HC Deb 29 June 1998 vol 315 cc78-122
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

I must point out that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.14 pm
Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

I beg to move, That this House notes that primary class sizes have increased since the Government came to power, and that almost half a million pupils at Key Stage 1 are now in classes of 31 or more; condemns the Government's failure to deliver its early pledge to reduce infant class sizes; believes that while reducing class sizes is a desirable objective, this should not be done at the expense of parental choice or by creating more mixed-age classes; and condemns the Government's inability to implement its pledge in a way consistent with raising educational standards. We have tabled this motion because we are still waiting for the Government's first annual report on how they have performed since they were elected on 1 May 1997. In particular, we are still waiting to hear from Ministers an account of how they have performed in respect of their five early pledges, which not only appeared on the credit cards that were distributed to the electorate, but were even stamped on coffee mugs distributed at the Labour party conference. One of those pledges was on class sizes. If the annual report were being produced by a company, that company would soon be in breach of its statutory obligations—the report is so delayed that the company would soon find itself hauled before the courts.

We hope to see the Government's report soon, and we hope that it will explain why, despite the pledge to reduce class sizes, the number of children studying key stage 1 in classes of more than 30 has gone up since the election and why the number of children in primary schools in classes of more than 30 has gone up since the election. That is exactly the opposite of the pledge on which the Government were elected.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way—I mean the shadow Minister. Does he accept that local authorities have not been very co-operative, especially Conservative-controlled Cambridgeshire which was allocated an extra £9.5 million by the Government to spend on education but failed to do so? Indeed, £1.6 million of it was allocated to other services. [Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), who is sitting immediately behind the hon. Gentleman, will confirm what I have said.

Mr. Willetts

My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) was saying that Cambridgeshire was spending above its standard spending assessment. I do not have my hon. Friend's expertise on Cambridgeshire, but had the hon. Lady been at the annual conference of local education authorities last week, as I was, she would have heard LEA members of a variety of political persuasions agree on one thing—that it was not practical to deliver the Government's pledge on class sizes, something to which I shall return in a moment.

The Government's record compares unfavourably with our record. When we left office, a smaller proportion of pupils was taught in classes of more than 30 than when we came to office in 1979.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)


Mr. Willetts

The hon. Lady shouts "Rubbish", but I assure her that these are figures from the House of Commons Library.

Ministers' response to the embarrassing predicament of twice having to announce increases in class sizes was to say that they were going to bring forward the delivery of their pledge. Previously, the plan had been that it should be delivered by 2002. As evidence of how serious the Government were about delivering it, they said that it would be delivered in 2001. However, when the electorate were voting for an early pledge, they did not believe that "early" meant 2002. People do not seriously believe that delivering it in 2001 means delivering it earlier than they had been led to expect by the Government.

For Ministers now to say that there is no prospect of delivering their pledge until 2001 is a failure to deliver on the expectations that they were happy to excite among the electorate in order to get themselves elected. Their interpretation of "early"—namely, that they made the pledge early on, not that it will be delivered early on—is not an interpretation that one single member of the electorate ever understood.

What are the Government going to do about delivering their pledge? The Department for Education and Employment will have to make every effort to ensure that the Government can retrieve the position after the embarrassment of their first 15 months in office. What will their efforts to deliver this pledge mean in practice?

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)

In Norfolk, it will mean that 1,000 pupils who would have been in classes of more than 30 will not be. Could we have a better debate than we had this afternoon—a debate on the facts? Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that that very pledge card said how the pledge would be delivered and that the Bill to abolish the assisted places scheme—the Education (Schools) Bill—was among the first Bills that this Government introduced? It is obvious that, until we have delivered on that, we cannot spend the money.

Mr. Willetts

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that—I have the copy of the relevant page of the Labour manifesto here—it was described as an early pledge, and I do not regard delivery in 2001 or 2002 as an early pledge. It was also described as being financed by using money saved from the assisted places scheme. We have already seen the new deal money for capital expenditure raided because it was clear that the assisted places scheme was not going to be able to raise enough money to deliver the pledge, so it does not seem that the Government are in any way sticking to the assurances that they gave before the election.

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Byers)


Mr. Willetts

I will give way to the Minister, and then I shall try to make some progress.

Mr. Byers

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because, like my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner), I hope that the debate can be based on facts. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that not a single penny of the new deal capital money has been used for the reduction of class sizes? Additional resources, provided by the Chancellor in the Budget of March this year—an extra £40 million—were made available, but that is over and above the new deal money that was announced in July last year. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the case?

Mr. Willetts

This is, admittedly, a murky area, but what we seem to have is, first, money from the abolition of the assisted places scheme not being sufficient to finance the delivery of this pledge, for the simple reason that the pupils who would otherwise have participated in the assisted places scheme still need to have an education. They do not disappear off the face of the earth, which seemed to be the basis on which the Labour Government were working. Secondly, we have had some new deal money from the capital allocation and, thirdly—I am happy to concur with what the Minister has just said—the Chancellor has found extra money on top of the assisted places money and on top of the new deal; that is further money which was announced in the Budget. The Government are unable, on the Minister's own words, to deliver the pledge by using simply assisted places scheme money.

Mr. Byers

On the facts—and the record will show that the hon. Gentleman said that the new deal money had been raided to fund the reduction of class sizes—will he confirm that that is not the case, but that a further £40 million has been made available over and above the new deal money to support the reduction in class sizes? Therefore, there has been no raid on new deal money.

Mr. Willetts

We are getting bogged down here. Of course the Minister is correct to say that there was a further £40 million in the Budget, but it was on top of the money from the abolition of the assisted places scheme. It was made clear that one of the purposes that the Government wanted the capital expenditure under the new deal for schools to go on was reducing class sizes, so the Minister is having to raid three pots, rather than financing the policy simply out of the assisted places scheme. That seems to be the position.

What we are now going to see is the slow and painful process of a shift from what seemed to do well in the focus groups. I am sure that there are parents throughout the country who want their children to be educated in smaller classes; of course we understand that that is what parents want. It became a pledge, but now it is in the process of becoming a law, and soon it will be unlawful to carry out active education in a class of more than 30.

At that point, the problems will begin. Something that is, indeed, desirable as one of the many ways in which to raise educational standards will instead become the be-all and end-all of education policy. Parents throughout the country who would have liked the idea of their children being educated in smaller classes will find themselves paying a very high price for a rigid, obsessional commitment to delivering that objective, to the exclusion of all the other things that can deliver high-quality education for our children.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

My son is educated in a class with more than 30 pupils and I have no complaint about that; he receives a perfectly adequate and proper education. My fear is that, once requirements are laid on the school to provide for smaller classes, that will make it a target—a marginal school, in the eyes of the education authority—for closure.

Mr. Willetts

That is a good point, which I hope to turn to later in my speech.

One of the reasons why we wanted this debate is that there is widespread concern among teachers, people in local education authorities and parents about the implications of this policy for parental choice. The Minister regularly asserts simply that he can implement this policy with no reduction in parental choice, but assertion will not do. He has to provide the evidence to explain how it is possible to implement this policy without any reduction in parental choice. There are popular schools that have been accepting children, even though it will take their class sizes above 30. It is impossible to implement the Government's pledge without parents, whose children could have been educated by teachers who believed that they could deliver high-quality education in schools that were getting high-quality Office for Standards in Education reports, not being able to get their children to those schools.

I have studied the documents that the Government have sent to local education authorities on this; the outline regulations are out for consultation. The Minister, or his officials, asked for much information from LEAs. They say that the information to be provided must include: Details of how plans are consistent with the enhancement of parental preference". They also ask for the "arrangements LEA is making for circumstances where there is no suitable school within reasonable distance". They expect LEAs to answer an impossible question. How can LEAs develop plans that will always be consistent with the enhancement of parental preference, where there is no suitable school within reasonable distance of a popular school that is over-subscribed and has been taking classes of more than 30? What the Minister is doing is asking LEAs to deliver a variety of inconsistent objectives.

Last week, the Minister spoke at the conference of the Council of Local Education Authorities in Derbyshire; I was there myself. After he had given his now standard performance, when he says, "I can absolutely assert that there will be no reduction in parental preference," the LEA conference promptly passed a motion that "constraints on parental preference" are essential to reducing class sizes, so it did not find him very persuasive. The chairman of a Labour-controlled education authority—Lewisham—said: You shouldn't make pledges if you aren't in a position to carry them out. The Government has made two pledge, on class sizes and parental choice. It is in danger of failing to deliver on either". The Minister failed to persuade his own allies in local government that he could credibly assure them that there would be no reduction in parental choice, and we all know why. There are popular schools that are taking children in classes of more than 30 and where there is no practical scope for building new classrooms. It may not be physically possible. They are going to have to turn away parents, when they would have been happy to educate their children.

However, it is not just a matter of the constraints on parental choice. What will happen about mixed-age classes? The most serious work that we have had on the implications of the Government's policies has come not from the Department—all that we have had from the Department and the Minister have been assertions and questions—but from Coopers and Lybrand, for the Local Government Association. It says: In our view the policy of reducing class sizes is likely to result in a rise in the incidence of pupils in mixed age classes in primary schools". That is not a Conservative spokesman speaking. That comes from the most expert review of the subject, carried out for the Local Government Association.

Just at the time that the Government are going to force more pupils into mixed-age classes, their commitment to literacy and numeracy has been described by Ofsted as requiring that there be fewer mixed-age classes, and that children be taught with children of as close an age to them as possible, and at a similar stage of development. Therefore, the Government are not going to be able to deliver their pledge without making it more difficult for teachers to deliver their literacy and numeracy targets.

Ministers sometimes say that at least the parents who get their children into classes of under 30 will gain, but they are unwilling to say what will happen to the number of teaching assistants. They do not appear to realise that schools are funded largely on a per capita basis. Telling a school that has been educating children in classes of 35 that it can have classes no bigger than 30 will result not just in five unhappy parents losing the school of their choice, but in the school having a smaller budget. Teaching assistants will be laid off, resulting in fewer of them supporting teachers. How does the Minister plan to avoid that?

There will also be heavy-handed intervention in the affairs of schools throughout the country. The Minister has talked about a light touch on the management of schools, but instead there will be remorseless pressure from the centre—another expression that Ministers have used from time to time. As the local education authority report said: Essentially they"— head teachers— are handing back to the LEA the management and organisation of Key Stage 1. To answer the intrusive and heavy-handed questions and deliver the requirements that Ministers have placed on them, LEAs will have to return to an old-style, command-and-control relationship with their schools, when one of the most healthy developments in British education in the past 20 years was a more sensible relationship between LEAs and their schools. The implementation of the policy will push that back.

There are many other questions that Ministers have to answer. Many of my hon. Friends are keen to ask those questions, so I shall not pursue detailed issues about, for example, children with special educational needs. For some extraordinary reason, the only serious exception to the pledge is that classes can be larger than 30 if they include children with special educational needs. Most of us would have thought that smaller classes were particularly necessary in such circumstances. I shall not ask about the distributional impact of the pledge, but it looks as though it will have the extraordinary result of shifting resources to more affluent areas, where larger classes are concentrated. Labour Members do not appear to understand that there is nothing in the policy for inner-city schools. It will give more money to Bromley; it has nothing for Tower Hamlets.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

How can the hon. Gentleman maintain that argument when, from September, 800 children in Warrington—which definitely does not consist of leafy suburbs—will benefit from smaller class sizes?

Mr. Willetts

The Coopers and Lybrand report clearly states that the policy will shift resources to more affluent areas. I am surprised that Labour Members have not considered the implications of their policy. If they had thought for a moment about where popular schools and larger classes were, the implications would have been obvious.

I saw an interesting story on the front page of The Daily Telegraph today, which may have had something to do with the Minister's preparations for this debate. It announced that there would be capital funding for 100 Church schools to deliver the class size pledge. There are 3,557 Church schools taking children in infant classes. An estimated 46 per cent. of those have infants in classes of more than 30. That is a rough estimate and if the Minister can improve on it, I should be happy to be corrected. Based on that estimate, there are 1,600 such Church schools. If he believes that his announcement of special assistance for 100 of them will go any way towards dealing with the widespread anxieties in denominational schools throughout the country about how they will be affected by the pledge, he has another think coming.

