HC Deb 26 November 1996 vol 286 cc158-9

Education is the key to the future of any prosperous and civilised society. It helps to determine how well the economy performs in the long run. It also helps to determine the sort of citizens that we have and the sort of society that we have. The Government are committed to raising standards in education.

As a result of last year's Budget, £878 million extra was provided for schools this year. We are giving schools priority again in this Budget. Planned expenditure on schools will rise by another £830 million next year. A large proportion of that money—£633 million, an increase of 3.6 per cent.—will be channelled through the local authorities. I see the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) shaking his head. Perhaps the money did not reach his schools; I am not as familiar with Sheffield as he is.

Judging by last year's experience, some local authorities are reluctant to pass on the increases in their standard spending assessment to their schools, preferring to spend the money on other areas. It is no good local authorities campaigning for more spending on education in the autumn and then spending their money on other things in the spring. Parents will want to make sure that their local authorities spend money on the things that they want for their children: good teachers and better equipped schools. I hope that the hon. Member for Brightside makes the same efforts to ensure that Sheffield passes the money on, if it did not last year.

A good school has a value far beyond its buildings; but the quality of school buildings in which our children are taught is still very important. We have a long way to go in the post-war era to get up to the standards that we require. We will be providing an extra £50 million on top of the previously planned provision for more capital investment to improve the fabric of our schools.

By setting high standards for schools and increasing choice for parents, this Government are delivering better trained and better qualified young people. Almost one in three young people now goes on to university, compared with one in eight in 1979. And our universities and colleges maintain some of the highest standards in the world despite the pressure on their unit costs that this unprecedented explosion of opportunity for young people has produced.

But I recognise this pressure—I have heard about these pressures—and I also realise that our universities and colleges make an important contribution to the economy.

My Budget therefore includes £280 million to boost further and higher education over the next two years. This includes an extra £20 million next year for science equipment. We want to ensure that the British science research base remains the best in the world, which it certainly is at the moment.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment announced in September, the Government are planning a substantial sale of student loans debt. It makes no sense for the Government to keep a huge portfolio of loans on their books when the private sector could manage it more effectively and is better placed to cope with the risk. I emphasise that the sale will have no effect on the terms on which students can get loans.

The substantial reduction in the figures for education that Members will find published in the new spending plans is more than accounted for by the sale of this debt. As I have just described, we will actually spend more on the things that really matter—educating our children and young people.