programmes. The only explanation for that, as we forecast at the time, is Government cuts in funding. For months, we warned that, as a result of the cuts, unemployed young people would suffer. We were right, and that has happened. The Secretary of State has nothing of substance to say on the chief concern of the present and nothing new on the major issue of the future.

We were told today that all is well in training, that nothing more needs to be done and that we are on course. Let us examine that claim.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair

No, I have to get on.

It is true that many employers are taking training more seriously, and I welcome that. It is also true that the numbers receiving training have increased from where they were and that many of the TECs are embarking on valuable initiatives. My criticism arises not when the Secretary of State says that more employers are training but when he refuses to acknowledge the gulf that remains between where we are and where we need to be in order to compete successfully—in other words, the difference between the absolute level of training in Britain and the still enormous gap between training in Britain and that in our main competitors.

The Secretary of State based his argument primarily on the training statistics recently published by the Training Agency. It is true that, since 1984, there has been an increase in the number of those receiving training. The Secretary of State called it an 85 per cent. increase. The figures are a rise from 9 to 15 per cent. of the work force. I understand how that can be described as an 85 per cent. rise, but such a description is slightly misleading. Only one quarter of the 16 to 19-year-olds and one fifth of the 20 to 24-year-olds are receiving training.

The number of young people in education and training, even comparing our 1989 position with that of our competitors in 1986 is less in Britain than in any other OECD country except Spain. The numbers on YT have been falling. Half of all 16 to 19-year-olds are neither in full-time education nor on YTS. They are unemployed, in employment with training or in employment without it, but our previous estimate that over 100,000 young people leave school every year and go into work without training is probably an underestimate. There may well be more.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Is it not the case that, in a large number of our competitor countries, the statistics show that many young people entering education drop out of it again very swiftly? The number of young people who complete the education courses to which they submit themselves is much lower than it is here. I would not wish the hon. Gentleman's statistics to mislead us.

Mr. Blair

I do not think that that is right. At virtually every stage we are behind our main competitors.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I am all in favour of the use of international comparisons to exhort us to do better, but they must not be taken to a ludicrous extent. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that, of our 16-year-olds, 60 per cent. stay on in full-time education and training and about 30 per cent. stay on in part-time education and training? The figures that the hon. Gentleman has just used do not compare like with like, and are so highly selective that they are ludicrous. Not only is the position much better than it was before the Government took over, but it is not true that we lag as far behind our European competitors as he claims.

Mr. Blair

I am informed that the figures that were pulished by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department in July show that we lag behind our main competitors. Fewer than half those on employment training obtain a job after completing the course. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that more firms are spending on training, but what is the position in manufacturing industry? The figures were published by the Department last week. It is true that, in this recession, some categories of firms still plan to spend more, but there has been dramatic shrinkage over the past couple of years. Among large firms that employ more than 5,000, there is now a negative balance of over 20 per cent. of those who want to spend more rather than less.

Even worse, as again the Department's survey shows, we suffer vast skill shortages even at a time of recession and rising unemployment. With skill shortages of up to 40 per cent. in some of our manufacturing and technology sectors, there are no grounds for the complacency that the Secretary of State exhibited today. If he reads the most authoritative study of comparisons of vocational training, which was published only last week, he will find that there are poor comparisons with Japan and Germany and even with some aspects of the training system in Hong Kong. He will find that the gap between vocational qualifications for young people in Germany and in England has been widening over the past few years.

Mr. Howard

Where is that from?

Mr. Blair

I refer to Professor Rose's study. I shall read exactly what it states in that connection, and perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us whether he agrees or disagrees with it. The passage reads: If all that one were to concentrate upon were trends within Britain, it would be possible to regard present achievements as encouraging for the number of unqualified persons is falling rapidly. Whereas 63 per cent. of older British workers have neither an academic nor a vocational qualification, only 35 per cent. of younger Britains are without either qualification. But comparison shows a very different picture. The vocational qualifications gap between younger Germans and younger Britains is actually greater than in the older generation.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Did the hon. Gentleman read the recent study which was published by the Anglo-German Foundation, in which people from both countries tried to compare the preparedness of young people in Britain and in Germany for work and found that the British cohort was better prepared for employment and better trained for it than its German equivalent?

Mr. Blair

I refrained from correcting the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he was speaking. I have, however, the study to which he referred. I shall read a passage to show what a biased account he has given. It states: Good YTS training is probably as good as that on offer in a comparable scheme in Germany. Bad YTS training, because of its lack of regulation and paucity of education content, is probably much worse. Such behaviour gives a clear signal that in Britain training is not accorded anything resembling the status that it enjoys in Germany.

Mr. Clarke

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having the study. It is a large tome and he has flagged only one passage, which he has quoted, which is a criticism of only one part of YTS. It is the conclusion of the study to which I drew his attention. It deals with overall policy and the overall education and training of our young people. He will know that the conclusion is the one to which I referred.

Mr. Blair

I am sure that we shall be able to enter into interesting correspondence. It is rather odd to suggest that such—[Interruption] With all due respect, I think that I should get on.

Faced with the twin evils of the waste of those who are unemployed and the poor education of those who are in employment, surely the Secretary of State for Employment should act and announce not employment action but a proper work creation programme in which people will be paid on a rate-for-the-job basis. Secondly, he should ensure that all young people who leave school are employed with a training contract that guarantees high-quality training for them. The scandal of hundreds of thousands of young people leaving school and going into work without any training would be unthinkable abroad and it should be stopped here.

Thirdly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should adopt our proposal for a minimum training investment contribution to be made by all companies. He should drop the absurd notion, which is still the declared policy of the Government, that the system of national qualifications should be self-financing without Government support. Fourthly, he should provide the funding necessary to meet in full the Government's guarantees to young people and the unemployed. He should accept our proposal for a programme targeted on the unskilled——

Mr. Howard

Which of the spending commitments that the hon. Gentleman has just identified are among the priorities identified by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the shadow Chancellor?

Mr. Blair

That is all set out in our Budget submissions, and I tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that every time we have a debate. Every one of those suggestions, could be implemented, but none has been. If the Government were serious about meeting the long-term challenges facing this country, rather than being engaged in short-term tricks to get them through the election, in the autumn statement they would rule out tax cuts until the problems with health, education, training and transport had been properly resolved.

What did we hear today? We heard nothing new and nothing positive. We heard an attack on the social charter, which all other EC countries have agreed upon. If the Government continue with their narrow, blinkered and isolationist attacks on the European Community out of fear of their own right wing, so that we are excluded from effective participation in Europe, the only losers in the long term will be Britain and the British people.

Of course, we also heard the usual attack on the minimum wage. So successful has the Secretary of State been on that subject, that six months after he began his campaign, the most recent opinion poll evidence shows that even 70 per cent. of Tory voters are now in favour of a minimum wage. The problem with the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that he is immensely persistent, but not always persuasive, and I can tell him why. It is not just because the British people have a basic sense of fairness, it is because of the contrast between the Government's failure to defend those on miserable rates of pay and their failure to act on privatised boardrooms awarding themselves exorbitant increases.

Let us compare and contrast the Government's behaviour. What did they do when British Telecom announced a £64,000 rise for Mr. lain Valiance? They did nothing. What did they do when National Power announced a £150,000 rise for Mr. John Baker? They did nothing. What did they do when Scottish Hydro-Electric announced a rise of almost £100,000 for its chairman? They did nothing. What did they do about the £25,000 rise for the chairman of Thames Water, the £12,000 rise for the chairman of Welsh Water, the £30,000 rise for the chairman of Wessex Water or the £20,000 for the chairman of Anglia Water? They did nothing. However, when it comes to the hairdresser on £1.50 an hour, the cleaner on £2 an hour or the porter on £2.50 an hour, the Government will fight to the finish against a decent living wage.

During the current by-election campaign for the Langbaurgh constituency, we noted an advertisement in Guisborough jobcentre for a security guard at £2 an hour—"must supply own dog". That is what Conservative Members are defending when they attack our proposals. After the general election, those Tory Members who have lost their seats could apply to be that security guard, or even to do a job share with the dog.

Is it not strange that those at the top, the highest paid, require share options, five-year contracts, golden handcuffs, golden handshakes and golden goodbyes—all the stimuli of greater prosperity—while the broad mass of people require only the spur of poverty? The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that the choice between the parties could not be clearer. It is between the low-wage, low-tech, low-skill economy favoured by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and the high-wage, high-tech, high-skill economy favoured by the Opposition. It is between a labour market that changes through deregulation and fear under the Conservative party, and a labour market that adapts through education and confidence under the Labour party.

In the Prime Minister's speech to the Tory party conference, in trying to set out his vision of Britain he dealt with the freedom and choice of people at work. What did he say? Did he promise freedom from unemployment, from poor training, from arbitrary management, from exploitation or from low pay? He did not. He said that freedom was freedom from the destructive dictatorship of union militancy. Twelve years after the Government said that they had solved all those problems, and 12 years after which unions in Britain have fewer freedoms than practically anywhere else in the western world, the Government still blame anyone and everyone for Britain's problems—but now there is no one to blame but themselves.

If the Government had confidence in their vision, we would not be in the third day of a debate on a Queen's Speech from a Government who have nothing left to do, but in the third day of a general election campaign to change the government of this country.

The Government attack the minimum wage because they have no answer to unemployment. They attack trade unions because they have no policies to beat the skills gap. They attack the social charter because they have nothing positive to offer the Europe of the 1990s.

After this debate, with each day that passes, the Government resemble more closely the Opposition that they will become. They should make good use of the next few months to learn the art of opposition, because after the next general election, they will need it.

4.20 pm
Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

I hope that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) will forgive me if I do not follow the line that he pursued, except that I note from his penultimate remarks that a future Labour Government would reintroduce the concept of prices and incomes control legislation. Many people will find that particularly interesting. Such a policy did not work before, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that it would not work in future.

I warmly welcome the provisions in the Gracious Speech, which shows that the Government's programme is by no means running out of steam. There is still much to do, and the Government are doing it. The citizens charter is a fine new concept. I welcome the provision of rights and remedies for customers of various utilities, both private and public. However, rights should be matched by responsibilities and duties. The Government have specific duties, and they ought not to shirk them.

I make no apology for referring in today's employment and education debate to a topic that, although it does not fall directly into either of those categories, has considerable implications for employment and the quality of life.

I hope that the transport proposals in the Gracious Speech, and those about which we will hear in a couple of days, in my right hon. Friend's autumn statement, will address what I and others consider to be a wrong policy and priority, in terms of parts of our infrastructure investment programme. I refer particularly to public transport and specifically to rail investment.

I declare an interest as a parliamentary consultant to the InterCity division of British Rail, but that has no relevance to the remarks that I shall make, and I have not discussed them with anyone at British Rail.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) knows, the Dartford bridge project was completed on time and to budget. It is a key part of the M25 orbital system around London, and has considerably increased its capacity at a major pinch point. The Dartford tunnel was partly financed by low-interest European loans, and Eurotunnel is certainly running to schedule, if not to budget—although many of its budget increases are the result of the public sectors, in their various forms in both England and France, hindering that project.

I give those examples—there are many others—to show that private money, or a combination of private and public money, can be and is being used effectively in important infrastructure projects, so that they can be completed in a timely way and we may all benefit from them.

When it comes to rail investment, we are in a different situation. The Government and Treasury policy is that finance must be provided in one of a number of different ways, including by direct grant from the Treasury—and every spending Department knows how difficult it is to obtain such grants—by tightly controlled Treasury external financing limits, by revenues from customers—that means extremely high fares and charges for goods and freight—or, finally, by capital help through the sale of surplus property assets.

In a recession, revenue does not flow in so freely, or to such a large extent, for passengers or goods. We find that the screw has been tightened by the Treasury—the external financial limits are certainly being restricted; we also find that the value of property is depressed, even if that property can be sold, so the money will not be available from that source, either. None the less, new wagons, track, infrastructure and locomotives are needed. In fact, if the best value for money is to be obtained we need reasonably uninterrupted production lines, rather than stop-go ordering of railway equipment.

When the country emerges from recession—as it is doing now—the screws may be loosened from rail investment, but the expense will then be greater, and the railways will have to compete with many other concerns as industrial expansion gets under way.

What is the solution? If a project meets the tight financial criteria of both British Rail and the Treasury—basically, a 9 per cent. rate of return in real terms—I think that the railway authorities should be able to borrow commercially from the United Kingdom, from Europe or, indeed, from anywhere else in the world that will lend them money. Alternatively, they should be able to enter into leasing arrangements for specific items of equipment: I am thinking especially of rolling stock—trucks and locomotives. Airlines and shipping, car and lorry companies have been doing that for many years.

The security for leasing arrangements can be provided either by the equipment itself, or—as with financial borrowing—by the various capital properties invested in railway and other transport undertakings. This could apply, for instance, to projects involving freight stock for the channel tunnel and the current transformation in rail freight arrangements. The economic implications are considerable. The largest United Kingdom freight wagon manufacturer, Powell Duffryn, which has plants in various parts of the United Kingdom, has just announced a major redundancy programme at its factories in Cardiff and Heywood, Iancashire, because of the lack of, and delay in, orders for its advanced high-technology wagons.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the hon. Gentleman pay tribute to British Rail Engineering Ltd., which has had precisely the same problem? BREL now suspects that political blocks are being placed in its way within British Rail management. It is perfectly capable of producing new rolling stock, but it is not being given the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Speed

I was going to mention BREL in connection with the manufacture of passenger wagons. There may be something in what the hon. Lady says; however, I do not wish to become involved in the inner politics of British Rail. My point is that, if items of equipment that are needed and can pay their way—such items would certainly be of considerable use to both passenger and goods companies—could be provided now, employment prospects would be much improved in BREL, Powell Duffryn and the rest of the rail industry.

The Networker train is very relevant to the comments made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). It is needed to replace 35-year-old stock; it can pay its way financially, producing a positive rate of return; successive Transport Ministers have made commitments to the Networker 471 in Kent; and there is no doubt that it could substantially improve the finances of Network SouthEast, and the quality of life for my constituents and many others throughout the region.

The Heathrow rail link project has been going backwards and forwards for a long time. In the meantime, in competitive international terms Heathrow is falling behind Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt, where huge investment is being made in airport infrastructure. Another example is British Rail's major upgrading of the west coast main line. A parochial point is that Ashford international station, which is vital to the future of the channel tunnel when it opens, is located in my constituency. Financially, it more than pays its way, yet it is caught up in this awful catch-22 when it comes to investment in the railways.

I stress that I am not asking for, and that I do not believe in, subsidies for these and many other schemes that are economically viable. If, however, the private sector where to be involved in the financing of such projects, there would be benefits to the operator and the supplier, whether it be British Rail Engineering Ltd., Powell Duffryn, or Westinghouse. Customers would be able to enjoy the benefits of such investment very quickly, instead of having to wait for a very long time. For example, the Networker is expected to be operational by 1995 at the earliest, but it may not be operational for some considerable time after that. By then, the rolling stock on the relevant lines will be over 40 years old. I am afraid that life does not being at 40 for Network SouthEast's rolling stock.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

My hon. Friend refers to the Networker rolling stock. It is not necessary to differentiate between the supply of rolling stock coming on stream later this year for the north Kent loop line and the rolling stock needed elsewhere? We should congratulate both the Government and British Rail on the supply of new rolling stock on the north Kent and Dartford loop lines, which will make a great deal of difference to the users of those lines.

Mr. Speed

My hon. Friend is right, but that is the Networker 465, not the Networker 471. The Networker 471 travels longer distances down the Kent coastline. I congratulate my hon. Friend and the people of north Kent. However, if there had been a proper investment regime along the lines that I have postulated, there could have been a smooth flow from the Networker 465 to the Networker 471. British Rail told me some time ago, as did the Minister, that we could have had these vehicles in position and providing a much better quality of journey for passengers in 1993. Now it is to be 1995, or beyond. No one in British Rail or the Department of Transport can tell me when it will be operational. People may even be laid off production lines and then laid on again when production starts for the new Networker 471. That would be total nonsense, and extremely expensive.

I hope that we can make this fundamental change. It has both employment and infrastructure connotations. A more efficient passenger and freight transport system will be better for Britain's economic future. It would bring us more into line with what our European Community partners are doing. This form of rail project financing has been adopted by them for many years. Such a change would not bring about an apocalyptic crisis of economic confidence. The Treasury would not like it, but since 1945 the Treasury's track record on transport projects makes me believe that, if it is against a project, that project merits serious consideration.

The Gracious Speech referred to measures that would be taken to prepare for the privatisation of British Rail. In his party conference speech at Blackpool, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport referred to the initiatives that could be taken between now and the election to prepare for the privatisation of British Rail. This would be an excellent way of doing both. It would ensure that investment projects were coming forward, that employment was being generated and that a better quality of service was being provided for British Rail customers. Apart from making economic sense, it would be politically popular.

I hope that those who sit on the Treasury Bench will grasp this nettle and ensure that, at long last, there is an investment regime for our transport industries that is up to date and that can compete with what is happening in the rest of the Community.

4.34 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

I happily concur with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) about the general conduct of the Treasury. It seemed that his remarks commanded the assent of the whole House. I hope that his message will be properly conveyed to those concerned.

I should like to join in the debate on employment, but so little is left of the Minister after he has been torn apart by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)—I have witnessed a few such occasions—that it is almost an act of sadism for anybody else to join in. My hon. Friend, with his customary fairness, included the Secretary of State for Education and Science in his attacks. The right hon. and learned Gentleman retired severely hurt after two interventions, so I do not suppose he will try to intervene again today. He showed considerable courage by intervening a second time after he had been flattened only a few minutes previously.

I hope that the House will permit me to make a few comments on the subject that was discussed last Friday. If I had been present, I would have sought to raise the subject of Yugoslavia. The events on the Yugoslav coastline, which I know fairly well, are deeply tragic for the people who live there and for all the peoples of the area. However, the British Government and other Governments that are concerned have not yet done anything like enough to try to deal with the problem. I hope that they hear the representations that are being made by myself and others.

When events began some months ago, it was clear that the real aggressors were the Serbian authorities in the Army and the Government, who had almost 98 per cent. of the military strength on their side. I am not saying that there was no provocation from the Croatians, but when the assaults were launched, everybody in the area knew that the overwhelming military force was in the hands of the Serbian authorities. The world therefore should have warned them of the consequences of unleashing those mammoth attacks. There are no Serbian enclaves along that coastline and there are no Serbians hiding or seeking protection in Dubrovnik or Cavtat, which was almost destroyed the other day.

We are witnessing an act of barbarism on a horrific scale—the worst since the second world war. Not only are innocent people being killed by an overwhelming military force being let loose against them, but the Serbs are seeking to grab territories and areas by acts of aggression. If they hang on to those areas, it will reflect disgracefully on the whole world.

In the light of those terrible developments, the Government and some European Governments have sought to intervene. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) put the case for such intervention more forcefully than the Government have.

When we reach the deadline next Tuesday or Wednesday, I hope that the full authority of the British Government will be thrown behind those who have resisted the aggression, and that they will not reward the aggressors. If that were to happen, the consequences not merely for Yugoslavia but the world at large would be serious. I have many friends from different parts of Yugoslavia—Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. What is happening there is a tragedy of the first order: I do not believe that the House or the country has yet seen its true nature. Action must be taken. I am sure that Lord Carrington is aware of most of the facts that I have recited and that he is seeking to ensure that the members of the European Community rally together. I just wanted to spend a few minutes underlining my views.

Conservative party spokesmen have fiercely denounced international employment arrangements, but they hold a short-sighted view. I suppose that I am one of the few Members of Parliament who remembers one of the ways in which decent Governments in the 1930s wanted to secure new approaches to deal with unemployment and to provide better conditions in the workplace. International action was needed, and that was largely why the International Labour Organisation was set up.

One aspect that inhibited intelligent action to deal with unemployment and workers' problems was the lack of international machinery. It was thought that a Government who wanted to deal separately with a problem would have no chance of succeeding, because their actions would be sabotaged by other countries that were not willing to join in.

I should have thought that any Government who seriously wanted to improve working conditions or to deal with the worldwide unemployment problem would welcome international action. Instead, whenever the Secretary of State for Employment opens his mouth, he tries to sabotage any plan—great or small—to deal with the problem. I am proud of the fact that, when I was Secretary of State for Employment, I introduced legislation to provide maternity leave—I was probably the first Minister in this country's history to do so. One of the first mean-minded actions of the Conservative Government in 1979 and 1980 was to diminish the effect of the maternity leave provisions that we had introduced, even those that were not far reaching. Our measures were just the beginning of reasonable, intelligent, humane legislation.

The Government object to extending maternity leave legislation. I do not know which countries have a worse or better record than Britain, but in the main this country lags behind most other western European countries in introducing such legislation.

Mr. Howard

indicated dissent.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. We shall see. He is not always right in these matters.

If we are not lagging behind, why do we not lead the way, as we started to do under the Labour Government? Some countries are now well ahead of us. We should try to catch up. If the Government are so mean-minded as to think that we do not need modern legislation to provide proper maternity leave, that is a shameful state of affairs, particularly as they said recently that they were in favour of doing something for women. However, I saw no reference in the Prime Minister's statement the other day to this latest mean-minded approach.

Many of us—not only in the Labour party but throughout Europe—believe that shorter working hours may help to deal with long-term unemployment. Good employers in this country are eager to have shorter hours. Indeed, most of the best employers have always been ready to discuss such measures and many have discovered that, if there is decent control over working hours, they will get a much better response from their workers.

I believe that the Government are even contemplating doing away with the restrictions on miners' working hours. We shall tear the Government apart on that plan, just as on everything else. I do not know whether they dare go ahead. Miners led the way in calling for a shorter working week. The limit on miners' hours was one of the great triumphs of legislation secured by the trade union movement. As engineers and others know, similar rules and similarly intelligent provisions apply to other trades.

Are the Government seriously saying that it is a good idea not to have such an agreement on working hours? If it is a good idea to have some agreements, most of the arguments that the Secretary of State for Employment constantly uses about the minimum wage are blown out of the water. His first lot of figures were torn to tatters by Mr. Peter Kellner in an article inThe Independent Many hon. Members will have read that article and I am sure that I have advertised it well for those who did not. I plead with hon. Members to read the article and the reply by the Secretary of State, which virtually confirms Mr. Kellner's case. The Secretary of State seems to think that the purpose of the debate is to extract apologies. He would have to apologise non-stop if he had to tell the House the truth about the minimum wage, rather than distorting the argument as he goes around the country.

Unemployment is a worldwide problem. One way to deal with part of the problem is to have policies in Europe and further afield, including regional policies. The Secretary of State taunted the Opposition, asking whether we had any plans for the money that was to be allocated to restore regional policies. I believe that such policies should be promoted over the proper period. I come from an area where unemployment problems were grossly intensified by the Government's removing almost every regional advantage that it ever had.

The Secretary of State does not seem to understand some of the main policies which were built up by the Labour Government after 1945—regional policies that made comparative advantages possible for the most heavily hit areas in Scotland, Wales and the north-east. The Labour Government introduced effective regional policies which played a major part in ensuring the full employment that generally existed in the country between 1945 and 1970. Without such policies, maintaining full employment would have been inconceivable. Those policies were generally sustained until the first of the great recessions for which the Conservative Government have been responsible.

