HC Deb 26 March 1998 vol 309 cc664-5
2. Mrs. Lait

How many children whose assisted places have been withdrawn he estimates will return to the state sector in the academic year 1998–99. [34895]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Byers)

Fewer than 200 children currently in their last year of primary education will cease to hold an assisted place in the academic year 1998–99. With the money released from the phasing out of the scheme, we will cut class sizes this September for more than 100,000 five, six and seven-year-olds.

Mrs. Lait

I hope that the Minister does not find that that is underestimate. Can he tell me how local education authorities whose schools are already full will be able to find places? Is he aware that, in Bromley, more than 900 pupils from out of the borough cram into already full schools? The trickle that started after the Greenwich ruling had turned into a flood long before selection was introduced a year ago. How can LEAs provide high-quality education when their schools are already at their limit?

Mr. Byers

The hon. Lady will be aware—if she was with us during the long hours of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning—that one of the reasons for the difficulties experienced in Bromley is the system of partial selection that has been introduced by some schools in the area. The measures adopted in the House on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning will enable us to tackle the difficulties and chaos caused by partial selection, as we will be able to operate a fair admissions policy in Bromley and across the country.

Mr. Hanson

Does my hon. Friend agree that those who choose to opt out of the state system should not do so at the taxpayers' expense, and that the £22 million-plus that he will save by abolition of the assisted places scheme will benefit all the children of Britain and not only a select few?

Mr. Byers

One of the key themes that ran through the general election campaign was that—unlike the Conservative party—the Labour party was prepared to defend the interests of the many and not the privileges of the few. The assisted places scheme was one of the prime examples of defending the privileges of the few. There is no doubt in the minds of most reasonable-thinking people that it is far better to spend public money on the needs of 500,000 five, six and seven-year-olds in large classes than to defend the privileged position of 38,000 people in private schools.

Mr. Dorrell

Will the Minister confirm that his plans for ending the assisted places scheme make absolutely no provision for meeting the cost of providing maintained education for children who might previously have had an assisted place, and that the potential cost of that commitment is £100 million? Will he also confirm that his plans for delivering a maximum class size of 30 for five, six or seven-year-olds will necessitate employment of another 2,300 teachers, at a cost of £60 million? Will he also confirm that those plans for five, six and seven-year-olds will involve capital expenditure that has been estimated at £100 million? Has he yet worked out how to meet that bill for up to £260 million out of total spending on the assisted places scheme of £120 million—or is he planning on taking advice from the Liberal Democrats on how to spend the same money many times over?

Mr. Byers

The right hon. Gentleman himself has clearly taken a leaf out of the Liberal Democrats' Treasury book, because he is playing with fantasy figures.

Mr. Dorrell

Which one is wrong?

Mr. Byers

I am afraid that it is not a matter of which one is wrong—all three are wrong. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman will listen, I shall explain why. I disagree with the £100 million estimated cost of educating in the maintained system young people who will not be able to use the assisted places scheme. I should be very interested to see his figures supporting that contention. As we said very clearly—as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said last week in the Budget—there will be additional capital funding for the assisted places scheme, and we will ensure that our pledge to deliver class sizes of 30 or fewer for every five, six and seven-year-old will be delivered from the money that we will get from phasing out the assisted places scheme. We are not fighting old battles; we are ensuring we can cut class sizes for all five, six and seven-year-olds. We will do it from the money that was used by the previous Government to buy places in the private sector.

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