There are not many aided schools in my constituency. St. Alban's is a popular and well respected Church of England primary school, which has taken 35 children in each year hitherto. It has good Ofsted reports and the parents in Havant who want their infants to have a denominational education have only that school to opt for. The head teacher wrote to me, saying: This will mean that five children who would have been admitted to this school in the past will not be offered places, although they have chosen a Church of England school, and will probably have a church reference to back up their application. I am aware that there are schools in the area who will be able to admit these children"— those are the surplus places that the Minister is so keen to get rid of— but parental choice will be limited. At the moment, those classes have one teacher and two teaching assistants. When I visited the school, I met some very despondent and confused teaching assistants, because one teaching assistant in each class would have to be sacked because of the reduction in the per capita funding to the school. That will be the reality on the ground when what began as an attractive pledge goes into law as a rigid commitment to be implemented whatever the practical implications for schools.

Since the Government launched the policy, we have heard no more than assertions that the problems that are widely feared in the educational world will not occur. We hope to hear more than assertions and talk about money tonight. We want to hear a practical example of what will happen to a popular school with a good Ofsted report that is taking 35 children, but does not have the physical capacity to expand. How will the pledge be delivered in that area without a reduction in parental choice or an increase in mixed age classes? The duty on the Minister is to offer a clearer and fuller explanation than he has done so far.

7.36 pm
The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Byers)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: congratulates the Government on the excellent progress it has already made towards honouring its pledge that no child of 5, 6 or 7 will be in a class of over 30 by the end of this Parliament, which will mean that 100,000 fewer infants will be in large classes from this September and the pledge will be met ahead of schedule by September 2001; and notes the Opposition's continuing hostility to class size reduction, having presided over year-on-year increases since 1988.". The Conservatives' central charge is that the Government have failed to honour one of the key pledges that we put before the electorate in the run-up to the election. We take that as a serious charge, because we intend to honour and discharge our commitment to the electorate by ensuring that those pledges are met. I welcome the opportunity provided this evening—thanks very much—by the Opposition to outline how the Government intend to honour that pledge. I should like to go beyond that and explain how the pledge can be met by not just maintaining, but enhancing, existing parental preference, and how the implementation of the pledge will ensure that we can deliver on our standards agenda. We believe that smaller class sizes help to improve the standard of education. That stands in stark contrast to the assertion of the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) that there is no correlation between class sizes and educational achievement. I shall outline why we disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that.

The motion talks about the Government's failure to deliver its early pledge to reduce infant class sizes". The hon. Member for Havant made little reference to exactly what we pledged. The Labour party manifesto says, on page 7: We will reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds to 30 or under, by phasing out the assisted places scheme". Our pledge card, which every loyal Minister keeps in his or her top pocket, says almost exactly the same: Cut class sizes to 30 or under for five, six and seven-year-olds by using money from the assisted places scheme. That is the pledge. We made a clear link between the phasing out of the assisted places scheme and the reduction of class sizes.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Is the Minister telling the House that there never was a commitment to fund class-size reduction solely from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme? The House will recall some of his earlier remarks suggesting something very different.

Mr. Byers

I shall come to the timing of the delivery of the pledge. The hon. Gentleman will see that we always intended that it would be delivered by the end of the Parliament. The additional resources provided as a result of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget, particularly the £40 million capital, enables the pledge to be delivered early. That is why the additional resources are necessary. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would support the Government in providing additional spending in order to deliver on the pledge.

Mr. Foster

indicated assent.

Mr. Byers

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman supports the Government in our efforts to reduce class sizes.

We felt that it was important to demonstrate how revenue spending on the assisted places scheme could be used to employ more teachers and to reduce class size. That is exactly what the pledge states, and that is exactly what we shall do—showing that the Government act for the majority of our children and not just the few.

It is worth reminding Conservative Members that the assisted places scheme provided independent sector places for 38,000 young people and that the revenue from phasing it out will provide smaller classes for nearly 500,000 five, six and seven-year-olds. That is a clear demonstration of the Government's priorities, which are in clear contrast to policies of the Conservative party, which represents the vested interests of the few—that is its historical role—but denies good quality opportunity to the majority.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

I find it rather bizarre that the Minister is accusing us Conservatives of standing up for the vested interests of poor children in the inner cities, whom I see being denied places in schools such as Manchester Grammar and William Hulme. I am quite happy to be accused of standing up for their vested interests. I thought that the Labour party used to try to stand up for such vested interests. It is clearly now failing to do so.

Mr. Byers

We do. The great difference is that we believe that those children should be provided with good quality education in the maintained sector and should not have to rely on the independent sector. Our view is that we can make far better use of the more than £100 million of public money a year that was spent on the assisted places scheme.

Mr. Brady

Will the Minister give way again?

Mr. Byers

I want to make some progress.

We could not phase out the assisted places scheme by Executive action; we needed primary legislation. Once in office, we acted with speed and commitment to introduce the Education (Schools) Bill, which phases out the assisted places scheme and releases the money spent on it so that we can use it for the benefit of far more young people. Within 21 days of the general election, the Education (Schools) Bill was published and given a First Reading. The Second Reading was on 2 June, and Royal Assent was given on 31 July. It was one of the first Bills to reach the statute book under this Government.

As a result of the fact that the pledge was about phasing out the assisted places scheme—which required legislation—and using the liberated money to benefit the majority of our young people, the first element of the money will not become available until September. That was made very clear—

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Byers

I want to make this point. The earliest time at which the money released from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme, which is to be devoted to, and ring-fenced specifically for, cutting class sizes, can have an impact is September. In September, it will have an impact.

Mr. St. Aubyn

Will the Minister confirm that the abolition of assisted places was only a money-saving measure? Does he therefore accept the amendment that was passed in the House of Lords, with cross-party and cross-Bench support, which will allow schemes such as that in Surrey to go ahead? That scheme does not have financial implications, but it will benefit the education of children in the county that I represent.

Mr. Byers

I am still awaiting details of the Surrey scheme. I have on several occasions asked the hon. Gentleman and the director of education for them, but still have not seen them. I await with great anticipation this much-vaunted Surrey assisted places scheme. When I see it, I shall judge it accordingly—not on dogma but on its practical realities and implications.

From September, £22 million will be available as a result of the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. That money will be used to employ 1,500 more teachers, ensuring that more than 100,000 five, six and seven-year-olds will be taught in classes of 30 or fewer. Such benefits do not extend just to the leafy shires, as the hon. Member for Havant implied. Nine thousand youngsters in Derbyshire and 8,900 youngsters in Lancashire, as well as those in places such as Gateshead and in inner-city areas throughout the country, will benefit as a result of our class-size reduction proposals.

More money will come on stream. Next year, £61 million will be used specifically for reducing class sizes. In 2000, £80 million will be used, and by September 2001, when the pledge will be delivered in full, £100 million will be available from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. Of course, many local authorities and schools will benefit before September 2001. It is crystal clear that the pledge will be met—and under the terms that, clearly, were put to the electorate.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Byers

I want to move on to the issue of parental choice. I want to address square on the very important point raised by the hon. Member for Havant.

The class-size policy could be implemented in a way that would be detrimental to parental choice. The thrust of the speech of the hon. Member for Havant was that popular schools would be forced to turn children away, and that empty desks at less popular schools would be filled. If that were the intent, the policy would merely be an administrative shuffle of children around the system. Such a policy would have very limited or no cost. We would not need the £100 million in 2000 from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. We need that money because that is not the way in which we shall go about matters. We shall target the money that is released from the assisted places scheme—as well as the extra money that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has got from the Chancellor on capital for this year—on schools that are popular with parents.

Mr. Willetts

Will the Minister give a pledge that no parent will fail to get their child into the school of their choice as a result of his policy?

Mr. Byers

I shall come shortly to how the policy will not only maintain parental preference but enhance it. I hope to be able to demonstrate that to the hon. Gentleman in just a couple of minutes.

The School Standards and Framework Bill, which is before the House of Lords, will require local education authorities to draw up plans for the implementation of the class-size reduction pledge in their areas. Those plans must be submitted to the Secretary of State for approval. I can inform the House that the Secretary of State will not approve plans that fail to demonstrate that the LEA has given due regard to the exercise of parental preference. However, we want to go further. When submitting their proposals to reduce class size, LEAs should plan on the basis of enhancing the exercise of parental preference. What does that mean in practice?

First, no child should have to travel an unreasonable distance to school as a result of the policy. Secondly, surplus places in poor schools should not be filled by keeping children out of schools that offer higher standards and a better quality of education. Thirdly, where extra places are needed, they should be created in popular, over-subscribed schools with high standards that have been demonstrated by key stage 1 or key stage 2 assessment results—which might be valued added—or reports of the Office for Standards in Education.

Fourthly, and this takes up the point raised about the Church school in the constituency of the hon. Member for Havant, the proportion of denominational provision for any denomination shall not be reduced. Finally, local education authorities should seek to increase the proportion of provision in popular over-subscribed schools with high standards. Plans that fail to meet those criteria will not be approved by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Willetts


Mr. Don Foster


Mr. Byers

I shall give way first to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster).

Mr. Foster

The Minister has told us that he is making these announcements to the House for the first time this evening. First, will he confirm that every one of the points that he has listed comes directly from the consultation document? Secondly, will he confirm that local education authorities were required to comment on that document by 12 June, only about two weeks ago? Thirdly, will he tell the House whether all those who responded to the consultation document said that it was possible to deliver what it contained? Did the consultation responses all support the particular points to which the Minister has referred?

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have consulted on many of those points. The House should be made aware of them because they were not referred to by the hon. Member for Havant when he introduced the motion. The issue is whether we should go along with the views expressed as a result of the consultation. Some reservations are held in some quarters. There are some people, and no doubt some in local education authorities, who say that what we propose cannot be done. Will the hon. Member for Havant say why they say that it cannot be done? I will tell him why that is said; it is because what is proposed will interfere with LEAs' planning processes for places. It will make it more difficult. Yes, I accept that it will make it more difficult, but this Government are not about making life easy for local government; we are about delivering high-quality education for parents and children.

It was interesting that, yet again in a contribution from the Opposition Front Bench in an education debate, the interests of parents, children and high standards were not put first. Once again, we heard about the difficulties that would be experienced by local government. That is regrettable. However, we shall put the interests of parents and children first. We shall not cave in to the vested interests of local authorities.

I read with great interest the speech made by the hon. Member for Havant at the Council of Local Education Authorities, where he talked about the time coming for Conservatives to build bridges with local government. The hon. Gentleman said that things had changed and that the authorities could forget 18 years of local government being denigrated, with its powers reduced, by the Conservatives. He suggested that, somehow, there was a new dawn, a new renaissance for local government.

Mr. Willetts

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Byers

I will in a moment.

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that there should be a new dawn in terms of central-local government relations. The relationship should be one of real partnership, a partnership that puts the interests of children first.

Mr. Willetts

I shall tell the Minister why we find ourselves in an extraordinary position. There is an improving relationship between Conservatives and local education authorities. That is quite simple; the LEAs cannot believe that the Minister is serious when he makes those assertions. The factor is not the self-interest of LEAs, as I tried to explain. The Minister cannot have been listening to me. He has not explained how he can deliver on his assertions when a school physically does not have the capacity to build more classrooms—many schools do not have the space to do so—and is currently taking children in classes of more than 35. The hon. Gentleman produces long lists of criteria, but he does not explain how, in practice, in the real world, they can be delivered. That is why LEAs, schoolteachers and parents are losing confidence.

Mr. Byers

As for losing confidence on issues such as reducing class sizes, the way in which the hon. Gentleman's political colleagues in the other place have tried to block legislation that will reduce class sizes is an example of measures that will continue to cause loss of confidence in the Conservative party. The hon. Gentleman's party is standing in the way of a desirable policy that parents want, which is a reduction in class sizes.

