HC Deb 11 February 1992 vol 203 cc816-96

Order for Second Reading read.

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

I beg to move, That the Bill he now read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

In view of the fact that a large number of hon. Members wish to participate in this debate, I propose to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. It may be possible to relax the limit if hon. Members who speak before 7 o'clock do so briefly.

Mr. Clarke

The Bill is aimed at the expansion of opportunities for education and training after the years of compulsory school attendance. Until recent years, the area of education and training post-16 has been a comparatively neglected part of the political agenda for education, but nowadays the Government are giving it very high priority. We are making such rapid advances that we need this legislation if we are to expand the opportunities significantly, not only for our young people but for adults. Certainly, the generation of young people at present emerging from our schools will need to be better educated and better trained than any previous generation if they are to face up to the demands of modern life. Not only must they expect to be better educated and better trained to cope with the more competitive world than were former generations but throughout their adult lives they will be members of a society in which people accept the need to continue to be trained and educated throughout life.

It is obvious that if people are to face up to this new situation they will have to have access to a wider range of courses and of qualifications than the British system has hitherto usually provided. As we develop that wider range of courses and qualifications we shall need to end some of the stranger traditions of British life. In particular, we shall certainly have to bring to an end snobbish distinctions between academic pursuits and vocational pursuits. We must acknowledge that the area of education and training that has relevance to the world of business and commerce or to a particular vocational pursuit can, if pursued to the same standard as an outstanding and traditional academic career, be awarded the same esteem.

For this new situation we need a much more diverse range of institutions, colleges and universities than we have had hitherto to provide the range of courses that I am describing. In future, when we look at either higher education or further education we shall see a much greater variety of institutions, all providing courses of the same standard, but perhaps in very different climates and with very different styles. We shall certainly still have universities of the "dreaming spires" type, with, I hope, the traditional excellent standards. There will be other universities—equally worthwhile institutions—concentrating on science and technology, whose courses may be rooted in the economic life of their regions, in which they will play a very significant role. In some of our cities there will be giant tertiary colleges for 16 to 19-year-olds. There will also be smaller further education colleges as well as sixth form colleges—some still concentrating, perhaps, on predominantly academic courses rather than on the new vocational qualifications, but some offering the full range—and in rural areas there will be community colleges as well. Thus we shall have much greater participation in higher education and further education, a much wider range of courses and qualifications and a much wider diversity of institutions emerging to serve the needs of society in the 1990s and beyond.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Will the Secretary of State explain what will happen to the traditional sixth forms? How will they fit into the new framework?

Mr. Clarke

The traditional sixth forms will play a valuable part in those schools that have them or acquire them. They will also be a part of the range of institutions from which a person at the age of 16 can choose, with the advice of parents and friends, when deciding what course suits his or her temperament. I expect sixth forms to thrive and to add to the diversity of provision that I have just described.

Of course, we have been moving rapidly in that direction in recent years. We all need to come to terms with the pace of events and with the demands of the next decade or two. I frequently speak of our need to prepare for mass higher education for future generations. We must prepare also for near universal further education, with, I hope, more than 90 per cent. of our young people staying on in the very near future for proper education and training. In addition, as I said, we must make an approach towards a lifetime career that anticipates the need for continuous education and upgrading of training throughout a working life. The Bill will give form to those objectives and help us to expand and develop the right sorts of institutions to meet our needs.

The great challenge of the 1990s in doing all that and in moving into mass participation in higher and further education is that we must move in that direction without lowering academic and professional standards. Wider access must not mean that we lower the standard that is set for our qualifications so that it is easier for everybody to obtain them without having to improve the preparation for them.

More must not mean worse. That is familiar to many of us who remember the argument about the university expansion that was proposed by Lord Robbins and was first planned many years ago. I recall that at first I was sceptical about it. History has shown, however, that expansion—certainly on what now seems the modest scale then anticipated—did not threaten or damage academic standards. We must ensure that the same applies as we expand our universities, what were our polytechnics, our further education colleges and our sixth forms. We must add to the range of courses and the diversity of provision but ensure that standards are not lowered. For example, in my opinion, greater participation in post-16 education should not mean the abolition of A-levels on the basis that not everybody can pass A-levels. Instead it should mean a wider range of choice after 16.

Our degree standard must not be lowered. An honours degree in this country is one of the best regarded academic qualifications in the developed world. Equal status will be given to vocational and academic qualifications, but only where the vocational courses are as demanding and as worthy of esteem as good-quality academic qualifications.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

I am anxious to support my right hon. and learned Friend and I am listening to his every word. Will he tell me how I can persuade my constituents, who already have an adult basic education service and a further education service that are as high as, if not higher than, anything that is set out in the Bill, that they should support change that can be only for the worse if there is not some major alteration to the Bill?

Mr. Clarke

At an appropriate stage I shall turn to that issue in some detail. I am anxious to assure my hon. Friend and other of my hon. Friends from Leicestershire, where the community college system is operated—it is operated also in Cambridgeshire and Devon—that the Bill poses no threat to the quality of provision or, necessarily, to its pattern. At present, I am setting the scene for the Bill. I am saying that quality of provision matters just as much as expansion. I am underlining the point that the quality assurance provisions in the Bill, as they apply to both further education and higher education, are just as important as those parts of the Bill that set up the new funding structure and give autonomy to more of the colleges.

I have addressed the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) because it has been put to me frequently as the Bill has proceeded, especially by my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in the three counties which I named. I shall turn in a short while to what I describe as the Maxwell-Hyslop clause. I do so because it was pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Sir R. Maxwell-Hyslop) and others. I do not believe that the fears expressed by my hon. Friend and others in Devon that the Bill represents a threat to the pattern of provision in rural areas for adult education are justified. We have sought to amend the Bill to meet those fears. I think that it will be more suitable to return to the matter a little later in my speech.

As I said, I am setting the scene for the Bill. I shall delay turning to particular matters so that we do not suddenly go off at a tangent to deal with important but particular points. I think that everything that I have said so far makes it clear that the objective of the Bill is to expand the provision of further and higher education and to expand opportunities for adults, as well as for young people, to engage in all sorts of courses. It is not true that the Bill cuts a line between vocational and leisure courses, any more than it does between the academic and the vocational. It draws no line of a sort that will damage provision. It is—[Interruption.] Certainly not. The Labour party is taken up with the campaign about adult education generally. I hope to be able in a few moments to reassure my hon. Friends on the community college argument.

Before moving to the particular—

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Clarke

That is the particular in Wolverhampton and even in Richmond. I wish first to deal with the Bill as a whole. I know that particular examples have been raised.

I have described the need for us to legislate to cope with the rapidly changing nature of higher education and further education needs. The specifics that are set out in the Bill—this is so that we can look at the wood before we turn to extremely important trees in particular places—deal first with further education. I hope that even the trees in Wolverhampton will be able to wait for a few minutes.

The main policy set out in the Bill is to give further education colleges, and sixth form colleges in particular, independence from local government. It is designed to give autonomy to the colleges so that they take upon themselves full responsibility for the delivery of courses and the provision of an adequate service to their locality, and to make them accountable more directly to the community that they serve. We propose to move to a funding council system and away from local authority control. That system is based exactly on the experience of the polytechnics over the past few years. At the beginning of this Parliament, shortly after the last general election, the Government carried through a Bill, in the teeth of quite a lot of opposition, that had the effect of taking polytechnics out of local authority control. They have thrived ever since. They have expanded rapidly and their academic independence has not been remotely compromised. On the contrary, they have become powerful academic institutions, making an important contribution to higher education. We are following that precedent in higher education.

When talking in the jargon of the Government's policy, we sometimes refer to creating a new sector of autonomous further education colleges. I hope that within that sector there will be room for considerable diversity. I do not believe that every sixth form college should become like every further education or tertiary college. The co-existence of sixth form colleges in schools, of sixth form colleges previously under schools' regulations and of further education colleges—this is where there is variety, and it is to be found in many areas— means that each student can make a choice on the basis of what suits his or her temperament or aptitude, and what climate, as it were, is likely to be conducive to his or her study.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I accept my right hon. and learned Friend's argument that the Bill is splendid for colleges of further education, which are delighted to have their independence. However, the college of adult education in my constituency is worried lest it has to apply for funds through the college of further education. It may find that that college is unwilling to put its request to the funding council. The adult education college is worried also lest the college of further education should decide to introduce courses that it already makes available, such as literacy courses and English-as-a-second-language courses for the ethnic minorities. It is worried that the college of further education will not put forward its requests.

Mr. Clarke

The argument about access to funding council funds by adult colleges, community colleges and other colleges that do not automatically transfer into the new sector and are funded by the further education funding council is the same as that which has been advanced by hon. Members representing constituencies in Leicestershire, Cambridgeshire and Devon. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman)—

Mr. Jessel


Mr. Clarke

—and others—I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse) is trying again to intervene, and I shall give way to him shortly. As I said, the same argument is being raised, but it does not fit into my speech at this point. We shall be discussing a guillotine motion later, and I am always accused of making the longest speech. That is because of my customary generosity in giving way to hon. Members on both sides of the House who wish to intervene. I shall give way to all those who ask me to do so, but I should at least be allowed to give way at a logical place in my speech. I have said that I know exactly what they are talking about, and it has nothing to do with what I am talking about now. If they will contain themselves in patience, I shall take up the point in some detail.

I was talking about further education and sixth form colleges having independence from local government, and my hope that there would be some diversity of provision on the part of the autonomous colleges.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

I will give way if the intervention concerns the point that I just mentioned.

Mr. Flannery

It concerns that point, but, if it had not, I would have moved it on to that point.

The Secretary of State is famous throughout the education community for having launched an all-out and sustained attack on local education authorities, to the point of leaving them very little to do and taking practically everything away. Does he agree that a Government who have attacked local education authorities as the present Government have done—and attacked teachers as they have done, notwithstanding yesterday's bribe—may just possibly be foisting on us something that is in line with their general attack on state education?

Mr. Clarke

Let me say en passant that I have never attacked teachers. The hon. Gentleman's reference to yesterday's pay settlement as a bribe shows that even he cannot see it as a subtle attack on them.

The main point of the Bill's provision for further education and sixth form colleges is to give them independence from local government. The purpose is not to attack local government gratuitously but to enhance the colleges' ability to thrive, expand and broaden their provision. In my opinion, local authority control is not the best way in which to bring that about. The same arguments were used in regard to polytechnics, but their history shows that they positively thrived once they were taken away from local authority control.

I see that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is becoming distressed at this point. Labour has approached the Bill with an automatic attachment to local government control of everything. Labour Members are so firmly tied hand and foot to Labour councillors up and down the country that they cannot concede that further education and sixth form colleges might do better to take the next logical step, from local management to total autonomy—being allowed to run their own affairs. The colleges do not regard our proposals as an attack. The hon. Member for Blackburn, who follows these matters, may well have seen a poll of principals that was conducted by what was The Times Higher Educational Supplement—it is now called "The Higher". I do not always rely on polls, but this poll showed that two thirds of principals agreed with the policy of granting independence—

Mr. Flannery

Of course they do—you bribed them.

Mr. Clarke

Of course they do, because in their opinion it is in the interests of the colleges, and of their ability to secure the best possible provision of local services. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blackburn is now trying to join in.

Labour's policy is becoming a most curious hybrid. I understand that Labour Members have been a bit worried about being currently opposed to the colleges doing nothing but remaining under local government control; they therefore offered them corporate status. That is a frightfully important step, because colleges can have the corporate status while remaining under local authority control when it comes to such matters as planning and money. It is not surprising that, according to "The Higher", that rather curious hybrid policy received the support of more than 20 per cent. of principals. That 20 per cent. consists of the nervous ones. They need only talk to the director of a polytechnic, or a polytechnic lecturer, to find that no one in the polytechnic world wants to return to local authority control—not even some staunch supporters of the Labour party.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

If the Secretary of State is so confident of public support for the proposal to take centalised control of further education away from local communities, why has he refused to publish responses to the Bill, not from individuals but from institutions and governing bodies? Why has he departed from the practice accepted by his predecessor, who published responses to the Education Reform Bill 1988 and made them available to hon. Members? Is not the truth that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has refused to publish the responses to this Bill because, overwhelmingly, they show opposition to its proposals?

Mr. Clarke

First, to describe the aim of the proposals as "centralised control" is utterly daft. The polytechnics are not under centralised control; quite the reverse. They were taken away from local authority control and given their autonomy—given complete academic independence. That point was mentioned in the other place, and I shall return to it later.

A funding council distributes money at arm's length from Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Government dictate."] They certainly do not dictate. It was made clear in another place that there was no prospect of any Secretary of State seeking to dictate to the funding council. The funding council is very much at arm's length. The idea that any polytechnic principal feels that he is being dictated to by the Government, and that he is under centralised control, is frankly ridiculous. Labour Members know that, and they should not make a belated attempt to stir principals into resistance by claiming otherwise.

Mr. Turner

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

As Wolverhampton seems to be relevant to every point, I will.

Mr. Turner

The Secretary of State has just made an important point about the attitude of the principals. Is it any wonder that they should feel cynical and concerned about the Secretary of State's attitude? Their cynicism and concern should not be underestimated.

In the next financial year, which will usher in all these marvellous developments, the college principals face massive reductions in their budgets. Those reductions mean that they cannot respond to the needs of their colleges, even in the next 12 months. How can the Secretary of State expect them to believe what he is saying? A college in my constituency faces a cut of half a million pounds in the next financial year. Why does not the Secretary of State show good faith, and give colleges the resources that they need?

Mr. Clarke

If the college in Wolverhampton is taking a cut in its budget, it is taking that cut from a borough council whose education budget the Government have increased in real terms. I have no doubt that cuts imposed on that college will make the principals even more eager to escape from the vagaries of local government control, and to put to the funding councils their case for money with which to maintain and expand their services.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend would like to examine the way in which Lancashire county council is funding Skelmersdale college. It is providing the college with only 85 per cent. of the amount that the Department has calculated to be necessary. The college looks forward to receiving an additional 15 per cent., and to expanding the facilities that it offers students, following the passage of the Bill.

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I anticipate that the Bill may provoke a flood of complaints from further education colleges about their local education authorities—just as, five years ago, there could have been a flood of complaints from polytechnic directors about their authorities. In the Bill, we are moving towards independence.

Mention of the polytechnics takes me on to the subject of higher education. I hesitate to say this, but I think that this part of the Bill may be less controversial. It abolishes the distinction between polytechnics and universities, which I am satisfied has become entirely outdated. In any other country in the developed world, the institutions that we call polytechnics would be described as universities. In both north America and Western Europe they would take their place alongside many other distinguished higher education institutions.

The division between the two may or may not have been necessary when the polytechnics were first set up, but it now seems to hark back to distinctions between academic institutions and those tied more closely to industry and commerce that we do not wish to perpetuate. The academic standards in our polytechnics are certainly worthy of any university, and it is simply not true to say that they are in any way inferior institutions. We need to introduce a funding mechanism that will be common to both types of institution, and to encourage cost-effective expansion where it is most needed. We need to give access to funds for teaching and research on equal terms to the institutions hitherto described as universities and polytechnics, and we need to accept that the rich diversity in our higher education provision will be best recognised—both abroad and by students here—if we call all such institutions universities.

The biggest practical effect of our retaining the title "polytechnic" for so long has been, to a certain extent, a marketing effect, but a very important one. That has tended to discourage students from applying to polytechnics because they wrongly perceive that a polytechnic place is not quite as good as a university place. However, they might have been applying to a polytechnic department with a much superior academic reputation to that of a similar department in a university. Polytechnics have encountered serious difficulties with their international relations. Because nobody understands our "polytechnic" designation, the polytechnics have had to explain what it means.

As I said in my preliminary remarks, the right way to regard the higher education world is to stop making that distinction between universities and polytechnics, and to allow each of them the same access to funds and the ability to compete equally for funds for teaching and research on the basis of quality. I hope that those provisions receive widespread support.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)


Mr. Clarke

I give way to my hon. Friend. For as long as I have been a Member, he has followed higher education matters. He urged his case strongly upon me in a conversation that we had within two days of my taking office.

Dr. Hampson

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that tribute and thank him for what he is doing in the Bill. However, does he recognise the phenomenal growth in both the polytechnics and the universities—but especially in the polytechnics—during the past three or four years? As he recognised the other day the hard work and extra effort of school teachers, will he also recognise the huge pressure on higher education staff? If he is concerned about equality of treatment, will he reconsider the position of university staff, including the new university staff, and establish a pay review body for them along the lines of that which he has already sensibly granted to school teachers?

Mr. Clarke

I pay tribute to everything that has been achieved in the polytechnics in recent years and to the contribution by the staff to their cost-effective expansion and their reduction in unit costs. However, as my hon. Friend knows, I shall not go on from that to say that we should have a review body for polytechnic or university lecturers. Review body status is given to particular groups or professions in the public service. As it is not strictly relevant to the Bill, I shall give only one reason for not extending review body status to higher education. Higher education institutions do not receive all their funds from the Government, so to continue to move the review body boundaries forward would be to give review body status to groups of employees who are not paid solely out of public funds. A high proportion of higher education institutions' funds come from outside. Therefore, although I pay tribute to higher education staff, I do not couple that with granting review body status, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) wishes.

I hope that ending the distinction between universities and polytechnics will not end the diversity of provision. We do not want to see an end to the distinctive mission of those universities that concentrate on, say, applied research rather than on basic research, and that have extremely close links with industry and many part-time as well as full-time students. Such institutions may also have a higher proportion of mature students and may have developed a wide range of courses. I hope that ending the distinction will mean that the whole of our higher education system will give proper regard to applied research, not just to basic research. I hope that the whole may be stimulated to develop closer links with industry and that different institutions will retain their individual ethos and, to use the Americanism, their "mission" in continuing to make their contribution to the system.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Surely the Secretary of State is not confusing parity of esteem with name changes. Is not his description of what happens in north America and western Europe a travesty of the truth? In those countries, universities-in-all-but-name proudly defend their right not to have the word "university" in their title precisely because they have parity of esteem although they may be called institutes of technology, or Technische Hochschulen in Germany. Those institutions have what might be called "equal snob value" with universities and they would shoot someone rather than be forced to change their title to "university". Is not one of the things wrong with this country in general the fact that, for marketing reasons, an institution can decide that it would be better to be called a university rather than an institute of technology or a polytechnic? That does not happen in other countries, such as Germany or the United States of America.

The Secretary of State went on to say that such institutions could nevertheless continue their distinctive mission of providing applied science as opposed to pure academic research and science, but he must know that that is precisely what does not happen. Once an institute of technology has been allowed to change itself into a university, it tries to cover exactly the same ground as a university and moves from the applied to the pure and theoretical because that is what this country, unfortunately, with its traditions of snob values, does extremely well, but that has nothing to do with earning our living in the world outside.

Mr. Clarke

I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's first point and agree that nobody could persuade the Massachusetts institute of technology to change its name to "university". Indeed, MIT probably regards itself as having a higher status than Boston university over the way—MIT is a particularly internationally famous higher education institution—

Mr. Morgan

What about French and German polytechnics?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that French polytechnics enjoy particularly high esteem.

The points that I have made about marketing were put to me by polytechnic directors. To a certain extent, they reflect what is wrong. As I said at the start of my speech, that is something from which we must move away.

However, we are not talking only about a change of title, although that change of title will help to overcome the inert prejudices of parts of British society, albeit by conceding to them. We are also getting rid of the distinct funding arrangements. We are opening up access to research funds on an equal basis to all universities or polytechnics—whatever they call themselves—as long as they get recognition of their status. We are not forcing them to change title, but most will feel attracted to doing so. We are talking about more than a symbolic change—we are talking about amalgamating them.

However, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) that it is likely that the polytechnics will instantly try to imitate the more traditional universities— although that was true many years ago when the colleges of advanced technology became universities. I acknowledge that that happened in some cases, but the climate of opinion has now changed. Not only have the directors of the polytechnics assured me that they have no intention of doing any such thing, but they have done so in a wholly credible fashion. The polytechnic sector is now the most successful in terms of expansion. It has been forceful and self-confident in the past few years.

If the hon. Member for Cardiff, West is still concerned, I advise him that we shall expect the funding council to have regard to different institutions' distinctive missions when allocating funds. The funding council is perfectly entitled to take the view that it does not want an institution pointlessly to try to change its mission. We do not want everything to be set in aspic. However, I do not believe that in 1992 the risks are as the hon. Gentleman described them.

The Bill also deals—

Mr. Jessel


Hon. Members


Mr. Clarke

I am nearing the point at which I shall invite my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham to intervene because, having dealt with further and higher education, I am about to turn to adult education—

Mr. Jessel


Mr. Clarke

Before I give way, the first point that I wish to make about adult education is that the Bill makes no change whatsoever to the long-existing policy that has been adopted towards all types of adult education in this country. It represents no threat to the pattern of expansion in adult education that we have seen in the past 10 years. Vigorous campaigns have been run recently, not only by the local authority associations—as one might expect—but in association with the Women's Institute and the Workers Educational Association—which I found more surprising—suggesting that the reforms posed a threat and would change adult non-vocational education. That is not true—

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)


Mr. Jessel


Mr. Clarke

I shall give way first, but in a moment, to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond.

A local education authority's duty will encompass all types of further education outside the scope of the duty of the further education funding council. That means that there will be no diminution of the statutory duty to provide any kind of further education, including adult education. It is true that certain types of adult education will remain within the remit of the local education authorities. The LEAs will continue to receive public funds to enable them to carry out their continuing duty to provide those less formal adult courses. The funds that they have always received will continue to be made available. We are carrying out a survey of local authority spending in the year 1989–90 as the basis for deciding the division of funds between the funding council and the LEAs in the future.

The pattern of adult education will continue as before, As now, it will be for local authorities to decide to what extent they will subsidise the fees or provide a range of courses. That remains a local authority problem. Their source of funding will not change. Their funding position will not change. Their legal powers will not change. The argument that courses will end or fees will rise as a direct result of the reforms in the Bill is totally fallacious.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)


Mr. Clarke

The level of fees and provision of courses will depend on local authority provision. Of course, some adult colleges and other colleges want to know where they will fit in in all this.

Mr. Jessel

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham, to whom I have mistakenly referred as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond—I apologise—wishes to intervene on that point.

