HC Deb 09 June 1998 vol 313 cc911-29

Amendments made: No. 81, in line 6, leave out from 'them' to 'to' in line 9 and insert '; to make provision with respect to the funding of higher education institutions and certain further education, and other matters relating to further and higher education institutions;'.

No. 64, in line 15, after '1973;' insert 'to provide that the Scottish Further Education Funding Council shall be a relevant body for the purposes of section 19(5) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995;'.—[Mr. Jamieson.] Order for Third Reading read.

5.45 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

With this Bill and the School Standards and Framework Bill, we will enhance the standards of education in our country and ensure that opportunity is opened up. We will modernise the education service through schools and higher education for the 21st century.

We will ensure that the legislative framework exists to enable us to provide a teaching profession that can be proud of its professionalism. The General Teaching Council, which will control entry and exit from the profession, is part of that, ensuring that—for the first time—the profession itself has a body that can speak for, and on behalf of, those who serve in it. I am pleased that we appear to have universal agreement on delivering the GTC, which has bedevilled the debate in the education service for some years.

I am pleased also that we appear to have agreement on the introduction of a proper induction year for teachers. We all recall the failure properly to implement the previous arrangements, and we all know of the real difficulties faced by young teachers in that crucial first year. It is not simply induction that is important; the amount of time made available for preparation is also important. All of us who have been in teaching will never forget the burden of preparation and finding one's feet during the long hours of that first year. Therefore, an induction period with a relaxation of contact time for teachers will make a difference.

In addition, support will be available for teachers, and—linked to the advanced skills teacher post—it will be possible to give the supervision and help that are required. I hope also that the arrangements will reduce the drop-out rate. The number of young people who undertake teacher training but do not take a position or drop out after the first year is extremely worrying. Were we to be able to reverse that trend, many of the recruitment problems, and the gaps in terms of vacancies, would be eased. The measures will help also to lift the morale and status of the profession generally.

Leadership in teaching is one of the most important issues that we can address. The national professional qualification for headship is a vital step toward ensuring that we have that leadership, and proper training for those who are crucial to the development of the standards agenda. Therefore, it is encouraging that the 3,000 people who have gone into NPQH training have found it to be of use and of value. We must monitor what is happening to make sure that it is meeting the needs of heads of the future. We also need to extend the Headlamp scheme to cover those who are already head teachers, so that we can develop the profile of the job and the training that is needed for the future.

We are mindful of the importance of ensuring that initial teacher training is right. As hon. Members know, we have introduced the curriculum for teacher training; the inspection of teacher training institutions is critical if we are to ensure that standards are maintained and that best practice is followed in all our teaching institutions. With the assistance of the Teacher Training Agency, we can not only assess what is happening at the moment, but get it right for the future.

When the guillotine came down, we were debating the right to study. I believe that it is incumbent on this country to prepare its young people for the future. We need to ask whether we really want a high-tech, added-value economy, in which young people can learn the skills that they need to enhance their opportunities and those of the companies for which they work, or whether we are prepared to put up with being an offshore island that ticks along as a branch-plant economy, looking on as the rest of the world—north America, the developing world in south-east Asia and, increasingly, Europe—equips itself for a modern, 21st-century economy.

We have to face a global economy in which we must invest in human capital and create a knowledge-based society. We have a choice: either we invest in those hands-on skills that are crucial to the viability and survival of companies, big or small, or we abandon young people to the vagaries of the labour market and say that it does not really matter. I think that there is consensus among the political parties—with the exception, perhaps, of the Conservative party—about how we can get things right for the future. Giving people the right to study is not much to ask—I benefited from it when I went on day-release courses and, in my own time, to evening classes to obtain the necessary qualifications, both vocational and academic, to get into university.

We are talking about the difference between those who treat people as mere commodities and those who want to invest in them as the economic and social future of our country. I believe that people respond to the way in which they are treated—if they are given rights and they take those rights, they accept the responsibilities that go with them.

The car industry provides good examples of young people being given day release or adequate in-house training—Ford and Rover have shown how in-house training can work. In associated industries and in modern electronics and telecommunications—Unipart and Motorola are good examples—considerable steps have been taken, and investment in training is superb. Companies that invest in training gain the rewards—they are at the cutting edge; they are one step ahead and they can compete with the rest of the world—whereas those that do not can expect to tick along for a year or two exploiting human and fixed capital before they go bust, and no one gains from that.

I was dispirited to hear the Conservative party's contribution to the debate. All these matters are linked: high-quality education; the ability to ensure that standards are maintained; leadership; the development of education and training associated with work; the development of education for those who are not in work; and the ability to expand access to the best of education, including higher education, which costs us most, but which rewards us most, and to which, in the new arrangements that we debated last night, we have asked people to contribute.

I do not intend to go through all that again. In fact, I hope that I never have to go through it all again in quite the same way—I did not come into politics to be a masochist. However, in the debates on the Bill, we have been encapsulating the efforts that we are making in education from the early years right the way through to the cutting edge of a knowledge-based economy—higher education is absolutely vital to whether that will be a success.