Earlier, the hon. Gentleman was scornful of the front-page story in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph about the fact that we intend to give money to Church primary schools to help them with their capital costs. For the first time—

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

How many?

Mr. Byers

I shall deal with the figures in a moment.

For the first time, a Government have been prepared to say to the Churches that, if it would help them, we shall fund 100 per cent. of their capital costs. That was never done under a Conservative Government. All right, it will involve 100 schools—actually, more than 100 when the announcement is made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on Thursday. In any event, it will be 100 more than under the Conservative Government. That is the reality.

I agree that there are many Church primary schools with high class sizes. How many of them need capital money? The hon. Member for Havant did not address that in his contribution. He confused revenue, and the need for teachers, with capital. The reality is that the applications that we have received from Church authorities are being supported. The details will be made available on Thursday. It will be good news for many more than 100 Church primary schools, and they will be able to join in the crusade to reduce class sizes. I am sure that they will be delighted at that.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

Will the Minister confirm that the announcement that will be made on Thursday on Church schools will be yet again a change in Government policy? In a debate in Committee on that specific point, when I challenged the hon. Gentleman on the resource implications for Church schools, he said that the Churches were quite happy because they would be able to meet the resource implications. We now find that they cannot meet those implications and that the Government will have to move in.

Mr. Byers

Unfortunately, the hon. Lady did not specifically refer to the dates of our exchanges in Committee. Off hand, I cannot remember them. However, I think that they would have pre-dated the Budget statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Therefore, I would have been unable to say—[Interruption.] If the hon. Lady will wait for a moment, I shall let her know exactly what the Churches were invited to respond to. The letter that went out from the Department explained to the Churches that, if they wanted to, they could have the 15 per cent. made up by central Government, and that, if they chose not to, that was fine. It was a choice for the Churches themselves to make. The majority of them have responded positively to that choice, saying, "Yes, it is a Government initiative that we want to be part of in reducing class sizes." As a result, well over 100 Church schools will benefit from the additional capital that we are making available.

The reduction in class sizes should not be seen as a one-off step to improve the standards of education that we are offering. We believe that the reduction will make an important contribution. That is because we believe that smaller class sizes, especially in early years, make a difference to the quality and standards of education that can be offered.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Byers

I want to make some progress.

In reducing class sizes, we have the support of Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, who said in 1996: Our class size report"— Ofsted's class size report— looked at whether there was any connection between the number of children in the class and the quality of education. With early years, that is 5 to 7 years of age, we agree: there was a connection. He gave some advice, saying: And we think"— Ofsted thinks— that if this government"— that was the Conservative Government— or any subsequent government is going to find more money it ought to invest that money in early years education. That is exactly what the Government are doing.

That stands in stark contrast to the Conservative Government's approach. The then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), said that there was no accumulated evidence to link class size with attainment. The hon. Member for Havant, in that little red book entitled "Why Vote Conservative?", states that there is little evidence of any correlation between class size and educational achievement. It would be interesting to know whether he still holds that view. We did not hear during his contribution whether that was the case. Now that the hon. Gentleman speaks for the Conservatives on education matters, it would be helpful to know whether he still subscribes to the view that he expressed in that pamphlet.

Mr. Willetts

I shall tell the Minister how this can be resolved. All that the hon. Gentleman needs to do is to publish the results, school by school, of the national curriculum tests at the end key stage 1, and in the same information publish the class sizes in those schools. That would finally resolve a question about which educationists have different views. I should be happy if the Minister cast some light on that subject, but, so far, he has refused to publish the information.

Mr. Byers

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has confirmed that he still subscribes to the belief that he expressed in "Why Vote Conservative?" That will be one of the numerous reasons why people will not vote Conservative—they see a clear link between class sizes and standards.

The Government believe that cutting class sizes will not, on its own, be enough to raise standards in the way that we want—if the hon. Gentleman said that, he would be on far stronger ground. From September, there will be a revolution in primary and early years education. At long last, there will be a place for every four-year-old whose parents want it. A daily literacy hour will be introduced as part of our £50 million national literacy strategy. All primary school teachers will receive in-service training on how to improve the teaching of basics. Those in teacher training must follow a new national training curriculum in English and maths, so that they, too, will be effective in teaching the basics.

The Tories were in power for 18 years, but did absolutely nothing to tackle the scandal of ever-increasing class sizes—indeed, they presided over year-on-year increases. Hundreds of thousands of our children were the innocent victims of the Tory Government's neglect and indifference. Now, the chapter of increasing class sizes is coming to an end. This September will be a new beginning. There will be 1,500 extra teachers and hundreds of additional class rooms, so that more than 100,000 infants will be in smaller classes.

Let the House be in no doubt—we are on course to deliver our pledge on class sizes, and we shall deliver it in a way that will enhance parental preference and play a key part not only in raising standards in our schools, but in ensuring that education becomes a valuable learning experience rather than a matter of crowd control. Our children deserve the best possible start in life, which means a high-quality education—under this Government, that is exactly what they will have.

8.1 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Like the Minister, I, too, found listening to the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) somewhat surreal. It was almost as if he was trying to persuade us that 1 May 1997 was year zero and that nothing had existed before then. He seemed to be saying that the Conservative party of 1998 had no connection with those nasty Conservative Governments of the 1980s and 1990s, and that any similarity was purely coincidental.

We must remember what the Conservative Governments did—everything that Conservative Members have said tonight, and their apparent concern about class sizes, will not wipe away that record. In particular, we must remember that, in their final years in government, the Conservatives presided over year-on-year increases in class size—indeed, in every year of the Major Government, class sizes continued to rise.

The Minister was uncharacteristically unkind to the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard). He will recall the leaked memorandum that she sent to her Cabinet colleagues, in which she begged for money, saying that if schools did not receive more resources, class sizes would continue to rise. Of course, her request was rejected—there was no additional money for schools, so class sizes continued to rise.

It was no surprise that the Conservatives showed no real interest in class sizes. We have heard the views of the hon. Member for Havant, but we should not forget that Conservative Ministers expressed similar views. I am sure that the House will recall the comments of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who said in 1994 that there is no proven causal connection between class size and educational output."—[Official Report, 13 December 1994; Vol. 251, c. 767.] I hope that at least one thing has become clear from this evening's debate—that we all agree that class sizes really matter. Recently, I was fortunate enough to join a number of my colleagues from the Education Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, on a visit to the canton of Zurich. We were impressed by much of what we saw, but what impressed us more than anything else was, I think, the impact of small class sizes on educational output.

Mr. Hayes

I do not disagree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but does he at least acknowledge that, in other parts of the world, such as the far east, schools with class sizes much larger than those in this country achieve equally strong educational success?

Mr. Foster

According to some statistics, that is true—in some countries, children are crammed into classes and can still achieve reasonable results in some tests of their ability. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the quality of education must be measured on something more than reasonably good raw scores in basic tests.

In the canton of Zurich, we were able to see the educational benefits that small classes could bring, as classes there were almost always of 20 or 22—they were certainly never more than 25. The Liberal Democrats have long recognised those benefits, which is why we have long advocated a reduction in class sizes. Indeed, the House may be interested to know that I was born in 1947—[Interruption.] I know that that is surprising. I was particularly interested to find out what the policies of one of our predecessor parties—the Liberal party—were in that year. At the 1947 party conference, a resolution was passed that claimed: The most immediate need is to reduce the size of classes in primary schools. We have a long track record of believing that class sizes should be reduced.

The House will also be aware that, at the general election, Liberal Democrats committed themselves to class size reduction. Indeed, we went further than the Labour party. We proposed, and explained how we would fund, class size reduction for pupils not only in infant classes, but in junior classes. We believe that all primary school pupils should have the benefit of smaller classes.

The Government propose to reduce class sizes for the approximately 500,000 children in key stage 1, who will, of course, benefit from that. However, the trouble with that proposal is that it will leave, in England alone, more than 800,000 pupils in key stage 2 in classes of more than 30—indeed, many tens of thousands will be left in classes of more than 35. We believe that those children, too, deserve a better deal.

Sadly, the Labour Government, because of their adherence to the previous Government's spending plans, have been timid in their response to the educational problems created by large class sizes—indeed, they could have started to reduce class sizes earlier. Unlike the Conservative Government, they have at least started to take action, which we support, but they seem to have been concerned—I have heard nothing in this debate to allay my fears—only about whether the headlines are right, so that they receive credit for class size reduction; they have not done their homework on the details. As a result, a number of problems are coming to light. I shall not repeat the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Havant; I want to raise other questions, to which I hope the Minister will give some answers when she winds up.

Evidence that the Government have not thought this through can even be found in the pilot scheme. The House will recall that, in September, local education authorities were invited to bid for the standards fund grant 5 moneys as pilots for class size reduction. They were notified of the outcome in February, but were not notified until 20 April—with precious little time to get all the preparation done for implementation in September—that they would get the money for a whole academic year. From February until April, it was uncertain whether they would get seven twelfths of the money or money for the whole year.

Even now, the pilot authorities do not know whether—presumably subject to meeting some agreed criteria about which they have not yet been told—the money will continue into subsequent years. I hope that the Minister will listen and perhaps respond on that. Also, will they be allowed to bid for additional funds to reduce class sizes for pupils who are still in over-large classes?

Mr. Byers

I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman. The class size reduction for this September is not being carried out with a statutory underpinning—that will come through the local education authority plans, which will be submitted in the autumn. Provided that the plans from the 65 authorities that will get money from this September are satisfactory, the money will roll through into subsequent years.

Mr. Foster

The local education authorities involved in the pilot will definitely welcome that assurance, although they were not given it until that moment.

The hon. Member for Havant mentioned another concern that illustrates that the homework has not been done—funding. The Minister will not deny that he clearly said tonight that he accepts that assisted places money alone would not have been sufficient to deliver the pledge. Of course, we welcome the additional money from the Chancellor, but, without those additional sums, there is no evidence that the Government would have been able to deliver their pledge.

When I looked at the calculations, I was worried whether there would be sufficient money even with the additional funding. For example, the Minister told us in the Standing Committee on the School Standards and Framework Bill that, to deliver the pledge by 2001, 5,000 extra teachers would probably be required. To date, none of us has seen an explanation of how that calculation was made. The Minister told us—it is clearly on the record—that 500,000 key stage 1 pupils are in classes of more than 30. If all of them were put into new classes of 30—this is a simple calculation—16,500 additional teachers would be required. We accept that some of those pupils will go into classes of fewer than 30, but even if one assumes that half of the 500,000 will do so—how that can happen when the Minister has told us that parents will be able to choose the most popular schools I do not know—and only 250,000 have to be put in new classes, it will still require not 5,000 but more than 8,000 additional teachers. I confess that I do not understand how the sums add up.

Another example of how the figures do not add up is obvious from the departmental press release of 22 May, which many hon. Members will have studied and which categorically told us that the £22 million was being allocated from the Standards Fund to recruit around 1,500 new teachers which will ensure that over 100,000 infant pupils will be kept out of large classes from this September. I checked the figures carefully with the Library, as I do not claim to be a better mathematician than the Minister. To the starting salary for a new teacher I added the appropriate superannuation and national insurance costs and discovered that the starting figure from 1 December, when the new teachers will be in post, is £17,595 per annum. I divided that sum into £22 million, expecting the answer to be 1,500, but it came to only 1,250. Therefore, there is no money to provide for 250 of the additional teachers the hon. Gentleman is promising us.

The Minister also needs to consider some of the other concerns mentioned to him during the consultation period. As he was able to give such a clear statement about what he will do about the various criteria announced earlier in the light of the consultation, perhaps he will tell us what he can do about the concerns of local education authorities over information technology. The additional IT skills and the work necessary to produce all the data for the Department will require additional staff, unless staff are taken away from their existing activities—that is, improving standards. Will additional money be made available to help LEAs with that task?