Mr. Jessel

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this morning my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) and I saw the Minister of State about Richmond upon Thames adult college? We put to him our united view that the excellent range of courses attended by 25,000 people at that college must be securely protected and upheld. Will either my right hon. and learned Friend or my hon. Friend the Minister of State in his reply spell out exactly how that is to be done?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friends the Members for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) and for Twickenham have been pursuing all Ministers about that matter for a considerable time. I was delighted to hear that my hon. Friend the Minister of State had a meeting with them and covered the necessary ground—the basis on which Richmond college might, first, decide whether it wishes to seek designation under clause 16 to come within the remit of the further education funding council or, secondly, have a look at clause 6 under which it might obtain funds indirectly from the funding council. The position of the college in Richmond is best left to my hon. Friend in his reply as he spent a considerable time this morning—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Well, the colleges are all rather different. I will happily deal with the college—I expect to do so—in other contexts.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

On Richmond?

Mr. Fatchett


Mr. Clarke

Really? The hon. Gentleman is looking for a new constituency. I did not realise it. On Richmond, I will give way.

Mr. Fatchett

I did not realise that the Secretary of State was so concerned about my future. I will stay with Leeds, Central for the moment. Perhaps the Secretary of State will be in a position to give some more information to his hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). A letter which has been drawn to my attention from the Minister of State to the hon. Member for Twickenham, dated 22 January, says: I have to say that Ministers are not sure whether it"—that is the college— will be best placed within the new independent further education sector or in the continuing LEA sector. It seems that a month later Ministers still have no reassurance for the people of Richmond and its college, which is attended by 25,000 people. The Secretary of State can provide further information. The letter goes on to say: One should remember that the Councils will ordinarily fund colleges only for provision that falls within their own remit"— that is the remit of the further education funding council.

Earlier the Secretary of State tried to suggest to some of his other hon. Friends that the further education funding council would be able to cover non-vocational adult education. Will he also look at schedule 2—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. This is taking unfair advantage of an intervention. Will the hon. Gentleman make his point to the Secretary of State so that he may respond?

Mr. Fatchett

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I simply wish to say that under schedule 2 to the Secretary of State's Bill, to which he did not refer earlier, the courses provided by Richmond would not be funded directly by the further education funding council; so he needs to tell his hon. Friends what will be the position of Richmond college. It is an extremely popular college and it is clear that the Minister of State has no idea what will happen to it.

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman has not followed the point or caught up with the Minister of State's letter, which is in no way inconsistent with what I have just said. The position is—

Mr. Fatchett

What about Richmond?

Mr. Clarke

This is relevant to Richmond, to the college in Lancaster which troubles my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and to the community colleges in Leicestershire, Cambridgeshire and Devon. I name Those three counties but they are not the only examples of colleges that offer their type of provision. However, as far as I am aware, they are the only ones with widespread provision of that type in rural areas.

The first question is whether the college comes within that category of colleges that will transfer to the further education funding council. When I replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham a moment ago, I referred to clause 16 which determines whether further education institutions which do not automatically qualify should be incorporated. [Interruption.] It is no good the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) waving the letter about. He has not understood it. The fact is that in the first instance the college must decide whether it wishes to be incorporated. It is no good descending from Leeds into Richmond and getting the provisions of the Bill and various letters around the hon. Gentleman's neck.

As Richmond college will not be automatically incorporated, the first step is for it to decide whether it wishes to seek incorporation under clause 16. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has touched on that matter in conversations with my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham and, as the letter is his, he should be left to reply to the point later, if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The first step is for the college to form a view about whether it is in its interest to become incorporated under clause 16. If it is not incorporated, the next step is to look for access to funding council funds under clause 6. In clause 6(5) provision is made for an institution that is under the control of not the funding council but the local authority to seek funding council money for courses provided within the terms of schedule 2. As the hon. Member for Leeds, Central correctly said, schedule 2 sets out the range of courses for which the funding council is responsible.

Mr. Austin Mitchell


Mr. Harry Greenway


Mr. Clarke

I will not give way. I must deal with this point.

Clause 6(5) is the one to which I have already referred as the Maxwell-Hyslop clause because the Devonians have made representations for some time on the matter. The clause sets out the procedure whereby, in the case of Devon, the community college would make a request to its further education college for funding for its pattern of provision.

Mr. Turner

It is a nightmare.

Mr. Clarke

It is not a nightmare. It is perfectly straightforward to everyone except those who have dreams of putting everything back into local authority control by producing typical barrack-room lawyer points. The college will apply to the further education funding council under clause 6(5) and I anticipate that in all such cases the council will act as a conduit for the moneys for provision in rural areas of the counties, as is provided at present.

If, for some reason, the further education college did not meet the application, the provision would not be adequate, as clause 6 stipulates that it must be. The community college—to take that example—would then go directly to the funding council under clause 3(2) and ask it to consider the college's application direct to make sure that the council could discharge its duty. If the funding council failed to do so, eventually the college could come to me. However, I do not believe that that is remotely likely.

Mr. Austin Mitchell


Mr. Clarke

I will spell it out to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central, who is sitting there muddling his way through the Bill, so that he may have the opportunity of sorting it out by later tonight. All that the schedule means is that if a college decides not to become incorporated under clause 16 it must find some other route to seek funds. It will go first to the FE college. If, for some unexpected reason, the FE college will not arrange for the money to be transmitted, the college will go direct to the funding council and complain on the basis that the service is inadequate.

Mr. Fatchett

It is so complicated.

Mr. Clarke

It is not complicated. If the Opposition are deliberately misreading rather than accidentally misunderstanding, their motives are merely to suggest that local authority bureaucracy is preferable and would make the best provision in Leeds, Wolverhampton, Grimsby and elsewhere.

Mr. Fatchett

The Secretary of State has clearly come up with a simple system which he had no difficulty explaining to us. He put forward two hypotheses. One is that the FE college turns down the proposal. The other is that the proposal is made to the further education funding council. The FEFC could also turn down the proposal. The Secretary of State needs to tell the House and his hon. Friends that under clause 10—[Interruption.] I will pass the Bill across to the Secretary of State if he wants—the local authority could be asked to meet the funding. However, it must be stated clearly that the local authority is under no duty to provide the resources. Will the Secretary of State confirm that I am right about that?

Mr. Clarke

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. Every time that I try to explain, he puts up a barrage of barracking in the hope that he can make the Bill appear more complicated than it is. He is getting there slowly.

First, the community college applies to the further education colleges. In the vast majority of cases, further education colleges will arrange for funds in a straightforward way. It is fanciful that suddenly people will decide to upset long-standing and successful arrangements in such places as Leicestershire and Devon.

If a further education college, for some expansionist reasons of its own, should refuse —should there be a malevolent further education college—the community college could tell the further education funding council that the system was not working properly and that adequate provision was not being made. The first situation to be faced is that the funding council is entitled to say no. There is no automatic right to public funds, even from Wolverhampton council under the present arrangements, let alone from anywhere else. However, access to the funding council—which supposedly troubles everyone—is indeed secured under clause 3(2) of the Bill. It is true that the local authority may have the power to provide, but it will not have the specific funds to do so.

If everyone is behaving perversely, which is extremely unlikely, the college may approach the Secretary of State under clause 57(3), who may issue a direction. Their lordships did not strip me of powers of direction for further education colleges; so, in suitable circumstances, I can do that. This is piling up complications. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central fondly imagines that—

Mr. Straw

It is complicated.

Mr. Clarke

It is not. It is a straightforward Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, it is perfectly straightforward. The Opposition began by not reading the Bill properly and they clearly misunderstood the letters. I take their reaction as a spirited but unsuccessful attempt to sustain local authority power over all further education, because they appear incapable of understanding the Bill.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Clarke

We have dealt with that point. No doubt we shall return to it, but I shall not return to it straightaway.

Mr. Harry Greenway


Mr. Austin Mitchell

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke

I shall not give way. I am in serious danger of taking too long. By the time that we get to the guillotine motion, that will be the source of indignant complaint.

Several Hon. Members


Madame Deputy Speaker

Order. Do I understand that the Secretary of State is not giving way?

Mr. Clarke

I shall not give way for some time, neither to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) nor to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell).

Despite constant attempts to seek clarification on points of policy, I have succeeded in covering the policy on higher and further education and dealing, first, with the nonsense campaigns on adult education and, secondly, with serious matters raised by my hon. Friends—[Interruption.] The nonsense campaign was the campaign by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. I have also tried to deal with the serious issues mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham and for Tiverton and elsewhere who have been given a serious reply and an amendment to the Bill to meet their point.

Sir John Farr


Mr. Clarke

In discussing underlying policy we need—

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Clarke

I shall not give way.

Madame Deputy Speaker

Order, I heard the Secretary of State say that he would not give way. Someone as thick-skinned as I am understands that the Secretary of State is not giving way. He means what he says.

Mr. Clarke

I have given way a number of times. I know that I am noted for my accommodating ways and my propensity to listen, but I think that we should press on with the Bill.

The background to the policy which I have outlined of expanding higher and further education and making no policy changes for adult education—indeed, we are paving the way for further expansions there—is that participation has already increased dramatically. We should remember the background of successful policies during the past 10 years because that explains why we require this legislation to accommodate the change. For example, in further education, 75 per cent. of 16-year-olds participated in full-time education or youth training schemes in 1989–90, compared with 46 per cent. when we came into office in 1979–80. In 1989–90, 58 per cent. of 17-year-olds participated in full-time education or youth training schemes, compared with 29 per cent. in 1979–80. Including part-time provision, 86 per cent. of 16-year-olds participated in full-time education or youth training schemes in 1989–90. The figure of 16 per cent. participating in full-time education or youth training rises to more than 90 per cent. if private further education provision is included.

In this country we go in for self-flagellation about our performance compared with that of western European countries, usually completely failing to compare like with like and wishing upon astonished western Europeans a perfection of provision which they do not recognise in their towns and villages or in their institutions and factories.

More than 90 per cent. of our 16-year-olds participated in full-time education or youth training schemes in 1989–90. There are almost 50 per cent. more students in further education now than there were in 1979–80. That trend is certainly expected to continue and current forecasts are correct to indicate that there will be another 50 per cent. increase between 1990 and the year 2000.

Education for adults has just been the subject: of an entertaining barrack-room lawyer wrangle, but it is an important and serious subject because more and more adults want to take part in courses of all kinds. During the past decade there has been a 27 per cent. increase in the number of adult enrolments, which means those of 19 or over, in all types of further education. More than 50 per cent. of those enrolments are in further education colleges, compared with under 40 per cent. in 1980.

Our record in higher education is better known—it is one of the most spectacular changes of the Conservative decade of the 1980s. Only one in eight of our young people participated in higher education in 1979. Now it is one in four, and it will plainly be one in three by the end of the decade.

On funding to back up that policy, there has been a real terms increase of more than 20 per cent. for further education in the past decade, and spending on further and adult education centres increased from about £610 million in 1979–80 to an estimated £1.707 billion in 1991–92. That more than 20 per cent. increase excludes spending on work-related further education, which is financed by the Department of Employment, and on higher education in local education authority colleges. Funding for higher education was up by more than 10 per cent. in each of the past three public expenditure settlements. That is a huge investment in successful expansion.

The Government have embarked upon that investment because in our judgment it is good supply side economics. It will improve this country's economic performance if we invest such public resources in the steady expansion of further and higher education. Obviously it is right that we should insist on cost-effective use of that money, and cost-effective expansions would do so.

The Bill will pave the way for further expansion of higher education and further education of all kinds, and will not lead to any contraction. I shall leave the detailed provisions of the Bill, which we shall no doubt discuss in the lengthy Committee stage for which our guillotine makes provision.

The Bill makes one important point which is not politically controversial—it makes important provision for educating people with disabilities. The Government's policy is that disability should not be a bar to access to further or higher education. The Bill is designed to maintain that position and has been strengthened in another place by amendments on that subject which the Government accepted—they were not forced upon us.

Students with learning difficulties will be able to benefit from the range of opportunities which will be available in the new further education sector. The Bill strengthens existing substantial duties to provide for that group of students and provides a suitable framework within which provision for them can be maintained and developed.

Specifically, the Government have imposed an additional duty on the funding councils over the use of placements for students with learning difficulties, up to the age of 25, in specialist independent colleges. We have also added to the responsibilities of the funding councils in relation to courses for those students in independent living and communication skills.

I have underlined the non-controversial point and that brings the House back to a calm appreciation of the importance of our legislating sensibly for higher and further education to provide for the expansion that we all want to see.

I should mention the Lords amendments which were carried against the wishes of the Government and upon which we have reflected carefully. The Bishop of Guildford, with the support of a number of my noble Friends and other noble Members of the other place, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, tabled a provision relating to religious education and acts of collective worship in sixth form colleges. That is a difficult matter. The amendment established provision to match the existing legal duties on sixth form colleges—in fact, it eases them slightly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I note what my hon. Friends say; indeed, the Government have decided that they will not attempt to reverse their lordships' decision. I learnt with particular astonishment that the amendment was supported by those on the Labour Front Bench in another place.

Another lengthy debate in another place concerned academic independence and the supposed significance of clauses that gave condition-making powers on grants and direction-making powers to the Secretary of State regarding the higher education funding council.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)


Mr. Clarke

I know that the hon. Gentleman follows matters relating to higher education and research closely and, if he will allow me to continue, I am sure that I shall address the point that he intends to raise.

There was an extremely animated debate in the other place about academic freedom. I know that a number of my hon. Friends would be anxious to sustain it here were that issue to be reopened. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir T. Raison) has already mentioned this matter to me, and he is by no means the only one.

I still do not believe that the Bill, as originally drafted, posed any threat to academic freedom. The clauses upon which the debate centred were technical ones designed to clarify powers that had already been given to the Government by Parliament in 1988. Nevertheless, visions were raised of future Secretaries of State, whether right wing or left wing, seeking to hire and fire lecturers, bar individual students, close courses and undertake a number of other things which, in my opinion, were never remotely raised as possibilities in the Bill. Certain matters arise when the Secretary of State must account to Parliament for the use of public moneys when, occasionally, he must seek to ensure that even a funding council uses such moneys for the purpose for which Parliament intended. The Secretary of State has to account for those moneys.

There are occasions—I do not claim that it is so in this case with my noble Friends —when academic freedom is discussed, as clinical freedom is sometimes discussed, as a subterfuge for people saying, "Do give us the money and stop asking what has gone on and how we have accounted for it." However, after a prolonged debate, the Government were defeated on that matter. I have considered the amendments and I am perfectly disposed to accept them, and I trust that they will prove adequate to allow a Secretary of State of this or any other Government to account to the House.

The hon. Member for Blackburn is entitled to enjoy the sight of the Government being defeated in another place. However, in the highly unlikely and undesirable case of the hon. Gentleman ever becoming Secretary of State for Education and Science, I am confident that he would table exactly the same clause as I did. I am sure that he would be distinctly annoyed to find that powers of accounting for public money were hacked away on the grounds of academic independence.

In this case, the Government will accept the judgment of their lordships and we will not seek to reverse their decision.

Mr. Dalyell

What can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say to Court of Appeal judges such as Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who expressed concern about the use of the affirmative resolution procedure in relation to clause 77? Please forgive me for intruding as a Scot who is immersed in the Scotland Bill, but I believe that issue is of concern to all of us.

Mr. Clarke

I have the highest regard for Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who has had a highly distinguished legal career and who is certainly a better lawyer than I am. However, his opinion about the application of the law to universities in relation to the Bill was not always beyond controversy. Nevertheless, I would not argue with his opinion.

Lord Simon played an influential part in the debates that led their lordships to believe that it was necessary to amend the Bill. Their lordships now accept the Bill as it stands and the Government, upon reflection, have also decided to do so. We have not recommended any changes to the House. There the matter rests, but with the greatest respect to all those concerned, I believe that those who were anxious about academic freedom have carried the day rather more than they needed to; hence the Bill now appears in its present form.

Sooner or later the House will start to demand of the Secretary of State that he should account for some extraordinary use of public money. However, he will have to turn around and say that those powers were taken from him as a result of amendments to the Bill in another place. Let us hope that the present outcome is satisfactory. Certainly the Government would resist going any further.

The Bill, as it now stands, will enable us to continue the rapid advance in the expansion of opportunities, range of courses and provision for young people and for adults. It will result in more and better education for 16 to 18-year-olds and for adults. It will lead to greater choice as colleges become more responsive to local demand. It will provide a better deal for students with learning difficulties. It will also provide for greater choice in higher education.

I commend the Bill to the House.

5.45 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

It is a rare pleasure to be able to welcome part of a Bill introduced by the Government. I welcome unreservedly that part of it which contains the policy for which the Labour party has argued for many years—the creation of a single funding council to take over the work of the existing Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) was Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on higher education he moved amendments in the Committee considering the Education Reform Bill to rid us of the binary divide in higher education. He said that we should get rid of the binary divide and set up one funding body. I am sorry to say that those amendments for the establishment of a single funding body for higher education were resisted by the Government. The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary responsible for higher education, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), said that there were not only practical but philosophical objections to ending the binary divide because there was, "a differentiation of mission between the two sectors of higher education"—[Official Report, Standing Committee J, 24 March 1988; c. 1492.]

In the past four years, the philosophical objections to that change have been shown to be the nonsense that they always were, while the practical case for ending that binary divide has become so overwhelming that even the Government have been forced to acknowledge it.

Dr. Hampson

It is not fair for the hon. Gentleman to make such a petty party point when the philosophical distinction was created by a Labour Government through Tony Crosland and then perpetuated and argued in favour of throughout the 1970s by the then Minister of State for Education and Science, Mr. Gerry Fowler. We all have that in common. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman should welcome the fact that we now have a consensus about degree-awarding status and the change of title. Given that the preparatory work has reached such a stage in the polytechnics, will the hon. Gentleman guarantee that he will cause no further delay to the Bill so that we can get it through before the general election?

Mr. Straw

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that I have been inconsistent, let me take him back 25 years to the statements I made against the proposals of Mr. Anthony Crosland to create a binary divide, as enunciated in his Woolwich speech of January 1967. I happened to think that he was wrong, even though he was a member of my party. I have remained of that opinion.

I was not seeking to make a petty point. I only wish that, sometimes, Ministers and their colleagues would listen to the force of our argument. This is not a partisan, party political issue, but the case for ending the binary divide was as strong four years ago as it is today. A good deal was lost by not ending the divide then.

We welcome a sinner who repents and we welcome this late conversion unreservedly. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) asked me what co-operation we intend to give for the passage of the Bill. If all that the Bill contained related to our policy in respect of higher education, for which there is widespread consensus, it would have had an unopposed Second Reading and it could have become law already. Sadly, that is not the case.

I shall deal later with the inadequacy of the Bill to ensure academic standards and the protection of academic freedom, but first I must comment on the issue of names, a subject to which I hope the Secretary of State will give further thought. I have considered carefully the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks about university titles for those remaining colleges of higher education which are not polytechnics. I have noted his remarks about, in his view, the inappropriateness of using the term "university college" because he thinks that it will be confused, for example, with university colleges in Wales and other constituent parts of existing universities.

I ask him to think again and particularly to take account of the precedent of the old university college of North Staffordshire, now Keele university, because that was a very small institution which was just a collection of Nissen huts. It was not called a university college for 10 or 15 years before becoming a university, and there has been no confusion about its nomenclature and those constituent colleges of the university of Wales. Indeed, the name itself helped the establishment of that institution. There will be a problem if there are to be a few colleges—Edgehill college of higher education, Nene college in Northampton and others—which, in a sense, from the name point of view, are wholly separate from the rest of the university sector.

A sad aspect of the Bill is the fact that, although in higher education the Government are ending one binary divide, which is welcome. they are creating two others in further and adult education. Further education is to be riven by a bureaucratic split between locally funded school-based sixth forms and centrally controlled further education and sixth form colleges. Adult education is to be pulled asunder by an artificial, irrational divide between work-related and so-called leisure courses.

At the end of the debate in another place, my noble Friend Baroness Blackstone said that no good educational arguments had been put forward throughout the extensive debates in that House as to why further education should be taken out of local authority control. I have read virtually every page of the Official Report of the debates in the other place, and Baroness Blackstone was absolutely right, for no such arguments exist.

The Government's proposals for further and adult education lack popular support. The Government have no mandate for them. It is no good the Secretary of State—as he tried to do in his speech—claiming in support the further education principals, because there are other people with interests in further education colleges apart from the principals.

I am a governor of a large college of further education, a tertiary college, Blackburn college. That college, like every other, has a majority of governors representing business interests. Only 20 per cent. of the representatives are from the local education authority. The Secretary of State will know, because he has received a letter to the effect, that there was a welcome for corporate status. With one reservation, we also welcomed it, as I have made clear. We are not dismissing the Bill simply because we did not invent it. There was a high degree of scepticism in that governing body over the fact that financing from Preston, which is democratically accountable, will be replaced by an unaccountable regional advisory body and by control from Whitehall.

The Secretary of State, who is supposed to believe in open government—we now have the citizens charter—has treated the House and those interested in the subject with great contempt in not publishing the responses that he has received to the Bill. I do not understand why he has refused to do that. The Home Secretary did it with responses, not from individuals but from institutions, concerned with the Education Reform Act 1988, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have done the same with this measure.

Mr. Flannery


Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is correct; he is usually correct in his observations.

Further education colleges are among the great unsung successes of the English education system. They are all local in character, serving local needs. Local people without exception have established, maintained and expanded those colleges. They have often been local councillors, articulating and meeting the wishes of their electors.

Four years ago, the contribution of local authorities was recognised even by Ministers. The then Minister of State, now a Minister at the Home Office, the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), said in commending section 120 of the Education Reform Act, which gave local authorities new powers in respect of further education, that she had great confidence that local authorities would fulfil their duty to promote further education, and she commended the previous record of LEAs, as had many Conservative Members.

She was right to pay that tribute because for, more than 13 years, the LEAs and further education colleges under them, and sixth form colleges, had operated in a vacuum. There had been no national policy for further education. Indeed, further education had grown and developed despite, rather than because of, the Government. The Secretary of State came close to admitting that in his opening remarks when he said that further education had been comparatively neglected.

The shift to tertiary education—to sixth form colleges—in place of unviable sixth forms, has been of great importance in increasing participation rates and opportunities in many areas, as has happened in my constituency, and that shift has occurred as a result of local initiatives rather than as a result of national policy.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

It may be a small point, but the hon. Gentleman has a mannerism of constantly slightly misquoting me to make his case. I said that further education had been neglected in political debate. As part of his strange mannerism, he turned that into some kind of acknowledgement that we neglected the financing of further education when the figures I gave showed clearly that we had not. We have expanded financing in real terms and presided over a spectacular increase in the number of students in the decade we have been in power.