Mr. Dalyell

As I explained to the House earlier, the fact that there was no Scot on the Standing Committee was not the fault of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I ask him to reconsider the position whereby Scottish universities are asked to discriminate financially between students solely on the basis of which part of the United Kingdom they are from. Financial discrimination on the basis of geographical residence cannot be sustained.

I have a constructive suggestion. Will either a Minister or senior officials talk to Stewart Sutherland, the vice-chancellor of Edinburgh university and former vice-chancellor of London university, whom they know well, and to other Scottish principals, to see whether something can be done about a situation that, as long as Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, cannot continue?

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend will realise that I do not intend, on Third Reading, to reopen yesterday's debate. Of course my Scottish Office colleagues and I would be happy to talk to the vice-chancellor of Edinburgh university and to other vice-chancellors to establish how best we can develop the programme for the future and to assess what difficulties, if any, arise from the decisions that have been taken. I gave such an assurance yesterday on the position of mature students, and I am happy to give my hon. Friend a similar assurance today.

We are embarking on a new road, and we need to ensure that assessment clarifies how the new arrangements are working and monitors their success or otherwise—that is common sense. I genuinely want to build a consensus that will provide stability and continuity in investing for the future, in opening up access and in providing real opportunity where it did not exist before.

I thank all my hon. Friends for their work—

Mr. Brady

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I want to say a word of thanks—I shall give way afterwards.

I thank my hon. Friends, especially those who served on the Standing Committee and those who supported the Government through difficult times yesterday—I want to tell them how much that was appreciated, given the difficult task we faced in trying to get these issues right. I also applaud those Opposition Members—especially the Liberal Democrats—who, despite disagreements on some parts of the Bill, supported us on the vast majority of the issues. I also applaud those Conservative Members who, on Second Reading and before, bravely demonstrated their support for the measures that we are taking.

Mr. Brady

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. May I press him on the point that was raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)? The Secretary of State properly and generously agreed to reconsider whether the policy was working in practice—I take that to mean whether the number of English students at Scottish universities has fallen or increased—but will he go further and tell the House whether he believes that such discrimination, whereby English students will have to pay more than students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, is defensible in principle?

Mr. Blunkett

I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman was not here last night; if he had been, he would have noticed that, at least once, a Labour Member made an inappropriate intervention at a particularly crucial part of my speech—I thought that his intervention was at an equally inappropriate moment.

I shall not reopen that debate on Third Reading; the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to speak yesterday, but he was not here. We have made it clear that the decision taken by our Scottish Office colleagues is defended and supported both in principle and in practice. As part of the development of future continuity, we are perfectly willing to monitor the measures that we have taken. That is reasonable, and it is certainly the way in which we in this Department would wish to proceed on a range of measures that are considered by the House.

I am proud of what we are doing, both in this Bill and in the School Standards and Framework Bill. I hope that our opponents in the Lords will not prevent that critical measure from reaching the statute book as fast as possible to protect the interests and the opportunities of children and I hope that, from tonight, we can go forward with this Bill to ensure that we open up that equality of opportunity in a way that has not been present in the past.

5.59 pm
Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

Debates on the Bill have been most interesting, and the Standing Committee was the most interesting on which I have served since my days as a junior Whip, when the Labour Whip opposite me was the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), now Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment. We worked on the sensible basis that neither of us would try to catch out the other in any way, and managed to steer the Bill through on that basis.

I am afraid that this Bill led to a serious debate in Committee about important educational issues, and the surprisingly downbeat and low-key summary that we have just heard from the Secretary of State does not convey the energy with which a variety of important educational matters have been debated during its passage.

I must pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), who led the opposition to the Bill throughout most of our debates on it. As Ministers were kind enough to say, he provided a model of effective, quizzical examination of the Government's proposals. I also appreciated the contributions by other Opposition Members, who made important points. We have since had the pleasure of being joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and for Ashford (Mr. Green), who have spoken effectively in the debate today.

The Bill contains measures on four crucial areas. The first is on the General Teaching Council, which we have already debated today and about which I will say only that the model that my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood had in mind was that of the General Medical Council, with which he was familiar from his time as Secretary of State for Health. The trouble with the proposal before us is that it is neither one thing nor the other, and it does not have the prospect of growing into the sort of professional body that the GMC is. One of our frustrations with the Bill is that it is so restrictive. It stipulates so precisely what the GTC can do that, although Ministers have tried to placate their critics with many soft warm words about how it could expand and develop its role, it is difficult to see how that is possible.

Secondly, I do not believe that the Secretary of State referred in his rather cautious summary to the measures on head teachers and the professional headship qualification. Again, we are perfectly happy for head teachers to secure professional headship qualifications and, indeed, would encourage them to do so; the question is whether the proposals in the Bill, which require that as a precondition for practising as a head teacher, are the right way forward.

Mr. Blunkett

Yesterday, I had to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to amendment No. 77 and now I must draw his attention to the fact that I have spoken at some length about the national professional qualification for headship and the development of the Headlamp scheme. I also said that 3,000 had entered it and that we would need to monitor how it was going and how it could be improved. I wanted to point that out in case the hon. Gentleman had slipped out for a moment and missed what I said.