Leaving aside the money, another question is whether, in certain parts of the country, we shall be able to find the teachers to carry out the tasks that will be required. For example, LEAs in the inner London weighting pay area collectively have a smaller percentage of pupils in classes of more than 30 than those in other parts of the country, but nevertheless face the problem of existing vacancies, which have increased to 3.6 per cent. in the past two years. They will need to find additional teachers to reduce their class sizes, but there are already a large number of vacancies in their primary schools. The Government are convinced that all that will be delivered, but how do they expect that problem to be resolved? The problem is made worse by the fact that authorities in suburban London have the largest percentage of pupils in classes of more than 30—in Bromley, it is 56 per cent. and in Kingston, 62 per cent.—and will need a large number of extra teachers. The worry is that they will suck teachers out of the inner-London authorities where it is less popular to teach, which will make life there difficult indeed.

We have heard mention of the problem of what to do about popular schools. The Minister has stated that, following consultation, the extra places that are needed should be created in popular, oversubscribed schools with high standards shown by key stage 1 and 2 assessment tests, which is straight out of the consultation document. If that is to be the approach, I find it difficult to reconcile with some of the other Government requirements of local authorities, not least for the provision of best value. It seems to mean that the number of vacant school places throughout the country will increase. It is difficult to know whether that is the case, because consultation has not finished on the Government's admission policies.

The hon. Member for Havant mentioned mixed-age classes; I look to the Minister for a clear answer tonight. What will happen in the case of a mixed-age class that has pupils from key stages 1 and 2—that is, both seven and eight-year-olds? May we have a clear assurance that none of the pupils will be in a class of more than 30? I assume that the Minister will say categorically that the answer is yes. After all, the pledge clearly states: No child aged 5, 6 or 7 will be in a class of more than 30 pupils from September 2001 at the latest. The answer would have to be yes, but the very first paragraph of the consultation document that was issued to LEAs on 27 April says: A class is covered by limits on class sizes if the majority of pupils in that class are in the relevant age group. That means that if only a few pupils are seven and most are eight, the class can have more than 30 pupils, so the seven-year-olds will lose out. That is not compatible with the pledge and will cause confusion for the local authorities bidding for funds to reduce class sizes.

Has the Minister read her own document, "The National Literacy Strategy, Module 1, The Literacy Hour", which says that schools are required to organise classes so that there are no more than five groups of children, with no more than six in each group? Like the Minister, I am not brilliant at maths, but I can multiply five by six and get 30. How can that maximum number of pupils in a class for the literacy hour be achieved when even the Government do not expect class sizes for key stage 1 to get down to 30 for this September? Key stage 2 is not even covered, so we need to know how that all adds up.

The Government have failed to do anything about school space standards. The Minister was extremely critical when the previous Government decided to abolish the minimum space standards. It is a great pity that those standards have not been reinstated, especially as many new classes will be created in the drive to reduce class sizes. We need to have an assurance that those classes will not be created in inadequate spaces.

I am well aware that the ministerial answer will be that if there are no requirements, at least there are recommendations, which appear in building bulletin No. 82, "Area Guidelines for Schools". I seek an assurance that, in the creation of new classes, there will be an absolute requirement that those recommendations be adhered to by local education authorities and schools.

Class size reduction is vital if we are to raise standards. Frankly, it is hypocritical of the Conservative party, which presided over huge and rising class sizes, to berate the new Government, so we cannot support the motion. Equally, although we welcome the Government's determination at least to get some class sizes down, we cannot whole-heartedly congratulate the Government on the excellent progress it has already made", as the amendment says, because that would be to ignore the numerous unanswered questions and the failure to start early enough and to go far enough.

8.22 pm
Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

I confess to being somewhat puzzled by the Opposition's choice of subject. For Conservative Members to initiate a debate on class sizes is like King Herod wanting to debate child welfare. If there were educational prizes for effrontery and sheer brass neck, they would certainly be at the front of the queue.

To hear the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) speak, one would think that Conservative Members were born guiltless on 1 May 1997. They would have us believe that they are without a past, but they are not, and it is right for the House to be reminded of that past, not because we want to evade responsibility for our actions—we shall be happy to be judged on them—but because it is important that the size of the task facing the Government, and their success in taking it on, should be put into context.

Mr. Brady

I, of course, am completely guiltless and blameless. I wonder whether the hon. Lady regards herself and the Labour party as free from blame for the incompetence of many Labour local education authorities, which have been responsible for such bad performance in education throughout much of the country.

Helen Jones

The hon. Gentleman is very selective in his references. Perhaps he would like to look at recent reports on the failing schools in Westminster before pointing the finger at Labour LEAs.

Conservative Members would have us forget that, before the Labour Government took office, we had 18 years of Conservative mismanagement of the education system. I am sure that the whole country would like to forget that, but it happened. Those 18 years left 477,000 five, six and seven-year-olds in classes of more than 30. During those years, pupil-teacher ratios rose consistently and the previous Government continued to deny that class sizes had any effect on education.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) rightly quoted the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who said: there is no proven causal connection between class size and educational output."—[Official Report, 13 December 1994; Vol. 251, c. 767.]

Mr. St. Aubyn

Is the hon. Lady aware that, although there are large class sizes in Bromley, there are also outstanding academic results? That may suggest that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) knows what he is talking about in his own patch.

Helen Jones

Perhaps it suggests that the right hon. Gentleman had not read the research.

In Committee on the School Standards and Framework Bill, Conservative Members appeared to change their stance. The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) said: We do not contend—and nor did the previous Government—that class size, for infant classes in particular, is wholly irrelevant."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 20 January 1998; c. 31.] That was backtracking on previous comments. Conservative Members felt no guilt in government, because they were conscious of no obligation. Never once did they express any outrage about what was happening to children in our schools.

It is possible that the sinners have repented, and I believe in the possibility of redemption—although that belief has been sorely tested by daily contact with the Conservative party in opposition—but if they had learnt the error of their ways, why did they oppose the Bill to abolish the assisted places scheme and use that money to reduce class sizes? Why did they consistently argue that the money should be spent on a small minority of children, while children in constituencies such as mine continued to suffer large class sizes? Why did they table amendments that would have made the pledge on class sizes totally unworkable? It is no use their posing as defenders of lower class sizes now, when they sold the pass a long time ago.

By contrast, the Labour Government not only desire the end, but are prepared to put in place the means. The Conservative party found reasons why class sizes should not be reduced, but we are prepared to build for success, because we believe that many of the problems in our schools stem from a failure to devote enough resources to the education of very young children at the beginning of their school life.

I taught not in primary but in secondary education, but I believe strongly that our policy of reducing class sizes is a key part of raising standards and that money put into the education of children at the beginning of their school life will pay dividends later and prevent many of the problems that secondary school teachers now deal with. The Government are delivering on their commitment.

In my town, 800 children in what is not by any means a leafy suburb will find themselves in smaller classes in September because of money put up by the Government. That is the effect for a single local education authority in a single town. My hon. Friend the Minister has made it clear that £22 million will go to the rest of the country in September, to keep 100,000 pupils out of oversized classes. Opposition Members have opposed that at every possible stage.

In future, there will be more money. The £40 million in capital funds to be allocated to schools has already been referred to, but there will be £100 million from phasing out the assisted places scheme by 2001–02. We are determined to use that money to reduce infant class sizes, and to ensure that LEAs will not be able to do so in any way that restricts parental choice. LEAs will have to expand popular schools that have high standards, and we have consulted them on the best way in which to do that. We are no longer prepared to tolerate the failure that existed under the previous Government, when half our 11-year-olds failed to reach expected standards in English and maths, and when the reading standards of seven-year-olds were falling.

Research in the United Kingdom and in the United States has convinced us that lower class size in the early years is a key factor in raising education standards and allowing children to acquire basic skills. Parents know that. Teachers know it, too. The only people who do not appear to know it are the Opposition, whose decisions in government gave us the large class sizes that exist today, and which our Government are reducing. That is the difference between the Conservatives and Labour. They favour lower class sizes for those who can buy their way out of the state system, while we favour lower class sizes for all our children. For too long, children suffered a second-class education under Tory Governments, so that they were destined to be second-class citizens.

Most Opposition Members do not use the state education system. If large class sizes are not good enough for their children, for whose children do they think large class sizes are good enough? The Opposition's motion is a piece of political chicanery, and an attempt to dodge the consequences of their past actions. The people will not be misled. I urge the House to vote against the motion.

8.32 pm
Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

I bring bad tidings for the Minister from my constituency. Since the class sizes debate began, I have visited my local schools as a Member of Parliament, and as a member of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, and I have not once heard a positive welcome for the Government's policy on reducing class sizes. At one school, I was told that if class sizes must come down, the library will have to be used as an extra classroom, removing a resource available to the entire school. Another school fears that the reduction in class sizes will use the money that has previously been put into a reading recovery programme.

At the school in the village where I live, we opened a new porch in the school entrance only the other day—built with money that the Government were not responsible for finding; it was raised by the efforts of the local community. That school hopes to raise class sizes, and I asked whether the class size policy would help the school by encouraging more parents to send their children there, which would raise the numbers to 30. I was told, however, that the policy would not help the school; in fact, classes of more than 30 would be welcome as more resources would go into the school, and could be directed towards the children who most need them.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) told us of his recent trip to Zurich. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and I also made that trip, and what the hon. Gentleman did not mention was that during 18 years of Conservative Governments here, the difference in income between the people of Switzerland and the people of the United Kingdom narrowed. People in Switzerland used to have a per capita income 60 per cent. higher than that in the UK; now it is barely 20 per cent. higher. The trend of the past 20 years has been one of economic success for the UK, which is why people in Zurich are looking to our education system to learn lessons for their own system.

We went to Zurich in a spirit of cultural exchange, intending to learn from the Swiss, but we found that the Swiss were interested in learning from us. What is more, in order to produce an education system closer to ours, they were prepared to contemplate an increase in their class sizes. Class sizes are not regarded in isolation in any other part of the world. It is a great mistake to do so here.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify the Opposition's position on reducing infant class sizes? In government, the Conservatives increased class sizes. In opposition, they voted against the means to reduce class sizes. Their motion equates the reduction of class sizes with a reduction in educational standards. Will he clarify their position?

Mr. St. Aubyn

I hope to get across to the small class of Members here tonight the message that the education system will be damaged if the Government isolate one aspect of policy and make it an overriding priority. It is, of course, desirable to have smaller classes, but all education research demonstrates that unless very low sizes—well below 20—are achieved, there is no significant impact on teaching. There are other ways in which the ability and strength of a school can be improved. Lower class sizes are clearly desirable, but they cannot be sought in isolation, at the expense of other important matters.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

We have heard many times of the hon. Gentleman's support for the assisted places scheme, which he wants to continue in special form in Surrey. Does he support that scheme so that a few people can seek desirable small class sizes in private schools?

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of what the Minister has said. We already knew that the Minister could not multiply, but we have learnt that he cannot add up either. He told us that the saving from the assisted places scheme would be £100 million a year, but everyone who has examined the matter knows that it will be £40 million a year. The cost of his programme may be £100 million a year, and the cumulative saving after three years will be £100 million, but the Minister should check his sums carefully, because he has got them wrong again.

The abolition of the assisted places scheme, which, like many right-thinking people, I regret, has nothing to do with class sizes. The Government's class size priority will, as the Minister has admitted, cost a great deal more than the £40 million annual saving from the assisted places scheme. The cost of the new capital programme could not be announced until the Chancellor's statement—an admission by the Minister that he had put forward a policy that he did not know he could afford. The cost of that programme, and of reducing class sizes without significantly damaging parental preference or undermining the quality of teachers, will be a great deal more than will be saved from the abolition of the assisted places scheme.

It is significant that when the assisted places scheme was discussed in another place a couple of weeks ago, the Government's policy on having a say over policies on assisted places was cut down by one vote, with support from Cross Benchers and Liberals and not because of a resurgence of Tory backwoodsmen. In areas such as Surrey, where we have our own scheme which local people understand and can vote on, policy should be determined by local people. We should not have to justify it to the Secretary of State if we are not relying on additional central Government money to implement it.

Helen Jones

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Surrey scheme and said that people had been able to vote on it. Does he accept that the Government had an overwhelming mandate for their policy of reducing class sizes by phasing out the assisted places scheme, and that they have a duty to implement it?

