§ 2. Mr. Clappison
To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many pupils benefit from the assisted places scheme.
§ The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)
In the academic year 1992–93, the latest year for which information is complete, 28,674 pupils held assisted places in England. I am not responsible for Wales.
§ Mr. Clappison
Is my right hon. Friend aware that among those 28,000 pupils are 234 boys at Haberdashers' Aske's school in my constituency? Is he aware how deeply the parents of those boys appreciate the educational opportunity offered by those places, which they could not otherwise afford and which could be filled many times over by full fee-paying parents? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the scheme should continue and should not be denied, as Opposition Members would have it?
§ Mr. Patten
Haberdashers' Aske's is a fine school with high standards and I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituents on having such a school. The Labour party and the Liberal Democrats want to abolish the assisted places scheme. They also want to abolish grammar schools, performance tables, charitable relief for public schools and, above all else, grant-maintained schools, where today half a million children are being educated. The Labour party and the Liberal Democrats simply want to abolish excellence.
§ Mr. Steinberg
Will the Secretary of State explain why he thinks that the Government should subsidise private education from state funds when the state is strapped for resources in the first place? Is it not just a way of putting state money into private education, as the results achieved by children are no better than they would have achieved in the state sector?
§ Mr. Patten
There speaks the authentic neanderthal voice of the National Union of Teachers. After the public expenditure settlement a couple of weeks ago, I find the hon. Gentleman's remarks extraordinary. It is important, particularly in areas where there is little choice, for the Government to ensure that children and their parents have a choice. That is why we are committed to the assisted places scheme and will maintain and expand it according to the plans that I have already announced.
§ Mr. Dunn
Was not the assisted places scheme introduced over 12 years ago against the direct wishes of the vested interests represented on the Opposition Benches? For children from disadvantaged families in our inner cities it was the best opportunity for a decent education that they could ever have or hope for. Will my right hon. Friend continue to expand the scheme in as many ways as he can achieve?
§ Mr. Patten
I want to ensure that every hon. Member is aware that it is the Government's policy to ensure that every child has as good a start in life as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who went to a grammar school and was educated at Oxford university. If the assisted places scheme helps others to achieve the same opportunities as the hon. Member for Bolsover, we want to make it available for everybody.