Mr. Willetts

I was happy to subscribe to that amendment, as we tabled it—the Secretary of State appeared to be unaware of that point when we debated it yesterday. However, I accept that he did cover the qualifications for head teachers.

Our concern is that, if it is made a statutory requirement, instead of steady, organic growth for the professional headship qualification, we will see the simple and rigid application of a regulation, which will not meet the objectives that the Government have set out—raising professional standards among head teachers. We will see the development of paper qualifications, which will be a precondition for working as a head teacher, not the longer, harder and ultimately more rewarding process of developing consensus in the teaching profession about what is necessary as a qualification to practise as a head teacher.

Thirdly, the Bill contains proposals on the right to study for 16 and 17-year-olds, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford touched earlier. The point is simple. Ministers cannot celebrate the flexibility of the British economy without thinking about how it is to be earned and preserved. Preserving the gains of flexibility that we secured in the past 18 years involves ensuring that burdens are not imposed on business that will deter it from doing the very things that we all want. We do not think that it is desirable to have a low-paid, unskilled work force, which is the myth that the Labour party tries to propagate. However, we do not believe that the way forward is simply to pass laws about it. The Government do not understand that the way to improve economic performance is not simply by burdening business with ever more regulation.

The most important measures in the Bill are on higher education, and it was perhaps those that the Secretary of State had in mind when he referred to the need to "build a consensus". That might have to begin with the 31 Labour Members who did not appear to be a part of the consensus on the subject last night—it is no wonder that they were not, as they were invited to support measures that clearly contradict undertakings given before the general election campaign.[Interruption.]

I see Labour Members shaking their heads. If any Labour Members can explain how the present Prime Minister could have fought the election campaign on the basis of having no plans to introduce tuition fees and then promptly introduced a measure that imposed such fees without clearly being in breach of an election promise, I will be happy to hear from them. The Secretary of State could not carry 31 of his colleagues through the Lobby last night, because what they were invited to vote on was not the prospectus that was put before the electorate at the election. [Interruption.]

I hear Labour Members muttering, "Manifesto." They cannot have it both ways on the manifesto—they cannot claim, as we heard last night, that the abolition of the maintenance grant must get through because it was a manifesto pledge, without accepting, on the same line of argument, that the imposition of tuition fees should not get through because it was clearly contrary to pre-election assurances given by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), now the Prime Minister.

The Government could have seized an historic opportunity. On 1 May 1997, the world of higher education had enormous good will toward the incoming Government. Many people in that world hoped for great things from this Government. They had all been successfully seduced by a variety of Labour spokesmen over the years, and hoped for great things. There was not merely good will for the new Ministers, but the prospect of a serious piece of work arriving on their desks—the Dearing report, which would set out the way forward for them. The Government had the combination of good will and the most serious investigation of higher education for a generation, which provided them with the opportunity to develop a policy agenda for higher education that took us a stage beyond the one that we had reached with the enormous expansion of that sector, in which every Conservative Member can take pride.

We recognised that things could not carry on indefinitely as they had been, and that is why we set up the Dearing investigation. Everyone in the higher education world was saying that and we received and understood that message. However, the Government have missed that opportunity. In 13 months, they have alienated just about every serious group within the world of higher education. I do not know whether Ministers visit that world much, but, if they heard what is said about them now compared with what was said a year ago, they would realise that the loss of good will, hope and confidence in this Government in the first 12 months on higher education has been extraordinary. That is because Education Ministers have presided over a catalogue of disasters which are embodied in the Bill.

First, Ministers made the elementary tactical mistake of giving away their hand on higher education finances before they had concluded negotiations with the Treasury on the fundamental spending review. We are getting all the pain, but no gain. We are getting tuition fees, but no assurance that the money will go to higher education. All we had from Ministers in Committee was the accountancy truism that the money would be collected by the universities. We want to know that there will be no offsetting reduction in grants to the universities, and Ministers have not been able to give that assurance.

We are left to rely on the Secretary of State's being able to secure from the fundamental spending review some of the measures that Dearing envisaged. He would have to be even more incompetent than he has been so far if he were not at least to get resource accounting from his discussions with the Treasury. If he cannot get that, he will be in very serious difficulty. It is manifest from the basis on which we introduced resource accounting that loans would have to be differently treated under such a regime than they have been.

It is not only those who run the universities and who are concerned about their finances who are cross with the Government's ministerial team. Students have been double-crossed. Students represented by the National Union of Students and other bodies thought that they had an understanding with the Labour party: if they supported abolition of the maintenance grant, there would be no tuition fees. That was the basis on which the NUS signed up to Labour policy before the general election.

There has been a striking absence of Scottish Labour Members from debate, but there has been a similarly striking absence of those new Labour Members who once served as presidents of the NUS. One was rolled out desperately when the Secretary of State was in serious trouble last night, but those Labour Members have been invisible; they did not serve on the Committee, they did not speak on Second Reading. I suspect that they were all told to take constituency leave in case they were confronted in the Chamber with the pledges that they gave when they served as presidents of the NUS.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

The hon. Gentleman has made much of tuition fees, but will he confirm that his party favours fees, and also favours top-up fees, which would drive a coach and horses through access to higher education?

