HC Deb 05 November 1997 vol 300 cc298-9
2. Mr. Caton

If he will make a statement on the progress of legislation affecting education in Wales. [12376]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)

The Government have already brought in legislation to fulfil their election pledge to phase out the assisted places scheme. In addition, we shall shortly present to Parliament legislation containing measures on higher and further education and on raising standards of education for every pupil in schools in Wales.

Mr. Caton

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He will know of the tremendous economic significance for south-west Wales of Swansea university and Swansea institute. Is he aware of the great concern among academics and other employees in those centres of learning about the current financial position? That was reflected in a letter that all Welsh Members of Parliament received from the heads of the higher education institutions in Wales. They warn of dire consequences if the current shortfall in finance continues. I do not think that they are crying wolf—what does my hon. Friend think?

Mr. Hain

I visited Swansea university last Friday. It is a fine university. Under the Conservative Government, universities in Wales faced a growing financial crisis. That is why I am pleased—

Mr. Ancram

Here it comes.

Mr. Hain

Just wait for it. I am pleased to announce for next year an additional £10 million for higher education in Wales. That new investment will match proportionately the package announced in England recently. I hope that this money, allocated despite constraints on public spending, will show that the new Labour Government backs Welsh universities. They are critical to our objective of building a high-quality, world-beating economy in Wales.

Mr. Dafis

Does the Minister agree that education will be one of the main priorities—if not the main priority—for the Welsh Assembly? Is there not an opportunity to design an education system, educational policies and patterns of provision in Wales that are distinctive and that correspond to Welsh needs? I think in particular of curricula as well as organisation. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Welsh Assembly will be seriously empowered in influencing the pattern of education provision in Wales from 1999 onwards?

Mr. Hain

Yes, I can confirm that. The new Government have made an auspicious start by publishing the first-ever education White Paper for Wales covering schools. Next year, we shall publish the first-ever education White Paper covering lifelong learning. That is a sign of our intention to establish a distinctive educational agenda for Wales that meets the interests and values of Wales.

Mr. Alan Williams

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about the additional money for higher education in Wales. Is it new money, or is it money from elsewhere in the education budget? If it is from elsewhere in the budget, where is it coming from?

Mr. Hain

It is not money from elsewhere in the education budget—it is additional money, which has come in part from the up-front funding from the introduction of student fees for tuition.