Mr. Straw

The record will show whether I quoted the right hon. and learned Gentleman correctly. I had no interest in misquoting him. He makes enough comments against himself for me to quote him correctly. I noted him saying that further education had been comparatively neglected. The word "finance" did not pass my lips when I repeated his statement, although, as it happens and as the departmental report which he published last week made clear, further education funding per student has gone down in the past three or four years.

The further education system has developed and expanded, as I pointed out. There has been a shift to tertiary colleges and that has been of enormous importance in increasing the opportunities available, especially for 16 to 19-year-olds, in many areas. That has happened despite, rather than because of, the Government.

The Department of Education and Science has dragged its feet for years over reorganisation and has failed to change the outdated and archaic procedure for reorganising schools and colleges. For the last four years, any local authority seeking to deal with the problem of unviable sixth forms in its area, to provide for and expand opportunities for 16 to 19-year-olds, has faced the astonishing dilemma that if it named a school's sixth form for closure, that school could then seek to opt out, and Ministers have been known to be capricious in deciding whether to accept or reject such opt-out proposals.

We saw, for example, how, in the city of Bath opportunities for 16 to 19-year-olds were wrecked by the capricious decision of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor to allow the Beecham Cliff school to opt out. Successive Secretaries of State have failed properly to fund further education—that fact is acknowledged at any rate by some with knowledge of the system—especially in respect of the capital, the building stock, of further education.

If there are no good educational arguments for the change to central control of further education, one wonders why the Secretary of State is going down this road and is intending to split responsibility for 16 to 19 provision. There are two reasons for that. The first can be answered in two words, poll tax, a point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman failed to mention.

The Government's policy was first announced to the House on 21 March of last year, not by the Secretary of State for Education and Science but by the Secretary of State for the Environment. We recall that extraordinary day when five statements were made, all brought together out of the panic of the Secretary of State for the Environment and his Cabinet colleagues trying to solve the dilemma of the poll tax.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

It is not true.

Mr. Straw

The Secretary of State announced it, so he must have a defective memory. I shall refresh it, as policemen say in the witness box. The evidence is on the record to prove that the Secretary of State for the Environment came to the Dispatch Box first and announced what would happen to further education. He left the Secretary of State for Education and Science to give the details but the reason for the policy was announced by the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Clarke

No, no, no.

Mr. Straw

The Secretary of State appears to have forgotten that.

Mr. Clarke

I shall make no more remarks about policemen and notebooks. If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will see that I made a statement explaining the policy. It may have been a fortuitous coincidence that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made an announcement on the same day, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is producing a conspiracy theory that we introduced that policy only because of the community charge, he is sadly mistaken. The day that I came into office I was determined to introduce such a policy because of the success of the polytechnic policy, of which I had been so firmly in favour some years before.

Mr. Straw

I cannot speak for the Secretary of State's private thoughts on the day that he came into office, and I should not wish to intrude on those except to say that he must have been in a state of shock when he took office on 2 November 1990. He will have been as surprised as anyone else to get the job.

I shall quote the Secretary of State for the Environment—it is no more a misquotation than when I quoted the Secretary of State for Education a moment ago—whose statement was made before the Secretary of State for Education and Science made his statement in the House on 21 March 1991. He said: The reduction in the local tax burden and the correspondingly larger contribution from central taxation announced in my right hon. Friend's Budget statement"— that meant an increase in value added tax to 17.5 pence in the pound— imply a need to consider whether a number of functions should now be brought into or financed directly by central Government. As the right hon. Gentleman denies the idea of centralisation, we should weigh the words brought into or financed directly by central Government. The statement continues: That would be without further changes to the balance between central and local taxation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is bringing forward today proposals for such a transfer in one area of his responsibility."—[0fficial Report, 21 March 1991; Vol. 188, c. 402.] There is no question about the fact that it was to do with the poll tax. The Secretary of State knows that and the Secretary of State for the Environment said it.

Mr. Clarke

Do not be ridiculous.

Mr. Straw

It is on the record. What is more, had there been a complete separation of thought between the transfer of about £2 billion of funding and the need to get the Government out of a hole on the poll tax, why on earth did the Secretary of State allow that statement to be made on the same day as all the other statements on the poll tax? The Secretary of State for the Environment stole his thunder.

Mr. Clarke

Before this kooky theory runs any further, may I say that I went on to make a statement and announced the policy. The quotation that the hon. Gentleman read from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment does not say that I made a statement because of the need to transfer further education spending from local to central Government taxation. I introduced such a policy and it has been adopted by the Government. It was announced on the same day because it happened to switch some of the expenditure from local to central Government, but it did not put further education under central control. The only reason why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made his statement first was convention: he is senior in the Government. Regrettably, on that day there was far more interest in the announcement on the community charge than in the vital matter of the reform of further education.

Mr. Straw

I am not sure what a jury would make of the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, but my view is that he is guilty as charged. As we have a corroborated confession statement, voluntarily offered before consenting adults in the House, we have the Secretary of State "bang to rights". If the Secretary of State does not like us saying that that is why he took that route—I have no doubt that that was the reason as it was how Government publicity managers and the Secretary of State presented it on that day—the Secretary of State cannot wriggle out of it.

The second reason why the Secretary of State has gone down that odd route of taking central control over further education is his obsession, as we heard again this afternoon, about local councillors. It verges on paranoia. He cannot speak about local councils without sneering at them. When he does so, he sneers at the rights of local people to elect their representatives and have a say in the running of their areas.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment.

The Secretary of State's contempt is even greater for Conservative councils than for Labour ones. No one has ever said that local councils should have complete control over the education service, but they should have a say in it and their right, as elected representatives, is significant. A substantial part of further education should not be passed to unaccountable, unelected quangos, as the Secretary of State proposes. His failure to acknowledge that right has already led him into a policy that is grievous to him—the privatisation of the schools inspectorate—and I regret to say that it is leading him into another.

In a few weeks' time, Ministers and Conservative Members will expect Conservative councillors to work for them in an attempt to bring them back into office. It may be sensible if they listen to what their Conservative colleagues in local government have to say about the Bill. For example, the Prime Minister's Conservative-controlled local authority, Cambridgeshire, said: There is widespread and deep concern in both the FE and schools sector that the proposals are fundamentally flawed, that they lack a convincing and cogent rationale and that ultimately they will not work". The Secretary of State was disparaging when I suggested that that would lead to central control—a phrase that the Secretary of State for the Environment seemed to imply.

Conservative-controlled Essex council said: In reality, the apparently free-standing colleges would be controlled by new remote national councils in England and Wales which would, in turn, be controlled by their respective Secretary of State who would appoint their membership, and ration their funding. This represents an unhealthy centralisation of power over a service that is essentially concerned with meeting the needs of individuals locally".

Mr. Dunn

I wanted to take up the hon. Gentleman's point about contempt for local authorities. Was there not contempt in circular No. 1066, which required local authorities to go comprehensive under a Labour Government? Was there not contempt for local education authorities in the Education Act 1976, which compelled local education authorities to go comprehensive? Is there not contempt now for local authorities in Labour party policies—and a future Labour Government, if ever elected— which would compel local education authorities to go comprehensive against the wishes of the local authority and elected representatives?

Mr. Straw

I thought that the hon. Gentleman would say that. Incidentally, it was circular No. 1065. Nothing in what I have said is inconsistent with the suggestion that admission arrangements for schools should be settled by the House. That has happened under this Government as much as under previous Governments. I understand the hon. Gentleman's embarrassment, especially in his constituency, because on the one hand he says that he wants to keep grammar schools but on the other some of the 106 grammar schools closed by this Government were closed when he was a Minister responsible for education. In the 13 years since 1979, 106 grammar schools have been closed.

There are enormous objections to the scheme for taking over further education specified in the Bill. The Secretary of State has sought to justify the scheme by saying that it is based on the experience of the polytechnics. As was explained at enormous length in another place, there is no parallel between the position of the polytechnics and that of further education and sixth form colleges. The polytechnics were national institutions. For eight years before they went into the polytechnic and colleges funding sector there was a quasi-national arrangement under the national advisory board in which the local authorities participated. For years before that, there was the advanced further education pool, which ensured that there was a system of national funding, although local authorities were responsible individually for the institutions in their area. Therefore, there was a long history of build-up towards a national system.

We supported the final removal of the polytechnics from the local government sector to the polytechnic and colleges funding sector. By 1988 it seemed anomalous that they should be responsible to their local authority, because they were national institutions. There are only 80 of those institutions, including small colleges, compared with 550 sixth form and further education colleges. All those FE and sixth form colleges are local and serve local needs.

Contrary to what the Secretary of State said, he should be aware that the greatest proportional expansion in polytechnics took place between 1980 and 1988 when they were under local authority control. There was approaching a 40 per cent. increase in the number of full-time students attending polytechnics. It was just as well that that took place. Although I welcome the Government's present policy to expand higher education, that has not always been their policy since 1979.

At the beginning of this Administration, when the Secretary of State was Sir Keith Joseph, there was a policy not of the expansion but of the contraction of higher education. Paradoxically, the part of the system that was supposed to be the most autonomous, the university sector, maintained its numbers more or less level while the local authority controlled polytechnics met the expanded demand. The expansion was led and met by local authorities, albeit with some benign support from some people in the Department of Education and Science.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

The hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to the polytechnics for taking the burden of the expansion—and it was a burden at that time. In all fairness, however, he should praise the Government a little and perhaps give even a tiny sliver of praise to former Ministers responsible for higher education for gently encouraging the polytechnic system along that road by firmly steering them towards cutting their unit costs.

Mr. Straw

I said that the expansion was supported by part of the Department of Education and Science. I am sorry that I did not mention the hon. Gentleman by name, but I am happy to do so now and to commend him for his role. I hope that that does not damage him too much in the forthcoming general election.

There is no parallel with the polytechnics. Because of that, the Government are having to accept a much higher degree of bureaucratic control for the further education sector than exists with the polytechnics. For years the polytechnics have been effectively running themselves. They have effective, sound, central administrations.

The problem with the further education sector is that it is variable. The college of which I am a governor has a substantial administration. I fully support that under devolved management from Lancashire county council it has much greater day-to-day autonomy. That is welcomed by all. It can run itself, and I look forward to its receiving corporate status. There are smaller further education colleges—for example, one in Coventry that disastrously ran off the rails and was saved only by local authority intervention. Some sixth form colleges have no administration—

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Tim Eggar)

No free-standing administration.

Mr. Straw

No free-standing administration. I am grateful to the Minister for that correction.

Because there are 550 colleges, we should recognise the need for much closer day-to-day bureaucratic control from the funding councils and the regional bodies than there is in respect of the polytechnics. In truth, the Government are replacing locally elected authorities with unelected regional and national bodies for running further education.

The third objection is that the elimination of local authority involvement will lead to a duplication of facilities for further education and 16 to 19-year-old provision. It will remove the dynamic for change that has been there until now. The local authorities have been the midwives of change. The Secretary of State winces at the suggestion, but it is true. I know that he does not like local authorities, but he must acknowledge that they do some good. In one area after another local authorities have recognised when sixth forms have become unviable and have made proposals for transferring sixth form work to local sixth form colleges or further education colleges. It has often been difficult. Some schools will always object to the removal of their sixth forms, but it is widely recognised in Conservative and Labour-controlled areas that, in general, where a switch to tertiary education has occurred, it has led to a great improvement in and expansion of the opportunities, both academic and vocational. There is no question about that.

One of the major defects of the Bill is that no body or institution has responsibility for securing that change. Small sixth forms will carry on despite high unit costs and will be unable to offer a range of courses. The whole system may atrophy.

The fourth objection to the FE provisions is that the Bill paves the way for future Secretaries of State or colleges to end free education for 16 to 19-year-olds. We have expressed our concern about creeping privatisation in the education system. Under the Education Reform Act 1988 education in schools, including those for 16 to 18-year-olds, must be free. There is no similar provision in respect of further education. Education for 16 to 19-year-olds has been provided free as a matter of practice, not as a matter of law.

In the other place Lord Peston, because sixth form colleges are to be removed from the school system, moved amendments to make the law clear beyond peradventure that education would continue to be free for 16 to 19-year-olds, regardless of whether it took place in schools, sixth form colleges or FE colleges. I regret to say that, although the amendment was carefully drafted, the Minister, Lord Belstead, resisted it. He gave an undertaking that it was not the intention to change the practice. I am afraid to say that we have all heard that sort of undertaking: it was not the intention to double VAT.

In reply to the debate, Lord Peston said: This issue concerns the fundamental principle that education in the compulsory sector and in the full-time post-16 sector should be and must be guaranteed to be free." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 January 1992; c. 172.] As there is a major question about whether the law is adequate to guarantee that education for 16 to 19-year-olds should be free, I should like to hear from the Secretary of State that he is ready to accept an amendment similar to that moved by Lord Peston to make it free regardless of where it takes place.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

As the law stands, the Government could at any time have pressed for the introduction of fees for further education for 16 to 18-year-olds in FE colleges. We never have. It is not our policy to charge fees for further education. We are completely committed not to introduce fees for further education. All this is a bit of a red herring.

Mr. Straw

I am not sure that the Secretary of State is aware of the point. Far from being a red herring, the matter was debated extensively in the other place. If there is no intention of charging young people for their education beyond 16, why will the Secretary of State not consider the amendment that was carefully drafted and put forward by Lord Peston in the other place and accept it in Committee?

The fifth objection is that these proposals contain no clear policy for increasing participation rates. The Secretary of State made heavy weather of the current figures on participation rates. He tried to include young people on youth training schemes to dress up the figures. I have with me the latest volume of educational statistics. Although they show a welcome improvement, the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds in full-time education—not just youngsters doing their GCSE resits—in 1989 was 37 per cent. That is below any other major industrialised country mentioned in the DES table. The Secretary of State himself admitted that the current situation is far from satisfactory. When he finally got round to making a statement, on 21 March last year, after the Secretary of State for the Environment, he said: We still lag behind our competitors in the participation of our school leavers in further education and training and their achievement of useful qualifications."—[Official Report, 21 March 1991; Vol. 188, c. 432.] I am glad that Ministers realise that we are at the bottom of the league.

We would do what the Trades Union Council and the Confederation of British Industry have been urging, which is to set clear targets with the aim of achieving, over five years, a situation in which 80 per cent. of young people obtain what is called national vocational qualification level 2, roughly equivalent to 5 GCSEs, grade A to C, and over a 10-year period 50 per cent. achieve NVQ level 3.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), in December 1989, committed the Government to such targets as a matter of policy, but those commitments were ratted on only a month later by the then Prime Minister and by the current Secretary of State for Employment, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). We believe that targets should be set and adhered to by Government and local authorities and that they should be the basis for funding and for expansion of the system.

The sixth objection is that, while the Secretary of State and the White Paper talk in fine phrases of ending the academic and vocational divide, there is nothing in the Bill about ending it. All that is proposed is a piece of elastoplast to stretch over the distinction between A-levels and vocational qualifications. That elastoplast is to be called an advanced diploma when what is needed is a merging, an integration, of the academic and the vocational examination systems, as we proposed, well ahead of the Government, in our advanced certificate of education and training. We propose a single examining authority which would bring together the National Council for Vocational Qualifications and that part of the schools examination assessment council dealing with 16-plus examinations.

Mr. Walden

This is not a frivolous intervention. I am quite impressed by the Labour party's recognition of the need to stream in secondary schools as between the academic, the vocational and the technological, if I have understood the hon. Gentleman correctly. That is very much in the thrust of Government policy, although it goes only halfway. What is the logic of doing that at secondary level and then creating what I would regard as a dangerous mush between the academic and the technological and vocational at a higher level?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman, I know, writes for The Daily Telegraph and evidently he also reads it, but he should not always believe what is written in it. I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of our proposals both for key stage 4 and for post-16.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)


Mr. Straw

It is quite important that I get on, because many hon. Members wish to speak. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, if he insists, but it is taking up other hon. Members' time.

The right hon. Gentleman closed off once again the question of the reform of A-levels. This has been proposed widely, not only by the Opposition but by Conservative Members as well. We want the Government to accept the proposals made in the Higginson report, which the Secretary of State's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), was ready to endorse on behalf of the Government until his opinion was countermanded by the then Prime Minister. The Secretary of State is virtually alone in seeking to maintain support for the over-specialised three-subject A-levels. The vice chancellors want reform, the directors of polytechnics want reform, most employers want reform and not only do those involved in the state school system and the further education system want reform but so do, for example, the Girls' Schools Association and many Conservative local education authorities.

The case for reforming A-levels is not about reducing standards, because the five-subject A-level would be more stretching, tougher on most students, than the three-subject A-level. The case for the reform of A-levels, as Higginson proposed, is that it would end this over-specialisation at 16-plus, which ensures that a very large proportion of our brightest youngsters leave full-time education between the ages of 16 and 19 without adequate education, particularly in science and technology subjects.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can be saying that the Labour party supports Higginson; I do not think that anybody supports Higginson any more. The hon. Gentleman is evading the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden). He is describing the abolition of A-levels and their replacement by one system of examinations for all 18-year olds, whatever their aptitude, ability or inclination, because he cannot stand the idea of distinguishing between the academic and the vocational. Does he really think that by the age of 18 every young man and woman can be expected to take the same examination or enter into the same system of qualifications without damaging the standard of the A-levels, which he so dislikes?

Mr. Straw

The Secretary of State completely fails to understand the issue. It is a matter not just of understanding our policy but of understanding the argument against three-subject A-levels. We have supported the five-subject A-level for almost as long as the Higginson report has been published. If the Secretary of State wishes to end the academic and vocational divide and is serious about that, there is no reason why there should not be different examinations which cater for young people with a vocational bent, or for those with an academic bent, or for those who wish to follow some subjects of an academic nature and some of a vocational nature—

Mr. Pawsey


Mr. Straw

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment because he is always very persistent.

There is no reason why that range of opportunities should not come under the umbrella of a single examining board. Indeed, if that is not done, we will not break down the academic and vocational divide. That is the experience in France and in many other countries.

Mr. Pawsey

If the hon. Gentleman has his way and abolishes A-levels, what will the implications be for the existing three-year degree of his five-subject A-level course?

Mr. Straw

It is not our five-subject A-level course; it is the Higginson committee's. That committee was set up by this Administration, reporting to this Administration, and whose recommendations Education Ministers wanted to accept in 1988. The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that the vice-chancellors and the directors of polytechnics want the five-subject A-level because they realise that it will mean that their students will be far better educated and prepared for higher education than they are at the moment.

Let me deal briefly with the issue of adult education. Adult education, as the Secretary of State finally, although reluctantly, admitted, has been in many ways a credit to local education authorities in this country. Some people have described it as the jewel in the crown in the work of local education authorities. It is a service which has developed locally, like further education, and has been wholly neglected by Government.

The proposals in the White Paper and in the Bill threaten the whole structure and delivery of adult education. It is no good the Secretary of State dismissing all the objections to his proposals as nonsense. I am very glad to have acknowledgement of what I am saying by the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr). One cannot just dismiss the views of local education authorities, Conservative as well as Labour, of students in adult education and of associations of a non-partisan, non-political nature, such as the women's institutes and the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. One cannot dismiss the 6 million people who take part in adult education as having objections which are nonsensical, as the Secretary of State has sought to do, as if they had invented the proposals which the Secretary of State explained so poorly to the House earlier this afternoon.

The truth is that Ministers never properly considered the impact of these proposals on the adult education service. They were put in as a postscript and never considered. If they had considered them they should never have come forward with these proposals.

Sir John Farr

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because it gives me an opportunity that the Secretary of State denied me to tell the hon. Gentleman that the adult education proposals have been put to Leicestershire education authority since I saw the Minister last week. The authority unanimously turned them down as being totally inadequate.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who usually fully supports the Government. In addition, Leicestershire county council is not a Labour authority. If the Secretary of State cannot convince his hon. Friends about the sense of the proposal, he cannot convince anybody. That is because the proposal is plainly daft. It is fundamentally flawed in distinguishing between what is work related and what is leisure related.

The Secretary of State said that the Bill does not cut a line between one part of adult education and another. But it does, and that is clearly shown by the drafting contortions in schedule 2, which lays down the courses that will come under the further education funding council. It is ludicrous, farcical, that because a course for basic literacy in English or to improve the knowledge of English of those for whom English is not the language spoken at home comes within the ambit of the further education funding council, a German who wants to learn English will get the money from the FEFC but an English person who wants to learn German, but not in pursuit of a GCSE, has to get the money from the LEA. How will that affect those who deliver adult education? The Secretary of State sought to explain this bureaucratic circus, this monstrosity that he has invented, but I am afraid that not only were we not convinced but few of his hon. Friends were.

Let us look at the case of someone who attends a flower arranging course. On the face of it, flower arranging seems to be a leisure-related rather than a work-related course. During the course, someone might discover an aptitude for flower arranging and decide to become a florist. Who will fund that course? What about cake decoration? To begin with, a person following such a course might do so out of interest and might later decide to become a caterer and work for a qualification. Who will fund that? These are serious questions.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

In his speech, the Secretary of State did not allow an intervention on Humberside where there is a large adult education centre. It is devolved to the rural areas, including the rural parts of my constituency. It will be split in two, with half the vocational courses going to the funding council and half being left with the LEA. When they are split in half, they lose the infrastructure of the outstations and small colleges, which they maintain, and they lose half the staff. They have to go cap in hand to the college which has vocational courses. What happens if they are not relinquished? The proposal cuts the service in half and threatens courses in rural areas.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is right. The Secretary of State said that the proposals for adult education were "straightforward". I say to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) that they are as straightforward as the maze at Hampton Court.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I fail to see what is complicated beyond understanding in Humberside college having to obtain funding from two sources. If two sources support different courses, that does not have the consequences that the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) claims. A cake-making course is a ridiculous example. If a local authority finances such a course, and sets fees, which it can do, it does not have to strike off the course a student who suddenly decides that he wants a cake-making qualification. This is a nonsensical campaign about a part of the Bill and the reforms which do not affect the ordinary provision of adult education in anything like the way that the hon. Gentleman seeks to claim.

Mr. Straw

It is not a nonsensical campaign. If there was any merit in the Secretary of State's proposals, it would be reasonable to suggest that any of his hon. Friends would support him. Not one sought to speak in support of his proposals.

