HC Deb 16 March 1998 vol 308 cc961-1049

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

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

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

In asking the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, I am reminded of a famous "Hancock's Half Hour" episode—which I am sure that you, Madam Speaker, will remember—called "The Test Pilot". As the aeroplane was flying along, there was a knocking on the outside of the fuselage—it was the mechanic, trying to get in. Today—although I thought that I would be playing the role of the test pilot—I find myself in the position of the mechanic, as part of the wing has fallen off, and the fuselage is in considerably bad order. Nevertheless, the Bill is still flying, and it will be our job in Committee to ensure that repairs are done while the Bill is still in the air.

We have a situation in which those in the upper House with the privilege of being hereditary peers amended the Bill in a deliberately destructive manner. We cannot tolerate the democratic will of the British people being overturned by those who have no mandate and whose only claim to the privileged position of being in the upper House is based on something that their great-grandfathers did to somebody a long time ago.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood)

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way so early in the debate. Perhaps he will answer a question that is a direct result of his comments? In a Question Time last month, the Prime Minister said, we said specifically…that we would abide by the outcome of the Dearing committee report".—[Official Report, 25 February 1998; Vol. 306, c. 364.] Did not the amendments in the other place give effect to the Dearing committee report? Was the other place therefore not supporting democratic will, rather than undermining it?

Mr. Blunkett

As I shall explain, we took the Dearing recommendations and combined them with our manifesto commitment. We have ameliorated the impact of fees by ensuring that lower-paid people do not have to pay them. Never did we say that we would implement Dearing lock, stock and barrel. Moreover, neither has the right hon. Gentleman made such a commitment—despite the fact that, since 4 November 1997, the premise of his commitment has been that he believes that Dearing should be implemented lock, stock and barrel. On 4 November—in reply to an intervention by the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster)—the right hon. Gentleman said: The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is wrong to say that I have explicitly endorsed every detail of the Dearing report."—[Official Report, 4 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 124.] The right hon. Gentleman has not made such an endorsement; nor have I or the Prime Minister.

The Government have welcomed the work done by the Dearing inquiry and its excellent proposals, on which we have built. That is why we ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. We want to make some progress on the Bill, to make sense of nonsense and to ensure that there is coherence in the policy that is followed—in the interests of tomorrow's young people and mature students, and in the interests of high quality and high standards in our university system.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the Secretary of State not concede that many people in the United Kingdom are very unhappy about the introduction of student fees—the effect of which will be compounded by the loss of grant and, therefore, by an increase in repayable loans? Does he agree that that prospect has deterred many students from seeking places in university in the forthcoming academic year? Furthermore, does he agree that, in the long term, the changes will change the face of university education—so that university education will not be universally provided but will be enjoyed only by those whose parents can afford to pay their way through it?

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend would be correct if there were universal provision and take-up of higher education. He would also be right had there been a substantial fall in applications, but, despite the information that has been put out, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes mischievously, to mislead people into making the wrong assumptions about the Bill, there has been no such drop. There has been reduction in the number of applications of just under 3 per cent.—only 1 per cent. in respect of school and college leavers aged 18 and 19—despite the massive increase of 6 per cent. in the current academic year. In other words, there has been an increase on the 1996 figures.

We are fighting hard to maintain the resources and the quality of higher education for those who have never had the opportunity to benefit from it. Let us look at the constituencies with the lowest take-up of higher education. The constituencies of Liverpool, Walton and Sheffield, Brightside are fifth from the bottom of the league, with only 3.7 per cent. of the adult population having had the privilege of a university education. West Bromwich, West, as you know very well, Madam Speaker, is next, with 3.4 per cent. Hon. Members representing London constituencies may be familiar with Barking and Dagenham, where the figure is 3.2 per cent., and the make-up of the population there. Bootle also has a figure of 3.2 per cent. The constituency at the bottom of the list is Birmingham, Hodge Hill with a figure of 2.8 per cent.

The low take-up in the constituencies to which I have referred did not occur because the previous system was so good that it gave working-class children the opportunity to go to university, but for precisely the opposite reason. Under the previous system, two thirds of children from socio-economic groups A and B, but a low proportion of children from socio-economic groups D and E went to university.

That is why crocodile tears should not be shed for those who have done very well out of the system—more than 50 per cent. of students at Oxford and Cambridge are from private schools. Instead, genuine tears should be shed for those who have been neglected over the years—students aged over 19 who have had to contribute to their fees and the one third of part-time students who have to pay their way through university and contribute to the fees.

If we want a welfare state that helps those who need welfare, we should not turn to those who have higher earnings as a result of a university education, but look after the interests of others who never got there.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

As the Secretary of State will be aware, under the previous Administration I had some responsibility for administering the student support system. Does he concede that in 1995, for the first time, the majority of students were from socio-economic groups C2, D and E and that that was part of a continuing revolution that had democratised the higher education system even before the changes that he is now contemplating?

Mr. Blunkett

I also recall the hon. Gentleman stating: There is no evidence of widespread student poverty".—[Official Report, 24 January 1995; Vol. 253, c. 166.] Therefore, I am interested in what he has to say this afternoon.

There has been substantial expansion in higher education alongside schizophrenia among the Conservatives, who claimed no credit for that expansion, even during the 1997 general election.

Mr. Dorrell

Yes we did.

Mr. Blunkett

In that case, they did not do it very well. If they attempted to claim any credit, they did so with their hands over their mouths, partly because some of their supporters did not like the idea of the expansion of higher education and, I suspect, partly because the quality of higher education had been allowed to deteriorate. A 25 per cent. cut in unit investment in students over the past eight years is not a good record to put to the electorate. The Conservatives claimed to have expanded higher education, but they did so at the price of quality and standards. That is not something to be proud of; nor is the 40 per cent. reduction in grant implemented by the previous regime. This afternoon, the Conservatives have the cheek to say that they now believe in that grant.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunkett

Well, I will.

Mr. Jackson

I sometimes think of the right hon. Gentleman as my right hon. Friend, but I do not want to embarrass him. I agree with his intention to shift resources from those who have to those who have not. If that is his aim, why is he putting a cap on the level of the fee?

Mr. Blunkett

I welcomed the hon. Gentleman's intervention on 23 July, and I welcome his commitment to high-quality universities. We are lifting the cap on numbers. The first tranche will come into effect this year, giving priority to sub-degree level students, because the need for technician skills is uppermost. The Dearing inquiry recommended giving that group the highest priority. We shall continue to lift the cap as our comprehensive spending review permits. I hope that we shall be able to say more about that in the summer.

There is another issue on the cap—the level of the fee. That draws attention to the Conservative amendment. The Conservatives will have considerable difficulty deciding what to do this evening. They purport to support the Bill as amended in the House of Lords. They also have a new-found commitment to not shifting the proportion of the fee that will be required from students. Taking that at face value, and assuming that the Liberal Democrats—who will speak for themselves—agree that 25 per cent. is the correct proportion to require for repayment under a contingent loan scheme, we are left with the question of who is in favour of increasing that figure, because I am not.

We should examine together how to provide additional safeguards. The Bill suggests that both Houses of Parliament should have to vote on an affirmative order to change the proportion. I suggest that we consider sensible ways of encouraging further safeguards. An inquiry would be cumbersome and unnecessary, but it is worth considering requiring a report from the Education Select Committee before any suggestion is brought before the two Houses and the affirmative orders are moved. That could put a lock on the proportion, giving the safeguards that people are seeking. I should be happy to examine that in Committee on an all-party basis.

There is general agreement that change to the system of funding higher education is needed. Those who do not agree have to say where the money would come from. They could retrench and cut the number of students who could go to university—which would inevitably result in maintaining access for those who already have it, but failing to break down the barriers and improve access for disadvantaged and unrepresented socio-economic, ethnic and other groups. We have to expand to avoid a situation in which opportunity is taken away from those who have, and those who have not do not gain new opportunities. That is just good common sense.

The proposals are well thought through, coherent, provide for safeguards, ensure that the cap can be lifted and provide additional resources for part-timers, particularly those who find themselves leaving work and are therefore in financial difficulty. We have promised to ensure, as we do in the Bill, that disabled students are no longer means tested on the specific grants that they receive in order to be able to perform on equal terms. We have given clear indications of our future view on access by doubling the available access hardship funds.

We are asking the House to provide us with a vehicle that can put that coherent policy into practice and ensure that we carry through our manifesto commitment. That manifesto commitment made explicitly clear what we were going to do. It said: The costs of student maintenance should be repaid by graduates on an income-related basis". We have secured a further enhancement of that commitment by linking it directly to the Inland Revenue. Collection will be according to ability to pay, through the Inland Revenue system at a time when people's earnings allow them to make that contribution. That is not a charge on students or on their present circumstances. It is a repayment from future earnings, which are enhanced by the very higher education that the extra resources are permitting young people and mature students to take up.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunkett

Would my hon. Friends like to ask their questions together? I shall give way to my hon. Friend with the higher pitched voice.

Mrs. Campbell

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that, despite the excellent communication work that he and his Ministers are doing, some students are still under the misapprehension that they will have to find money up front when they begin their university courses? Will he give an assurance loudly and clearly to students who are still writing to me on that subject that that is not so and that they will be given a full loan to cover any additional costs which may accrue?

Mr. Blunkett

There is confusion, and I am happy to correct it. No family will be expected to find more than they do at the present time. Students are not being asked for more than would be expected under the present system. In fact, we are providing an extra £250 per student a year in hardship contribution—if that is sought by the student—as well as doubling the hardship funds. Resources will be made available at the time students need them. The payments—which I repeat are no greater than the contribution that currently has to be found—will, of course, have to be paid, and will have to be made available by the middle of the second term.

We know that universities are in a position to collect such fees because they told us so when some of them were pressing for top-up fees to be introduced. We made explicitly clear that top-up fees play no part whatever in our proposals. Despite pressure in the House of Lords, we have resisted our opponents' attempts to ensure both top-up fees and additional contributions to fees. Top-up fees are an alternative to the proposals in the Bill and should be resisted as such.

Mr. Dawson

I welcome the statement about top-up fees. Does my right hon. Friend accept that some students are worried about universities charging top-up fees by the back door by charging for access to essential software and computers? Does he also accept that, notwithstanding the excellent measures on repayment, mature students and students wishing to undertake postgraduate studies, with the aim of attaining higher qualifications and pursuing academic careers, are worried about the level of debt with which they may be faced?

Mr. Blunkett

I do not pretend to be able to resolve the problems of those who are committing themselves to postgraduate study. They make a calculation about additional income and additional opportunities: for those with a degree, there is an average £4,000 additional income for every £20,000 earned, and there are greater opportunities for those with postgraduate qualifications. A number of ladders are available to those who go into higher education, and graduate and postgraduate students have the opportunity to enhance their chance of getting a quality job that they can enjoy doing.

I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) says, and I know that, through his close contact with the university of Lancaster, he is aware of the possibilities and dangers for people who go into higher education. Let me make it clear: I understand why people are anxious, and I have lived the issue for a long time, in opposition and since the general election. I have had the chance to examine the possibilities and alternatives in detail, which few others have had. Having weighed them, I have realised that making available such a substantial amount of money is worth while. It is being raised on a fair basis at a time when people can afford to pay, and under a system that sticks as closely as possible to the income tax principles to which my hon. Friends and I adhere.

We are trying to achieve that against a backcloth of cuts in grants, cuts in quality investment in higher education and increased demand. We expect even greater pressure as we raise standards in schools, as more students take A-level and GNVQ advanced qualifications, and as aspirations and expectations rise so that the many expect what the few took for granted. To meet it, we must have resources available.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that some of us have problems with the combination of the tuition fee and withdrawal of the maintenance grant?

My parents left school at 14. I was fortunate enough to go to one of the old universities on a full tuition fee and a full grant. When I argued with my father that I should be allowed to stay on at school to the sixth form, I well remember him saying that girls my age were out at work. How much worse would it have been if I had faced the prospect of tens of thousands of pounds of debt? [Interruption.] Members on the Treasury Bench jeer, but such levels of debt are a serious disincentive to those from a background where people have not gone on to university. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate, if we can leave partisan politics to one side, that many of us who hauled ourselves up from our background through higher education have serious reservations about the proposals?

Mr. Blunkett

Oh dear, dear, dear. I must say to my hon. Friend that not one of us on the Treasury Bench did not go through that experience. Each of us knows exactly what the problem is. Perhaps my hon. Friend was not here when I spelt out the constituencies with the lowest number of adult higher education students; if she was, she obviously missed what I said. She claims that a great opportunity was available to the middle class and the better off. They rightly took it, but at university I met people from the same background as me, although no one within a square mile of where I lived went to university. I said that crocodile tears are being shed, and that is what they are.

We are not penalising students at the point of entry into education; we are asking for a contribution at the point of reward and once they have taken up higher education. I do not know how often it is necessary to say that. My hon. Friend would not think it unfair to ask people to pay a higher rate of income tax because they earned more money, and could afford to do so. They earn more money if they are graduates, precisely because of their greater educational opportunities. It is a staggering fact that new graduates, on average—of course, it is only an average—can expect to start at £16,000 a year. That figure went up by 9 per cent. last year. The level of unemployment among graduates is one third of the level among non-graduates.

There is a mythology that graduates are doing badly. They are doing extremely well. If they are not, they will not pay—it is as simple as that. Our system ensures that the lower your income, the less you pay; the higher your income, the more you pay. An ex-student earning £16,000 to £17,000 a year would pay less than half the amount they would pay under the present mortgage repayment scheme.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I understand my right hon. Friend's commitment to higher education and the obvious difficulties that the Government face on economic grounds. He keeps repeating the low number of students from certain constituencies—working-class, in the main—but I cannot see how they will necessarily be helped. Students from higher-income groups will not be deterred. Clearly, people from working-class households who consider going into higher education because of their academic ability may be deterred—although I hope they will not—by the sort of debt which undoubtedly they will face once they graduate. That factor will be very much in my mind when I vote tonight.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. We must have brief interventions.

Mr. Blunkett

I shall try to be brief in answering them, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am repeating one or two key principles because the message is not necessarily getting through. We have not seen a substantial drop in applications for university places.

Mr. Dorrell

What about mature students?

Mr. Blunkett

We will monitor what happens with mature students, and we will ensure that the expansion of hardship funds and other measures protects and helps them. The argument that working-class youngsters will be dissuaded from going to university is clearly flawed. Our system provides a bigger public subsidy to those who take out a bigger loan, because there is a nil real rate of interest. This is the most favourable contingent repayment system imaginable. The bigger the debt—ironically—the bigger the long-term subsidy from the public purse, and rightly so.

I do not pretend for a moment that our proposals—difficult as they are—can in any way overcome the inequality of income and background which affects this country. Under the present, past and future systems, families with substantial wealth will always look after their offspring in a way that does not leave them with a debt.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

In the poorest communities, only about 2 to 3 per cent. of young people go to university, so it is hardly likely that the new system would have any significant impact on the numbers going to university. I share my right hon. Friend's aspiration that more people from poorer backgrounds should go to university. Will he consider these policies to have failed if there is not a substantial increase in the numbers attending university from those socio-economic groups and poorer areas?

Mr. Blunkett

My clear objective is to expand opportunities for those youngsters, and it is precisely for that reason that we need the resources. Those who are already seeking access—those whose expectation, background or standards would enable them to go to university—will not stop going to university. We must expand the opportunities available to those youngsters who are not taking up the opportunities.

One of the interesting things about the Bill is that other parts of it—along with the School Standards and Framework Bill—are designed to transform the life chances of those children by transforming the standard of education they receive in their home communities.

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

I represent one of the constituencies to which my hon. Friend referred where participation in higher education is very low. Does he agree that the reason why so few people from places such as Barking go to university is that they are falling behind in literacy and numeracy, at GCSE level, in A-levels and at GNVQ level? That is what is inhibiting their access to university; not the cost to the individual graduate of paying for their higher education.

Mr. Blunkett

I agree entirely and, in implementing our coherent proposals, we will ensure that resources go into lifelong learning. We will build on the proposals in "The Learning Age", which will transform the life chances of adults as well as young people.

I wish to refer to the remaining clauses of the Bill. Clauses 1 to 13 seek to introduce a general teaching council, which will lift the esteem, professional standing, morale and motivation of the teaching profession. I do not want to make a party political point, but I welcome the conversion of the Conservative party to the idea of a general teaching council. It is a trifle strange to see the undoubted abilities of Baroness Blatch devoted to savaging the general teaching council on the ground that it does not go far enough when, as a Minister, she spent her time resisting bringing one in. Never mind—for some hypocrisy is a watchword; for others, it is a badge they wear on their sleeve. We all agree that a general teaching council is a good thing. We do not agree with the amendments tabled by Baroness Young, but we will look at implementing the principles and the thrust of the amendment tabled by Earl Baldwin.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

Will the Secretary of State give credit to Sir Malcolm Thornton, the former Member for Crosby, who introduced a private Member's Bill, on an all-party basis, before the general election to promote a general teaching council?

Mr. Blunkett

I am happy to do so. Sir Malcolm Thornton worked hard on the Bill and held his commitment to education dear to his heart.

Clause 15 provides for qualifications for head teachers. There can be nothing more important than the leadership and management skills of our heads.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Blunkett

I hear, "Hear, hear" from a former head teacher, who knows very well that that is the case.

More than 3,000 heads have already committed themselves to taking up the national professional qualification for head teachers, and we will accelerate that in the immediate future so that people have the commitment, qualifications and wherewithal to do the job.

Clause 16 provides for an induction year for new teachers, with the kind of support and backing to make it possible for young teachers to want to stay in the profession and to be able to do a good job. Clauses 17 and 18 introduce inspection of higher education teaching institutions, so that there is no doubt about the law. We have dealt with clauses 19 to 23, and clauses 24 and 25, which apply to Scotland, are consequential.

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)

Will the Secretary of State give way on that point about Scotland?

Mr. Blunkett

I wish that I had never mentioned it now.

Mr. Gorrie

What is the Secretary of State's thinking on the well-rehearsed anomaly whereby English, Welsh and Northern Irish students will have to pay more than all other European nationals to go to Scottish universities? Given that the Scottish Minister with whom my colleagues and I raised the issue said that the amount of money involved was relatively small, why cannot the anomaly be removed?

Mr. Blunkett

In fact, the number of applications from those students has increased. The fee level cannot be a deterrent to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as those who are in hardship—whose family background is not affluent—will not have to pay the fee in Scotland, any more than they will have to in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. I believe that it is important that students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland understand that.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I shall give way once more, out of sheer masochism.

Mr. Beggs

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Can he tell me—so that I can answer the questions of students who may have to pay tuition fees—whether there will be a loan facility to enable them to meet those fees, bearing in mind the fact that a large number of parents do not in any way contribute to help their children through university education?

Mr. Blunkett

I can confirm that they will be given the contingent loan. The loan will be paid at a such a level that students will be no more disadvantaged than they are under the current system of the assessment of family income and the amount that they have to find—they will not be disadvantaged in any new way.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

May I correct the Secretary of State? In fact, there has been a 12 per cent. reduction in the number of English and Welsh students at Dundee university and an alarming reduction of 23 per cent. in the number of applications from Northern Ireland. The anomaly whereby English, Welsh and Northern Irish students pay £1,000 extra for a four-year honours degree course is having an effect, but, for less than £2 million a year, his Department could remove that anomaly and not offload the cost on to individual students and families.

Mr. Blunkett

The hon. Gentleman has me at a disadvantage in that I do not know the ins and outs of Dundee university. I cannot for the life of me understand why what he says should be the case, as I happen to think that Dundee is a wonderful place. I have always enjoyed going there, and if I am to enjoy going there in the future I had better be very careful in what I say. I shall certainly draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Scottish Office.

Clauses 26 and 27 will introduce a right that people were seeking to obtain in 1944—the right of young people aged 16 and 17 to receive education and training once they are at work. They should have access to at least a day of either in-work or out-of-work training and education for a verifiable qualification. That is a long-standing aspiration, which has been neglected; we are putting the matter right so that young people who may not have done all that well at school will have a second chance. We hope that we shall give them the inspiration and expectation to take the opportunities that are offered.

Those opportunities are the subject of argument not because people are not prepared to take them or because they do not know that they will have the resources in later life to justify taking them, but because, at the moment, someone else, somewhere else is being asked to pay for them. That is why we are asking the House to give the Bill its Second Reading, so that we can put it back into shape and go forward to offer real opportunities to all our people for the 21st century, when higher education, knowledge and learning will be the keys to success.

4.53 pm
Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood)

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House, whilst welcoming the enhanced provisions in the Teaching and Higher Education Bill [Lords] to establish general teaching councils with the powers to take effective action in cases of professional misconduct, and, whilst also welcoming the Bill's new provisions to protect means-tested maintenance grants for students from low-income families and to ensure that first degree students from all parts of the United Kingdom will be treated on the same basis, nevertheless declines to give the Bill a Second Reading because it fails to implement the Dearing Committee's proposal for an independent review body to advise on any future changes in tuition fees. The Secretary of State was right to say of the Bill that he was playing the role of the chap looking in from outside the cockpit rather than that of the test pilot flying the machine. It is ironic that some of the key provisions of the Bill as it comes to the House of Commons more closely reflect the position taken by Conservative Members—especially in relation to higher education—than that adopted by the Government. As amended, the Bill safeguards—critically—the payment of maintenance to students from a low-income background. That was a central recommendation of the Dearing review, which was written into the Bill in another place—we shall certainly seek to maintain it in Committee and on Report.

The Bill as it stands also holds out the prospect of a more realistic general teaching council than was proposed by the Government. We shall also promote discussion of that in Committee and, if necessary, on Report. As the hon. Members for Angus (Mr. Welsh) and for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) pointed out, the Bill, as amended, reasserts the principle that students from all parts of the United Kingdom should be treated similarly when they go to Scottish universities—we shall certainly seek to sustain that principle.

All those amendments, which were made in another place, improved the Bill. Nevertheless, I believe that the House should not support the Bill, chiefly because the Secretary of State made it plain that, except possibly in relation to some minor details, the Government have not moved an iota in their thinking on the proposals that they announced last July. The key issues are those concerning higher education, on which it is quite clear that the Secretary of State's thinking has not moved, which is why I shall invite Conservative Members not to support the Bill on Second Reading, and instead to support the reasoned amendment that I have moved.

Before I come to the provisions on higher education, I shall say a word about the general teaching council. As the Secretary of State made clear, the establishment of a general teaching council is a long-standing proposal. The idea is motivated by a desire to promote self-regulation in the teaching profession along the lines of those accepted in other professions, particularly the General Medical Council in the medical profession.

The idea is to promote teachers' professional status, but the Government's original proposal combines the worst of all possible worlds. It will make membership of the council compulsory and it will require all teachers to pay a contribution, but the only function of the council that is specified in the Bill is to give advice to the Secretary of State. I do not see how that interpretation of the idea of a general teaching council will deliver the objective of promoting the professional status of teachers. The Government's proposal is entirely friendless.

That is the background to the amendment that was tabled by Lady Young and accepted in another place last week. It would give the general teaching council a real role in three subjects: the standards of teaching, the standards of professional conduct and questions of medical fitness to teach. I hope that the Government will reflect on the amendment.

I have some sympathy with what Baroness Blackstone said in another place on teaching standards but, if the General Medical Council parallel is to be followed, the Government must consider giving the general teaching council a real function in questions of professional misconduct and medical fitness to teach. I hope that the Minister for School Standards will elaborate on the Government's thinking on those issues.

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Byers)

I shall address those concerns in detail later this evening. On a specific point relating to Baroness Young's amendment in the House of Lords, does the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Conservative party, agree that the general teaching council should have powers to bar teachers on child protection grounds? Does he agree that it should have responsibility for child protection matters?

Mr. Dorrell

I shall reflect on what the Minister tells us when those issues are debated in Committee. As I said, I have considerable sympathy with what Baroness Blackstone said when she set out the Government's reservations on teaching standards, particularly from the point of view of the Teacher Training Agency and Ofsted.

I should be interested to hear whether the Minister is arguing that questions of the maintenance of professional discipline, and of professional misconduct, which, in the medical profession, are delegated to the General Medical Council, cannot be delegated to the general teaching council in the teaching context. I leave my position open and will reflect on what he says in Committee, as a thoughtful spokesman should on an issue of such importance and sensitivity.

