HC Deb 18 February 1998 vol 306 cc1065-7
3. Mrs. Betty Williams

If he will make a statement on the funding of primary and secondary education in Wales and its distribution to schools. [28400]

Mr. Hain

Individual local authorities decide on their budget for primary and secondary schools.

Mrs. Williams

I welcome the additional £50 million that has been announced for Wales. Will my hon. Friend confirm the exact additional amounts for Gwynedd and for Conwy in my constituency? Furthermore, will he confirm that special needs will not be neglected and will also benefit from additional resources?

Mr. Hain

I thank my hon. Friend. Gwynedd will receive about £1.9 million and Conwy over £1.6 million of the additional £50 million spending on school budgets in Wales. I give her the assurance, especially as I know of her close family interest in special educational needs, that we are determined to improve provision and to adopt a much more flexible level of provision. I will certainly bear in mind her submission to me in response to our Green Paper on the matter.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

Is the Minister aware that, despite the additional funding that his Department is making available to local authorities, a number of schools in my constituency and elsewhere are still predicting that teachers will be lost this year? Has he made an assessment of the number of teachers who might be lost to our schools in Wales this year and, if he finds that the number is reaching an alarming level, will he reconsider the level of resources?

Mr. Hain

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, particularly against a background when, under the Conservatives, 1,800 teachers in Wales lost their jobs. That is the appalling record and legacy that we inherited. I see no reason why, in either the hon. Gentleman's local education authority or any other in Wales, any teacher's job should be lost, especially when we have put an additional £50 million straight into the schools' budgets. I shall be monitoring that carefully to ensure that it goes into schools and is not siphoned off into general local government expenditure.

Mr. Touhig

One of the obstacles to implementing the new deal in my constituency is the many jobless youngsters who lack literacy and numeracy skills. They were the people who were betrayed by the Tories' failing to provide adequate resources at primary and secondary levels. Will my hon. Friend look into that matter and see what he can do to help bridge that gap in the most basic of all skills?

Mr. Hain

Yes, I will, and we have been considering the problem since we took office in May last year. We are determined to drive up literacy and numeracy skills. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the shabby record that we inherited. Of the additional £50 million for schools' budgets, £1.5 million has been specifically earmarked for literacy schemes. In addition, another £1 million will be allocated for literacy and numeracy projects to ensure that we tackle the basic core skills which must be enhanced in Wales.

Mr. Evans

Will the Minister acknowledge that up to half the money provided to reduce class sizes could be swallowed up in the teachers' pay award? On top of that, what does the Minister intend to do about teacher recruitment in key subjects in secondary schools, which is falling to crisis levels? Words come easily, but they will not provide extra teachers in primary or secondary schools, and class sizes in Wales will continue to increase, making this yet another broken Labour promise.

Mr. Hain

On the contrary, Wales now has a Government who keep their promises and who are determined to deliver higher educational standards. It is rich for the hon. Gentleman to lecture us on school cuts when school after school in Wales suffered savage cuts during the last few years of Conservative Government.

The specific answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that £7 million of the overhang on the 1997 teachers' pay settlement will fall on this year's budget. An additional £19 million of the staged pay increase this year will fall on this year's local authority budgets. That should take up less than half the £50 million because the Secretary of State has provided a general uprating for local government over and above what would have been provided by the Tories. There is therefore no reason to reach for teachers' pay settlements or any other excuse, let alone one from the Conservatives, to try to drag money out of school budgets this coming year.

Mr. Gareth Thomas

Does my hon. Friend agree that with the onset of democratic devolution, there is an opportunity to develop an education policy more attuned to the specific needs of Wales? Does he further agree that there is no reason why that process of diversity should not begin now?

Mr. Hain

I very much agree. Since we took office, we have been developing a distinct educational agenda for Wales. The first ever White Paper on education in Wales was published in July. We shall similarly be publishing in the spring the first ever Green Paper on lifelong learning in Wales. All that, including the School Standards and Framework Bill, is designed to ensure that we devolve opportunities for developing an educational structure to meet the needs and values of Wales, rather than the alien programme that we had thrust on us by the Conservatives, under the likes of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), during the past 18 miserable years.

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