Mr. Harry Greenway


Mr. Straw

I shall not give way because I wish to make progress. There is enormous scepticism and a great deal of opposition to the proposal, and the Minister knows that as well as I do.

I shall deal briefly with higher education. The first issue is quality control. During the debate on the Queen's Speech, the Secretary of State sought to assert that quality control in higher education could be adequately protected simply by using the funding council. He failed to see any reason for distinguishing between those involved in quality control and those involved in funding. I am glad to say that, in the other place, the Government accepted the need for some separation in terms of quality control because the quality control committees of the funding council will have to have a majority of members who are not drawn from that council. In Committee, we shall table amendments to seek to make quality control quite separate from the funding councils, because that is the best way to ensure the proper maintenance of standards.

We were glad to hear that the Secretary of State had finally accepted the arguments in favour of controls on his power to dictate to individual institutions. The original powers were not minor. There was a try-on in 1988 and the powers were potentially monstrous. We are glad that the Minister has accepted the Beloff amendment. However, there is great merit in the amendment moved by Lord Simon of Glaisdale in the other place for affirmative resolution control on the use of the powers. We shall table such amendments in Committee.

The Government have no mandate for the Bill, which represents a centralising and authoritarian takeover of local colleges and the replacement of local accountability by a new, untried and bureaucratic system under the Department of Education and Science. They have no mandate to railroad the measure through under the guillotine that will be debated later. The further education sections of the Bill are fatally flawed. They have no educational justification but were born of the poll tax. We may not defeat the Bill, but it is one more reason why we shall defeat the Government in the coming election.

6.36 pm
Sir Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

There is much in the Bill which is to the credit of the Secretary of State who conceived it. Unhappily, he has knowingly and deliberately polluted it with a breach of principle so serious as to render the Bill itself unacceptable, and it is to that which I shall direct my attention. It is concerned with the community colleges. May I mention in passing that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State appears to be under the mistaken impression that community colleges are confined to rural areas? His actual words were: "In rural areas, we will have community colleges." The city of Plymouth is not a rural area. Does he mean that the college there will be closed? Is that the Government's intention?

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

No, nor, as I have sought to explain, do the provisions which I suspect my hon. Friend slightly misunderstands pollute the Bill in the way in which he feels strongly that they do. The Government have no intention of closing Plymouth college, and nothing in the Bill need lead to any change in the arrangements at that college. The funding council will make its arrangements for provision as it judges best in accordance with the Bill's provisions. I think that that meets my hon. Friend's point. The proposals were amended at one stage to try to meet his point.

Sir Robin Maxwell-Hyslop

If the Bill had been produced at very short notice and introduced first to the House, it might have been possible to assent to it on Second Reading in the reasonable hope and expectation that it would be acceptably amended in Committee. But that is not its history. Early in September, having ascertained that that was not too late to secure alteration to the Bill, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller), who for more than 12 years has taken a constructive interest in public sector education, took a deputation of five community college principals to see the Secretary of State.

The important breach of principle is this. It is an elementary principle of natural justice that an arbitrator must never have a personal interest in the result of his arbitration. I would have hoped that that principle could not be denied by anyone in this House. It is that principle which the Secretary of State has knowingly and deliberately breached.

The community colleges have to submit funding applications to arbitrators, that is to say, to further education colleges, who themselves have a perfectly natural and proper interest in attracting maximum course funding for themselves so as to spread their overhead costs over the largest possible number of courses. They are arbitrators because they are not automatic forwarders of such applications to the funding councils. They have an incentive not to do so. So the principle of natural justice, that an arbitrator must not have a personal interest in the outcome of his arbitration, is violated, and that pollutes the Bill unacceptably.

I have the distinct impression, which I cannot escape after five months of negotiation and correspondence with my right hon. and learned Friend over this, that he resents the fact that the actual pattern of education in some parts of Britain is different from his conceptual pattern which he wishes existed instead. Community colleges are an extremely intelligent way of using resources because the physical structure of the school, much of the equipment and the facilities in it are used by adults when they would otherwise be used by no one.

For that reason, quite often they are part-funded in those facilities, not just by local education authorities but by district councils as well, so that people living locally can use, for instance, the gymnasium or the sports hall or the swimming pool when it would otherwise be put to no use at all. In other words, the whole surrounding community benefits, and the taxpayer, both national and local government, gets better value for his investment in the premises concerned.

I shall have to speak of reality rather than concept. It is all very well for my right hon. and learned Friend to say that the local education authority can pay for this and pay for that. The reality is that, within the constraints of the standard spending assessment under the revenue support grant system currently in use, they do not have that real option, as opposed to conceptual option, because their resources are so fully committed— particularly in rural areas where the pattern is one of the widespread existence of small schools—that they simply do not have the optional resources left over to employ in a way which the Bill permits, but there is no reality of use for those powers because the resources are not there, and we cannot expect them to be there.

So the community colleges, which probably make the best single use of the capital investment in them, provide further education and adult education as well as their primary function of secondary education. This means that the children at that school for secondary education can have a wider spectrum of syllabus opportunity, since some of the same staff who teach less popular disciplines to the children can be retained because they are also teaching adults in the adult education function of it.

Now I come to timing. It is no good my right hon. and learned Friend asking us to look at clause 53, which gives him power to make orders, if there are bloody-minded FE colleges that unreasonably refuse to further applications. Time is of the essence. When there was a Liberal-controlled education committee in Devon, and its then chairman, a certain Mrs. Rogers, grossly abused the governors and staff of Burlescombe County Primary School so that I had to ask the Attorney-General to intervene, and he located a power which the then Secretary of State for Education and Science had to remedy the situation by order, only one day before the commencement of the new term could that order be made, because of the steps that had to be gone through to avoid the possibility of the order being frustrated by an application for judicial review.

The essence of this is timing. To enable a community college to put on courses that are actually attended, time is crucial. To start with, in April for the coming year the governors and senior teaching staff have to draw up their syllabus programme—the programme depending on the syllabus, of course. They have to do that within their financial resources, and they do not know what the total throughput will be, over which they are spreading their overhead costs, unless and until they know what adult courses they are going to be able to put on as well. To imagine that they can wait week after week while section 53 is first put into operation and then grinds slowly on in such a way that it will not expose the Secretary of State to judicial review is unreal, because, after the community college has decided what courses it wants to put on, for which it believes there to be demand, it cannot then send its application to the funding council: it has to send it to an FE college. The FE college has then to discover what all the local bus services are, in an area with which it may not be very familiar, for access to the FE college, because it has to decide whether it itself is making adequate provision for the area served by the community college. It is no good the Minister of State shaking his head. If he does not know that, he has not mastered his subject.

This can be very time-consuming where there is more than one FE college covering the same area. It means that the one FE college to which the application was made has to discover what courses are contemplated by the other FE college, as well as local availability of public transport, which itself is not guaranteed to run for any particular period of time. The governors then have to make sure that the staff, equipment and materials are available. All that has to be done in time to advertise the courses and get a response from the potential users, the adult students of those courses. Only then, before the beginning of the new term, can it be decided whether the courses will actually be provided.

Meanwhile, those who have applied for them, in the expectation that the courses will be there, do not and cannot know, because the governors themselves do not and cannot know, whether the courses will be there. If the application is not sent on by the FE college—in other words, is not approved and sent on to the funding council—the whole of that will have aborted, and in many cases the potential adult students concerned will have lost the opportunity to apply for alternative courses elsewhere.

This is the real world about which my right hon. and learned Friend and his junior Ministers appear to be wholly ignorant, or alternatively about which they would prefer not to know.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Much of what my hon. Friend is saying is also relevant to Leicestershire—particularly his point about remoteness and distance. In Leicestershire, the adult basic education service is not provided in colleges of further education. Sometimes, it is not even provided in community colleges but instead in church halls or even people's homes. Therefore, it is all the more important that it should remain as a free-standing service rather than being dealt with, unfortunately, in the way that the Bill would deal with it. The whole basis of my hon. Friend's speech, which I am following with great interest, is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Sir Robin Maxwell-Hyslop

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. He has knowledge of the educational pattern in his area of which I am ignorant, just as I am more familiar with the educational pattern in my part of Devon than I am with that of north Devon.

Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that what we really require for good education is peace? That is the problem as I see it—I hope that my hon. Friend will agree. In my area, we have six community colleges and sixth form colleges of which I have not, in 30 years, had one single complaint relating to the courses offered or to the pleasure of learning taken from them. Should not the logic be that we allow these community colleges to continue with direct access to the funding authorities so that they can go on, without let or hindrance, wasting time or anything else, doing a very good job? As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) said, if the machine works, for goodness' sake leave it alone.

Sir Robin Maxwell-Hyslop

I am grateful for that contribution from my hon. Friend, because his area is different from mine, in one of the most dispersed educational patterns of any LEA in England.

I shall conclude by saying this. The Bill has already been through another place, where there was every opportunity for my right hon. and learned Friend to secure amendment to it so as to deal with the real problems, which I am not drawing to his attention for the first time tonight, which were drawn to his attention when he was good enough to receive the deputation in September, to which I referred earlier, and which have been pressed since by correspondence invoking such weight as the Patronage Secretary may happen to carry as well: but without success. What has emerged is a certain number of sub-clauses which cannot meet the need because they are incapable of functioning with sufficient speed to meet the time programme, which I have described, I think, with complete accuracy. It is because of the determination of my right hon. and learned Friend not to accommodate his Bill to the reality that exists, but instead to resent the reality that exists for not meeting the concept of the Bill that, with great regret, I shall find myself in the No Lobby tonight.

6.53 pm
Mr. Michael Carr (Ribble Valley)

The Liberal Democrats share the Secretary of State's aims for a better educated and trained people. We also applaud his reference to a continuing entitlement to education, and his stated aims for a near-universal further education and a mass higher education system. All these are laudable aims.

In higher education, we welcome the ending of the binary divide. This move has widespread support, both inside and outside the House, and it is long overdue, as the Secretary of State said. We hope that this will lead to a choice of courses unfettered by the names of institutions. People have been guided by the reputation and the names of certain institutions when they might well have chosen a course more appropriately taught in a polytechnic. We hope that this will disappear with the ending of the binary divide.

However, the expansion of numbers in higher education poses a number of problems. Are the expanded numbers to be catered for simply by cramming more students into existing buildings and on to existing courses? Will there be an extension of the large-scale block lecture approach, to cater for the number of students who we hope will enter higher education? Will there be access to research on equal terms? Perhaps the Minister will explain how the Secretary of State intends to achieve that—the Secretary of State referred to it briefly.

There has been reference to the terms and conditions of academics teaching in higher education institutions. The Secretary of State dismissed the idea of a pay review body, but not too convincingly. We should welcome a pay review body.

The Secretary of State also mentioned quality control in higher education. I was glad to hear that the quality control function of the further education councils is to be distinct from their other functions. However, I should have preferred an extension of the powers of Her Majesty's inspectorate in this sector to ensure independent review of quality control in these institutions.

The divide between academic and vocational qualifications is to be ended. We see this as a vital and essential step forward, but it is difficult to see how it can be achieved with A-levels continuing in their present form. Without reform of A-levels, the removal of the academic/vocational divide will remain illusory and elusive. In itself, the gold standard of A-levels will ensure that the divide continues, although I accept that that is not the Government's stated intention.

It is clear from the Bill that the Government do not like local government or trust local democracy. It is apparent to many people working in education that the Bill is part of a continuing attack on local government, given the background of successive Acts of Parliament since the Government first came to power and their repeated attacks on local government, not just on its education powers. It is also clear that the Bill gives the Government a way to get off the poll tax hook—something that has also been referred to already. It can create, and will create, an opportunity for the Government to fiddle about with poll tax levels.

On a more practical level, there is a danger that the variety of 16-to-19 provision that will exist after the Bill becomes law will make the rational planning of post-16 education more difficult. The local education authorities will retain responsibility for sixth forms in schools, albeit on a locally managed basis, and for non-vocational adult education, while further education funding councils will have the responsibility for sixth form colleges and FE colleges. Diversity may be one word for it—we welcome diversity—but there is also a risk of confusion and difficulties in planning.

I want to refer very briefly to colleges that combine further education functions and higher education functions. I am thinking of institutions, such as Bradford and Ilkley community college, that students can enter with no formal qualifications whatsoever and leave with a degree. I visited the Bradford and Ilkley college two or three weeks ago. There, and in similar institutions, there is genuine concern that it may be difficult to achieve that combination. I hope that the Minister, in his summing-up speech, will address this problem.

Mr. Eggar

I have paid two visits to Bradford and Ilkley community college, and I do not think that there will be any difficulty for it. In respect of schedule 2 courses, it will be funded by the further education funding council, and in respect of higher education courses it will be funded by the higher education funding council. In addition, the local education authority will continue to provide funding in that area. I should remind the hon. Gentleman and some of my hon. Friends that colleges such as the Bradford and Ilkley community college are very used to having lots of different sources of finance for lots of different courses.

Mr. Carr

I want to turn to adult education. The Secretary of State has said that there is no threat to the pattern of continuing education. He has said that local education authorities have a duty to provide non-vocational education for adults, that funds will be provided for that purpose, and that it will be for the authorities to distribute those funds. In September, he expressed the same view in a rather bullish letter to all his colleagues, following the summer campaign organised by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the women's institutes and other bodies. The fact that he did not convince those organisations is shown by the letters that I and other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are still receiving.

The local education authorities will lose the money that would have been allocated to them for further education. A large slice of the education budget will be devolved to schools under local management. I am worried that, when the responsibilities for statemented pupils, education welfare and school transport have been discharged, local education authorities may find it difficult to fund the very non-vocational courses to which the Secretary of State referred. Perhaps the Minister's summing-up speech will provide some clarification on that point.

Mr. Jessel

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that he ought to wait to hear what the Minister of State says in response to my intervention and to points made by other hon. Members on this very subject?

Mr. Carr

I have made my comments on that very point, and I do not propose to dwell further on it. We shall indeed hear what the Minister says when he sums up.

The Secretary of State, who said that he does not often refer to questionnaires, referred to a questionnaire that had been sent to college principals. I should like to draw attention to a question to which he did not refer. It is about the likely future balance between vocational courses and non-vocational courses following the introduction of the measures proposed in the Bill.

Forty-three per cent. of college principals felt that there would be fewer so-called leisure classes, and 14 per cent. of them thought that overall provision would decline. The college principals have views to which the Secretary of State probably did not want to refer, but I have now made them available.

The Government's propaganda on adult education is not being believed. Adult colleges are in a difficult position. Richmond college, which has been referred to, has 25,000 students— more than many further education colleges have. There is concern about how this funding will be secured if further education colleges, for their own reasons, are not too willing to forward applications.

There is a growing feeling that adult education colleges that do not have governing bodies as legal entities ought to have such bodies, and that smaller adult education centres ought to be able to form consortia, with a governing body recognised as a legal entity. If we have to go down this road of funding councils, if we have to lose local democratic control, the adult institutions themselves and the consortia could apply directly to a funding council. Indeed, it has been suggested that perhaps there ought to be an adult education funding council, but that matter is not within the scope of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) referred to people gaining from leisure courses skills that enable them to enter self-employment or to go on to courses that will equip them with qualifications. That is an aspect of adult non-vocational education that we understand and accept, but there is another dimension. Adult non-vocational education is not only about self-employment or about the possibility of further qualifications; it is also about self-fulfilment, about the meeting of personal needs that fall within the broad definition of education. I am concerned that that aspect may suffer. For many elderly people, women and individuals living alone, the so-called leisure classes provide an opportunity for self-fulfilment.

Underlying everything is the suspicion that the question of additional resources—the one thing to which the Government do not refer in this Bill—will be skated over. If the numbers in higher education are to be expanded, if we are to continue to provide adult non-vocational classes, if the number of people participating in education beyond the age of 16 is to expand, there is a resource implication.

The Government ought to be honest and say that, if they are to achieve their own stated aims, they may—from the point of view of Conservative Members, heaven forbid— face the possibility that income tax will have to be raised. My party has said that it would do that. We are prepared to provide the funds that education needs by increasing the standard rate of income tax by 1p in the pound. I should like to see from the Government a commitment to the provision of increased resources.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has applied a 10-minute limit to speeches delivered between now and 9 o'clock.

7.9 pm

Sir Richard Luce (Shoreham)

In this House, it is a convention that hon. Members declare existing interests. I do not have an existing interest, but I think that it would be courteous to declare that, after retiring from the House at the general election, I shall become vice-chancellor of the university of Buckingham. Against the background of all the exciting changes that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is bringing about, I regard that as a wonderful challenge.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on this Bill, which will strengthen our policies on further and higher education. Our record is clearly a good one. It is interesting to reflect on my time at university, which I confess was 30 years ago. At that time, one in 14 of those aged 18 years was able to go to university. In 1979, the ratio was 1:8. Today it is 1:4, and we anticipate that by the end of the decade it will be 1:3. There has been remarkable change. Over the past 10 years, the number of students at polytechnics has increased by about 50 per cent. There has been a 55 per cent. increase in the number of mature students. Clearly there have been significant changes since 1979. These figures demonstrate the scale and pace of the change that has taken place.

Our university system has a good reputation for the quality of eduction within it. It is interesting to note that graduate output in the United Kingdom is the same as that of France and of Germany. Fewer students are admitted to the United Kingdom university system, but the drop-out rate here is far less than elsewhere. The rate here is about one sixth, whereas in many universities elsewhere in Europe it is about 50 per cent.

Mr. Pawsey

Perhaps my hon. Friend will care to speculate for a moment on the plan of Opposition Members to reduce the A-levels to five-subject examinations. What impact does he think that that will have on the degree system in British universities?

Sir Richard Luce

There have already been some exchanges on this issue, which is a serious one. Our concern is to increase and enhance the quality of our university education, which is already extremely good. The Channel 4 commission on education had this to say: British graduates are acknowledged throughout the world to be of a very high standard. Our job is not only to maintain that but to enhance it still further. The Bill surely does a great deal to strengthen that purpose with its single funding structure, with the absorption of polytechnics into the university system, with separate higher education funding councils and with important procedures of quality assurance. All these factors are singularly important.

Above all else, the Bill will help to increase competition between institutions for students and for funds, but on the basis of equal status between different types of institution. That will be underpinned by a firm system of quality assurance, which is an extremely important feature of the Bill.

I turn now to academic freedom. Towards the end of his speech, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State gave the important assurance that the Government would not seek to reverse the amendments that were made in another place. That assurance is singularly important, and I am grateful to my right hon and learned Friend for giving it. However, when he and his ministerial colleagues examine the Bill in Committee, I ask them to take a fresh look at clauses 68 and 81. My experience in Parliament over the past 21 years is that the law is incomprehensible. The two clauses still lack comprehensibility, and it needs to be beyond all doubt that the Secretary of State has no intention of interfering in the academic freedom of universities. That must be made absolutely clear in the Bill.

Surely the principle is clear: that no Secretary of State of whatever Government should have the right to intervene specifically in the affairs of individual institutions in a way that affects the academic freedom of those institutions. It must be right, however, that, when dealing with taxpayers' money, the Secretary of State must be accountable to the House for that money. I draw an analogy with my experience over five years as Minister for the Arts. Sensitivity about preserving the artistic freedom of bodies funded by taxpayers was such that I think that, if I had tried to intervene, for example, in the affairs of the royal national theatre or the Royal Opera house, in terms of how they presented their productions and what productions they undertook, I would have been strung up in Whitehall, and rightly so. It is essential that we preserve the principle of artistic freedom.

The same considerations apply to academic freedom. There are funding bodies for the arts, such as the Arts Council, and for education there are the new funding councils, which will act as a cordon sanitaire. They will take specific decisions on the funding of individual institutions and on the quality of their academic courses. There is an important distinction. It is right to preserve the powers of the Secretary of State to give general direction within an overall policy on the allocation of funds to the funding councils, but he should not intervene in any way to call into question the academic freedom of universities, whether the criterion is selection of staff, the admission of students or the duration of courses.

I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has stated in a White Paper and has said himself—I happen to agree with him—that he believes strongly in the idea of introducing more two-year degree courses. I agree that there is a case for that in some circumstances. Indeed, the university of Buckingham is a pioneer. It would be wrong, however, for the Secretary of State to intervene specifically and instruct an individual university on the duration of its courses.

I hope that, when these matters are debated in Committee, the role of the Secretary of State will be made absolutely clear. The principle is enshrined in clauses 68 and 81, and hon. Members will be aware that clause 81 deals with financial mismanagement and provides that, as a last resort, the Secretary of State has the right to intervene.

If the Secretary of State or the Government are not to intervene on academic freedom, the Government and all of us in this place must be assured that the proposals for maintaining and building upon the quality of education is deeply enshrined in the Bill. There has been reference already to the Robbins era of the 1960s, when there was fear that a dramatic increase in the number of students would mean a lower quality of education. Accordingly, my right hon. and learned Friend is right to place in the Bill procedures for maintaining quality—the highest possible standards of quality, with the minimum of bureaucracy.

There is the proposal that the quality audit unit should be enabled to go into institutions, as it were, to ensure that their mechanisms for maintaining quality are adequate. Secondly, there is the quality assessment unit, which the funding councils will appoint to help to ensure that the good quality of education in universities is upheld. Those procedures are right, but in the other place there was great debate about how independent of vested interests the units would be. That is a crucial consideration.

If my right hon. and learned Friend is saying that Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools should be independent, we should ensure that the quality assurance units are as independent as possible. Some concessions have been made, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will offer us some strong reassurances when he replies.

The Bill enhances and strengthens the prospects of improved quality and those of a much wider range of education at the higher level in universities to cater for the varying needs of a greater number of students. This education will be infinitely diverse in terms of the range of courses, the balance of teaching and research and the duration of degree courses. There will be much more flexibility. Parents and students will have greater knowledge of what the various institutions offer. There will be a range of institutions to cater for a greater variety of needs among our students, including those of mature students and those who wish to take up part-time courses, as well as those who are interested in the Open University and in distance learning. The Bill goes a long way to strengthening all these possibilities.

7.18 pm
Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central)

As all the previous speakers have declared vested interests, I shall do so as well. My constituency contains a polytechnic, part of Sheffield university and two further education colleges.

Many have welcomed the late conversion that has driven the Government to remove the binary divide between polytechnics and universities, and to create a single funding council for higher education. I am now hopeful that the polytechnics will play an important role, along with the universities and the rest of higher education, in developments not just at city but at regional level.