Mr. St. Aubyn

No one is denying the Government's right to withdraw the £40 million cost of the assisted place scheme, but, on 1 May last year, the people of Surrey also gave an overwhelming mandate to the Conservative party to take back control of Surrey county council and follow sound Conservative education policies in the interests of Surrey. We object to the centralised control that lies behind both the new regulations on partnership schemes and the Government's class size plans.

We welcome any efforts to improve education. Smaller class sizes have a role to play, but, as we have heard already, in many ways the Government's scheme is too expensive and too costly, especially in terms of parental choice. How is it fair to tell parents with a child at a school that a sibling cannot go there because it would increase the numbers going into a class? How will the Minister respond? Will he say that he is prepared to sanction the building of an extra classroom in that school for siblings? Even if he were prepared to do that, at tremendous cost if it were done across the country, how could he possibly achieve it in time to deliver on his promise to satisfy the needs of those children? Many families' children will be split up or will have to travel further. Where I live and in my constituency, the problem of traffic on the roads when children are travelling to and from school will be accentuated by the Government's policy.

We have not yet heard where the extra teachers will come from. The Government have offered no incentive to teachers, and their golden economic inheritance means that there is greater demand for teaching skills in other sectors of the economy. With such a problem of teacher supply, about which our Select Committee has already warned them, how will the Minister deliver quality teachers? When I put that to the National Union of Students and the National Association of Head Teachers there was concurrence that teacher quality is as important, if not more so, than class sizes. Parents and teachers would rather have children in slightly larger classes taught by first-rate teachers than in mathematically correct classes that underperform because the quality of the teacher available is not up to the standard that children and their parents have a right to expect.

Mr. Hayes

My hon. Friend develops an interesting line of argument. Does he accept that, contrary to what was said by the Minister, Ofsted acknowledged exactly that point in its comments on the issue in 1996? Ofsted said that class size was a factor, but not the sole determinant of the quality of teaching and learning; the Labour party, however, has irresponsibly created the opposite perception among our people.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have the latest Ofsted report. I read carefully its section on primary schools. In the priorities for action listed by Ofsted, there is not one mention of class sizes. There are important issues for our primary schools that should be addressed, but for the Government to be hung up on a soundbite—an early pledge that will be delivered late—is a betrayal not only of the children but of the trust that passed from our party to theirs on 1 May last year.

It is regrettable that, behind the smirks and self-satisfied looks of Labour Members, there have been no real answers tonight. We will leave the Chamber knowing that the Government are concerned only with presentation and not with the practical effects of their proposals or the high cost for the people whom I and my colleagues represent.

8.45 pm
Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

We all know that it is the job of the Opposition to oppose, but it is revealing that, on a topic of their choice on one of their set-piece days, only six of them have turned up to oppose. That is not strong evidence that the Conservative party feels strongly about the issue.

It is the job of the Opposition to oppose, but there is a difference between opposition and disingenuous opposition. What we have heard tonight is disingenuous opposition. Their first complaint was that the Government's pledge was not happening early enough, but they know, because some have served on education committees and, I hope, know something about schools, that the pledge cannot be implemented any quicker. They know that classes are set up at the start of each school year, and that only then can one alter their configuration. They know that the classes that children are in now—the ones referred to in the survey mentioned by the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts)—are the same as those set up in September 1997, and the same as those planned and organised, and for which staffing arrangements were made, back in May and June 1997, based on the budgets of April 1997 set by the previous Government.

We have always made it clear where the money would come from. My hon. Friend the Minister read out from our plastic pledge card that it was always linked to the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. Last June, we discussed the Education (Schools) Bill, which received Royal Assent in July. That was a fast pace. We could not have moved any faster, but the dates did not permit activity on class sizes to fulfil the pledge until September 1998.

The Education (Schools) Act 1997 honoured the assisted places that had already been organised for September 1997. Do the Opposition now suggest that we should not have honoured them, but should have told the children that they could not take up their assisted places in 1997 because we had to move more quickly and wanted the money right away? If so, it is the very opposite of what they argued for during the passage of the Bill, when they tabled a raft of amendments to a short, seven clause Bill—the purpose being to slow down the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. They asked for more time, for more youngsters to be kept on until the age of 13, for more of everything. In short, they wanted to delay the implementation of the class size pledge.

I made my maiden speech during the debates on the Bill, and I followed the right hon. Member for South—West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), whose main point was that the Bill was being rushed through without enough thought being given to it. At the time, the complaint was that we were going too fast; tonight, the complaint is that we are going too slowly.

The fact is that there was no possibility of fulfilling the pledge in 1997: September 1998 will be our earliest opportunity. Would the Opposition have us disrupt classes in the middle of the academic year? If so, I wonder what parents would say. Alternatively, we could have put in additional resources besides those liberated by abolishing the assisted places scheme. Even so, taking action by September 1997 would have been extremely difficult—schools make their plans in May. In any case, we have heard time and again that the Opposition do not want any more money spent. They have argued that the whole idea should be called off owing to a lack of money from abolishing the assisted places scheme. Indeed, they have never argued for extra resources for education.

This September, we will see the beginnings of children benefiting from the Government's policy. That would never have happened under the Conservatives. The real horror for the Opposition, of course, is that they can see that the pledge is being acted on. They can see, too, that phasing out the AP scheme is delivering the money and that the pledge will be fulfilled. So they are trying to muddy the water by confusing people about the timetable for implementation.

The second example of the Opposition being disingenuous is that they are criticising the Government for allegedly not doing something with which they wholly disagree anyway. They spent years denying that class size had anything to do with education standards. Throughout their 18 years in government, I was teaching in the classroom. Nothing infuriated teachers, parents and pupils more than hearing various Conservative Ministers say that class sizes were irrelevant. The Minister referred earlier to crowd control. Anyone who has taught large classes knows that there are times when teaching feels like crowd control—and the way to control a crowd is to reduce its size. That is, after all, the selling point of the private schools.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) has said, we witnessed some spectacular somersaults by Conservative Members in Committee—I note that they are not here today. The new Tory move to suggest that class size did count was led by the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) and by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). Indeed, the right hon. Member for Charnwood said: there is some evidence that class size has a strong influence on educational attainment for children aged five to seven."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 20 January 1998; c. 31.]

Mr. Hayes

The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that I spent many years as a county councillor and always acknowledged that class size was a factor. Would he agree, however, that it is most important for children with special needs? If so, does he agree with the Government's exemption from the pledge of children with special needs?

Mr. Blizzard

Class size is a factor in all types of education, mainstream and special needs. The point is that unless the Government take steps to do something about class size, nothing will happen. That is what happened for 18 years under the Conservatives, when class sizes never came down.

Mr. Hayes

It is time to nail this one. Class sizes were at their peak in 1978; Library figures show that they were higher then than in 1997. I seem to recall that we had a Labour Government in 1978.

Mr. Blizzard

It is easy to come up with all sorts of figures, depending on the starting and finishing points.

The Conservative conversion to the cause of smaller class sizes has now vanished. The right hon. Member for Charnwood and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton have disappeared from the Front Bench. I have to say that we questioned their conversion at the time, when amendments were tabled to ensure that no movement was made on class sizes. One incredible amendment was designed to enable parents to choose whether to put their child into a class of 30. The result would have been that 30 parents could choose the legal-sized class of 30, but the 31st parent could come along and insist on a class size of 31. That is a good example of the sort of amendments that we had to put up with in Committee.

The revised Conservative policy evidenced in the motion is that smaller classes are desirable, but that nothing should be done about that. At the time of the Standing Committee's deliberations, my survey of my constituency showed that we had 25 classes of six and seven-year-olds containing more than 30 pupils—involving a total of more than 800. Thanks to the new Act, that will change during this Parliament.

As in Committee, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has again expressed his strong vision for education. He asked the Minister some probing questions about how the Government's plans will be implemented, but he was very weak on the specifics of his own party's plans. When he began describing Liberal policy back in 1947 or thereabouts, I thought he was going to say that his party put an old penny on income tax for education—but had since made progress because that was 1/240th of a pound whereas now 1p is 1/100th of a pound.

I read in the local press this week that the Conservatives have begun to listen to the electorate. Indeed, the local paper announced that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) had turned up in my constituency while I was at Westminster—he made page 63 of the Lowestoft Journal, which shows just how successful his visit was. Had he really listened to parents in my constituency, he would have heard them asking not why smaller class sizes were being imposed but when it was their turn to have them. For as long as the Conservative party refuses to listen, it will remain unpopular, because people do not like a disingenuous Opposition.

8.57 pm
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), who made his case well—although that does not take much doing because there can be no doubt that, under the Labour Government, class sizes have increased. I do not doubt the sincerity of Ministers, but I profoundly disagree with their approach to this and other policies.

I am sick to death of attending in the Chamber and listening to Labour Members talk about the 18 years of Conservative government. Essex county council has been controlled by the Conservatives for only seven weeks and the leader of the Labour party jumps to the Dispatch Box and blames them for all ills, but, after 15 months of a Labour Government, no one seems to want to take responsibility.

When hon. Members speak, they tend to draw on their personal experiences, which is what I shall do. First, I shall talk about my experience as a Member of Parliament.

Mr. Byers

What—about Basildon?

Mr. Amess

If the Minister wants me to talk about my former constituency and what the Labour party did on a private matter relating to education, I shall be happy to speak publicly on the subject. In the years that I have been a Member of Parliament, I have taken a great interest in education matters—

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

In Basildon.

Mr. Amess

Yes, in Basildon. It should be to the eternal shame of the Labour party that when my wife and I decided to send our son to a non-selective, not grant-maintained Church school outside my former constituency because there was no such school in the constituency, the then former Member of Parliament for Basildon, who was at that time the leader of Havering council, decided to make a big issue of the matter and to interfere with our private lives, yet several people who now have responsibility in the Government send their children to highly selective schools. The Minister attempts to chide me about Basildon, which is now represented by two Members of Parliament, one Conservative, one Labour, but he and other Labour Members should ensure that they are better informed than they appear to be at the moment.

As I was saying, I take a great interest in education and in the schools in my constituencies, past and present. I go around schools all the time. If Ministers think that the public are pleased with what they have done in education for the past 15 months they are very wrong. Only weeks ago, not in my constituency, but in the London borough of Bexleyheath, the Conservative party won by-elections, and Bexley is now controlled by the Conservatives. I am informed by the chairman of the education committee, Mrs. Sharon Massey, that education was a leading issue on the doorstep. In May, we took seats from both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats.

I also draw on my experience as a teacher in a primary school in the east end of London dealing with children with special educational needs. That is why I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) had to say about the need for class sizes for children with special educational needs to be limited to 30. In addition, while I realise that Labour Members think little of playing politics with their own children—the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) shakes her head, but I can assure her that the Labour party in Basildon did exactly as I described earlier—I have five children, all in state schools, so I am deeply involved in and conscious of their experiences.

I represent the constituency of Southend, West. At Question Time a few weeks ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), said that there was no problem with the size of classes in Southend and that we had spare capacity. She is quite wrong, and I shall prove that shortly. All the classes and the schools in my constituency are full, and what is happening in Southend is a disgrace.

Southend is controlled not by the Conservative party, but by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party working together. That is why I was appalled by what the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said about education. The Labour party's promises have not been borne out and the Liberal Democrats' claptrap at the general election about the 1p on income tax to be spent on education will never be borne out. They have controlled Essex county council for the past four years and they should be ashamed of their record. At the moment, they control Southend-on-Sea borough council.

All schools in Southend are operating at full capacity. A document written by the Conservative spokesperson, Mrs. Sally Carr, says: The restriction of class sizes to no more than 30 will require an absolute restriction on admissions once class sizes have reached 30". That is what the council has decided, which is stating the obvious, but when the Minister replies, will she tell us how on earth schools in Southend will achieve that? There is no room for Portakabins. All our classes are full—they have more than 30 pupils.

I know that some hon. Members were laughing at my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn). Someone said that he is an old Etonian. My hon. Friend represents a constituency and he is entitled to give his view on behalf of his constituents. I thought that he made his case very well. Is it the case that, under this Government, if one happens to be a Conservative Member, the people one represents do not count? I hope not.