We should not ask teachers to pay for a new bureaucracy that has no significant function in enhancing the professional status of teaching. If the Minister's position is that those issues are all too sensitive to be delegated to an independent organisation such as the general teaching council, he should come clean and say so plainly. He should not promote a model of a general teaching council but accord it no substantive voice in the future of the profession.

Mr. Byers

I asked a clear question, to which the right hon. Gentleman must have a reply: does he agree that the general teaching council should have powers over child protection matters? Yes or no.

Mr. Dorrell

I have already given the answer to that, which is that I do not intend to give an answer today, because I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on the subject in Committee. That is an entirely straightforward position.

The Secretary of State beguilingly referred to clause 26, which gives 16 and 17-year-olds a statutory right to time off work for study or training, as though it would assist in the development of life chances for all students of that age. The real risk of the provision is that it will undermine what he is seeking to do elsewhere in his Department: create job opportunities for 16 and 17-year-olds who have left school.

The Secretary of State loves to talk about the importance of cutting youth unemployment and creating job opportunities for young people, but the financial memorandum to the Bill makes it clear that he expects the provisions of clause 26 to increase the cost of employing young people by between £60 million and £130 million. My concern is that the clause will reduce the job opportunities and life chances for precisely the people for whom he expresses concern.

The key issue is the future of higher education. I remind the House of the background. The Secretary of State appears to believe that there is doubt about whether the previous Government were proud of having expanded higher education. We are certainly proud of the fact that, during our 18 years in office, the British higher education system expanded to the point that, whereas in 1979 one in eight of 18-year-olds went on to higher education, the figure when we left office was one in three. That was an unprecedented expansion of opportunity in higher education, and all members of the previous Government are proud of it.

There has been wide agreement for some years that, as we look to the future of higher education, more money will be needed to allow more expansion to go ahead on a properly funded basis. Conservative and Labour Front Benchers have also agreed that that extra money cannot come from the taxpayer. That was written into the Labour manifesto and was part of the analysis that led to the establishment of the Dearing review by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), when she was Secretary of State.

The Dearing review was established in May 1996 with a broadly shared analysis between the two Front Benches. We wanted more money to go into higher education but we knew that it could not come from the taxpayer. Both the Secretary of State—then the shadow Secretary of State—and the Government of the day supported the establishment of the review to consider how that circle could be squared.

Presumably, when the Secretary of State expressed the Labour party's support for the establishment of the Dearing review as a properly thought-out process for resolving the dilemmas for the future of higher education, he had an open mind and was willing to reflect on the resulting recommendations.

The Prime Minister appeared to think that the Labour party went further than that, and the Secretary of State was right to correct him, saying that neither Labour nor the Conservatives committed themselves in advance to accepting the Dearing recommendations. It would have been strange to subcontract policy making on a key national issue to an independent review. We certainly did not do that, and I am pleased that the Secretary of State has confirmed that the Labour party did not do it either.

That is not what the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box last October or in February this year. He said: I made it clear throughout that we should abide by the recommendations of the Dearing committee".—[Official Report, 29 October 1997; Vol. 299, c. 892.] He did no such thing, and it is as well for him that he did not. He later said: we said specifically, as, indeed, did the Conservatives, that we would abide by the outcome of the Dearing committee report".—[Official Report, 25 February 1998; Vol. 306, c. 364.] He was wrong about us: we did not say that. More importantly, he was wrong about himself, because he did not say it either.

That is symptomatic of the widespread confusion in the Government on the subject of paying for higher education. Before the general election, the Prime Minister did not say that the Labour Government would abide by Dearing. When asked by the Evening Standard on 14 April 1997 what Labour's view would be, he said: Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education. That view was reinforced by the present Foreign Secretary who, talking to Leeds students on 24 April last year, said: We are quite clear that tuition costs must be met by the state. That was the position that Labour took before the general election. In fact, it went further: on 11 March last year, the man who is now the Minister for the millennium dome, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), invited representatives of student newspapers all over Britain to come to Millbank tower to be briefed about Labour's view on paying for the future of higher education. There was much discussion about how Labour in office would deal with the aftermath of Dearing.

In the presence of the Minister for the millennium dome, Mr. Nick Pearce, who was then Bryan Davies's research policy adviser on higher education, speaking with the authority of the Labour party, said to the assembled student journalists: On Dearing and tuition fees? Our proposals only relate to maintenance support… The public purse should support tuition fees, and the individual—in a fair and much more progressive fashion—should repay the maintenance costs. In other words, he made it crystal clear at that official briefing that the Government did not intend to introduce tuition fees.

Ms Hodge

That is not so.

Mr. Dorrell

I shall read it again as the hon. Lady appears to have missed it. He said: Our proposals only relate to maintenance support". The Government are wrong, but that is what the spokesman told that gathering of student journalists on 11 March last year. Of course, that confirms what we all know to be true, which is that, ahead of the election, Labour had decided to abolish the maintenance grant. Now, the Government like to claim that the passage in the manifesto made that explicit and clear, but it was carefully drafted to obscure the Labour party's policy.

Ahead of the election, the Labour party had decided to abolish the maintenance grant and so the Secretary of State was embarrassed last July because the policy that he had espoused ahead of the election was blown out of the water by Dearing. Dearing's policy was to abolish the maintenance grant and leave tuition fees alone. He had made that clear, as had spokesmen in briefings, to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. They expected Labour's policy to be the abolition of maintenance grant and they expected to leave tuition fees alone.

The Secretary of State finds himself in the mess that he is in because Lord Dearing realised when he analysed that policy prescription that it simply did not fly. The Secretary of State's policy was blown out of the water before it was announced.

Mr. Blunkett

I shall make the position explicitly clear. We said all along that we would await the outcome of the Dearing inquiry. On numerous occasions, I said both publicly and in the House that I was waiting to be persuaded. The manifesto was unequivocal. I shall repeat what it states on page 9: The costs of student maintenance should be repaid by graduates on an income-related basis". You cannot get clearer than that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Dorrell

The manifesto was silent on how much of their maintenance costs the Labour party expected students to pay. It is not an accident, of course, that the manifesto was silent on the subject. If it were Labour's policy to abolish the maintenance grant, plain words were available to Labour spokesmen that could have made that clear to students, but the Labour party did not make it clear. It said that it would change the basis on which student maintenance costs were recovered when the student was working. It did not make clear how much of student maintenance costs students would be expected to pay under the present proposals.

Miss Melanie Johnson (Welwyn Hatfield)

Millions of people will be interested in this debate. If they have been listening to the right hon. Gentleman's contribution, they must be mystified about where his arguments are coming from. What is wrong with the proposals that have been put forward and how would the Opposition tackle the problems—problems that we were left because of the previous Government's proud record of expansion, which has the same quality as their record of expansion in primary schools? They put more children into primary school with the same amount of money in larger classes and they say that it is a proud record of expansion of the primary sector. Let us hear the arguments about tackling the issues that people outside need—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady has gone over the score.

Mr. Dorrell

I should be happy to present the arguments. They were those that Lord Dearing used to blow the Secretary of State's intended policy out of the water before it was announced.

Lord Dearing expected to recommend the abolition of maintenance grant. The key fact of the Dearing review is that, when its members analysed that policy option, the report makes their conclusion clear. Paragraph 66 makes clear what is wrong with the Secretary of State's policy, stating: Making a decision on a preferred option involves judgment about the relative weight to be given to the various criteria… It also requires a careful scrutiny of the evidence. In going through that process we all changed and developed our views: we did not end up where we started. The review committee did not end up where it started or where the Secretary of State finished up—with a predisposition to abolish the maintenance grant.

It is important to understand why the Dearing review rejected the Secretary of State's policy prescription. It recognised that the evidence shows that, if one tries to pay for the continued expansion of higher education by abolishing the maintenance grant, one loads the full burden of that policy on students from a low-income background. If one abolished the maintenance grant today, the well-off student would have to pay no more as he or she never got a grant. Students from low-income backgrounds receive means-tested maintenance support under the present system. A policy of abolishing such support will result in students from low-income backgrounds contributing, exclusively, to the cost of expanding the higher education system.

Lord Dearing recognised that it is perverse to raise money to pay for the expansion of higher education exclusively from students from low-income backgrounds. That is why he rejected the proposals to abolish the maintenance grant and for means-tested fees and why he instead recommended a blanket fee payable by all students from whatever background, supported by a loan so that the student would pay back the fee out of his or her enhanced earnings. That is where the Secretary of State is right and I agree with him on that—the student goes through higher education and receives enhanced earning potential as a result and so should be expected to contribute towards the cost of that education from the later enhanced earnings.

Where the Secretary of State is wrong is in withdrawing the targeted assistance to look after the maintenance costs of students from low-income backgrounds. That is where he rejected the central finding of Dearing—Dearing was right and the Secretary of State is wrong.

Ms Abbott

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is precisely because of the Dearing recommendation that some of us have difficulties with the proposal to abolish the maintenance grant? Jeer as my hon. Friends may, it is not common sense to say that we shall encourage black and working-class students to go on to higher education by loading them down with additional debt.

Mr. Dorrell

I am not sure whether I shall embarrass the hon. Lady by saying this, but I totally agree with her on that point. The question that she put to—

Ms Hodge

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dorrell

No, I am going to answer the hon. Lady's hon. Friend first. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) asked the Secretary of State how one would enhance the potential for a low-income student going to university by increasing his or her debt. That is the question which he did not answer and there is no answer, as Lord Dearing found. When considering the options for funding the expansion of higher education, the most powerful weapon open to us to make access more equitable is targeted assistance to deal with maintenance for students from a low-income background.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Dorrell

I am spoilt for choice. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster).

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

As the right hon. Gentleman is interested in documents that remain silent, and as his reasoned amendment is silent on the matter, will he confirm that it is his policy and that of the Conservative party to impose a £1,000 tuition fee on all students, as Dearing recommended? Therefore, will he confirm that, even if the present system remained exactly as it was in relation to maintenance, his party's proposals would increase the levels of debt of all students, including the least well-off?

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman is right. That is the difference between the position of the Liberal Democrats and that of the Conservative Opposition. It is easy to defend our position. The argument for seeking a contribution from students is that they will benefit from enhanced earnings in later life, but all students will receive the same level of enhancement and all should be expected to make the same contribution out of their later enhanced earnings. The problem is about equitable access for students from low-income backgrounds. That is a classic case of a public policy objective that can best be delivered by targeted assistance. That is what means-tested maintenance support is.

The Prime Minister loves to say that, under the Secretary of State's proposals, students from low-income backgrounds will pay no fees. That is true, but people who can win places in higher education institutions can work out that they would be better off paying £3,000 of fees, as Lord Dearing recommended, than paying £5,265 of maintenance, as the Secretary of State recommends. The calculation is straightforward. Students do not have get past GCSE to work it out.

Ms Hodge

As I understand it—it is slightly difficult—the right hon. Gentleman would reintroduce full grants instead of a mixture of grants and loans for students. The cost in the first and second year would be about £500 million. Would he fund that by cuts elsewhere in the education budget or by increased income tax?

Mr. Dorrell

It is easy to suggest that I am espousing a policy and then say that it has an impossible cost. I have made it crystal clear that I am in favour of the student finance proposals tabled by Lord Dearing, which do not impose public spending costs of £500 million. Lord Dearing recommends that all students should pay a £1,000 tuition fee, as the hon. Member for Bath said, supported by a loan, and that those who currently have half their maintenance cost financed through the maintenance grant should continue to receive that level of support. The arguments that persuaded Lord Dearing are wholly persuasive. The key problem for the Secretary of State, and our regret about the way in which the Government have handled the issue, is that he did not give himself time to reflect on Lord Dearing's advice.

Mr. Dawson

The right hon. Gentleman rightly recognised that the crucial problem of further and higher education is getting more funding. Surely his proposals would allow less funding than would the Government's. Would that not give universities a licence to charge their own fees? Is he not letting down the whole further and higher education sector?

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said in reply to the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). Lord Dearing's report sets out the figures on which his recommendation was based and makes it clear that raising a tuition fee from all students, to be met out of enhanced earnings, would allow substantial new resources to flow into the higher education sector.

Last summer, the Government were left high and dry. Their anticipated policy was to pay no grant and levy no fee. Lord Dearing made that impossible by recommending that we keep the present loan and grant mix for maintenance and introduce tuition fees. The Government's problem was that they did not allow enough time to consider the recommendations. Within hours, the Secretary of State was at the Dispatch Box announcing his conclusion: that we should go ahead with a proposal that would abolish the maintenance grant, make less well-off students £5,265 worse off at the end of a three-year degree course and introduce fees that make better-off students £3,000 worse off. One does not need to have won a place in higher education to work out that his package is perverse because it loads the cost of expansion of higher education on to students and families from low-income backgrounds.

In their haste, the Government also got into a series of unnecessary policy confusions. First, there was the fiasco of gap-year students, where they had three policies in 10 days, and Baroness Blackstone, in announcing the third policy, sought to persuade the world that it was a planned development through three rapid-fire phases.

We had the problem of English, Welsh and Northern Irish students going to Scottish universities. It is plainly absurd that a student from the Mezzogiorno or Lapland can get into a Scottish university on terms not available to students from England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dorrell

I shall give way happily; I look forward with keen anticipation to the hon. Gentleman defending that.

Dr. Iddon

I am interested in the fiascos that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. What did he think about the fiasco of top-up fees? Does he support them or not?

Mr. Dorrell

Lord Dearing set out the terms under which, in some circumstances, he thinks that fee flexibility should be allowed to institutions. That is a proper basis for proceeding on the issue.

The Secretary of State did not resolve the question of English, Welsh and Northern Irish students in Scottish universities. That is an issue not merely for individual students but for many institutions in Scotland. In Edinburgh, 48 per cent. of students come from outside Scotland; in St. Andrews, 45 per cent.; and in Dundee, 36 per cent. He simply did not address the effect of the Government's policy on the long-term viability of those institutions.

The Government face such anomalies only because they have bungled the central question of financing higher education. There should be no room for doubt about where the Government's policy is going. In truth, it has two legs. They are committed to reducing Government expenditure on higher education. The leaked memorandum published in The Times Higher Education Supplement makes it crystal clear that the effect of the policy is to raise £150 million in the first year out of tuition fees and to spend £125 million of that in higher education. The Government plan to cut taxpayer supported spending on higher education. That is the first leg of their policy.

Mr. Blunkett


Mr. Dorrell

In that case, the Secretary of State should come to the Dispatch Box to say that Government spending on higher education next year will be enhanced as a result of the introduction of tuition fees.

Mr. Blunkett

I am happy to confirm that we shall spend £165 million: £125 million direct to the institutions and £40 million in enhanced hardship payments and other measures, including the facility for part-timers that I mentioned in my speech. That is £165 million over and above what the previous Government were prepared to commit, plus £100 million for further education over and above what the previous Government were going to commit. That is the answer to the challenge that the right hon. Gentleman gave me on 23 July, when he suggested that there would be no more money.

Mr. Dorrell

The £165 million has always been presented by the Government as money for higher and further education. If they are now announcing that the whole £165 million is going into higher education, it is a change in their announced position.

Mr. Don Foster

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is understood that the extra £165 million that is going into our universities, which is welcome, comes largely from restructuring the way in which student grants, loans and fees are paid? He asked the Secretary of State a fair question. How much money from the introduction of student fees will go to universities next year? Many of us would like an answer to that.

Mr. Dorrell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and I agree with him. Of course, we have not yet received an answer to that question.

The Government's policy is to cut taxpayer funding to universities and—perhaps more importantly—to load the effect of that disproportionately on to low-income families. We heard the Secretary of State deny that there has been an effect on access. He glossed over the effect on access for mature students, but the number of mature students aged 21 to 24 has fallen this year by 13 per cent. and those aged 25 and over by 18 per cent.—so much for the Secretary of State's commitment to lifelong learning. That is the Blunkett effect, and if the Secretary of State is not ashamed of it, he ought to be.

The Secretary of State spoke earlier about his desire for students from a low-income backgrounds to have a better life chance and a better opportunity to get into higher education. In reality, his policy is disproportionately to load the costs on to those students, to throw over the Dearing analysis and recommendations and to promote a Bill that would make low-income students worse off. That is why we shall try to sustain the amendments that were supported in the other place, which would make this a better Bill than the Secretary of State wants it to be.

5.30 pm
Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

Many hon. Members want to speak in the debate, so I shall confine my remarks to commenting on the proposals relating to student finance. That is not to undervalue some of the other important and good proposals and initiatives contained in the Bill, such as the general teaching council and the new compulsory qualification for head teachers, but I wish to focus on the subject that has aroused the greatest controversy.

I have rarely heard so much woolly thinking, so many double standards and so much humbug as has been expressed in the past few months on this issue. For the Conservatives suddenly to pretend that they are defending the interests of poor people by retaining grants is laughable. A party that was responsible for creating greater division between rich and poor than there has been at any time for the past 100 years lacks all credibility when its members suddenly don new clothes. Their claim to be protecting the poor rings hollow and their response to the Government's proposals is more about shallow oppositionism than about responsible opposition. It is an attitude which I traditionally associate with the militants, whose defining characteristic was that they wanted to remain in permanent opposition.

To hear the Liberal Democrats parade a determination never to take any tough decisions on education spending shows their essential weakness.

Mr. Willis

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Hodge

I have not delivered my good line on the Liberal Democrats, so I shall not give way just yet. I am astounded by the infinite elasticity of the 1p on income tax and it reminds me of nothing so much as my teenage daughters' propensity to spend, respend and then reclaim their monthly allowance.

Mr. Willis

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. As I have not yet had the opportunity to speak on the Liberal Democrats' policies this afternoon, she is ahead of me. However, I can tell her that the tough decision on higher education funding is to increase direct taxation and to increase the level of state input. That is not an easy option; it is a very hard option.

Ms Hodge

The problem with that point is that the Liberal Democrats said in their manifesto that they would put 1p on income tax, whereas we have already committed more than that to our proposals to improve standards in schools.

To those few Labour Members who are worried about the Government's proposals, I say that defending the status quo on student funding does little to defend the interests of working-class young people. It does nothing to improve their access to higher education and its value in redistributing power and wealth is questionable.

Mr. Corbyn

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ms Hodge

I am very conscious that others want to speak, but I shall give way.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend will be familiar with the fact that my constituency contains the head office of the National Union of Students and the university of North London. Both organisations are concerned about the drop in student applications for the forthcoming year, the increasing hardship created by the loan system and the deterrent effect of the fee system, especially on mature students. Is my hon. Friend unaware that the vice-chancellor of the university of North London is strongly against the proposals, because he wants to protect an excellent institution, which is trying to promote mature student work?

Ms Hodge

First, the National Union of Students supports our policy on replacing maintenance grants with loans and, secondly, my hon. Friend should relate his comments to the facts, which are that there has not been a drop in applications among those who are most likely to be members of the NUS.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Ms Hodge

I will not, simply because of time.

Our starting point has to be that the status quo is not an option. When I went to university, 5 per cent.—one in 20—of my generation enjoyed that privilege; today, 30 per cent.—one in three—get a degree. That is a welcome change and it is a policy area on which the Conservative record is half good—half good because the Conservative Government allowed the expansion to occur—but half bad because they did not fund that expansion properly. From 1989–90 onwards, the number of students doubled, but the money available to universities increased by only 40 per cent., so funding per student was cut by 25 per cent. The real value of grants to students was also cut when the system of loans was introduced, which is what created student poverty: too little money, with repayment terms that were far too harsh.

The Conservatives' system of student finance hit the poorest students hardest, and for Conservative Members to argue in the Chamber today that it did not is sheer hypocrisy. The Conservative Government were not willing to put more money into higher education, so they capped student numbers. The party now pretending to protect the sector acted to destroy that sector when in government. The party pretending to defend the interests of poor students attacked those poor students when in government. The Conservatives cut grants and brought in loans, they cut per capita funding and they capped student numbers. That is the miserable legacy—the status quo—that we inherited and we had to do something.

We could have simply put a great deal more money into the system, as the Liberal Democrats urge. To return us to the system that I enjoyed in 1979 would involve at least 2p on income tax. In the language of priorities, do hon. Members honestly believe that that would have been a bold and proper course of action? I think not. We want to ensure greater equality of opportunity in education for all our young people—for the many not the few. It is scandalous that, at present, two thirds of those who enjoy higher education come from the top two socio-economic groupings, whereas only one in 10 come from a background where their parents are either unskilled or semi-skilled.

What is stopping working-class children from accessing higher education is not the cost to them of that education. What is stopping them is that they are not obtaining the appropriate qualifications and skills. There are fewer working-class people with basic skills, fewer with five GCSEs grade A to C, and fewer with level 3 qualifications in GNVQs or A-levels. I know that all too well from my own constituency.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

I was interested to hear my hon. Friend's comments on the reasons why people from lower socio-economic groups do not go to university. Does she agree that the crucial issue is expectations among families of those groups and that if we can raise those expectations, we can raise the number of people from lower socio-economic groups who go on to higher education?

Ms Hodge

I entirely agree with that. That is a crucial issue for me in my constituency.

If we are concerned with equality—

Mr. Llew Smith


Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Dorrell


Ms Hodge

May I finish the point?

If we are concerned with equality, we must prioritise investment so that it makes the greatest difference—by focusing it on working-class children, mainly in schools and mainly at primary level. Yet how do we currently spend public money? We divide the education cake as follows. In higher education, we spend £6,000 of public money per student per annum; in further education, we spend about £2,000 per student per annum; and in schools, we spend about £2,000 per child per annum. The bold way forward, to ensure greater equality, is to redistribute that public cake; the Bill contains the first steps toward that redistribution.

Mr. Dorrell

As the hon. Lady does not seem to want to give way to her hon. Friends, I shall ask a question that may have been occurring to them. She says that the problem of access for students from a low-income background is that they tend to have worse A-level qualifications than their better-off counterparts. Perhaps, then, she will comment on the table in Lord Dearing's report which shows that, of students with identical A-level qualifications, those from a better-off background are almost twice as likely to get into higher education as those from a worse-off background. A-level qualifications are not the only issue; there are other problems of equitable access for those from a low-income background.

Ms Hodge

I invite the right hon. Gentleman to join me in my constituency. If he were so to do, he would see that not qualifications alone, but expectations matter. If we can resolve that, we shall do an enormous amount to improve—

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Hodge

I want to get on, so that other people have a chance to participate.

I was speaking about the way in which we cut the cake. If one compares our expenditure on higher education with that of other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development league, our current expenditure profile becomes even more questionable. We spend $15,000 per student per annum on students in higher education. The Americans spend about $11,800 and the French and Germans $6,000. Yet more than 20 per cent. of British young people do not progress past level 1, whereas in Germany, only 14 per cent. are of that level, and in Sweden, 8 per cent.

Therefore, asking students to contribute toward the costs of providing their higher education and thus reducing the public spending burden will, over time, release resources to redistribute to those in greatest educational need. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we are asking students to pay only when they can afford to. If a student becomes a mother and does not work, she will not have to pay. Students will pay only on an income-contingent basis.

As we have said previously in the Chamber, under the system that we have inherited, if one earns £17,000 per annum, one is expected to pay £30 a week. Under the new system proposed by the Government, that amount will reduce to £12 a week. We all know, as do young people, that their job opportunities and earning power are enhanced by graduating. Unemployment is halved, and figures given to me by the Library show that a graduate earns, on average, £457 a week, whereas a non-graduate earns £237 a week.

Mr. Llew Smith

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ms Hodge

I am coming to the issue that concerns my hon. Friend.

Will people from poor backgrounds be put off from applying by the new system? I draw attention to the fact that there never has been such a thing as free education for all young people over the age of 18. Such education is free if one passes straight from school to university, but what about the 2.8 million people in further education? Anyone aged over 19 in further education is expected to pay fees. Discretionary awards for grants have more or less disappeared. There are 328,000 part-timers—mostly poorer people, often women—who do not get their fees paid. Open university students do not get their fees paid.

Therefore, we have a system that funds the best-off—regressive privilege, not the progressive redistribution that we all seek. We then fund the best with the greatest amounts by giving more money to Oxford and Cambridge than we do to other universities.

Will poorer students be put off? Ironically, the evidence from the previous Government's term of office demonstrates that the answer is no. Between 1991 and 1995, when the system of funding was changed and we had a mixture of loans and grants, with the crippling debt that that caused, the number of working-class students doubled.