The Government started to remove regional policies that had worked effectively. They distributed some of the money in income tax reductions, but, whatever they did with it, they took huge sums from areas which had received funds before. Each time they did so in Wales, we put the case to the relevant Secretary of State for Employment. Each of them said, "You'll find our new regional policy will be just as good as the one you had. We know what we're doing. Don't worry too much." What happened? The bitter, harsh experience is that 12 per cent. unemployment has been translated to 14 or 15 per cent. and male unemployment is again back to more than 20 per cent.

Not only are we afflicted by the general atmosphere of the Government's economic policy, but we are being hit even more by the way in which the Government are withdrawing any sensible regional policies.

When the Secretary of State charges our Front-Bench spokesmen, asking what amount of money we will devote to regional policy, I hope that he will get an answer from a Government in power who understand that it is essential for the well-being of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, Wales, the north-east and the rest, that a full-scale regional policy be properly restored.

I hope that the Secretary of State will never again jeer about that as he has done today. If he thinks that this is prejudice, he need only read the front page of theWestern Mailtoday. It used to be called the "Conservative Party Advertiser" but it is not quite like that now—the party does not have much to advertise. In an article headlined "Factories lying idle" it states: More than 1,000 factories are now lying idle across Wales as massive amounts of industrial space fall vacant every week, it has been revealed. In go-ahead Gwent"— that is my county, which is go-ahead, as we seek every advantage in trying to assist our people and to provide jobs— alone there are more than 400 units waiting for occupation, and top of the list in the county which has attracted more businesses than most is an 80,000 sq ft. building in Tredegar. Tredegar is in my constituency, but there are 400 units vacant throughout Gwent.

I am not sure whether the Secretary of State voted against the programme that we wisely introduced—the Welsh Development Agency—but I think that the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is sitting beside him, must have voted against it. He remembers everything in his past so well. Indeed, I had a debate with him in Oxford the other day when he thought that he had invented the national health service. We had to put him right about such simple historical facts and I hope that, he will have the chance to correct that.

That Government have not invented any good regional policies. All that they have done is demolish the good policies that we introduced. I hope that, when we get that new Labour Government, a regional policy will be one of the major measures introduced. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who will be Chancellor of the Exchequer, knows about these matters very well, because he has spoken about them. I am sure that one of the ways in which we can tackle deep-seated mass unemployment is through an intelligent regional policy.

Mr. Janman

I certainly do not doubt the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, but throughout modern economic history, when any Government have sought to misdirect national resources in a manner that goes completely against the grain of the marketplace, has not the result of such a regional policy been exactly the opposite to what the right hon. Gentleman has sought to achieve? There is no better example than the fact that every Labour Government since the war have increased unemployment.

Mr. Foot

I am glad to be able to enlighten the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman), especially when he talks in terms of what has happened to the numbers of unemployed during Labour Governments. There has never been a Labour Government who have had to face unemployment on this scale. Never in the history of recorded figures have a Labour Government tolerated unemployment on this scale, whether in the United Kingdom as a whole or in Wales, Scotland or anywhere else. So I hope that that lie will never be preached again.

The hon. Member for Thurrock asked whether I did not know that if one took economic resources from one area and instilled them into others that was merely a way of upsetting the ordinary economic mechanism and that it did not result in any advances. The last time that I heard that argument so brazenly presented was by Mr. Neville Chamberlain's spokesman before the war. That is what they said in the 1930s. They said that one could not solve unemployment on such a scale and that if one invested £1 million in one area, having taken it away from profitable Birmingham or wherever, it would leave us worse off in the end. It is partly because of that false economics that the Conservatives have never had a regional policy. That policy does not work and if one applies it in that way one can only deepen slumps—just as the Government are doing now.

Every time the Secretary of State comes to the Dispatch Box to reaffirm that laissez-faire doctrine, about 100,000 people are added to the unemployment figures.

We can deal with mass unemployment on this scale only if we have a Government who are determined to do so, and we can deal with it better if, internationally, Governments are determined to do so. I hope a new Labour Government will not only apply those policies but will lead the rest of Europe instead of squabbling behind them or relinquishing the whole of the case. We have the chance to do that.

The idea that one cannot do anything about unemployment is the real gospel of despair. This country is not prepared to accept the gospel of despair in mass unemployment, which is returning on such a scale today.

4.56 pm
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

I am always interested to listen to the long-extending memory of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). His memory goes back further than I could possibly hope to remember.

I was interested in his reiteration of the value of regional policies, because the criteria on which such a policy would be administered is of interest to one who comes from a county which is probably being hit by a more rapidly rising rate of unemployment than almost anywhere else. One must ask whether, in those circumstances, if a regional policy of the kind that the right hon. Gentleman had in mind were in place Kent would be a prime recipient of assistance.

Such questions have become much harder to answer as a consequence of the Government's astonishing success in closing the north-south divide, which was thought to be wholly irremediable when they came to office. The Government have seen an increase in prosperity throughout the United Kingdom and a sharing of both good times and bad.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the rate of male unemployment in Glasgow is 20 per cent.? What is it in his constituency?

Mr. Rowe

The rate of unemployment in Glasgow has been very high for a long time, and I accept that that is unfortunate. However, the truth of the matter is that the Scottish economy is in a better state now than it has been for many years and is continuing to thrive. I realise that it is constantly in the interests of the Opposition to belittle the Government's successes, but that is certainly one. Two things were said when the Government took office. It was said, first, that the country was ungovernable, and secondly, that there was an unbridgeable north-south gap. Neither of those points is true after the years in which we have been in office.

I especially welcome the sentence in the Queen's Speech which points to the privatisation of British Rail. This is not the occasion for a detailed analysis for the evaluation of the alternative proposals for a high-speed rail link to the channel tunnel. As some hon. Members may know, I have some interest in that subject, and I hope that I shall be able to have an Adjournment debate in which to discuss the process by which we arrived at the present stage of the project. The confusion, the inappropriate pressure by British Rail, the flawed methodology of the evaluation and other defects in the system merit a debate, but that is not appropriate in the context of the Queen's Speech.

It is essential to draw to the Government's attention the extraordinary misery of some of my constituents who are still in complete confusion about where the route is to go. The changes in alignment which will be necessary to meet the new criteria leave those constituents wholly confused and able neither to buy nor sell their properties, or to do anything that they should be able to do.

It is appropriate to this debate to raise two general points. The first is the need for a serious rail freight strategy. It is incomprehensible to me that I should have gone on Thursday last to a seminar at which the chairman of British Rail, a man for whom I have considerable admiration, was able to tell us that British Rail had great difficulty in competing in the freight market because all that rail freight was really equipped to do was to carry aggregates, heavy metals and traditional Victorian freight cargoes. He must be almost alone in that belief.

It certainly is not a belief shared by the freight manager of SNCF who is busy setting up and running a freight operation for carrying highly sensitive cargoes, such as chilled foods, at great speed around France. It is not a view shared by the managing director of Charter Rail, a company in which British Rail has a 20 per cent. holding. He told me that he has an operation that would be able to deliver chilled foods to the centre of town at 3 am in time for them to be on the supermarket shelves if only British Rail did not think that it would be more satisfactory to carry gravel. That will not be a tenable position for much longer in any circumstances.

Switzerland and Austria have insisted on having a major investment project because they believe that their ecology is too sensitive to be battered constantly by heavy lorries. Does any hon. Member seriously believe that Switzerland and Austria will be the only two countries in Europe to take that view about their environment in the next few years?

Mrs. Dunwoody

Does it not occur to the hon. Gentleman that the difference is in investment? No one doubts for a moment that British Rail is perfectly capable of running high-quality services. However, at present the freight division is turning in a considerable loss. It is the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supports who do not want British Rail to invest.

Mr. Rowe

I have considerable doubt about British Rail's capacity to run a profitable freight strategy, because it has no interest in doing so. The chairman of British Rail has just said that it is not the kind of operation in which he wants to be. As he said last Thursday, he is willing to have the operation taken off his hands. I believe that it will be taken off his hands by private entrepreneurs such as Robin Macleod of Thamesport, who is already interested in running his own freight services because he cannot get the service that he wants from British Rail.

If my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport were here, I would say to him that one does not have to be a Daniel to interpret the writing on the wall. The writing is that the heavy lorry will no longer be the darling of all Secretaries of State for Transport. The day of the heavy lorry as the principal mover of long-distance freight is under threat because people think that it is environmentally unsound. It will gradually find itself taxed to a point at which the railways will become wholly competitive—and high time too.

We should get British Rail out of the lead position on the channel tunnel link. It is extraordinary that British Rail should once more be given the lead role in developing a link in which it has no confidence and which it fought against with unmitigated ferocity. I am not being hostile to British Rail in particular, but I believe that British Rail is in the wrong place to take such a role.

British Rail is bound to look at the issue with its interests in mind. We need someone to look at the issue with the interests of the country as a whole in mind. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport believes that, too. If we could find a private consortium to take the lead role and to run with it, we should do so. I find it extraordinary that Ove Arup, whose project is to be worked up, is somehow relegated to being a company with which British Rail sometimes has conversations. That is an extraordinary position.

I turn now to the main topics of today's debate. We have achieved a remarkable turnaround in training and in education. There has been an extraordinary change from a system under which we had time-linked apprenticeships which meant that no matter how clever one was or how well one did, one had to take the whole time, to a system under which people will be assessed on what they can do and not on how long it has taken them.

The coming decade will see a considerable acceleration of the involved society. Like all developed industrialised countries, we have somehow managed to fragment our society far more than is good for it. The number of broken homes, the number of single parents and the number of people living on their own has grown disproportionately large. It is time to start changing that, and we are beginning to do so.

I draw the House's attention to, for example, the charitable activities of the Lord Mayor of London. This year, he has chosen to support tutoring in schools. The project involves students from colleges, universities and polytechnics chosing to spend some of their time working in schools that welcome them with pupils who are either in need of special educational help or who are well ahead of the rest of the class. What is so striking about that is that not only do the children who are helped do better in their exams, as one might expect, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the students who help them also do better in theirs. That is a consequence of an increase in their self-esteem and their understanding of how to teach and relate to other young people. I should like a tremendous acceleration of that programme.

The days are over when the professionals believed that, if only they had enough resources, if only there were enough of them and if only they were sufficiently well trained, they could solve all society's problems. It is beginning to be understood that such volunteers can extend the professional's reach and be of real assistance to them. In that respect, I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to the enormous reservoir of people who are leaving full-time paid employment with another 30 years of active life ahead of them? What a tremendous resource that is. We have only started to scratch the surface of what such people could do to help, if they so chose.

For example, one has only to think of the number of young, isolated mothers with a child or children. They are often terrified of their babies and unclear about how to bring them up, thinking that every time the baby cries it is their fault and feeling that they have no one to whom to relate. If they could be assisted and befriended by someone who has brought up her own child—someone who would read to and play with the child—in most cases that work would be welcomed and better done purely by volunteers. However, in many parts of the country volunteers receive expenses and some receive slightly more than their expenses, which helps them if they have a limited income—[Interruption.]I dimly perceive a muttering that suggests that there is a protagonist of the old belief that everything should be left to the professionals. That is fair enough, but I think that that belief is outmoded.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rowe

I am delighted to give way to someone who is at last standing up.

Mrs. Dunwoody

As a mother and grandmother, I should prefer any support to be given to young mothers who do not know how to bring up children to be professional, qualified and paid. I am afraid that that marks me out from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Rowe

It not only marks the hon. Lady out as someone who has a tremendous belief in professionals but, uncharacteristically, as someone who is unrealistic, because there is no possibility of the numbers that we are talking about being reached by the medicine which she prescribes.

We must pay tribute to the Government for the development of the national vocational qualification. It is an innovative and valuable method of validating the experience of large numbers of people. I am slightly anxious that the original reason for its introduction—to validate experience in ways that could then be assessed, compared and used as building blocks for further advancement in a professional career—seems to have taken second place to the creation of NVQs as an alternative qualification ab initio.

In the health service, which seems to have a strange reluctance to embrace NVQs with the enthusiasm that they deserve, the value of NVQs is that someone who has been caring for an elderly relation for many years and who has learnt all kinds of practical skills, such as bathing and feeding, could have those skills validated when the relative dies and could be accepted on the first rung of the professional development ladder. I hope that that will not be lost.

The Government's actions in the polytechnic and university sectors are long overdue and very valuable. Having been a teacher at university for a while, I well understand the anxiety of some university staff that amalgamating the polytechnic and university sectors could result in a dilution of quality. But most people in the universities understand that the polytechnics have won for themselves a place in the education system that makes such anxieties out of place. Provided that quality assurance for courses is kept in place—it is vital that is—we shall be safe. Many university courses seem to be extremely poor and I hope that they will be subject to a more effective peer audit than the external examiner sometimes achieves.

In a debate that spans employment and education, it is valuable to say that, if we are to have more people entering engineering, science and mathematics as opposed to the arts, we must move on both sides of the equation. We are doing our best to make recruitment to those courses as attractive as possible, but the disparity between the amount of work required of students on arts courses in many colleges and universities, compared with that required of students on engineering or technical courses, is so huge that any student who is ambivalent about which side of the divide to fall is bound to choose the arts course, which leaves students endless time to enjoy themselves in other ways. That needs to be looked at seriously.

With only 4 per cent. of the population entering retirement with any form of pre-retirement education, the difficulties of adjusting to that long period without a framework of work or a regular income have been greatly underestimated. Retirement is one of the peak moments for divorce and many people need assistance with what to do with their money, how to handle the extra time and how to cope with changing family relationships. I suggest that, on the day of their retirement, as part of a retirement package, retired people should receive a voucher entitling them to go to a recognised one or two-day course—however much we could afford—on pre-retirement or retirement education. Thus they could learn about the opportunities as well as the challenges ahead of them.

5.18 pm
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Britain is an open market—we are open to western Europe, the United States, Japan and many other countries—which means that we must have world-class industry, technology, investment and an educated population trained to world-class standards. Without that, we can neither compete nor survive. We shall lose not only our markets overseas but also our domestic markets to foreign imports. Our factories and industries will close and we shall have long-term mass unemployment.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has written a letter to the Department of Employment in which he states that there is no connection between training and unemployment. How wrong can one be? How cynical can one get? In public, the Government pay lip service to training, but in private they do not believe that one should waste money on it.

The Government have been in power for 12 years but they have still not got it right. They have not tackled the problem adequately. We are still falling behind our competitors, and the skills gap between ourselves and overseas countries is still widening.

Over those 12 years, the Government have chopped and changed their policy. We have had the youth opportunities programme, the training and opportunities programme, the youth training scheme, the job training scheme and the community programme. All those programmes were lauded on their introduction and subject to much hype, but many of them have since been scrapped. In the past 12 years, the Manpower Services Commission has been replaced by the Training Agency, and now we have the training and enterprise councils.

Now, when we ask questions about training, the Government hide behind the TECs. We cannot get any answers from the Government, because they say that everything has been handed over to the TECs. They are now responsible for running the Government's programmes for the unemployed and, perhaps more importantly, for stimulating enterprise, regenerating local economies and increasing the skills levels of the employed work force. They are supposed to bring about the so-called training revolution. That is the raison d'etre of the TEC movement—it does not exist solely to run programmes for the unemployed.

Although the Government have given the TECs the responsibility, they have not given them the tools to do the job. In fact they have taken those tools away and, as a result, the TECs are being strangled in their first year of operation. A year ago, the launch of the TECs was accompanied by swingeing cuts in their budgets. What a way to launch them. The Secretary of State is well aware that the reduced the expenditure on employment training by £365 million.

The employment training programme was always underfunded, it was a penny-pinching scheme. The Government did replace one third of that cut. We do not hear much about that programme nowadays, but the previous Secretary of State never stopped hyping its benefits. We used to read all the advertisements about training the workers without jobs for the jobs without workers", but we do not hear much about that now.

We were told that the ET programme was the greatest retraining scheme ever attempted, but it was underfunded and the training offered was of poor quality. Now, we are told that it had a 70 per cent. drop-out rate and that, of those who completed their training, fewer than 50 per cent. got a job. However, instead of increasing the funding to improve the quality of training, the Government propose to reduce such funding even further.

The Government claim that all those aged between 18 and 25 who have been unemployed for six months are guaranteed a training place on ET. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has pointed out that the Select Committee on Employment has already received about 60 letters from local TECs about the problems with those guarantees. It is absurd and preposterous for the Secretary of State to claim that those letters are out of date. Those letters are only a few days old. Many of the TECs have written to say that they are unable to implement the guarantee that the Government have given.

When it comes to youth training, the Government also hide behind the TECs. They pretend that every young person without a job is guaranteed a youth training place, but that is not true. There are hundreds and hundreds of young people across the country to whom that guarantee is not being delivered. In my borough, 615 people are without such a place. Hundreds of young people are now left in limbo and thrown on the scrap heap at 16 and 17. They are told that there is no chance of a job, but now there is not even the chance of a place on YT.

It is not long ago that we used to hear about the demographic time bomb. We were told that employers would be fighting one another to get young people. Perhaps that is why the Government made large cuts in the amount of money available per place on the youth training scheme. Perhaps that is why they expected the employers to pay more. Many employers do not want to know, because they are now suffering from the Conservative-induced recession. Many have gone out of business and the rest are struggling to survive. They have made many redundant, and they are not taking on young people. It is therefore becoming impossible for the TECs and trainers to find employer placements for young people.

The employers who are supposed to pay more towards training are making no contribution at all. Many trainers are now trying to provide project places, which are often more expensive, with no contribution from employers. The sums do not add up. As a result, the quality of training is suffering because such project programmes are cheaper and inferior in comparison with employer placements. It is all to do with getting more Burns on seats and lectures. It has nothing to do with quality training. Young people are also unable to attain NVQs because of insufficient employer placements.

I have paid the Secretary of State a great compliment by listening to what he says. He stands up regularly in the House and says that the Government are committed to the guarantee of training, but what do those weasel words mean? What the right hon. and learned Gentleman says sounds good, and one imagines that that guarantee will be delivered, but not so. The Government say that all the responsibility rests with the TECs, but they do not give them the necessary resources.

The Select Committee on Employment has received letters from those responsible for the TEC in Dorset to say that it is not delivering the employment training guarantee. The same is true of YT and ET guarantees, judging from letters received from the TECs in greater Nottingham, the heart of England, Lincolnshire, Manchester, Milton Keynes, north-east Wales, north Nottinghamshire, south-east Cheshire, Teesside, west London, and central London. In east London, where I come from, they are unable to deliver the guarantee. What sort of commitment is that?

The Secretary of State may stand up and say that the Government are committed to the guarantee but someone else must deliver. However, those responsible have had to admit that they are not delivering the goods.

Before this debate, I got in touch with the careers service office in my borough and asked about the latest figures on employment placements. The latest figures available cover September and October. In September, in Newham, 615 people had no YT place. In Redbridge, the fiture was 537, in Tower Hamlets, 724 and in Barking 443. In the October count, there were 820 young people awaiting a placement in Havering and 577 in Waltham Forest. What sort of guarantee is that? Those young people do not have a YT place because the local TEC does not have the placements and it does not have the resources to find them.

I do not know whether the Secretary of State is aware that he has given extra resources to the east London TEC for 1,000 more places, but that is not nearly enough. However, the east London TEC has had to tell the careers service that it does not have the resources to find those placements. It has said that it is up to the careers service to find those placements.

The Secretary of State is allegedly committed to guaranteeing placements—whatever that means—but he has put the responsibility on the TECs. In my borough, that means that, when the careers service produces the bodies, the same TEC says that it cannot do anything about it, because it does not have the resources to find the placements. It has turned to the careers service and said that it is up to it to canvass for those placements. It has undertaken to canvass for 1,000 places.

In the vain struggle by the TECs to deliver the guarantees, all their time is being monopolised—so are all their efforts and all their money. They have had to raid all their other budgets in an attempt to implement the guarantees to the unemployed. They have had to abandon their business plans and their other key projects. They have had to restrict themselves to reacting in the short term, to wrestling with the Government's programmes for the unemployed. They have been failing in the attempt. But this was not the job for which they were set up. The Training Agency could have done it. The job could have been left to that agency if these Government unemployment projects were all that were at stake.

Business people from the private sector were called in to perform the other tasks—meeting the needs of the local economy, developing enterprise and regenerating the local economy. That was the raison d'etre of the TECs—but it has all had to be abandoned, with a consequent loss of morale and growth of cynicism in the TEC movement.

Over the past year, unemployment has risen by more than 750,000, but the money for the TECs has not increased commensurately, so they are trying to cope with demand-led programmes on cash-limited budgets. That cannnot be done.

The Secretary of State's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) set up the TECs; this Secretary of State is strangling them.

I believe that we are about to have a public expenditure statement. Last year, the Secretary of State acquiesced while the Treasury stamped all over him. There were major cuts. The right hon. and learned Gentleman let his Department down; he let the TECs down and he let the work force down. What about this year? There has been a phenomenal increase in unemployment, an increase that continues with the loss of 5,000 manufacturing jobs every week.

The TECs are virtually overwhelmed by the recession. If there is not to be a major collapse of morale—I hope that the Secretary of State takes what I am saying seriously, because I intend to keep in close contact with the TECs—the right hon. and learned Gentleman must obtain a very substantial increase in the funding for his Department and for the TECs. I do not expect him to tell me now whether he has got such an increase, but unless he obtains one, morale will collapse.

There could be no better use of public money in a recession than counter-cyclical expenditure on training. We should spend the money on training instead of wasting £20 billion on dole queues. We should take £1 billion of that money and use it to put people back at work, so that we do not have to pay them unemployment benefit and they can begin paying taxes. That is what the Secretary of State for Employment must do. Unless he does, the TECs will be overwhelmed by this recession and he will do great damage to them and to the country.

5.33 pm
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) will forgive me if I do not follow his line of argument. I should like to concentrate on education today.

I welcome the Gracious Speech, particularly the part about the introduction of the parents charter. I also welcome the part referring to making more information about schools generally available.

Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, so education is too important to be left to the educationists. I firmly believe that most parents know best what is right for their children. We need to provide them with a vehicle that they can use to improve school standards, and the charter provides the engine for parental ambitions.

One of the main thrusts of Government policy has been to involve parents in the education of their children. Grant-maintained schools are an example of greater parental involvement. The requirement for better school records is another. The charter brings together a number of differing strands and helps to weave a policy formalising parental involvement.

Since knowledge is power, according to Chairman Mao, the charter puts power firmly into the hands of parents by giving them, perhaps for the first time, real knowledge about their children's educational progress and about the schools that their children attend.

I welcome the new inspection arrangements——

Mr. Dunn

Hear, hear.

Mr. Pawsey

I am delighted to have the support of my hon. Friend and I am not at all surprised that he, as a former Education Minister, joins me in welcoming the new arrangements. They will ensure that schools are inspected a great deal more frequently. Regular school inspections lift standards and show teachers where things are going wrong. Because the inspections will be frequent, they will ensure that standards do not slip too far.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does my hon. Friend agree that another great advantage will be that reports will no longer be written in jargon, so that parents will be able to understand what is going on?

Mr. Pawsey

I endorse my hon. Friend's wise words.