Mr. Willetts

The hon. Gentleman did not serve on the Committee. If he had, and had studied our amendments—

Mr. Rammell

With the greatest of respect to the hon. Gentleman, I was on the Committee and was there through every sitting.

Mr. Willetts

The hon. Gentleman did not say anything.

We accept the principle of tuition fees, but tabled an amendment specifying that tuition fees should be 25 per cent. of the cost of a university education, and making it difficult for Ministers to do anything other than raise fees by the rate of the retail prices index. We know of anxiety in the world of higher education that the Government will go down the Australian route, so that what begins as a quarter will gradually be nudged up.

Our position is clear: if we accept Dearing, we must accept the £1,000 tuition fee which it proposed. However, we were trying—the Secretary of State would have had rather less difficulty last night if he had accepted the amendment—to make it clear to everyone in the world of higher education that it would not be possible for the Government to smuggle through real increases in tuition fees on top of that figure.

Mr. Rammell

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willetts

I have given way twice to the hon. Gentleman; if he wants to seek to speak in the short time available for Third Reading, he is free to do so.

The financial settlement is unsatisfactory. Students have been double-crossed. People in universities will now be micro-managed.

Miss Melanie Johnson (Welwyn Hatfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willetts

I am sorry, but I have already overrun my time and do not wish to take any more interventions.

We have heard from the Secretary of State that he did not wish to preside over a "branch-plant economy". However, that is what he is making of the world of higher education. His taste for regulations and directives means that people who are supposed to be in charge of sophisticated institutions that are not part of the public sector will find themselves micro-managed by his Department. It is no vision for the future of education to believe that an organisation should enter the 21st century having to run to the Department for Education and Employment to get clearance through statutory instruments and regulations for matters that would, in any modern organisation, be within the discretion of a junior manager.

The Secretary of State cannot run higher education, although I think that he believes he can. I think that he thinks that he is the chief executive of the British higher education industry. He is not. If he thinks that he is, the alienation of higher education that we have already seen during the Government's first year will carry on apace during their remaining years in office. Instead of a settlement for a generation, Ministers will be lucky if the measures in the Bill last until the next general election.

6.15 pm
Mr. Dalyell

I was not on the Standing Committee, but I am unrepentantly one of the 31. It may be much better to have representatives of the awkward squad on, rather than off, the Committee.

I want to ask two questions. First, given the Government's proposals, is it not necessary to take measures to make certain that students at university have some understanding that the money that they are paying will lead to the improvement of their own institution? I am told that there will be great dissent and difficulty in the universities if it cannot be shown that improvements are the direct result of so many of the students paying fees. In what way is it possible to link in the minds of undergraduates and other students the feeling that the money that they will pay will to lead to better libraries, better tuition, more facilities and some gain to them?

My second point explains why some of us were sorry not to be on the Committee, where we could have asked questions. When, 15 or 20 years from now, I am kicking up the daisies and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in some very distinguished position, he should bear in mind the difficulties that will have accrued by 2010 or 2020 in actually collecting money from the students of the 1990s. One can imagine what a field day it will be for lawyers.

I have read many of the reports of the Committee's debates, but I have seen nothing about the mechanics of collection. I understand that in both Australia and America there have been enormous difficulties and that lawyers have started cases that resemble Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. I predict that a lot of the money that may be earmarked for public funds will never in fact accumulate to the Treasury. What is to be done about the sheer difficulty of collection?

6.18 pm
Mr. Willis

I thank my "team" on the Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). I also thank the Secretary of State and his Ministers for the courteous way in which they dealt with me during my first time dealing with a Bill in Committee and in the House.

The Government should have seen that passing the Bill would not be easy. Even with a huge Commons majority, the range of principles involved was such that debate was likely to be fierce and focused. Some Members—I am one of them—were naive enough to expect that the principles involved in the Bill would be debated on the Floor of the House. When Lord Glenamara said in another place that it was the worst Bill that he had seen in 47 years, I sensed a slight exaggeration from one who had seen some of the worst Bills ever, but his comments have been largely vindicated by the events of the past few months.

The Bill was deeply flawed when it started its passage through the Lords, and it will leave us tonight deeply flawed. My experience is limited, but a Bill that has required eight Government new clauses, a Government new schedule and 98 Government amendments in Committee, and then seven Government new clauses and 83 Government amendments on Report—197 Government changes since its introduction—is by any test a flawed Bill. The question is whether it is a better Bill as a result of the 197 Government-led changes.

My party is pleased about the improvements in the General Teaching Council and disappointed that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made light of some of the changes. The council is a significantly different beast from that prepared in the Lords. It started off as a registration document but now has an opportunity to mirror other professional bodies such as the General Medical Council. We are grateful to the Government, and wish the GTC well.

We also welcome the introduction of mandatory qualifications for head teachers and the commitment to continuous professional development. The emphasis on professional development from when students enter teacher training establishments until they complete their induction years is good news for the individual, for schools and their pupils and for the teaching profession.