In Southend, 25 per cent. of schools have classes in excess of 30 pupils and that proportion will rise over the next year. I shall give three examples. At Prince Avenue school, which is in a challenging catchment area, the average class size for key stage 1 is 32 and increasing. The head teacher is already having to turn down pupils for next September, and many of their mums and dads are coming to my surgery. At Westleigh junior school, the average class size for key stage 2 is 32 and increasing. In year six, there is even a class of 37 pupils.

I raised the subject of Westborough school with the Minister a few weeks ago. With 800 pupils, it is the largest primary school in Essex. I sought a meeting with the Minister for School Standards about the issue, which I shall come to at the end of my speech. The school is so crowded that there is no room for any more children and the head teacher does not even have an office from which to operate. The average class size is 33 and the largest class has 35 pupils. There are four mixed classes. At present, the school can afford to employ some teaching assistants to help staff, but it will be unable to continue to do so if class sizes are decreased and alternative funding arrangements are not found.

Westborough, which is in a very challenging part of my constituency, has an acute funding problem. I had a long chat with the headmistress this afternoon. The chairman of the governing body is a Liberal and the chairman of the education committee in Southend. The headmistress and the governors do not know where the money will come from. When the Under-Secretary winds up, will she tell me—if she does not have the time, she can write to me—what is the solution to the problem of those three schools in my constituency?

In Essex local education authority area, 13,805 key stage 1 pupils and 28,850 key stage 2 pupils—40 per cent. of the total—are in classes of more than 30.

Although one or two sedentary interventions began to exercise me a little, I said at the outset that I did not doubt Ministers' sincerity—and they are courteous in dealing with correspondence—but it is galling that whereas, under the previous Government, I was able to bring representatives—the head or deputy head—from every school in my constituency to meet the Secretary of State, I am now told that I cannot have any sort of meeting with any Minister because they are too busy. That is deeply disappointing, especially as the Government tell us time after time that they are listening to the people. They are jolly well not listening to those whom I represent in Southend, West.

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I have had a brief conversation to determine whether we can recall any correspondence from the hon. Gentleman requesting a meeting and we are unable to do so. My hon. Friend and I have a good record on meeting hon. Members from all parties when meetings are requested. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to us—I do not remember receiving any correspondence from him, but I shall check—I am sure that we will treat his request as sympathetically as possible.

Mr. Amess

I take the Minister's words in good faith, but three days ago—this is a little embarrassing—my secretary received a call from the diary secretary to one of the Ministers to say that a meeting was not possible. As the Minister expressed his view at the Dispatch Box I felt it necessary to respond, but I take what he said in good faith and I should be grateful if he will meet some of the headmasters in my constituency.

I end by reiterating my main point about all the nonsense that has been said about saving money on the assisted places scheme. Labour Members know only too well that the Government may want to reduce class sizes—which I think will be impossible, given that our playgrounds are already overcrowded, not to mention the issue of choice—but from where will the money come? The Chancellor keeps telling us that he is relying on the previous Conservative Government's spending plans; then he says that there is to be a three-year strategy that will be more draconian. I want to know where the money will come from. Frankly, many people in my constituency feel that, under this Labour Government, they will not be able to afford children.

9.12 pm
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), who unfortunately is no longer in the Chamber, put his finger on the issue when he distinguished between opposition and disingenuous opposition. Tonight, we have heard a great deal of the latter from the Opposition Benches.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) referred to the year zero mentality of Conservative Members. I thought that they were more like a collection of Rip Van Winkles who have slept through the last 20 years and now suddenly discovered all these new ideas. I had hoped that, when the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) spoke, we would hear some opposition to that argument, but I could not find much of that in his speech. He said that the Conservative party understood that parents wanted their children to be educated in smaller classes, but there was precious little evidence of that while the Tories were in government. As my hon. Friends have pointed out, those of us who served on the Standing Committee saw much evidence of confusion and outright schizophrenia. I thought that schizophrenia had been confined to the previous members of the Conservative Front Bench, but it has clearly been inherited by the present incumbents.

I understand that, in some quarters, the hon. Member for Havant bears the epithet "two brains". I had always assumed that that referred to his outstanding intellectual capacities, but clearly one brain is there to operate pre-1997 and the other post-1997. By that process, the two brains, rather like something in an H. G. Wells story, are able to proceed on their way without any conflict, but, unlike in science fiction, this problem has not just dropped from the planet Zog. As has been said, the build-up of class sizes has been strong and remorseless. In 1988, 804,000 children in the five to seven age range were being educated in classes of more than 30; by 1997, the figure had risen to 1,344,000. It is instructive to ask ourselves why. What series of factors over that period produced such a rise?

In 1994 and 1996, Professor Neville Bennett of the school of education at the university of Exeter prepared an interesting report on class sizes in primary schools. It was a large survey and took into account the perceptions of head teachers, chairs of governors, teachers and parents. It is interesting to recall what some respondents to that survey said about the then Government and their policy on class sizes.

One head teacher said: The Government"— the previous Government— has a policy (unstated) to increase class size. LMS determined budgets for schools, this was rate-capped and therefore budget was reduced. The last pay increase had to come from the budget. The only way to pay for this was by reducing staff. Another head spoke of teachers in primary schools disadvantaged by a historical funding system which mitigates against smaller classes and non contact time—both sorely needed but not possible under present funding". Another reason for the increase in class sizes was the previous Government's severe attitude to local authorities that were trying to raise their game and raise educational standards. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), who is in her place, can give eloquent testimony of the problems that Lancashire county council experienced in that connection.

The previous Government hampered local authorities; moreover, they gave no thought to expenditure to improve the infrastructure that might support initiatives to reduce class sizes. They gave no thought to the number of classrooms that rapidly became unusable, to the number of classrooms that were prefabricated or to the continuously lengthening list of necessary repairs.

Perhaps the most significant reason for the increase in class sizes is the fact that the previous Government gave no thought to it because, as hon. Members have pointed out, too many of their own children were not educated in that system. As a result, they had no first-hand experience of the problems that were building in the primary school sector.

Thankfully, the Government have begun—speedily, as Labour Members have said—to remedy the problem. From September, £22 million will be made available to 65 local education authorities. They include my new unitary education authority in Blackpool where, from September, 1,000 pupils will be kept out of classes of more than 30 as a result of the taking of money from the assisted places scheme.

No sensible hon. Member would argue that it is easy to institute a policy of lower class sizes. There is a complex structure of schools. In my constituency there are 1950s or 1960s schools, where it would be relatively easy to implement the pledge, and schools where space will be a problem. That is precisely why the Government have not gone for a knee-jerk process of implementation, but are ensuring that the policy is implemented in a way that will not restrict parental choice. Tonight, the Minister gave a detailed and thoughtful list of the criteria that will be used. The wide range of schools also explains why the Government have given £40 million extra to build 600 additional classrooms in 1998–99, and why LEAs have been given searching and penetrating targets to institute their own strategy this autumn.

In implementing our strategy, we must take every care not to restrict parental preference. The Government have made a strong and competent start and they deserve more than the Conservatives' knee-jerk reactions and schizophrenia. No Labour Member would argue—as some Conservatives have attempted to portray us as doing—that reducing class sizes is the be-all and end-all of education policy. A measured examination of what the Government have done in early-years education shows that that policy is only part of a raft of measures. My education authority has benefited from the new class sizes initiative, but not only that. We have benefited from an above average rise in education standard spending assessment; £73,000 for reducing class sizes; £24,000 for the national learning grid; £19,000 for literacy; and a total of £1.5 million of extra allocations for 1998–99.

Those funds underline the holistic approach that the Government have taken to early-years education policy, and the pledge on class sizes is an important element in achieving those policy objectives. The Conservative motion therefore deserves to be rejected—and rejected decisively.

9.19 pm
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

As I said in an intervention earlier in the debate, I should like to nail as an untruth, or at least as a misapprehension, any statement that Opposition Members have not before spoken sensibly or in a balanced manner on education issues. Many of us, like Labour Members, have a long history of being involved in education—as teachers, governors and members of local education authorities— and, of course, we acknowledge that class size is a factor and an issue in judging the quality of teaching and learning. The crude caricature of Opposition Members drawn in this debate by Labour Members does them far less justice than it does us.

Three calumnies were preached—I use the word advisedly—by Labour Members in the run-up to the general election. The first was that class sizes were at an unprecedented level when the previous Government left office. That is certainly not true. Class sizes were not at an unprecedented high. Figures clearly show that secondary school class sizes, for example, were higher in 1978–79 than they were in 1996–97. The numbers were about the same at primary school level.

The truth is that—largely because of demographic and birth rate factors, not because of Government policy—class sizes dipped in the 1980s. I should not claim Conservative credit for that dip, any more than Labour Members should claim that the Conservatives deliberately increased class sizes through the 1990s as a matter of public policy. Such a claim simply does not bear scrutiny. The full history of class sizes—not over 15 or 20 years, but over 50 years—suggests that not public policy but demography, population growth and the birth rate have been the major determinants of class sizes, both in the primary sector and the secondary sector. However, no Labour Member has mentioned that fact in this debate.

The second calumny was that class sizes were the single most important factor in teaching and learning—in a child's educational progress. That is not borne out by the facts or by a wealth of research. Even those who take the most pro-Government perspective in educational research would argue that class size is only one of the key factors that affect a child's educational progress and the nature of teaching and learning. The truth is that the relationship between class size and educational success has as much to do with teaching and learning methodology as with anything else.

The key factor of methodology has been mentioned in this debate by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who spoke about experience in Switzerland, and by me in my intervention in his speech when I spoke about the far eastern experience. There are a range of views on the importance of class sizes, just as there are a range of teaching methods. There are adherents to and protagonists of each of the different perspectives.

The third calumny preached by Labour before the general election was that a Labour Government would quickly—immediately—do something about class sizes. Let us be absolutely clear about that pledge. Labour Members have told us today that it was always clear that it would take five years to reduce class sizes, but I remember that during campaigning before the general election Labour party campaigners told electors—Labour party candidates who are now hon. Members may have said the same—"Your child will be better off, because your child will be in a smaller class."

Today, we have heard that many of those who currently have children in primary school will not benefit because—in the Minister's own words—the pledge will not come to its full fruition until 2001. We are talking largely about the next generation of children benefiting. That is hardly an early pledge. It is at best an early pledge delayed; at worst, it is a medium or long-term pledge in respect of many children's life experience and educational progress. I fear that parents will judge that harshly against the propaganda that preceded it.

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman represents a seat in Lincolnshire, I think. This September, 900 five, six and seven-year-olds in Lincolnshire who will be in classes of 30 or fewer would have been in larger classes had the previous Government remained in office.

Mr. Hayes

The Minister will acknowledge that I did qualify my remarks. Although I said that not all children would benefit, I then hesitated and said that, to be fair, some would. However, many of the people who voted Labour on the understanding that their children would be better off will not benefit. Many parts of the country will not see an improvement because, as the Minister acknowledged openly and fairly, the pledge will not be implemented in toto until 2001. That does not accord with the impression given during, or the marketing used by the Labour party before, the election. That is why people are coming to the hard, and arguably fair, judgment that Labour has not lived up to the expectations it created.

I was about to talk about omissions from the pledge. One was the trade-off between class size and choice. We know that many large classes are the result of children being admitted to a school as a result of an appeal. It usually happens at the most popular schools, for obvious reasons. Burgeoning classes stem from the extension of choice—parents want to get their children into a particular school because of its reputation and record.

Inevitably, there is a trade-off between class size and choice. One has to make a political and educational judgment: is it more important dogmatically to put every child in a class of fewer than 30, or to place more emphasis on choice?

Mr. Brady

Would my hon. Friend care to reflect on the contradiction in the fact that the Government appear to have understood the importance of choice by accepting our policy of league tables for schools, but that, by capping numbers in classes of five, six and seven-year-olds, they are limiting choice? That limitation will not only affect parents; it will stop the good schools from dragging up the standards of the bad schools.

