HL Deb 15 July 1991 vol 531 cc61-96

6.30 p.m.

Baroness David rose to ask Her Majesty's Government to explain their plans for the future of adult education.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am delighted for two reasons to introduce the Unstarred Question. The first is that my noble friend Lady Hilton has chosen this opportunity to make her maiden speech to which we are much looking forward. The second reason is that we have a substantial list of speakers. There are many more speakers than one normally expects on an Unstarred Question. That shows the importance of the subject.

Questions about adult education were asked in the House on 7th June and 17th June after the publication of the White Papers in May. The dismay and outrage at the proposals, or lack of proposals, for adult education became obvious. It is for that reason that I am asking the Unstarred Question. I thought that a further exploration of the Government's ideas would be useful before legislation is drawn up. Responses to the White Paper had to be in by last Friday; so I suppose that we cannot expect to hear a summary of those responses or the Government's response to them. I have been sent a number of them. The general dissatisfaction and amazement at the Government's lack of understanding of what is going on, and has been going on, in the adult education world for many years is clear.

One gathered from the original Statement in March that the Secretary of State was unaware that a great deal of adult education went on in further education colleges. Most enrolments in those colleges are of adults over the age of 21. Two excessively glossy volumes costing, I am told, £50,000 contain no mention of adult education in the section on aims; and the section on achievements makes no mention of successes in the field of adult learning through the Replan and Pick-up initiatives and the remarkable work of the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit during International Literacy Year.

The White Paper concentrates on 16 to 19 year-olds; but important though better education and training for them is, they are a declining minority of the workforce and of the population. Adult learners are not marginal. Most of the workforce in the year 2000 is already part of the labour market and its further training is essential. The question is how to encourage more adults to embark upon some form of education, no matter what.

We welcome the plan to end the artificial divide between vocational and academic learning (although we have grave doubts how far that will be achieved without a reform of A levels), but in the education of adults a new and equally artificial and unhelpful distinction between vocational and non-vocational learning will be a consequence of the present proposals.

The experience of all involved in adult education teaching shows non-certificated adult learning (what the Government like to call leisure classes) makes a direct contribution to the economic health of the country. How else do we explain the enthusiasm with which the example set by Ford has been followed by other firms—for example, Lucas, Rover and Mars? At Ford, the Employee Development and Assistance Programme was set up, with the support of the TGWU, to provide general education opportunities for employees. They are funded from company profits as a product of collective bargaining and a joint determination between the workforce and management. Employees starting with language courses go on to maths and computer studies. Greek and philosophy were among the subjects chosen. As the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education stated in its response to the Government: Whilst the White Paper focuses on the major tasks facing Britain's needs as an economy and its people's needs as workers, the role of education and training in a civilised, developed and democratic society with an ageing population are broader than this: to stimulate active citizenship; to support family life: to foster creativity and appreciation of the arts; to make and take pleasure in culture are proper concerns of a learning society and are worthy of public investment".

We must make Ministers understand that the terms "vocational" and "leisure" are unreliable ones in adult education, especially when applied to classes. I give some examples that I have been sent from an adult education college in Hounslow. I am sure they are typical of many other colleges. In a Spanish class there is a student learning the language to be able to communicate with his grandchildren and another who is an immigration officer at Heathrow. He needs the language for his job. Both intend to go on to take GCSE. Others will continue, but not take exams. Is that class vocational or leisure? Will it be funded under the new arrangements as part of a GCSE course? The college received funding from the health authority to act as the resource centre for the Care in the Community programme and wishes to encourage people to join in classes such as "cooking for one". How will such classes be defined?

I have two more examples. Louise joined a sculpture class when her child was old enough to go to a play group. She is now compiling an art portfolio and intends to become an art therapist. Michael joined a life drawing class when he became redundant. He went on to take A level art. He obtained a grade A and has now retrained as a teacher. Many students, especially women, gain confidence from returning to study in a familiar area and can only then contemplate more formal study and progression.

