HC Deb 21 February 1995 vol 255 cc143-4
5. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what specific steps are being taken to ensure that pupils leaving school have the skills required by manufacturing industry.

Mrs. Gillian Shepherd

The national curriculum and the new vocational qualifications all contribute to providing pupils with the skills necessary for working life.

Mr. Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend agree with John Fraser, currently president of the Chemical Industries Association Ltd. and chairman and chief executive of Ciba plc—an international company with its headquarters in Macclesfield—who states that what manufacturing industry wants is a supply of excellent theoretical and practical scientists, school leavers with a thorough grounding in science and a general public who are scientifically literate and can appreciate the benefits of science rather than being concerned about its mysteries?

Mrs. Shephard

I am interested to hear from my hon. Friend the views of the president of the Chemical Industries Association, a group in which my hon. Friend takes a keen interest. It is important that the needs of manufacturing industry and employers in general should be addressed by the national curriculum. Manufacturing needs will be met principally through design and technology, but also through rigorous standards in science and mathematics. We are also devoting resources to developing the use of information technology, which again is of clear relevance. What matters most is that standards should be rigorous.

Mr. Blunkett

Given that industry is dependent on young people being literate and numerate, is this not entirely the wrong moment to be cutting investment in our education service? Will the Secretary of State this afternoon give the House and the country a pledge that, following her statement in Leicestershire last Wednesday, she is prepared to listen to what is happening in schools and colleges and to do what her predecessor—the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—did three years ago and go to the Cabinet and argue for further investment to meet the teachers' pay increase? Would that not avoid a reduction in standards, a reduction in opportunity and a reduction in the literacy and numeracy which our industry requires for the future?

Mrs. Shephard

Perhaps I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are not cutting investment in education. As I made clear earlier, next year's settlement allows for an increase across the board. The total of more than £28 billion is a considerable investment in the future of our young people. It is time that the hon. Gentleman stopped scaremongering in this way, and looked at the framework for standards and rigour, which is hacked by £28 billion of investment.