A new organisation headed by the chief inspector of schools will be set up. The new inspectorate will be wholly independent of Government and will be able to discharge its new role without, as Opposition Members would say, interference from Ministers. The independent inspection teams will be chosen by governors from a list approved by Her Majesty's inspectorate. There will therefore be no soft options for schools, no comfortable inspections by a friend of the headmaster or even by a friend of the school—[Interruption.]Inspectors will be approved and will be required to undertake a rigorous and thorough inspection—[Interruption.]Perhaps the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) finds the issue of school inspections a laughing matter. Most of the nation's parents think it a matter of the utmost seriousness and will support the Government's proposals.

The principal difference under the new system will be the frequency of inspections. I have no doubt that the new arrangements will bring with them great benefits as compared with the present system, under which full inspections occur infrequently, if at all. We know that some schools have never had a full inspection. Local education authorities can organise their own inspections, which are much less rigorous than full HMI inspections—a point emphasised by the fact that they are usually undertaken by staff known as advisers, not inspectors.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

The hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that the new HMI would be completely independent of Government. How is that complete independence to be assured, and who is to appoint the new inspectors?

Mr. Pawsey

The new inspectorate will be far less dependent on the Secretary of State than it was before. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to ask inspectors to undertake inspections of specific schools, but the fact remains that they will enjoy far more independence. I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman has reflected on the new arrangements, he will join us in welcoming them, because they will help to improve the quality and standards of the state education in which most of the nation's children are educated.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

My hon. Friend is giving an extremely eloquent and accurate description of the parents charter policy. As he will know, the Bill foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech will ensure that Her Majesty's chief inspector will have his own statutory powers and duties laid down by this House. At the moment he exercises powers and duties on behalf of the Secretary of State. That is the legalism behind the policies that my hon. Friend has accurately described. Her Majesty's chief inspector will be given greater independence than that position has ever held in its 150 years.

Mr. Pawsey

I am obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend for that detailed explanation.

Mr. Haynes

I hope that, as the hon. Gentleman supports giving more teeth to inspectors, he will also support giving a number of extra teeth to the Parliamentary Commissioner. But that is not my argument. My argument is that Ministers and Secretaries of State are ducking their responsibilities, and giving responsibility to somebody else. They have done it on social security——

Mr. Pawsey


Mr. Haynes

Oh, yes. In social security they set up an agency. When a constituent writes to a Minister, the Minister passes the case back to the agency, so the constituent never has access to the Minister. Ministers are ducking their responsibilities, and the sooner the general election comes, the better.

Mr. Pawsey

The hon. Gentleman and I serve on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Select Committee, where we frequently are in agreement, but I must tell him frankly that across the Floor of the House today we are in complete disagreement. The new measures will not in any way reduce the responsibility of Ministers to this House. Indeed, they will do much to improve the quality of state education.[Interruption.]If I am allowed an opportunity to develop my speech, I shall explain why the measures will do so much to improve the quality of state education.

To return to LEA advisers. They are called advisers, not inspectors, because that more accurately reflects their role. In an LEA that recruits its advisers from its own teacher force, there is a distinct possibility and a decided risk of friends doing the business of inspection. That is why the hon. Member for Durham, North-West is wrong to regard the new inspection arrangements as in any way inferior to what has gone before. They will be a substantial improvement.

Inspectors will be trained, and HMI will monitor the standards of that training. HMI will keep a register of those able to lead the trained inspection teams and will set the standards of inspection. Those on the register will be inspected as they carry out their work and will be removed from the register if they fail to meet the rigorous standards demanded by HMI. The Secretary of State will still have powers to request HMI to undertake the inspection of specific schools.

Inspectors will also be called upon to advise the Secretary of State about the quality of the education service generally. They will draw their main evidence from their inspection of 6,000 schools every year. What an improvement that figure represents on the current position.

Inspectors will also be drawn from outside the world of mainstream education, so they will have a wider perspective than otherwise. I am certain that that will result in a positive input from those with business and industrial experience. That will help to answer the criticism that British education is too divorced from the realities of earning one's living. A broader-based inspection service has positive advantages and will help reconcile and bridge the gap between what goes on in school and in industry.

Mr. Janman

In the real world.

Mr. Pawsey

I am obliged to my hon. Friend, who rightly describes it as the real world.

Earlier I said that every year 6,000 schools would be examined. That will require a full-scale inspection of every school by HMI at least every four years. That will provide a good, up-to-date report on each school. The inspectorate will also have the opportunity of discussing matters with parents; of meeting parents and hearing their views. That brings me back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman). She said that in the past reports on schools were regarded as almost confidential.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

As incomprehensible.

Mr. Pawsey

I acknowledge the words of my hon. Friend. Certainly the reports were seen as the prerogative of only those who needed to know. So often that was the education machine and so often it excluded parents. A light will be focussed on an area that is usually shrouded in darkness. I hope that those who want less secrecy will support this initiative.

The new system will result in more information becoming available on what goes on in the nation's schools. That will be invaluable in helping to formulate action that can be taken to improve the nation's schools. It will replace guesswork with facts. It will identify shortcomings to the benefit of our children.

Under the terms of the parents charter, parents will receive as of right five key documents. The first will be an annual written report of their child's progress. The second will be a performance table providing detailed information on all schools within a specific area. It will not matter whether those schools are controlled by the LEA or whether they are grant maintained. Thirdly, parents will be provided with a precis of the last inspection report produced by Her Majesty's inspectorate. Fourthly, parents will receive an action plan from the governing body saying how it is intended to improve any shortcomings identified by Her Majesty's inspectorate at the last inspection. Fifthly, parents will get an annual report from the school's governors. The document will provide valuable information about examination results and rates of truancy, all of which are of critical importance to any school and the children attending it. The parents charter is a genuinely imaginative step forward designed to improve the quality and standard of state education.

Mr. Worthington

I am struck by the thinking behind the hon. Gentleman's approach to the need to make local education authorities answerable. Would he want to transfer the same rigorous approach to the training and enterprise councils to see whether the Secretary of State's undertaking that the guarantees are being met is true? Alternatively, will the TECs continue to be shrouded in commercial confidentiality?

Mr. Pawsey

I am not sure whether I should interpret that as general support for the proposals that I have been advancing, but by implication it seems that the hon. Gentleman supports the proposals. I am concentrating my remarks on education. It may well be that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will respond to that specific point. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support, albeit somewhat guarded, for what is going on in education.

Even Opposition Members have discovered parental involvement. Indeed, they have introduced proposals for a contract between parents and schools, whereby schools would be obliged to provide information, for example, on academic performance. There is a turn-up for the books. Labour Members are promoting for the first time the principle of excellence.

Mr. Dunn

Can my hon. Friend believe it?

Mr. Pawsey

No, I cannot.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is feigning surprise at what we said. I should like to know where he has been in the three years since we first made these proposals.

Mr. Pawsey

If the hon. Gentleman is serious in what he says, and if he wants to see an improvement in academic performance, why does he persist in plans to scrap the remaining grammar schools, which are centres of excellence? As usual, the hon. Gentleman speaks with forked tongue.

Mr. Dunn

Surely the answer to my hon. Friend is, by their fruits shall ye know them. Both he and I have served on the Committees examining the various Education Bills which have gone through the House since 1979. Why is it that, on every crucial measure of reform, radical though each has been, both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party have voted against us? Surely their record is more significant than their change of heart over the past weekend or the words of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who we know is under orders from Mr. Mandelson to present policies better.

Mr. Pawsey

I put a slightly different interpretation on what has happened. I suspect that there is nothing like the prospect of a general election to sharpen the mind—even that of the hon. Member for Blackburn.

It is a pity that the contract that the hon. Gentleman has outlined is not legally binding. He does not say what effective redress a parent would have if a school failed a child. I suspect that the problem for Labour Members is that they have difficulty in reconciling their obligations to the great teacher unions, which still pay the Labour party's bills, with the need of average parents, who want better education for their children, and want to be more involved in the running of their children's schools. That is the dilemma facing Labour Members.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman should address our policies rather than those that he has invented. Our parents charter, like the document that we published recently, called "Raising the Standard", addresses in detail the powers of redress that parents would have if they thought that a school was failing their children.

Mr. Pawsey

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Some of the parents in my constituency knew that the Lancashire education authority was failing their children, because cruelty was being perpetrated against them. The authority declined to take the matter to the police, so a parent did so and three teachers or teacher assistants have been convicted in the courts. That was Lancashire failing to do its duty by the parents and the children.

Mr. Pawsey

I suspect that yet another problem faces Labour Members—how to persuade parents that they believe in the principle of choice in schools. After all, they still believe that the only good state education is local authority education, that the only good form of secondary school is the neighbourhood comprehensive.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

indicated assent.

Mr. Pawsey

They have resolutely opposed the emergence of grant-maintained schools, even though those schools enjoy the support of a majority of parents, as expressed through a secret ballot. What reliance can be placed on their conversion to the principle of parental power and choice when they still deny the right of parents to establish a grant-maintained school?

The Labour party remains the party of the bureaucrat and of the trade unions. Labour Members will defend the vested interest of the LEAs and of the teacher unions before those of parents or pupils. It is worth remembering that, if elected, the Labour party will abolish grammar schools, grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges and the assisted places scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members make my case for me. The Labour party has become the abolitionist party, and there is not much choice in what it advocates if all it will do is abolish the centres of excellence that we have set up.

Labour Members opposed the emergence of grant-maintained schools and see them as a threat to local authority empires. I sometimes wonder whether they understand that, for choice to have any significance, there has to be a choice between different systems and different schools. If the LEA has a monopoly, the only choice that a parent has is take it or leave it. That is one of the reasons why the grant-maintained school is genuinely important in the struggle to maintain standards. Those schools will come under the same scrutiny from the HMI as schools run by the LEA.

I look forward to the proposals advanced in the Queen's Speech being brought before the House in a Bill. I hope that the House will support a genuine effort to improve the quality and standard of state education, where the overwhelming majority of the nation's children are educated.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I was hoping that we might not have to implement Mr. Speaker's proposal to invoke the 10-minute rule from 7 to 9 o'clock but if speeches continue to be as long as they have been, we may have no alternative but to do so.

5.56 pm
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

I came here expecting debate about the Government's detailed proposals and of the Labour party's alternative proposals. I was not altogether surprised that there was more heat than light in the two opening speeches, which were directed more towards the general election campaign than the discussion of details. Sadly, I suspect that this is what we can expect for the next six months.

However, I was surprised by the way that the following speeches, with the exception of that from the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), ignored the details of the Government's proposals. His was an interesting speech, and although wrong, it at least addressed the Government's controversial proposals, about which I hope that we shall hear in more detail in the winding-up speeches.

I hope that education as an issue, and training, which should be included with education in one Department, will be debated. More specifically, I hope that all the parties committed to it will make a reality of the rhetoric about putting education at the centre of what they want to achieve. There is no question but that, if we are to resolve the recurrent problems of the country, of which this latest recession is one of the deepest and worst examples, we must get education and training right from the start.

The Government's legislative programme has missed an opportunity. The Government have taken a delight in changing the detail of education policy, but more than that, they have missed the wider issues that face us. In a programme that looks to the past rather than to the future and is substantially irrelevant to the main issues, the policy that I most welcome is that on the abolition of the binary divide. I do so not simply because that is a long-standing Liberal Democrat policy and a reform that will be welcomed on both sides of the House but because it is a mark of the wider changes on which we need to embark.

The Government propose to abolish the artificial division between an academic elite and the rest. The division is artificial because it pays no real attention to the quality of what happens in polytechnics as compared with universities, but it has existed for as long as the different titles have been with us. The division is artificial also because it has reflected, to an extent, the different attitudes that exist between technical and academic and vocational routes in education. It is not true that polytechnics have provided a purely vocational route. Similarly it is not true that universities have provided a purely academic route. In the distinctions between the two, however, there is a reflection of the different historical past and the paths that they have trodden to reach the position that they now occupy.

There is also a reflection of the division in attitudes towards different qualifications and the different routes of learning. That is something that still marks too much the attitudes that exist outside education, and especially in the political debate. I welcome the proposed reform more as a marker for the wider reforms that are needed than as an enormous breakthrough in itself.

We must remember the financial changes that are hitting higher education, which will bring about a revolution in what is delivered at that level and the means by which it is delivered. It is a revolution that is virtually unplanned and undebated, and it has not been outlined in detail by the Government. They have set up a mechanism but they have not explained in any real detail where they believe it will take us. That is why the higher education institutions are worried about the Government's reforms. They are concerned that there is a risk to the quality of what is delivered. They are worried that there is a risk to the research base across all higher education institutions. Above all, there is concern that these risks have been taken without proper analysis and debate.

In the other reforms with which we have been presented, we see a reflection of Tory rhetoric and gut feeling about what the party believes "used to be" and not a real look to the future. The so-called parents charter has been brought about with little consultation, other than possibly with the Centre for Policy Studies.

There are plans to publish truancy figures and examination results in crude league tables, which even the Government do not use for comparisons between schools. It is proposed to privatise the schools inspectorate. That is one of the most ill-considered and impractical proposals that the House has had to debate in the education arena. It will confuse information rather than extend it; it will risk undermining standards rather than improving them. How can an inspection be independent and rigorous if the institution that is to be inspected is able to choose its own team of inspectors? The truth is as it has always been; he who pays the piper plays the tune.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I have been following the hon. Gentleman's remarks with interest because his party, unlike the Labour party, has supported many of the reforms that we, the Government, have introduced, this year. On other proposals, it has reserved its position. I was startled when I heard him talk about "privatising" Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools. That is a silly term that I thought was being used only by one or two Labour Members. As, at the moment, Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools remains a public office, as we shall strengthen powers by means of the Bill that we propose and as there will be responsibility for monitoring the quality of all the registered inspectors carrying out inspections of schools, what definition of "privatising" is the hon. Gentleman using in respect of the inspectorate that he thinks justifies his strange assertion?

Mr. Taylor

If the Secretary of State checks the record—I am open to correction if I am wrong—he will find that I said that he was privatising the inspectorate, not HMI. The fact is that inspections that take place in schools are to be privatised. There is no question about that, for that is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal, by any definition that he or anyone else is likely to use. He is to do so in the name of competition.

If there is to be competition between companies and choice for schools in determining who carries out the inspections, on what basis can that competition and choice exist if decisions are not based on the company that will carry out the cheapest inspection while being most likely to guarantee a good report? In what else does a school's interest lie?

The scheme has therefore received virtually no backing in the education world. That is not because it is felt that standards would improve. Educationists want improved standards and they feel that the Government's scheme risks undermining standards. They have no other reason to object to it.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. I think that we should debate the issue now rather than later, because I shall not be able to do it justice when I reply because of the limited time that will be available to me.

Surely governors will want to choose inspectors whose reports will carry clout with parents, who will have credibility and who will provide a straightforward account of a school's performance that is known to come from a good quality inspectorate. In any event, governors will be able to choose only from those inspectors who have themselves been monitored by HMI, a public agency. HMI will declare each inspector a suitably trained and qualified person for the purpose of carrying out an inspection.

Mr. Taylor

It is interesting that the Secretary of State says that governors will choose inspectors who will carry the greatest clout. It must be said that the Secretary of State has considerable clout in making appointments in his own sector. Bearing in mind those he selects, he seems to appoint those who will deliver the "best" report and provide the greatest support for his policies. He does not choose those who will carry the greatest clout in analysing what his party has achieved.

A party of the right cannot seriously believe that human nature is such that those who are responsible for the delivery of education and the maintenance of a school—their jobs will depend on being popular with parents will choose companies that will carry out rigorous inspection before those who will produce a good report for the school. that is not realistic and that is not what will happen. I have no doubt that we shall debate these matters in further detail when we examine the Bill.

I am concerned that the changes that are taking place will have an especially bad impact on children with special needs. Currently there are specialist members of HMI who are able to offer advice to schools on the delivery of help to children with special needs. Under the Government's proposals, those individuals will lose their jobs or they will be restricted to monitoring the privatised inspection services. That means that their specialist expertise will be lost to schools.

The Government propose that the results of individual schools should be published, but we do not know how they plan to take account of the special needs that some children have within some schools. Are the raw tables of schools' examination results to reflect the intakes of those schools, including children with special needs? I am not talking only about children who have been statemented. I am talking particularly about the 20 per cent. who are not the subject of statements and who have special needs. If there is no means of compensating schools for children with special needs, there will be a direct incentive for schools not to accept these children.

I make no apology for taking up these matters, because they are surely fundamental to the very principle that is being introduced.

I have been asking in correspondence—I have not yet had a satisfactory answer—what will happen to those in sixth form colleges who have had the protection of a statement and who will not have it when they go into the new opted-out sector of further education. It is clear in my constituency and in many others that many children—young people with special needs—do not want to take up specialist courses for people with special needs. They want to embark on mainstream courses. They will not be able to take up places if they are not resourced to do so and if, similarly, the college is not resourced to do so. If the proposed changes are to take place, children with special needs must be protected. That goes across party boundaries, although, as I have said, I disagree too with the broader changes that are proposed. Nothing that the Government have said will achieve that protection.

The parents and teachers to whom I speak do not seek raw data in league tables. Indeed, Cornwall could not make far-reaching practical use of such league tables because alternative schools are not generally available to parents. All that will happen is that the morale of schools will be lowered because they will be beaten by the press that use the raw data in crude ways. The schools will have no response from the Secretary of State on how they are to improve, to obtain the necessary resources and training and so on.

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about the lack of alternative schools in country areas. However, that should not penalise the urban areas, where there is manifestly more choice. The point of the changes that we intend to implement is that although parents may not have alternative schools available to them, they can at least put pressure on a school for failing to deliver. Surely that is the lesson that must be learned.

Mr. Taylor

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but there are two fundamental problems with it. First, it assumes that parents are not aware of the quality of their local schools. My experience shows that they are all too well aware of the quality, be that good or bad. Secondly, it assumes that the raw data of exam results will give some indication of the quality of a school. However, it is absolutely clear that, depending on the intake into a school, it could be a good school with relatively poor exam results or a bad school with relatively good exam results. What counts is where the child comes from and how well a school meets his or her potential, not the level that a particular child reaches compared to another child elsewhere.

We are arguing for a specific series of vital key reforms. We want provision for three and four-year-olds, which the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) promised when she was Secretary of State but failed to deliver as Prime Minister. We would guarantee a relevant vocational and academic examination system that would abolish the divisions for 16 to 19-year-olds, and which would guarantee the equivalent of two days a week education provision for all those who enter work at 16. We would also guarantee provision for adults. All sides of the House now accept that the education system has failed our young people in the past. Therefore, we must not forget the delivery of adult education to those already in work, especially in view of the current changes in society and technology.

What have the Government offered? They are going in the opposite direction to the private sector. The best employers, such as Ford and Rover, are developing programmes to deliver adult education opportunities to their work forces, irrespective of vocational relevance, yet the Government want to divide the adult education system and place priority on courses that they believe have vocational relevance. Not only are the Government prepared to compromise our record on adult education provision—which is one of the best in Europe—but they are doing so at a time when the private sector is moving in the opposite direction.

However, we cannot allow the Labour party to get away with those points, because it falls flat on its face as soon as we ask a simple question. It rightly claims that Britain will not get its economy right until the education and training system is right, but when asked where the money for that will come from, it says that it will be available only when the economy comes right. That achieves nothing. The Labour party has made it clear that on training and education it offers nothing because it dare not utter the political "F-word"—the possibility of increased taxation.

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives can argue rationally, but the Labour party will not increase taxation to find the extra money needed. Therefore, it cannot possibly do what is necessary. The Liberal Democrats are clear that if, to get it right, that means an increase in taxation, so be it. The Labour party is incapable of delivering on its promises. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) talks at length about how the Labour party will transform education for the better, but until the shadow Chancellor commits the money, the hon. Gentleman is promising everything but guaranteeing nothing. The leader of the Labour party has said during the Langbaurgh by-election campaign that £2.6 billion is needed to improve educational provision, but the shadow Chancellor refuses to commit a penny to that. The only financial commitment from the Labour party is a transfer of resources within the education budget, not any addition to it.

The debate has missed valuable opportunities to outline the wider changes that are needed. It has missed the opportunity to put to Ministers the real weaknesses in their proposals. Once again, the Labour party has missed the opportunity to show the courage of its principles—its education team understands this, but is not allowed to do anything about it—and to put up front the financial wherewithal to tackle the problems. The Liberal Democrats are facing up to the political downside of being prepared to increase taxation, and we are proud to do so. We believe that parents and grandparents, as they go into crumbling schools and as they see students who cannot afford to go to college, will agree with the principled stand that we are taking.

6.17 pm
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

I had hoped to have had the privilege of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the first day of this debate, when it is acknowledged to be a free-for-all and any subject can follow another. Thereafter, it is slightly intimidating when subjects are set down for each day's debate, and we feel a little restricted in moving beyond the sphere of the Ministers on the Front Bench. However, as my hon. Friends the Members for Ashford (Mr. Speed) and for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) have strayed into the area of transport, and as the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) got as far as Yugoslavia, I feel that I, too, can stray a little from the main theme of the debate without attracting too much criticism.

I shall pay particular attention to that part of the Gracious Speech in which the Government say that they will promote enterprise and training, attach the highest priority to improving public services, improve quality and choice in education, and improve the effectiveness of the NHS. I derive the greatest satisfaction from the fact that the Government, through the Gracious Speech, are saying that the highest priority will be given to the improvement of public services. Indeed, that statement might be described almost as "outing". The Government have put large sums of money into the public services for many years, but have not proclaimed it as a great virtue. Now, it appears that they are to take great pride in the fact that we are spending more on public services, and it is right to acknowledge that.

Health and education are probably the most basic of the public services that deserve the highest priority. Certainly, they are the services that will receive the most attention between now and the general election, and during the election campaign itself.

It is clearly stated in the Gracious Speech that the highest priority will be attached to health. That is on the Government's agenda for the final Session of this Parliament—not privatisation. While my right hon. and hon. Friends will be talking about priorities for health, no doubt we will hear again and again from Labour about privatisation, privatisation, and nothing but privatisation.

The word "privatisation" is redefined by Labour as it suits it, as is the case with so much else in the Labour party. The Government are no longer accused of actual privatisation but of creeping privatisation. How does Labour define that? On 13 October, the Leader of the Opposition described it in three different ways—which is typical of him. One was the grim reality of paying or waiting. Presumably he meant an individual's inability to have a national health service operation on demand. I wonder when that has ever been possible during the lifetime of the NHS. Does Labour pledge that, if it is elected to government, no one will wait any length of time for an operation?

The Government's patients charter suggests that a waiting period of two years is a realistic target, beyond which no individual should have to wait. It is realistic when one considers the number of new operations developed as a consequence of medical research. A few weeks ago, a lady interviewed on television complained about her wait for a hip replacement operation. One naturally sympathised with her discomfort and pain. She asked, "What is the NHS coming to, that I should have to wait in pain, discomfort and distress for my operation?" The riposte must be that what it is coming to is that it is now technically possible to perform that operation, and naturally a huge demand for it has developed. The same situation arises time and time again, as new medical techniques are developed and demand for them rises. One must be realistic in one's promises to patients in respect of their admission to hospital for non-life threatening operations.