All those examples are designed to show that we cannot draw a firm line and say that what is on one side is leisure and what is on the other is vocational. That distinction is artificial. It is impossible to draw in reality and damaging in its underlying assumptions. That raises the whole subject of funding. It cannot and must not be left entirely to the individual, especially when the need for such classes is overwhelming in a time of high and rising unemployment. The Government must see that enough funding is supplied through the RSG for that essential educational purpose. If not, reduced or impoverished local services will he offered at sharply increased costs.

It is important to remember for how much LEAs are responsible at the moment. The recent HMI publication—Education for Adults—showed that LEAs deliver three-quarters of current provision, two-thirds of which takes place in free-standing colleges and one-third in further education colleges. The remaining one-quarter takes place under the auspices of the responsible bodies (the university extra-mural departments), WEA, higher education institutions, including the Open University, and adult residential colleges. I have heard from one extra-mural department, from the WEA and from three residential colleges. They all share the same dismay and horror at the Government's proposals. I do not have time to enlarge upon them now, but I am aware that other speakers are covering at least some of them.

If the Open University is forced to increase its fees, as is rumoured, that will inevitably reduce the chances of the less well-off in the community. The National Extension College in Cambridge, of which I am a trustee, provides open learning and offers courses which prepare students to embark upon an Open University course. The largest proportion of students there had a household income of less than £10,000 a year and stated that they found the course fees a burden.

To return to the LEAs: 79 per cent. of them enrol adults at the rate of one for every 20 in the population. The figure rises where the authority primarily organises its adult education through free-standing colleges. It is that sector which is most seriously threatened by the White Paper. LEAs are now experiencing difficulty in maintaining the non-statutory service in the face of severe resource constraint. Once a service is fragmented it will be impossible for the LEAs to maintain the comprehensive provision that has hitherto been provided with the very small sums of residual RSG available to them.

The White Paper is vague about exactly how education for adults will be funded and organised. It is clearly envisaged that further education colleges will play a role but it is nowhere stated that they will have a duty to secure comprehensive provision outside the specific areas identified as being within the remit of the funding council. By the same token, it is not clear whether LEAs will be allowed to bid to the funding council to provide resources for relevant services that local colleges are unwilling or unable to provide. The cost to local people who will be expected to buy leisure courses at full cost will be further increased by 17.5 per cent. Such courses will automatically lose their exemption from VAT by their identification by central government as self-financing leisure activities. I hope that the Minister can clarify those matters.

More than 40 per cent. of LEA career services have an explicit commitment to advise adult clients as well as young people. It is an anxiety that that is neither considered nor acknowledged in the White Paper. There is a recognised need for services offering impartial learning and vocational guidance to adults wishing to undertake educational training and career development. As the Unit for the Development of Continuing Education (UDACE) said in its response, We believe that impartial education and vocational guidance is an essential underpinning of the education and training market and that responsibility for providing and financing it should be clearly allocated".

It goes on to say that the demand for guidance is growing and will become more and more essential—I would say at every level. I hope that the Minister can throw some light on that.

I hope that I have clarified many of the anxieties regarding the future of adult education under the White Paper proposals. The HMI publication makes clear the extent of adult part-time participation with a total of 3,400,000 enrolments each year, 1,600,000 of which are in adult education centres. They are an important body of people and we do not want the chances and opportunities taken away from them. Whatever the White Paper may do to solve the nation's need for a better educated and trained work force, there is the danger—and a very grave one in my view—that it will bring about the break-up of many of the pathways to learning now available and used by many adults to improve both their lives and their careers.

6.43 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for giving Her Majesty's Government an opportunity to explain some of the extraordinary gaps in White Papers previously referred to in the House, as the noble Baroness stated. A range of speakers is assembled to add further details to those which the noble Baroness so abundantly gave us. We on this side look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton.

My contribution will be of a slightly different kind. A rehearsal of my own experiences, lecturing from an extramural department in Lancashire in the blackout, may by now be thought old hat. I prefer to take the House further back. In recent years we have heard remarks for and against Victorian values. On this topic, we should perhaps look back with some appreciation to what was done in the 19th century.