Mr. Hayes

It is even worse than that. My hon. Friend points out a contradiction, but there is an implicit reduction in local discretion. Local education authorities have to prioritise and, with governors and parents, they may decide to place more emphasis on factors other than class size. The Government's bland, blanket policy prevents them from so doing.

I had a state education and I have never had any parental connection with private education, contrary to the nonsense we heard from Labour Members. They talk as though the only factor that parents take into account when they choose to send their children to a private school is small class sizes. If that were the only basis on which private schools marketed themselves, they would do considerably less well. People are concerned about the quality of teaching. about leadership and about a school's ethos. Parental support is also a critical factor in a child's educational progress. Constantly focusing on class size dilutes the argument about those other vital factors and may even detract from their importance as issues to be considered in respect of the quality of teaching and learning.

The figures speak for themselves. Class sizes have risen. I cited figures from the Library that are available to everyone and show that class sizes in the secondary and primary sector have risen under this Government. We may argue about why that has happened. It may be said that the Government cannot proceed with their pledge on class sizes quickly enough as there are other priorities, or that this matter is not so important to them; in any event, average class sizes have increased, but to dwell on averages is in itself deceptive. If we look at LEA-by-LEA comparisons, Labour LEAs are worse. Class sizes in Labour LEAs are typically greater. That raises questions about the historical record of those LEAs in prioritising class size. As hon. Members will know, there is nothing to stop an LEA directing money towards that goal.

Mr. Gordon Marsden

I accept that there will be variations, but will the hon. Gentleman accept—this is borne out by the allocations for this autumn—that many of the Labour LEAs to which he refers have those figures precisely because they are in areas of deprivation and need?

Mr. Hayes

LEAs in areas of deprivation and need could have chosen to place greater priority on class size and to transfer money to subsidise, if you like—in the way that many LEAs subsidised nursery education as that was discretionary expenditure head—smaller class sizes. Many LEAs have chosen not to do so, but the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point in that LEAs are particularly poorly off because, as he will know, the largest classes tend to be in the most popular schools, and the most popular schools are frequently not in Labour LEAs, for obvious reasons.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend would be interested to know that the average class size in Islington is smaller than in the Oratory school.

Mr. Hayes

I do not want to draw unnecessary attention to the fact that the Prime Minister is a highly privileged man who chooses to send his child to a highly privileged school, rather than the local comprehensive. I do not want to repeat that and would not do so, so I shall move swiftly on, but I also find it slightly distasteful that we have a Prime Minister with no background in local government or of using the state sector; he went to a private school with all that entails.

The hon. Member for New college, Oxford and Harvard—the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden)—speaks as though he is one of the people's champions. I note that his interests are mediaeval history, theatre and other, equally arcane, matters—not football and real ale—so when he speaks as the people's champion we have to treat that claim with a certain latitude.

The other omission from the Labour party's account before the election was the issue of the difference between schools within LEAs. Labour LEAs' failure to deal with surplus places means that a number of very small schools—some people would argue unviable schools—with relatively small classes, which are not necessarily the best or the most popular schools, are distorting the average. I should be interested to hear the Minister say in her summing-up how we reconcile this class size policy with the issue of surplus places, and how surplus places are to be dealt with in this context.

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

I give just the example of Gloucestershire, where schools such as the hon. Gentleman has described existed and the former Secretary of State for Education and Employment refused to take action.

Mr. Hayes

I am afraid that I cannot give that intervention the credit or indeed attention that it deserves because my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) was speaking in my ear and, as I am very deaf, I did not hear it all. However, in the spirit of the Minister, when he was dealing with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), if the hon. Lady writes to me, I shall deal with her intervention fully.

Class size is a factor in children's educational progress, but it is not the most important factor. The debate continues. The jury is still out on how important class size is. The important thing about this debate is that the Labour party, now the Government, raised expectations about immediate action on class sizes which it has failed to deliver—indeed, it has been thwarted. The British people are extremely angry that Labour has disregarded those expectations in its priorities.

9.34 pm
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Tonight's debate has been characterised by Tory hypocrisy. That has been clearly demonstrated by the assertion that we are choosing between smaller class sizes and good teaching. This Government offer both. When I was the leader of a local authority while a Tory Government were in power, we battled against cuts in revenue and capital, we battled to stop class sizes rising, we battled against cuts in resources and we battled to keep open opportunities for pupils in access to the arts, basic standards in education and discretionary grants in further education.

We are offering smaller class sizes where it matters most, in infant education, and expanded opportunities for all. That is the beginning of a new era. I congratulate the Government on the splendid start that they have made. I condemn the hypocrisy of the Conservatives. I hope that they learn over the next few years, as the nation gets the benefit of expanded education opportunities for all.

9.35 pm
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

The Government has made two pledges on class sizes and parental choice. It is in danger of failing to deliver either. Those are not my words or the words of my hon. Friends, who have made such excellent contributions to the debate. They are not even the words of Conservative councillors. They are the words of Gavin Moore, the Labour chairman of education in the London borough of Lewisham, speaking last week at the conference of the Council of Local Education Authorities, which was reported on Saturday in The Times in the following way. Parental freedom to choose a child's school must be constrained if class sizes are to be reduced, Labour councillors said yesterday. The election pledge made by Labour last year to reduce primary class sizes to under 30 pupils…will be impossible to achieve if parents have the right to decide which school their child attends, the councillors claimed. The Minister dismisses the words of those local education authorities. They are the words of people who will be responsible for delivering the Minister's pledge at local level. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) made clear, there is real local concern about the practical implications of putting the pledge into practice.

It is not surprising that the Minister for School Standards dismisses local education authorities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) pointed out, the Government are taking away local decision-making powers and centralising control in the hands of the Secretary of State.

The Minister dismissed the concerns of his Labour colleagues in local government, saying that the issues were administrative and managerial, but they are not. The concerns of councillors are about whether children can attend the schools that they and their parents want them to go to, but the issue is about more than that; it is about the quality of education that children receive in our schools.

My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) referred to the only analysis that has been carried out on class sizes—the Coopers and Lybrand report commissioned by the Local Government Association. Coopers and Lybrand talked to LEAs, head teachers and governors about their concerns. On the opinions of head teachers and governors, the report says: Whilst there was widespread support for the policy of reducing class sizes in principle, we found that many heads were not convinced that a slight reduction in class sizes in their own schools would recompense for the upheaval and loss of flexibility that could result. The report goes on to talk about where the policy might have a negative impact: At Key Stage 2 (or other Key Stages) if the development causes resources to shift towards Key Stage 1 at the expense of other Key Stages at Key Stage 1 and 2 if the policy causes a change to mixed age teaching… at Key Stage 1 if non teaching classroom assistants are withdrawn… at schools in areas of social deprivation if the policy causes a shift of resources towards schools in more prosperous areas. I recognise that the Minister may dismiss the Coopers and Lybrand report because it was commissioned by local government, and he has no interest in and no time for local government. Perhaps he will take some interest in the findings of research undertaken by the National Foundation for Educational Research in England and Wales, which surveyed head teachers' concerns about the practical implications of the class size pledge. The survey said: While supportive, in principle, of class size reduction, headteachers were concerned that fixed limits for key stage 1 classes…could produce three unwelcome and, they felt, adverse outcomes: the creation of more mixed age (vertically grouped) classes, even larger key stage 2 classes, and a reduced capacity to employ classroom assistants. In other words, the pledge will hit the quality of education that children receive in the classroom.

The point about the impact on key stage 2 classes was made very clear to the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), when she appeared in front of a number of teachers in Derby, as reported in Friday's Derby Evening Telegraph. When repeatedly challenged on the subject of overcrowding in junior schools, she replied: Our current priority is to fund key stage one and we don't have any plans to deal with key stage two at the moment. In other words, children over the age of seven will suffer as a result of the Government's pledge on five, six and seven-year-olds.

All that the Minister for School Standards did in the debate was constantly to assert that parental preference would not be affected. Yet, when we got to the subject of what decisions the Secretary of State will take, we were told that he must consider only whether local education authority plans have "due regard" to parental preference—not whether it is affected. That is not a pledge to parents who are worried that their choice will be restricted as a result of the Government putting their pledge into practice.

Earlier, the Minister for School Standards refused to give the following pledge. In responding to the debate, will the Under-Secretary pledge that no parent will have a child—be they five, six or seven years old—turned away from the school of their choice due to the class size pledge? Will she also pledge that no parental appeal will be turned down on the basis of class size? We await her response to both those specific questions.

It is clear from the debate that the Labour Government's pledge was ill thought out; it was not properly planned. It sounded good, and fitted on the pledge card, but Labour did not know how it would be put into practice. It is clear from the Minister's refusal to answer all the specific questions put to him that he still does not know how the Government will put the pledge into practice.

The hon. Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) referred to attacks of amnesia. The brief comments of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) implied the same. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) pointed out, Labour Members are the ones who have had an attack of amnesia.

The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) made a valiant attempt to protect his Front-Bench team—I sincerely hope that the duty Whip took due notice of his contribution—on the timetable of the pledge, by saying that there was absolutely no prospect ever that it would be met in the Government's early days. [Interruption.] I say to the hon. Member for Waveney, and to the Secretary of State, who just seems to have confirmed that from a sedentary position, that if that were so, why did Labour Members tell the electorate that the pledge was an early one? That meant to the electorate that it would be met quickly. Now we hear that an early pledge is simply one about which they thought before any others. That was not what they said during the election campaign. They told members of the public, parents and teachers that there was an early pledge to cut class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. The public believed the Labour party and thought that the pledge would be implemented quickly.

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

Perhaps the hon. Lady will tell us whether the Conservative party is saying, as a consequence of its belief that the pledge was to be implemented by September 1998, that it expected the assisted places scheme simply to be stopped and no further children to be allowed to continue through it?

Mrs. May

Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to give a pledge now about whether the Government will implement their pledge within the life of this Parliament. Will the right hon. Gentleman give that pledge now?

Mr. Blunkett


Mrs. May

The right hon. Gentleman says, "Absolutely" from a sedentary position. So we know that. Thank you very much.

When the Labour party unveiled its pledge on class sizes, when it distributed its pledge cards and when those who are not Labour Members campaigned on the doorstep, they did not provide any small print. They did not add any caveats to what they were saying. I see that the Minister for School Standards has to get out his pledge card to check whether there is any small print on it, just to remind himself of what it says. I note that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who will reply to the debate, has had to borrow the pledge card of the Minister for Schools Standards. I think that the hon. Gentleman said earlier that any self-respecting Minister made sure that he or she had a copy of it.

When the pledge card was produced, when Labour candidates went on the doorsteps during the election campaign, when shadow Labour Ministers in the previous Parliament were interviewed during the election campaign and prior to it, and when the now Prime Minister unveiled all the pledge posters and pledge coffee mugs, there was not any small print. There were no caveats. They did not say to parents that they would achieve the pledge only by taking away parental choice. They did not say to parents that it depended on where people lived as to how early—

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May

No. I must make progress.

Parents were not told that it depended on where people lived as to how early the pledge would be delivered. The Government did not say to parents that they would deliver the pledge only by increasing mixed-age teaching. They did not say that they would do it by taking resources out of key stage 2 so that those children would suffer from a lack of resources. They did not say that they would do it by reducing the number of classroom assistants. They did not say that they would achieve their pledge only by refusing appeals. However, those are the implications of putting the pledge into practice.

That is the reality and that is what will happen to parents and children throughout the country. They will find that choice is being taken away from them. They will find that other classes will suffer. Head teachers will say, as they say to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, that they have real concerns about the impact of putting the Government's pledge into practice in the classrooms. The reality is that the Government have failed to deliver on an early pledge, and they have failed to deliver the truth to the electorate.