Mr. Llew Smith


Ms Hodge

The number doubled—albeit to only 1 in 10. If those who opposed the introduction of loans and fees had been right, we would have witnessed a decline. I give way to my hon. Friend.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Llew Smith

May I warn my hon. Friend about the dangers of only part-quoting my predecessor, Aneurin Bevan, when she speaks the language of priorities? Perhaps she will return to the House at a later date and fill us in with the other part of the quotation.

My hon. Friend says that there is no evidence to show that the new system of student finance will affect the number of people applying for courses. That certainly is not so in the case of mature students; all the statistics that I have seen show that the number of mature students applying for courses is decreasing dramatically. That is understandable, because they have a shorter time in employment in which to recoup the money.

Ms Hodge

I am sorry if my hon. Friend does not understand the situation. The real figures that are relevant at this point in the calendar are those from people who apply straight from school, and they have not changed. Mature students, on the whole, tend to apply later, and we shall see the impact of the changes only at the start of the academic year. [Laughter.] That may be laughable, but it is a fact.

I further say to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) that, in my surgery, the poverty that I see among those who are trying to improve their educational standards and qualifications is among those in further education, who are unemployed, and we should be trying to help those people, far more than those who, so far, remain among the more privileged class who access higher education. If we have—

Dr. Lynne Jones

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ms Hodge

No; I am drawing to a close.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There are at least two Members who keep interrupting the hon. Lady from a sedentary position, and really it is extremely unfair. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) is guilty of that. She should be quiet in the Chamber.

Ms Hodge

I am drawing my contribution to a close. With the Government's proposals, we shall have an income-contingent system; that is better for working-class young people. We shall have a system that enables us to put money into improving access; that is better for working-class young people. We shall have a system that subsidises fees just for the poor; that is better for working-class children. We shall have a system that stops the introduction of top-up fees; that is better for working-class children. We shall have a system that enables us to lift the cap on student numbers; that is better for working-class children. We shall have a system that will protect the quality of higher education; that, too, is better for working-class young people.

The proposals in the Bill are fair, brave and much needed. Without them, the opportunities that higher education brings will be denied to thousands. The Tories ducked the issues for many years, but, in less than one year, my right hon. and hon. Friends have created a system of student finance that will start to meet the needs of both students and universities. It will create opportunity for the many, not deny it. It will alleviate poverty, not entrench it. It is progressive, not regressive, and I urge all hon. Members in the House to support it.

5.48 pm
Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

I welcome the most important feature of the Bill—the introduction of a tuition fee paid by full-time students in higher education—but the details of the scheme, and the way in which the Government intend to implement it, are so ill-conceived that I shall be unable to vote for the Bill as a whole.

I welcome the introduction of the tuition fee, for two reasons. First, it builds on the introduction in 1989, in which I had a hand, of student loans for maintenance which were a further, desirable step toward rationality and equity in the use of taxpayer's money—an issue which, to pick up a remark by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), the previous Government did not duck.

No one doubts that higher education is important for the country's economy. Because wholly privately funded higher education might result in lower levels of participation than is desirable for the economy, there is a strong case for using public expenditure to bring about an economically desirable level of participation. No one doubts either that higher education can provide important ladders of opportunity for able people from less-privileged backgrounds. That again justifies the use of taxpayers' money. However, it does so—this appears to be the gravamen of the argument of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and her associates—only if public expenditure can be shown to be achieving what it is designed to achieve in the shape of enhanced social promotion.

The reality of higher education since 1962, when it was made free to all full-time students and the student grant was introduced, has been simply to spread higher education from a minority of the middle class to almost the whole of the middle class. The vast majority of students in higher education still come from middle-class homes and, after graduation, nearly all of them join the middle class. The hon. Member for Barking is absolutely right about that.

The average taxpayer is significantly worse off than the average graduate and the average family from which students in higher education come. Vast amounts have been spent on social promotion without achieving the desired objective. Over the nearly 40 years of so-called "free" higher education, the net effect has been a significant negative fiscal transfer from the less well-off to the better-off. Student loans and tuition fees are two successive and desirable steps towards addressing that imbalance.

I add that that fact points to a wider moral about the large-scale welfare reforms that the Government say that they intend to undertake. The Government seem to recognise—as we did when we occupied the Treasury Bench—that there is a limit to the proportion of national product that can be collected in taxation and spent as public expenditure. We are arguably at that limit already. If that point is accepted—and the leaks from tomorrow's Budget suggest that it has been—we are obliged to think rigorously about how to use most effectively the limited amount of taxpayers' money that we are able to spend. There must be more targeting, and that inevitably implies a shift of resources from those who are in a position to help themselves to those who are not. In that exercise, higher education is an obvious place to start.

I remember vividly putting all those points when I took the Education (Student Loans) Act 1990 through the House. Some hon. Members who have spoken today do not remember that. I recall the passionate opposition that the legislation met from Labour Members, including the Home Secretary who was then the shadow education spokesman. I remember also a private conversation that I had with the late John Smith, the then shadow Chancellor. I remarked to him that student grants, as part of the middle-class welfare state, were no longer sustainable, and I remember how he insisted that this and every other feature of the middle-class welfare state should be preserved. That attitude to public spending and taxation lost Labour the 1992 general election. However, as I contemplate—not without some wry amusement—the shift in Labour's position since those days, I must admit that there has been some progress.

My second reason for supporting the principle of introducing tuition fees is that I believe it is a significant step towards greater autonomy for universities. We shall not hear very much about that issue in this debate—we certainly have not heard anything about it so far—but, until quite recently, university autonomy was a key bipartisan principle, underpinned by an array of constitutional devices designed to provide buffers and to ensure an arm's length relationship between Government and the universities.

The reality is that, regrettably, under the previous Government—and the present Government show every sign of continuing in the same way—universities were treated not as the independent private bodies that they are in law, but as departments of the state and agencies of the Government. State agencies set targets and limits for student numbers in each institution; there is even talk of quotas for certain kinds of students. In the name of quality control, there is increasing intervention by Government-appointed bodies in every sphere of university life.

Behind the constitutional facade of the Higher Education Funding Council for England—the successor body to the University Grants Committee—we find the collapse of university autonomy. That has brought about a decline in the sense of self-responsibility among academics, which has already led to a widespread decline in their morale. As intellectual achievement in our universities is dependent on the sense of self-worth of individuals and institutions of learning, that, in turn, is leading to an impoverishment of the academic and intellectual life of our universities. Those are powerful arguments for preserving and enhancing university autonomy. However, there is another—I think more immediately appealing—argument to which I shall return later in my speech.

Meanwhile, constitutional devices are clearly inadequate to secure the autonomy of universities. That can be achieved only by enabling the universities to derive a significant share of their income from sources independent of the Government. One of the previous Government's best achievements was that they encouraged universities to increase their private income. However, university income from research contracts with the private sector and from overseas students must be supplemented by a regular flow of income from home students to give our universities the flexibility and the sense of self-responsibility that they need to do their work properly. This Bill offers the welcome possibility of such a flow of funds from students, and thus it is very welcome.

However, as always, the devil is in the detail. I pass over the question of how the British taxpayer will be reassured about the way in which the parents of an increasing number of students from the European Union will disclose details of their income to British authorities. I shall simply stress two very important points of detail. First, in introducing the tuition fee, the Bill proposes a new and significant restriction on university autonomy. It will not be compulsory by law to charge the fee—that has been made clear already—but there will be a legal provision preventing universities from charging tuition fees in excess of £1,000. We should remember that universities are, in law, private institutions, so the Bill contains a quite unjustified restriction on their freedom. I do not agree with any suggestion—whether from the Secretary of State, who referred to the matter in his speech, or from my party, which hints at it in the amendment—that that restriction should be strengthened further.

A second important point of detail is that the tuition fee will not be paid by students from families whose gross family income is below £23,000 a year. As the proportion of such students at different universities will vary considerably, the Government have found it necessary to ensure that there is an equalisation mechanism, which, in turn, involves the consequence that the tuition fee will be paid into a common pool. Therefore, it becomes simply another tax, enabling—or not, as the case may be—a higher level of public expenditure on higher education. This means that the Bill, in effect, denies the very real potential of tuition fees to promote university autonomy.

Why is that exemption being made? It will lead to a significant loss of this new resource to support higher education. The exemption will apply, in part or in whole, to some 60 per cent. of all students, and it will have the damaging effect on university autonomy that I have described. What powerful reason motivates that policy? The Government believe that free access to higher education for students from less well-off families is necessary to secure social promotion, or what is known as "access". The intention is, of course, admirable—and I dare say that we all support it—but I must tell the Government that the manner in which they are seeking to give effect to that intention is mistaken.

For one thing, what matters to potential students with access to a loan is their future income after graduation, rather than their parental income. For another, we have been following the self-same policy since 1962 and the empirical evidence suggests that it simply does not work. That came out clearly from what the Secretary of State said about the five constituencies with very low participation rates.

We had free higher education and student grants for more than 30 years, with almost nugatory effects on increasing the participation of students from less well-off backgrounds. That experience should give us cause for thought about whether making higher education free to students from poor families is an effective way in which to secure their participation in higher education.

I said that I would come back to a further argument for enhancing university autonomy. The argument is this: autonomous universities operating responsively in an open market for higher education will be better at securing access and social promotion than universities operating in a system of state planning.

We have only to look at the contrast between the experience of the United States and the experience of all European countries, including Britain, to see this. The Americans have consistently achieved higher levels of participation in higher education of students from underprivileged backgrounds than we have in Europe, in spite of the almost universal existence in the US of fee paying, in both state and private universities. In Europe, where higher education has for several decades almost universally been free at the point of delivery, there has been relatively less social promotion.

Ms Abbott

I have listened with care to the hon. Gentleman, who at least has a consistent record of supporting the student loan system. Is he not aware that in comparing the European system with the United States system, he is not comparing like with like? Just recently, the US has been lamenting the low overall standards in its education system.

Mr. Jackson

I believe that I am comparing like with like. One of the issues that we must consider is whether it will be possible to maintain a system of uniform quality that will also be a mass system. One of the advantages of the American system is that there is a great variety in the quality, level and types of higher education. That is an important part of the process of maintaining access and developing participation in higher education. People can move through different levels of institution. That is an important point, but not central to this debate.

The reason for the difference between the European countries and the US in this respect is that the crucial factors in the accessibility of higher education are not so much to do with price as with the size of the system and the range of its types of provision. That is the critical point. Because the Americans have autonomous universities operating in a market system, they have long since expanded higher education on a larger scale than we ever did under state planning, and their institutions have had much greater incentives to develop the kind of courses that are readily accessible to the less well off—part-time students, night class students and mature students.

Dr. Lynne Jones

Does the hon. Gentleman have any information on working-class participation in the ivy league universities in the United States?

Mr. Jackson

I cannot quote any figures off the top of my head, but when I was Minister for Higher Education, I went to Stanford, where I spoke to the student admissions people. It emerged clearly that despite fees of £9,000 a year, there was significantly higher participation from underprivileged backgrounds than we had at Oxford and Cambridge under a system of free entrance.

The increase in access that we have seen in our system since 1989—one of the proud achievements of the previous Government—came about essentially because we moved, just for a time, in the direction of the American system, by shifting the state support for higher education from institutional block grants to fees paid by the state on behalf of students. I was partly responsible for that change. That gave our universities for the first time, and unfortunately only for a limited time, the incentive to recruit more students and to develop forms of provision that went wider than the traditional staple of full-time courses for young people in the 18 to 22 age bracket.

University autonomy, backed up by a flow of fees from all students, paid directly to each university, with the level of fees being determined by each university in competition with one another, is not only desirable in the interests of the constitutional independence of universities, the self-responsibility and morale of their staff, and their intellectual quality, but is also necessary to achieve our aims of greater social promotion.

Access is not primarily a problem in respect of young school leavers. The proportion of young people from poorer backgrounds who get A-levels and go to university has, for many years, been quite close to the proportion of young people from better-off families going to university with the same qualifications. Access for the less well-off will be improved not by subsidies to full-time young students but, above all, by improving academic standards in the state schools, especially in the constituencies that were mentioned, and by shifting resources to provide more help for part-time and mature students. In this connection, the Government's White Paper on lifelong learning is a great disappointment, especially when it is seen against the background of the continuing obsession with the interests of full-time students, which is reflected in the Bill.

The nationalisation of the university system, which is what has occurred, has given rise inevitably to many of the bad effects that we used to see in the old nationalised industries. The worst of those effects was excessive politicisation. We have built up a huge political vested interest among the middle classes in free or very cheap higher education for their children. That political fact weighs on us all on both sides of the House, as politicians and also as private individuals with our own children.

The ultimate way out is for us to denationalise universities and to restore their status as private bodies operating in an open market, with the access of students of all kinds facilitated and enabled by the state. The introduction of tuition fees marks a potentially important step in that direction. I only wish that the Government had taken it with a greater sense of direction.

6.6 pm

Jacqui Smith (Redditch)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your kindness in not expecting me to jump up and down too much. I can reassure you that it should be about nine weeks before you need to consider bringing towels and hot water with you into the Chamber.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the third education Bill introduced by the Government since last May. No one can doubt the commitment of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to ensuring the priority of education in Government policy.

Before entering the House, I spent 11 years teaching in Worcestershire. Like the vast majority of teachers, I went into the job because I wanted to impart information to young people and to ensure that they were stretched and developed to the highest standard. Unfortunately, I rarely felt that my work was being encouraged by the then Government, who only half-heartedly supported the state comprehensive schools in which I have always taught. The previous Government at best failed to recognise my professional role, interest and input into issues such as the design and implementation of the national curriculum and assessment, and at worst blamed me and my colleagues for most social ills, from youth crime to the failures of the England cricket team. Presumably, therefore, teachers and the new Government can take some credit for the performances so far in the current test match.

I am keen to concentrate my comments on part I of the Bill, which contains important first steps towards raising the professionalism, standing and skills of teachers, and consequently will have a key role in raising standards for our children. The importance of proposals for a general teaching council, head teacher qualifications and an induction year for newly qualified teachers does not lie only in the effects that they will have on the morale and performance of existing teachers, but relates to teacher recruitment.

In its report on teacher recruitment, the Select Committee on Education and Employment recently highlighted the need for urgent action in that area, following submissions and evidence from a wide range of organisations. The evidence showed that there are significant problems in both the quantity and quality of teacher recruitment at all levels of the profession, from new entrants to applicants for senior management positions. The proposals that are set out in the Bill must, and I believe will, begin to address that major problem for the future of our education system.

The proposals that have been suggested for a general teaching council have a long and distinguished pedigree. The report of the GTC, England and Wales—an alliance of many organisations supporting the establishment of a statutory GTC—claims that the first moves were made over 130 years ago. As the report states, the Education Act 1899 provided for setting up a register of teachers. The Board of Education Act 1901 laid upon the board the duty to establish a teachers registration council. Interestingly enough, civil servants produced divisive legislative proposals that could not survive. I am sure that that will not happen now.

Those events have been followed by a series of false starts in the establishment of a general teaching council. Obviously, there are still discussions to be had about the finer points of responsibility and structure. However, I believe that, after 130 years, the new Labour Government should be congratulated on so quickly implementing the Labour party's manifesto commitments in this area. It is clear that we now have a Government who make things happen.

My particular concern is how the GTC can promote professionalism, recruitment and retention. I believe that it should and will have a role in several areas. First, it is clear that we need to improve the image of teaching. The Select Committee's evidence shows that teaching is no longer seen as a prestigious job. In its submission to the Committee, the National Union of Teachers highlighted a worrying aspect when it stated: A measure of the seriousness of the current problems in recruitment and retention, is the fact that few teachers themselves would now suggest becoming a teacher to their pupils, or their own family or friends. During my teaching career, I always tried to encourage my brightest and best students to consider teaching. However, as I also encouraged them to become actively involved in politics of all colours and to consider standing for office, I suppose that I could be seen by some as an unreliable source of advice. I hope that we shall soon return to the time when teachers feel confident about recommending to their students that they should undertake teaching as a career.

Mr. Don Foster

I hope that the hon. Lady will understand that I support her argument that we need to give greater professional status to those in teaching. Does she believe that that venture was helped by the Government's decision to phase teachers' pay awards, so that teachers this year will receive an award at less than the rate of inflation?

Jacqui Smith

Teachers clearly understand—this is what I said to my colleagues during the run-up to the general election—that there are priorities in education. However, the Labour party made it clear in its manifesto that there is a need to maintain spending targets. Teachers understand that and recognise that it is not possible in nine months to undo the damage that was done during 18 years of Conservative government.

I am glad that the Government are already acting to improve the image of teachers. I was fortunate to have a night off recently, and I went to the cinema. I there saw an advertisement that included my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend and a variety of other famous people talked about their best teachers. I understand that the advertisement is to be extended to television. I welcome it as a good effort in starting to raise the image of teachers, but there is far more to be done. The GTC must take seriously its role in promoting the image of teaching.

When it comes to work load, teachers expect to work hard, and do so. However, with the increasing range of responsibilities in the education system, it is crucial that they work smart. Spending public money on training and employing professional teachers and then expecting them to spend their time photocopying, completing forms and child minding is a waste of financial and human resources.

I welcome the fact that the Department has already started to examine bureaucracy in teaching. There could be a further task for the GTC, in promoting consideration of the role of the teacher in an increasingly challenging and complex system. For example, the GTC should have something to say about the key tasks of teachers and what could more efficiently be delegated to support staff.

The status and image of teaching are linked to the quality of those entering the profession. During my time in the profession, teaching sixth formers, I was concerned that standards of entry to teacher education appeared to be lowered. The Select Committee report highlighted that, especially in the area of shortage-subject trainees. I can understand that the short-term response to a shortage of trainees in maths or science, for example, may be to reduce entry requirements, but that can set off a vicious circle in recruitment.

When sixth formers see teachers with poorer qualifications, it lowers the status of the profession in their eyes and makes them less likely, not more, to consider it for themselves. I know that there is a genuine concern that increasing standards of entry to the profession could exacerbate shortages, but I believe that we must establish a virtuous circle of high expectations, high qualifications and consequently higher status for teachers. The GTC has an important role to play in considering that issue.

The GTC has a role also, when it comes to recruitment, in tackling the under-representation of groups such as ethnic minority communities along with people with disabilities. It is important to ensure that we are recruiting the best and most talented people into teaching, but teachers have a wider impact as role models for their students. An unrepresentative profession will have effects on the achievements of groups that cannot see themselves included with the adults with whom they are most often in contact.

As for the induction year, when I entered the profession, I had the benefit of a probationary year. There were shortcomings in the system, but it was recognised that support and professional development could not suddenly stop when students started work in their first job. Indeed, that is when they need the most help, to build on their strengths and to recognise their weaknesses. The phasing out of the provision from 1989 left induction processes very much to the resources and inclinations of individual schools or local education authorities.

The reality is that while induction is still a sign of good practice in the best schools, standard and delivery differ and lack of status and finance means that it can easily be downgraded. A structured induction year is an important entitlement. It gives confidence to new entrants that a coherent path of career and professional development exists. Therefore, it is a further aid to recruitment and retention.

To be truly effective, there must be clear continuity from the career-entry profile, to be provided by training providers from May. My criticism of the old probationary year is that it often did not incorporate clear objectives for the individual new teacher. The new induction year must have clear criteria and personalised action plans to provide structure. In that way, it can be the first stage of continuing professional development, rather than simply a measure of time served without too many problems.

I hope that the Government will consider in future how the induction procedures can be developed, to provide support for returners to the profession.

Mr. Lansley

To take up the hon. Lady's argument about promoting the status of the teaching profession, would it not be better for the GTC to have powers in relation to such matters as the conduct of teachers and medical fitness to teach rather than merely being an advisory body?

Jacqui Smith

As I said earlier, there are still issues that need to be discussed, but if the general teaching council is to gain the faith of teachers, it needs to be able to develop its own responsibilities over time. That is why I support the proposals in the Bill.

On qualification for headship, the Bill addresses the two areas of most need in terms of professional development—the new entrant and the aspiring head teacher. However, I am sure that the Department for Education and Employment is aware that there is a risk of a gap appearing in the middle. The lack of a coherent professional development programme in the teaching profession is an area which will need some attention.

I welcome the national professional qualification for headship and the work that has already been developed through good schemes such as Headlamp, but the mandatory element is important. It highlights the fact that this should be an entitlement, and it will also bring to the forefront the need for finance to support the training. I particularly welcome the flexibility in the use of the standards fund to support training.

It is not sufficient to wait until people are appointed as heads to train them. There is a clear consensus that the leadership of a school is a key determinant of the standards achieved in it. New heads need to hit the ground running, to ensure that standards are maintained and raised in our schools.

Some have argued that the need to achieve a qualification in advance will restrict the supply of candidates for headship. I disagree. My experience is that it is sometimes those with most potential who lack the confidence to apply. Unfortunately, that particularly relates to women applicants, who are four times less likely in the primary sector, and three times less likely in the secondary sector, than their male colleagues to become heads. The opportunity to undertake training in advance could increase the confidence of applicants and improve both the quality and quantity of supply.

I welcome the Bill's emphasis on improving the professionalism and skills of our teachers. There are still challenges to be faced in the profession and the education system as a whole, but I hope that teachers will recognise the Bill as clear evidence that we now have a Government who recognise and want to promote teachers' professionalism and skills. That can only be good for teachers, children and the education system as a whole.

6.22 pm
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

It is with considerable pleasure that I address the House on the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a pleasure because, as the Liberal Democrat higher education spokesman, this is the first time that I have led for my party from the Front Bench. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Sadly, my pleasure—and that of hon. Members on both sides of the House—is tempered by the knowledge that I shall recommend that Liberal Democrats vote against the Conservatives' reasoned amendment and the Bill, which is disappointing.

The Bill should have been one behind which the whole House could unite. A general teaching council, the restoration of a probationary period for newly qualified teachers, a new inspection regime for teacher training establishments, and the introduction of a professional qualification for heads showed that the Government were intent on raising the quality and esteem of the teaching profession after 18 years of constant attacks on it.

In part III, the proposal to give 16 and 17-year-olds for whom school may have been a less than rewarding experience the right to time off for training showed again that the Government were listening and that they recognised the need to create a genuinely inclusive society. We must not allow failure at school to be an excuse for failure for the rest of people's lives.

The Bill was also expected to herald a new era for higher education. The problems of underfunding, coupled with the need to expand access, especially to those from poorer backgrounds, were to be addressed. Alas, the whole House must be disappointed with many parts of the Bill, even as amended in the other place. Perhaps some would not go as far as Lord Glenamara, who, when addressing their lordships in another place, said: I have been in Parliament for 47 years and this is probably the worst Bill I have ever seen during those years not only in the way it is drawn up but in what it proposes."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 February 1998; Vol. 586, c. 414.] The Secretary of State can take little comfort from a Bill that has been universally criticised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is hoping to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to expand on our concerns about the Government's proposals for a GTC. However, the proposals are an insult to the teaching profession and show that the Government, like their predecessors, simply do not trust the profession to regulate itself. If an attempt is made in Committee to draw back from the amendments that were made in the other place, we shall know for sure that the gesture to introduce a GTC is hollow.

If it is acceptable for lawyers, doctors or dentists to regulate themselves, but not for teachers, the Bill is hollow in every sense. The Secretary of State retains powers over the GTC which, if suggested to the Law Society or the General Medical Council, would cause outrage. The original proposal was to limit the GTC to merely issuing registration cards—a sort of supermarket loyalty card—but, unlike a Sainsbury's card, teachers would be obliged to pay for it and would receive few benefits.

Clause 12 and the requirement for new head teachers to have undergone training for the new head teacher qualification is most welcome, provided that the cost of such training falls on the DFEE.

I was fortunate to be appointed head of two different schools during my 20 years in headship. On neither occasion was training either a requirement or even suggested at appointment. I remember being asked by one interviewer, for my appointment in Leeds, "Do you like caning?" not, "Do you need any training?" It seems that, in the past, heads acquired their skills by a process of metamorphosis.

Even with the huge changes introduced by the previous Government following the Education Reform Act 1988, training was an optional extra for heads rather than a requirement. In 1988, my school budget was £34,000, largely to pay for equipment and consumables. A year later, my budget rose to £3.4 million, and I had responsibility for everything from playing fields to staff contracts. Training consisted of an optional morning at the teacher centre.