As the speech of the right hon. Member for Shoreham (Sir R. Luce) amply demonstrated, two issues still cause concern—the conditions governing the grants referred to in clause 68, and academic freedom. I hope that the Minister will deal with both. Recently, the polytechnic and the university in Sheffield have entered into a strong working partnership with the city as a whole, and that has had a regional impact as well. I believe that the economic regeneration now taking place in the area has been helped by the close working relationship of what are now the two local institutions of higher education, and by the development of technology transfer and science parks.

Further education is a subject of considerable contention. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has pointed out, we have removed one impediment—the divide between polytechnics and universities—only to institute two new boundaries which may be equally damaging, if not more so. To suggest that the recent release of polytechnics from local authority financial control should be extended to the further education sector is, in my view, to advance a dangerous and, indeed, ignorant argument. It may, of course, have been the only argument available to the Government— albeit a weak one—when they were trying to cover up the fact that they had taken more than £2 billion from local authorities' further education budgets. As my hon. Friends have revealed, that took place during the panic about the poll tax calculations. It is all very well for the Minister to shake his head, but that is the truth, and I think that most people outside know that it is.

The Government have made their calculations for a change in the funding of at least 500 further education colleges at a time when we have only a handful of polytechnics. It shows ignorance for the Government to claim that the role of polytechnics is the same as that of further education colleges, for that is entirely untrue.

I am a product of a further education college. Having left school at 15, I served an apprenticeship in one of Sheffield's major steelworks and then, thankfully, attended the further education college. I sat on the board of governors of two such colleges for some time. I also attended Sheffield polytechnic, and I know that they are entirely different institutions, fulfilling different needs. Further education provides for local needs, and to break up the system now would be highly detrimental to the recovery that we look for in the United Kingdom.

On the board of governors were local industrialists and local trade unionists; there was also a major input from the local authority. It is no good for the Government to ask for economic regeneration and to expect a partnership to develop across the major conurbations, and then to think that some elements can be isolated—elements such as the further education colleges, which are an integral part of the training mechanism.

If we are to start upgrading schools—you will understand this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a former engineer— we must not do it in an offhand way or at arm's length. It is important to understand the role of the further education colleges, which is quite distinct from that of the polytechnics. They serve national, international and regional needs. People across the political and industrial spectrums are concerned about the direction in which the Government are pushing further education colleges.

It was interesting to note the concern expressed by Conservative Members about the community colleges. It highlighted the need for flexibility in the development of that sector of education for the over-16s, along with the need for security of funding. Security of funding must involve democratic accountability, and that, surely, must be obtained through elected bodies—local authorities.

One of our main criticisms of the further education provisions in the Bill is that they will not achieve the stated objective of a significant increase in the number of people entering higher education, or continuing in full-time education between the ages of 16 and 18. Furthermore, it is bizarre and wrong to exclude local education authorities from strategic decision making in respect of post-16 education and training. That will open unnecessary divisions between the school and college sectors.

It is incomprehensible that local authorities, which are frequently the largest employers in an area or city, should be excluded from governing bodies. It is wrong to say that the governing bodies can contain employers, but that local authorities cannot represent their employees on those bodies. The time scale is rushed, and is likely to cause major implementation problems. The distinction, for funding purposes, between vocational and non-vocational education is artificial—as was adequately demonstrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn—and is likely to prejudice the hundreds of thousands of students who participate in non-vocational education.

The Government are wholly silent about the nature of funding mechanisms, and the Department has failed to respond to any of the detailed questions put to it by local education authorities. That has been reflected by what Conservative Members have said. The further education clauses of the Bill are being pushed through in the teeth of widespread public disquiet and opposition—witness an earlier question about responses to the White Paper. Those responses have not been published, although I understand that they have been asked for on a number of occasions both here and in the other place.

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman has made a variety of inaccurate accusations about the Government's position. Perhaps, as he is speaking on behalf of Sheffield's local education authority, he will comment on that authority's attitude to the forced bringing together of Sheffield's six colleges.

Mr. Caborn

I intend to discuss that at length, but I shall not do so in the 10 minutes that I have been allotted this evening. If the Minister will ask me the same question another time when I am not under such a constraint, I shall answer it with pleasure.

Let me deal with the general issues of education and training, and how they are dealt with in the Bill. Although there was a considerable increase between 1979 and 1988 in the number of young people in youth training schemes, the absolute number of 18, 17 and 16-year-olds pursuing full-time education increased to 131,000, 232,000 and 336,000 respectively. Those figures represent percentage rates of 18,33 and 47. That may seem a good achievement, until it is compared with that of our major competitors— for instance, the United States, Japan, Germany and Belgium. In 1988, the percentage of 16 to 18-year-olds who participated in full-time education and training in the United Kingdom was only half that achieved by our major trading partners.

Between 1979 and 1989, there was a significant increase in the number of home full-time students in higher education—from 184,000 to 250,000. That is welcome, but it really means that it will be more difficult to widen the pool that has not grown significantly —the further education pool—unless access is made much easier. More counselling and development work will be needed at the bottom of the social ladder.

Funding is of great concern to many local authorities. Only a proportion of the provision currently made by further education and tertiary colleges will be funded. Students will count for funding purposes if they follow courses leading to vocational qualifications; but the non-vocational side is very important to inner cities. It is no good for the Government to come to the House and complain about riots after they have neglected those matters in the Bill.

7.29 pm
Sir Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

I hope that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), with whom I have much in common, will forgive me if I do not reply to his speech. This is almost certainly the last occasion on which I shall have the privilege of addressing the House of Commons. Perhaps it is appropriate that it should be on the subject of higher and further education.

We should not dwell on the past or on the disagreements that I have had with my right hon. and hon. Friends. I should like to concentrate on the Bill and on the future. Although I found myself in overwhelming agreement with the Bill as it was first introduced, certain sections of it were rightly amended by the Lords. The fact that the Lords made those amendments and that the Government will agree to them means that I shall support the Bill wholeheartedly.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State repeated the differentiation between applied and pure research. There is no differentiation between pure and applied research. How could we have found the anti-diphtheria drug, penicillin, insulin or histamine without pure research? They were the results of pure research. The genius of certain people in the past, such as Cavendish, Wellcome and others, was that they invested in pure research on the offchance that something commercial would come of it.

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State that the key problem—I admit that it is a difficult one—relates to the powers of the Secretary of State and the Government on the one hand, and to the doctrine of university autonomy on the other. I accept that the latter doctrine was carried one stage too far. Self-government and autonomy in higher education are enormously important, but the taxpayer and the Government also have some responsibilities.

When I had some responsibility for such matters, I was struck by the extraordinary variety of our institutions. I became convinced that central Government should have much great influence, but not to the detriment of the individuality and initiative of different institutions. It is a question of balance, and it is difficult. However, I believe that the Government have accepted that, and that the Bill represents the degree of that balance.

I warmly welcome the fact that so many excellent polytechnics, especially Anglia, will receive university status. I congratulate the Ministers who were principally involved in that.

Although it is not the dominant purpose of this Bill, I hope that the House will forgive me if I refer briefly to problems of finance, and especially to student finances. I cannot refer to academic salaries because I have a potential interest. The funding of higher education, and especially of its students, raises a profound problem, to which neither party has addressed itself seriously. They have produced palliatives and promises, but not answers.

Perhaps such matters should be removed from the sphere of party politics and, indeed, from Government. I am not suggesting another Robbins inquiry or another royal commission, but perhaps the Secretary of State and the Government should set up an advisory committee comprising people who understand and are deeply involved in higher education, to advise them not on tactics but on strategy and to look forward to the next five or 10 years. I am deeply concerned, for example, about the way in which we finance research. It is a question not of money but of the allocation of the money and the criteria that are used. The problem applies to all the research councils; I do not want to concentrate on any particular one. Huge sums are spent—some usefully, some not—but nobody is in a position to judge whether the money has been spent properly. I suggest that an advisory body—not the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, but one that does not have a special interest—could advise on strategy.

In the 25 years that I have served in the House, I have endeavoured to outline my concerns to it. I shall now return to academic life; to scholarship; to the love of learning for its own sake, which I believe is still the dominant purpose of higher education; to the excitement of a new generation eager to learn; to the sheer fun of education, which people sometimes forget; and to the joy of seeing one's students do well and to the sadness of sometimes seeing them not do as well as one would wish.

Education, which politicians talk about as something political, is a personal matter. It is the relationship between the teacher who wants to teach and someone who wants to learn, and it is precious. The teacher rejoices at every pupil triumph and mourns at every failure. There is a glow about the glory of true education which is impossible to describe. I wish that the House, when it stops arguing about whether Conservative policies are better than Labour or Liberal Democrat policies, would remember that the true lure of higher education is the love of learning for its own sake. Our job is to try to finance and to encourage that.

7.36 pm
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir R. Rhodes James), who has given 25 years' distinguished service to the House and has had a distinguished career in international relations and scholarship. I am sure that we all wish him well as he renews his distinguished academic career on leaving the House.

It is also a great privilege for me to speak in the debate because prior to being elected to the House I was a lecturer. I have been a student at Manchester polytechnic and the University of York and a lecturer in polytechnics and in the university in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn).

I welcome most of the higher education provisions in the Bill, such as the removal of the binary divide. The binary divide in higher education has been similar to the unfair distinction that used to exist between grammar and secondary modern schools. I hope that we resist all opportunities to reintroduce that distinction while we remove those in higher education.

If there is to be parity of title between the polytechnics and the universities, I hope that we shall also ensure parity and equality in resources. I am pleased that the last institution in which I worked, Brighton polytechnic, will become the University of Brighton. I wish it and all my former colleagues there the very best for the future.

I am concerned that some of the current inequalities between polytechnics and universities will not be removed as we enter this new era in which polytechnics and universities have the same title. I trust that, when polytechnics become universities, there will be positive action to equalise resources and to ensure that teaching facilities in polytechnics can be improved, and that the former universities can learn some lessons from the polytechnics. I hope that there will be improved library and research facilities and improved student residential provision in the polytechnics.

One of my hopes for the new era is that some of the best in the polytechnics will be transferred to the universities and some of the best in the universities will be transferred to the polytechnics. That will create opportunities for former polytechnic staff to engage in research and have the facilities and resources to do so.

I hope that in the new era we shall see education for education's sake and get away from the obsession with entrepreneurism which has dogged academic life in recent years. I know the skills as lecturers that many of my former colleagues had. They were lecturers, not entrepreneurs. As a lecturer I did not mind how many students I taught, but I did not want to be responsible for the administrative arrangements for bringing them into the college in the first place. We were told, "Go out and sell your courses." We could have sold many rather cheap packages.

When I left the polytechnic last year, I was anxious about what I saw as the "pile them in and teach them cheap" philosophy. Although we welcome the increase in educational opportunities in the past 10 years, there is some concern that by bringing students in at any price we devalued the level of education that we could give them. It is not possible to teach students adequately at degree level when seminar groups have 20 people in them or the course numbers increase but the number of books does not increase commensurately to resource those courses.

Let us go back to an education ethos in which students are regarded as a national asset and an investment and not simply as units of income. It causes anxiety to all of us that the expansion in higher education in the past 10 years has been characterised by increasing student hardship and poverty. There has been an attitude of, "Bring them in, but never mind about the financial hardships that many students may face." The right hon. Member for Shoreham (Sir R. Luce) said that Britain had lower drop-out rates than many other countries. I fear that the drop-out rate might increase as students decide that they cannot afford to continue or, if there is a parental contribution, parents decide that they cannot afford it.

The Bill also contains provisions for further and adult education. All Opposition Members are convinced that the poll tax inspired the further education provisions and that they were nothing to do with a love of education for its own sake. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) paid tribute to the unsung success of the further education colleges. I recently visited Newport college of further education. I was impressed by the number of access courses that it ran. The college takes students who would never have dreamed of going on to higher education and gives them the opportunity to obtain a degree.

It is important that we do not measure success merely in terms of the number of good degree results—the number of 2:1s or firsts. For people who never imagined getting a degree, a third-class degree is a tremendous educational attainment. I am worried about the obsession with minimising the number of people who receive lower class degrees.

There is widespread anxiety about adult education. This evening, Ministers have tried to give reassurances that adult education will not be jeopardised. That is not the view held by anyone who benefits from adult education, administers adult education or teaches in adult education. Both Opposition and Conservative Members have been lobbied vigorously by organisations connected with adult education. I pay tribute to the local education centres in my constituency and to the women's institutes, the Workers Educational Association and the Hill residential college, Abergavenny, which is a unique institution in Wales providing short-term residential education for adults, many of whom are retired, most of whom are women and most of whom see no distinction between vocational, non-vocational and leisure education. Indeed, the introduction of the word "leisure" makes the distinction even more frivolous.

I hope that the Bill will result in secure funding for adult education and the residential educational colleges. The people who benefit from adult education have largely completed their vocation. In pre-retirement, early retirement and retirement they want to study for the pure sake of learning subjects which they did not need in their working lives.

I conclude by echoing the words of the hon. Member for Cambridge. He said that there was a glow about the glory of true education. I pay tribute to all the people who were involved in education in the 1980s, when it was an unfashionable profession. People taught in higher education and polytechnics and gave references to students who went into the City and earned far more than the lecturers who had trained them for the job. That devaluation and the denigration of people involved in education were worrying. I repeat: let us go back to the time when we could see that glow about the glory of true education.

7.45 pm
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards). He said that he was worried about degree-level teaching and mentioned the shortage of books. But, despite that, he certainly seemed able to consider the devalued A-levels proposed by his hon. Friends. They talk about moving away from the three-subject A-level to a five-subject A-level.

Mr. Edwards

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pawsey

I will give way later. The hon. Gentleman seemed happy with the idea of a devalued A-level—

Mr. Edwards

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I did not say anything about A-levels and certainly did not advocate devaluing them.

Mr. Pawsey


Mr. Edwards

Then it is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to infer that I believe that they should be devalued.

Mr. Pawsey

With respect, the fact that the hon. Gentleman did not refer to A-levels is a clear indication that he accepts the proposal of his hon. Friends, who argue the case for a five-subject A-level. To increase the number of subjects to five would clearly devalue the entrance to our universities requirements. The proposals in the Bill give colleges greater freedom and cut the apron strings that secure them to the local education authorities. The Bill reduces the amount of bureaucracy and relieves principals of FE colleges the requirement to deal with bureaucratic budgeting rounds every year and to justify their budget to faceless officials in shire halls.

The Bill will enable the colleges to make a faster response to the requirements of their students and of local employers. It will help to bridge the criticism that education and industry are separate entities, each operating in its own intellectual vacuum. We all know that there is a wealth of talent in the colleges of further education. There is talent to be found in the staff room and talent to be found in the classrooms. The Bill helps to release that talent and broadens the vision. It does for the colleges of further education what the 1989 legislation did for the polytechnics.

An indication of polytechnics' success is the substantial increase in their student numbers. Indeed, the great expansion in student numbers comes from the polytechnics rather than from the universities. While much has been achieved in schools and in advanced education in the past three or four years, FE has been something of a Cinderella. We have not done enough for young people who leave school at 16 or for adults who, for whatever reason, require additional training or education. This legislation undoubtedly helps to remedy that defect.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said, 60 per cent. of 16-year-olds in England participate in further education. Twelve years ago it was 41 per cent. Further education colleges take about 360,000 full-time students, 700,000 part-time day students and 700,000 part-time evening students. Those are spread over about 450 institutions.

Mr. Fatchett

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the figure that he quoted includes all those youngsters on youth training schemes, only 25 per cent. of whom will gain a qualification? Also, the figure that he quoted is not the real international comparison but the figure for 16-year-olds. We shall be considering 16 to 18-year-olds and all those in full-time education, and that is the real comparison.

Mr. Pawsey

I do not think that there is any difference of opinion between us. It is intended in the Bill for the new further education funding councils to be in place on 1 April next year to prepare for the transfer of colleges from local authority control. It is that date which gives urgency to the legislation. No doubt that will be considered later this evening. Clearly, that is why it is necessary to introduce a timetable motion later tonight.

The further education funding council for England will have a membership of between 12 and 15 and they will be appointed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. They will be drawn from people with experience in education, including those with expertise in administration. There will also be members from business and industry. I have no doubt that colleges of further education will widely welcome those proposals, for they view them—as we Conservative Members view them—as a change necessary to improve further education and to bring it in line with modern practice and thinking.

The second part of the Bill deals with advanced education. Here it is worth remembering that we are catering for a much-expanded sector as a result of the Government's efforts. When we came to office, only one in eight of the target group were in advanced education. Today, the figure is one in four, and it is moving towards one in three. It is the Government's intention to continue that admirable process. The target of one in three by the turn of the century, which we have set for ourselves, will certainly be achieved. That clearly underlines our commitment and our determination to improve the quality and standard of state education for all our people.

I welcome the ending of the binary line. It was always an artificial distinction, separating the universities and polytechnics. In some ways, the old regime protected those universities which were not quite in the first rank and held back polytechnics which enjoyed a substantial and justifiable reputation for learning. I am pleased that the polytechnics can now incorporate the title "university". It will certainly be a great help to them abroad, where there is less understanding of the word "polytechnic".

The Bill introduces a single funding mechanism for universities, polytechnics and colleges of higher education through the higher education funding councils for England and for Wales. The new councils will be in operation from April 1993 and that tight schedule again helps to underline the reason why it is necessary to get this legislation on the statute book with the minimum delay.

The House will recall that under the Bill the Council for National Academic Awards will be closed—the first time that any degree-awarding body has been dissolved. Recently, I met its chief executive, Malcolm Frazer, and we discussed how the 300,000 students on courses under its control would manage under the new proposals. I was pleased to receive an assurance from Malcolm Frazer that no students will be disadvantaged by the changes. We also discussed the question of records. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to take note of this issue when responding to the debate. Clearly, if a student loses his degree certificate, he will require another. I was pleased to learn that arrangements have been made between the CNAA and the Open University for the latter to hold all the appropriate records and to be in a position to offer duplicate certificates. Those are not unimportant safeguards.

I welcome the proposal to establish a quality assessment unit within each funding council. That will maintain good practice and monitor, for example, performance indicators and changing student profiles. The units should also ensure that links with business, industry and education do not deteriorate. The institutions will establish a quality audit unit and some of its members will be drawn from business and industry, as well as from the academic world. Quality assessments and quality audit will safeguard the quality of degrees and ensure that standards do not slip.

The Government's proposals in the Bill will bring substantial benefits to the nation—benefits to students, to employers and to the community at large. The greater freedom being given to colleges of further education will enable principals and staff to display even more inventiveness in courses.

There has already been a massive expansion in the number of people attending polytechnics, and there will be a massive expansion in those attending colleges of further education, which will be of benefit not only to the nation's work force but to those who seek learning for its own sake, whether as a leisure pursuit or for any other reason, which touches on the issue mentioned earlier by Opposition Members.

I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion simply by saying that I hope that the Bill will soon be on the statute book, where it will be of singular benefit to the British people.

7.55 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I thought that when the Secretary of State introduced the Bill he gave us a demonstration of his usual bull-at-a-gate tactics in respect of yet another field of education into which he is rushing to impose change.

With the claim of simplifying, he is creating a much more complicated structure. In the name of eliminating distinctions, he is creating new ones. That restless process of change is typical of his approach. He introduced it first in the health service, transferred it to secondary education, and is now transferring it to further and higher education. In that process of change, he is not making any allowance for the simple fact that change itself has a cost. Indeed, change is expensive to introduce. Unless he increases spending to allow for the costs of that change, it will fail.

Here we are, in the last dying days in the life of the Government, rushing through a major change in the system with inadequate consultation. The Secretary of State has not demonstrated to us the evidence—the representations from local authorities—on which the change was based. He has not told us what arguments they offered against it. The Bill is being rushed through with a guillotine to follow and with no time to consider it. It is being imposed as the Government go out—with a twilight already shining on their shoulders. The Bill will throw higher and further education into another mess, just another achievement of the bull-at-a-gate Secretary of State in that area.

What I have said does not obviate the need for change, but change has to be managed, has to be carried through by a process of consultation, and has to be financed. That is the danger of the changes which have been introduced by the Government.

My main argument is on the effects that the Bill will have on a service which we are very proud of in Humberside—the Humberside adult education service. I wanted to intervene when the Secretary of State spoke, but unfortunately I could not. We are very proud of that service. It has 100,000 enrolments and 40,000 students, and it provides a valuable service, siphoning people into education who would otherwise drop out or would not be attracted to it, because it provides education where they live—in the village hall, and schools in the locality, in villages and towns, in the main using the facilities of secondary schools.

Although the service provides both vocational and non-vocational training—the Government have created a contemptuous distinction between the two—it siphons people from one to the other.

Mr. Eggar

Since the hon. Gentleman is making all sorts of wild allegations without the advantage of his television researcher, perhaps he could tell us where that division appears in the Bill.

Mr. Mitchell

It is the Government's attitude that non-vocational education is somehow unworthy and should be financed in a different fashion. This money is for the important aspects of education and all the rest is fit for the local authorities—that is the Government's attitude.

Mr. Fatchett

It is in schedule 2.

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend is correct—it is in schedule 2—and I shall come to that in a minute.

The Government have created that distinction, and it is an artificial one, because people who enter the adult education service in Humberside move from one type of education to the other. After being attracted in, they develop their expertise, and their interest in education is stimulated. They grow. Because it is a comprehensive service, it can siphon them from one aspect to the other and allow them to develop their interest and improve their education. That is an important service.

Adult education represents an important, countrywide service. It is now threatened because 50 per cent. of its work will effectively be taken from it. That work is now to be eligible for application for funds from the funding council, and will not be paid for by the local authority. That means that there is a great danger of splitting the work provided right down the middle. If that happens, the comprehensive service that has been maintained on Humberside cannot be sustained. There will be certainty about obtaining one half of its funding, but uncertainty about the other half. Therefore, that comprehensive service, which maintains facilities for vocational and non-vocational education, will go by the board. That is the danger we face.

I accept that the local authority funding is not ring-fenced, but I am certain that a Labour authority in Humberside will want to maintain services for the benefit of the people. The problem is whether the provision of education in literacy, numeracy and vocational training, which will be transferred to the funding council for resources, will be able to survive.

I know that it is proposed that the adult education service can use a college as a type of post office for the means of applying to the funding council. That is a ludicrous arrangement, partly because the adult education service is larger than any of the colleges. That service provides education for more students than those provided for by several colleges put together. Adult education provides a more comprehensive service than that offered by the colleges, but those colleges will be competing with it. The colleges will not be interested in maintaining adult education services in rural areas, and that is so important because people will have to come to study on campus. In that sense, the colleges are competitors.