9.47 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Estelle Morris)

I have spent three hours listening to the debate; I am a very disappointed person having listened to what Opposition Members have said. I am still not clear about what they really think about class size. I was in a Standing Committee earlier this year and I heard the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) say that there is some evidence that class size has a strong influence on educational attainment".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 20 January 1998; c. 31.] I thought that that was a conversion; I thought that Opposition Members had seen the light. I thought that today, we would see some sort of revivalist rally—some sort of coming-out celebration—where one Opposition Member after another would say, "Yes, we were wrong. We have seen the light and we have been converted." However, they did not say that. I do not believe that any of them, with the exception of the right hon. Member for Charnwood, has changed his or her mind about whether class size matters. It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman has gone off to think for the Conservative party; I can only hope that he will have more influence on the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) who, having taken over as shadow Secretary of State, has spoken in stark contradiction to what the right hon. Gentleman said in Committee.

Conservative Members may show empathy and say that they want to reduce class sizes, but, at every turn, and again tonight, they have spoken and voted against the means of doing so. Last July, they voted against securing the money and, last year, they opposed the Bill that would have made the reduction possible. Now that we are implementing our pledge, they are warning of imaginary obstacles.

To be fair—we always want to be fair—I must give Conservative Members some credit. There is a yawning chasm between even what they have said tonight and what they did when they had the chance to act on the issue. We have heard three hours of pious words, but they do not make up for 18 years of hopeless inaction. We have heard siren voices galore, but why were those same voices not raised when the Conservative Government were in office? Did we hear any Conservative Member protest when, year after year, class sizes rose? Did we hear a murmur from any of them when, just before the general election, the number of infant children in classes of more than 30 hit the 500,000 mark? More than 4,000 of those infants were in classes not of more than 30, but of more than 40. Given the Conservative party's record, can anyone take seriously what it says today about class size?

As if the Conservative party's preaching about class size was not audacious enough, we have had to put up with a lecture by the shadow Secretary of State on the fulfilment of election pledges. That is the big conversion of the night—a member of the previous Government worrying about whether Governments keep their election pledges. However, not one Conservative Member has said, "Sorry we got it wrong; sorry we were so mistaken about the importance of class size." Not one of them has said sorry to the hundreds of thousands of kids whom they let down, or sorry to the parents and teachers who wanted and deserved better.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) said, the Conservatives act as if the past 18 years did not happen. They may wish that that were so—indeed, I wish that it were so—but parents, teachers and the Government cannot act as if it were; we have to pick up the pieces and face up to the consequences of the 18 years of Conservative Government. The fact that the Conservative Government cut budgets year after year and forced up class sizes had a direct effect on educational standards. We inherited a situation in which more than four out of 10 11-year-olds had not effectively mastered literacy and numeracy. One reason—it is not the only one—why that is the case is that class sizes were too large in those children's early years. That is the Conservative party's record on class sizes—we are putting it right, as we promised we would, and we are doing so ahead of time.

From this September, 100,000 five, six and seven-year-olds in 65 local authorities across the country—both Conservative and Labour controlled—will be kept out of classes of more than 30. Moreover, 1,500 extra teachers will be, and have been, recruited to teach those children, and £40 million will be spent to build new classrooms. By 2001, the pledge that we made to the electorate before the general election will be honoured in full and ahead of time.

Equally important, reductions in class size are only part of the wider strategy to raise standards—the hon. Members for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn), for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) were right about that, if about nothing else. The 100,000 children who go into smaller classes in September and the children who join them in smaller classes in the next few years will also learn in school buildings that, in some cases, have had repairs for which they have waited for years. They will read better and they will master numbers better because they will be taught by teachers who have been retrained in best practice, and because money has been put in the classroom for the most modern resources. They will use new technology because we shall have ensured that schools are equipped and teachers trained. They will learn both in and outside school because by 2002, one in every two secondary schools and one in every four primary schools will have the opportunity of a homework centre.

We need no lectures from any Conservative Member about class size not being the only thing that matters. We know that it is not. All those initiatives and many more that have been announced are properly funded and, together with class size, will make a real difference to the life chances of children.

The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) went into semantics about when is an early pledge not an early pledge but, whether it is one year or three, it is a damn sight quicker than 18 years with no action. The hon. Lady wittered away about parental choice. I think that choice is important, but, under the previous Government, the number of appeals by parents who did not get their first choice of school shot up year after year, and they took no action.

Mrs. May

If the Minister is saying that parental choice is so important to the Government, will she now give the pledge asked of her and of the Minister for School Standards, that no parent will find that their preference for a school is refused because of Labour's class size pledge?

Ms Morris

When my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards opened the debate, he made it clear that local authorities would not be able to meet the class size pledge by reducing parental choice. We have taken action to ensure parental choice, which is far more than the Conservatives ever did in 18 years in government.

While Conservative Members work out what they think about class size, we have been getting things done. We secured the money with one of the first Bills to receive Royal Assent—the Education (Schools) Bill—and it has already been passed to schools in the first full academic year on which we had an influence. More places in popular schools that have high standards—that is what parents want and, with this Government, that is what they will get.

The Conservatives have shown tonight that they are still in that state of confusion. They have still not understood the urgency of cutting class sizes. This September—only a few months away—100,000 children will benefit because we are keeping our promise. By 2001, classes of more than 30 for infant schoolchildren will, for the first time in the history of this country, be a thing of the past. That is good news for parents and for teachers, but most of all, it is good news for the children who need that best start if they are to reach their potential and have a real chance in life.

What we have heard tonight is no more than cynical scaremongering by Conservative Members, but their words cannot take away what many parents already know—that Labour is delivering. We have shown that already and we will continue to show it in the next three years. The Opposition motion is nothing more than a cynical attempt to detract from a Government who are delivering on their pledge. It is not worthy of the support of the House and I urge hon. Members to reject it.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 134, Noes 297.

Division No. 317] [9.58 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Duncan, Alan
Amess, David Duncan Smith, Iain
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Evans, Nigel
Baldry, Tony Faber, David
Bercow, John Fabricant, Michael
Beresford, Sir Paul Fallon, Michael
Blunt, Crispin Flight, Howard
Body, Sir Richard Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Boswell, Tim Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Fraser, Christopher
Brady, Graham Gale, Roger
Brazier, Julian Garnier, Edward
Browning, Mrs Angela Gibb, Nick
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gill, Christopher
Burns, Simon Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Cash, William Gray, James
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Chope, Christopher Grieve, Dominic
Clappison, James Gummer, Rt Hon John
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Cran, James Hammond, Philip
Curry, Rt Hon David Hawkins, Nick
Dafis, Cynog Hayes, John
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Heald, Oliver
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Day, Stephen Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hunter, Andrew Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Ruffley, David
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) St Aubyn, Nick
Jenkin, Bernard Sayeed, Jonathan
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Key, Robert Soames, Nicholas
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Spicer, Sir Michael
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Spring, Richard
Lansley, Andrew Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Leigh, Edward Streeter, Gary
Letwin, Oliver Swayne, Desmond
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Syms, Robert
Lidington, David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Llwyd, Elfyn Townend, John
Loughton, Tim Tredinnick, David
Luff, Peter Trend, Michael
McIntosh, Miss Anne Tyrie, Andrew
MacKay, Andrew Viggers, Peter
Maclean, Rt Hon David Walter, Robert
McLoughlin, Patrick Wardle, Charles
Madel, Sir David Waterson, Nigel
Malins, Humfrey Wells, Bowen
Maples, John Whittingdale, John
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Wilkinson, John
May, Mrs Theresa Willetts, David
Moss, Malcolm Wilshire, David
Nicholls, Patrick Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Page, Richard Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Paice, James Woodward, Shaun
Paterson, Owen Yeo, Tim
Pickles, Eric Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Prior, David
Randall, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Redwood, Rt Hon John Mr. John M. Taylor and
Robathan, Andrew Mr. Tim Collins.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Burgon, Colin
Ainger, Nick Byers, Stephen
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Caborn, Richard
Alexander, Douglas Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Ashton, Joe Cann, Jamie
Atkins, Charlotte Casale, Roger
Austin, John Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ballard, Jackie Chaytor, David
Banks, Tony Chidgey, David
Battle, John Chisholm, Malcolm
Bayley, Hugh Clapham, Michael
Beard, Nigel Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Begg, Miss Anne Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Bennett, Andrew F Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Benton, Joe Clelland, David
Bermingham, Gerald Clwyd, Ann
Berry, Roger Coffey, Ms Ann
Blears, Ms Hazel Cohen, Harry
Blizzard, Bob Coleman, Iain
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Connarty, Michael
Boateng, Paul Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Borrow, David Corston, Ms Jean
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cousins, Jim
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Crausby, David
Brinton, Mrs Helen Cummings, John
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Darvill, Keith Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Denham, John Keeble, Ms Sally
Dobbin, Jim Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Donohoe, Brian H Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Doran, Frank Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Dowd, Jim Khabra, Piara S
Drew, David Kidney, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kilfoyle, Peter
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kingham, Ms Tess
Edwards, Huw Kirkwood, Archy
Ellman, Mrs Louise Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ennis, Jeff Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Etherington, Bill Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Fatchett, Derek Leslie, Christopher
Fearn, Ronnie Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Flint, Caroline Liddell, Mrs Helen
Flynn, Paul Linton, Martin
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Livingstone, Ken
Foster, Don (Bath) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lock, David
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Love, Andrew
Foulkes, George McAllion, John
Gapes, Mike McAvoy, Thomas
Gardiner, Barry McCabe, Steve
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Gerrard, Neil McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Gibson, Dr Ian McDonnell, John
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McGuire, Mrs Anne
Godman, Dr Norman A McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Goggins, Paul McNulty, Tony
Golding, Mrs Llin MacShane, Denis
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Mactaggart, Fiona
Grant, Bernie McWilliam, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mandelson, Peter
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Grocott, Bruce Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Grogan, John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gunnell, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hain, Peter Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Martlew, Eric
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Maxton, John
Hancock, Mike Meale, Alan
Hanson, David Michael, Alun
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Milburn, Alan
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Miller, Andrew
Hepburn, Stephen Mitchell, Austin
Heppell, John Moffatt, Laura
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hill, Keith Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hinchliffe, David Morley, Elliot
Hoey, Kate Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Home Robertson, John Mudie, George
Hood, Jimmy Mullin, Chris
Hoon, Geoffrey Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Howells, Dr Kim Olner, Bill
Hoyle, Lindsay O'Neill, Martin
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Öpik, Lembit
Humble, Mrs Joan Osborne, Ms Sandra
Hutton, John Palmer, Dr Nick
Iddon, Dr Brian Pearson, Ian
Illsley, Eric Pendry, Tom
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Pickthall, Colin
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pike, Peter L
Jamieson, David Plaskitt, James
Jenkins, Brian Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg Stevenson, George
Pound, Stephen Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Powell, Sir Raymond Stoate, Dr Howard
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Stott, Roger
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Prosser, Gwyn Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Purchase, Ken Stringer, Graham
Quinn, Lawrie Stuart, Ms Gisela
Radice, Giles Sutcliffe, Gerry
Rammell, Bill Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Rapson, Syd
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N) Temple-Morris, Peter
Rendel, David Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Timms, Stephen
Touhig, Don
Roche, Mrs Barbara Trickett, Jon
Rooker, Jeff Truswell, Paul
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Rowlands, Ted Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Roy, Frank Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Tyler, Paul
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Vaz, Keith
Ryan, Ms Joan Vis, Dr Rudi
Salter, Martin Wallace, James
Savidge, Malcolm Walley, Ms Joan
Sedgemore, Brian Wareing, Robert N
Shaw, Jonathan Watts, David
Sheerman, Barry White, Brian
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Whitehead, Dr Alan
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Wicks, Malcolm
Singh, Marsha Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Skinner, Dennis Willis, Phil
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Wilson, Brian
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Winnick, David
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Wood, Mike
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Woolas, Phil
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Soley, Clive Wyatt, Derek
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John Tellers for the Noes:
Squire, Ms Rachel Mr. John McFall and
Steinberg, Gerry Mr. Clive Betts.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MADAM SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House congratulates the Government on the excellent progress it has already made towards honouring its pledge that no child of 5, 6 or 7 will be in a class of over 30 by the end of this Parliament, which will mean that 100,000 fewer infants will be in large classes from this September and the pledge will be met ahead of schedule by September 2001; and notes the Opposition's continuing hostility to class size reduction, having presided over year-on-year increases since 1988.