The Government are right to insist on training future heads to a high standard, but they must make adequate provision for existing heads to be given access to the same level and quality of training. To do so would enable governing bodies and the Office for Standards in Education to offer real support to existing heads who may need it.

It is part II which is largely unacceptable to the Liberal Democrats. Sadly, the proposals of the Leader of the Opposition and his hon. Friends offer no relief.

That higher education is in crisis is beyond question. The Dearing committee was set up to do three principal things: to resolve the huge funding crisis in higher education caused by the 40 per cent. per student cut in resources over the past 20 years; to resolve the issue of access, particularly for students from largely under-represented groups; and to create a vision for higher education into the next millennium, and its place in a lifelong learning society.

Lord Dearing deserves the congratulations of the House on the work that he and his committee did in examining the future needs of higher education. His elevation to their noble lordships House is well deserved and will give a further boost to quality debate on many topics, not least the future of our education system.

The report may not have resolved all the issues. Indeed, it was never intended to proffer a single solution, but it was an excellent basis for consultation and debate. Many of its 93 recommendations have been welcomed and accepted, most notably the new institute for teaching and learning, but the Government's hasty and ill-considered response on 23 July 1997 was discourteous, to say the least.

It is the proposal to introduce tuition fees for which the report will be remembered, and for which this sad Bill will be condemned. Since 23 July, it has been downhill all the way. The gap year fiasco was followed by the partial retreat on the Scottish university question. We now have the prospect of universities chasing around Europe examining the residual incomes of Spanish wine makers and Sicilian bankers. PGCE students will be exempt from paying fees for their final year if they teach in schools, but they will have to pay if they want to teach in further education. Students will be thrown off courses if they do not pay their fees up front after the first year. Universities, such as the university of Central England, in Birmingham, will offer to pay fees for certain courses to attract students. University places will be offered through bucket shops and will be advertised on teletext with other cut-price offers.

The Liberal Democrats are fundamentally opposed to the introduction of tuition fees for full-time undergraduates. Furthermore, we believe that the principle of free tuition should be extended to all part-time undergraduates, who should also have access to maintenance support through income-contingent loans.

Although our position may not be supported by the Government or by the Tories, it has been clear and consistent throughout. We realise that the 40 per cent. cut in student funding cannot be reversed in its entirety. We also accept that difficult decisions on funding must be taken if higher education is to be expanded, if quality is to be maintained and improved, if students from poorer backgrounds are to be encouraged and if part-time students are to be provided with a better deal.

Students will have to make a larger contribution, but so should the two other beneficiaries: industry and the state. It is unacceptable for the Government and the Conservative party to claim that students are the only people who should pay extra, because they are the main beneficiaries. Everyone benefits from a well-educated society.

We support the Government's proposal to end maintenance grants and replace them with income-contingent loans as the fairest way of securing a greater contribution from students. We applaud the Government's decision to support our proposals for a fair income-contingent loan system. However, if we are to tackle student poverty, we must increase the level of loan by at least 20 per cent. At the moment, far too many students are in poverty and are having to divert from their studies to obtain extra income.

We also applaud the Secretary of State's attempts to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to change the way in which the Government account for the student loan portfolio. If other European Union countries can do that within the rules, so could we. The removal of grants, courageously supported by the National Union of Students, would release approximately £1 billion more into higher education by 2000. However, the NUS, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, individual vice-chancellors, Lord Dearing and, I suspect, the majority of hon. Members would support the imposition of a greater burden on students, be it by the removal of grant or by the imposition of tuition fees, only if the resources raised were ring-fenced and ploughed back into higher education. That could be the only justification for the Government's position and for the view held by the official Opposition.

Lord Dearing made it absolutely clear in his report that his proposal for the introduction of tuition fees was to resolve the funding crisis in higher education, and not to resolve the crisis in further education or in the Government's programme in other areas. The Government have constantly referred to the CVCP for support on tuition fees. Its information for members dated 18 August 1997 said: It would be indefensible to require present and future generations of students to contribute, if there was no direct improvement in the funding position of higher education. Any sums generated by the Government's proposal, even in the short-term, must therefore be reinvested in higher education. That was the basis on which support for the proposals was given.

The Government's proposal is an insult to Lord Dearing, disingenuous to our universities, a betrayal of our students and dishonest to the electorate, for the reasons given by the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell).

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the new vice-chancellor of Kingston university, who has a distinguished career in higher education and is a long-standing supporter of the Labour party, has recently stated his forthright opposition to the proposals for tuition fees? Does my hon. Friend agree that, with students and professionals opposed to tuition fees, it is time that the Government saw the light, withdrew the proposals urgently, and introduced measures based on fairness and the right to free education?

Mr. Willis

I agree with my hon. Friend. Vice-chancellors were lulled into a false sense of security. They thought that money would accrue to them as a result of the introduction of tuition fees, which is why they gave their support. They are now saying, "Listen, we are not getting these fees and we are not being allowed to charge top-up fees. We'll have to cater for more students coming into our universities with ever-decreasing resources." The proposals are clearly unacceptable.

If the Government believe that charging students a fee for tuition costs is necessary to preserve the quality of higher education and allow for expansion, why are they not ring-fencing those resources and giving them to our universities? The Department for Education and Employment said in a memo that the issue is sensitive because the £165 million package for 1998–99 does not allow universities to keep all the funds raised by the new £1,000 fees as extra income. The Government's fine words will not be borne out in practice.

If the Government believe that by means-testing tuition fees they are supporting poor students, why stop at £1,000? I admire the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), and was interested in what he said when he was the Minister responsible for higher education in a previous Conservative Government before he was sacked. He has been consistent. Why not means-test the whole fee and show moral integrity in the redistribution of resources, to help poorer students?

Hon. Members should be aware that, if the measure is agreed—despite the supposed safeguards of votes in both Houses—this is the thin end of the wedge for a student-funded higher education system. As in Australia, once the taboo of charging fees has been overcome, it will be allowed to rip. This year, six universities in Australia are charging £8,000 for tuition fees. The original proposal was for students to be charged 20 per cent. of average costs, but now six universities charge 100 per cent. The Australians are revisiting the issue, and have established a Dearing-like commission to consider funding.

At least we now know that the Government's proposal to charge students has nothing to do with raising standards, improving access or increasing the number of places. It is a means of releasing resources for other parts of the education system, although there is no guarantee that the Chancellor will not use the new tax for other purposes. It is ironic that Sir Keith Joseph could not persuade a right-wing Thatcher Government to agree to these proposals in 1984, whereas 15 years later the new Labour Government relish introducing them in their first year of office.

We should not take pious lectures from the Leader of the Opposition in his amendment. The present crisis in higher education is down to the Tory cuts of the past 20 years. The reason why so many students from poorer homes have been denied access to our universities is the Tories' crude cap on provision since 1992, the ever deplorable state of our schools and the fact that so many children have not been able to raise their horizon to a level at which they might be pointed towards university.

If one ever wanted an example of policy opportunism and policy gymnastics, one should read today's speech by the right hon. Member for Charnwood. Which Government cut maintenance grants by 50 per cent. in 1992, when they introduced short-term mortgage-type loans? Which Government further reduced the grant by 10 per cent. in 1994, and by 8 per cent. in 1995? Which Government wanted maintenance grants to "wither on the vine", to be replaced by loans covering 100 per cent. of maintenance costs? Which Government removed housing benefit rights and unemployment benefit rights for students? I think that the House knows the answer to those questions.

A few months after having been kicked out of office, Conservative Members are posing as the student's friend by offering a passionate defence of student grants. The sheer cheek is appalling.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willis

Yes; I thought that the hon. Gentleman might like to intervene.

Mr. Willetts

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Conservative Government established the Dearing inquiry? For us therefore to support the conclusions of an inquiry that we ourselves established seems to be a perfectly reasonable course of action.

Mr. Willis

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. However, he will know full well that the reason why he and the previous Government were so keen—as were the current Government when in opposition—to establish the Dearing inquiry is that they were petrified of offering the electorate any proposals on student funding. Although we might castigate the present Prime Minister for his statement on 14 April and the present Foreign Secretary for his statement on 24 April, we heard nothing from the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) or the Conservative party about their proposals to fund higher education.

As I said, the cheek of those in the previous Government is appalling. Although they champion means-tested grants—of 50 per cent., not 100 per cent., as Conservative Members hinted earlier in the debate—they support a flat-rate tuition fee. Moreover, they have failed to say that the tuition fee element will rise annually, even on top of inflation—thereby, after four or five years, placing an even greater burden on poorer students.

Today, the Liberal Democrats received a call from an insurance company that was interested in our views on how tuition fees will rise. The firm calculated that, within five years, students will be charged £4,000 annually for tuition fees. The Bill is but the thin end of the wedge.

We have heard too much from the right hon. Member for Charnwood and his colleagues about ring-fencing fees income for our universities. Nevertheless, when there was an opportunity in the other place to defeat the Government on the hypothecation of fees to higher education, the Conservative party showed little enthusiasm to do so. Only 8 per cent. of Tory peers went into the Lobby to defeat the Government on that Division, although they were all ready to support their own amendment in the subsequent Division. That shows the Conservative party's commitment to hypothecation.

Mr. Willetts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. As he is talking about activities in the other place, will he confirm that—because of a direct approach from the Prime Minister to the leader of the Liberal Democrat party—Liberal Democrat peers withdrew their amendment requiring the Bill to be recommitted?

Mr. Willis

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that that is categorically not true. Clearly, there was a recommitment issue because—as I think he realises—part II of the Bill is badly flawed. We desired clarification and additional time for the Bill on the Floor of the other place, which we were given. Subsequently, there was an exceedingly good debate, much of which I attended and heard.

It will be interesting to discover how the hon. Member for Havant and other Conservative Members vote at the end of today's debate. Moreover, at the end of the debate, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will reply for his colleagues who responded to a letter sent to all Conservative Members by the National Union of Students, asking for their position on tuition fees.

In a letter to Douglas Trainer, president of the NUS, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) wrote: I have opposed the introduction of tuition fees ever since I have been an MP. In reply to student union officers, the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) wrote: I have always—under the previous Government as well as this one—opposed the imposition of charges for tuition. In a letter to student union officers, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) wrote: I think it is extremely sad that…the Government is not making our state education system free at the point of delivery to all. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce)—who is often in the Chamber—wrote: We must be fearful that the Government might make all students…pay the whole of their tuition fees." In a letter to his student union officers, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) wrote: I have always opposed the introduction of tuition fees and will continue to do so. It will be interesting to discover at the end of the debate whether the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford and his colleagues vote against their own amendment.

I should like also to mention the plight of part-time students studying for higher education qualifications. Currently, they receive little or no maintenance and must contribute towards their tuition fees. In 1996–97, 234,300 of the 384,600 part-time undergraduate students—60 per cent. of them—received no financial support for fees. Moreover, few of them received support towards paying their maintenance costs. We accept that the Government have made provision in the Bill to rectify that, and realise that Baroness Blackstone made it clear that the Government were sympathetic to the problems of part-time students. We acknowledge also the additional £46 million of help in access funds, which was mentioned by the Minister. However, sympathy is not enough.

The Government have to make a firm commitment, and realise that their goal of enabling half a million more students to undertake studies—which the Prime Minister mentioned at the Labour party conference, and was echoed in the "Learning Age" Green Paper—will be realised only by increasing the number of part-time students. To increase that number without providing significant support for tuition or maintenance would be a contradiction in terms. A recent study by London Economics stated that a modest support package offering loans of £500 annually for students earning less than £10,000 would cost 0.5 per cent. extra in the higher education budget.

The Bill is seriously flawed. It is full of good intentions, but so was the pathway to hell. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will repent and find salvation.

6.47 pm
Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

We have heard a variety of views expressed in this debate, which has exposed differences both between and within parties. However, I think that there is complete agreement on both sides of the House on at least two issues. The first is that we must improve access to higher education for young people from working-class families. The second is that we must improve funding of our university system, which—as hon. Members have already said in the debate—has not received funds to match expanding student numbers. Current funding per student is less than 60 per cent. of what it was 20 years ago.

As we all agree on those objectives, surely we must be able to examine objectively how to achieve them. Moreover, answering the question of how to accomplish those aims was the purpose of the Dearing commission, which was established with all-party backing.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State graphically drew attention to the lack of educational opportunity afforded to people from working-class and poorer backgrounds, particularly in certain parts of the country. He listed constituencies in which only 2 or 3 per cent. of young people from unskilled backgrounds benefit from higher education. If we are to improve those figures—and everyone agrees that we should—in the interests of not only the young people themselves, but the nation's economic benefit, we must establish the reasons for that poor performance.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that a major problem is that many young people from lower socio-economic groups do not achieve the sufficient qualifications to enable them to go to university. The Government are right to tackle that through setting higher standards in schools. However, even when young people have the necessary qualifications to go to university, a smaller proportion of those from poorer backgrounds take the opportunity to do so.

Everyone was expecting Dearing to propose replacing grants with loans in order to put additional resources into higher education. Indeed, that was Labour policy and the basis of our submission to the Dearing inquiry. It was also the policy of the National Union of Students. I do not know which came first—whether we adopted the policy from the NUS or vice versa—although a number of students prominent in the NUS have subsequently become Labour Members.

The students in the NUS who took the decision that it would be responsible to abandon maintenance grants in favour of loans were, by definition, from backgrounds that meant that they did not receive maintenance grants. Some three quarters of students at the older universities come from more affluent backgrounds and it is they who decided to remove the maintenance grants from poorer students. That was the policy before the election.

Labour promised to listen to Dearing, so it was a surprise when the report said that the inquiry had considered that option, but felt that such a decision would be tantamount to taking resources from the poorest students or potential students and giving them to the better-off. For that reason, it made different recommendations. At about the same time as Dearing reported, a report on class and higher education was produced by the Policy Studies Institute and published by the Council for Industry and Higher Education. It reached exactly the same conclusion as Dearing and said that, if we were to improve the participation in higher education of people from lower socio-economic groups, we would have to address the difference between the income that young people would expect if they were working and what they would receive while undertaking a course of higher education. Sadly, that is not what we are doing.

If we do not address that problem, we may be able to improve take-up by improving qualifications, but young people from working-class backgrounds, even those with reasonable qualifications, will remain under pressure to start earning. That was my experience as a young person being brought up on a council estate. It remains a problem even under the Government's proposals, and, for that reason, I shall not be able to support the Government tonight. As somebody who benefited from free tuition and a full maintenance grant, I cannot vote to deprive younger generations of something that was very important to me. We may say that the policy has not been successful in getting more young people from working-class backgrounds into higher education, but it was helpful to a large number of people, including me.

There is also agreement on the need to get more funding into higher education. Dearing recommended that, in the forthcoming financial year, an additional £350 million should be put into universities and, in the following year, the figure should be £565 million. He proposed that, over the next 20 years, at least an additional £3.3 billion should go into higher education. However, the measures proposed by the Government will raise nothing like that level of resources.

According to figures from the Department for Education and Employment, significant funds will not be raised until 1999–2000, when the figure will be something like £100 million. It does not rise to £1 billion until 2015–16. To be fair, those figures are based on current accountancy procedures, and Dearing recommended a change in the way in which loans are accounted for in the public finances. He proposed moving to resource accounting. The last time we debated the matter, it was unclear whether the Government would accept that recommendation. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on getting the Treasury to adopt that policy. It is extremely important for higher education and other areas of public investment. It is nonsense to treat spending for investment in the same way as spending for consumption, just as it is nonsense to treat loans that are expected to be repaid in the same way as grants.

Even if we move to resource accounting by 2001, as proposed, we still will not raise the money that the universities need; the Government have to address that. It has been announced that an extra £160 million will be provided for higher education next year, but that will be provided largely by the mechanism of paying loans quarterly rather than a year in advance. We still do not know where the Government will get the money to finance higher education. So the proposed solution will not address the funding crisis in our universities. At the end of the day, if we are to provide quality higher education that is accessible to all those with the potential to benefit from it, it will have to be paid for by the taxpayer.

I share the concerns expressed by the Liberal Democrats that the introduction of fees could well be the thin end of the wedge in our attempts to put the necessary resources into higher education. Personally, I should like to retain the principle of free education. We know that many affluent people benefit from higher education and that students from affluent backgrounds, unlike those from poorer backgrounds, will not leave university saddled with loans of £10,000. Their parents will have the means to ensure that they do not start their working life in debt. Many middle-class people have been to university or have children who are attending—or are likely to attend—university. What is wrong with returning to the principle of a progressive taxation system that pays for the welfare state?

I do not accept the argument, which grew over the Thatcher years, that we cannot afford the welfare state. We are a far richer country than we were when the welfare state was established. Productivity has increased and our national wealth has grown. If we do not pay through taxation, we have to pay by some other means.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

I sympathise with the hon. Lady's comments about progressive taxation. Does she agree that it would have the added advantage of taxing graduates on what they earn, rather than on what their parents earn? Many graduates go on to worthy, but lower-paid professions. It is right for people to be taxed on what they earn, not on their parents' income.

Dr. Jones

I agree. If we had a higher tax rate for high earners, we could easily fund higher education. Many higher earners have benefited from a university education or want that opportunity to be available to their children. I have two children. I hope that they will go to university. I shall have to pay a lot of money to help them. What is wrong with me paying a bit extra in taxation? It is probably cheaper for me to pay higher taxes than to have to pay the huge sums necessary to put students through university.

That principle also applies to other aspects of the welfare state. Nobody is arguing that rich people should have to pay to send their children to school or that they should not be able to benefit from the health service. That route leads to second-class services for the poor.

We are a wealthy country. We want to spend more on health and education. We are being deprived of the opportunity to do so by the unwillingness of successive Governments to allow us to pay more through the tax system. As a result, people will end up paying privately and will not get as good a deal as they would through public provision. Far from not being able to afford the welfare state, we cannot afford not to have it—and that includes higher education.

7.2 pm

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

I find myself more in sympathy with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) than I have been on some previous occasions. The debate has been characterised by commitment to, and passion about, higher education. There are different analyses on how to deal with the situation. I shall have no difficulty in supporting the Conservative reasoned amendment.

I had 30 months of experience as the Minister responsible for further and higher education in the previous Government. That gave me great affection for students and the institutions in which they study, as well as a considerable knowledge of the difficulties of tackling the intractable problems of funding.

I do not wish to suggest that the other aspects of the Bill are not important. I welcome the provisions for a general teaching council. Anything that raises professional standards is important. The concerns that have been expressed tonight have not been about the concept of the council, but about whether it will have enough teeth and enough to do. My daughter is due to be one of the first registered teachers under the system, because she has recently joined the profession. After all the hassle of setting up a registration system, merely producing advice for the Secretary of State, however well conceived or important that advice may be, will not give the body enough of a job.

If the Government do not want to keep the provisions at the start of clause 2, I hope that they will at least reflect on what has been said tonight and perhaps consider using their powers under clause 6 to reinsert measures on professional standards that the council can properly handle.

Proposals for a teacher training curriculum have recently been put forward. The Bill also has inspection powers. Those are welcome measures in principle. However, not for the first time with this Government—I hope that hon. Members are not surprised—some of the provisions are too restrictive and a little old-fashioned. I shall write to Minister about the representations that have been made to me about theatre studies. Those doing PGCEs will find it difficult to get training to a level necessary to deliver A-level courses in that important subject, in which we have a good deal of national strength, because the provisions are too narrow. I hope that Ministers will think about that.

The Minister responsible for lifelong learning would be surprised if I did not comment on clauses 26 and 27. Most of us would welcome any feasible means to help more people, particularly those who missed out during their 11 years of statutory education, to improve their basic skills and their employability—a word which did not come first from the current Government; I was fond of using it, too. Like the Minister, I assert passionately the principle of involving those at all levels of ability and attainment in continuing education. I have a strong commitment to adult literacy.

It is characteristic of our debates on higher education that we have not keyed in the further education interface enough. I note that the Minister is nodding. There are anomalies and differences in funding, to which some hon. Members and the Dearing report referred. They will need revisiting, although perhaps not in the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) cautioned Ministers against putting too much into the provisions. There is a danger that if young people offer themselves for employment without basic skills, but with the potential to claim the employee rights to get those skills paid for by the taxpayer, employers may find it more attractive to look elsewhere for someone to take on. Someone on the new deal can have a gateway interview and three months of basic skills training, with protected, subsidised employment thereafter. The Government may need to consider inducements for employers to be involved. I have great regard for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and tribunals, but there are dangers if they have to assert such employee rights—although nobody wants to remove the important opportunities to gain educational skills at work or through external providers.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood made a trenchant analysis of the higher education elements of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who also had responsibilities for legislating on higher education under the previous Administration, made some extremely perceptive, long-term strategic comments. I shall build on some of them and add some from my own experience.

My first point is a slight gloss on the remarks made by my hon. Friend—indeed, even a measure of criticism or denial of them. We should recognise that, in the process of evolution of the higher education system into a mass system that took place under the previous Administration, there was an inevitable widening of participation. That was partly in ability. If one is taking 30 per cent. of the cohort of young people, one is clearly taking different levels of attainment in relation to, for example, GCSE grades than one would be if one took the 5 per cent. of people at the top of the pile.

The same is true in social terms. In an intervention on the Secretary of State, I adverted to figures from the early 1990s, which showed a majority participation of C2, D and E socio-economic groups. That has marched along with a huge increase in the number of mature and women students. Many such things, which rightly concern hon. Members on both sides of the House, were beginning to shake out under the system.

My next point, which I shall perhaps make more explicitly than anyone has so far, relates to the justification for a degree of internal financing of the higher education system through those who benefit from it. Some hon. Members have referred to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which we met and with which we talked extensively some of these issues. All the evidence from the studies that I have seen is that, whereas the private rate of return from higher education is exceptionally high, the social rate of return from education expenditure at tertiary level is comparatively low. I should stress immediately that that is an average; some people choose to go into vocational employment and do not command higher rates of salary.

In other words, if the taxpayer is to spend £1, it is best spent on education at primary level, rather less well spent at secondary level and spent less efficiently still at tertiary level. In case anyone should misread the agenda, the logic of that is not that we should withdraw resources from tertiary education and redistribute them to primary education, but rather that the burden on state funding should go in such a way. It might be necessary to supplement and reinforce the tertiary level with a degree of personal funding.

Mr. Lansley

I am interested in my hon. Friend's point. In the studies that he has seen, is it true that the social rate of return from investment in tertiary education diminishes as the extent of participation grows, or is it more or less a straight line in relation to the size of the higher education sector as a whole?

Mr. Boswell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question, although I am not sure whether my knowledge or sophistication would enable me to give him a definitive answer. He may be driving at the fact—we must always be conscious of it as a danger—that higher education is an act of consumption, an activity for young persons, as well as an act of investment for the future. We need to ensure that quality is delivered in the system. I shall comment on that later.

Given a wish to widen participation, a wish to concentrate on what was essential in public spending terms and a wish—perhaps—to try to involve some internal finance, Ministers, certainly from the early 1990s, were engaged on what I described as a slow bicycle race to see who was the first to commit themselves to a funding change. That involved parties as well; we were all going around trying not to do the deed. As—almost—ever, we enlisted Lord Dearing as the ringmaster to enable us to decide how to do it.

I should say—I see the Minister chuckling—that, had the previous Government done the deed ahead of the general election, I have a feeling that, even though I may be a genial fellow, the six Labour Members who were formerly presidents of the National Union of Students would have contrived their troops to form a quadrille five times around Sanctuary Buildings, and as near to the Palace of Westminster as possible, to scream abuse at me. It is interesting that that constituency seems to have been nobbled—certainly the ex-presidents are conspicuously absent in this debate.

I do not want to rub in the fact, but it is interesting that, as a party and a Government over those 18 years, we made the higher education system available to the masses. Under the Tories, and on a grant system, the number of people in higher education went from one in eight—or one in 12.5 in the days when the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) and I were at university—to one in three. We did that, albeit with the change to student loans. Indeed, the rate rather accelerated during that change.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage perceptively commented, one of the reasons for that was the switch to a fees system, which, for the first time, gave institutions a real incentive to take additional numbers. I would always remind the House that such a change was not solely an act of government. The 1990 White Paper set expansion at a third by the turn of the century, but it took place in two years under the pressure of the switch to the fees policy and additional students taken on at the margins by institutions.