There are many vulnerable people—such as the lady whom I mentioned—who are waiting for treatment, and whose fears and emotions can be exploited. I suspect that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) will skulk around the back alleys of the national health service scavenging for distress stories with which to regale us between now and the general election.

Every Government have an uphill task in persuading the public that their stewardship of the NHS is adequate. When Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Robinson has a daughter who has to wait 12 months for an operation, it is no use telling her that 10, 20, or 25 years ago the situation was similar or much worse, because Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Robinson will still consider that the NHS is unsatisfactory today, and will naturally blame the Government.

If Labour has a policy to eliminate that kind of wait, it should make it explicit, say how much it will cost, and explain how it will be paid for. I suspect that, instead of doing so, Labour will simply play on the emotions of those people who are kept waiting for operations. I hope that the debate in the coming months will concentrate on the difference between a Government who are implementing a plan to manage the health service better and an Opposition who hiss and spit but fight shy of explaining how they will deliver a better performance.

Returning to the theme of today's debate, I am delighted that the Gracious Speech commits the Government to giving the highest priority to education. If in the health service that means not just spending more money, it is even more true of education. It is a question of what we expect to happen in our schools, encouraging study, and creating a demand for training.

Two speeches made at the weekend have further opened up the debate about the form that primary school education should take. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon), drew attention to the prominence that topic work now has in many primary schools. He may have a point. Discovery is important in the education process, but it can be taken too far—almost to the exclusion of the acquisition of basic facts and skills.

Recently, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry visited Japan and no doubt will have learnt certain lessons from that country. Japan enjoys a high standard of education because it places special emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge. I do not suggest that the Japanese example should be transplanted to our education system, but it offers certain advantages. We should work towards a better balance between the acquisition of facts and their relation to topic work.

Expression is also important, but not at the total expense of attention to detail. It is important that emphasis is placed on that aspect in the teaching of English. When I was taught French at school, I regret that too much attention was paid to detail, so that, although I was able to read works of French literature such as "Madame de Staël" tolerably well, I still have a total inability to communicate effectively in the French language. Therefore, I do not believe that my French language education was to the greatest effect.

In the teaching of English, it is important that attention should be paid to grammar and spelling. When a parent-teacher association circulated a newsletter in my constituency recently, I was surprised to discover that a contribution by a child that appeared on its front page contained two palpable spelling errors. It may have been a great thing for the child to have contributed the article, but if it was meant as an advertisement for the school, it should have been corrected—lest it set a standard that would be followed.

The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, has questioned whether setting and streaming should be reintroduced into our primary schools. That matter also demands attention, even though it has resource implications.

As to the role of parents in our education system, we must welcome the trend to present them with more data about school performance. League tables may not be wholly sophisticated, but they serve as a counterbalance to the generalities that are sometimes brandished before parents. It is possible to produce league tables that have proper footnotes to highlight important differences that need to be read into any interpretation of them. That will help parents to ask more of the right questions, rather than have them feed on rumour. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) said that parents know whether a school is good or bad—but they often draw their conclusions on the basis of the worst possible information, which has reached them by word of mouth and has no factual basis. Parents should be empowered to ask the right questions and make the right choices.

I am glad that the staying-on rate in our schools is improving, but that may create its own debate about whether greater variety needs to be offered in the A-level curriculum. It is a controversial subject. I do not believe that one needs to concede a dilution of A-level standards in offering alternatives in order to attract more pupils to stay on at school beyond the age of 16. One of our objectives should be to inculcate more desire for training in addition to what has been learned at school. I believe that training should become universal and that the training and enterprise councils are an important step towards that. I do not denigrate the TECs, as did the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton); I think that this is the start of an important new adventure and that the TECs can deliver, flexibly and sensibly, the universal training that we need.

I am delighted that the Government have nailed their colours to the mast in regard to improving public services. In my view, both health and education have achieved significant boosts under the Government's stewardship over the past 12 years, and I look forward to further substantial progress during the coming Session.

6.30 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

When the record of the past 12 years of Conservative government comes to be written, one interesting comment that will be made is that many of the major changes that have been introduced were not the result of research, consultation and a clear view of how services—particularly in the public sector—needed to be improved and funded. In many cases, they were the result of the straightforward prejudices of people who did not themselves use public services.

The saddest aspect of this debate on the Gracious Speech is the fact that many of those prejudices are now being trotted out in the guise of a discussion of the education system. Today, even more prejudices have been aired in the guise of a discussion of the future of training. In my constituency, such remarks strike a sad and hollow note; more young people there have been unable to obtain proper training than has been the case at any time in the past 50 or 60 years. More young people leaving school cannot find jobs, enter the traditional apprenticeships so lightly dismissed today by Conservative Members, or move on to any form of further education than could do so even 20 years ago.

Far from seeing any improvement in public services, many young men and women in my constituency are going straight from school into the dole queue. At the beginning of a period when they should be starting to gain some understanding of the world of work, they are unable to use the abilities that they possess and unable to train so that they can take up a proper job or launch a future career.

It is interesting to note that, after 12 years of Conservative government, Rolls-Royce—a firm which, to many, represents quality in British manufacturing—is behaving more and more like a Victorian management, incapable of understanding that the quality of its product is due largely to the ability and training of the men and women who produce it. In the past 12 months, Rolls-Royce has lost some 600 people from its job list, which represents, in monetary terms, a gain of some £30 million overall. The firm is quite able to see not only that the work force has been prepared to talk to management about new working practices, but that it has accepted new agreements, short-term working and changes that have been brought in following very little consultation. The work force has been prepared to establish how best it can protect the company's viability.

What has happened is extremely instructive, and I believe that it represents the real state of manufacturing industry under the present Government. Rolls-Royce now intends to impose many more changes. It wanted a single-union agreement, and the unions said that they were prepared to provide that; they added, however, that they would ask for differentiation between those who were craft workers and those who were not. Rolls-Royce said that that was not to be negotiated. It then announced the introduction of a new system for the appointing of shop stewards: they would be elected on a constituency basis, but those who were elected might well be non-union, and might not represent, in proportion, their own groups of workers. They could be removed if evidence of any sort was produced that the company considered relevant.

That is not consultation; nor is it imaginative management. It is the imposition of work conditions that will not improve either the quality of the product or the stability of the work force. The Government's attitude to industrial relations is largely answerable for the present position.

When Rolls-Royce faced real problems in one of its firms, it moved a good deal of work to Crewe—where it was welcome, and where a stable and committed work force was in place. Over the years, Rolls-Royce has begun to believe that, because that work force has been pliable and helpful, it can now impose whatever work conditions it chooses. It also believes that, if need be, it can further reduce the work force—that it can have so-called discussion with shop stewards and then announce redundancies on a Monday morning, immediately before the convening of a meeting—and somehow represent that as the future of manufacturing industry in Great Britain.

That is outrageous and unacceptable and it will be reflected in the quality of the product. Anyone who seeks to out-source large amounts of engineering work in a product like a Rolls-Royce motor car will have to answer to the customer when that is seen not to be in the best interests of British products, or in those of the industry as a whole.

It would be different if it were possible, in Crewe and Nantwich, to point to an imaginative training programme. It would be different if we could expect our youngsters—although the existing apprenticeships have been ended—to be given high-tech training, and to benefit from the work that the local authority is doing to attract new industries. If that were so, we could accept, with sanguine happiness, the fact that traditional work patterns are being replaced—replaced by something better.

What is really happening, however, is that traditional training is going. Women in the rag trade and men in manufacturing industry benefited from such training; many of the women who made Rolls-Royce upholstery were trained by means of proper industrial schemes. Their children, who would normally have followed them in the trade, will not have that opportunity. Many will not be able to find training places and will experience what is already being experienced in some instances—over a year without a place.

All that is utterly destructive. It destroys the human spirit and of the skills of young people. It is beginning to undermine their belief in, and understanding of, their own abilities and future. Worse, it is a condemnation of a Conservative Government who for too long have coasted on a reputation: the reputation of being those who improved and rejigged, privatised and brought about a much higher standard of production and a much higher level of investment.

Let me tell the House what privatisation means in my constituency. It means the sale of assets for which no one but the taxpayer paid, to any firm, anywhere, that will buy them under any conditions. In the case of British Rail Engineering Ltd., it means the sale of many jobs. To Rolls-Royce it means, immediately, the same problems as ever for young people—the abandoning of apprenticeships, and men and women walking out of the door until the work force does not know how many jobs will finally be left. It means that, whichever firm is privatised, assets accumulated by means of taxpayers' money—sometimes over many years—will immediately be sold off.

Moreover, it means that, without fail, the administrators, at the time that they make many people unemployed, immediately improve their own conditions. They also say to the work force, "You may not ask for reasonable increases. You may not even negotiate with the assistance of the trade unions," even though they are supposed to represent the interests of the work force. That is what privatisation means.

If British Rail is privatised after the next election, God help us. Privatisation will not improve conditions for the customers; it will not improve investment in new rolling stock; it will not lead to better freight services. However, what can be absolutely guaranteed is that privatisation will improve the rate of pay of a certain privileged group at the top of the industry.

This Government, after having been in office for 12 years, present a Gracious Speech that represents a total lack of imagination and commitment. Above all, the cynicism that the Government display in the Queen's Speech is outrageous. We are destroying our industrial manufacturing base, cheating the people of this country and offering them no alternative. My only consolation is that the sooner we get rid of the Government the more hope we have of offering a genuine future to young unemployed people in my constituency.

6.41 pm
Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

According to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) there is a perfect case for suggesting that the British taxpayer would prefer billions of pounds to be written off each year as a result of losses by discredited nationalised undertakings and that the British taxpayer would dislike those loads to be taken off his or her back. I cannot believe that. Frankly, I do not believe that the hon. Lady believes it, either.

Attention has already been drawn by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) to this statement in the Queen's Speech: My Government attach the highest priority to improving public services. That provides some answer to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. It is a priority of this Government and I am delighted that the Queen's Speech makes it clear for all to see. The public services are important for the massive contribution that they make. Our highest priority—it is right to put the superlative adjective before the word "priority"—is to improve our public services. I suspect that all of us who are here today would say that education is the most important public service.

I intend to refer to a few matters that cause me concern and my remarks may go slightly wider than education.

There are three key ingredients for improving public services. First, we must establish higher and better standards. Secondly, we must create a sense of professionalism among those on whom we rely to run the public services. Thirdly, we must ensure that there is a commitment by the citizen, whether parent or patient, to take his or her share of the responsibility for the process. If services to the public are to be improved, the public, as recipients of those services, must play a large part in determining the progress towards improvement.

It is relatively easy to talk about education standards and identify them and to devise methods by means of which those standards can be measured and the targets that will lead to higher attainment. I have a relatively open mind on whether that is the be-all and end-all of the operation. I doubt whether it is. Nevertheless, it is crucial to ensure that the quality of education can be measured so that improvements can be made. How one improves the flexibility and sensitivity of the means by which the quality of education is measured, as well as the acceptability of those methods, has to be related to the importance of establishing a mechanism by which standards can rise and be measured.

During the recess, I visited what I believe is the best primary school in the area. The head teacher—a fine lady who had been in her post for a long time—was in distress about the seven-plus attainment tests that had recently been applied. Her problem, and that of her staff in that dedicated school in Pudsey, was how to measure progress without numbers on a board that moved up from 10 to 15 to 20. As she put it, if boys and girls come to her school who are minus five or minus 10 below zero and they are brought up to minus three or minus eight below zero, that is attainment; it represents measurable progress and is something that must be encouraged. I hate to think that schools which experience great difficulties in their catchment areas will be compared with what is achieved in the plusher parts of my constituency. There must therefore be a means by which one can measure standards that are both attainable and acceptable.

As for standards as a whole, we owe it to the education establishment to recognise that standards must be broadly based. It is not a question of the establishment having a quiet look at education and doing things the way that ii would like. The education establishment must be accountable and must be seen to be accountable by parents. In turn, the education establishment would argue with us that there are other influences on the standard of education over which they have no control.

I suggest that the broadcasting media have a role in determining whether certain standards of behaviour, Ianguage and "entertainment" are wholly beneficial, or whether it is their duty simply to pander purely to the lowest common denominator—entertainment. If it is possible to sell a bar of KitKat in 30 seconds, which I did for about 18 years in a previous job, I reckon that it is possible to suggest that to rush around in motor cars is something to be emulated. That philosophy has played its part in creating our problems.

Standards must be seen to be reciprocated in other parts of the public domain. I cannot accept Lord Rees-Mogg's suggestion that bad language has reached the point where the F-word has been debased by common usage and is no longer a word that should not be used.

I believe that the teaching profession must be encouraged. Teachers must not be regarded simply as people who carry out their duties between 8 am and 5 pm. Their lack of reputation directly reflects their lack of morale, which is due to the belief that they are no longer treated as professionals. We encountered that problem when we reformed the national health service. In the beginning doctors felt that they were not being treated as true professionals. That problem was overcome.

The teaching profession faces many pressures, due to the number of changes that it has experienced. It has overcome and surmounted the difficulties and problems that have come its way. The profession should be treated with greater sincerity than it has been in recent years. I am sure that it welcomes the independent review procedure that the Secretary of State for Education has introduced. I am also sure that it welcomes the additional investment in education.

Professionals cannot regard themselves as professionals if there is inadequate investment in them. They need investment in buildings, equipment and technology. They will enable the professionals of the 1990s to exercise their full potential as teachers. That is quite apart from what goes in the classroom. I very much hope that, in the autumn statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to translate the words "highest priority" into a determination to back the education profession with an investment programme that will make it stand out and feel confident of its future.

More or less, it has been taken as read that parents will combine to assist with education reforms and will carry through the duties that the new legislation imposes on them. I very much hope that that will prove to be true, but we may be loading rather too much on less experienced backs. We must ensure that governors receive as much assistance as possible in carrying out their duties which, compared with former years, are now considerable.

Parents take much pride from the progress that their communities make and are prepared to do their bit to ensure that their child's school, which I suspect they regard as the most important influence in their community, is better under their tutelage. They must be given time and some training to enable them to act as school governors.

When we consider attainments in class, the question of truancy arises and with it the question of juvenile crime. I am glad that truancy will now be reflected in published figures, but my hon. Friend the Minister must recognise that truancy soon leads to juvenile crime and from that perhaps to drugs. The rise in juvenile crime is so immense that we must act quickly to try to contain it. Like most other Conservative Members, I was astonished that legislation on auto crime and so-called joyriding, which should be called death riding, had been omitted from the Gracious Speech. I am not clear how it will eventually reach the statute book, but perhaps my hon. Friend will ensure that we are given a satisfactory response.

There is no doubt that in my constituency, as in others, it is common for juveniles to be engaged in criminal activity on Friday, Saturday and some other nights. The so-called joyriding, or death riding, is absurd. Defendants have appeared before the courts for 20 or more cases of taking cars. In a well-known case, an individual pinched a car and for about 58 minutes led three police cars and a helicopter of the pressed West Yorkshire police on a chase, before, having gone through south Leeds, returning to Pudsey police station and throwing the keys at the coppers.

That was an extraordinary abuse not only of police time but of the law. Such individuals could not care less about the scale of the problem, yet someone is a parent to that child. If we are to get to the bottom of juvenile behaviour, raise standards in schools and involve parents in the process, we must ensure that parents fulfil their responsibilities in looking after their own children. The youngest child recently arrested in Pudsey was an eight-year-old at 2 am. Where were the parents who should have been looking after the child at that time of night? It is ludicrous that that should be happening in the 1990s. Either some parents do not bother or they are doing other things, but we cannot attribute that to problems associated with unemployment or social conditions. There are people who have close, deep and devoted connections to children, whatever their circumstances, and there are some who apparently do not care.

If we are to achieve high standards in schools and make parents take responsibility for governing schools, we must ensure that parental responsibility lasts and is deeply embedded in helping children to become citizens and to abide by the law as well as attaining the standards that they richly deserve under the education system.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. At the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker announced a precautionary 10-minute limit on speeches. Given the progress that we are making, he has decided that it will not be necessary to impose the limit. None the less, many hon. Members still wish to speak, so we need short speeches.

6.55 pm
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that warning.

It is slightly bizarre that this debate should open with employment and close with education, because there is next to nothing in the Queen's Speech about employment, important though that is, and hon. Members would have liked to test many aspects of education against an opening ministerial speech.

Hon. Members agree with some of the points that the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) made. He stressed the need for a new deal for education, and although many hon. Members may doubt whether that new deal will be forthcoming under the legislation before us, some of the points that he made were important.

Many hon. Members agreed with the hon. Member for Pudsey about whether schools will be properly assessed by a points ranking system. We should be seeking a measure of "education added value" whereby the measure of a school's achievement is what it can do against the circumstances in which it is working rather than some absolute approach of a ranking points system. That is very important.

The hon. Member for Pudsey made a further important point about the need for education resources. I am glad to hear such comments from Conservative Members, and to note that the message has got home. Without more resources for education, teachers will not be able to do the work that is necessary. More resources are needed for our dilapidated school buildings, which are a disgrace. No wonder children have been brought up in an atmosphere in which it is difficult to respect property. More resources are needed for textbooks and for teachers' salaries. Teachers should not have to take a second job to pay their mortgage or to sustain their families.

Many university students are experiencing enormous difficulties, such as the lack of beds in halls of residence, particularly in their first year. If they cannot get a place in a hostel, they can find themselves in most inappropriate circumstances for starting a university career. Some students find it difficult to live on their grants, particularly when they are unable to get jobs in the summer. That is true of students from poor backgrounds, whose parents are unemployed and can offer no resources. I have seen such difficult cases at the University college of north Wales in Bangor.

We in Wales feel that there should be democratic control over the Further Education Funding Council, which was mentioned in the context of this year's legislative programme. We are glad that we will have our own council, but how will it be answerable, and how can we be sure that it responds to what people in Wales want? As the House knows, special educational needs are a subject close to my heart. I am a little worried about some developments. I am afraid that, under the structure which the Government are considering, some schools may see students with education problems as a liability and may believe that the cost of taking them through to further education level is not warranted. That would be a tragedy.

There must be an assurance that places will not be denied to disabled students because of the concept that it is uneconomic to take them on. There must be an adequate choice of places to study. People should not say that students with disabilities must go to one particular place which deals with such students. Young people with disabilities seeking further education should be as integrated as younger children.

We must ensure that there is adequate financial support for people beyond the age of 19. Some people with educational problems may need to attend beyond that age to achieve their maximum potential. People who suffer a disability at a later stage in life, because of an accident or disease, and who want education or retraining opportunities, should have support.

Unemployment problems persist in Wales, as they do in Scotland, Merseyside and other parts of northern England. Unemployment in Wales is often lower in August than at other times of the year, but this year unemployment was 12.8 per cent. in Aberdare, 12.6 per cent. in Merthyr—where I lived before I became a Member—12.5 per cent. in Holyhead, 11.4 per cent. in Llanelli and 11.4 per cent. in Blaenau Gwent.

Those unemployment levels are unacceptable. No Government can pretend that their policies are working when unemployment is so high. I am glad that unemployment is 3.2 per cent. in Penrith, 2.8 per cent. in Settle and 3.6 per cent. in Winchester, but I wish that there were opportunities in our area to have such rates.

Unemployment in some parts of Wales will mushroom to a worrying level. The royal naval armaments depot at Trecwn, in north Pembrokeshire, is about to close; jobs associated with the Stena-Sealink services at Fishguard are threatened; and the Royal Air Force base at Brawdy is in jeopardy. In Pembrokeshire, unemployment is 10.4 per cent. in Haverfordwest and 11.4 per cent. in south Pembrokeshire. The Department of Employment Gazettesaid that narrow base unemployment at Fishguard was 17.2 per cent. Those are the unemployment percentages before the closures take place, when hundreds of jobs will be lost. Unemployment in the area will be phenomenal. If there is a defence dividend because of the cuts in expenditure on armaments—which I would welcome—areas that may suffer from the defence base closures should have a high call on any resources that are released because of the cuts.

I wish to reinforce a point made by the right. hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) about the lack of regional policy. Unemployment black spots such as those I have mentioned need a much better, fine-tuned policy to overcome their problems. I wish that the Government would find a new way of dealing with additionality in order to ensure that any resources that are available from Brussels and Strasbourg go to those black spots to create employment.

The present training initiatives and schemes are not working as they should. Unemployment is high in my constituency, particularly seasonal unemployment when the tourist season is over. The training schemes depend on the availability of jobs in the private sector. Employers must be able to take on young people and, at the end of the training period, to retain them. It is sad that that does not usually happen in our area.

Permanent jobs are not available and, even if jobs for 16 and 17-year-olds are guaranteed, by the time those young people are looking for permanent jobs, there is no work. If young people see their predecessors' training leading to the dole queue, that is not a good advertisement for training schemes. One must look for a much more positive way of dealing with the problem.

Obviously, the council tax will be an improvement on the poll tax—but that is no great achievement. My party and I believe that the only fair system is one of local income tax, and I regret the fact that the Government are not moving towards such an approach. The danger in the Government's scheme is that the value of a property will be the basis on which people are asked to pay local rates. In areas such as mine, the value of a house is determined not by the local economy but by people moving in from other regions to buy up houses.

In the Dwyfor half of my constituency, more than 20 per cent. of the housing stock consists of second homes, and house prices are significantly higher than in Cardiff, although wages are significantly lower. if that is the basis on which property is valued for the purposes of local taxation, people in my area will be asked to pay taxes that their incomes cannot justify. That will not be acceptable. A local income tax system would have overcome that difficulty. The Government must find a way to ensure that the valuation system does not lead to anomalies.

In my area, the idea of rates levied on second homes at perhaps only 50 per cent. of the normal level is greeted with horror and incredulity. There is a shortage of housing stock for people looking for first homes, and a system that is seen to encourage people to have second homes cannot be justified, socially or economically. If there were a different tax rate for second homes, we in our part of Wales would prefer a higher rather than lower level, in order to release second homes to meet local needs.

There are two major omissions from the Gracious Speech, the first of which involves local government structures in Wales. Reference is made to legislation for England, which will presumably pave the way for a royal commission. The Government's proposals for local government change have not picked up the main thread running through debate in Wales. All parties in Wales, apart from the Conservative party, believe that there should be an all-Wales elected body, taking over responsibility for quangos and some of the work of the Welsh Office, and having democratic oversight of some of the functions which belonged to local government and which have since been centralised—for example, education. The Committee of Welsh District Councils and the Assembly of Welsh Counties have forcefully pressed that point.

I regret the fact that the Government did not see fit in the Gracious Speech to make provision for a permanent, elected, all-Wales body. At the very least, they could have provided for an elected forum, perhaps similar to the conventions that existed in Scotland, whereby people in Wales can determine the form of local government and the form of democratic oversight of government structures that they want, and report to central Government, so that legislation is enacted in accordance with their wishes. That is preferable to having a form of local government imposed on us by a Secretary of State who does not even represent a Welsh constituency.

In most of the Welsh-speaking parts of Wales, there is amazement at the fact that there was no provision in the Gracious Speech for a Welsh language Bill. In 1986, I presented a ten-minute Bill with the support of members of all parties. Since that time, there has been consultation—for five years. On the first round of consultation, 2,000 pieces of evidence were in support of the Bill and only 40 against, so the Government decided to set up a Welsh Language Board to look into the matter. When the board recommended a new Welsh Language Act, it was sent away to consult again. When it came back unanimously recommending and having drafted a new Welsh Language Bill, the Government started to think about it. That thinking has continued throughout this year.

