§ Mr. Forth
I am delighted that someone has emerged from the undergrowth on the Opposition Benches to make a plea for higher taxation. If there were more honesty from the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, we would get further in the political debate. The student loans scheme is working extraordinarily well. It has been well taken up and has been welcomed by students, more and more of whom are entering and leaving higher education every year.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold
Is it not the case that students currently going into higher education—the ratio is one in 138 three today, compared with one in eight under Labour—are benefiting from the education funds that have been recycled through the repayment of the grants of the generation who went before? Are not those very students, who under Labour would not have entered higher education, now benefiting?
§ Mr. Forth
Yes. My hon. Friend is right. The evidence shows that a large number of young people are now enjoying the benefits of higher education, while many more are enjoying excellent education post-16 in our further education colleges and sixth forms. Even more young people are taking part in modern apprenticeships and the many other training and educational opportunities that the Government are giving them. We will take no lectures from Opposition Members on the quality and breadth of what is being provided to young people and to those in learning throughout their lives in our various institutions of learning.
§ Ms Short
Does the Minister appreciate that the Government's policy of encouraging low pay in Britain is leading to a growth in the number of jobs requiring few skills or educational qualifications? Does he agree that Britain is worryingly backward when compared with our competitor countries in the skills level of the work force and in the percentage of young people in higher education? Is not the Government's policy of encouraging low pay and low skills blighting the life opportunities of British workers and damaging the economic position and the future of the British economy?
§ Mr. Forth
I recognise nothing in what the hon. Lady has said. We do not support the Opposition's policy of no pay. The figures prove that countries which have a statutory minimum wage—particularly some of our partners on the European mainland—have much higher overall unemployment, and unemployment of young people in particular, than this country. The lesson is quite clear; if one imposes a minimum pay rate on the labour market, a lot of people will be thrown out of work and will end up with no pay, not low pay.