I come to the present situation and the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood. Whatever else one can say charitably about the Government, one cannot say that the implementation of their response to Dearing has been perfect. It has been very far short of that. My right hon. Friend referred to the gap-year fiasco. I refer to Scotland, not least because one of the members of my family has a strong interest in judicial review. I envisage litigation from English students in Scotland. Should they prevail, I then envisage litigation from fourth-year students throughout the United Kingdom about the differential treatment in Scotland.

I should mention two other matters to add to the list of differential treatment. One is the treatment of art students on their foundation course. It will be a condition of their entry to higher education that they should embark on a foundation year. As the Minister has rightly said in correspondence, such a year does not constitute higher education. It is pre-higher education. Such students will find themselves disadvantaged against those who are in the gap-year provision.

The other matter is the difficult situation of switching students. A young lady of my acquaintance was admitted to a distinguished university to read psychology. She ended up with four A grade A-levels and decided that she would like to switch to medicine. The Minister's answer to whether she would qualify for free tuition for a 1998 entry was, to put it mildly, ambiguous and will no doubt require a degree of finesse on the part of her tutor and herself. That is the by-product of adopting a system in a hurry without adequate transitional arrangements.

Rather than raking over that, I should comment on what should happen in future. The system to be devised should meet two tests. The hon. Member for Selly Oak may be surprised that I shall put it so bluntly, but I mean what I say about the first test. Is the system socially regressive? Clearly, if it does not pick up able students—who would be well qualified—and does not enable them to go through the education system with a degree or some subsequent qualification, that would be a national waste as well as a tragedy for the individual.

Secondly, we should ask whether the system selected contributes to quality. If it leads to some dilution of quality, it is likely to lead to a waste of Government resources. I think that such a concern was embedded in the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley).

It is incontestable that the Government's proposals will make things more difficult for students on full maintenance grant—roughly a quarter of all students. Currently, they receive £1,755 a year and pay no fees; in future, although they will not have to pay fees, they will receive no grant. The burden of maintenance, particularly in London, is difficult for many students. Despite the changes that we made, a three-year course is likely to leave students with a debt of £10,000—double the current conceivable debt of £5,000—and Lord Dearing's proposals would have hit such vulnerable students less hard.

Who are those poor students? I do not blame the Secretary of State for quoting from the Dispatch Box my remark, made when I held ministerial responsibility, that there was no evidence of widespread student hardship. I said then, and say again, that, statistically, it is difficult to show widespread student hardship from triennial studies. There has been a gradual growth in loans or borrowings off-balance sheet—those outside the student loan entitlement. There is little evidence of a widespread increase or a change in the drop-out rate: despite expansion, the system has functioned reasonably stably.

That masks a number of difficulties and strains, however; above all, it masks the fact that people may not apply to attend university, which is distressing. Although I may not be able to substantiate it precisely, I suggest that statistical poverty was not so much a matter of income deficiency as of lack of support. That often applies to mature students: unless their partner works to support them, they may experience severe problems. For example, their parents may not be able to support them, they may have family responsibilities, or family relationships may have broken down. Such people may feel the pinch the most. Hardship may be caused by something as simple and banal as no one in the family being able to lend them a car for the odd weekend, having no one to do their washing or having no one to make them a decent protein-based meal once a fortnight.

Students who suffer from a lack of support enjoyed under the previous arrangements—two parents, a grant, a definite place to stay for a finite period—may suffer most as the system diversifies. I hope that the arrangements the Government decide on will reflect those anxieties.

I am also anxious about quality in higher education. Although they are not formally hypothecating it, the Government have introduced a quasi fee, which operates as a tax, particularly as it is graduated. In spite of what the Secretary of State said, there can be no guarantee of no further tax increase. He spoke of a lock, but it must be judged against the fact that a Chancellor bent on doing so could cut off other channels of funding, in which case institutions and students would have to make the free, but unappealing choice offered by the highwayman: "Your money or your life." The lock would have to be raised to prevent the institutions from collapsing.

What is wrong is that we are looking at the fee—the student's contribution—in terms of its position in the spectrum of payment. It will sit at the end of the system, and will be creamed off. In the longer term, we should undertake a controlled experiment, and empower students along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage. Instead of an institution receiving block support for teaching—I leave aside the complicated and controversial issue of research—the block grant should be disseminated to students. It would be for them to spend their fees as part of a shift towards their being treated as the customer. That would empower them and give them a direct job as monitors of quality. It would be up to them to secure value for money, which would put a new perspective on the issue of top-up fees: the institutions would get back their autonomy and be able to reduce or to increase fees, and be able to meet their market requirement.

That is blue-sky stuff, but an ex-Minister can occasionally indulge in such speculation. It would, however, have another advantage, especially for institutions: we could hack through the thicket that might loosely be called the quality industry, where institutions are busy assessing their own quality and setting their own teaching standards. Such assessments are highly subjective and time consuming. I am not terribly convinced about their worth—most of us who know anything about the system have had little words whispered to us about people being coached on how to conduct their tutorial before the inspectors arrived, but a system whereby students were empowered and could withhold funds if the job was not being done to their satisfaction might be powerful.

I would impose two important restrictions on such a system, the first of which would be a threshold of quality. Just as legislation safeguards what a degree means, so there should be a process of inspection to prevent the setting up of higher education institutions, let alone institutions offering franchise courses, that cannot deliver anything that is recognisably up to standard. Such consumer protection is important.

Secondly, such a system should be linked to a proper examination of student support, particularly for disadvantaged students. Access funds are fine, and I am glad that the Government have doubled them, but the exercise could have been carried out statistically by lopping off Higher Education Funding Council money. Such funds should be put in the hands of institutions or, ideally, in the hands of students.

If that system were adopted, and if institutions felt freer to set their own fees, we could encourage, for example, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals to produce a code of practice whereby institutions could be shown explicitly to have complied with good practices for securing access for less advantaged students. My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage spoke along similar lines, and we should reflect on conducting controlled experiments, and on opening up that system.

The Bill has good features, but policy is being rushed through, and that will be regretted afterwards. I have put down markers for evolution. I hope that higher education's development will not simply involve expansion at all costs or spending more public money, but will follow the example of the BBC and include the re-establishment of greater autonomy and more independent funding than institutions have enjoyed in recent years.

I should like measured change or evolution to targeting and to empowering students to be considered so that they can contribute to the life of their institutions, and so that greater strength can be given those institutions. Universities and their students are a great national asset, and we must find ways to enable them to do their best for themselves and for the country.

7.28 pm
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

This ambitious and wide-ranging Bill demonstrates the Government's holistic commitment to educational reform and to improving standards and opportunities on every rung of the ladder. It contains a range of provisions relating to the teaching profession, further and higher education and young people in work.

The provisions for the teaching profession must be seen in tandem with the principles of the Schools Standards and Framework Bill. I was privileged to be a member of the Standing Committee on that Bill, and the provisions of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill develop many of the ideas and the philosophy underpinning that Bill. In particular, the creation of a general teaching council will back teachers and will develop the esteem and professionalism of the teaching profession, which people such as the chief education officer of Birmingham, Tim Brighouse, have referred to as so important.

The provision for a mandatory professional qualification for head teachers—a matter on which the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) spoke eloquently in Committee—represents an important step forward. In providing an induction year for teachers, the Bill gives the structured support and sense of confidence and guidance which—remembering the baptism by fire that we gave to many teachers in their first year—will be welcome.

The Bill provides a general settlement for further and higher education, and has been accepted as such by the CVCP and the AUT. We came to the Bill living in the world as it is and not as we would wish it. We are presenting a structured policy and approach to higher and further education, which contrasts with the drift, hesitations, second thoughts and—too often, at times—dogma that the previous Government brought to the subject.

The Bill accepts necessary contributions from students as the most equitable way of increasing resources, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State underlined that this afternoon. We have taken this position because of the woeful underfunding of higher education by the previous Government. Public funding of students has decreased by 25 per cent. since 1989. I exempt certain Conservative Members—notably the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson)—but the perception of students held by many members of the previous Government was of a rather curious left-wing group with whom they did not wish to discuss funding.

The biggest weakness of the previous Government's approach was their obsessive belief in the market, which led to many of the fiascos and shortcomings in the development of the student loan finance scheme. I spent the late 1980s and the period until the general election last year as editor of a history magazine, History Today, and I had a lot to do with academics in the universities—particularly the polytechnics which were converting to the new universities. I saw their constant frustration and bewilderment at the way in which this big bang in education standards was taking place with no thorough policy.

The problems included tuition of undergraduates by other undergraduates, lectures and seminars with 30 or 40 students and a paper chase for foreign students for funding purposes. That is the situation we have inherited. The new system of tuition fees will be equitable. One third of students will not pay a fee. A third will pay only a proportion, and a third will pay the full amount—25 per cent., on average, of course costs. That is in line with the current contributions that many postgraduate and part-time students have to make.

We are developing increased maintenance loans, and the support loan repayments after graduation will be related to income—unlike the current mortgage-type repayments over five years. The £10,000 threshold for repayments is important because of the longer period of repayment. On average, a graduate earning £17,000 a year will pay back something like £52 a month, and not £129 as under the present system.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State underlined, the Bill proposes a number of guarantees and limitations to address many of the legitimate concerns of the educational world. I welcome his suggestion that we should build on the safeguard of an affirmative resolution from both Houses to lock in the tuition fee increases so that they do not become a convenient source of income for any future Chancellor of the Exchequer. We do not want to penalise, frustrate or lay aside the legitimate concerns of students from whatever class of society. We must make clear that we need a funding basis for further and higher education that will be sound and sustainable.

We made clear in our manifesto that we would replace grants with subsidised loans. We did that, as the hon. Member for Wantage said, because all the evidence is that, over a 25-year period from the early 1960s, the increase in the number of students coming from manual and semi-skilled professional backgrounds was very small compared with the increase from middle-class occupations. The availability of places and, more important, the sense of expectation and self-worth are holding back students from those backgrounds. The holistic approach to improving standards is important, so that the tertiary level can benefit students from working-class backgrounds.

In examining the Bill and tabling amendments, the noble Lords seemed to have had a sense of collective amnesia. The other place is often referred to as conclusive evidence of life after death. In this instance, it was conclusive evidence of a collection of Rip Van Winkles, who snoozed from some golden age of the 1960s and woke up early in 1998 without seeing the background or context to our proposals.

The Lords' amendment proposing that the maintenance grant element be retained is not workable in terms of the Bill or the Dearing proposals. It is sheer hypocrisy for Conservative Members to support it when in term after term, year after year, they cynically declined, as with pensions, to maintain the value of the grant. They then replaced it with a loan system which proved to be inefficient and incompetent in its operation. That is why the CVCP and the AUT have supported the new income contingent loans which the Government have proposed.

Mr. Boswell

The hon. Gentleman may recall that the total grant and loan package in the 1990s was indexed for inflation.

Mr. Marsden

That may well be the case, and it may have been an honourable and positive response, but it did not address the total fall in income of students during that period or the fall in value of the grant from 1979 onwards. The Lords amendment would cost some £500 million a year. That is money that the Government could otherwise spend on higher education, which is why I hope that the House of Commons will reject it.

The Bill contains other welcome and positive elements. I mention first the proposals to equalise the granting of discretionary awards. I doubt that any hon. Member will not have received a letter from a parent or student complaining about the lottery of those awards. Again, many of the current problems arise from the inordinate pressures on local education authorities as a result of standard spending assessment funding over the past 10 to 15 years—the failure of the previous Government to deal with that has produced the inequities that we face today. The Local Government Association and the Government will work together to produce a new system, which I look forward to seeing in the framework of the Bill.

I also welcome the Government's proposal to allow 16 and 17-year-olds in work to pursue approved qualifications to at least NVQ level 2. The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) did not oppose the proposal, but he raised the old bogey of its being a disincentive to employers. If Conservative Members complain about the proposal, they must say why they believe that training for good-quality jobs can be a disincentive to decent employers.

The Bill provides a framework, if not the details, for the next stage of what I believe the Government need to do—they must further deal with the funding arrangements for part-time students. I share the concerns of the CVCP and people in higher education that the Bill does not fully address funding for part-time students. If the Government are to encourage and sustain lifelong learning, it is imperative that increased financial support is made available for all the one third of the 1.6 million part-time students. The Bill is sufficiently flexible to ensure that loans can be extended to part-time students without recourse to further legislation; it will enable the Secretary of State to prescribe in legislation the categories of attendance that will qualify for grants and loans—I hope that he will consider that as public funding permits.

As we have heard, the Government's accounting procedures have been a stumbling block to levelling up support for part-time students. I support the reasoning behind the Government's reluctance to extend the current system of maintenance loans to part-time students, but the argument does not apply to tuition fee payments, which are the biggest financial barrier to many part timers.

Like many people, I believe that the Dearing report greatly overestimated the percentage of part-time students whose fees were paid by their employers. That may be the case for law students on a management course, and aspiring account executives may have their business courses paid for by their City firms, but there is no such support for the majority of part-time students, especially those in the Open university, in which I taught for 15 years.

The Government must support mature students, especially women returning to education after having had a family. The film "Educating Rita" may have been a caricature of OU life and aspirations, in that it portrayed one-to-one tuition—sadly, none of us who have taught in the OU have had that pleasure—but it did not caricature the burning aspiration of many women like Rita to return to education.

I urge the Government to be flexible and reconsider the means-tested loans scheme for part-time students. OU research has shown that additions to higher education costs in that area would be minimal—some 0.5 per cent. in the short term—so I urge the Secretary of State to have a word with my right hon. Friend the iron Chancellor, so that we can eventually exhibit an iron determination to prevent any section of the population from missing out on the learning age of enablement and improvement that has been so eloquently described.

We cannot overestimate the switch in attitudes and priorities that the principles of the Bill—and the framework that it represents—spell out. They demonstrate that education is a seamless web; it is not a series of hoops through which the favoured few may jump. I welcome the extra £165 million for higher education and the proposed mechanisms to broaden access, as only by implementing such a strategy can Britain nurture and broaden its competitive outlook.

I want to make it clear that, regardless of whether we are considering higher, further or any other stage of education, the question is not whether we have either breadth or excellence—we must have both. That is why I believe not only that the extra money that the Bill will enable us to generate will preserve the teaching and research for which we are rightly world famous, but that the packages for access and student loans will benefit all those students who come from disadvantaged and poorer backgrounds.

The film "How Green was my Valley" was a tale of a determined individual breaking through a harsh system. It was a great film with great actors, but it did not relate the tale of all those people whose valleys were not green and who did not make it under the system. I believe that the Bill will go a long way to remedying many of the problems that we have not been able to address under the existing system.

As the first member of my family to break through from school to A-level and on to university, I am acutely conscious of the privilege and the obligation to others that that lays on me. We have to ensure that the breakthroughs of the few in the past become the achievements of the many in the future. That is essential to secure a successful, competitive and culturally enriched Britain in the 21st century, which I believe that the Bill will go a long way towards achieving.

7.46 pm
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

The Bill fails fully to reflect the recommendations of the Dearing report, which was published last July. The Prime Minister claims that the Government have accepted Dearing's findings, but the Bill will not implement the report's key recommendations. Instead, the Government are doing the exact opposite of what in opposition they said that they would do about the introduction of tuition fees. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary stated unambiguously before the general election that Labour was opposed to the introduction of student tuition fees, but now they are taking the opposite view.

The six former presidents of the National Union of Students—including four new hon. Members—who, from time to time, grace the Labour Benches, used to oppose student loans, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) remarked, are now conspicuous in their silence on the matter. Perhaps that is why the Labour club at Brunel university in my constituency of Uxbridge has folded—such is the students' enthusiasm for the Government's approach to higher education.

Of course, the Government have accepted much in the 1,700 pages of the Dearing report, and Conservative Members welcome that. I shall confine my remarks to two of the Bill's consequences—the first relates to Scottish universities, and the second to the ring fencing of income from tuition fees.

I strongly urge the Government not to overturn the amendments that were made in another place concerning Scottish universities. The Government originally proposed to create the extraordinary situation whereby students living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would pay £4,000 in tuition fees for a four-year course at a Scottish university, whereas students living in Scotland or elsewhere in the European Union would pay only £3,000. That would not only be unfair to those subjected to such discrimination; it would reduce demand for places in Scottish higher education.

About 27,000 students attending Scottish universities come from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Edinburgh and St. Andrews universities alone have 48 per cent. and 45 per cent. respectively of their student bodies made up of non-Scottish UK students.

The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals warned: Faced with the prospect of paying 33% more in fees in Scotland, English and other students will just simply stay away. That is not a theoretical fear: it has been reflected in the practical experience of universities, with declining applications. The current NUS president has warned that that could devastate universities in Scotland. Clearly, that spokesman does not have the usual NUS ambition to become a Labour Member of Parliament.

Income from tuition fees must be ring-fenced. Last year, Professor Peter Scott of Leeds university wrote: The whole point of the Dearing exercise has been to fill the funding gap in higher education—more than £500 million a year by the year 2000 and rising eventually to £2 billion according to the Committee of Vice-chancellors and Principals. Will charging for tuition fix the problem? Only if the Government allows universities and colleges to keep the extra money. The CVCP reiterated the absolute importance of the income being used to invest in the system. The very rationale behind the introduction of tuition fees is that the money may be used to invest in the institution that charges the student. The original argument in the Dearing report is that charging will make students demand more of their institutions.

Without the safeguard of ring-fencing, the charging of fees becomes nothing more than another form of taxation. Without suitable legislation, students will effectively be taxed for going to university. Even if the bulk of funds raised is reinvested, the presence of any shortfall is unjustified.

I believe that of the £150 million to be raised the Government have committed only £125 million to reinvestment. The university sector is being short-changed. Who is to say that in future a desperate Chancellor might not turn the screw and make even less available.

In an article in The Parliamentary Monitor last year, an undergraduate from Hull university, John Preston, said: It is simply not acceptable for the Government to add roughly £1,000 to the bill for higher education without ensuring that we actually receive something for our money. The Education Secretary must pay more attention to Dearing and less to the Treasury if he is to convince students that he is truly on their side. The importance of the extra funding for an institution's future development cannot be overstated. At the moment, there are worrying reports about the funding of the School of Slavonic and East European studies at London university. I must declare an interest as a graduate of that school. The funding problems are a serious enough possibility to mean that it could be closed by 2000. There have been redundancies in various departments, including the departments of Hungarian, Russian and Czech, and more are to follow.

There are fears that some students will not be able to complete their degrees. That loss of specialised teaching is happening at a time when the whole of eastern European is opening up and becoming more economically important. The generation of fee income that is retained in the institution is vital to fund expansion, maintain standards and, in the case of the school of Slavonic and East European studies, to guarantee its very survival. For the Government to ignore that key recommendation of Dearing undermines the credibility of introducing fees in the first place.

Without a commitment on ring-fencing, the Government will have wasted an opportunity and the introduction of fees will have been compromised.

7.53 pm
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

There is much to commend in the Bill. Later, I shall concentrate, as many hon. Members have done, on part II, but I do not want to proceed to that before I have commented on the rest of the Bill.

For a long time, the teaching profession has been demoralised. I welcome the announcement of general teaching councils. It has long been my opinion that the teaching profession deserves a professional organisation to represent its point of view to the Government of the day, just as all other professions, without exception, have had for many years.

I urge my right hon. Friend to listen carefully to what has been said today. We want a general teaching council with some teeth, and not merely an advisory body. If we do not examine the terms and conditions for the teaching councils, we could well anger the teachers. I hope that Ministers will take that on board in Committee. I understand that Scotland already has a general teaching council.

I welcome the training of head teachers. As the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) pointed out, they are now running very large businesses and need to be trained accordingly. I also welcome the proposals for teacher training and, especially, the statutory right to day release for 16 and 17-year-olds, which is long overdue.

I am concerned about part II. I have been in regular correspondence with my right hon. Friend since the Dearing report was published last year, and I must compliment him because, despite all his heavy correspondence on this and other educational issues, he has always had the courtesy to reply in detail to all the points that I have made, and has even arranged meetings with Ministers for me. I thank him and the Ministers for that.

I went to university in the late 1950s, and I could never understand why it was so difficult to gain entry. I came from a very poor educational background and had no language training. Much to my surprise, when I looked for a university that might accept me, I found that nearly all of them asked for a foreign language as part of their matriculation requirements.

After much thrashing about, I was lucky, when the university of Hull accepted me. I learned only a few weeks ago that it bent the rules to do so, but I have always been grateful for the opportunity that it afforded me. Someone from my educational and cultural background—I shall say more about that later—would not have gone to university had a full grant not been available. Many hon. Members would have to accept, hand on heart, that that was the case.

That was a different era, with far fewer students going to university. I could never understand why so few people went to university in those days. I was terribly relieved when, in the 1960s, university attendance doubled overnight and access to universities became much more freely available. The Robbins report was important in that process. The excitement continued into the 1970s, which was the best decade that I ever had as a university lecturer. Not only was I making personal progress in the profession; universities were making progress throughout the world, and British education was recognised in nearly every other country. Towards the end of the 1970s, clouds began to gather on the horizon, and in 1979, with the election of a new Government, those clouds began to pour rain on the universities.

In 1981, letters requiring drastic cuts went out to all the universities. At that time, I was teaching at the university of Salford and hon. Members may be amazed to know that the Conservative Government cut the finances to my university by a massive 46 per cent. in the following financial year. Salford university was not expected to survive those massive and devastating cuts, so I shall not pay attention to any crocodile tears this evening from the Conservative Opposition, because I have borne the brunt of their policies. I am on my feet to express the anger that people felt in the early 1980s because of the then Conservative Government's hardening of attitude towards the universities, which continued until they were thrown out of office in May last year.

Ironically, the Conservatives talked about expanding numbers entering universities while not making available the money that would have enabled that to happen. Overnight, all the polytechnics became universities—never mind the quality, feel the width. We wondered why that had happened and some of us felt that it was political. If parents had a son or daughter at university, they might be more inclined to vote Conservative when the general election came. Was that the reason? I do not know, but perhaps an Opposition Member will tell us. The Conservatives did not make the money available and had no intention of doing so had they continued in office.

Of course, all the polytechnic lecturers wanted to join the university bandwagon. They all wanted the same facilities—the quality of libraries and the sports facilities. They wanted expansion, and much money from the former universities was diverted to bring all the polytechnics up to speed. Sadly, many are not up to speed today. Even worse, the polytechnic bureaucracy descended on the universities, and more and more paper began to flow. Whole forests were devoured in the process. Then central Government believed that, as in the rest of education, the quality of university education should be put under the spotlight—not only teaching but research. University lecturers such as myself had to sit for hours on end, filling in endless forms and attending endless meetings to try to prove that we were good lecturers. All of that loaded a huge bureaucratic burden on to university lecturers.

The maintenance of buildings ceased, except for emergencies. Under Conservative control, libraries stopped purchasing books and journals. Even loose copies of journals were never bound and as a result were lost on shelves all round the library. The information technology revolution hit the universities, but unfortunately there was no money to provide the IT. My colleagues had to buy their own computers out of their own pockets, because the money was not provided by the then Conservative Government. Tutorial groups and class sizes in general increased and rooms became overcrowded. It was almost like Paris in the 1960s—the Sorbonne riots were developing at that time. There was great anger among the student population. Today, face-to-face contact with a student is a rarity, whereas, a decade ago, I used to know every student by name. It goes without saying that the quality of university education has suffered in that process.

Laboratory equipment for training students to go into industry and research laboratories became obsolete. At one time, we were training students on expensive equipment that industry had not yet purchased. Our students took the ideas into industry, the equipment was purchased and industry advanced. Today—sad to say—it is the other way around. We are training students on obsolete scientific and engineering equipment—so obsolete in most universities that, when students get out into real industry, they have to be retrained on the new generation of instruments that most universities lack.

Mr. Don Foster

While I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about polytechnics and their move to university status, I accept the majority of his remarks about the demise of our universities because of the funding crisis that they face. Given that he has spoken so eloquently on those issues, does he agree that it is vital that any measures that we agree in the Bill must ensure that additional resources go to our universities? Therefore, does he agree with the premise that any additional money raised as a result of the Bill should go directly to the universities and be ring-fenced for the purpose? If not, presumably he would accept that the crisis that he has described will continue.