In July, we were told by the chairman of the board, Mr. loan Elfed Jones, that he had every confidence that there would be legislation by the spring. If that was the case, it should have been included in the Queen's Speech, and as it is not, clearly the Government are once again avoiding that issue.

After five years of virtual unanimity in Wales on the need for such legislation, we get nothing. Is it any surprise to any hon. Member that the patience of young people in Wales gets as short as it does? Treating the issue in the way that the Government have done is letting down the democratic process. I urge the Secretary of State for Wales to think again and to find time during this legislative year for such a Bill. Otherwise, members of the Welsh Language Board must seriously consider their position: it is untenable unless the Secretary of State listens to their recommendations.

7.10 pm
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

Like the former Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who introduced the subject of Yugoslavia into the debate, I wish to introduce a subject which is not the general matter for debate.

Before I do so, I wish to follow directly on from the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). I can well understand his grave concern about employment in Wales coming as I do from Northern Ireland. In some of our constituencies, unemployment is between 40 and 50 per cent., and it is of real concern in Northern Ireland. I would have hoped to see a bit more in the paragraph on Northern Ireland in the Gracious Speech than the same old cant that we have seen in previous Queen's Speeches, which has produced that degree of unemployment there.

Education is one area where I am in favour of the Government's proposals, as it makes good sound common sense for parents to have some assessment of the worth of various schools in the area available to them. I do not agree with the view that parents generally know how good or bad a school is. By and large, the education system has changed so much since they were at school that they find it difficult to make such an assessment on their own. If they can make an assessment, it is of their own education experience against the school that their children go to rather than one that compares that school with others in the area.

The proposal has real merit only if there is flexibility for parents—parental choice—if parents are able to move children to a school with a better batting average. I suspect that that may not be so easy as the Government may imagine.

However, that is an academic argument, because unfortunately the measure does not yet apply to Northern Ireland and if it is to do so, we do not know in what shape it will be presented to the people of Northern Ireland because of our unique education system in which the Roman Catholics have their own school system.

As regards the subject of Northern Ireland in relation to the Gracious Speech, I took upon myself the task of looking with a divining rod and magnifying glass to see if there had been any marked change in Government policy. Some people in Northern Ireland have been telling us in past weeks that the Government have had something of a Damascus road experience: that they have recognised the folly of their ways and that the Province could hope for some change in the way that Government treat Northern Ireland.

Naturally, the people of Northern Ireland will have been inspecting closely to discover the Government's attitude towards the Province in terms of their programme for this parliamentary term. I found that the reference to Northern Ireland was almost among the last words in the Gracious Speech—a paragraph just before praying to Almighty God to bless our "counsels". When I compared it with the paragraph the previous year, I could not detect any new or advantageous shift of policy which might encourage the Unionist community of that war-torn part of the kingdom. I could not detect a grain of virgin thought in Government policy. I could not locate even the most meagre or microscopic change in the Government's thinking.

The significant part of that paragraph of the Gracious Speech states: My Government will resolutely seek to defeat terrorism". Last year's Gracious Speeech said: My Government will be resolute in their efforts to defeat terrorism". Yet during that time there has been the highest degree of terrorism since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

As regards the constitutional issue, let us consider the attitude towards the Irish Republic. This Gracious Speech says that the Government will maintain positive relations with the Republic of Ireland. Last year they said that they would maintain positive relations with the Republic of Ireland. In 1985, the year that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed, they said that they would maintain good relations with the Republic of Ireland. This year's Gracious Speech says that the Government will "strengthen the economy". Last year's Gracious Speech said that they would "strengthen the economy".

Mr. Dunn

They are consistent.

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman may think that the repetition of those phrases shows some consistency but I rather suspect that it shows merely common or garden lack of thought—indeed, bankruptcy of thought—about the situation in Northern Ireland on the part of the Government.

The jargon in the Gracious Speech has not changed in the past year. The same sort of statements were being made when I entered the House in 1979. Meanwhile, unemployment has increased, the terrorists' role has increased and the Republic of Ireland has a greater role in the internal affairs of that part of the United Kingdom.

The hopes and expectations of some of our friends in Northern Ireland have therefore been dashed. There is no manifestation of a desire on the part of the Government to do away with the Anglo-Irish Agreement or to right the wrongs that they have done, and there is no hint of any adjustment in the Government's attitude towards Ulster, or the slightest signal of any move to strengthen the Union.

In truth, I had not expected that, but anyone who did would have been brought abruptly down to ground, if not by the Government's rancid programme, by the out-working of that programme. In terms of the constitutional relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, we have seen the Irish Republic Minister strutting around Ulster like a Minister-in-waiting, as if he owned the Province. We have seen it in the out-working of security policy, in the present upsurge in IRA terrorism.

However, the message of which I want to unburden myself today is very serious. If I seem to falter before I give my analysis to the House it is because of a fear that I may be in some way misunderstood. I am not so worried, although I recognise that there will be those who will seek—because of the inability to answer the issue concerned—to say that I am attempting to involve myself in scaremongering or, worse still, electioneering.

The reality is that there is a serious new situation in terms of security in Northern Ireland. We have all become accustomed to the Provisional IRA activity which accounts for the greater part of the violence that takes place in Northern Ireland. Over the past 20 years, given that the Provisional IRA's tactics will change from time to time, the rate of attrition in which it has become involved has remained much the same. It is much the same this year. The scope of what it calls legitimate targets may change, but by and large it includes the whole of the Protestant and Unionist community.

The new factor is loyalist so-called terrorism. Although it has always been there to some extent, it is clear that it has considerably expanded and increased during this year. For a long time I have recognised a degree of disenchantment, almost despair and hopelessness, within the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. The community has seen every constitutional change since the 1960s as disadvantaging it. It has seen a campaign of terrorism which has taken away the lives of thousands of people, young, old, male, female, Protestant and Roman Catholic throughout the community. It has seen about 30,000 people maimed and mutilated and it sees nothing in the Government's activities which is likely to stop that terrorist campaign.

What has gone to the kernel of the issue is that the Provisional IRA has been rewarded for its activities. When a Minister says, after the events of last Saturday, that the Government will not give in one millimetre to terrorism, it is hard for people in Northern Ireland to swallow when they see that Governments have given in miles to terrorism. The Government shape their policies around what they believe the reaction of the terrorists may be. Even if one wants to put the matter in the best context, the Government make concessions to those who have the same pursuits as the terrorists in the hope that, by giving life to the constitutional politicians, they will in some way damage the IRA and the terrorists. By and large, the IRA has been seen by the Unionist community as having gained concessions through its violence.

When the Government take the advice of the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party to lance the Unionist boil, they should not be surprised if something very ugly seeps out. What we see now in the Protestant community is the kind of alienation as a result of which the Government signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They believed that there was alienation in the Roman Catholic community with which they needed to deal. By signing the agreement and, in their view, doing away with the alienation of the Catholic community, the Government have in effect brought about the alienation of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland.

That community sees that it can win elections, but that they do not change anything. It seems that its politicians can win arguments, but that this does not change anything because, at the end of the day, it is terrorism that causes the Government to make changes in their policies. That is a sad reality, and it is the lesson that the Government have taught the people of Northern Ireland. In the Protestant community, that is the lesson that is being learned by those who would engage in this form of terrorism.

Let me make it abundantly clear, so that there can be no doubt about it, that I condemn terrorism whether it comes from the IRA or from any loyalist organisation. The pedigree of the terrorist does not make the act right. If the terrorist is a Protestant, the crime is as much murder as if the terrorist were a Roman Catholic. If the victim is a Protestant, it is the same as if the victim were a Roman Catholic. I make no distinction in terms of terrorism. It is evil and wicked, and it must be put down.

However, I must tell the Government that the rise in terrorism on the Unionist side of the fence is clearly seen by the security forces as being far better organised than ever before. There is real concern in the security forces that they cannot put their finger on the people who are involved in this campaign. As the Member of Parliament for Belfast, East over the past 20 years, I could have named easily the leading players in each of the loyalist paramilitary organisations. Indeed, the Secretary of State and any Minister involved in Northern Ireland would have been able to list names. But I guarantee that there are few people in Northern Ireland, except those at a high level within those paramilitary organisations, who now know who those people are. The whole structure of the organisation has changed.

There is almost a cockiness within the organisations about their ability not to be penetrated by the security forces. Everything that I have heard from people who are close to those organisations—I especially asked councillors in my constituency to give me a feedback on what they understood to be the situation from those who are close to those organisations—suggests that there is a confidence in those organisations to the extent that they say that they will take the battle to the Provos and that they will take the battle to the Irish Republic. One would not have seen that before from the Protestant paramilitary organisations. In past years, they were almost something of a joke in the community because they were never able to carry out operations successfully. They always botched them and they were rather amateurish organisations. That does not appear to be the case at present and there is grave concern in the security forces as a result of the new and disturbing trend.

What I have said about the alienation of the Unionist community is not a political statement that requires a response from the Government in terms of defending their policy. I simply state it as the perception of the Unionist community. It is a real and growing perception within that community, and unless the Government deal with it, and unless there are wise and healing counsels from the Government, we are, I suspect, in for what could be one of the bloodiest winters that our Province has ever seen.

I recognise that some may think that what I have said is dangerous talk. I had to weigh that in the balance before I spoke at all. I have to tell the Government that, unless they act, the situation will be much worse. Few powers repose in Unionist Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland, but the one trust that is left with them is the power to speak on behalf of those whom they represent and to alert those who have the ability to act to do so. I ask the Government—indeed, I plead with them—to act at this time. If the Government are playing straight with the people of Northern Ireland, they will not fail to act. If the Government have the least vision, they will act. If there is no vision, the people will perish.

7.28 pm
Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

I am aware that the balance of the debate is drawn towards education, but having sat here since 3 pm, I am determined to concentrate on employment.

When the Secretary of State for Employment opened the debate, he compared my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) to Private Fraser of the television series "Dad's Army", who ran around shouting, "Doom, doom." The more I watch the Secretary of State, the more he puts me in mind of a character from the same television series called Corporal Jones, who ran around shouting, "Don't panic, don't panic." As the unemployment figures get higher and higher, the Secretary of State for unemployment seems to shout, "Don't panic, don't panic." The final analogy from the television series is to compare the Secretary of State to the youngest member of Captain Mainwaring's troop. Captain Mainwaring always ended up admonishing the young recruit by calling him a "stupid, stupid boy". Perhaps that cap fits the Secretary of State for Employment.

I shall concentrate on unemployment in Strathclyde. In recent months, evidence suggests that Strathclyde has been seriously affected by the recession that has been apparent in the rest of Britain. Notified vacancies have fallen by 5 per cent. in the past year and are at their lowest level since 1984. Unemployment has risen by 11.4 per cent. in the past year, but is still below the increase that has been experienced in Britain as a whole. Total unemployment is estimated to have declined by 1.4 per cent. in the past year after increases over the 1978–88 and 1988–89 periods.

In manufacturing, employment is estimated to have declined by 4.8 per cent. in the past year, compared with a fall of 4.1 per cent. in Britain. Thus manufacturing unemployment represents a continual erosion in Strathclyde's base. The clothing and textile sector in Strathclyde has experienced significant job losses in past months. A firm called Meritina has closed its operations in Castlemilk, which is an unemployment black spot. The regional and district councils are co-operating with the Government and the Castlemilk initiative to try to raise standards for Castlemilk people. However, without employment as the final part of the jigsaw puzzle, there is a danger that all those measures will come to naught.

British Steel has announced plans to close its Dalzell plate mill and build a new plate mill facility at Teesside. That will result in the loss of 600 jobs. In response to growing concern about the impact of the rundown of steel on the Lanarkshire economy, the Secretary of State for Scotland established a Lanarkshire working group, of which Strathclyde regional council is a member. The working group is carrying out valuable work, but requires between £200 million and £300 million to fund development in Lanarkshire. Included within that sum is a bid by the regional council for £15 million to £20 million to enable it to finance various infrastructure projects. To date, however, only the Lanarkshire Development Agency has received additional funding totalling £15 million, which must be spent this financial year. It is all right to identify a need, but it must be followed up by making major resources available.

In March 1991, total employment in Strathclyde was estimated to be 778,000—a decrease over the year of 11,000, or 1.4 per cent, which is the second straight year-on-year employment decline for Strathclyde. In August 1991, 7,646 vacancies were notified in Strathclyde—a decrease of 2,617 over August 1990, which represents a continual decline in the employment base. Such figures are always complicated because of the Government's fiddles. It has been estimated that if the unregistered unemployed—those on special measures—were taken into account, unemployment in July 1991 was about 194,700 or 17.7 per cent.

In August 1991, Strathclyde had the second highest total unemployment rate in Scotland and in July 1991, it had the seventh highest total unemployment rate in Britain as a whole. A series of figures show that the decline in Strathclyde is accelerating. One of the guides is the ratio between unemployed people and vacancies, which shows the state of the local labour market. In August 1991, the ratio was 17:1, which means that there were 17 unemployed people for each vacancy notified to Strathclyde jobcentres and career offices.

The television advertisements which show unemployed people saying, "I am going to get a job; I will get a job; I will get a job on Monday," are a disgrace and an insult to unemployed people. They are much resented, because thousands of people in Strathclyde cannot do that.

Many figures for male unemployment are bandied about. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) mentioned 7 per cent. and 11 per cent. In Strathclyde, unemployed people claiming benefit represented 15.3 per cent. of the region's male work force, compared with male unemployment rates of 12 per cent. in Scotland and 11 per cent. in Great Britain as a whole. In August 1991, the unemployment rate for women stood at 6.8 per cent., with 31,743 women unemployed and claiming benefit. In Scotland as a whole, female unemployment stood at 5.7 per cent. and in Britain as a whole it was 4.9 per cent. If we include those involved in the Government's employment training initiatives, the figure comes to 19,200. The figures for Strathclyde show that 49,000 people were unemployed but were ineligible for benefit or had given up looking for jobs. That puts the figure up to 68,200 more than the official one. Again, the figures have been fiddled to hide the true position from the public.

Britain has been affected in that way since 1979. That is what happens when manufacturing and investment collapse. British manufacturing and investment have plummeted and are now below their 1979 level. If investment does not take place, the capacity of the economy is reduced, which means that, when an economic recovery takes place, imports will rise fast and inflation will be pushed up.

Between 1979 and 1981—the first two years of this Conservative Administration—manufacturing investment collapsed to 30 per cent. It took until 1988 to recover to its 1979 level. As a proportion of GDP, it has fallen from 3.4 per cent. to 2.5 per cent. No hopeful signs are reaching us, because manufacturing and investment have fallen by 20 per cent. in the past 12 months and are now below their 1979 level. The consequence is that capacity is slashed, the balance of payments becomes vulnerable and inflationary pressures re-emerge. But the Conservatives still pursue their policies—they learn nothing and forget nothing. They talk about cleaning each other's windows, washing each other's cars and polishing each other's shoes. We cannot survive if we make nothing. This nation has always been a manufacturing nation and that is how we have survived.

Interest rates should be kept at sustainably low levels. That has particular relevance to the biggest private employer in my constituency—the Hoover factory in Cambuslang. The sale of such consumer goods depends on how people feel economically—whether they have money in their pockets. Not only do high interest rates cause unemployment but they make hire purchase more expensive. Again, those factors badly affect my constituency.

In 1990, the manufacturing deficit was £10.9 billion, whereas in 1979, there was a surplus of £2.7 billion. Some Conservative Members need reminding that there was a surplus every year between 1974 and 1979. That needs to be said increasingly so that the record is put straight.

As for the Conservative party's record on industrial research and development, that alone is a precondition to a firm's ability to innovate and to capture and retain new markets. Britain is lagging behind because the Government have consistently failed to support innovation in industry, which our major industrial competitors take for granted. Time and again, the CBI—not exactly a friend of the Labour party, even these days—criticises the Government for their unhelpful attitude to industry.

One particular criticism levelled at us by the Conservative Government relates to our proposals for a minimum wage. All the kerfuffle, the shouting and the fuss from them amounts to one thing—they are trying to cover up their record. The Tory tactic is to attack the minimum wage proposal to divert attention from the massive rise in unemployment caused by their policies—more than 500,000 people have been made unemployed in the past year alone.

Even if the introduction of a minimum wage caused unemployment to rise—and that is disputed—it has been estimated that that increase would be as little as 4,000 after three years. Compare that with the record of the Conservative Government, who have presided over 500,000 people being made unemployed in this past year alone. They have the cheek to criticise a minor proposal that would raise people from poverty, which is the height of hyprocrisy.

Unemployment, along with the national health service, are the most desperate issues in my constituency. We await the next election eagerly because it will give us the chance to avenge ourselves on the people who have caused so much misery. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) will do very well to hang on to his seat because his constituents will soon sort him out for supporting the policies that have caused their unemployment.

7.40 pm
Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

It is particularly fitting that we should have the debates on education and employment on the same day, because education is a continuing process throughout life upon which employment is heavily dependent. What is more, any forecast about the way in which industry will develop within the United Kingdom and the European Community in the remainder of this century suggests that national prosperity will depend to an increasing extent on the successful skilling up of the national work force to meet the new demands that will be made by industry, technology, the professions and academia.

Anyone who studies academic standards in our schools over the past 20 years must recognise that there have been considerable improvements. International comparisons are of relatively little value because they tend to highlight the different priorities and practices of different countries. We are better than other countries in some things and they are better than us in others.

Mr. Worthington

Like what?

Mr. Batiste

That sedentary intervention illustrates how the Opposition always look for the things that damage Britain most. Not unnaturally, we always look at the things in which we do rather well.

We must not undermine our centres of excellence when we try to improve the system as a whole. I believe that we have paid a heavy price for some of the flawed theories that were adopted by the educational establishment of the 1960s. Those theories have led to great under-achievement among our population.

The first of those flawed theories was the myth of parity of esteem between schools. The idea that every school produced a similar standard of education and that parents regarded every school in their area as equal was nonsense. It was also dangerous. If one could not identify the differences in the quality of education between schools, there was no incentive to put things right. If parents did not have reasonably objective information from which to make a judgment between schools, they made that judgment on whatever inaccurate information was available to them. That myth has caused us great harm.

The second flawed theory was the commitment to the objective of mixed-ability teaching. I accept that in some schools such teaching may be necessary—in village schools with a small number of pupils, it is inevitable. Those teachers engaged in mixed teaching tell me that it can work, to a degree, if one puts a great deal of effort into it. However, for the same effort, much better education could be provided if schools were to stream effectively on abilities where possible.

The third flawed theory was the idea that to encourage the competitive spirit among children and to get them used to competitive pressures was in some way undesirable.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Atkins)

Especially in sport.

Mr. Batiste

I know that my hon. Friend has a great interest in sport and that is the best example of why that crass theory fell down. However, just because its crassness was so obvious in sport does not mean that the theory has not caused equal damage throughout all subjects.

I strongly suspect that many able people drop out of university early in their careers because, as much as anything else, they have never been brought up to face competitive pressure in life. They find it difficult to make that adjustment. But once we leave the world of education, we must face such competitive pressures in almost every walk of life. Surely our educational system should encourage and train people to face up to them.

In the past 10 years, the Government have taken great steps to correct those flaws. We have introduced parental choice, the local management of schools, grant-maintained schools—there will be a flood of applications to become such schools after we have won the next election—the GCSE, the national curriculum and testing. All those changes are beginning to remove the bases of the flawed theories so that we can address the reality of education and put right existing problems.

The Queen's Speech maintains the momentum. We plan to enlarge the inspection of schools to a scale hitherto unknown. That is essential. Some Opposition Members have criticised the fact that the inspectors will not be Government officials, but I look upon such criticism with amazement. If the Opposition had a shred of justification for their attack it would mean that they would nationalise all chartered accountants. Surely the same logic should apply—no one could provide a fair and independent audit of a limited company unless he was a Government official. That is nonsense and it is just as much nonsense when one applies it to education.

Mr. Straw

What about the Bank of Credit and Commerce International?

Mr. Batiste

There we have it once again—the moment we have such discussions the Opposition start sniping at independent professions. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) should note that chartered accountants display considerable commitment and dedication when it comes to providing a high standard of independent auditing. If the Opposition believe that nationalising the audit system and putting in paid civil servants to audit the industrial world would improve it, standards of integrity and the quality of accounting, that is laughable and beyond belief.

Mr. Straw

I can only cite to the hon. Gentleman the experience of local authorities when it comes to dealing with district auditors and auditors from the private sector. Most authorities would say that they get an easier ride from private sector auditors, for one good reason: private sector auditors depend on being retained by their local authority for their continuing profits.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

There is no proof of that.

Mr. Batiste

Methinks the hon. Member for Blackburn protests too much. Some local authorities may have a vested interest in trying to undermine independent auditors for the very reason that was obvious from the hon. Gentleman's intervention—because profit is involved. The new-look Labour party always slips back into its old ways. Profit is a dirty word whether in relation to industry or education. Whenever one probes beneath the surface of the Opposition one witnesses the same reflex reaction.

When the inspection of schools takes place on a wider scale it will provide the data upon which action can be taken to improve the quality of schools.

Another important piece of proposed legislation will allow further education colleges to float free from local authorities. That local authorities merely provide a straitjacket for such colleges was evident from the dramatic improvement in the quality and performance of polytechnics once they were freed from local authorities a few years ago. I strongly welcome the proposal to free further education colleges.

I also welcome the opportunity to remove the binary line as that will allow polytechnics to apply for university status. It will be particularly welcome in the context of European grants, because the term "polytechnic" as we use it is not well understood in Europe. I believe that, as a result, our polytechnics lose when it comes to the allocation of grant and when applying for research funding.

I make two suggestions for inclusion in the legislation on higher education. The first relates to the outrageous scandal of the delay by some local education authorities in paying students' grants. I am told that in Leeds, for instance, four to five weeks after the beginning of term, up to one third of students at universities and polytechnics have still not received their grant cheque. One can imagine the anxiety of a young person, possibly away from home for the first time and being called upon to pay the fees for a hall of residence and to buy books, who expects as of right to have received a cheque on the first day of term, but who finds that more than a month later it is still not there. If LEAs are not capable of living up to their statutory responsibilities, why not cut out the middle man altogether and let the money flow directly from the Government to the institutions? I can see no purpose in continuing this system.

The second issue that we will have to scrutinise in Committee will be how research and development funding is to be distributed after the binary line is removed. It is important that current overall levels of Government spend on R and D—which are consistent with best practice around the world—be maintained, even if the Ministry of Defence R and D spend is reduced. We must ensure that overall Government spending is maintained at the same levels, with defence spending moving over to the civil sector.

At the same time, we must encourage the links built up over the past 10 years between industry and higher education institutions. If this country falls down in any area, it is in the comparison between what is spent by private industry here on R and D and what is spent in countries such as Germany and Japan. So the questions that will have to be answered are how the R and D spend will be allocated and how companies will be encouraged to spend more on R and D once the binary line is gone.