Notwithstanding the criticisms of the official Opposition, we are pleased that the Government are implementing their manifesto pledge to give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to time off for study. Like others, we were disappointed that the official Opposition's vision of small business is of penny-pinching, mean employers who are not committed to their work forces. That is not how I find them to be in my constituency. Many of them will welcome the new opportunities for 16 and 17-year-olds, some 140,000 of whom do not have qualifications up to NVQ level 2 and who will become a huge drain on society if they are not employed. Giving them skills in employment is a move forward that we support. It is important to recognise that it is unacceptable to allow young people to fail, and it would be wrong to ignore their failure.

We support the proposals to introduce income-contingent loans for students. That has been ignored in much of the debate, but it is a significant move forward from the mortgage-style repayment loans that existed under the previous Government's regime. Had the Bill stopped there, we would have congratulated the Secretary of State, marched into the Lobby with the Government and my hon. Friend the Member for Bath would have opened a bottle of champagne after Third Reading. Sadly, he will not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Perhaps a bottle of Bath beer.

Part II is so badly flawed that the Liberal Democrats cannot and will not vote for the Bill. Furthermore, we will urge our noble Friends in another place to amend it again and return it to the House for further scrutiny. Part II has been bulldozed through the House with an arrogant disregard for debate on principled objections in a manner last seen when Baroness Thatcher was singing the praises of the poll tax.

The Government have orchestrated a symphony of abuse of their Back Benchers who have remained wedded to principles of social justice and equality. Few could have been unmoved by the sincerity and decency of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) when he spoke about student maintenance last night. Somehow, principled debate has no place with a Government who need Back-Bench adulation like an addict needs drugs.

Mr. Coaker

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his remarks? I respect what my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) said and his principled stand. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that those of us who support the Government line also do so from a position of principle, to pursue social justice? There is a difference about the way to pursue it.

Mr. Willis

If the hon. Gentleman says that, I believe him because hon. Members never tell untruths or try to deceive the House. Few Opposition Members witnessed the abuse of rebels who tried to speak up for what they believe without finding it shameful.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I do not feel that I have been abused in any way.

Mr. Willis

Hon. Members will speak for themselves.

The most significant proposal in the Bill is the introduction of tuition fees for full-time undergraduates, yet hon. Members have been denied an opportunity to discuss that single issue on the Floor of the House and vote on it. For Liberal Democrats, the principle of a state investing in its people is an overriding principle. We fundamentally oppose a tax on learning. We accept that many students in higher and further education already contribute to their fees, but the proposition that because some students are disadvantaged we should disadvantage all students is ridiculous. The Government rightly go to great lengths to emphasise the levelling up of opportunity and the importance of standards in our education system, but in higher education they argue the opposite.

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

Given the ability of those entering higher education, is not the hon. Gentleman espousing the principle that to those that have shall more be given?

Mr. Willis

No. We believe strongly that the army of part-time students in further and higher education who currently do not get help towards their fees or access to loans are being disregarded, and they are disregarded by the Bill. That is an injustice and inequity that should have been addressed by the Bill, but it has not been.

The Secretary of State says that there is little evidence of fees deterring students from applying to university, but his information is selective. My information is that the number of 18 to 20-year-olds applying to university next year has indeed risen by 1.1 per cent. More telling is the 11.5 per cent. drop in applications from students aged 21 to 24, and the staggering 15.1 per cent. reduction in applications from students aged over 25. That was not mentioned yesterday, but it should be mentioned. It should have been part of the debate on tuition fees. Does the Secretary of State feel that such students have been affected by the introduction of tuition fees?

Dr. Howells

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willis

Perhaps the Secretary of State—or the Minister, if he wishes to intervene—will say whether they feel that the 15 per cent. reduction in recruitment to teacher training for BEd courses this year is the result of tuition fees. Is the reduction of more than 10 per cent. in the number of postgraduates going into teaching another such result, or is there some other reason?

Dr. Howells

The hon. Gentleman knows that those figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service are not to be released until the end of the week, and were faxed to him in confidence. That is why the Secretary of State did not announce them.

Will he acknowledge that he knows full well that older students always apply later to university? The success of our policy on encouraging people to go to university under the new regime relates to the fact that the easiest potential students to reach are those in sixth forms, further education colleges and sixth-form colleges, while the most difficult to reach are the older students. Where we have managed to get information across, students have agreed that it is a good deal. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if he stops using those tactics, when we get information through to older students, they too will want to go to university, because it is a good deal for them as well.

Mr. Willis

The Minister's confidence about there being more mature students is welcome, but I have to remind him that in yesterday's debate he and his colleagues made points about students going to Scottish institutions as a direct result of the UCAS figures being given to them, so it is perfectly reasonable for me to use the same figures in support of my arguments.

Mr. Willetts

We have just heard some extraordinary charges being levelled; can we have some clarification? Is it true that, yesterday, when the House debated the proposals in the Bill regarding access to higher education, both Ministers and the Liberal Democrat spokesmen had in their possession the latest UCAS figures on university applications, but neither Ministers nor the Liberal Democrats felt that those figures were relevant to yesterday's debate?

Mr. Willis

The Government had the figures yesterday—they were made available to them and were used in yesterday's debate, in particular in respect of the Scottish question. We did not have access to the figures, but, as a result of the figures being given in yesterday's debate, I sought out the figures today because they are pertinent to today's debate, just as they were to yesterday's debate.