If the adult education service in a particular area does not get a college to support its application to the funding council, even though such colleges will probably cater for a smaller number of students and will therefore be less important than the adult education service, the Secretary of State has said that it can appeal to him. I am not sure what appeals to the Secretary of State, but such an appeal procedure adds to the uncertainty. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a comprehensive adult education service unless we have some guarantee and an arrangement whereby it can have direct access to the funding council.

The power to apply to a funding council could be defined in terms of the size of that adult education provision. Why not define the adult education service in terms of the provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988? That Act defined a college as one with 400 full-time equivalents and at least one full-time student. That would give the adult education service the ability to apply directly to a funding council. Unless it has that direct ability, it will suffer. Uncertainty will abound, and it will be difficult to maintain the comprehensive service of which we are so proud in Humberside.

It is also important to consider the dangers posed by the remoteness of the funding council. I know that regional advisory bodies will be established, but we need regional funding councils made up of representatives from the local authorities. Those people would know about the local needs. That is essential. A remote national body will change the system constantly, whatever the fashion is in education, and it will be remote from the needs of local areas. That means that the council will not allow for diversity, which is another valuable part of the education system. We must consider that threat.

Labour colleges and long-term residential colleges, such as Ruskin and Northern, are worried about their role as a vital safety net. Those colleges allow those who develop their interests in education late on to be drawn into the education system. The achievements of those colleges are enormous; I cannot speak highly enough of Ruskin and Northern colleges, the two that I know best. Their achievements are in danger unless there is some specific recognition and entrenchment of their role in the Bill. Those institutions should be added to the existing list. The adult bursary scheme should be maintained, because it is essential to defend and advance it. It allows people to come into education late on—an essential safety net in society.

I hope that the Minister will heed the pleas of the adult education service, the colleges and the long-term residential colleges for the establishment of a funding council that appreciates and understands their needs and is geographically closer to them.

8.4 pm

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

It is right that, at the outset, I should declare an interest. For many years, I have been a member of the council of one university and on the court of another. My law firm also acts for a number of institutions in higher and further education.

I had the privilege of serving on the Committee on the Education Reform Bill. That Bill is already seen as one of the milestones of educational development, and that will become increasingly apparent in the years to come. It was visionary, but I remember clearly that the Opposition attacked and criticised every aspect of its provisions only to find that, within a year or two, they had become part of the accepted wisdom of the education world. It began the process of overturning some of the discredited dogmas which had bedevilled education for more than 20 years.

It is right to consider the polytechnics first, because they have made such outstanding progress since they were liberated from the control of local authorities. The improved participation rates in higher education from one in eight in 1979 to one in four now and moving towards one in three, the flexibility which polytechnics have brought to courses, particularly through the modular method of studying and the significant success of the graduate output rate, which is just as crucial as the number of people starting in higher education, are all features of the growing development and maturity that the polytechnics have brought to our higher education system. That goes alongside the splendid progress already achieved by universities.

The polytechnics have shown that any benefits which resulted from local education authority participation and control in their affairs are far outweighed by the benefits that result from independence. It is clearly time to build upon that progress, to abolish the binary line and to introduce a coherent structure for funding teaching and research across the higher education sector.

If that is true of polytechnics, it is equally true of further education colleges. It is time for those colleges to be given the chance to make similar progress. I am concerned at the stories from a number of colleges about attempts at asset-stripping by LEAs in the final months of their control. They are not just stripping those colleges of their land and buildings, but reducing funding to them in anticipation of those colleges moving out of their control next year. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something about the protection that he intends to apply to ensure that those colleges, when they emerge free from LEA control, will emerge with their proper share of assets and the revenues to which they are entitled.

My right hon. and learned Friend spoke of the importance of sixth forms and his desire to enhance their future role. My constituency consists mainly of towns and villages on the outskirts of the city of Leeds, and the sixth forms in the local comprehensive schools are important. Many colleagues will recall the bitter battle that was fought over two years when Leeds council sought to abolish our sixth forms. It was only the intervention of the then Secretary of State and, in particular, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), which prevented it.

Obviously, we are concerned that the LEA might threaten those sixth forms again, and I should be interested to learn now or in Committee exactly what my right hon. and learned Friend plans to do to give additional protection for the status of sixth forms. In areas such as mine, schools plan, whether under the local management of schools, or possibly through grant-maintained status, to become more like community colleges. They want to provide enhanced services for the local communities.

I should like to know from the Minister how grant-maintained status will affect the ability of those schools to offer courses to the local community and whether they will be in a better or worse position as grant-maintained schools than they would be as part of an LEA. I hope that the result will be neutral as between the two. Sixth forms are a vital ingredient of schools in rural communities, and the protection that my right hon. and learned Friend announced for them will be very welcome indeed.

Another area of concern, touching the earlier debate about university drop-out rates, arises from what happened at the end of last year in a number of local authorities, Leeds being one of the worst. Mandatory grants to students were not delivered on time. Eight weeks into the term, over 40 per cent. of students from Leeds entitled to mandatory grants still had not received them. Some did not receive them until the first term of the year was over. That was totally unacceptable. I feel for those students when I recall when I went to university for the first time. Pressures are bound to build up. The thought that one must face those pressures while having to worry where the money to which one is entitled may be—how one will manage one's affairs without that money—is a horrifying prospect. Should there be a repetition of what happened last year in any local authorities, my right hon. and learned Friend will have to consider measures to remove the administration of mandatory grants from LEAs.

In that context, LEAs represent only a post box for funds from the Department of Education and Science. If LEAs cannot deliver that service effectively, he should provide alternatives, and I shall tonight be tabling amendments to the Bill to give my right hon. and learned Friend power to do that. After all, we have organisations such as the Student Loan Company which are building up effective computer databases on the loan aspect. Such a company would be capable of delivering mandatory grants in addition to performing its other tasks. Indeed, we might save much duplication and cost by using one system.

There has been much talk about education for its own sake or education for vocational training. The two are not incompatible. A good education system should have the widest possible availability for as many people as possible. Students who go into the system should be free to make up their own minds about what benefits they wish to take from it. Some will wish to be highly vocational, others will not.

I had an interesting insight into the value of what we have in Britain when, a few weeks ago, I attended a conference organised in London by Toshiba International Foundation. It was looking at the educational demands on a developed society by the turn of the century and trying to predict what changes would be needed. The conclusion of some eminent speakers, including the dean of Tokyo university and other highly distinguished academics, was that the great hallmark of success in the future would be the ability of a nation to handle complex information in large quantities and to apply it to a whole range of activities.

Those Japanese academics were looking enviously at our education system; while undoubtedly they can produce engineers in large numbers, what they found attractive about our system was the flexibility of mind that it produced, of young people able to turn their minds to a variety of applications and retrain relatively easily as technologies developed.

Many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, so I will not make other points that I would otherwise have made. Our intention must be to make higher and further education available to as many people as possible. It must be to ensure that all, whatever their ages, are able to return to the education and training system and take from it the things they need, be they vocational or just for interest.

The Bill will mark another important milestone down the road that we took with the Education Reform Act. I hope that we shall organise our affairs in a way that will ensure that it becomes law before the general election. An enormous amount of work has already been done in the polytechnics and colleges in preparation for their change of status. Much momentum has built up, and if that were slowed down because of the need to start the whole process again after the election, we shall have lost a year that we can ill afford. I commend the Bill and hope that it will reach the statute book as rapidly as possible.

8.14 pm
Dr. Ashok Kumar (Langbaurgh)

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir R. Rhodes James) for his contribution and I regret that he is no longer in his place. I confess to have been reading his books since I was a school boy. I have deep respect for his sincere views and wish him well in his love of learning and in his new post.

I shall adduce some arguments on the proposed structure for further education arising out of part I of the Bill. I welcome the aims and aspirations of the measure, but deeply disagree with the methods proposed. I shall highlight only a few aspects of the Bill, and I speak as one who has had long experience of further and higher education—first, at the receiving end, as a student, and then as the former chairman of governors of one of the largest colleges in Cleveland, the Longlands college of further education. Under the existing further education structure, that college, with the support of a totally dedicated and hard-working staff, has pioneered innovative and enterprising programmes of training and education in an area which has consistently experienced some of the highest unemployment in mainland Britain.

The Bill is an attempt to emasculate and undermine community and local input into our colleges. If it is passed, there will be another major reduction in the powers and responsibilities of LEAs and the virtual eradication of local staff or non-private sector representation on governing bodies, with no local ability to influence the direction and content of the work carried out in our colleges.

In the name of liberation from local government oversight and administration, as the Secretary of State put it, the Government are intent on installing a system of funding, appointment, direction and control that is positively Napoleonic in content. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's reserve powers will be wide ranging and immense.

The Secretary of State talked about liberating further education colleges from local authority control. Without any representation on governing bodies or any role in quality assurance, the vast accumulation of local knowledge will be squandered. Experience and expertise will be lost and local democratic accountability removed.

If the Bill is enacted, we shall see the total fragmentation of responsibilities in the post-16 sector and in adult education generally. There will be needless competition, rivalry and duplication of effort between local colleges, LEAs, the proposed national councils and free-standing, ostensibly independent, grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges.

There is no proposal as yet for the Secretary of State to set up any form of national co-ordinating body or forum at which the different interests may meet and debate. There is no provision for cross-representation between planning bodies and the governing bodies of colleges. That is a recipe for utter confusion, a waste of scarce resources and a breeding ground for futile rivalries.

The Bill is another sad illustration of the hatred and contempt with which the Government view any institutions that are locally controlled and managed. My hon. Friends and I are totally opposed to the continuing erosion of local democratic accountability for the delivery of such vital services. We utterly oppose the concentration of power at the centre and the spreading and menacing influence of appointed agencies—often run by the Conservative party and its central office—to manage institutions on a day-to-day basis.

Let us examine the facts, including the damage that narrow and ill-thought-out proposals could have on our future. At present, only one third of the 2.8 million 16 to 18-year-olds are in full-time further education. A further 16 per cent. are undertaking full-time YTS training and work experience, while others are attending part-time or evening classes. One third of our youngsters are receiving no education or training. They are unemployed or in the twilight world of dead-end—often temporary or casual—work. Furthermore, those in full-time further education are often participating in a system that, under the prevailing ideology and political stewardship of the Government, is open to the charge of being divisive.

All too often, A-levels are seen as the only pathway to success, forcing the academically able into specialisations that often do not match the country's real needs. The majority of FE students become the recipients of a vocational training system that does not measure up to the standards set by other nations in the European Community—our direct competitors in the coming decade. The Bill will not liberate those students. The competition that it will unleash between local colleges will almost certainly result in local colleges going under, or being forced to close or merge.

The financial controls and financial regime that the Secretary of State will impose will mean that "standalone" projects based within colleges will be unable to receive funding and thus may be forced to close. I was involved in Cleveland in setting up one such project relating to the local chemistry industry at the college of which I was chair of governors. There is no guarantee that such innovative projects will be allowed to survive under a rigid, centrally directed further education structure. The knowledge of essential local circumstances that allows a local education authority or training and enterprise council to support an innovative project will be absent, and it cannot he replaced.

Some aspects of the Bill have not been sufficiently worked out. The splitting of vocational and leisure interest courses worries me. What may be a "leisure course" to narrow-minded Ministers can often appear to those at the chalk face as an essential complement to vocational training. A young man or woman studying engineering practice may regard a better command of English as beneficial to his or her ability to convey complex technical matters to someone in his or her firm or to the firm's customers.

I am aware that LEAs will be left with the funding of so-called "leisure courses", although it is not yet clear what funding the Government will provide to local authorities for those courses. It may be argued that local authorities will fund those courses, but in my area we have the spectacle of poll-tax-capped councils having to cut their core services and being unable to expand in other directions. The acquisition of basic skills such as literacy and numeracy must be regarded as essential vocational skills and I cannot stress highly enough the fact that they must be fully included in the funding arrangements.

I wish to highlight clauses 4 and 11, which deal with special educational needs and people with learning difficulties. The formulation of those clauses is weaker than any existing duty of LEAs under the Education Act 1981 and the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. There is no provision for an independent review of the requirements of individuals or for rights of appeal against the level or quality of support available for students with special education needs. The duty extends only to full-time students in the 16 to 19 age group. It is apparent that there is no guarantee for older or part-time students with learning difficulties.

The Bill does not even begin to deal with the real issues of training and further education for 16 to 19-year-olds. We are only weeks away from a general election, after which a new Labour Government must begin the task of facing up to the responsibility of tackling those issues. We have a unique opportunity to enhance and raise the standards of educational provision for over-16s. By 1994, as a result of demographic movements, there will be 500,000 youngsters between the ages of 16 and 19.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has run out of time.

8.25 pm
Sir John Farr (Harborough)

I welcome this opportunity of contributing to this stage of the debate, and I am well aware that there are likely to be further opportunities after 10 o'clock.

It is important to my constituents and me that I should recognise the kindness of my hon. Friend the Minister of State in seeing delegations from my part of the world on two or three occasions. The most recent was last week, when a senior team discussed the implications of ABE—adult basic education—ESL—English as a second language—and community further education. The first time that we saw the Minister of State he was impressed because I gave him an amendment to the Bill. That was before Christmas, and the Minister seemed to be inclined to accept it. The first time that a few hon. Friends and I saw the Minister he told us to come back with some experts so that they could argue with his experts to sort out the matter. That is what happened, and last week we were lucky enough to have a good discussion with all the top people on both sides.

I then tried unsuccessfully to explain to the Minister of State why some clauses are totally unacceptable to some of my constituents. When my right hon. and learned Friend would not give way to me earlier on, I wished to say that his suggestion that clause 6 was suitable and wholly admirable had been considered by my constituents. Their views were made known to us last week and we had a subsequent meeting in Leicestershire. For reasons that I fully support, the amendment suggests that the safeguards in clause 6 are inadequate.

Some hon. Members will be lucky enough to be on the Standing Committee. If I am on it, or if any of my hon. Friends from the same county are on it, I am sure that we shall table that particular amendment to clause 5. We have been so awkward, from the point of view of the Whips, because clause 5 is inadequate unless it includes a couple of lines to the effect that the further education funding councils will take account of existing quality providers, as listed under schedule 2. It is a simple amendment. The first time that I suggested it to the Minister he seemed impressed, but last time he seemed less impressed. Therefore, nothing in my consultations with my hon. Friends has shown that we should do other than press the amendment in Committee or on Report. It does not alter the character of the Bill, which we all welcome as an improvement to community and further education. It simply recognises that some parts of the world have reached a standard that my hon. Friend can only envisage for other parts of the country.

The Minister need not take my word for it. HMI carried out a detailed and exhaustive examination of Leicester's ABE recently. As hon. Members know, when HMI visits, it tears the institution to bits and takes it apart at the seams. HMI went through the Leicester adult basic education structure. I have with me the full report, but time will not permit to read it now. It is full of admiration for the work of Leicestershire ABE.

The report makes particular reference to the one-for-one education in the home as of right. I need not explain why that is necessary. Many perfectly normal people do not want to learn publicly. For example, pensioners may not want to show that they cannot spell. They may not be 100 per cent. fit physically, but they are alert mentally and often self-improvement is the only thing that keeps them alive. That is what ABE is all about.

I can refer only briefly to the report. It gives many good examples of how ABE is carried out and praises the ABE service in Leicestershire. The conclusion is: Leicestershire has established a strong foundation of provision. It is now timely to consider building on this foundation. That is not what I say; it is what HMI advised the Secretary of State. With great respect, how dare he ignore that sort of advice about a service that has been taken apart and been seen to be serving the country almost beyond comparison.

The Secretary of State is not in ignorance. He has been told about the report by the Minister of State. As a result of the report and the recommendation that I have just quoted, the Leicestershire ABE service was expanded. All the recommendations in this two-page report have been put into effect. Leicestershire is one of the most progressive ABE providers in the country and it is recognised as such both locally and nationally.

As a result of the report, 13 half-time posts have been turned into full-time posts, a deputy county co-ordinator has been created, its class provision has been greatly increased and a number of its ABE bases have been upgraded. To lose this local, student-centred, urban-rural co-ordinated, well resourced, efficient service with highly trained, well motivated, dedicated staff can be in no one's interest, least of all the adult students for whom it caters.

The time for speeches is limited now, but after 10 o'clock it will be slightly longer, so some of my choice comments can wait until then, but I should like to say a word about community further education. My delegation came from all parts of the county of Leicester. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) came with a delegation of experts from the county and I brought a few experts. We also dealt with further education. I brought Mike Lee, the vice-principal of Welland Park community college in Market Harborough. He had been in correspondence with me for a long time. We have been extending successive invitations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and others to visit us. I must conclude now as I have run out of time, but I hope possibly to resume my speech after 10 o'clock.

8.34 pm
Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I will not follow the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) on the Leicestershire question, but I am sure that the Secretary of State will, indeed, make his visit before the election.

I should like to remark on the particularly moving speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir R. Rhodes James). He said that he was returning to learning for its own sake and for the love of learning. I am certain that his contribution, as with the contribution of many other scholars, is not learning for its own sake because that learning also enriches language and the whole community. It has always been a pleasure to have him in the House during education debates. I hope that he reads the tributes to him from this side of the House as well as from his own side.

I shall deal with the aspects of the Bill that concern my favourite Department of state, the Welsh Office. The Bill represents the latest and final step in the devolution of education policy and administration to the Welsh Office. We now have in place a fully devolved education system. Last year training was devolved and now we have the further education funding council for Wales and the higher education funding council for Wales. I was pleased at the appointment of Professor John Andrews as the joint chief executive of both councils. We look forward to the appointment and functioning of the shadow council.

The official Opposition criticised the FE changes as a form of centralisation. Even from the Welsh perspective it can be argued that to transfer the 30 FE colleges to a body that is accountable to the Welsh Office rather than to have them as part of local government is a form of centralisation. I do not share that view. I see this as creating opportunity for a relatively small-scale system to be treated as one system for planning purposes. Nevertheless, I share some of the concerns expressed about the effect of that on the adult education component. Again, my experience of the FE sector is that already FE colleges are taking funding from different agencies, not least from the training and enterprise councils and, previously, the Manpower Services Commission, where we had many of the most effective innovations in higher education.

In particular, I welcome the commitment in schedule 2 to Welsh medium teaching and to Welsh language literacy. The further education funding council will certainly want to pursue the work that has already been undertaken by the Welsh adult education committee and the Welsh Language Education Development Committee.

It is high time that in classifying education policy we moved away from these artificial distinctions between secondary education, further education, higher education and adult and continuing education. I came to the House from adult education via higher education and for me life is all about education. Education must necessarily include training. I was supportive of the earlier parts of the Secretary of State's speech in which he mentioned the need to develop an education system that was life-long based and able to tackle the present social changes. This provides us with an opportunity for greater co-operation between the TECs, the training component of education, and the further education sector.

I welcome the higher education funding council for Wales. On this occasion I am wearing one version of the university of Wales tie—not the version favoured by the Leader of the Opposition because it is important that we should display diversity.

I am pleased to see the university of Wales being devolved and I certainly do not share the concerns expressed by some in the universities that the devolution of the university to the Welsh Office will give rise to problems in the internal structure of colleges, or the assertion that every higher education institution in Wales should come into some kind of relationship with the university. I believe that there was a strong argument before the devolution that it was important to maintain the university of Wales as a federal institution. If there are arguments now for maintaining the federal structure, they have to be won by that federal structure proving that it is the best way of providing common services to constituent institutions. We have to look not just to the university but to the other institutions of higher education in Wales. They are all now equal partners. There may be an argument, in that context, for moving away from a strong federal structure, as that would tend to dominate the rest of our education within Wales.

The old argument that it is a national university and therefore a national institution and thus needs to be maintained is not one that I would pursue. After all, the Welsh Office is our prime national institution and now it is in charge of our funding. Soon the autonomous council will be administering that funding on the basis of objective standards, and there is not a case, in my view, for a duplication of allocation between the funding council and a joint university structure.

I am also pleased to see reference in the Bill to the position of the Open University. My reading of clause 62(b) is that both funding councils will be able to fund the OU, which means that in the context of Wales the OU can receive additional funding for its operation within Wales. I speak as a former part-time member of its staff in Wales. The OU will be able to receive funding from the higher education funding council of Wales to augment its activities there.

I also have concern, of course, about the position of a college in my own constituency, also an institution in which I once taught. It is important that we have a guaranteed role for such institutions within our reorganised HE and FE sector.

I want to make certain that when we debate the Bill in detail we shall be able to do something about research funding in Wales. Many of us are concerned that, over the years, the UFC, although it has its own scheme for the allocation of research funding, has not sufficiently looked to the distribution within the nations and regions of the United Kingdom of its research funding. I hope that there will be a sufficient funding base for the new funding councils and that they will he able to look at the need for a broad profile of research throughout the higher education institutions which they fund.

When we consider the Bill in Committee we shall need to look in detail at the representation on both the equality body and the funding councils. The major consumers of education are its users and its student body. It is very important that we follow some of the debates that are already taking place in the other place about representation of the student body on the higher education structures.

The Bill represents a positive move forward in the structuring of Welsh education. I cannot share some of the concerns expressed in various parts of the House, certainly as far as Wales is concerned. My anxiety has always been, ever since I came into the House, to see the development of a strong, autonomous education system within Wales. My first Second Reading speech was on education, when I called for a comprehensive over-16 education system in Wales. I was at that time trying to persuade the then Labour Government that it should introduce such a system. I find myself making what I assume is my last speech in a Second Reading debate on education congratulating a Conservative Government on having done just that.

8.43 pm
Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)

I start by declaring an interest as an adviser to the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, the union I joined when I first started work as a polytechnic lecturer in 1975 just across the river at South Bank. Since 1975, we have seen some tremendous changes in higher education—certainly, since 1979, changes of which Conservative Members have every reason to be proud. We have seen student numbers increase and the quality of the graduates keeping pace with the numbers going into higher education.

I am very pleased to say that it is the polytechnics that have played the lion's part in the expansion of higher education. I am happy to have been a lecturer during that time and to have contributed to that expansion. Other speakers in this debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir R. Rhodes James), have talked about the joy of teaching. Certainly those of us who come into the House and who have taught before find that it is the one thing that we miss. I would have liked seminar classes the size of the audience this evening at times when I was lecturing.