Great progress has also been made on employment over the past 10 years: trade union reform, the creation of TECs, youth training, employment training and training credits were all innovative and imaginative steps forward. I am only sorry that the step-by-step approach to trade union reform did not continue in this Queen's Speech, because I thought that the Green Paper on further trade union reform was excellent. The right of people to join the trade union of their choice, the restrictive practices of the Bridlington agreement notwithstanding, should be quickly implemented.

Compared with this array of novel, imaginative and successful measures, the Labour party's intentions with respect to employment present an entirely different picture. It is committed to a return to secondary picketing. How that will help industrial relations I do not know. The Opposition are committed to a statutory minimum wage which will wipe out about 1.5 million jobs. Earlier, I asked the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) where the evidence was for saying that no jobs will be lost as a result of the statutory minimum wage. His only response continues to be a flat denial of a fact which virtually every independent observer confirms. That is cold comfort for my constituents whose jobs would be at risk.

Shadow spending Ministers are promising £35 billion spending at the same time as shadow Treasury Ministers deny it. But the threat of that overspend will create inflationary pressures and put pressure on sterling. Within the exchange rate mechanism, those pressures would force up interest rates and put further pressure on employment.

The areas of spending that are not popular with the Labour party will come under increasing pressure, too. The Challenger tank is made in Leeds. A world-beating piece of defence equipment, it has won the competition to supply the British Army and it has a good chance of selling well overseas. With Labour in office, pressures to spend on health and education would build up and a Labour Government might ask whether they really needed any tanks. That would jeopardise the contracts that had been placed. The employees who work in the defence industry must feel a cold chill down their spines when they realise that the shadow defence spokesman is not even in the shadow Cabinet, so what weight can he exert on behalf of their interests or those of our defence? There will be a carve-up.

The contrast between our actions and the Labour party's promises is clear. The Queen's Speech is an excellent programme of legislation for the coming year, and I believe that our Green Paper on trade union reform will provide a necessary and successful ingredient of a winning manifesto at the next election.

7.54 pm
Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

I had intended to concentrate on education, but I agreed with all but a couple of paragraphs in the speech of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), whose presentation was exceptionally good, so I shall concentrate more on unemployment, especially in the north.

Tonight's interesting debate has covered a wide range of subjects including Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland. Tomorrow, however, thousands of people in this country will be unable to learn about our discussions here, because many of them will be unable to afford a newspaper or a television licence. I refer to those who do not have jobs and whose priorities are to feed and clothe their children and keep a roof over their heads. Not all of them are succeeding in doing even that, but it remains their priority.

Problems of unemployment in the south-east have been mentioned, but concentrating on that area is to some extent illusory, although I sympathise with people who have lost their jobs in London and the south-east in recent times. In my part of the world, in the north, we have lived with unemployment generation after generation. We have suffered from it for 150 years, with three notable exceptions. Unemployment fell considerably during the first and second world wars, when most of the guys from my part of the world were in the trenches on the Somme and in the desert of El Alamein. Unemployment was fairly low just after the second world war, too, when there was a major programme of reconstruction and the mines were working flat out to produce coal for the power stations. They continued to do so until the mid-1970s.

In the 1970s, a number of mines closed in my constituency. There were 20 there in the 1960s: there are none left now. Most of them closed because they were exhausted, but both Labour and Tory Governments in the 1960s and 1970s applied regional policies that were fairly successful. We had industrial development certificates which advised industries of areas of the country where they could expand and of others where they could not.

Then came development area status and the various grants that went with it. That had a significant effect on my whole county. Many mines were replaced by new industries, many of them pharmaceutical industries of which no one in my area had any previous experience. An aluminium smelter was also built—until then, our only experience of aluminium had been with the pots and pans on the cooker. The smelter started operating and men were retrained to work in the industry. At the peak of its operations about 1,100 people were employed in it, supporting another 5,000 jobs outside the plant.

That was deliberate policy, and it worked extremely well. At that time, Glaxo and Searle came to my constituency, and Boots and Merke Sharp and Dome went to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell). They are all pharaceutical companies. They are still there, well settled and doing a good job. The employees, who are predominantly ex-miners, have settled in well.

Since about 1975, no new industries have come to the county, only one or two small businesses. On Tyneside, which neighbours my constituency, the rapid decline in the shipbuilding and heavy engineering industries has affected employment prospects. That, too, has affected my area.

Since 1979, Government policies have been of no help whatever in my area. For example, development area status is given to the city of Newcastle and runs up the Tyne valley to the west—I can understand why Newcastle has that status—to the towns of Ponteland and Darras Hall, which is predominantly executive housing attached to an agricultural village. Its reason for having development area status is nil. The problems of the county run, not east-west, but north-south. That is recognised in the county structure plan, but not by the Government.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has said that there is no link between unemployment and training. In 1965, the National Coal Board employed 500 apprentices in the two counties of Northumberland and Durham. Exactly 20 years later, in 1985, the figure was 50—one tenth of the number trained 20 years previously. As I understand it, now there is none. That reflects the changes that took place when a major industry disappeared from the county. There was no employer to create training opportunities for young people.

The NCB had an extremely good training programme, of which I was a product in my earlier life as an engineer. That has all gone, but the facilities remain. There is still an engineering workshop in my constituency which could take 60 or 70 young people and train them in engineering skills. British Coal cannot fund that. Funding should come from Government sources, but I am afraid that the training and enterprise council arrangements do not cover such a proposition.

We need proper regional policies in an area such as mine. The Labour party has advocated that. I have been involved in discussions on how that should evolve in the northern region. We should devolve powers and responsibilities to properly established regional assemblies, which would begin to overcome some problems in the north. There should be greater emphasis on retaining jobs and introducing new ones.

I am not against inward investment. Earlier, it was said that the TUC was against it. In my area, there is a factory that used to be owned by Glaxo and used to produce primary penicillin. Glaxo decided to dispose of the factory and sold it to a Taiwanese company, Synpac. In the past two or three months, it took over the factory and now produces primary penicillin—exactly what Glaxo produced. Somehow Synpac can find the market which Glaxo could not.

Another factory in my area produced power packs for television sets. It had various owners, including Gresham Lion and Dowty. Then there was a management takeover, but I cannot remember the name as it lasted such a short time. It, too, has been taken over by a Taiwanese company, Lite On. It is producing power packs for television sets. It has found the market which, again, British companies could not. I congratulate the Taiwanese on their marketing skills, which somehow we do not have.

I am not critical of foreign companies that come to this country, except in one or two cautious respects. British Alcan has a smelter in my constituency. Less than two weeks ago, it announced a further reduction of 300 jobs. It has already reduced its manpower little by little, but this time it is in one fell swoop. There are compulsory redundancies and people have to go. When I discussed the matter with the management, they claimed that there was a slump in the international market for aluminium and that stockpiles were increasing. I understand that, because it has been happening elsewhere.

The management also said that there were two major problems:first, the construction industry, which used tremendous amounts of aluminium, had been badly affected; secondly—this relates to some of our foreign policies—the Russians were dumping aluminium on the metal market to the tune of about 75,000 tonnes, which is equavalent to the output of four major smelters. Obviously, that affects the smelter in my constituency. The decision to get rid of 300 jobs was made not in London or Newcastle, but in Montreal. External influences determine what happens in my constituency.

Recently, Blyth power station, which is owned by National Power, decided to cut 250 jobs. It removed completely two generating sets. I suppose that that contributed to the increase in senior executive salaries. Both Alcan and the power station depend on coal for fuel, so what they do has a knock-on effect on the one colliery left in Northumberland. Now 100 jobs are to go there. In the past two months, more than 1,000 jobs have been lost in my constituency—they are all male jobs—and that is pushing the unemployment figure close to 20 per cent.

How do we overcome these problems? There is a way. Look at some of the policies that were applied in the 1960s and 1970s, adjust them for the 1990s and reintroduce them. I am sure that, come the general election, when we get a Labour Government, that is exactly what we shall do.

8.7 pm

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak on the Loyal Address tonight. I want to direct one small remark to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who is not in his seat. He called for an all-Wales elected body—I presume that, by the same token, he would also want an all-Scotland elected body—which would have powers devolved from Westminster. If there were such a body, the over-representation of Scotland and Wales in this House could not be sustained. It will not escape the notice of Opposition Members that only twice since 1945 has the kingdom of England failed to have a Conservative majority. Therefore, the quid pro quo of devolution, if some future Parliament should so decide, must be a more equitable distribution of numbers and seats.

I also want to address some remarks to the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). It has always been an ambition of mine to take part in a debate to which he has contributed. He is respected and held with affection on all sides of the House because he is a man of great principle at a time when we are deafened from within the parliamentary Labour party by the sound of principles crashing to the floor like so much glass. He has remained true to his principles. It has cost him—he has always been on the losing side—but he has kept true to them. The Conservative party pays tribute to the singular contribution that he made in 1983 to the successful re-election of the Conservative Government.

The right hon. Gentleman is big on style. He has a cultivated manner. He always ends a sentence on an upward inflection and bounces and rises like a disconcerted Harlem Globetrotter. However, the substance is nil. It is a bit like eating a Chinese meal—good at the time, but soon leaving one with an empty feeling. We note his progress, his contribution and the completely unprincipled stand of the party of which he is a senior member.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not see that a minimum wage would increase unemployment. That is his view. Ours is that a minimum wage would create unemployment. Interestingly, over the weekend, the Labour party candidate in the Langbaurgh by-election conceded in the Sunday Timesthat a minimum wage would increase unemployment. Who is right? Is it the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent or the Labour party candidate in the by-election? The latter at least has one advantage over many Labour Members in that he has worked in private industry, and he will do so again from Friday 8 November. I should like an answer on that point from the hon. Member for Blackburn.

I welcome the Queen's Speech; hon. Members may remember that, in 1982, I seconded the Loyal Address. The debate on the Gracious Speech not only enables the Government to enlarge upon their intentions for the parliamentary year that lies ahead but gives the Opposition an opportunity to lay out their stall of policies so that they can be seen, perhaps for the first time, in public. The Conservative party knows that, if one wants to get hold of the policies of Labour, one does not ask their spokesmen. Mr. Mandelson has tied them up, dragged them along, put them in a cupboard and sanitised them. One gets the Labour party's policies from its minders who, like a heavenly chorus, come into play every now and again, especially for the media and the soundbites.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has been criticised, despised and sat upon by Labour Members. His one compelling virtue is his honesty. No one can deny that, for all his wealth and connections, for all his aristocratic Pedigree, the right hon. Gentleman always tells the truth. In an interview with Mr. Anthony Bevins in The Independenton 30 September, the right hon. Gentleman said: If we've changed our mind to win, we could change our mind when we've won. What's wrong with that? We could not talk about nuclear disarmament because we might not win. But we've won, so we change back again. That position strikes a chord in the heart of every Labour Member. The shedding of principles like leaves in autumn is in pursuit of power. We know that, in the end, they will revert. As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said, once we've won, so we change back again. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who I hope will wind up the debate for the Opposition, made a speech over the weekend which was reported in an article in The Independent on Sunday yesterday, headed: "Labour 'fast track' for gifted children". It says: Mr. Straw said … 'We have to get away from the over-rigid application of age rules which may serve to trap a child in an educational environment which cannot adequately serve his or her needs'.

Mr. Janman

That sounds like a grammar school.

Mr. Dunn

Exactly so.

Later in the article by Ngaio Crequer, the hon. Member for Blackburn was reported to say: gifted children would not be helped by a return to selection, which had stamped many pupils of great ability as failures. The Labour Party would make education authorities abolish selection at 11. There we have it—the Labour party wants to help but will help by abolition.

Significantly, the article also said that the hon. Member for Blackburn had said: master classes would be encouraged, to extend the brightest pupils; schools with strength in music, ballet and performing arts would be encouraged to develop specialist centres; teachers would be better trained to spot gifted children. I could have said that—I probably did when I was a Minister in the Department of Education and Science. The point is that, within the comprehensive system where children are taught en bloc, where differentiation is not liked by the education establishment, the hon. Gentleman wants "master classes", although he has said also that gifted children would not be helped by a return to selection". However, he is prepared to divide children between the bright and not-so-bright. This has more to do with a general election than with a genuine change in conviction.

Interestingly, that statement has come from an hon. Gentleman who wishes to help the more able child by abolishing grammar schools, the CTCs and the assisted places scheme which the Government brought into operation.

Mr. Janman

And grant-maintained schools.

Mr. Dunn

As my hon. Friend says, the hon. Gentleman wishes to abolish grant-maintained schools.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) said that the Labour party wanted neighbourhood comprehensive schools, the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) said, "Hear, hear." She has now been packed off so that she cannot say anything more. I know that, if she were to speak at the Dispatch Box, we would have an honest statement of the Labour party's intentions.

Last December, the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) visited Gravesham, my neighbouring constituency, and said that selective schooling would end under a Labour Government. North-west Kent, which has grammar schools, high schools, 11-to-18 comprehensive schools and a CTC would find all those choices swept out by a Labour Government, although the Labour party has said that it is committed to helping the bright child. What utter nonsense to make that statement. Mandelson should be sacked for forcing the hon. Member for Blackburn, who is fundamentally a nice guy, to utter these contortions of the truth.

I especially welcome the following part of the Queen's Speech: Action will be taken to improve quality and choice in education … and to make information available about the performance of individual schools. That is important to me. It is also important that we have a radical reform of Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools. I am probably the only hon. Member present who has worked with HMI. If every school were to be inspected by HMI on a cyclical basis, the cycle would be 20 years. That is totally inadequate for measuring the impetus of education reforms.

Furthermore, in the 1960s, the HMI was captured by the educational left and it has never let go. There is a self-perpetuating oligarchy which is a creature of its own making. That is why, a short while ago, I introduced a private Member's Bill dealing with this problem, which was voted against by the hon. Member for Blackburn and his colleagues. Therefore, I welcome the introduction of outside business men, people from commerce and perhaps even from some of the Churches, although not the Church of England, into the inspectorate. That will enable us to get a positive measurement of what education is about, what the product that has been created is like and what the world of work wants. The reforms of the way that schools are inspected are sensible.

I hope that, ultimately, the Government will abolish, once and for all, the Department of Education and Science and give all the responsibilities to the Department of Employment in the form of a department of training and education. This is my last political objective. Once it has been achieved, I can smile again.

I know that we have won the education ground, as it were, and have held it for the past decade. The Labour party is running behind us all the time. It is tied to the chariot wheels of radical education reform, and the important thing for Labour Members is not to get their feet squashed. The Labour party must come clean about what it wants for education. A simple but significant fact is that the Labour party and truth are becoming strangers. My constituents enjoy a choice, variety and range of schools that is second to none, and they know that support for what would become a Labour Government would be support for ending that choice. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to fight and fight again against the policy changes that have been adopted by the hon. Member for Blackburn.

8.20 pm
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

We cannot choose who we follow in the Chamber.

I shall talk mainly about the proposal in the Gracious Speech to introduce a Bill dealing with higher and further education in Scotland. The proposal provides my only chance to talk about the issue during the debate.

My hon. Friends and I welcome some parts of the proposed measure, such as the transfer of control of the universities of Scotland. It is a pity, however, that the transfer will take place as a matter of expediency and not on a principled basis. It will happen only because there was a decision to unify the control of polytechnics and universities within England and Wales, when it was realised that that would involve taking over control of the central institutions in Scotland and transferring it to Bristol. As that would have been unacceptable within Scotland, responsibilities for the Scottish universities had to be transferred to Scotland. It is better however, to do the right thing for the wrong reason than not to do the right thing. We hope that the proposed Scottish Higher Education Funding Council will be fairly formed and will be able to do a job that will unify the Scottish education system for the first time.

Having been told that the binary divide will be abolished, many of us have tried to think about what abolition will mean. The two key issues in the White Paper are differences in teaching practices and ratios in polytechnics and universities, and differences in research funding. When the Labour party submitted its proposals to abolish the divide—it has been doing so for some time—I hoped that we would be moving towards a common system of funding that would allow the colleges or polytechnics, which have been at a relative disadvantage in terms of funding, to move closer to the levels of funding that have been enjoyed by the universities. It was thought that abolishing the divide would mean that the status and resources of the college system would have to be strengthened if there was not to be a two-tier system in higher education.

We are concerned that there will be a two-tier system and that, in abolishing the binary divide, we shall be creating another divide. It is a pity that the proposals for Scotland amount to a thorough botch when it comes to abolition. For some months, colleges in Scotland were left in complete uncertainty about their future position. They did not know whether they were to be universities. Robert Gordon's college in Aberdeen, Paisley college and Dundee college, for example, had never been classified as polytechnics although they shared almost all their characteristics. That was for various reasons, many of them to do with the Scottish Office.

The White Paper was produced without thought for the colleges to which I have referred. Accordingly, they spent the summer in a difficult situation. They have to recruit students and be able to tell them at the end of the day whether they willl obtain a university degree or a polytechnic degree. I know that, last week, about 10 students who had enrolled at Robert Gordon's college left and went to a university because they could not be satisfied about the degree that they would be awarded, which means that the college has lost about £150,000. That happened because the White Paper was half-baked or half-finished. No English college was uncertain about its future status.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

But for the White Paper, the colleges in England and Scotland that are funded by the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council would have had no prospect of university status. The White Paper touched on whether degree-awarding powers should be given to colleges that are currently not designated as polytechnics under the PCFC. We have recently issued a consultative document on how we shall handle applications from these colleges. There are English colleges in that position. Bolton institute comes to mind immediately. The Government have made it clear how they will handle these matters, and the colleges have the same attractive prospects as face the polytechnics and colleges under the PCFC, so long as they can satisfy everybody of the quality of their awards. I have no doubt that Robert Napier college, for example, is confident that it will.

Mr. Worthington

Robert Napier seems to be an amalgam of two colleges—Napier and Robert Gordon's.

Mr. Clarke

I meant the two, Robert Gordon and Napier. It is no good the hon. Gentleman resorting to pedantry when faced with the answer to his question.

Mr. Worthington

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for going into such detailed and wise consideration of these matters. It will come as something of a shock to a college in Aberdeen and another in Edinburgh to learn that tonight they have been amalgamated and now have university status. I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the wisdom of his intervention.

There is real concern about the binary divide and what it means. We are told that we shall abolish it, and there are considerable fears not about a division between polytechnics and universities but about one between institutions that call themselves universities. What is in a name? What does it mean to call something a university? My definition—I think it is the definition of the majority—is that a university in this country is a place where research and teaching are inextricably mixed and part of the same institution.

If the Government have their way, it seems that many institutions that will be overwhelmingly teaching-oriented will call themselves universities. There is already a considerable concentration of university funding—that may be inevitable, but we need to debate where universities are going in future—and some figures suggest that about 70 per cent. of research funding from research councils and charities, for example, is going to 15 universities in this country. It appears that about 54 per cent. of science funding is going to 11 universities. There may be good reasons for that. For example, if we are to compete on a European or American scale, it may be necessary to have a concentration of funding.

Against that background, we should be not abolishing the binary divide but creating a framework in which all universities and colleges would be equal. We would be seeking to create or ratify a super-league of universities that would be on one plane, while the remainder would be fundamentally teaching institutions.

What is disturbing about the Government's White Paper—and therefore their higher education policy—is that all those issues are not tackled. We need seriously to tackle the issue of whether sufficient money is going into basic research. We know that about one third of universities' income from the Universities Funding Council goes into basic research. However, it is a falling percentage, and there is a policy to transfer money to research councils. Britain's funding of research and development as a percentage of gross domestic product, lags behind that of Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States. Therefore, we must ask whether this is the right time to be cutting the amount of research money going to higher education institutions.

The 1991 Cabinet Office annual review of Government funding for research and development shows that expenditure on civil research and development is at its lowest level, as a percentage of total Government expenditure, since 1984, and that the Government's funding for basic research lags behind that of Italy, France, Germany, Japan and Sweden. I hope that, in the discussions on the proposals for higher education, the Government will tell us what they think should be the level of funding for research in our universities. I fear that there will be further cuts in the money devoted to basic research and that there will be a further concentration of resources among particular universities. Until now, students at universities have had the benefit of a mix of teaching and research, but I fear that that will be denied to students attending the 90 universities of the future.

The funding of the higher education sector does not relate solely to research but extends to the basic facilities in our universities and colleges. There have been a number of disputes at Scottish institutions during the past few weeks because students feel that the facilities are not adequate. At Glasgow polytechnic, students have legitimately protested about the canteen facilities, which were built when the institution had 1,700 students, and which are not adequate to deal with the current 7,000 students. There have been protests about libraries. In Aberdeen, students are sleeping in tents because of a lack of accommodation. They no longer receive housing benefit, but they have to compete with oil workers for accommodation.

Any Government can stuff colleges full of students; it takes a wise Government to ensure that standards are not damaged and that students are educated in decent conditions. The Government's sudden conversion in 1984 to an expansion of higher education was welcome, but not if it means an underfunding of our universities and colleges. If the quality that has been built up is destroyed, it will take a long time to put that right.

The further education document is an appalling document that whittles away the role of local government. It is a foolish document because it does not attempt to put the case, to analyse or to rationalise. Mercifully, the Government have been driven back in one or two areas. They have withdrawn their proposals for the careers service. They wanted it to be taken over by employers, who naturally have their own interests at heart.

There is a fundamental philosophical divide between the Opposition and the Government on the further education proposals for both sides of the border. The Government quite literally refer to the customers of the colleges as the employers. If the word "customers" has to be used, it must surely mean the students. To say that further education colleges are about local employers is to diminish the role, status and vision of further education, so I hope that the Government will back away from that.

It is foolish even to think of transferring the control of further education colleges to Edinburgh. In many regions, links have been built between secondary education, community education and further education. It now appears that, in future, there will be the absurdity of schools having to charge colleges for the use of school facilities, and colleges having to charge schools for the use of college facilities. Colleges will have to have the support of architects, accountants and lawyers, independent of that which can be provided by the local education system.

There has been a foolish divide between vocational and non-vocational education, and that has led to the Government getting into a tangle in Scotland. In the first flush of the White Paper, the Secretary of State said that local authorities might be allowed to continue to provide some social recreational educational provision in their areas. After an uprising on both sides of the border, The Government had to back down and agree that more could be provided.

The Government are in a tangle because the Secretary of State for Scotland is causing a number of problems, and not just those relating to the highland regiments. He has now agreed that he might have to fund vocational training through education authorities if local employers leave gaps in the proposed management of the service. he also conceded that local government would still be allowed to provide vocational training, even after further education authorities had been taken out of their control. The right hon. Gentleman said that because his constituents wrote to him. School board members at the Douglas-Ewart school feared that the proposed new arrangements for business people to take over the running of their nearest further education colleges, 25 miles away in Stranraer, would leave them without the courses currently on offer.

We see complete muddle in the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Bill presented today, with its proposals for an inadequate further education sector dominated by "local" business men, many of whom will not be local to Scotland. They will provide an inadequate service that will not reflect or respect the further education needs of many people in Scotland. It will have to be supplemented by local education authorities, which, under the Bill, will be given powers to provide vocational education.

The Secretary of State says that that does not represent a change in the Government's original policy, but it does. Previously, it was proposed that only social and recreational education would be provided by local authorities at further education level. The Government realised where their half-baked proposals were leading, and backtracked.