Sir Ronald Dearing proposed charging students tuition fees because, in the absence of additional Government resources, he saw student fees as the only way to increase funding for universities. Neither Dearing nor vice-chancellors supported the introduction of tuition fees as an alternative to increased Government funding, yet that is precisely how the Government envisage their use.

The Dearing committee of inquiry made clear that universities need ££65 million this year to avoid disastrous cuts, yet they were given only ££65 million. Dearing also said that universities need ££50 million next year, but, so far, they have been promised absolutely nothing. Dearing said that, by 2000, universities would need ££ billion in extra income.

Fees would produce £00 million, if universities were allowed to retain the additional income, but there is no commitment to ring-fence tuition fees as additional income, and no commitment to meet from the Exchequer the additional requirements that Dearing identified. That is why, both here and in another place, the Government have steadfastly refused to accept amendments from the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) and the Liberal Democrats to ring-fence or hypothecate fees from students for universities.

How can any hon. Member support a proposal to tax student learning without there being a guarantee of some advantage? That is what we being asked to do. The Bill is not about helping students or universities, nor is it about a vision for higher education and funding; it is a Bill that will be remembered as short-changing both universities and students. That is why we shall vote against it tonight.

6.32 pm
Caroline Flint

I have only two points to make. On the issue of access to training for 16 and 17-year-olds in work, I was disappointed by the comments of Opposition Members. In the past year, I have spoken to many small business people in Don Valley, and their remarks on training have been interesting. They are active through the Barnsley and Doncaster TEC and through the Dearne Valley partnership, and they tell me that many young people they take on at 16 are those with whom they have been working through the trident scheme in schools. They are investing in those young people's education, and they are disappointed in those of their colleagues in the small business sector who refuse to make that sort of investment but later try to poach those young people from firms that have invested in them.

The small business people to whom I spoke want a level playing field that encourages opportunity for young people. They feel strongly about it because many small business people, unlike some larger firms, have stakes in their local community that go back generations. They see their sons and daughters leaving schools in areas where employment prospects are difficult. They want investment in the community, not only in jobs, but in law and order and in tackling other social problems that are created by lack of work, training and education.

My second point is about access to higher education. Last night, many hon. Members spoke about how they had benefited from access to higher education through maintenance grants. I, too, was one of those people. I finished my higher education 1983. Many hon. Members finished theirs well before then, but one feeling that my generation and previous generations in higher education share is that we were exceptions to the rule. Nothing has changed since then in terms of increasing opportunities for people from low-income, low-skill backgrounds who might be the first members of their family to enter higher education.

The Bill gives us a chance for radical change—not to increase access in single figure percentage terms, but dramatically to expand the opportunities for our young people in higher education and, as important, in further education. That is why I shall support the Bill tonight.

6.35 pm
Mrs. Spelman

I would not want the debate to end without trying to reinforce some of the warnings that we have given in a spirit of constructive opposition. There are some unsatisfactory outcomes from the Bill which, to our regret, have not been addressed. We have tried to warn the Government about the impact of the abolition of the maintenance grant on poorer communities.

I am a member of the Science and Technology Committee, which carefully reviewed the Dearing report's aim to provide more finance for higher education, in recognition of the success—extraordinarily denied by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint)—in enabling many more people to gain access to higher education. The proportion has increased from one in eight of the population when I was in higher education to one in three today, and it was achieved under a system of means-tested grants.

Caroline Flint

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Spelman

In view of the time, it is fair for me to continue.

Dearing warned against the option that the Government have chosen and said that it would produce unacceptable burdens on graduates and on families of modest means. It is extraordinary that a Labour Government have chosen to do that and ignore our warnings.

On the Scottish anomaly, I concur entirely with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). If only there had been a Scottish Member on the Standing Committee. That was an option open to the Government; the mistake could have been avoided. Last night, we heard extraordinary rationalisations of the anomaly, ranging from relativism—it is not the worst anomaly—to an argument that the arrangement would make more room for domestic applications from Scotland. The point is ignored that some higher education courses need to be of different lengths and the system should be sufficiently flexible to take account of that; also ignored is the long-term impact on Scottish universities.

Today, we have debated the burden imposed on business. I am disappointed by the Government's failure to heed our warning that 16 and 17-year-olds will be disadvantaged in relation to other Government initiatives by the amendment that gives them the right to study, financed by business. Not only have the Government ignored our warning, but they have not heeded Baroness Blackstone's carefully calculated assessment of the impact of the advantage for the 18-to-24 age group versus the disadvantage for 16 and 17-year-olds.

Those shortcomings have been wrapped up in pious language and a high moral tone that overlooks our efforts constructively to oppose and to encourage the Government to improve their own legislation. How ours can be described as a reactionary stance defeats me.

6.39 pm
Mr. Rammell

I am conscious of the time, but I want to pursue a crucial issue in response to the answer that I received from the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts). I refer to the Conservative party's stance on top-up fees. I, with the Government, oppose the principle of top-up fees, because there will be no exemption for the poorest students and no loans for them: we run the risk of creating a two-tier ivy league syndrome from which thousands of our young people will be excluded.