I am particularly pleased that the polytechnics have now been recognised as coming of age and are to be able to be universities. It was a great step forward when they were set free from the local authorities. I worked for the South Bank poly, which was controlled by the Inner London education authority, and I saw the effects of that control on my polytechnic. We were a limited company, with something very similar to the corporate status which the Opposition would like for further education colleges, while still remaining within local government control. I know the problems which that situation caused. I can therefore well appreciate the attitude of principals of further education colleges in wanting to follow the polytechnics down the line of independence from local authorities, although, one would hope, still maintaining very close links with those authorities, but having their independence and their funding coming from elsewhere.

When I started as a polytechnic lecturer, I had moved from the university system, where I had been trained. The contrast was stark, in that all the students whom I taught as a polytechnic lecturer had a very clear idea what they wanted to do in their careers when they left. They therefore had a certain keenness in their vocational training. The polytechnics started out with that mission—in my case, the Borough polytechnic at the turn of the century. The polytechnics have had a long and noble career in fulfilling their mission of technical and vocational education. But we saw the breakdown of the binary divide while I was still lecturing. It was impossible to talk about the quality of an individual institution; it was impossible to talk about the quality of individual faculties. If one wanted to make comparisons within higher education, one had to look at the quality of a department, if not of a degree course itself. Certainly, there were plenty of university degree courses within my field of geography and town planning that were recognised as being very inferior to those courses that had been provided by polytechnics for many years.

As a lecturer, I was rather cynical about polytechnics which started to ape universities and call their heads of department professors, for instance, and start to look and behave like universities. I was rather against changes of that sort. But, as time went by and the difference between universities and polytechnics disappeared and polytechnics were taking their part in the expansion of higher education, it became more and more difficult to justify that binary divide. Finally, I changed my mind when I came across the problem when talking to representatives of overseas higher education institutions, who just did not understand what a polytechnic was. On a number of occasions when South Bank polytechnic was trying to negotiate research contracts jointly with European institutions, the latter said that they dealt only with universities, not technical colleges. It took a considerable time to get through to a German institute, for instance, the fact that we were not just a technical college, but a polytechnic, a higher education institute. So the practicalities of being a polytechnic became very difficult indeed.

The change to university status will be welcomed. However, I see one problem and perhaps in his winding-up speech the Minister will address it. Although we are to abolish the divide in terms of funding, I am concerned that the new funding council could end up discriminating between institutions. It may take a stance on the level of research and give more research money to some colleges and universities than to others. I hope that that does not happen. We must ensure equality of treatment by the new funding council. I hope that funding, certainly for research, will be based on the results obtained in faculties or departments and not in institutions. Let us introduce some real competition to higher education. All academics know that competition already exists. We know which university and polytechnic departments we rate highly and which we do not. We do not always speak about that, but we are free with such advice to prospective university students.

I hope that the new institutions and the Government will ensure that this great step forward for polytechnics comes to fruition. There is a dire need to implement the Bill's provisions. As hon. Members have said, the polytechnics have been planning for some time for university status and the power to award degrees. Some students in my constituency who are registered for Council for National Academic Awards degrees expect to have a degree from the University of Middlesex and not from the CNAA. I can understand their excitement about that. As a former academic who had to deal with visiting panels and who had to try to get new degree courses established, I am pleased to see the CNAA go. It did not inspire much confidence on the bottom rung of lecturing, although I have no doubt that it was popular with those who sat on the visiting panels trying to stop new courses. I have never known an institution that tried to crush competition in quite the way the CNAA did when I was a lecturer. I welcome the debate on the guillotine motion because it will ensure that polytechnic students can look forward to graduating from a university.

8.52 pm
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

I should like to declare an interest that may be relevant. I am a trustee of Barnsley college educational trust. I shall confine myself to further and not higher education, and I shall deal with the problems in my constituency which for many years has had a low take-up of post-16 education. We are at the bottom of many league tables for such take-up. The local authority tried desperately to remedy the situation, which has a long history. Many years ago, employment in mining was easily available and many 16-year-olds took a job in the industry. That entailed a certain amount of training. There are, of course, other reasons for the low take-up, one of which is a culture bias against further education.

The local education authority rationalised its sixth forms and established a sixth form college. It became a tertiary college with open enrolment to encourage more 16-year-olds to take up further education. The Bill threatens much of what my local authority has been doing for some years and puts at risk the hard work and money that it has invested in the tertiary college. I remind the House that my local authority is 36th out of 36 in allocations of revenue support grant to metropolitan districts. We get the lowest amount, and the effect is especially acute in education. We are now faced with the loss of the tertiary college and, perhaps more importantly, with the loss of any input into the college's future education provision.

The Bill will allow colleges and further education institutions to become corporate institutions funded by the further education funding council. That will cut off any local authority or local government influence. There will be no opportunity for local authorities to pursue further education policies to encourage take-up or to increase take-up, such as is required in my LEA. There will no longer be any LEA governors. Even the minor input to the governing body will be removed from local authorities. That illustrates the Government's opposition to local government influence in any aspect. We have seen attack after attack on local government, and mine has suffered more than most, especially in terms of the grant allocated to it in the past few years.

It seems strange that, while a Bill to restructure and inquire into local government is going through the House, another Bill seeks to remove further education provision from local authorities. The Government could have waited until after the publication of the commission's findings. The commission may well report that it would be better to keep education under the control of local authorities rather than passing it to the further education funding council or to corporate colleges. Those colleges will compete with each other through the provision of courses simply to attract more and more students. Poor take-up or the loss of students to other colleges could lead to college closures.

The director of a college that is the neighbour of a college in my constituency summed it up when he said that he intended to turn Barnsley college into a car park. My town and my local authority could lose a college as a result of the competition engendered by the Bill. How will the people in my area have a choice if our college is closed? How will local needs be addressed if students in my area have to travel many miles to colleges in other towns? Obviously, colleges will have to try to reduce costs and increase the numbers of students if they are to stay in business.

We are also concerned about the removal of accountability. As I have said, colleges will not be able to respond to local needs. There is no way in which people in my constituency could take up any issue or grievance about further education other than through the private college and then, presumably, to the Secretary of State.

Over the years, my local authority has tried desperately to obtain a higher take-up of post-16 education. In Barnsley there have already been clashes between the local college and the local education authority because the college, which is now a private company, has decided to go in the opposite direction to that in which the local authority wished it to go. The courses offered formerly by the college which generated income for the local authority are now being offered through private companies, with the money from those courses going to the college itself as opposed to the education authority. It is that type of control over the content of education provision that is worrying. Courses will probably be offered that do not assist in a local area or are irrelevant to it—that may happen in an area such as mine which is trying to encourage the take-up of post-16 education.

Another big fear of mine concerns charging for further education. That will be particularly unwelcome in an area such as mine which has unemployment of well over 11.5 per cent. Were further education charges to be imposed, they could have a detrimental effect on the people in my area.

The transfer of assets also concerns me. Two colleges are involved—the tertiary college to which I referred and the Northern college. The tertiary college was formed from two town-centre college buildings and a secondary school which was closed to become part of the college. If those facilities were to be transferred to a corporate college, it would result in a substantial loss of facilities for my local education authority, such as sports fields, arts facilities, a theatre and a hall. They would represent a major loss to the local authority and would not be available for the local area. How can the local education authority make anything of its residual power for adult and part-time education if it has no facilities in which to house those assets?

Perhaps the transfer of such assets would be better done by way of a lease so that, should the college fail or should it have to come back into local education authority ownership, the buildings and facilities would still be in the ownership of the authority. That might ensure the continuation of the college.

The assets of any college include its staff. Although there is to be continuation of employment for the lecturers and staff, there seems to be no guarantee of any jobs for the lecturers and teachers once colleges become corporate institutions. What guarantee have the staff of a future within the college structure?

Northern college is in a unique position in that it is funded by local authorities in south Yorkshire, one of them being Barnsley metropolitan district council. The college was established by local education authorities and, were it not for the involvement of those authorities, it would not exist. Other hon. Members have paid tribute to Northern college. It would be a shame if it were put under threat by the Bill.

The college is housed in a stately home owned by Barnsley metropolitan district council. It is surrounded by a considerable acreage of land which includes an ancient monument, Stainborough castle, and other areas of natural beauty which belong to the authority. It bought them in the 1940s and 1950s to house the then Wentworth Castle teacher training college, which later became Northern college. It is inconceivable to me that the Government will remove from my local authority the ownership of the college and the grounds in which it stands. They are a major tourist attraction, apart from being a college and its surroundings, and over the years my local authority has spent a considerable amount on building up the original college and then on providing facilities for Northern college to start up.

Ownership of the facilities should remain with the local education authority, even if Northern college is designated as a relevant college for the purposes of the Act. I hope that in his response the Minister will say what will happen to Northern college under the provisions of the Bill. I should also like him to say whether it will be able to retain the character of its courses—mainly adult education and trade union courses. Although there are one or two colleges like it in other parts of the country, it would be a shame if such courses were to be threatened by the Bill.

9.3 pm

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

I am particularly concerned about youngsters between the ages of 16 and 19. 1 have always been a supporter of sixth form centres and colleges, even when many people were against them, and I should like to make sure that nothing in the Bill will limit choice for 16 to 19-year-olds who want to go to sixth form centres. Until now, 16-year-olds who have outgrown school or some who have not done well at school and want a fresh start have had the choice of going on at school or of going to local sixth form centres.

The Secretary of State was evasive about whether education would continue to be free in the new organisations. There may be charges for textbooks and materials, which would be prohibitive for children from poor families, as many families are in Tower Hamlets.

I want to be absolutely sure about the question of child benefit. The child benefit regulations say that the mothers of youngsters from 16 to 19 still in full-time non-advanced education are entitled to child benefit. I want to be sure that they will still be classified as school pupils entitled to child benefit when the changeover takes place. I would not like us to wake up and find that there had been an unfortunate change in this respect. I want child benefit payments to be guaranteed.

More in doubt are the means-tested discretionary grants, worth about £300, that many local education authorities give to youngsters from poor families. That is very little, but I know of a number of cases where the family is living on the margins and must have some money coming in from the 16 to 19-year-old, and that £300 has made the difference to whether a youngster can stay on in education. Unless the Bill makes some provision to allow them to be replaced in the new organisation, the changeover will mean that those discretionary grants will go to the wall.

I do not want possible charges to mean that higher and further education will be for those of independent means, and that people who have little money will not be able to continue in education after 16. I also wish that in the Bill there had been a move towards what I would call comprehensive education beyond 16. Up to now, youngsters taking vocational or academic courses have been the ones provided for, but there should be enrichment courses for any youngster who wishes to stay on. This is particularly important in areas such as mine where the attainment level is lower than in many other parts of the country.

Youngsters should be able to state what they want. If they want to study typewriting, ceramics or a language for three months, or do a short one-term course in music, they should be able to do so. It might give them a taste for education and lead on to further courses, and even if they just take a short course, it enriches their life and adds to their cultural development. The Bill should cater for—but does not—that kind of development.

Many of the women's organisations such as women's institutes and the Fawcett Society are angry at the approach to so-called leisure education and the false division of education between vocational and leisure. Many women come back into education through courses that, under the new classification, might be termed leisure courses, for which they will have to pay quite high fees. As women have less money than men on the whole, because their wages are lower and they have less chance to accumulate money and savings, it will be harder for women to return to education. All the hullabaloo about the Prime Minister's charter for women will seem rather cynical if there are fewer women in higher education by the year 2000. That is a bad development.

I have found in Tower Hamlets that adult education is really being squeezed because local education authorities, now that there has been a change in the business rate, are finding it very hard to secure funds. A community education staff group approached me last week. Their courses were slashed first by 20 per cent., and this year by another 20 per cent., and they plan to hold a meeting about the decimation of adult education.

So-called leisure courses, which are becoming expensive and, in many areas, are being abandoned because of lack of funding, are very important to working-class people. For instance, many women go to car maintenance classes. Without such classes it would be unsafe for them to run a car. Many pensioners get great enjoyment from these classes. They are kept young, active and alert in mind and body, and as a result the state saves a good deal of money in the health service and in other ways. If adult education classes become so expensive that people on low incomes cannot afford them, or if they have to close down because local education authorities are squeezed by a reduction in the amount they get from the business rate, a serious blow will be dealt to women and older people.

As I know that at least two other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall not take up much more of the time of the House. However, I wish to refer to the question of democracy. This too affects women. Women are under-represented on boards and on all political bodies, but local government is one area in which they have better representation. If funding of further education is removed from elected local councils we shall be left with a less democratic and less accountable system. Women will have no influence at all on the funding councils to be nominated by the Secretary of State. This too is a retrograde step.

9.11 pm
Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

I wish to refer primarily to the fundamental flaw in the Bill, to which several hon. Members alluded—the removal of further education institutions from local education authority funding and control. In addition, I shall make some remarks about adult education generally.

The glaring fault, the San Andreas fault, that runs through the Bill—I refer to the centralised control of further education colleges—can be justified neither in terms of past failure nor in terms of likely future improvement of organisation and provision. It cannot be said that under the local education authorities the further education system has failed to prosper. Indeed, it has prospered and been popular. There is no evidence at all that the further education colleges do not have the approval of their communities, and they have earned the commendation of Her Majesty's inspectorate—although perhaps, under the present Government, that is the kiss of death.

Nor can the polytechnics be cited as a precedent. Their removal from LEA control can be justified in terms of their role as national providers. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said much about that point. In any case, there are only 29 such colleges, plus, of course, the national colleges. They exist as a national network, have operated under the national advisory body and have developed their own internal structures. On the other hand, there are more than 500 institutions for the 16 to 19-year-olds. These are essentially local in orientation and provision, so there is no close parallel with the polytechnics; thus, the polytechnics should not be cited as a precedent. In that regard, therefore, there is not much justification for such a radical move.

What, then, are the likely consequences? Is there any justification there? Perhaps the change has overriding advantages. Will it, perhaps, result in greater coherence in strategic planning? Let me quote Hendon college: School sixth formers will continue to exist side by side with the institutions in the newly formed post-16 sector and will be able to offer places to adults and part-time students. There is every potential that the new arrangements may lack coherence in terms of patterns of provision of education and training across the country, which must take into account local and regional, as well as national, imperatives. Will good use be made of local knowledge and expertise? It is said: It is proposed to remove all LEA reps from governing bodies. No good reason is put forward for this, and there are strong grounds to continue some representation to maintain links with the rest of the local education service, including adult education, schools, the career service and the youth service. (And, indeed, also as the major employers within the area.) That is the view of Conservative-controlled London borough of Redbridge.

What about local accountability? Redbridge states: The removal of the colleges from the LEA sector will also remove the colleges from the local democratic accountability that they now have, replacing this by a body of governors which is, in effect, a self-perpetuating oligarchy. These reforms are ill-judged, rushed and unwanted. They have no justification in terms of efficiency and national planning. Any justification can be based only on doctrinaire policies. As the Conservative leader of Hampshire county council said, it is "government by denigration".

The LEAs are left with the problem of coping with a system that separates 16 to 19-year-olds who are still in school, for whom they are responsible and who belong to a different network of provision from the majority of their cohorts. That is an administrative nightmare and young lives are being disadvantaged. We must consider also the fate of 16 to 19-year-olds who have chosen to go to sixth form colleges, which come under schools regulations and which are soon, according to the Bill, to come under further education regulations. I respectfully suggest that the Secretary of State and his Ministers take a closer look at the implications of the Bill for the 16 to 19-year-olds who are trapped on the wrong side of the tracks, or between the tracks.

Leisure courses, which are split off from adult vocational courses, are another major responsibility for LEAs. They are itemised in schedule 2. The LEAs will provide leisure courses on a discretionary basis by means of funding that is provided through revenue support. That means in effect that costs will be passed on to students. They will be pitched at levels that many clients can ill afford. As a result, the courses will not be viable. Accordingly, their range will be reduced drastically, and in many areas they will disappear.

Voluntary providers such as the Workers Educational Association, and many others, are limited in what they can do. They hope that they will be part-funded by the new funding councils, but they are uncertain about their relationship. If they are part-funded, they are certain that it will be to a level that will force them to pass costs on to students. The result will be similar to those that I have already described.

The comments of one or two clients are revealing. One course client wrote: My return to a more formal vocational education started by simply attending a ladies' keep fit class and a craft class. This was the first time since leaving school that I had taken up any form of learning. These classes, no matter how trivial or unimportant they are perceived to be by more learned people, were the stepping stones to my education. I could read many letters of that sort.

Access is all-important and it is short-sighted to put adult education at such risk. The Bill puts adult learning under threat. The adult literacy and basic skills unit has been an important avenue for access to basic skills education. It has ranged from relatively informal adult education to a more formal approach. I approve of the inclusion of basic skills in schedule 2 as a statutory responsibility. It is an advance on the vagaries of discretionary LEA funding, which has often marginalised the work of the ALBSU. I am sure that there will be a positive response to that opportunity.

I make two pleas on behalf of the adult literacy and basic skills unit. First, the funding council should fund these courses on the basis of agreed standards and not on the basis of competition and market forces, to which they are not amenable. Secondly, the opportunity should be taken to free this part of education from the margins of funding by allocating a guaranteed proportion of funding to it that is more than the average of 1.5 per cent. of the present adult and further education budget.

A related issue is that specific provision should be made for students with special needs. There seems to be a dearth of references to that principle, which is well-established in the schools sector.

Another major means of access to formal further and higher education is the open college networks. Members of the open college network are a consortia of providers, which operate a national credit transfer framework and are subject to its processes of quality assurance. The open network accreditation provides a framework of rigorous validation. The accreditation processes require the identification of clear routes of progression as a condition of course recognition, but open college networks do not themselves provide courses. Perhaps, in Committee, Ministers will consider an amendment to clause 5, allowing a funding council to give financial support to an institution established by providers of further education for the purpose of operating credit accumulation and transfer arrangements related to the types of education set out in schedule 2—in other words, an open college network.

I see that I have run out of time. I ask Ministers to give serious consideration to parts of the Bill that merit further examination.

9.20 pm
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

We have had an interesting opportunity to debate further and higher education. I suspect that, although we may have had many debates on higher education over the past decade or so, we have had few, if any, on further and adult education, and for that reason alone today's debate is welcome. It is interesting for another reason, however: we have heard a number of valedictory speeches today. I refer to the voluntary ones, although one or two may be in a different category. Several hon. Members have said that their speeches today will probably be their last in the House of Commons.

I have heard most of today's speeches. I have always enjoyed the contributions of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas)—who is not in the Chamber at present—to education debates. Those of us who served on the Standing Committee that considered the Education Reform Bill in 1988 welcomed his voice—a voice of freshness and difference—and it is sad to see him retire from the House and go to other pastures at such a young age. I say that with some feeling.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will no doubt want to add to the comments that have been made about the final speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir R. Rhodes James). We will all have noted the substantial and significant contribution that he has made to our education debates over the years. He has introduced a voice of experience and learning; a voice from the academic world, which should be listened to and respected. I look forward to observing his continued work as a researcher and scholar, and I am sure that, in both capacities, he will continue to make a substantial contribution.

We shall miss the hon. Gentleman's contributions to education debates. It was characteristic of him to say that we should set up a non-party, apolitical committee to consider education issues. I am sure that that is the way in which he would approach such issues—although I tend to feel that such characteristics will not dominate our education debates over the next few weeks.

It would be remiss of the Opposition to suggest that we do not support parts of the Bill—and we shall support them in Committee, while trying to improve some elements. I refer in particular to the end of the binary divide. Let me echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and others in congratulating the polytechnics on the success that they have achieved so far. It would be churlish to argue about the nature and cause of that success. As the Minister has pointed out, I have a vested interest; let me simply congratulate the staff of the polytechnics. It is right that the divide between the two sets of higher education institutions should now be abolished.

However, that raises questions that need to be answered. My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Dr. Kumar) talked about the need to ensure quality of funding and treatment and to define the purpose of further and higher education, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) also referred. It is important that those issues are addressed. The hon. Member for Cambridge, who is now back in his place, made some important points about research and about the nature of the mission of higher education institutions.

To get the record correct, we must remind Conservative Members that it was the Labour party that tabled amendments to end the binary divide when we considered in Committee what became the Education Reform Act 1988. I was slightly amused earlier when the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) devoted at least eight minutes of his 10-minute speech to getting rid of the binary divide. I looked up the report of the 1988 Standing Committee and noticed that he voted against such a measure. One thing is clear—this may apply to other Conservative Members: time has moved on and perhaps Conservative Members now recognise the strength of new arguments, which have always been the Labour party's arguments. Nevertheless, we are glad that that divide is now to be abolished.

Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East)

We are winning them over.

Mr. Fatchett

Indeed, we win them over bit by bit, but unfortunately that process will not go on for much longer—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friends say, we are winning the intellectual argument bit by bit, and that will certainly continue, but unfortunately we shall be unable to win over sufficient numbers of Conservative Members because there will not be so many of them when we return after the election—[Interruption.] My hon. Friends are right; I personalise these things too much. I should not worry about redundant Conservative Members because they usually do very well.

I hope that the Minister of State will give us some reassurance on an important point tonight because it is a matter on which we shall seek to table amendments in Committee. I refer to the higher education institutions that had been preparing for polytechnic status, such as Luton, Derby, Southampton, Bolton, Cheltenham and Gloucester. Those institutions now seem to be at the other side of a new binary divide, providing high quality education that has been approved by the Council for National Academic Awards. They are doing good work, but are unable to be part of the new funding council, as they wish. An artificial divide has been created. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) knows one such institute and the pressures that it faces. These institutions should be given the opportunity to obtain university status if that is what they wish. I look forward to the Minister of State giving us an assurance on that either tonight or in Committee. I advise him that, despite the limited amount of time that will be available for any form of debate in Standing Committee, we shall seek to amend the Bill to give those institutions the rights that are enjoyed by other institutions.

The contentious part of the Bill is that dealing not with higher education, but with further education. It was clear from his speech that the Secretary of State could not find much support for his measures. He has no mandate. The Bill was not part of the election manifesto on which Conservative Members fought the last election.

It is also clear that there is no support for the Bill among the local authorities or those who commented on the White Paper last year. The Secretary of State did not follow the practice of his right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), the current Home Secretary, who, when he was Secretary of State for Education and Science, published the responses to the White Paper that led to the Education Reform Act. The current Secretary of State did not do so. It is interesting to believe that the Home Secretary is the champion of open government while the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) likes to keep things under wraps. Having analysed what Conservative authorities have said, it is clear that there is no support for the provisions among the Conservative shire counties, the very bodies which, as has been pointed out, will be asked to knock on doors and to canvass support for the Conservative party in the next few weeks.