We will back the transfer of the control of universities in Scotland, but we will want to ensure that the binary divide will genuinely be dispensed with and that further divides are not introduced. In addition, we promise outright opposition to the proposal to take colleges of further education out of local authority control.

8.40 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Sometimes it takes a change of administration to improve education——

Ms. Armstrong

Hear, hear.

Mr. Bowis

The hon. Lady says, "Hear, hear"—and just such a change occurred in inner London. With the departure of the not much lamented Inner London education authority, my borough of Wandsworth was able to improve standards. Under ILEA, Wandsworth's education costs were twice the national average, but produced half the national average results. It inherited a situation in which 40 per cent. of parents sought secondary education for their children in other than local schools.

The borough had 12,000 empty school places costing £8 million a year. Nineteen per cent. of pupils were leaving school at 16 with no GCSEs, and only 17 per cent. with five A to C grade GCSEs, against a national average of 8 per cent. Fifteen per cent. of secondary school pupils practised truancy.

Now that Wandsworth's teaching posts are being filled, the borough's secondary school enrolment has increased by 7 per cent., truancy has fallen to 10 per cent., and 20.5 per cent. of pupils leave with A to C grade GCSEs. The number staying on for sixth form education has increased by 10 per cent. to 42 per cent., and a further 20 per cent. of pupils go on to further education.

Those improvements have been achieved during a very short time under Conservative management of inner London education. They run alongside innovative moves to introduce two city technology colleges, two grant-maintained schools, a new Church of England school, and free nursery education for every child for whom it is wanted.

Labour offers little to the people of inner London—only the destruction of everything that is good in education. It would destroy the grammar schools that remain, grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges, the assisted places scheme for the less well-off in society, and even A-levels. I ask the Opposition to think again. Of course we want to bridge the gap between vocational and academic qualification, but A-levels lead to degree courses that are shorter, and that finish sooner, than their equivalents in other European countries. The system produces a much lower university drop-out rate of about one in six, compared with France or Germany, whose six or seven-year degree courses produce a 50 per cent. drop-out rate.

I welcome the pledges on higher education in the Gracious Speech and the bringing together of academic and vocational qualifications. I look forward to the establishment of the ordinary and advanced diplomas, provided that they are accompanied by flexibility in higher education in terms of admissions policy. I welcome also the expansion of training credits.

I must declare an interest as an adviser to the Association for College Management and the Association for Colleges for Further and Higher Education, in welcoming, with other right hon. and hon. Members, in the Further and Higher Education Bill, the ending of the binary divide, and the conferring of university status on polytechnics—which have proved their value in offering efficiency, quality, and student throughput at cheaper cost than universities.

Over the past few years, polytechnics have benefited from their independence and now lack only the status that would help them to attract funding and students from overseas in particular.

The views of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), who spoke and fled, are wholly opposed by the colleges themselves. The hon. Gentleman speaks only for certain Labour town hall bosses who want to keep control of further education. The colleges' representative bodies are much in favour of my right hon. and learned Friend's proposal to give them independence.

Any right hon. or hon. Member who has served on an education committee, as I have, will know what nonsense it was for local education authorities to take decisions on the priorities between capital equipment projects. The problem was also that colleges of further education had no ward councillors, whereas primary and secondary schools did. The funding that the Department sent down the line to further education rarely, if ever, reached the colleges. That can now be put right, which is why the colleges are so pleased with my right hon. and learned Friend's proposal.

I hope that the transfer of assets will be made through the Education Assets Board, which could resolve any disputes that might arise between colleges and LEAs. I hope also that planning blight can be avoided as LEAs, understandably, seek to protect their own budgets and colleges strive to plan for their futures. I hope that we will soon see the establishment of a shadow public funding council, to advise colleges on their plans.

I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend clarified the situation in respect of adult education, and hope that he will examine the role of adult education colleges in the provision of further education. AE colleges provide adult returners with the second opportunity that they need, but such students often cannot be full-time. I hope therefore that funding will be provided in terms of full-time equivalents, and not only for full-time FE students. If not, the only opportunity to provide adult education will be the crumbs from the rich man's table, by way of franchises from FE colleges.

I welcome also the change of criteria. Adult education provides access to the second chance that so many people need. One of my local adult education colleges ran a cake decoration class for 16 students. One might not consider such a course particularly vocational, but four of those students returned to take English as a second language, four to take BTEC courses, and four to participate in a business start-up scheme course. Only four of the 16 students used it as a leisure course, which shows the access to further education that adult education can provide.

I join forces with the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) in respect of students with special needs. Their interests should be examined and the cost of provision should not exclude such students from the opportunities that exist for others.

I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether he will start to examine the funding system, in terms of support for students in further education. At present, only higher national diploma courses qualify for mandatory grants. Some BTEC courses qualify for discretionary grants while others do not, but, even if the courses qualify, local education authority policy often excludes them.

The fact that an applicant may have failed to complete a course in the past when he or she had a grant does not necessarily mean that that failure was for academic reasons. It could have been for all sorts of personal reasons. Perhaps the original course was the wrong one; perhaps a second course is needed for the applicant t o take up the existing job opportunities. In any event, such people should be given a second chance. The worst problem of all, especially in London, is that experienced by students whose parents have moved across LEA boundaries and are excluded by residence qualifications that they cannot meet.

I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to consider all those problems as he takes his excellent Bill through the House. There is a stark contrast between the educational opportunity provided in the Gracious Speech and the lack of opportunity, and ending of choice, proposed by the Opposition parties. I support my right hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues and hope that the Bill will soon be on the statute book.

8.50 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

The Gracious Speech contains 504 words, and about three positive ideas. I have yet to find anything in it that will help St. Helens. I note that the Government intend to continue to prepare for the privatisation of British Rail and British Coal. When I first became a Member of Parliament, we had two pits and shared in a third; now we have nothing left. The sites are being taken away.

Similarly, when I first became Member of Parliament for St. Helens, South, we had between 10,000 and 12,000 employees in the glass industry. In the past two months, we have lost nearly 1,000 jobs, which has reduced the number to 5,000 or 6,000. Industry is dying away. Who is being trained to replace those employees? Where is retraining being carried out?

St. Helens has seen a marvellous example of privatisation. It is a pity that the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Employment are not present; they might have been able to explain. Eighteen months ago, the skill centres were privatised. The Government gave TICC £2 million, telling the employees to take this brand-new opportunity and assuring them that, as civil servants, they would be protected. Eighteen months later, TICC is bankrupt. What has happened to the 27 people who work in my skill centre? They are down the road, at 50-plus. Will they receive any compensation? No: they will receive the standard redundancy pay. If they had indeed gone down the road as civil servants, they would have received £40,000 or £50,000. Where is the morality of all that?

No one but the Government wants to privatise British Rail—not even its chairman. Of course, he knows something about British Rail. He is not stuck in the dogma of party politics, as Conservative Members are. He is not stuck in the "rat race" belief that, if a concern is sold off, it will do well.

The Government are saying, "Let us have a go at British Coal. At present there are about 40 pits." According to the Rothschild reports, there are 14, and 14 pits cannot supply our needs. The Government have closed all the good pits. Sutton Manor had 14 miles of seams, but the Government got rid of it, putting 400 or 500 people on the dole. Some of those people will never work again in St. Helens, because there are no jobs. The unemployment rate is rising, no new industry is coming in and there are no grants. The Government would not even back the European Coal and Steel Community's campaign so that we could get our fair share.

That is a disgrace in European terms. The Government are the pariah of Europe, but they cannot see it, because they are stuck in dogma and stupid beliefs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] With great respect, those Conservative Members are stuck in the same stupid beliefs.[Interruption.] The children will play, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but their tenure on the Government Benches is very short. It is time that some of them grew up and entered the real world—for instance, the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), who began his speech with four minutes of diatribe against my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). Why? I notice that his recreations are American politics and canvassing. I hope that we shall not be introducing into our political system the black propaganda campaigns that we see in America. That would be a disgrace. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is happening in Langbaurgh."] Indeed, it is happening in a constituency not too many miles north of here.

Why can we not have some honesty in politics? Why not simply say that we have a moral duty to the employees at the skill centres. The Treasury says no, although I think that one or two Ministers would like to say yes. Why not give some help to St. Helens council by providing a rescue package? We need a skill centre and we need the education and training that come with it.

In St. Helens the other day, the central heating system in Bleak House school was so good that it collapsed on a child. We have not received enough money to provide the educational and property maintenance that we have needed for the past 10 to 15 years. We shall always be the poor relation. It is surprising what is received by those in Sefton, West Lancashire or other areas that happen to have Conservative Members of Parliament. It is different in Labour areas, however. We have the lowest proportion of beds for geriatrics—about five per 1,000, when it should be 10 per 1,000, as it is in Sefton and other such areas. That is not fair. Why are none of those evils rectified in the Gracious Speech?

Let us take the glass industry. Because the Government no longer provide grants for insulation and regeneration, the glass and insulation industries begin to go downhill. Once factories and skills are gone, the continentals come in to replace them when the grants start to come back, because our local industry has already gone. Why should we not invest? Where does the Gracious Speech tell me that the Government will invest? Where does it mention a single measure that will help St Helens?

As a practising lawyer, I am more than a little concerned about the proposals relating to refugees. When can we have an undertaking to help genuine asylum seekers? Like everyone else, I accept that economic migrants should not have the right to political asylum, or leave to remain for an indefinite time. However, no adequate proposals have been made to protect the real refugees.

I encountered a case—not professionally; I was approached as a Member of Parliament—of a man who was sent back to Zaire, possibly to imprisonment and possibly, as happens in some cases, to death. If we do not provide proper representation for them, on whose conscience does it lie? It lies not on the conscience of those who it on these Benches; it lies on the conscience of those who sit on the Conservative Benches. My only hope is that the general election will take place long before this legislation passes into law. If, however, it is passed into law before the election, I am sure that we shall repeal it, simply because it transgresses international human rights. That has been done often enough during the past few years by this Conservative Government. The number of times that they have had to appear before the European Court of Human Rights is a disgrace. The Government have nothing to be proud of.

What, again, does the Gracious Speech contain for the vast majority of people? What does it contain for the millions of people who are out of work, for the millions on hospital waiting lists, for the poor and the elderly and for England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales? Nothing but trite doctrinaire rubbish. The Government's time is up. Go.

8.59 pm
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

I intend to concentrate on the two subjects of today's debate, education and employment. I shall deal mainly with the latter subject, but I intend to spend just a few minutes on education.

Tremendous proposals are made in the Queen's Speech, in particular the proposal to provide information to parents. Without proper and relevant performance data about how a school is performing, it is not possible for parents to make an informed and therefore correct choice about a school. I welcome also the introduction of annual written reports, which I hope will contain grading for each child. Parents wish to see not just how their child is doing but how he or she is doing when related to a grading benchmark. I hope that the Minister will confirm that a child's performance will be measured by grading.

Probably the most important of our education reforms concerns grant-maintained status. It is essential that we should do all that we can to take as many schools as possible out of local education authority control and place them under the control of governors and parents.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be pleased to know that Torrells comprehensive school in Grays in my constituency is conducting a ballot. I hope that, at the end of that procedure, there will be a majority in favour of grant-maintained status. If that is the case, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will approve the application. He will be even more interested to know that, through the grapevine, I have heard that one Labour county councillor in my constituency supports the application and that another Labour county councillor, who publicly opposes it, privately supports it because she has a child at Torrells comprehensive school.

The Minister will be pleased to know that unemployment in my constituency fell by 41 last month. Unemployment is still only just half of what it was seven years ago. It is important that we should evolve out of this recession and out of rising unemployment and that we should not create a false boom by lowering interest rates too quickly or by Government over-borrowing. Although the current rise in unemployment, now slowing down, which we are witnessing is frustrating and to some extent avoidable, the Labour party's criticism of the Government's record is both hypocritical and deceitful.

There are four main reasons why Labour's criticism is hypocritical and deceitful. First, the policies of every Labour Government under which this country has suffered since 1929 have led to higher unemployment when they left office than when they took office. However, this is the party that goes on about unemployment as though it had a good record on unemployment. It has an appalling unemployment record, just as it has had since the war an appalling national health service waiting list record.

Secondly, the Labour party tried to blame my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) for the recession. In the autumn of 1987 and during the early part of 1988, some of us, it is true, questioned the lowering of interest rate levels, but the Labour party did not criticise the lowering of interest rates to under 8 per cent. It asked for interest rates to be lowered even further.

Thirdly, the Labour party's support for the social action programme of the social charter and for a minimum wage represents a political double-barrelled shotgun aimed at the working population, particularly those in lower-paid jobs. For millions of people, a Labour Government would replace low wages with no wages.

The fourth reason why the Labour party's hypocrisy and deceit on unemployment is incredible is that the Labour party—I shall not talk about its Common Market Safeguards Committee, of which eight members of the Shadow Cabinet are still members—and the Opposition Front Bench are just as committed as the Government to membership of the exchange rate mechanism. As their only specific spending pledges are on child benefit and pensions, I do not see how a Labour Administration would make one iota of difference to unemployment.

No doubt Labour's answer would be training, but the Government are already pumping billions of pounds of taxpayers' money into training, in addition to the £20 billion that is spent annually by the private sector. Labour's training levy—the introduction of yet another socialist tax on industry—would either reduce profit margins and therefore investment or, if it expanded the money supply, would lead to an increase in prices. Those are the four clear reasons why, whatever the rhetoric and sincerity, a Labour Government would make no difference to the economy in the next 12 or 18 months.

Nowhere in the world has a minimum wage not caused higher unemployment. In France, which has a minimum wage, unemployment is about to peak at more than 3 million. Extremely high youth unemployment in Germany is being blamed on its minimum wage. When a minimum wage was introduced in the United States, it caused only large increases in black unemployment.

Many people have summed up the effect of a minimum wage. On 5 June, Gavin Laird of the Amalgamated Engineering Union rightly said on "Channel 4 News": It has never worked in the past; there is no logic for it; it does not work in any other country and it certainly will not work in Great Britain. I could not have put it better myself. Eric Hammond of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Union said in The Daily Telegraph: It is so fundamentally wrong that it will increasingly threaten Labour's prospects of a national victory. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), in "The Minimum Wage: Its Potential and Dangers", which was published in 1984, said: The employment consequences will be little short of disastrous. No wonder the Labour candidate in the Langbaurgh by-election has admitted that a statutory national minimum wage would increase unemployment.

Neutral commentators may disagree about exactly how much a statutory minimum wage would increase unemployment, but they all agree that it would increase it by between 64,000 and 500,000. They agree that it would have a negative impact on growth in the economy of between 0.5 per cent. and 2.5 per cent. and that it would add between I per cent. and 3.1 per cent. to the retail prices index. That is only if stage one of the Labour party's proposals are implemented; it does not take into account the effect of stage two.

The social action programme is another example of the Labour party's naive employment policies. It is further evidence that its policies are merely the result of what its paymasters, the trade unions, say. That is why it will try to con the public that it will not repeal most of the trade union reforms that we have made in the past 12 years. In a quantitative sense, in terms of the number of laws that have been passed in the past 12 years, that is correct, but if the totality of the laws represent a house, it will ensure that the laws that it changes will result in the foundations being decimated, with the result that it will fall down. What is the point of maintaining a proper legal framework for trade unions if law-breaking unions cannot be properly punished by the courts? What is the point of a legal framework if companies cannot get a court injunction to stop illegal strike action?

The crucial question on secondary picketing is the definition of the wording in Labour's policy document: where there is a direct interest between two groups of workers of an occupational or professional nature". That means power and coal workers bringing the country to its knees once again. It means COHSE and NUPE members stopping the sick being admitted to hospital, and it means rail, tube and bus workers striking on the same day and bringing our capital city to a grinding halt That is what the wording of Labour's policy document really means, and that is what will come about if we are mad enough to elect a Labour Government again.

Conversely, Conservative Members wish to protect the public further from trade union activities. I welcome the proposal in the Green Paper "Industrial Relations in the 1990s" to extend to the general public the same legal right to request an injunction from a court of law to stop illegal industrial action affecting a public service or an essential utility as is available to companies in law. If such court injunctions are ignored, sequestration of trade union assets will follow—but not, of course, if the Labour party is elected.

We can contrast the Government's approach with Labour's approach, which goes in the opposite direction, once again leading industry and the public as lambs to the militant trade unionist slaughter.

9.10 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

This has been a wide-ranging debate. We heard an eloquent and powerful contribution by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) about the situation in Croatia. We also heard an interesting contribution by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who strongly criticised the Government for what he described as their extraordinary "confusion" over the channel tunnel route and their lack of strategy for rail freight. It was a quaint speech, telling us of the Government's "astonishing success" in bringing the north and south of the United Kingdom together. The way in which the Government have brought the north and south together was well spelt out by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy), for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) and for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham).

Essentially, especially during the past four years, the misery and unemployment which the Government inflicted on Scotland and the north and west of this kingdom have been inflicted on the south as well. That is one more reason why, across the south, there has been a greater swing to Labour than in any other region and why, I must point out to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman), who seeks to speak for my native county, we look forward to a smashing victory in his constituency at the next election.

I regret the fact that I was not in the Chamber for the speech of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), but my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), who was here, told me that he made a heavily veiled criticism of Government policy for its lack of recognition of progress as a key measure of the effectiveness of schools, and expressed concern about the morale of teachers who, he said, were not sufficiently recognised by society.

The hon. Gentleman spoke for himself, which cannot be said for the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), who is not in his place, the Back-Bench chairman of the Conservative party education committee. I listened to his speech and thought that I had heard it before. Suddenly I realised that I had not heard it before but read it before—word for word in the article that the Secretary of State for Education and Science wrote last Friday in The Times Educational Supplement He was almost, but not quite, word perfect. There must have been some error in the Conservative Central Office word processor as it churned out yet another brief for the hon. Gentleman to repeat.

The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) let the cat out of the bag about the Government's true intentions towards Her Majesty's inspectorate. The Secretary of State has been trying to say that he is a friend of the inspectorate, despite his proposal to cut it to a third of its current size, and he has created pandemonium. If he is a friend, he has not communicated that fact to any member of the inspectorate.

The hon. Member for Dartford—who, as ever, was frank—did not speak any honeyed words about the inspectorate but said that it had been captured by the left in the 1960s and remained captured, and that it was a self-perpetuating oligarchy. I am sorry that the Secretary of State was not in the Chamber when the hon. Gentleman ended by saying that his last ambition in politics was to abolish the Department in which he served for eight years.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Including me.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) says that he will be among those abolished, but he has already abolished himself—there has never been such a secret and silent Minister for Sport.

Mr. Atkins

Answer the question.

Mr. Straw

All he has to do is talk to the Whips, and we will have a debate on sport any time he likes.

The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) raised an important matter—the quality of education in Dartford and the part of Kent that he serves. He often raises that subject, and we understand his desperation about what will happen to his seat at the next election. We have seen the bloodcurdling letters that he has sent to electors about what may happen if Labour is returned.

The reason that we have a different policy—we want good comprehensives in Kent—is because we are concerned about the standard of education there. I shall quote Mr. David Brown, Kent secretary of the National Association of Governors and Managers: Kent youngsters are being short-changed with an education fit for peasants". He went on: when comparing Kent with 13 southern counties it had the lowest number of school leavers with five GCSEs grade A to C … the second highest number of pupils leaving with no qualifications, … the 12th lowest number staying on at 16. The Secretary of State for Employment opened the debate and has given my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and myself his apologies for the fact that he is now absent. Of course we accept his apologies with every grace. He has gone to Kincardine and Deeside to put the Government's side on the amalgamation of the highland regiments. We very much hope that on his way there he works out which side of the Government he is on with regard to that amalgamation.

The Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for Education and Science, in an interesting double act at the Dispatch Box, sought to challenge my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield about Britain's position in the league tables of numbers staying on between 16 and 19. League tables of international comparison are one measure by which the Government's education record can be judged. There are others, such as the number of children who have received a nursery education, where we are very near or at the bottom. There are measures of expenditure, which has dropped from 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product to 4.8 per cent. in the past 12 years and also the whole issue of the quality of the education service provided.

Mr. Dunn


Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment.

The Secretary of State for Employment sought to protest when my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield suggested to him that we were near the bottom of the league tables, saying that we should not take too much account of them.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

He did not say that at all.

Mr. Straw

He did. He said that they were not terribly reliable. Whichever way one considers the league tables, Britain is at or near the bottom for the proportion of pupils staying on. Figures provided by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys show that, except for Portugal, we would be bottom of the league in Europe. Those are figures for the number of 14 to 18-year-olds staying on for training or full-time education.

Education participation rates——

Mr. Clarke

I shall give the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) time to read the newspaper cutting that he was trying to wave at us to make his great point. The figure for 14-year-olds in full-time education is 100 per cent.—that is difficult to beat in any country in the world. I think that he will find that the number of 15-year-olds is the same.

According to latest figures, 93 per cent. of 16-year-olds are in education or training. I do not know what he is waving about, but he ought to read it before he does so.

Mr. Straw

The figures that I am quoting come from the Government. The number of 14 to 16-year-olds is indeed 100 per cent., but in the case of 14 to 18-year-olds the position is even worse than that emerging from those figures. It makes matters worse that the Secretary of State for Education and Science cannot even understand that.

Let us take the number of 16 to 18-year-olds. The source is "Education Statistics" for 1990 from the Secretary of State's own Department. If he wants the figures, he can have them. Britain is second from bottom of the league according to the figures for 16 to 18-year-olds published by the Secretary of State's own Department. Let us consider the education participation rates——

Mr. Clarke

For what?

Mr. Straw

For 16 to 18-year-olds in education and training. The source is the education statistics for the United Kingdom for 1990. The Secretary of State should apply himself to his own evidence. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development education statistics show that for 18-year-olds staying on in education, Britain is fourteenth out of fifteen. Let us take table D1.1 in the "Training Statistics 1991", which the Secretary of State denied existed earlier in the debate. They show again that Britain is second from the bottom, with only Spain below it.

The Secretary of State sought earlier today to suggest that this comparative survey "Youth and work: transition to employment in England and Germany" somehow backed up the Government's record. It does nothing of the kind. Indeed, the author of the work was so outraged by the Government's claims about what was said in the work that he wrote to the Evening Standard on 1 October and said: We found much to criticise about the British arrangement for training young people. Far too many of them lost all contact with the education system after the age of 16 and far larger numbers in England than in Germany were in dead-end jobs without any training at all.

Mr. Dunn

I want to go back to a comment made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), which led the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) to go into a spate of incontinent muttering. The Leader of the Opposition apparently said in the campaign for the Langbaurgh by-election that £2.6 billion extra would be spent on education by a future Labour Government. Could we have the truth of it? Was the Leader of the Opposition right and, if so, does the hon. Member for Blackburn agree? Or was the Leader of the Opposition wrong and does the hon. Gentleman agree with that?

Mr. Straw

It would help the hon. Gentleman—because it is unusual for him—to check his facts or to read his Conservative Central Office brief before he speaks, or at least to memorise it. The Leader of the Opposition simply pointed out in an article that he wrote just before the party conference that the proportion of gross domestic product—national income—devoted to education since 1979 had dropped, and that if it had remained the same, the difference would be the figure to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. Our commitment is very different from the Government's. Our commitment is that there should be a steady increase in the share of national income devoted to education and training over the lifetime of a Government.