It was clear from what the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) said in Committee that the Conservative party favours top-up fees. Specifically, he said that they were not ruled out and, in line with Dearing, he would support the principle of top-up fees. However, the hon. Member for Havant this evening denied that, dodged the question and spoke about the uprating mechanism. Before the debate ends, I should like a clear and principled answer from the Opposition. Do they support top-up fees, or not? Hundreds of thousands of students want an answer to that question.

6.40 pm
Mr. Green

It is appropriate to treat the Bill with a judicious mixture of sorrow and anger. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) said that the Secretary of State was uncharacteristically downbeat in his moving Third Reading. I assume that he has been chastened by the events of last night, when Labour Members who stuck to their principles voted against him. He said that he wanted to build consensus about the Bill, but he has failed to build a consensus even in his own party.

I found some of the speech of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) extraordinary. He praised the courage and principle of those who came into the Lobby with us to vote against the abolition of maintenance grants, but led his party to vote with the Government whom he purported to criticise today. His stance is incomprehensible.

The Bill has many bad features. The General Teaching Council is a great opportunity missed. The Government have been too prescriptive, and left the council unable to expand. On head teachers, they have again been too interfering and prescriptive. They are in danger of setting up a paper qualification that will leave no room for the naturals, who have made so many of the great head teachers from whom many of us have benefited.

On the right to study, Labour Members have been full of piety, with no back-up. They will destroy some of the flexibility that the previous Government introduced into the British economy, and will pile costs on small business.

The central flaw in the Bill is its treatment of higher education. Having torn up the Dearing report on the day they received it, and having refused to implement one of its central recommendations, the Government have been in chaos ever since about how to cope with the funding of higher education. They are damaging the right to study, especially for those from less well-off homes. Their decision to abolish the maintenance grant, against the specific recommendation of Dearing, is an act of vandalism for which they will suffer.

The Government have betrayed a clear election pledge from the Prime Minister that they would not introduce tuition fees. On top of that, they cannot guarantee that the money that they will raise from tuition fees will go back into higher education—and they have decided to treat students going to Scottish universities as second-class citizens.

This is a bad Bill. We will vote against it, and I invite hon. Members who care about the future of higher education and who want it to be properly funded and available to all to join us in the Lobby.

6.42 pm
Mr. Blunkett

Utter cant. Even the former shadow Secretary of State had to leave during the speech of the current shadow Secretary of State.

During the night, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) might reflect on the fact that he criticised us for tabling too many amendments, and then praised us for accepting the amendments that he tabled. He cannot have it both ways.

UCAS faxed the latest figures across at 4.30 pm this afternoon and, for reasons of its own, also faxed them to the Liberal Democrats. The figures used yesterday were from 15 May.

The Bill looks to the future. We ask all Labour Members to vote for the Bill's Third Reading, because it is the only option for Britain in the 21st century.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 307, Noes 174.