Dr. Iddon

If the hon. Gentleman listens to the rest of my speech, he will find that I answer his question.

To continue, science departments have closed and, sadly, continue to close throughout the university system as we speak. This is science engineering technology week—SET 98—and yet, in a country that believes in high technology, we are forcing vital science and engineering departments to close because of a lack of funding.

Of course, there is a shortage of students and, as hon. Members have said, it is important to put money into nursery, primary and secondary education because, if we do not build the base for students in the early years, we shall not encourage them to go to university later in life. I accuse the previous Conservative Government of expanding the higher education system far too quickly. They refused to provide adequate resources because of a lack of political will. They have left the university system, including the former polytechnics, in the mess with which the Bill is trying deal.

Our universities are so underfunded that any money raised through tuition fees—this is my answer to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster)—needs, at least in the short if not the long term, to go directly back into the university system. I have tried to point out why that is so necessary. If the money is directed at other parts of education, there will be great anger throughout the university system.

I understand the Secretary of State's problems, and I understand that he wants also to provide further education with adequate resources. A further education college in my town is crying out for resources. However, it would be fatal to redirect massive resources from the higher education sector to pull the further education sector into the new millennium.

I came from a small village where we were expected to work on the land. My father was a market gardener, and when my mother suggested that perhaps I should go to university, he was horrified. I was the eldest son and in such families it was the culture for us to follow our fathers. It is not merely poverty that controls whether people go to university, but culture. In some of the council estates that I represent and some of the poorer private-sector areas of my town, a similar culture exists. Somehow, Parliament and society at large must find a way to break through that culture. It is not merely a matter of improving the education system across the board, but of getting through to parents and, in particular, the children who live in such areas, that real benefits will result from proceeding through the education system and achieving degree-level status.

That is one of my worries about the Bill. I accept the Secretary of State's honesty and integrity in believing that we shall persuade more people from such cultural backgrounds to go into higher and further education. The Secretary of State is right, but I must express my concern.

Another concern relates to the situation of two young people from such a background leaving university to live together as partners, married or otherwise. They could run up a debt of around £12,000 each. Multiplied by two, that is a massive £24,000 debt for a young couple starting out in life. I accept all that the Secretary of State said about repayment and minimum and maximum trigger points, but I am concerned about such young people who are beginning to buy cars and look for houses to purchase and who have lots of other expensive things to buy. I have asked him about this before, and he has addressed it, but, for the record, I hope that he will do so again this evening. What will happen when such a couple with a potential debt of £24,000 ask a building society for a loan? He has told me before that he has had discussions with the building societies. I think that I know something about what he has discussed with them. I hope that he will set the record straight and tell us what position such people will be in.

Mr. Blunkett

Fortuitously, I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he requires. The Council of Mortgage Lenders has told us that there is no difficulty in ensuring that the repayment system on the income-related basis that we have outlined will not affect the ability of young people to borrow.

Dr. Iddon

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply, and pleased to hear it. I congratulate him on it, because I know that he has put much hard work into the matter.

It has been said already, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will say it again, that applications—I underline that word—for the 1998–99 academic year are holding up. I am pleased about that, but I sincerely hope that they turn into real entries in the next academic year. I am sure that he will monitor that, not only next year but in future years. Concern has been expressed about mature students, whose applications are down by around 19 per cent. for next year. I implore him to continue to monitor the progress of mature students into higher education.

I have written to the Secretary of State about people aged 50 or over, who hitherto have not been able to take part in the student loans scheme. No one has made that point today, so I felt that I had to. If we mean what we say about lifelong learning, will he please allow the over-50s to take part in university education with the same loan requirements as apply to younger people?

Mr. Blunkett

Would my hon. Friend like me to help him on that as well, seeing that I am in a helpful mood, although I have not had any supper yet?

Mr. Don Foster

Neither have I.

Mr. Blunkett

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has not had anything to eat either, which will put in him in a bad mood. In the consultation paper, "The Learning Age", we say that we are minded to extend the facility in relation to the fee to people aged up to 55. There is an issue in relation to the available repayment system, given our desire to cut off repayments at the point of retirement, which is fair and reasonable to everyone, but there is a sensible case in respect of people aged over 50 who still have the chance of gaining from lifelong learning and contributing back into the community.

Dr. Iddon

I am now really grateful to my right hon. Friend. I may try a few more points on him as I seem to be on the winning side.

I come from a university with a proud tradition of running sandwich courses: four-year courses with a year out in industry. There are other four-year courses such as language courses where students spend a year in a foreign country. There is a greater thrust now to start four-year courses in universities. In chemistry, for example, we find students come with fewer qualifications to study such a hard subject. Many universities are beginning to run master of chemistry—MChem—courses to bring people up to the right standards for entry into the high-tech industries.

While my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that the fees will be reduced by 50 per cent. for students on the fourth year of a sandwich course, the number of such students has been declining. I fear that it will continue to decline as a result of this measure. His civil servants kindly provided me some figures. I have learnt that 100,000 students were studying on sandwich courses in 1996–97. I hope that he will consider those important students before the Bill's passage is concluded.

Several hon. Members have mentioned the level of the tuition fee. In Australia, the fee was introduced at a certain level but proved to be the thin end of the wedge; the figure is now astronomical. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took that into consideration and, rather than leaving it to both Houses to make the final determination of the new fee, he will set up an alternative organisation.

At present, I see no other way of injecting the immediate resources that the higher education system so desperately needs. I shall support the Bill this evening, but with a heavy heart. I summed it up when I told the Secretary of State that my heart tells me to vote against the Bill for the reasons that I have outlined, but my head tells me that he has no alternative. Several hon. Members have suggested that, by raising taxes, or by some other way, we could pump massive resources into higher education. However, if extra resources became available to the Government, some Labour Members would seek to help the elderly, others the national health service. I am afraid that higher education would not be the Government's top priority. It would be high on our agenda, but, sad to say, not the top priority. Therefore, with a heavy heart, I shall support the Bill, but I hope that Ministers will take on board some of my concerns.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. If hon. Members seeking to catch my eye keep their speeches nearer to 10 minutes than 20, it should be possible to satisfy everyone who wants to speak.

8.17 pm
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

The last remarks of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) were depressing. The Government's priority of education, education, education seems to have dissipated; it is no longer their priority. I understand his idea of culture and its impact on educational choice. In Scotland, there has always been much greater access to higher education. That should be built on, not destroyed through debt burden.

I note that, apart from a duty parliamentary private secretary, I am the only Member present who represents a Scottish constituency. I regret that because the Bill is important for the Scottish education system. Understandably, the debate has concentrated on the general teaching council and other proposals that affect England and Wales. That shows the difficulty of shoeing a Scottish measure into what is basically an English and Welsh one.

I also regret that many of the points raised by hon. Members, while accurate in themselves, have been irrelevant, inappropriate and, in some cases, downright misleading when applied in the Scottish context. I hope that hon. Members will understand that there is a distinct and different Scottish education system which should be dealt with in a distinct and different way. I shall concentrate on the key issues of tuition fees and student loans and their potentially serious and long-term effects on the provision of, and access to, education in Scotland.

On behalf of the Scottish National party, I place on record our strong opposition to the Government's proposals to abolish maintenance grants and to introduce tuition fees. The SNP has consistently stood against the gradual erosion of state-funded higher education by successive short-sighted Governments. We opposed the freezing of student grants and the abolition of students' right to claim housing benefit under the previous Government. We opposed the principle of student loans and the privatisation of those loans. The SNP believes in the principle that access to further and higher education should be equal for all, according to ability and regardless of any other background factors such as wealth.

Like many other hon. Members, I benefited from the previous system of grants and I am ashamed that the House is now on the brink of introducing a "pay as you learn" system which will force future generations of students into massive debt and act as a deterrent to higher study. The irony of those proposals is the Government's misuse of the Dearing report to justify their decision to impose tuition fees and abolish grants. Dearing suggested charging fees only because the national committee of inquiry into higher education was told to work within the constraints of the Government's other spending priorities and affordability. In other words, Dearing was given the task of finding ways of increasing funding for higher education without spending any more Treasury money.

It is not surprising that Dearing was forced into recommending tuition fees. However, Dearing did not recommend abolishing grants at all—new Labour simply waited for Dearing to publish his report and then went ahead with their own ideas, regardless. Obviously, the Government are not serious about tackling the funding crisis within higher education, because they refuse to meet Dearing's recommendation of an extra £350 million this year and £565 million next year. The Government's extra funding for higher education will, in fact, be paid for by individual students and their families.

Quite apart from the Chancellor's election war chest, there is money available that could be spent on higher education if it really were the top priority—clearly it is not. The Scottish Labour party conference recently voted against Trident—yet again—yet every year Britain spends £1.5 billion on its nuclear capacity, money which the SNP believes would be far better spent on education. In the Republic of Ireland, tuition fees have now been abolished, but we are on the verge of moving in the opposite direction. If we believe that higher education is a priority, we can choose to fund it adequately. If we must make tough choices, at least let us make the right choices. When the Australian Government introduced tuition fees, students had to pay only 23 per cent. of the total fee, yet that figure has now risen to 45 per cent., in spite of political promises that that would not happen. If we allow tuition fees to be introduced now, it will be only the thin end of the wedge.

I never want to see in this country an education system where credit rating counts more than grade average, or where bank balances count more than qualifications. I stand by the traditional Scottish view of access to education available for all, irrespective of wealth, to allow each person to develop to the fullest of their abilities for the benefit of all in society. The Government promise us that fees and the abolition of grants, which will create a debt burden of more than £10,000 for the average student, will not act as a disincentive to students from lower income families. At present, a single unemployed person claiming jobseeker's allowance and housing benefit is £800 a year better off than a student with a full grant and a full loan. From next year, there will be no grants if the Bill is successful. The fact that tuition fees are to be means tested is not the real point: abolishing grants will hit the poorest hardest. The Government must stand condemned in their approach to the long-term future of access to higher education.

The Government are acting unfairly and unwisely in three other ways. The introduction of tuition fees will specifically discriminate against English, Welsh and Northern Irish students at Scottish universities. In an attempt to create a level playing field, the Scottish Office promised to pay fourth-year tuition fees for Scottish students, while European Union law means that EU students will be treated in the same way as Scottish students. So far, the Department for Education and Employment and the Northern Ireland Office have not matched that offer for their students studying for a four-year honours course at a Scottish university.

The result is that English, Welsh and Northern Irish applicants to Scottish universities will be expected to pay up to £1,000 more than Scottish or EU students for exactly the same course, even if they have exactly the same background circumstances. To put it simply, at Stirling university, a student from Sedgefield or Sheffield, Brightside will have to pay £1,000 more than a student from Scotland, Spain or Sweden. Apart from being unfair, that is having knock-on effects on all Scottish education institutions, yet the solution would cost the Government less than £2 million per year. That is a small amount in terms of overall departmental budgets, but it would have large effects on individual students and their families.

This year's UCAS figures show that, at Dundee university, there has been a 12 per cent. drop in applications from England and Wales and a massive 23 per cent. drop in applications from Northern Ireland. The only plausible explanation for that is that potential students are being put off applying to Scottish universities because of the extra cost of an additional year's tuition fees, on top of four years' maintenance debts. I shall therefore be supporting the amendment passed in another place, which will ensure that all UK students at Scottish universities are treated in the same way.

There should be fairness for all students who are undertaking longer degrees. The Department of Health has promised to pay fifth-year tuition fees for all medical and dental students; but students of veterinary medicine and architecture, whose courses also last at least five years, will receive no additional Government assistance and, if eligible, will be expected to pay tuition fees for each year of their course, on top of the cost of maintenance. The reason I have been given for that discrepancy is that medical and dental students go on to work in the public sector, while vets and architects do not. However, it is impossible to make such a distinction: many medics and dentists graduate and immediately go into the private sector and, as far as I know, the Government are not planning to ask for a refund from such students.

It seems more likely to me that the real reason behind the discrimination is that the Department of Health wants to appease the British Medical Association, while there is no equivalent Government Department to sponsor the interests of vets or architects. That is not an acceptable justification for a Government policy, and I shall be arguing in favour of common sense and equity for all students who choose to undertake longer courses.

With regard to mature students, this year's UCAS figures show an 18 per cent. drop in applications from those aged 25 and over. That is largely a result of the proposal to abolish grants, without which many older people cannot contemplate returning to education. Another factor is that students aged 50 and over will not be able to take out a student loan because the Government are unwilling to give out money that they say will probably not be repaid. That flies in the face of the principle of lifelong learning, which the Government claim to support. If the Government are serious about lifelong learning, they should be breaking down barriers to education, not creating new ones. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister means by being minded to eliminate that anomaly—I hope that he means to do it in reality.

There is still time for the Government to listen to the electorate and think again about the Bill. The message from universities and colleges, students and the parents of future students is clear: abolishing grants and imposing tuition fees is not the right way to go about widening access to education. In a recent survey conducted by Edinburgh university students association, 91 per cent. of Scottish head teachers said that they believe that abolishing grants and introducing fees is incompatible with the principle of equal access for all, regardless of personal or financial circumstances.

The current student population will not be the ones to suffer, and yet they have gone to considerable lengths to oppose these measures. Last week, 2 million students boycotted universities, and demonstrations took place in 14 cities throughout the United Kingdom. The House must seriously consider what is being said to it.

If we really value the importance of higher education, we must find other ways of funding it. A recent Harris poll tells us that 45 per cent. of Labour MPs are not happy about these proposals. Some of the speeches that we have heard tonight bear that out. My earnest hope is that Labour Members will think carefully about how they will vote on the Bill.

Higher education is a key to this country's future prosperity. We owe it to our children and to future generations to take seriously our responsibility to oppose the elements of the Bill that will be detrimental to the future of higher education in this country.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. I wonder whether I may appeal once again—I understand that an appeal has already been made from the Chair—for shorter speeches, because some people will be disappointed otherwise.

8.30 pm
Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

I have taken note of what you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I start my brief remarks by saying that I believe that the Bill before us and the School Standards and Framework Bill will prove that this Government are one of the best-performing Governments on education we have seen. These two Bills, the extra resources that we have made available and the other measures that we are taking to improve educational standards throughout the system will prove that to be the case. I will deal with, among other aspects, the introduction of tuition fees and the abolition of grants, and explain what I believe to be a bigger barrier to people from lower-income families progressing into higher education.

I commend to the House and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the establishment of the general teaching council. There can be a debate about the powers and remit of the council, but there is provision in the Bill to ensure that, as the general teaching council develops, the role envisaged for it can also develop.

However, the general teaching council is especially important at the moment because, as many of my hon. Friends and Conservative Members will know, for a long time, morale in the teaching profession has been poor. It is incumbent on us all to recognise that good practice is being implemented and that much hard work is going on. Although the Bill contains proposals to deal with the very few teachers who are incompetent, we should recognise the general standards of professionalism that exist in our schools and the hard work that goes on in them.

If, by means of the general teaching council and other measures, we can restore pride and self-esteem to our teachers, we shall do much to aid recruitment, and to retain in the profession the experienced teachers whom we need to retain, at all levels of education.

Although I regard the establishment of the general teaching council as an especially important aspect of the Bill, I will briefly highlight two other measures. One is the provision of training for head teachers.

None of us can be ignorant of the fact that, at present, it is immensely difficult to recruit head teachers and deputy head teachers to schools in all parts of the country. The new qualification will help by preparing potential applicants for such posts, increasing their confidence and self-esteem and giving them the experience that they will need to make the best use of the post when they obtain it.

Let us make no mistake about it—the head teacher is fundamental to the success of every school. I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we need to value head teachers and recognise the hard work that they do. We need to bestow qualifications, but we must also acknowledge that we need to make head teachers accountable for the achievements of their school. It is always difficult to achieve a balance between support and ensuring that people are accountable.

I praise clause 17, which makes provision for initial teacher training to be inspected by Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools in England. There is a debate to be had about the best use of teacher training time and the best types of training; a wider debate needs to take place. I believe that the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) discussed whether there was a need for a curriculum for teacher training. I believe that we should think about that.

We should seek to train our teachers using what are regarded as the best methods in the classroom, but above all—I say this as someone who taught for many years—we must give our teachers the skills to cope in the classroom, so that they can deal with the problems that they encounter. Without that classroom control—that ability to practise properly in the classroom—the teaching skills and efforts of the teacher go to waste.

After training has taken place—in college, university or wherever—the crucial induction year follows. That year should be clearly focused, with clear targets, and it should be based on practice in the classroom. As much support as possible should be given by practising professionals to ensure the necessary standard and quality of teaching. Class size is important—I would not argue against that—but the quality of teaching in school is the fundamental requirement for achievement.

I support the new student finance system. I do not believe that students from lower socio-economic groups—the groups on which the argument has centred this evening—will be deterred from entering higher education by tuition fees or the abolition of the grant. However, I do believe that what prevents pupils from lower socio-economic groups from going to university is the fact that many of them do not achieve at school. They do not achieve in nursery school, in junior school or in secondary school—and in my experience, even when they do achieve, one cannot persuade them to stay on after age 16 in further education, let alone persuade them to enter higher education.

Unless we tackle that fundamental discrepancy and problem in our system, we can debate tuition fees and the abolition of the grant as much as we like, but the people from the lower socio-economic groups whom we want to enter higher education will never do so. In that respect, the School Standards and Framework Bill—which, when it becomes law, will operate alongside this Bill—is fundamental. We must raise expectations and tackle numeracy and literacy problems in schools.

I am sure that hon. Members talk to their children, as I talk to mine, and that many of their children, whatever their age, already talk about A-levels and about going to university. It seems to be a natural part of their lives and their educational ambition. Unfortunately, that perception seems to be lacking elsewhere.

If we can generate the funds—which is what the Bill is about—from the fees, by raising the cap on the number of people able to enter higher education and tackling some of the problems of expectations in schools, we shall get more of our young people into higher education than at present.

On the abolition of the grant, I believe that we need to stop regarding loans as loans and start regarding them as an investment for the future. If we can start to regard them as an investment, rather than as a loan or a grant, we can start to change attitudes.

I remember the debate some months ago about the fees issue and the abolition of grants. The catastrophic scenarios and the predictions of plummeting applications have not materialised. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Some surprise was expressed as the number of school leavers' applications—I recognise that there is a problem in some other areas—thwarted the applications doomsday. However, I warn hon. Members that, if we continue to paint a picture of doom and gloom, we shall create fear among those who would aspire to higher education. We must set out the facts about raising quality in higher education.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to contemplate the fact that under the Government's proposals, over the next three years, £2.5 billion extra will be taken out of the pockets of students coming up this autumn and those who will follow them and, because of the need to lend money to them, barely £250 million will be available over that period. Students coming up this autumn must face the fact that they will have to bear all the burden of the Government's new proposals while reaping none of the benefits.

Mr. Coaker

They will receive the benefit of higher education and the benefit that comes from attending those institutions. We are starting to put additional resources—including £165 million next year—into our universities. It is worth making another point. If students contribute towards their university education, it empowers them and gives them more clout in demanding high-quality education from those institutions.

Another important point about the Bill may be overlooked. I commend the fact that the Government have introduced an entitlement for some 100,000 16 and 17-year-olds to have a guaranteed return to education should they want it. This Bill and the School Standards and Framework Bill, which we have debated and will consider again, combine to form a radical package of measures which will increase opportunities not just for the middle and working classes, but for all young people so that they may achieve the very best.

8.41 pm
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

I shall be briefer than I had intended. The Bill is divided into three parts—as Caesar said of Gaul—but I shall speak to only two. I shall refer to part I and the general teaching council at greater length, as many hon. Members have dwelt upon higher education funding in greater detail.

The Government's proposals for the general teaching council are not necessarily those that appear in the Bill. The provisions in the Bill are better than those originally proposed by the Government. They treat teaching as a profession of the highest standing, as the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) emphasised a moment ago. In response to amendments made in another place, the Government should now follow through the reasoning behind the general teaching council. That reasoning is, essentially, that teaching is a profession, and that teachers are capable of substantial self-regulation and of promoting higher standards and an enhanced status for teaching. That recognition of teachers' status should be carried forward to an acceptance that the proposed general teaching council should not simply be charged with administration and the rendering of advice to the Secretary of State, but be given responsibility and powers.

I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association—obviously in an honorary capacity—and I endorse its view that the general teaching council should be responsible for the register, for determining standards of professional conduct and medical fitness to teach, and for advising on the professional framework for teaching, recruitment and so on. Those issues were the subject of amendments to the Bill in another place, which I urge the Government to accept. If they do not do so, the maturity and status of the teaching profession will, by implication, be diminished by comparison with the medical profession and the General Medical Council, which I know well.

Ministers must be assured that the powers of the GTC will not interfere with their responsibilities in relation to what is known as "list 99" or in respect of their proposed powers to dismiss incompetent teachers. Governing bodies and local education authorities must retain the responsibility to ensure the effective provision of education in schools, especially in the case of failing schools or incompetent teachers. Subject to those reservations, I urge the substantial conferment of responsibility upon the GTC. It should not have a simple advisory role.

Ministers may say that the GTC must prove itself before it can assume those powers. That is an interesting but rare caution on the part of Ministers which is not manifested in their attitude towards innovation or constitutional proposals in other legislation. It would also not be well understood by teachers. The experience of other professional regulatory bodies is well established both within and outside education. That experience suggests that the powers and responsibilities that the Bill, as it currently stands, foresees for the GTC are neither excessive nor particularly hazardous.

The issue of composition lies alongside the question of powers. I believe that the Government have agreed that teachers will constitute the majority of members of the GTC, and that is welcome. The GTC's independence, in reality and in perception, will also be very important. In that respect, I ask Ministers to go further and agree that the chairman of the GTC will be independent and that the majority of teacher members will be elected. The Secretary of State should use his powers of appointment only to ensure the representation of legitimate interests that are independent of Government, have a role in education provision and will benefit from the achievement of higher standards in schools. Parents, employers and employers' representative bodies are particularly significant in that respect.

Before leaving part I, I commend to the House and to Ministers the initiative, which will run in parallel with the creation of the GTC, for a college of teaching to promote higher standards. It is important to recognise that a regulatory body is not always best placed to harness the voluntary efforts of organisations involved in innovative and ground-breaking initiatives.

I turn to part II of the Bill. During the election campaign, my Labour opponent took pains to tell students at the Long Road sixth-form college in my constituency that it was not Labour policy to impose tuition fees on students. Interestingly, today I received a petition signed by 400 students from that college demonstrating their opposition to the imposition of tuition fees in higher education. At that meeting just under a year ago, I recalled that, as president of a student union in the 1970s, I demonstrated against education cuts imposed by a Labour Government. I said that I did not think it would be long before the students at Long Road college would be demonstrating against a Labour Government if one were elected. I did not think that my prophecy would be fulfilled quite so quickly, but it has been—and I hope that students at that college and elsewhere will reflect on that point.

It is interesting that the Government justify their proposals by claiming that only this system will deliver additional resources for higher education. We shall see. We have yet to see whether those resources will be wholly additional. I shall be interested to see to what extent Ministers who respond to the debate will be able to anticipate the outcome of the comprehensive spending review. If they cannot, and if we find in due course that the outcome of the spending review is that, as a result of tuition fees, higher education spending is reduced compared with previous allocations or compared with education resources generally, we shall draw the conclusion that the system did not produce the extra resources intended. Hypothecation of a modest amount of resources provided by tuition fees will not necessarily mean that other public expenditure will not be discounted or adjusted to reflect the resources retained within higher education as a consequence of tuition fees.

It is interesting that part of the rationale for the extra resources is to support additional student numbers. That is a debatable hypothesis, because the changes proposed by the Government in tuition fees and the maintenance grant may well frustrate the growth in higher education demand and numbers that the change in funding is intended to support.

I shall draw attention to one further issue and one unhappy consequence of the Government's policies. The issue on which I hope that Ministers will be able to give us further assurance was raised by my constituent, the Baroness Perry of Southwark, who has a distinguished record in higher education. Is it the Government's intention to table amendments clarifying the position of colleges in Oxford and Cambridge? The universities are not necessarily able to make commitments about the tuition fees position of colleges at Cambridge and Oxford. The Government should make it clear that where funding council grants for students are not being claimed, it would not be the intention to constrain the fees charged by colleges.