There are four main elements to the Government's proposals in the Queen's Speech: on higher education, on further education, on adult education and on the so-called parents charter. On higher education, we will support the transfer to a single funding council because that was our policy. We argued for it and voted in favour of it in 1987 and in 1988. The Government refused to accept our arguments then and we are delighted that they accept our arguments now.

We will not support the Government's proposals in relation to the maintenance of quality in higher education because we think that it is wrong for the people who determine quality in higher education to be the same as those who determine funding——

Mr. Kenneth Clarke


Mr. Straw

Because there is every possibility that if the fund payers determine quality, they will tend to overlook areas in which quality is going down as a result of financial pressures——

Mr. Clarke


Mr. Straw

I cannot understand the Secretary of State is looking perplexed. The reason is the enormous pressures that the Government, through the funding councils, are imposing on higher education to take in ever more numbers without at the same time being concerned about quality. If the Government are confident that quality will not be affected by the financial pressures that they are imposing on higher education to cut the inward resource year after year, the answer is to ensure that the inspectorate for higher education is wholly independent of the funding system and solely concerned with the issue of quality.

Mr. Clarke

With the greatest respect, I must say that I am puzzled and that I could not follow the argument as first expressed. For the sake of argument—and I do not concede this—I recognise that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is asserting that there are downward pressures on university funding. I think that he refers to our attempts to get cost-effective expansion. If those pressures exist, as the hon. Gentleman asserts, they are spread evenly across the system and do not affect one institution more than another. The argument for separating judgments of quality from the funding have been put to him by some people in higher education who are afraid that quality judgments might have a practical effect on the universities. Making quality separate would merely make quality control ineffective and of no practical consequence. The hon. Gentleman always gives in to lobbies and should not have given in to that one.

Mr. Straw

That is an absurd argument. It fails to take account of the practice of the Council for National Academic Awards and the Poiytechnics and Colleges Funding Council. One of the reasons why the polytechnics have done so well in the past 21 years is that a clear decision was taken by Governments of both parties to separate funding and quality control. That was accepted even by the Secretary of State's predecessor but one, who introduced the Education Reform Act 1988. Had a system of funding and quality control been merged, I doubt whether the polytechnics could have achieved such high quality and cost-effectiveness. I want to ensure that, in pursuing cost-effectiveness, there is independent arbitration on quality.

Besides the higher education proposals, many of the Government's proposals are damaging. The Government have done nothing to reassure the public that their proposals for adult education will not be highly damaging if the Bill goes through. Their proposals for further education will transfer elected local authority control over further education to control by seven or eight appointed regional boards. Elected people will no longer have an influence on local further education; instead, the position will be similar to that set up by the Secretary of State for Health, where appointed quangos are in control. That too is unacceptable to us.

By far the most damaging proposition which the Secretary of State has advanced in his 12 months in office is likely seriously and adversely to affect the standard and quality of education in our schools. That is his plan to dismember Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools and to privatise the local inspectorate of schools so that inspectors are picked and paid by their own schools. That proposition was suddenly launched from nowhere on 30 July 1991 at a curious press conference which the Secretary of State gave in the Adelphi hotel, Liverpool outside a meeting of the Professional Association of Teachers. It has been condemned from all sides; there is virtually no advocate for it outside Government and there are precious few inside.

The chronology of the proposal tells its own story. In February, the then senior chief inspector, Eric Bolton, decided to resign. On 4 March, the Secretary of State told me in a parliamentary answer that he was setting in train a new procedure for the appointment of a successor to Eric Bolton. He said that the post would be advertised, which was duly done at some cost to the public purse. Then, on 8 May, the Secretary of State suddenly announced out of the blue that the advertising of that post was to be put on ice. He said that instead there would be a thorough internal review of the inspectorate, which would report by July. In answer to further questions from me, he said that no formal evidence would be sought but that there would be wide informal consultation.

The Government say that they believe in open government. They have published such reviews of the machinery of government in the past—in 1983, they published the Rayner scrutiny of the HMI—but the Secretary of State has refused to publish the latest internal review. Indeed, it has been kept so secret that no summary or abstract of the review is to be made available—[Interruption.]If the Secretary of State wants to say that he will publish the review so that the House can measure the current proposals against his madcap scheme for dismembering the inspectorate, he should say so now. It is my belief that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's refusal to publish the review—this is from the man who believes in open government—stems from the fact that bears no relationship to the scheme that he is now putting forward. If that is not true, let us have the review.

The only evidence of the proposition's authorship that we can find is a pamphlet written by the chief inspector of Wandsworth, Mr. John Burchall, for the Conservative Centre of Policy Studies. That action is in clear breach of the Local Government Act 1986 and the Widdicombe rules. If that had been done by a chief inspector of a Labour local authority for a Labour think tank, Conservative Members would have been the first on their feet to complain about Mr. Burchall. The scheme with which the Secretary of State has been landed is almost word for word the proposition set out in the pamphlet in 13 rather badly argued pages.

It is proposed that HMI should be reduced from 500 inspectors to 175. Allowing for those to be transferred to the higher and further education funding councils, that is equivalent to a cut of almost 50 per cent. The Secretary of State says that HMI will achieve greater independence. However, the independence that HMI has had up to now has been deeply embarrassing to the Government. Each year it has produced a report setting out the state of the education service, and each year Ministers have treated that report as though it were a piece of stinking fish.

In the past 11 years, the publicity budget for the Department of Education and Science has gone up 28 times. In the past two and half years it has risen four times in real terms to pay for the publication of more and more glossy pamphlets such as the parents charter—party political propaganda produced at the taxpayers' expense. None of that money has been used on the HMI reports—not a penny piece.

The annual report published by HMI has always been a loose-leaf, photocopied document, shoved out at a time designed least to embarrass Ministers. Is it the Secretary of State's intention that the current senior chief inspector should publish his annual report in February, as has been done in the past, or is it his intention, as Secretaries of State managed to do in 1983 and again in 1987, to delay publication of that report until after the general election?

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I have not given much thought to that question, for the simple reason that I do not follow the elaborate paranoid theory advanced by the hon. Gentleman who believes that I am so worried about those annual reports. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that my proposals increase the independence of Her Majesty's chief inspector. They leave him free to publish his own report. I believe that he should be more independent of the Department and of the Government of the day. I assume the present senior chief inspector will produce his annual report next year. I do not fear that report. I believe that the hon. Gentleman and his friends have misused those reports in the past, but cutting down the scope for reports from the inspectorate has nothing to do with my proposals.

Mr. Straw

I shall table a parliamentary question about that and I look forward to confirmation of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said.

When the inspectorate is reduced to 175, it will be virtually impossible for it to produce a report with anything like the quality of those produced in the past.

Mr. Clarke

I hesitate to intervene again, as the hon. Gentleman is getting near to the time left for my contribution. However, in future, the inspectorate will have the results of 6,000 inspections each year from which to draw the basis of its report—and that is in addition to the inspecting that the inspectorate will carry out. One hundred and seventy-five people is the best estimate that the senior chief inspector and I could produce between us of the numbers required to carry out the functions of the new independent HMI. There will be more information on which to draw and the reports will still be available. What the hon. Gentleman is spelling out about the proposals is an elaborate, but nonsensical, theory.

Mr. Straw

To try to suggest that the senior chief inspector agreed to 175 is preposterous. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that that figure was forced upon him by Ministers collectively. From documents that I have been sent by the senior chief inspector it is clear that the total number of inspectors will be used as follows: 11 will conduct high-profile surveys and focus inspections, six will inspect schools at risk and another 26 will undertake inspections to supplement database evidence.

Privatisation used to be a badge of honour worn with pride by these Ministers. Now Ministers utter the word only in order to deny that it has happened. But the truth is that HMI is to be privatised by the back door because the half of HMI who will not be employed by it will have to go and set up as private consultants. The local inspectorate is to be privatised. As the documents make clear, many of these so-called inspectors will not be educationally qualified but will be drawn, in the senior chief inspector's words, from the top of the Clapham omnibus.

What is so damaging to the maintenance of educational standards is the perverse belief of the Secretary of State that to secure competition between the providers of education, there must be competition between the regulators. That is as absurd as if there were to be competition locally between environmental health officers or, nationally, if British Telecom and Mercury were to pick and pay for their own regulators. The Secretary of State's proposal runs contrary even to the better parts of Thatcherite philosophy, which sought to separate regulator from provider. The Secretary of State is making the provider the regulator—it is the provider who pays the regulator. The regulators will be picked and paid for by the providers. It will become impossible to secure any sensible maintenance of a consistent standard of education.

There is another bad aspect of the proposals. The Secretary of State emphasises regular inspections. That is fine—so do we. But a regular inspection every four or five years cannot by itself be sufficient protection for the parents or the children; nor can it provide enough information by which to judge the effectiveness of a school.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

That is why we are going to publish exam results.

Mr. Straw

Publishing exam results is fine—[Interruption.] We have been saying that for three years, but as the Secretary of State managed to point out in his contorted evidence to the teachers' pay review body, exam results alone provide only an elementary indication of the effectiveness of a school. A continuous flow of information about the effectiveness of schools is also needed, and it can come only from a corps of local inspectors, properly supervised by a national inspectorate. If inspection is handed over to companies such as Coopers and Lybrand—to consultants—there will be no corps of people at local level to produce the necessary data.

This Government have the worst record of any Government on nursery education. They are bottom of the league for 16 to 19-year-old education and training. They have produced a £3 billion backlog of repairs and renewals needed for our crumbling schools. They have left the teaching profession demoralised and undervalued. They have left students from low income homes in serious poverty. They lack commitment to the service, and they do not use it. They have applied double standards by funding favourably a few pupils in CTCs and grant-maintained schools while denying most schools the funds that they need.

The proposals in this Gracious Speech are either irrelevant or positively damaging to the raising of school standards. They exhibit no commitment, no leadership and no ambition on the part of the Government to and for our children. We need a Government who will do better for our children and our young people, a Government with policies dedicated to making this country the best educated and trained nation in Europe. This country needs and will get a Labour Government.

9.38 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

Unusually in a debate of this kind, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has sat down leaving me with only 22 minutes in which to reply. I make no complaint about that. I would have been quite happy if he had gone on for longer. He exposed the paucity of his case as he went on and every now and again he made a tantalising admission that he—rather surprisingly—agreed with certain aspects of the policy embodied in our forthcoming legislation.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I must acknowledge that in such a wide-ranging debate I will not have time to deal with many of the points raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) touched on aspects of British Rail to which I was tempted to respond. It is, however, many years since I was at the Department of Transport, so I shall concentrate on education this evening.

I am surprised not only that 20 minutes is left to me, but that education has been tabled at this stage in the debate on the Loyal Address. Hon. Members will realise that the conduct of the debate on the Gracious Speech is in the hands of the Opposition, and rightly so. They determine the subjects for each day and the deployment of speakers. The Gracious Speech contains three Bills on education; two English and one Scottish. They are drastic pieces of legislation which should rightly occupy a large part of the time of the House. One is on the parents charter, one on further and higher education in England and one on further and higher education in Scotland. These three large Bills probably rival the Bill that introduces the council tax and the asylum Bill as the heaviest pieces of legislation in this year's Queen's Speech.

This debate was tabled for a Monday night when, for the replies, Labour Front-Bench Members greatly outnumber those on the Back Benches, which is not surprising as it is a one-line Whip night. I take that as a compliment. The proposals in the three Bills presented by my right hon. Friends and myself have captured the public imagination and caught the Labour party without a policy. What is more, they have caught the Labour party without a spokesman able to put its objections clearly when he is called upon to address them. I would not normally have said that that was a reflection on the respective debating abilities of the hon. Members for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and for Blackburn. It would be invidious for me to make the choice.

I should like to reply to more of what was said by the hon. Member for Sedgefield when he opened the debate. I have not heard the "white heat of the technological revolution" speech made so well for many years. I understand that the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) made it fairly well at this year's party conference. On the other hand, going back to my days in employment debates, it was curious that the hon. Gentleman skated over his party's policy on the minimum wage, enhanced benefits for maternity leave and so on. I trust that at some stage I will have the opportunity to tax him on the curious proposal that legislation which increases the wage bill of companies does not necessarily increase the costs of those companies and therefore can be regarded as having nil effect on their competitiveness. I had not heard that theory advanced with such bravura before.

Mr. Blair

The House will hear it again.

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman says that we will no doubt hear it again.

The hon. Gentleman got on to my area by making comparisons on education and training between this country and other countries. Some statistics were trotted out again both by him and, later, the hon. Member for Blackburn, seeking to show that we are miles behind other European countries in the league tables. The hon. Member for Blackburn, in a frenzied passion, was throwing pieces of paper into the air, saying that we were bottom of this league table and bottom of that league table, apparently without having read any of them. The cutting that he tossed across to us is part of an article from The Times Educational Supplement. The text reveals: the survey format does not allow for the fact that some respondents, both in the UK and elsewhere, are in part-time, rather than full-time, education. I find that league table for 14 to 18-year-olds as unintelligible as the hon. Gentleman did. The text states: An EC spokesman admitted there were 'conceptual problems' in compiling the statistics, but it was the nearest they could get to being comparable. The hon. Member for Sedgefield and I agree that the Anglo-German study is a useful basis for comparisons. When I quoted the study back at him, he resorted to some rather irrelevant quotation about the youth training scheme, in an attempt to fend off my criticisms. As I have the text in front of me, let me just remind him of the conclusions of the comparison between the preparedness of British young people and German young people for employment on the strength of the education and training systems in the two countries. Page 235 states: In our surveys the British samples reported the greater number of vocational learning experiences. In both cohorts, higher proportions of the British respondents reported experience of information technology, learning new skills, being challenged or tested, using their initiative and working co-operatively in groups. I shall quote further from page 239, to give us an overall picture of the report. It says: Nevertheless, the overall picture of greater breadth of experience and skill in the British system, and the more positive appraisals by the British young people of what they were learning, is sustained. I quote that not to be complacent and not to say that, in this competitive world, we should not be striving, as the Bills outlined in the Gracious Speech help us to strive, for higher standards.

The argument used by many commentators on our system—that the grass is overwhelmingly greener on the other side of the hill in every respect in Europe—is exaggerated. Every year, participation by our 16-year-olds increases by 4 per cent. We shall catch up and, I hope, forge ahead of the best. However, we should not assume that a great deal has not been achieved quite spectacularly in the past few years.

I admired the speech of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), one of the more distinguished orators in the House, against whom I debated only a week or two ago in the Oxford Union. I could not help thinking, when he criticised us for not participating in European Community efforts on education, that here was the last and most remarkable convert come to the communautaire viewpoint on these matters. I have listened to many of his speeches and I have never heard him advocate that before. The Labour party must be desperate to get into power if even such venerable leaders as the right hon. Gentleman have to make these obeisances in the direction of Brussels.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is catching up. He should understand that I was in favour of a social charter in Europe before there was any such thing as the European Community. I hope that, when he is reporting our debate in Oxford, he will tell the House who won the vote. It would be satisfactory to have such a vote in the country.

Mr. Clarke

I concede the vote in the Oxford Union. The right hon. Gentleman still has the ability to mislead the young that he has shown in his distinguished past. I can well believe that he has always been in favour of a social charter in Europe, but he has never before asked us to be in Europe enjoying its disadvantages.

I return to the subject of educational policy and the Bills that must consume most of our attention. I commend my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby and Kennilworth (Mr. Pawsey), for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) and for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) for their overall appraisal of our policy.

I shall concentrate on the point made by the hon. Member for Blackburn. One major Bill that will come before us is that putting into effect the parents charter. Until the hon. Gentleman turned to the future of the HMI, he was hard pressed to find anything that he wanted to oppose in the parents charter. His main concern appeared to be that he did not want too many parents to be able to read it because they would find it attractive.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kennilworth correctly said, the parents charter is based on two policies designed to help all the other steps that we shall be taking to raise standards of education. The first is a much better range of objective factual information about the performance of schools for the parents and local public in the communities that the schools serve. The so-called league tables will publish not just examination results but truancy rates, staying-on rates, the destination of pupils and other information. Knowledge of how schools perform will help to improve the choice of parents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said, in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), not only will it help parents to choose in those parts of the country where choice is practicable because transport is readily available, but, even in rural areas where choice is difficult, it will, for the first time, give parents better means to influence schools because they will be able to see, set out objectively, the performance of those schools.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

Newspapers will use the raw detail that will be supplied by the league tables, especially on examination results. What will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do to protect schools which have many students with special needs, especially students who are not statemented but who are seen to have special needs? The right hon. and learned Gentleman nodded when I asked him the same question earlier, but he has not said how he will ensure fairness between schools and therefore, no discrimination against students with special needs.

Mr. Clarke

Any intelligent parent, intelligent governor or intelligent newspaper person will bear it in mind that various factors influence results. That is what will happen when we get what the hon. Gentleman describes as the raw data. It will be a complete change to report these facts instead of keeping them secret. There is no reason why information such as the number of statemented children and attainment levels in national curriculum tests should not be made freely available by our schools. The information will be accompanied by statements on the purpose of a school and its particular aims.

The arrangements remain the same for special needs. If I do not get the chance later in my response to answer the comments of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) on students with special needs in further education, I say now that I attach great importance to those students. There will be a duty on the Further Education Funding Council specifically to ensure that further education is provided for those with special educational needs beyond the age of 16.

We can debate statementing when we examine the Bill. There is a genuine difference of opinion between the experts on whether statementing, as it is now applied in sixth-form schools but not in further education colleges, is a desirable tool. There is no desire on our part to play down the importance of providing for those with special educational needs throughout their school career and thereafter.

I return to the setting out of league tables. It is no good saying that they will comprise raw data. They will be data that parents have never been allowed to see before. In my part of the country—the county which I represent in part is not the only one in this position—Labour-controlled local authorities are still adamantly refusing to release the data to the general public. They are advising schools not to make them available. The commitment of the Labour party is set out in "The Parents' Partnership", which in my opinion is a pretty pale imitation of the Government's policy.

Mr. Blair

We got our policy out before the Government's.

Mr. Clarke

Yes. When the Labour party knew that the parents charter was coming, the hon. Gentleman did not half rush out its paper, and he did not draft it very well.

The information in the Labour party's document all comes under the new education standards commission that will take over responsibility for Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools and co-ordinate the work a local inspectors. The following is then offered to the public: Through reports, studies and inspections the Commission will assess educational standards of schools and of local education authorities as a whole and publish detailed information on how to judge a school's performance. Does detailed information on how to judge a school's performance mean that the system will be the same as our parents charter, or does it, as it sounds, means that there will be an extra layer of bureaucracy, taking into its embrace Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools and producing not what has been described as raw data, but information that colours it all'?

Anyone who is appraising a school will take account of the socio-economic backgrounds of different schools, for example. Much stress is placed on that. There will be serious dangers, however, if the information that is set out in performance tables is clouded by footnotes and qualifications, which sometimes are advocated because they are designed to prove that whatever the differences between examination performances there is no such thing as a good school or a bad school. It is thought that that will be the result if enough factors are taken into account.

I fully accept that it requires a good school to achieve good examination results, especially in an inner-city area rather than in a well-favoured suburb. A danger arises, however, from the constant emphasis that left-wing commentators put on socio-economic data. It is not right to assume that those in inner-city areas cannot be expected to achieve good examination results. The league studies show that there are positive dangers in assuming that in poor areas there will be poor results, and regarding that as an excuse. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said, there were systems which ensured that that did not happen.

The hon. Member for Blackburn and I passed through education on a route that was remarkably similar to that followed by many hon. Members. We both went to state primary schools; we both passed the 11-plus; we both had local government scholarships—the hon. Gentleman went to a direct grant school while I went to what was then an independent school. The hon. Gentleman came not from an especially poor background, but not from an especially advantaged one either. He was not told that socioeconomic circumstances meant that he could expect to get bad examination results. His talents were demonstrated through a system that gave him opportunities and brought out the best in him. Too many people in the Labour party kick away the ladder by which they rose through the education system and seek to defend poor perfonnance where there is no economic advantage.

Inspection is very important, as it is the second string of raising the quality of education in our schools. The hon. Gentleman has changed his wording—at last, he did not accuse us of privatising HMI. It is a pity that debate on public services is reduced to such a silly level. He now accepts that we are not privatising HMI. The Bill will give HMI a new, independent, statutory role, with its own powers and duties separate from those of the Secretary of State. It will continue to inspect, and an important part of its role will be to advise, to produce reports, and so on. It will also monitor the new system of inspection which, for the first time, will produce more than 6,000 reports a year. More importantly, those reports will be produced for the benefit of the parents who read them.

Mr. Straw

Tonight I said nothing different from what I said before. Will the Secretary of State now admit that he intends to privatise part of the local schools inspectorate'? It will in part become local, privately owned and controlled consultants. In other words, it will be a privatised inspectorate.

Mr. Clarke

Local authorities can continue to inspect in their areas. Alongside them will be the new inspectors, from private organisations—[Interruption.] I repeat that we are not privatising HMI. There will still be local government inspectors—we are not privatising them. However, there will be new inspectors, who will provide an alternative——

Mr. Straw


Mr. Clarke

No, I am not giving way.

Mr. Straw


Mr. Speaker

Order. One hon. Member at a time, please.

Mr. Straw

The new privatised inspectors will be instead of public service inspectors.

Mr. Clarke

We cannot privatise people who were not there before. Currently, 6,000 inspections are not carried out every year. The number of reports that will be produced for parents will be not diminished, but greatly increased.

With respect to the hon. Member for Blackburn, the hon. Member for Truro made slightly more careful progress through the arguments. However, I wanted to ask both hon. Gentlemen what would be the alternative. We are introducing a new system that will generate 6,000 straightforward reports a year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) said, they will be intelligible to those who read them. Parents, almost universally, never read Her Majesty's inspectorate reports on their schools. Indeed, it is unusual for parents even to see such reports. Some 3,000 to 5,000 inspectors will be required to produce those reports. Is the Labour party proposing that Her Majesty's inspectorate should suddenly take on 3,000 to 5,000 inspectors in one great national monolithic inspecting organisation? Perhaps that is the proposal—[Interruption.]The hon. Member for Blackburn is not sure whether that is or is not his proposal.

I suspect that the Labour party, because of the pressures on it, will be driven to suggesting that all inspectors should be local council inspectors, inspecting the councils' schools. The Labour party is always huffing and puffing about privatisation and independence, but it believes that every school in the country should be run by local councils and inspected by those councils. Who should inspect the schools for councils but ex-teachers, because they are deemed to be the only people properly qualified? Apparently, anyone who is not a teacher or who does not work for the council should not be allowed to undertake an inspection. That is not standards or objectivity, but giving in to the usual pressures from the National Union of Teachers and NALGO, to which Labour Members always give in.

I do not have time to debate now the Further and Higher Education Bill. Other than wanting local authority control of further education, Labour has no policy on that matter either.

Our Bills are all of a part with those objectives praised by my hon. Friends the Members for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) and for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst)—the drive to get better standards back into our education system, to increase yet further the participation of our young people, and to match the quality of education and training provided by our competitors abroad.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

Forward to