Division No. 297] [6.43 pm
Ainger, Nick (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Alexander, Douglas Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Allen, Graham Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clwyd, Ann
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Coaker, Vernon
Ashton, Joe Coffey, Ms Ann
Atherton, Ms Candy Cohen, Harry
Atkins, Charlotte Coleman, lain
Banks, Tony Colman, Tony
Barron, Kevin Connarty, Michael
Bayley, Hugh Cooper, Yvette
Beard, Nigel Corbett, Robin
Begg, Miss Anne Corston, Ms Jean
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cox, Tom
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cranston, Ross
Bennett, Andrew F Crausby, David
Benton, Joe Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Berry, Roger Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Betts, Clive Cummings, John
Blizzard, Bob Cunliffe, Lawrence
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Boateng, Paul Dalyell, Tam
Borrow, David Darvill, Keith
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bradshaw, Ben Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E) Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Denham, John
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Dismore, Andrew
Browne, Desmond Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Buck, Ms Karen Donohoe, Brian H
Burgon, Colin Doran, Frank
Butler, Mrs Christine Dowd, Jim
Byers, Stephen Drew, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Edwards, Huw
Caplin, Ivor Efford, Clive
Casale, Roger Ellman, Mrs Louise
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Ennis, Jeff
Chaytor, David Etherington, Bill
Chisholm, Malcolm Field, Rt Hon Frank
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Clark, Dr Lynda Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline Livingstone, Ken
Flynn, Paul Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Follett, Barbara Love, Andrew
Foster, Fit Hon Derek McAllion, John
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McCabe, Steve
Fyfe, Maria McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Gapes, Mike McDonagh, Siobhain
Gardiner, Barry McDonnell, John
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McFall, John
Gerrard, Neil McGuire, Mrs Anne
Gibson, Dr Ian Mclsaac, Shona
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Mackinlay, Andrew
Godman, Dr Norman A McLeish, Henry
Godsiff, Roger McNamara, Kevin
Golding, Mrs Llin McNulty, Tony
Gordon, Mrs Eileen MacShane, Denis
Grant, Bernie McWalter, Tony
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McWilliam, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Grocott, Bruce Mallaber, Judy
Grogan, John Mandelson, Peter
Gunnell, John Marek, Dr John
Hain, Peter Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Martlew, Eric
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Maxton, John
Hanson, David Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Meale, Alan
Healey, John Merron, Gillian
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Michael, Alun
Hepburn, Stephen Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Heppell, John Milburn, Alan
Hill, Keith Moffatt, Laura
Hinchliffe, David Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hodge, Ms Margaret Moran, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Home Robertson, John Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hoon, Geoffrey Mudie, George
Hope, Phil Mullin, Chris
Hopkins, Kelvin Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Howells, Dr Kim Norris, Dan
Hoyle, Lindsay O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Humble, Mrs Joan O'Hara, Eddie
Hurst, Alan Olner, Bill
Hutton, John O'Neill, Martin
Iddon, Dr Brian Palmer, Dr Nick
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pearson, Ian
Jenkins, Brian Pendry, Tom
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Perham, Ms Linda
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Plaskitt, James
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Pope, Greg
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pound, Stephen
Jowell, Ms Tessa Powell, Sir Raymond
Keeble, Ms Sally Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kelly, Ms Ruth Prosser, Gwyn
Kemp, Fraser Purchase, Ken
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Quin, Ms Joyce
Khabra, Piara S Quinn, Lawrie
Kilfoyle, Peter Rammell, Bill
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Rapson, Syd
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Laxton, Bob Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Lepper, David Rogers, Allan
Leslie, Christopher Rooker, Jeff
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rooney, Terry
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Liddell, Mrs Helen Rowlands, Ted
Linton, Martin Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Ruddock, Ms Joan Temple-Morris, Peter
Salter, Martin Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Savidge, Malcolm Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Sawford, Phil Timms, Stephen
Sedgemore, Brian Tipping, Paddy
Shaw, Jonathan Touhig, Don
Sheerman, Barry Trickett, Jon
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Truswell, Paul
Singh, Marsha Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Skinner, Dennis Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Vaz, Keith
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Watts, David
Snape, Peter White, Brian
Soley, Clive Whitehead, Dr Alan
Southworth, Ms Helen Wicks, Malcolm
Spellar, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Stevenson, George Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Stinchcombe, Paul Wood, Mike
Stoate, Dr Howard Woolas, Phil
Stott, Roger Worthington, Tony
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Gerry Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann(Dewsbury) Mr. David Jamieson and Mr. David Clelland.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Cran, James
Allan, Richard Curry, Rt Hon David
Arbuthnot, James Dafis, Cynog
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Baker, Norman Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Baldry, Tony Day, Stephen
Ballard, Jackie Donaldson, Jeffrey
Beggs, Roy Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Beith, Rt Hon A J Duncan, Alan
Bercow, John Duncan Smith, lain
Beresford, Sir Paul Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Blunt, Crispin Evans, Nigel
Body, Sir Richard Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Boswell, Tim Faber, David
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Fabricant, Michael
Brady, Graham Fallon, Michael
Brake, Tom Flight, Howard
Brand, Dr Peter Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Brazier, Julian Foster, Don (Bath)
Breed, Colin Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fox, Dr Liam
Browning, Mrs Angela Garnier, Edward
Burnett, John George, Andrew (St Ives)
Burns, Simon Gibb, Nick
Burstow, Paul Gill, Christopher
Butterfill, John Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Cable, Dr Vincent Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Gorrie, Donald
Cash, William Gray, James
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Chidgey, David Grieve, Dominic
Chope, Christopher Gummer, Rt Hon John
Clappison, James Hague, Rt Hon William
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hammond, Philip
Collins, Tim Hancock, Mike
Colvin, Michael Harris, Dr Evan
Cotter, Brian Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick Pickles, Eric
Hayes, John Prior, David
Heald, Oliver Redwood, Rt Hon John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Rendel, David
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Robathan, Andrew
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Horam, John Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Ruffley, David
Hunter, Andrew Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael St Aubyn, Nick
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Sanders, Adrian
Jenkin, Bernard Sayeed, Jonathan
Johnson Smith, Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys MÔn) Soames, Nicholas
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Key, Robert Stunell, Andrew
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Swayne, Desmond
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Swinney, John
Kirkwood, Archy Syms, Robert
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Tapsell, Sir Peter
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Lansley, Andrew Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Leigh, Edward Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Letwin, Oliver Taylor, Sir Teddy
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Tonge, Dr Jenny
Livsey, Richard Townend, John
Loughton, Tim Tredinnick, David
Luff, Peter Trend, Michael
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tyler, Paul
McIntosh, Miss Anne Tyrie, Andrew
MacKay, Andrew Wallace, James
Maclean, Rt Hon David Walter, Robert
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Wardle, Charles
McLoughlin, Patrick Waterson, Nigel
Malins, Humfrey Wells, Bowen
Mates, Michael Welsh, Andrew
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Whittingdale, John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
May, Mrs Theresa Wilkinson, John
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Willetts, David
Moore, Michael Willis, Phil
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Wilshire, David
Moss, Malcolm Woodward, Shaun
Nicholls, Patrick Yeo, Tim
Norman, Archie Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Oaten, Mark
Ottaway, Richard Tellers for the Noes:
Page, Richard Sir David Madel and Mrs. Caroline Spelman.
Paice, James

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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