My final point relates to medical students, whom the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Welsh) mentioned. Surveys indicate that students are leaving university with £4,000 of debt. Medical students leave university with twice that level of debt. Medical studies, which my wife undertook, are a five or six-year course. Many students attend medical school and take medical degrees, as my wife did, after a first degree in another scientific subject. From year three, the academic year is 50 weeks, not the standard 30 weeks. In view of all that, it would be highly inequitable if the Government did not do all that they could not only to remit fees after year five, but to ensure that, during their medical degree courses, medical students do not incur more tuition fees and hence more debt than would students undertaking shorter and less financially onerous courses.

I see serious flaws in the Government's proposals and much merit in the reasoned amendment tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends, which I shall gladly support.

8.52 pm
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

I endorse whole-heartedly the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) in his graphic description of the impact of the previous Government's policies on universities. By coincidence, he and I worked in adjacent institutions for several years without realising it. My responsibilities involved me in visiting universities throughout the north-west. I can say that my hon. Friend's description of his experiences applies not only to every university in the north-west, but to every university in the United Kingdom throughout the Tory years.

The Tory party's attempts to reinvent itself as the friend of the universities and of students, and as the champion of the dispossessed generally, will be treated with a combination of contempt and ridicule throughout the education service.

It is interesting that the bulk of the debate not only tonight but in another place and in the country at large has focused entirely on fees and the abolition of the grant. That is understandable, because the topic is controversial, but unfortunately it has meant that there has not been enough debate on the other aspects of the Bill.

That has a symbolic significance, because the other aspects of the Bill deal with the education of the vast majority of the children and young people in this country. It is a measure of the way in which debate on education in Britain has been dominated by the graduate elite that the concerns of the non-graduate majority are nearly always neglected.

I endorse the comments of others about the importance of the proposals in part I concerning the general teaching council, head teachers' qualifications and the introduction of the induction year. Those measures will have a major impact on the quality of education in our schools and will contribute significantly to driving up standards.

I shall not go over comments that other hon. Members have made, but, in his reply, perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can deal with a point that has not been mentioned in the debate. The GTC applies only to maintained schools. What is the relationship with teaching staff in sixth-form colleges and further education colleges? There is some movement of staff between sixth-form colleges and schools, and increasingly between further education colleges and schools. It is anomalous that staff teaching in similar institutions with similar students and similar courses will be bound by different rules and regulations.

On the time off for 16 and 17-year-olds, I wish that, over the years, successive Governments had given the same attention to the needs of unskilled 16 and 17-year-olds in low-grade, dead-end jobs as they gave to the needs of the elite in our universities. Had we done that, our general level of achievement and our general ability to compete in the world would have been far greater than it is now.

I welcome the proposals in the Bill, but I have two comments. First, it is unfortunate that we have not managed to specify exactly what the entitlement will be. The Bill makes it clear that if a young person feels aggrieved that his employer is not giving him the time off to which he thinks he is entitled, he can take the matter to a tribunal. My worry is that that might generate a large number of appeals to industrial tribunals, which could have been avoided if the Bill had specified the entitlement more tightly.

Secondly, I urge the Government to consider whether the cap of NVQ 2 might be lifted. Again, it would be anomalous if some young people whose qualifications entitled them to time off were working in the same firm with a slightly better skilled colleague whose qualifications prevented him from getting time off. That could cause friction, and it does not make sense in the context of a staff development policy for the company concerned.

I hope that, over time, the entitlement to time off and perhaps even to a fixed number of hours in the course of the working year could be extended beyond 16 and 17-year-olds to the adult working population. Other countries did that many years ago, and the United Kingdom should follow that lead.

On tuition fees and maintenance grants, there is no point in disguising the fact that many students and a considerable number of parents are uneasy about the proposed changes. It would be dishonest to pretend that that is not the case. We must remember, however, that whenever change is proposed, people are uneasy. We tend to be a deeply conservative nation and cautious about any change, whatever its merits.

From all the discussions that I have had with parents and students in my constituency and outside it in the past few months, it is clear that once one explains to students and parents the details of the Government's proposals and the rationale for them, their opposition starts to melt away. The provision of detailed information is vital to the process of explaining to students and parents what will come into operation next September.

Some aspects require further consideration in Committee. The position of mature students has been mentioned. The figures show an 18 per cent. drop in mature students' applications, which is not completely accounted for by the arbitrary nature of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service deadline in September. Although mature students tend to apply a little later, 18 per cent. of them do not apply later. We must take note of the fact that people in their 30s and 40s are worried about whether, on top of their existing mortgage payments and other loans that they may have, they will be landed with a debt that they will find unsustainable. We must take that on board.

We must also take account of the needs of part-time students. I am sure that every Member present in the Chamber appreciates that if the Government's target of 500,000 new places is to be achieved, that will be met through part-time students in universities. We must provide support for those students.

In advancing the argument for the changes proposed in the Bill, we must challenge head on two issues. The first is free education. It has been said several times this evening—it needs, however, to be said time and again—that, in post-18 education, we have never had free education other than for full-time undergraduates. Part-time undergraduates have been eligible for fees, as have full-time and part-time postgraduates, along with everyone in further education. Almost 4 million students currently are eligible for fees. We must nail the myth that the Bill is somehow betraying the cause of free education.

Secondly, there is the relationship between levels of participation and the availability of free education for full-time undergraduates. I could be convinced that the Bill would be problematic if there had been a relationship between extending participation and the availability of free tuition and grants from 1962 to the early 1980s. It is obvious, however, that there was not that relationship. During the period to which I referred, there were grants that, if not generous, could be managed on, free tuition and a marginal increase in access to university education. I conclude from that that there is little relationship between the cost of going to university and the widening of the student base.

It is interesting that in the early 1980s, when the numbers of students in universities tended to expand, there was an expansion into other areas of the middle classes that had not previously benefited from university education. As we moved into the 1990s, when at last some inroads were made into students from working-class backgrounds, that was in spite of the difficult financial situation brought about by the 50:50 system of loans and grants introduced by the previous Government.

I conclude from that, as I am sure do many other hon. Members, that the real issue in the relationship between participation and access to university is not the question of cost but whether there are sufficient numbers of young people who are qualified to apply in the first place. The issue is whether the culture in which they operate encourages them to apply and whether the Government encourage a culture of high achievement and high aspiration. That approach has been sadly lacking in our education for decades. I know that that will change with the policies of the new Labour Government.

We must appreciate that the availability of free university education for full-time undergraduates has been one of the pillars of the post-war middle-class welfare state, which the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) so articulately described earlier, along with the subsidies to company car owners, mortgage interest tax relief and the panoply of tax avoidance and general tax relief. Those have been the pillars of the middle-class welfare state. It is to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and previous Chancellors that they have gradually realised that and gradually started to dismantle the middle-class welfare state.

Those of us who want desperately to see the development of mass high education—I imagine that that includes most hon. Members in the Chamber—and the development of the potential of all our young people, with an increase in opportunities for all the adult population, must accept that we have to invest in the majority, rather than skewing public finances so as continually to invest in an elite.

Those are simple arguments. I know that when potential students and their parents are confronted with them, they quickly start to understand them. I hope that those arguments will be pressed throughout consideration of the Bill in Committee and during its other stages. I know that they will gradually win over the majority in this place and those involved in the changes as the months go by.

I am not saying that we are discussing changes that will easily be brought about. No one can say that, because we are aware of the difficulties. However, we know that the difficulties are largely of perception rather than of reality. We know also that underlying the Bill is an important drive to extend educational opportunity.

What will be the future of the income that will derive from the introduction of tuition fees and the change from grants to loans? There is an important debate between those who wish to see all the new revenue going back into the universities and those who wish to see it spread more widely. If all the revenue goes back into the universities, we shall be using public finance to reproduce the advantages of the elite.

I want to see high-quality university education. I benefited from that education, and I want my children and my constituents also to benefit from it. We must understand, however, that we shall not develop such a system unless we improve standards and levels of achievement in primary schools, secondary schools and colleges. The key feature is to secure more investment in other parts of the education system as well as in the universities. The key to that is changing the current crazy method of accounting, so that loans do not count against the public sector borrowing requirement.

9.5 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I entirely agree with the final remark of the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor). It is vital that the accounting procedures are changed. At the same time, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) has already explained that we shall be opposing the Bill on Second Reading because there are many parts of it with which we fundamentally disagree, not least the Government's proposal to introduce means-tested tuition fees for full-time students.

The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) graphically described the funding crisis in our universities, and it is clear that there is a need to get more money into the universities, to re-establish the quality of higher education provision. Of equal importance is expansion of access.

My colleagues and I believe that there are three beneficiaries of high-quality mass higher education. The beneficiaries include, first, the nation as a whole. Our nation benefits from having a highly skilled, qualified and educated population. Therefore, we believe that the state should increase its contribution, paid for if necessary by increased taxation.

Secondly, employers benefit from a highly skilled, trained and educated work force. We believe that they, too, should be making an increased contribution to our universities, perhaps through an education and training levy.

Thirdly, we accept that students benefit from higher education, and if more money is needed for it, they, too, should make an increased contribution. We therefore accept the Government's proposal to replace maintenance grants with loans. We welcome the Government's proposal to introduce a much fairer repayment scheme for those loans.

That having been said, we believe that the means-tested student fee is a step too far, for several reasons. First, it is wrong in principle. It is a further tax on learning and it will, as many hon. Members have already said, deter some potential students. The Secretary of State rightly says that if students go straight to university from school, there will not be a significant reduction in the number of applicants for the following year. As for the older age ranges, however, we see a significant reduction when comparison is made with the current year. We must always remember that the older age range—mature students—now forms more than half the university population.

Secondly, the proposal is wrong in practice. We have already seen the fiasco over gap year students and the farce regarding Scottish university arrangements. A student from my constituency who wants to go to a Scottish university will have to pay £4,000, whereas a student from Brussels will have to pay only £3,000.

Means testing will create huge anomalies: the child of a wealthy banker who goes to university but then goes on to a low-paid but nevertheless valuable job as a social worker will have to pay fees, whereas the child of a poor delivery driver, perhaps, who goes to university but ends up being a wealthy business person will have nothing to repay because the fees have been remitted.

We believe that every student over 18 should be treated as an independent adult. We should not base what they pay for their education on their parents' income. I thought that the Secretary of State believed in that, because, in an article that he wrote last July in The Times, he said: Our solution reflects the graduate's earnings of the future, not the circumstances of today's students. With his and the Government's proposals for means-tested tuition fees, that is simply not the case.

As has been rightly pointed out, the proposals would bring a range of other problems and anomalies. People who are training to be teachers, who do a three-year degree and then go on to do a PGCE, will get their fourth year free, whereas the student in the fourth year of a BEd will have to pay the fee. There will be huge problems with the cost of collection, and enormous problems with means-testing parents in other European countries.

Thirdly, we believe—I am delighted that we have the support of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon)—that the whole approach is wrong, because the Government are not prepared to ring-fence the money that will be gathered from students in higher education. The Government's proposal will not solve the problems that the Dearing committee set out to solve.

We are fundamentally opposed to the proposal to introduce means-tested tuition fees for students, but acknowledge that the Bill contains a number of positive proposals. We welcome the Government's proposal to establish a general teaching council, although we are concerned about certain matters. We have long argued for a professional body for teachers, and a GTC would give the teaching profession the status that it deserves.

We were delighted to hear the complete U-turn tonight by hon. Members on the Tory Benches, who only 12 months ago opposed any attempt to introduce a GTC. Indeed, the U-turn is so marked that it is they who stressed the vital importance of the GTC being a powerful body. We agree. We argued that the Government's original proposals were somewhat limp and that they fell far short of what teachers want and deserve.

We very much hope that the Government will not attempt to water down the concessions gained in the other place on the arrangements for the GTC. Indeed, when the Bill goes into Committee, we shall seek a further strengthening of the GTC's powers, and other improvements. We want, for example, to ensure that its composition includes representatives of the Churches. That is particularly important, as one third of all schools in England are Church foundations, and a quarter of all pupils are educated in Church schools.

We shall table amendments to give the GTC consultative functions with regard to teacher training, recruitment, retention, service development and the curriculum.

We also welcome the Government's proposals for a professional qualification for head teachers. A number of right hon. and hon. Members referred to the vital role of the head teacher. It is vital that head teachers are given the opportunity to acquire professional qualifications. Indeed, we should go further and insist not only that new head teachers be required to have such qualifications, but that, within a reasonable time, all existing head teachers should have such qualifications.

We do, of course, accept the Government's proposals for the return of a probationary year. We argued strongly against its abolition when the previous Administration proposed it and eventually made it happen, so we are delighted that, at long last, the much-needed probationary year—for a period of not less than one school year—will be put back on the statute book. It is important that we ensure high-quality provision in the support offered to newly qualified teachers, and that it is consistent across the country.

The Minister of State in the other place said: The standards which new teachers will have to meet in the induction year will eventually be laid down by the Secretary of State."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 March 1998; Vol. 587, c. 113.] I hope that the Minister will assure us that we shall see the draft proposals in Committee.

I am delighted that in the other place we were given an assurance that the inspection of initial teacher training will cover only the vocational element of university courses. I am also delighted with the assurance that those institutions will be given warning of any inspection. Why have those assurances been given for England but not for Scotland?

I hope that the Minister will deal with the concerns about the current inspection of initial teacher training. We need to sort out the cycle of inspections. Ofsted has inspected the primary provision in a number of ITT institutions, and has then carried out a second round of inspections of the same institutions without their having had the opportunity to see the published reports of the initial inspections. There is concern about the quality of the qualifications of inspectors, many of whom have considerably less experience and fewer qualifications than those whom they are inspecting.

The Liberal Democrats welcome some parts of the Bill, but we are implacably opposed to the introduction of means-testing for tuition fees, so we shall vote against it.

9.16 pm
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

In May last year, my party won an historic victory. The core Labour vote of 8 million or 9 million people who voted for us throughout the 1980s came out and voted for us once more. Historic numbers of Tories abstained because they were disgusted by the performance of their party in government. It was new Labour's unique achievement that an unprecedented number of Tories—1.5 million to 2 million—switched to Labour. We also won an unprecedented proportion of the votes of first-time voters, without which we could not have achieved such an overwhelming victory. I make my remarks with those young voters in mind. They managed to shake off the cynicism bred by the media in the 1980s and 1990s, but I do not believe that when they voted Labour in May, they were voting for the combination of the elimination of grants and the imposition of tuition fees.

My hon. Friends have been dismissive and have said that there is no such thing as free higher education. I beg to differ: I had free higher education. They said that only middle-class children benefited from the existing system. I beg to differ: my family emigrated to this country in 1951, and I was able to go into higher education. The number of children from ethnic minorities and from working-class families that went on to higher education was far too low, but the fact that the present system is poor is no reason for making it worse.

I shall deal briefly with the issue of further education. My hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench have tried throughout the debate to play the game of divide and rule. Resources for universities can be obtained only at the expense of further education. I feel strongly about further education, because most of my constituents go not to university but to further education colleges, notably Hackney community college. [Interruption.] Representatives from Hackney community college came to see me last week to express their concern about the Government's failure to understand the specific needs of inner-city community colleges. Nothing will be gained by trying to play divide and rule in education—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Those on the Treasury Bench should be quiet while the hon. Lady is speaking.

Ms Abbott

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that my constituents would be surprised to see Labour Ministers heckling someone who is trying to make a case on behalf of her constituents.

My constituents who come to my surgery talking about problems in further education are asking not for a diminution in resources to universities or for a levelling down of universities' resources but for a levelling up of the resources that they receive. I tell Ministers that the divide-and-rule argument will not take them very far.

I have never met Sir Ron Dearing, but I feel as if I know him. For several years now, he has played a role in education politics as a type of superman figure: "You've got a problem? Call for Ron Dearing." Previously, both the then Government and the then Opposition were only too happy to kick the higher education funding issue into touch by talking about the Dearing report. We heard about Dearing as if he was some sort of educational Pope. We were told, "It's all down to Sir Ron Dearing. We're so happy that it has gone over to Sir Ron Dearing."

So what happened? Ron Dearing examined the matter, and he considered it carefully. I have just—again—quickly reread the Dearing report, because, listening to Ministers, I wondered whether we had read the same report. Dearing quite clearly says: loans…have a disincentive effect on the willingness of individuals from socio-economic groups IV and V to participate in higher education". Dearing also says: Simply replacing grants with loans costs more money in the short term, does not save much in the longer term, largely because loans are treated as public expenditure, and, worse still, much of this spending goes to families of students from higher income backgrounds. Dearing also said—it goes to the heart of my opposition to the proposals—that this option also imposes a heavy debt burden on graduates and impedes access from lower-income backgrounds. I have sat through this entire debate and listened to the speeches of hon. Members, not one of whom has persuaded me that one common sense perception is not right: that the debt level that will be caused by the Government's proposals will act as a disincentive to entering higher education for young people from—as hon. Members have mentioned—a culture or a family that has never participated in higher education, but who see their peers going out, earning good money and, for example, taking a girlfriend to clubs.

Common sense suggests that it must be a disincentive if one will be faced with problems not only of culture and of meeting standards but of debt of £10,000 or more. That was the finding of the Dearing commission, and that is what I believe is true. Of course, there are other factors in working-class children being denied access to higher education, such as their achievement level at school and cultural factors. However, for adherents of new Labour—which has embraced the market with such enthusiasm—to say that the key principle of market cost is not an issue in education defies understanding. A good's cost must affect people's willingness to acquire that good. That is as true in higher education as in any other part of the market.

The problem with the Government's proposals—Ministers wring their hands and say that they have to make the proposals—is that they will prove to be a disincentive to students from lower-income backgrounds and from ethnic minorities, and they will not generate the funds required to make good the damage—which Labour Members have mentioned in this debate—that the Tories wrought in higher education in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly because the fees will not be completely ring fenced.

Why are we in a situation in which intelligent men and women are trying to pretend that black is white—that somehow loading working-class students with debt will provide them with an incentive to enter higher education? We are in this situation because we talked to the British electorate last year, and we offered them a snare and a delusion—the delusion that one can have real stepped change in social provision without raising taxation.

Ministers seem convinced of the moral rightness of their position, but, as the months become years and the effect of the changes become apparent, not only will there not be an increase in working-class access to higher education, but there will be a bigger drop-out rate. People will try, but they will not manage.

I have listened to the entire debate today and I followed the debate in another place, but I am not persuaded that the proposals will not be a disincentive to ethnic minority and working-class students.

I remember being 16 and trying to think through the options available to me. I am quite clear that, without access to a grant and free tuition, a working-class, black 16-year-old could never have gone to Cambridge. The fact that I was able to do so was a credit to the education system. I am not prepared to put at a disadvantage young women who are in the same position as I was 20-odd years ago. I have benefited from the education system, despite all the problems and the limited access available to working-class children, and I am not prepared to pull the ladder up beneath my progress for the next generation of young people.

The Bill will not do what it says—it will not solve the funding problems in higher education. My mother left school at 14, but she had a saying that pride comes before a fall. Ministers are very proud of their arguments and their skill in taking the legislation so far, but when the public understand the consequences of the package of measures before us, the Government will not feel so proud.

9.25 pm
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

I shall be brief and I certainly cannot match the passionate eloquence of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott).

Some hours ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) said that he discerned a degree of progress. I discern even more. In the early 1980s, I was in the official Box when Sir Keith Joseph, the then Secretary of State for Education, tried to introduce a modest loans scheme. Labour Members, some of whom are present today, bayed for his blood and righteously trampled the grapes of wrath. There was some dissension among the Government ranks then as now. At the time, Conservative Members had their doubts about a loan scheme. So there has been progress, and now almost everyone in the Chamber favours the idea of a loans scheme.

The Secretary of State said that he was not aiming at penalising students at the point of entry, but at asking for a contribution at the point of reward. That seems to be the essence of a loans scheme.

For those of us who have been ardent advocates of loans for the past 20 years or so, it always seems a signal point that a loan should be repayable only at the point of genuine reward. If the previous Conservative Administration made a mistake, it was to set the threshold too low at 85 per cent. of average earnings.

The Secretary of State has prided himself—and no doubt the Minister will do so, too—on having ameliorated the repayment schedules. However, he has done that at great cost—a point which has not been made so far. He has extended downwards markedly the level at which people begin to repay to £11,000. In doing so, he has made two terrible dents in the principle that underlies the acceptance of loans by all hon. Members who accept that principle.

First, people do not have to have a reward above the average—or even near the average—to be eligible to repay the loan. That is incoherent with the idea that the basis for the loan is the economic benefit that students derive from going to university. It is not coherent to assert that as the basis for the loan and then to argue that those on well-below average earnings should nevertheless have to repay it.

Secondly—and more important in many ways, because the repayments for those at the bottom of the scale are admittedly low—we all know that Chancellors of either party are not knights in shining armour. From time to time, they have fiscal exigencies. In such circumstances, it is all too likely that they will slowly uprate the amount of loan to be repaid and extend yet further down the scale the threshold at which they start to be repaid.

If that happens, the fears of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington may be realised. If people from poor backgrounds feel that they will have to make repayments even if they opt for low-paid employment or fail to move into employment, they will have a rational basis for not attending higher education and the reasons for believing in loans—many of us believe in them—will be destroyed. On those grounds alone, we must oppose the Bill.

9.30 pm
Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

The Bill is now much better than the one that the Government originally drafted. I congratulate those in another place on their hard work in improving a Bill that came before them in such an inadequate form. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on their thoughtful contributions. We also heard some pertinent political points from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) about whether the money would benefit higher education. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) spoke for many people who heard Labour candidates at the election giving assurances that a Labour Government would never impose tuition fees. The now Foreign Secretary was caught out saying that on air, but we know that many of them said it off air throughout the campaign.

I should like to comment briefly on the proposals for the general teaching council. The Liberal Democrats have asked about Conservative policy. It is simple. We do not see any point in having a toothless advisory body. If we are to have a general teaching council, it should live up to its name by working hard to enforce professional standards, as the General Medical Council and the Law Society do. There is no point in setting up a body with a purely advisory role and financing it from a compulsory levy. New Labour likes compulsion. The only thing that it likes more than compulsion is banning things. Perhaps the Government would like a world in which everything that was not compulsory was banned.

The Government's vision for the general teaching council is the apotheosis of compulsion—a compulsory levy with the main purpose of raising money to finance the register listing the names of those paying the compulsory levy. That is hardly a significant contribution to raising educational standards. That is why we welcome the amendments tabled in the other place to give the general teaching council real powers. We hope that the Minister will assure us that the Government are serious about giving the general teaching council a real job and will not spout waffle about there being scope for it to increase its role gradually over time. If the powers are not provided in the Bill, there is no scope for the general teaching council to discharge them.

What about higher education and the Dearing report? Our policy is simple. We helped to set up the Dearing inquiry, in consultation with the then Opposition. Lord Dearing, as he now is, learnt and changed his mind during the inquiry. He clearly began the inquiry expecting to conclude that maintenance grants should be abolished. However, he concluded that there was a powerful case for keeping them. If Lord Dearing could learn while preparing his report, we can all learn from his conclusions.

The Secretary of State will regret tearing up the Dearing report the day that it was published. Indeed, he spent several days before the publication briefing against it, saying what a dreadful piece of work it was. He will regret that hasty decision almost as much as he will regret the frivolous way in which he barracked the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who was making some serious comments which he did not choose to take in the spirit in which they were meant.

The figures are perfectly clear. The arguments, after all the hours of debate, are very simple. Under the Government's proposals, if one comes from an affluent background, one will have a debt after a university education of £8,055—£3,000 higher than in the current system. If one comes from a low-income background, one will have a debt of £10,320—£5,265 higher than in the current system. Those are the facts. No amount of attacks on our record or on whether we should have expanded education more or put ever more money into it will get round those simple facts about the burden of debt which people from low-income families will face as a result of the Government's proposals.

Sir Ron Dearing, as he then was, was very clear on the point in his report. He said: We would be particularly reluctant to see any reduction in public subsidies being concentrated on students from the poorest families". Yet, that is what the Government are doing.

Even The Guardian—if I may quote it—put the point rather delicately. [Interruption.] I thought that that would wind up Labour Members; they do not like it coming from The Guardian. The comment was put very cautiously. The Guardian said of the proposal: It does not fit snugly with the Government's aim of increasing access". I think that that is put rather well.