Let us start with Essex—many would say that there is no better place to start. Let us begin by considering the comments of Essex county council which is not, by any means, a Labour authority. It said: The White Paper's proposals failed to make a convincing case why FE Colleges and Sixth Form Colleges are to be removed from local authority control. So there is no support there.

Then we go to Surrey, the local education authority of the right hon. Member for Mole Valley. One would have thought that with his persuasive charm he could have influenced Conservative Members. What was the response? It said that the proposals were without any reasonable explanation or justification. Again, no support.

The third example is from the west midlands. It is Hereford and Worcester LEA, one which has always been a little troublesome to the Government and whose members have been prepared to defend local government. The local authority made a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) made earlier. It pointed out that, in order to establish some local knowledge, the further education funding council would have to establish regional committees and that those regional committees would cover 5.2 million people. It said: The needs and aspirations of its 5.2 million inhabitants require something more than a regional committee of 12 or so members, none of whom will be democratically representative of the community nor will they be accountable to that community for their actions. Is not the crucial argument that the Government have taken out of democratic control such an important service as further education and are placing it in the hands of an unaccountable, undemocratic bureaucracy? In so doing, they face opposition from not only Labour but Conservative local education authorities.

Why are the Government centralising and nationalising the further education colleges? One argument may simply be that which the Secretary of State used in his statement in March last year. He said that Britain lagged behind its competitors. It was an interesting statement because it recognised that the Government had been in office for 11 years and Britain still lagged behind in post-16 education and training provision. That point was recognised by Lord Belstead in the Second Reading debate in the other place. He said: I would not stand before your Lordships today and say that participation rates in further education after the age of 16 are entirely as they should be".—[Official Report, House of Lords; 21 November 1991, c. 1022.] That was a Minister talking about his Government's record. It is a record of failure recognised by the Secretary of State and by a Minister in the Department of Education and Science.

Mr. Turner

And by the Select Committee.

Mr. Fatchett

And by the Select Committee, as my hon. Friend says.

If there is a reason for that failure, it is not that the further education colleges are at fault. The reason is the failure of the Government to give any direction, meaning or leadership in post-16 education and training in Britain. For a decade we have lived with the short-change, quick-fix approach to post-16 training. The Government have seen youth training as a means not of providing vocational qualifications and easy access to qualifications for the labour market but of massaging the unemployment figures. That is why they claim now that they have achieved some improvements in staying-on rates.

But the only way that the Government can point to an improvement is by including youth training—a scheme that is discredited by European standards and gives only a quarter of those who enter it any valid and marketable qualification. That is the record of the Government. Incidentally, it is a record which shows itself in another way. The Secretary of State says that he has now discovered further education and post-16 education as a priority. Perhaps he has not looked at his Department's record. In the past three years, that record shows that the investment per student from 1987 to 1990—these are the Government's own figures—fell by 10 per cent. in real terms. The Government have not invested in further education.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Those are ridiculous figures.

Mr. Fatchett

They are the Government's figures.

Mr. Clarke

I am sorry, I did not intend to put the hon. Gentleman off. He used a ridiculous figure which shows the worthwhile advance in reducing unit costs. He then said in the next phrase that those figures showed that we had failed to invest. The record over the past three years is of rapid increases in investment and enormous increases in the number of students. The hon. Gentleman uses the stupid statistics which the Opposition constantly use to denigrate a programme of rapid extra investment in education.

Mr. Fatchett

I should have thought that even this Secretary of State could have done better than that. When talking of schools, the Secretary of State likes to use the figures per pupil. When it comes to colleges, he has to use other terms. As he knows, there has been a cut in the level of investment per student in the college sector.

The Government have failed further education, have failed to provide leadership and have now introduced a measure which is simply aimed at centralising and giving more power to the Secretary of State. The measure is against the wishes of the Government's friends in local government.

However, the further education provisions are crucial to the nature of the Bill because the Government have never seen the consequences of their actions. The worst of those consequences will be the Bill's effect on the adult education service, which is a matter of pride for students, for local education authorities and for those who work in the service. Indeed, the hon. Member for Tiverton (Sir R. Maxwell-Hyslop) argued strongly about that aspect of the Bill, mentioning the link with the community in terms of pre-16 and post 16-year-old students and adults and the impact of the Bill on education provision and the life of a community.

The Bill will put adult education at risk throughout the country. When the Secretary of State was asked to justify the new system, he said that it was neat, it was tidy and that it would work. Then we went into some of the details and the various layers in the bureaucracy. There will be a bid to a further education college in the hope that funding will be available. If it is not available, there will be a bid to the further education funding council. If the money is not available there, the college will have to go to the local education authority.

Is it not nonsense for the Government to believe that local education authorities—stripped of their further education functions, and colleges, rate-capped and under great pressure because of the poll tax in many areas—will pick up the tab from central Government to fund adult education? Have not the Government given a clear message to every local education authority that the Government value vocational adult education but not non-vocational adult education? The division does not exist intellectually or in practice, but the Government want to hold to that division because they believe that it will save money when providing adult education services.

If my hon. Friends are in any way doubtful about what will happen to the adult education service, let them look at the record of what has happened in Conservative-controlled local education authorities in the past few years. When they have been under pressure to keep down the poll tax, what service has been cut more than any other? It will always be the non-mandatory, discretionary services. In Warwickshire, it was the virtual abolition of the youth service—written out by the Conservative local education authority.

Mr. Pawsey

That is a gross exaggeration. The youth service in Warwickshire will still attract a budget of more than £450,000 and the county council does not propose to sell off any buildings or plant. So the youth service remains. Warwickshire county council wishes to involve the voluntary sector more in its proposal.

Mr. Fatchett

That was probably one of the weakest defences that I have heard. I am glad that I will never be in a position to have to employ the hon. Gentleman as a counsel in my defence because, as he knows, Warwickshire is basically opting out of its responsibilities for a youth service.

We also know that throughout the country Conservative-controlled LEAs have cut back on adult education, because it is a discretionary service and they see the oppportunity to save money in that area.

The Government offer one hope to the millions of people who look to the adult education service—that local authorities which are squeezed, in Tory areas against adult education, will then pick up the bill and maintain the service. The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) was right to raise the issue. It is important and it will not go away. In Committee, we shall push the Government further because we want guarantees to ensure that the adult education service survives.

There is no educational or democratic justification for taking further education colleges out of local education authority control. The Bill came about for one reason—to massage the poll tax and to save the face of Conservative Members. They are so deeply worried and embarrassed by the weakness of their arguments that they are not prepared to spend time in Committee to defend them. They are running away from the argument. Parents have no confidence in the Government's provision of education. The Government have lost the confidence of parents and they have lost confidence in their own arguments. After this Bill, they will be on the way to defeat at the next election. The Bill will be a further nail in their electoral coffin.

9.40 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Tim Eggar)

We have had an interesting debate which has been dominated by distinguished ex-lecturers and the ex-teachers on the Opposition Benches. We have enjoyed the quality of their arguments.

I do not have a lot of time, but I shall try to deal with the points raised by Labour Members and my hon. Friends. It is fair to say that there has been a consensus in welcoming the higher education provisions in the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Sir R. Luce) raised a couple of items that were still of concern to him. The first related to the condition of grant under clauses 68 and 81. I assure my right hon. Friend that the condition of grant under the Bill, as amended, may not relate to the appointment of particular staff, to the admission of particular students or to the duration of particular courses. The power of direction in clause 81 is an important long-stop power for the Secretary of State to protect taxpayers' interests.

Although the wording of the clause may not be clear as my right hon. Friend would like, it is the result of extensive discussions in another place. It is unlikely that, however much oil is burned between now and Report, we would find a clearer form of words that would be more acceptable to all. We now have the complete agreement of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals to that wording.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) raised the issue of the quality assessment committees of the funding council. Those committees will consist of a majority of independent members, and the assessment staff will largely be former members of Her Majesty's inspectorate. It is extremely unlikely, to put it gently, that their judgment will be affected in any way by the fact that they are working for the funding council rather than Her Majesty's inspectorate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir R. Rhodes James) and the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Carr) asked about the funding of pure and strategic research in higher educational institutions. It is accepted that applied research is intended to be essentially self-financing. We do not intend to make specific resources available for its support. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge that the dividing line between applied and pure research is not perhaps as simple

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) made the important point that the allocation of funds between new and existing university institutions should be on a basis of departmental, rather than institutional, performance. I completely agree with him, and we intend to proceed in that way.

I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge on his contribution. While we of course regret his departure from this place, I look forward to reading an increased output from his pen. I have greatly enjoyed the books that he has produced over the last 15 years or so. I recall, before coming to this place, attending a small party political meeting not far from the House which he addressed on the subject of the way forward for a future Conservative Government. It was the most stimulating and original presentation that I had heard during the late 1970s. I appreciate, as an individual, how effective he can be as a communicator and lecturer. Lucky indeed are his future students.

The subject of further education has dominated the debate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State explained clearly the broad thrust of the Government's policies and the main features of the Bill. It is worth repeating that we are freeing FE colleges from local authority control and giving them a powerful incentive, through the new funding regime, to recruit additional students.

FE college funding will be student-led, and colleges will be rewarded for attracting increased numbers. In that way they will have every incentive to respond to local needs and demands and to expand participation locally in the way that they think is best for their communities. They will be the masters of their own destinies, to the benefit of their students, local employers and the country as a whole. Far from centralisation, as those on the Opposition Bench have charged, the Bill is about putting the decision-taking powers where they belong—with colleges at a very local level so that they can respond to local needs.

Some of my hon. Friends expressed concern about the effect of the Bill on adult provision in certain parts of the country. One was my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). I see in his place my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who has not been able to speak in the debate, but I know of his concern about what is the almost unique position of Richmond adult and community college. It is widely recognised that that is an excellent college which serves the local community well. I am well aware of the concerns felt in Richmond about the future of the college, and I wish to put them at rest.

As my hon. Friends know, Richmond college is not included automatically in the Bill's provisions which govern the funding of FE colleges by the new funding council, but should the college wish, it can apply to be funded directly by the FE funding council. The means is through incorporation under clause 16, a provision expressly designed to cover cases such as Richmond college.

Clause 16 would not be in the Bill had we not expected colleges like Richmond to want the option of taking advantage of it. It would not be there if we did not expect the funding council to be willing to propose to the Secretary of State that such colleges should be funded as part of the new sector. I see no reason why the Secretary of State would turn down such a proposal from the funding council.

However, as I said in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes, the decision is for Richmond college alone. If it decides not to apply under clause 16, it is also covered by clause 6(5). It can have all its provision on the funding council side considered for funding by the council by applying through an FE college. The regional committee will have an important role to play in advising the council on such an application. If Richmond college were dissatisfied with the handling of its application, it has a right to turn to the Secretary of State. All those who use Richmond college should be aware that there is no reason to believe that the Bill will harm the further education of adults in Richmond or elsewhere.

My hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton (Sir R. Maxwell-Hyslop) and for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) in particular raised the issue of community colleges. Those are important in many parts of the country and we want them to flourish. That is why we introduced clause 6(5), which enables community colleges to apply through FE colleges for schedule 2 provision. The FE colleges must then forward the application to the council where they believe that provision would otherwise be inadequate in the area. That relates to the overall provision in an area, not the provision to be made by the FE colleges themselves.

If the FE college does not forward the bid, the council can intervene and, together with its regional advisory committee, it will need to understand the circumstances of each locality in the country. The council and committees will need to pay particular attention to the accessibility of provision and the role of community colleges. I assure my hon. Friends that, through guidance to the further education funding councils and advisory committees, we shall ensure that they do just that. We should also remember that the Secretary of State may review the decisions of FE colleges and of the council on grounds of unreasonableness or failure to perform a duty. Taken together, those are substantial safeguards for the continued support of schedule 2 provision in community colleges.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton spoke about timing. May I reassure him about that? The timing for colleges applying under clause 6(5) will be the same as for colleges within the new sector. The council will lay down a timetable for applications and ensure that there is plenty of time for those applications to pass through the sponsoring FE college and, where necessary, for an appeals procedure. There is no reason why that cannot be dealt with in the normal annual timetable for determining public expenditure, and we shall take steps to make it absolutely certain that those timing requirements are made widely known not just to LEAs but to community providers.

The remarkable aspect of this debate is that, after about five hours, the House is still no clearer about the Labour party's policy on further education. The sum total of our knowledge is that Labour Members favour giving further education colleges corporate status as an extension of their local management, but want local authorities to fund the colleges and to retain a major role in planning. They have not answered the most elementary questions.

Would the Labour party incorporate all colleges, or would there be criteria for incorporation? If so, what criteria would there be? We did not know at the start of the debate; we do not know now. Indeed, it is not clear from Labour's proposals what the point of incorporation is. Labour Members say that they want to make no accompanying changes to funding. In that case, why on earth do they want to introduce incorporation? What is the point of setting up FE colleges as independent, legal entities when they have no more control over their decisions and funding than they have at present and when Labour Members want power to remain, as at present, with LEAs?

Let us look at the performance of Labour-controlled LEAs. Sandwell LEA set about trying to destroy what is widely recognised to be an excellent and highly regarded FE college. Now the LEA has announced out of the blue that it wants to cut £2.8 million off Sandwell college's budget for next year. The LEA and the Labour party say that that is all part of strategic planning. I call it strategic victimisation. They are strategically seeking to benefit the LEA at the expense of an excellent FE college.

Let us see what is happening in Labour-controlled Birmingham. Many people there believe that the LEA has deliberately operated a system designed to keep the Birmingham colleges in deficit. Now the council has apparently announced that it will withhold a further £1 million that it was planned to distribute before the end of March for reasons which, according to the city's chief executive as reported in the local press, include A visit to a Government Minister by representatives of Sutton college to complain about the authority". Another reason is Governors from one college calling in financial consultants to challenge the authority's distribution of funds. That is the reality of local Labour LEA control of good FE colleges. At the very moment when the countries of eastern Europe are ditching the dead hand of socialist interference and strategic planning, we see it alive, well and working in Labour LEAs like Birmingham.

One of the most interesting things has been the letters that we have had from FE colleges in Labour-controlled areas, explaining the kind of mechanisms that Labour LEAs have used to control FE colleges. Some of the devices used by my own Labour authority to do this are as follows: they issue the authorised delegated budget late in the financial year and ensure that it is substantially cut from the draft budget which is indicated at the start of the year. At the final outturn the LEA refuses to accept all of the recharges made against it for fees, examination fees, block grants, mandatory awards, etcetera. In other words, the reality of Labour-controlled LEAs is what has driven so many FE principals and governing bodies to welcome the proposals. They recognise the reality of Labour LEA control. An overwhelming two thirds of FE principals deliberately want to follow our proposal.

The Labour party is taking the same attitude to choice with further education colleges as it takes to parental choice. What it wants is control by Labour LEAs. It wants socialist dictation and socialist planning. That is what we reject in this Bill, and that is why I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 307, Noes 206.

Division No. 77] [9.59 pm
Adley, Robert Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Aitken, Jonathan Buck, Sir Antony
Alexander, Richard Budgen, Nicholas
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Burns, Simon
Allason, Rupert Burt, Alistair
Amess, David Butler, Chris
Amos, Alan Butterfill, John
Arbuthnot, James Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arnold, Sir Thomas Carrington, Matthew
Ashby, David Carttiss, Michael
Aspinwall, Jack Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Atkins, Robert Chapman, Sydney
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Chope, Christopher
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)
Baldry, Tony Clark, Rt Hon Sir William
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Conway, Derek
Batiste, Spencer Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Beggs, Roy Cormack, Patrick
Bellingham, Henry Cran, James
Bendall, Vivian Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Benyon, W. Davis, David (Boothferry)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Day, Stephen
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Devlin, Tim
Body, Sir Richard Dickens, Geoffrey
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dicks, Terry
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dorrell, Stephen
Boswell, Tim Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bottomley, Peter Dover, Den
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Dunn, Bob
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n) Durant, Sir Anthony
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Dykes, Hugh
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Eggar, Tim
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Emery, Sir Peter
Brazier, Julian Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Evennett, David
Fallon, Michael Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Fenner, Dame Peggy Latham, Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fishburn, John Dudley Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fookes, Dame Janet Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Forth, Eric Lord, Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Fox, Sir Marcus Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Franks, Cecil McCrindle, Sir Robert
Freeman, Roger Macfarlane, Sir Neil
French, Douglas MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gale, Roger MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Gardiner, Sir George Maclean, David
Gill, Christopher McLoughlin, Patrick
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Goodhart, Sir Philip Madel, David
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Malins, Humfrey
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Mans, Keith
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Maples, John
Gorst, John Marland, Paul
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Marlow, Tony
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Gregory, Conal Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Maude, Hon Francis
Grist, Ian Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Ground, Patrick Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hague, William Mellor, Rt Hon David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Miller, Sir Hal
Hampson, Dr Keith Mills, Iain
Hanley, Jeremy Miscampbell, Norman
Hannam, Sir John Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Mitchell, Sir David
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Moate, Roger
Harris, David Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Haselhurst, Alan Monro, Sir Hector
Hayes, Jerry Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Moore, Rt Hon John
Hayward, Robert Morrison, Sir Charles
Heathcoat-Amory, David Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Moss, Malcolm
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Moynihan, Hon Colin
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Mudd, David
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Neale, Sir Gerrard
Hill, James Nelson, Anthony
Hind, Kenneth Neubert, Sir Michael
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hordern, Sir Peter Nicholls, Patrick
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Norris, Steve
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Oppenheim, Phillip
Hunt, Rt Hon David Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Page, Richard
Hunter, Andrew Patnick, Irvine
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Irvine, Michael Patten, Rt Hon John
Irving, Sir Charles Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Jack, Michael Pawsey, James
Jackson, Robert Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Janman, Tim Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jessel, Toby Porter, David (Waveney)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Portillo, Michael
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Powell, William (Corby)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Price, Sir David
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Redwood, John
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Key, Robert Rhodes James, Sir Robert
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Riddick, Graham
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Kirkhope, Timothy Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Knapman, Roger Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Roe, Mrs Marion
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knox, David Rost, Peter
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Rowe, Andrew
Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela Thornton, Malcolm
Sackville, Hon Tom Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Sayeed, Jonathan Tracey, Richard
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Tredinnick, David
Shaw, David (Dover) Trippier, David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shelton, Sir William Viggers, Peter
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shersby, Michael Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Sims, Roger Walden, George
Skeet, Sir Trevor Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Waller, Gary
Soames, Hon Nicholas Ward, John
Speed, Keith Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Warren, Kenneth
Squire, Robin Watts, John
Stanbrook, Ivor Wheeler, Sir John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Whitney, Ray
Steen, Anthony Widdecombe, Ann
Stern, Michael Wiggin, Jerry
Stevens, Lewis Wigley, Dafydd
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wilkinson, John
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Wilshire, David
Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stokes, Sir John Winterton, Nicholas
Sumberg, David Wolfson, Mark
Summerson, Hugo Wood, Timothy
Tapsell, Sir Peter Yeo, Tim
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Taylor, Sir Teddy Younger, Rt Hon George
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret Tellers for the Ayes:
Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis Mr. David Lightbown and
Thompson, Sir D. (Calder Vly) Mr. John M. Taylor.
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Allen, Graham Corbett, Robin
Alton, David Cousins, Jim
Anderson, Donald Crowther, Stan
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Cryer, Bob
Armstrong, Hilary Cummings, John
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Cunliffe, Lawrence
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dalyell, Tam
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Barron, Kevin Dewar, Donald
Battle, John Dixon, Don
Beckett, Margaret Dobson, Frank
Beith, A. J. Doran, Frank
Bell, Stuart Dunnachie, Jimmy
Bellotti, David Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Eadie, Alexander
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Eastham, Ken
Benton, Joseph Edwards, Huw
Bermingham, Gerald Enright, Derek
Bidwell, Sydney Evans, John (St Helens N)
Blair, Tony Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Blunkett, David Farr, Sir John
Boateng, Paul Fatchett, Derek
Boyes, Roland Faulds, Andrew
Bradley, Keith Fearn, Ronald
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fisher, Mark
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Flannery, Martin
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Flynn, Paul
Caborn, Richard Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Callaghan, Jim Foster, Derek
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Foulkes, George
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Fraser, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Fyfe, Maria
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Galloway, George
Carr, Michael Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Clelland, David Godman, Dr Norman A.
Cohen, Harry Gordon, Mildred
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Gould, Bryan
Graham, Thomas Mullin, Chris
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Murphy, Paul
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Nellist, Dave
Grocott, Bruce Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hain, Peter O'Brien, William
Hardy, Peter O'Hara, Edward
Harman, Ms Harriet O'Neill, Martin
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Haynes, Frank Patchett, Terry
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Pendry, Tom
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hinchliffe, David Prescott, John
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) Primarolo, Dawn
Hood, Jimmy Randall, Stuart
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Redmond, Martin
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Reid, Dr John
Hoyle, Doug Robertson, George
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Robinson, Geoffrey
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Rogers, Allan
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Rooker, Jeff
Ingram, Adam Rooney, Terence
Janner, Greville Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Rowlands, Ted
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Ruddock, Joan
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Salmond, Alex
Kennedy, Charles Sedgemore, Brian
Kilfoyle, Peter Sheerman, Barry
Kumar, Dr. Ashok Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lamond, James Short, Clare
Leadbitter, Ted Skinner, Dennis
Leighton, Ron Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Lewis, Terry Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Litherland, Robert Snape, Peter
Livingstone, Ken Soley, Clive
Livsey, Richard Spearing, Nigel
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Speller, Tony
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Steinberg, Gerry
Loyden, Eddie Stephen, Nicol
McAllion, John Stott, Roger
McAvoy, Thomas Strang, Gavin
McCartney, Ian Straw, Jack
Macdonald, Calum A. Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McFall, John Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
McLeish, Henry Turner, Dennis
McMaster, Gordon Vaz, Keith
McWilliam, John Wallace, James
Madden, Max Walley, Joan
Mahon, Mrs Alice Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wareing, Robert N.
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Martlew, Eric Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Maxton, John Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Sir Robin Wilson, Brian
Meacher, Michael Wise, Mrs Audrey
Michael, Alun Worthington, Tony
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Wray, Jimmy
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Morgan, Rhodri
Morley, Elliot Tellers for the Noes:
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Mrs. Llin Golding and
Mowlam, Marjorie Mr. Eric Illsley.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).