I must confess a certain glimmer of sympathy for the Liberal Democrats. We are all used to them as the tax-and-spend party. We heard them again in this debate parading their belief in higher expenditure on further and higher education. We have heard much about the penny on income tax—and we all know that they have spent it many times over—but at least they accept that they would have to raise taxes to finance the higher expenditure.

That is more honest than the Government's policy. The Government are still talking about 500,000 extra places in higher education. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) stated during the most recent Education and Employment Question Time—he might have regretted it—that the Government would reverse the fall in unit funding for higher education. Yet, the measures that they have brought forward, which are supposed to deliver such ambitious promises, are what: the provision of £165 million this year, which is entirely financed by smoke and mirrors. It is a shameless piece of accountancy manipulation.

I do not know how many hon. Members have followed this ingenious manoeuvre—[Interruption.] Is the Secretary of State muttering under his breath, "Brilliant"? It was brilliance of a sort; the brilliance of a magician. He took the annual payment for universities and said that he would pay it in three instalments. He then promptly announced that he would put the money that he saved in the first year—£165 million—back into higher education. I do not regard that as a serious measure to address the problem that the Secretary of State claims exists in higher education.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Dr. Kim Howells)

What would you do?

Mr. Willetts

We have not made pledges on 500,000 extra places and on reversing the fall in unit funding. The Labour Government have made pledges. We have a shameless piece of manipulation of the accounts followed by all the pain of the measures, which will raise even less money than that raised by the measure on single parent benefit. The measures will raise £100 million in 1999–2000 and £150 million in 2000–2001. That is why the Government are destroying the last elements of maintenance grants. That is why they are putting all the extra debt on students from low-income families—for £100 million. It is simply not worth it.

I hope that the Minister, who is well known for being close to the Prime Minister, will explain a puzzle that many of us have encountered as we have followed the arguments over the past few months. What does the Prime Minister think that he is doing? During Prime Minister's Question Time, he said: I made it clear throughout"— he is referring to the general election campaign— that we should abide by the recommendations of the Dearing committee".—[Official Report, 29 October 1997; Vol. 299, c. 892.] He repeated that only last month, when he said: we said specifically, as, indeed, did the Conservatives, that we would abide by the outcome of the Dearing committee report".—[Official Report, 25 February 1998; Vol. 306, c. 364.] That is extraordinary: the Prime Minister claims to have made a promise during the election campaign that he did not make, only to break it now—the one thing that the Government are not doing is implementing the Dearing report.

There have not been many Government meetings since 1 May that I should have liked to attend, but I should have liked to be present when it was explained to the Prime Minister what the House of Lords had done to his Bill. Someone must have taken him through what had happened, explaining that the House of Lords vote would implement measures that he had twice said—at Prime Minister's Question Time and during the election campaign—that he was committed to, even though he was not, and why the party must be whipped through the Lobby to defeat them.

Perhaps the pre-Budget briefing that we have enjoyed today from Mr. Whelan explains what is going on. The following comment appears on page 2 of today's edition of The Daily Telegraph: Whitehall officials"— I hope that this does not refer to the gentlemen in the Box— fear that Mr. Blair is spending a disproportionate amount of time on party matters at the expense of Government business. The same briefing was given to The Times, which reports: Mr. Blair's closest and most senior allies are also seriously worried that he does not know what is going on in individual Whitehall departments. They should be worried—the Prime Minister thinks that he is implementing the Dearing report when he is whipping his troops through the Lobby to reverse Dearing. But, of course, he will not be with us, because, as the briefing tells us, MPs are also becoming increasingly angry about his failure to turn up at the House of Commons either to vote"—

Mr. Blunkett

I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question: will he be with us in the Lobby? If what he says is true, he will vote for the Second Reading of a Bill that, he says, his noble Friends have so shaped that it will bring about exactly what he wants.

Mr. Willetts

We shall vote for our reasoned amendment, which identifies the welcome features of the Bill that have been added in the other place and explains that, sadly, the Government have not gone far enough in implementing the Dearing report—they have not done everything that the Prime Minister has promised that he is already doing.

What will the Prime Minister do? Mr. Whelan's briefing states: The Prime Minister has turned up for only seven votes out of 147 since the election. If he turned up tonight, how would he vote on our reasoned amendment—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Our comments should be made not about the voting habits of another Member, but about the matters before the House.

Mr. Willetts

I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my point refers to remarks the Prime Minister's remarks at Question Time.

Mr. Willis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willetts

I am sorry, but I have only three minutes left.

The Prime Minister appears to be labouring under the misapprehension that his Government are implementing the Dearing report. Conservative Members believe in implementing the Dearing report; Labour Members are imposing £5,500 of extra debt on students from low-income families, contrary to the Dearing report's recommendations.

Since last July, the Government's approach to higher education policy has been a catalogue of disasters. As we shall see tomorrow, the Government have a slight problem with TESSAs, and a problem with implementation of higher education policy. Their botched attempt to reverse the Dearing proposals has not commanded the consent or agreement of people in the higher education world. We had the absolute fiasco of the gap year last summer. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says it was not a fiasco. We had an enjoyable few weeks, beginning with a Department for Education and Employment press notice which referred to scaremongering. Within 10 days, Ministers had backed down and accepted that the scares were genuine.

We also had a complete muddle in Scotland. I am pleased to see the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), in the Chamber. He found money in his budget to look after fourth-year Scottish students in Scottish universities, but his colleagues from England and Wales were unable to find similar funds to help English and Welsh students at Scottish universities. It would be a pleasure to hear his comments on the measures which, I fear, he will support.

The position is simple. We support Dearing and we believe Dearing is the right way forward. We greatly regret that the Government have failed to act on a report when they were happy to agree to setting it up when they were in opposition.

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

This has been a useful and wide-ranging debate. I particularly welcome the debut speech from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). I disagreed with much of what he said, but he said it well and we look forward to engaging in further debates with him in Committee.

The debate has focused on access to high-quality higher education. Some of my hon. Friends have disagreed with the Government's position and on how we achieve greater access. The debate has focused on student support, but it would be a mistake to take the view that the only issue in relation to access is the student support regime. In reality, access to higher education is about high standards in schools and ensuring that there will be a proper bridge of support for those between the ages of 16 and 19, when, all too often, there is a barrier for many of the young people about whom we are concerned.

Those issues are relevant to the Bill, but one other issue that was only touched on is, we feel, of particular importance—the right to study. For the first time, 100,000 16 to 17-year-olds in work will be provided with the entitlement to a day off a week—to answer the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor)—for further study, providing them with the opportunity to further their education.

The Bill does more than that. It addresses the issue of school standards through a general teaching council, a mandatory qualification for headship, induction arrangements for new teachers and the inspection of teacher training.

I want to refer briefly to the issues raised in the debate. If, in the time available, I fail to address all the questions raised in the debate, I will write to right hon. and hon. Members to address their questions.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) had some concerns about the general teaching council. My hon. Friends were generally supportive of our proposals in the Bill; I should say the Bill as unamended by the House of Lords. I will outline the approach that the Government will take to the changes made in the House of Lords as far as the general teaching council is concerned.

In response to the point made by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, I take this opportunity to confirm that the Government intend that the majority of members of the general teaching council will be teachers. We shall invite the council to work closely with the Government, the Teacher Training Agency, Ofsted and local education authorities, as we believe that we all have a common objective—to raise school standards.

The hon. Members for Harrogate and Knaresborough and for Bath (Mr. Foster) asked about the details of the composition of the council. We shall shortly publish a consultation paper on that, which I hope will allow us and other interested parties to address the issues that we have discussed this evening.

I want the general teaching council to be a powerful and unified voice for the teaching profession. We want to give it genuine powers, and we have considered in detail the extra responsibilities that have been included in the Bill as a result of the Lords amendments.

We do not believe that the council should have more than an advisory role in barring cases—when teachers are barred from the classroom in child protection cases. Giving full power to the council would fragment an effective child protection arrangement and would give highly sensitive powers over child protection to an untried and untested body. The intentions behind the Lords amendments were admirable, but the effect in practice would be at best questionable, and at worst dangerous. The Government would be irresponsible to accept the amendments, and we shall not.

We shall table Government amendments in Committee to give the council power to decide cases involving professional misconduct, a point which was raised by the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell). On reflection, we believe that those matters should be considered by the council. Although we rule out involvement in child protection matters, which we believe should continue to be determined by the Secretary of State, we believe that the council should have real powers, and so we shall give it powers over, rather than an advisory role in, professional misconduct matters. That will be an important start to the work of the general teaching council. Over time, as it is tried and tested, the House will want to consider giving it further powers.

Hon. Members gave a broad welcome to the mandatory qualification for head teachers. We are concerned that, in the latest report by Her Majesty's chief inspector, more than 3,000 serving teachers were felt not to be giving effective and proper leadership to their schools. Where possible, we want to involve those head teachers in proper training, so that they can improve their performance.

We also believe that it is the responsibility of an individual governing body to remove from a leadership position a head teacher who is incompetent. It is unacceptable to have incompetent head teachers in post. Head teachers have a crucial role to play—a head has to be an effective leader of his or her school—which is why it is so important that we ensure that everyone who aspires to headship has a proper qualification.

Again, hon. Members gave a general welcome to the proposal on induction for new teachers. It is right and proper that people entering the profession should have support in their first year. I can announce that, in the first year of a teacher's professional life, he or she will receive a 10 per cent. reduction in timetabled hours—that will help individual teachers to make the best of that important start to their career.

Most hon. Members also gave a broad welcome to the proposals on the inspection of teacher training. It is important that teacher training institutions offer high-quality training, but we are not convinced that that is always the case at the moment. We believe that the chief inspector should have powers to inspect and intervene in the vocational aspects of teacher training.

For understandable reasons, tonight's debate has been dominated by the issue of higher education and student support. We do not have free higher education at present: many people—part-time and Open university students, and others—struggle with great difficulty to fund their way through courses. Only a minority receive full funding.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) expressed deep concern about how we can continue to support students in a way that will not adversely affect access to education, especially among young people from low-income families. We are confident that our proposals will open up access to higher education, and we do not believe that they are incompatible with those made by Sir Ron Dearing, as he then was.

The Dearing report contained 93 recommendations. We made it clear in our election manifesto that The costs of student maintenance should be repaid by graduates on an income-related basis". That is as clear as it can be. That was the basis on which we fought the general election campaign. The Bill delivers that manifesto commitment: another manifesto commitment delivered by this Government.

We want to build on the Dearing recommendations. Sir Ron Dearing recommended that all students should pay a tuition fee. We do not agree with that, as we believe that those on low incomes need to be protected. The arrangements in the Bill will achieve that. Hon. Members referred to a £1,000 contribution towards the costs of tuition, but those youngsters from families with a gross income of less than £23,000 will make no contribution—not a penny—towards those costs.

Our manifesto made our position on the maintenance grant clear. We intend to provide public subsidy to students when they need it: when they are at college on a course. That subsidy will be delivered via a loan that will be repaid when the young person starts to earn. It is worth remembering that graduates earn on average 20 per cent. more than the average income. Graduates will be able to repay the loan that the Government will have given them. That is a good way of extending access to higher education.

The present system is not working for young people, and there has to be change. Many people will have listened with interest to the comments made by Conservative Members. The Conservative Government introduced a cap on access to higher education, denying it to thousands of young people. There was chronic underinvestment, with student funding falling by 40 per cent. between 1979 and 1995.

There has to be change. We inherited a terrible legacy from the previous Government. Hard and difficult choices must be made. The present system fails far too many of our young people. A few are financed by the many. Men and women in low-paid jobs pay taxes for higher education, from which no one in their families, in their streets or on their estates will benefit. If we are to build a modern Britain and a decent society, that has to change—and change it will. The status quo is simply not an option.

The Bill will deliver two more manifesto commitments. It will play a key part in raising standards in our schools and it will form part of our radical reforming agenda for education. I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 139, Noes 347.

Division No. 213] [10 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Brady, Graham
Amess, David Brazier, Julian
Arbuthnot, James Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Browning, Mrs Angela
Beggs, Roy Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Burns, Simon
Bercow, John Butterfill, John
Beresford, Sir Paul Cash, William
Blunt, Crispin Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Boswell, Tim Chope, Christopher
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Clappison, James
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) MacKay, Andrew
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) McLoughlin, Patrick
John Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Major, Rt Hon
Collins, Tim Malins, Humfrey
Colvin, Michael Mates, Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Cran, James Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Curry, Rt Hon David May, Mrs Theresa
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Nicholls, Patrick
Day, Stephen Ottaway, Richard
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Page, Richard
Duncan, Alan Paice, James
Duncan Smith, Iain Paterson, Owen
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Pickles, Eric
Evans, Nigel Prior, David
Faber, David Randall, John
Fallon, Michael Redwood, Rt Hon John
Flight, Howard Robathan, Andrew
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Fraser, Christopher Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Garnier, Edward Ruffley, David
Gibb, Nick St Aubyn, Nick
Gill, Christopher Sayeed, Jonathan
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Gray, James Soames, Nicholas
Green, Damian Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Greenway, John Spicer, Sir Michael
Grieve, Dominic Spring, Richard
Hague, Rt Hon William Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Steen, Anthony
Hammond, Philip Streeter, Gary
Hawkins, Nick Swayne, Desmond
Heald, Oliver Syms, Robert
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Horam, John Taylor, Sir Teddy
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Townend, John
Hunter, Andrew Tredinnick, David
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Trend, Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Tyrie, Andrew
Jenkin, Bernard Viggers, Peter
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Walter, Robert
Key, Robert Wardle, Charles
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Waterson, Nigel
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Wells, Bowen
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Whitney, Sir Raymond
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Whittingdale, John
Lansley, Andrew Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Leigh, Edward Wilkinson, John
Letwin, Oliver Willetts, David
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lidington, David Woodward, Shaun
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Yeo, Tim
Loughton, Tim
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Tellers for the Ayes:
Mr. John M. Taylor and
Sir David Madel.
Abbott, Ms Diane Ballard, Mrs Jackie
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Banks, Tony
Ainger, Nick Barnes, Harry
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Barron, Kevin
Allan, Richard Battle, John
Allen, Graham Bayley, Hugh
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Beard, Nigel
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Begg, Miss Anne
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Beith, Rt Hon A J
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Ashton, Joe Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Atkins, Charlotte Bennett, Andrew F
Baker, Norman Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald Donohoe, Brian H
Berry, Roger Doran, Frank
Blackman, Liz Dowd, Jim
Blears, Ms Hazel Drew, David
Blizzard, Bob Drown, Ms Julia
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Boateng, Paul Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Borrow, David Edwards, Huw
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Efford, Clive
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bradshaw, Ben Ennis, Jeff
Brake, Tom Etherington, Bill
Brand, Dr Peter Fatchett, Derek
Breed, Colin Fearn, Ronnie
Brinton, Mrs Helen Fitzpatrick, Jim
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Fitzsimons, Lorna
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Flint, Caroline
Browne, Desmond Flynn, Paul
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Follett, Barbara
Buck, Ms Karen Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Burden, Richard Foster, Don (Bath)
Burgon, Colin Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Burnett, John Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Burstow, Paul Fyfe, Maria
Butler, Mrs Christine Galbraith, Sam
Byers, Stephen Gapes, Mike
Caborn, Richard Gardiner, Barry
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Gibson, Dr Ian
Campbell—Savours, Dale Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Cann, Jamie Godman, Norman A
Casale, Roger Golding, Mrs Llin
Cawsey, Ian Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Gorrie, Donald
Chaytor, David Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Chidgey, David Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Chisholm, Malcolm Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Church, Ms Judith Grogan, John
Clapham, Michael Hain, Peter
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clelland, David Hancock, Mike
Clwyd, Ann Hanson, David
Coaker, Vernon Harris, Dr Evan
Coffey, Ms Ann Harvey, Nick
Coleman, Iain Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Colman, Tony Healey, John
Connarty, Michael Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Cooper, Yvette Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Corbett, Robin Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Corbyn, Jeremy Heppell, John
Corston, Ms Jean Hesford, Stephen
Cotter, Brian Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Cousins, Jim Hill, Keith
Cranston, Ross Hinchliffe, David
Crausby, David Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hoey, Kate
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Home Robertson, John
Cummings, John Hood, Jimmy
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hoon, Geoffrey
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hope, Phil
Dalyell, Tam Hopkins, Kelvin
Darvill, Keith Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Howells, Dr Kim
Davidson, Ian Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly) Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Dawson, Hilton Humble, Mrs Joan
Dean, Mrs Janet Hurst, Alan
Denham, John Hutton, John
Dismore, Andrew Iddon, Dr Brian
Dobbin, Jim Ingram, Adam
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian Morley, Elliot
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Mudie, George
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Mullin, Chris
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Norris, Dan
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Oaten, Mark
Keetch, Paul O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Kelly, Ms Ruth O'Hara, Eddie
Kemp, Fraser Olner, Bill
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) O'Neill, Martin
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Öpik, Lembit
Khabra, Piara S Palmer, Dr Nick
Kidney, David Pearson, Ian
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Pendry, Tom
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Pickthall, Colin
Kingham, Ms Tess Pike, Peter L
Kirkwood, Archy Plaskitt, James
Kumar, Dr Ashok Pond, Chris
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Pope, Greg
Lepper, David Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Leslie, Christopher Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Levitt, Tom Prescott, Rt Hon John
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Primarolo, Dawn
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Prosser, Gwyn
Linton, Martin Quin, Ms Joyce
Livingstone, Ken Quinn, Lawrie
Livsey, Richard Radice, Giles
Lock, David Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Love, Andrew Rendel, David
McAllion, John Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McAvoy, Thomas Rogers, Allan
McCabe, Steve Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Rowlands, Ted
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Roy, Frank
McDonagh, Siobhain Ruddock, Ms Joan
Macdonald, Calum Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McDonnell, John Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McFall, John Ryan, Ms Joan
McGuire, Mrs Anne Sanders, Adrian
McIsaac, Shona Savidge, Malcolm
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Sawford, Phil
McLeish, Henry Shaw, Jonathan
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McNulty, Tony Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
MacShane, Denis Singh, Marsha
Mactaggart, Fiona Skinner, Dennis
Mc Walter, Tony Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McWilliam, John Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Mallaber, Judy Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mandelson, Peter Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Snape, Peter
Martlew, Eric Soley, Clive
Maxton, John Spellar, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Squire, Ms Rachel
Meale, Alan Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Merron, Gillian Stevenson, George
Michael, Alun Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Stott, Roger
Milburn, Alan Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Miller, Andrew Stringer, Graham
Moffatt, Laura Sutcliffe, Gerry
Moonie, Dr Lewis Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Moore, Michael Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Moran, Ms Margaret Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Tonge, Dr Jenny Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Touhig, Don Willis, Phil
Trickett, Jon Wills, Michael
Truswell, Paul Wilson, Brian
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Winnick, David
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Wise, Audrey
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Wood, Mike
Tyler, Paul Woolas, Phil
Vaz, Keith Worthington, Tony
Wallace, James Wray, James
Ward, Ms Claire Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wareing, Robert N Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Watts, David Wyatt, Derek
Webb, Steve
White, Brian Tellers for the Noes:
Whitehead, Dr Alan Mr. Clive Betts and
Wicks, Malcolm Mr. David Jamieson.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):—

The House divided: Ayes 290, Noes 51.

Division No. 214] [10.15 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Cawsey, Ian
Ainger, Nick Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Chaytor, David
Allen, Graham Chisholm, Malcolm
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Church, Ms Judith
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Ashton, Joe Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Atkins, Charlotte Clelland, David
Banks, Tony Coaker, Vernon
Barron, Kevin Coffey, Ms Ann
Battle, John Coleman, Iain
Bayley, Hugh Colman, Tony
Beard, Nigel Connarty, Michael
Begg, Miss Anne Cooper, Yvette
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Corbett, Robin
Bennett, Andrew F Corston, Ms Jean
Benton, Joe Cranston, Ross
Bermingham, Gerald Crausby, David
Berry, Roger Cummings, John
Best, Harold Cunliffe, Lawrence
Blackman, Liz Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Blears, Ms Hazel Dalyell, Tam
Blizzard, Bob Darvill, Keith
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Boateng, Paul Davidson, Ian
Borrow, David Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dawson, Hilton
Bradshaw, Ben Dean, Mrs Janet
Brinton, Mrs Helen Denham, John
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Dismore, Andrew
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Dobbin, Jim
Browne, Desmond Donohoe, Brian H
Buck, Ms Karen Doran, Frank
Burden, Richard Dowd, Jim
Burgon, Colin Drew, David
Butler, Mrs Christine Drown, Ms Julia
Byers, Stephen Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Caborn, Richard Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Edwards, Huw
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Efford, Clive
Campbell—Savours, Dale Ellman, Mrs Louise
Cann, Jamie Ennis, Jeff
Casale, Roger
Etherington, Bill Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fatchett, Derek Linton, Martin
Fitzpatrick, Jim Lock, David
Fitzsimons, Lorna Love, Andrew
Flint, Caroline McAvoy, Thomas
Follett, Barbara McCabe, Steve
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McCafferty, Ms Chris
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McDonagh, Siobhain
Galbraith, Sam Macdonald, Calum
Gapes, Mike McFall, John
Gardiner, Barry McGuire, Mrs Anne
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McIsaac, Shona
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Godman, Norman A McLeish, Henry
Golding, Mrs Llin McNulty, Tony
Gordon, Mrs Eileen MacShane, Denis
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Mactaggart, Fiona
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McWalter, Tony
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McWilliam, John
Grogan, John Mallaber, Judy
Hain, Peter Mandelson, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hanson, David Martlew, Eric
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Maxton, John
Healey, John Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Meale, Alan
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Merron, Gillian
Heppell, John Michael, Alun
Hesford, Stephen Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Milburn, Alan
Hill, Keith Miller, Andrew
Hinchliffe, David Moffatt, Laura
Hodge, Ms Margaret Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hoey, Kate Moran, Ms Margaret
Home Robertson, John Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hood, Jimmy Morley, Elliot
Hoon, Geoffrey Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hope, Phil Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Mudie, George
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Mullin, Chris
Howells, Dr Kim Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Humble, Mrs Joan Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hurst, Alan Norris, Dan
Hutton, John O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Iddon, Dr Brian O'Hara, Eddie
Ingram, Adam Olner, Bill
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) O'Neill, Martin
Jenkins, Brian Palmer, Dr Nick
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Pearson, Ian
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Pendry, Tom
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pike, Peter L
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Plaskitt, James
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pond, Chris
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Pope, Greg
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kelly, Ms Ruth Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kemp, Fraser Prescott, Rt Hon John
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Primarolo, Dawn
Khabra, Piara S Prosser, Gwyn
Kidney, David Quin, Ms Joyce
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Quinn, Lawrie
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Radice, Giles
Kingham, Ms Tess Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Rogers, Allan
Lepper, David Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Leslie, Christopher Rowlands, Ted
Levitt, Tom Roy, Frank
Ruddock, Ms Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan Tipping, Paddy
Savidge, Malcolm Touhig, Don
Sawford, Phil Trickett, Jon
Shaw, Jonathan Truswell, Paul
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Singh, Marsha Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Vaz, Keith
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Watts, David
Smith, John (Glamorgan) White, Brian
Snape, Peter Whitehead, Dr Alan
Soley, Clive Wicks, Malcolm
Spellar, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Squire, Ms Rachel Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wills, Michael
Stevenson, George Wilson, Brian
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Wood, Mike
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Woolas, Phil
Stott, Roger Worthington, Tony
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Wray, James
Stringer, Graham Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wyatt, Derek
Taylor, Ms Dan (Stockton S)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Tellers for the Ayes:
Timms, Stephen Mr. David Jamieson and
Mr. Clive Betts.
Allan, Richard Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Baker, Norman Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Keetch, Paul
Beggs, Roy Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Kirkwood, Archy
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Livsey, Richard
Brake, Tom Llwyd, Elfyn
Brand, Dr Peter Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Breed, Colin Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Moore, Michael
Burnett, John Oaten, Mark
Burstow, Paul Öpik, Lembit
Cable, Dr Vincent Rendel, David
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Chidgey, David Salmond, Alex
Cotter, Brian Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Dafis, Cynog Swinney, John
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Tonge, Dr Jenny
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Wallace, James
Fearn, Ronnie Webb, Steve
Foster, Don (Bath) Welsh, Andrew
Gorrie, Donald Willis, Phil
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Dr Evan Tellers for the Noes:
Harvey, Nick Mr. Paul Tyler and
Mr. Adrian Sanders.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).