We experienced a growth of various institutions—mainly voluntary and eventually partly focused on local government. They were intended for those who had not benefited within the narrowly confined possibilities of further or, still less, higher education available at that time and anyone else who felt the need to understand the society in which he lived and the possibilities that existed for personal development. Out of that grew the provision—largely part-time and often in the evenings for people at work—of educational opportunities to which the noble Baroness referred.

Perhaps I may link this debate with the Question asked recently about libraries. The growth of a public library system went hand in hand with the growth of facilities for adult education. It was hoped that people would be stimulated to read and that their reading would take them to the various institutions through which they could obtain instruction or guidance. We had a vision of a country in which although, by 20th century standards, not everyone was highly educated, education was nevertheless regarded as being important for adults as well as for the young.

The ability of people who had followed that path to contribute to the economy is clear proven. But it was not on the basis of a narrow commitment merely to acquring some additional practical skill. The document, Education and Training for the 21st century, contains a good deal about training, most of which is agreeable, but little about education. Yet it is education that makes people value training. It is through education that they perceive the advantages which they personally and society as a whole gain through training.

What appears to have been omitted in the rush to produce a national system of funding for the colleges, as well as for the organs of higher education, is any serious consideration of where all this activity fits in. As the noble Baroness pointed out, we find only two or three references to adult education. The first relates to the role of the colleges which will be centrally financed by the new funding council but which are specifically confined to either practical instruction or to preparation for further and higher education through the acquisition of the necessary qualification certificates and so forth. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the rest of it is dismissed as leisure.

It is said that people should pay for their own leisure pursuits irrespective of whether or not they benefit the community as a whole. Unless we hear to the contrary from the Minister, therefore, it appears that those pursuits will have to be paid for. One can bank on the Treasury to put its oar in as awkwardly as possible in any activity with which one happens to be involved. That is a pity, and it is unnecessary. However, it is certainly something that must be looked at before legislation is proposed following the White Papers. Unless legislation imposes duties either on the local authorities, the colleges, a combination of both, or on central government to fund centrally organised institutions, whether residential colleges or voluntary societies, they are bound to be neglected by hard pressed organs of local government and colleges since everyone's resources are understandably limited. It is common experience and common sense that those activities which are prescribed by law will always get preference over those which are of a voluntary nature. So, faced with sacrificing an evening course on a general topic or some other compulsory objective, the former is always likely to go.

It is very important that the whole matter should be looked at again. Although we can hardly expect the Government's response to the various comments made on the White Papers, we would at least like to hear that those comments will be very carefully considered before there is any progress from White Papers to legislation. As I pointed out to your Lordships when the White Papers were first discussed, there has grown up a confusion in public, and occasionally in ministerial discourse, about different branches of education. I refer to the different functions of higher and further education which are and should be distinct, and between further education involving adults and adult education as we have understood it in this country for a century and a half or more.

Before legislation comes before us there is an opportunity for the Government and their advisers to clear their own minds and to take account of what your Lordships and others have said. I received today a letter from a pensioners' association in Hackney—not among my most frequent correspondents. The association says, "They are going to take away from us one of the things that is available to us. Please speak up for our needs in adult education." I do so.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, by the number of noble Lords who have put down their names on the list of speakers we have shown how grateful we are to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for asking this Question. I am particularly grateful to find my speech sandwiched between the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff—I agree with all of it—and the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, to which I look forward.

I, too, look forward to hearing the Government's plans about adult education. It is time that governments looked well into the future and considered what the society in which we live is likely to be and what education organisations and arrangements will need to be established not only for the immediate but for the rather more distant future.

We now take it for granted that education is for life. We believe that people should be encouraged to go on learning as they grow older, but not just in the sense that one sometimes feels that the Government consider it, as expressed by my late father-in-law. When one produced some esoteric fact he always said, "Well, one learns something new everyday". I am not actually suggesting that the Government learn something new everyday and there also seems to be a lack of looking forward to something rather deeper.

We need structures to help us to take advantage of the enormous amount of expertise which is available in our society, a great deal of which is now wasted. The Open University has been a great step forward in that respect and its efforts must not be underrated or hampered. But more needs to be done. Perhaps arrangements need to be made that are not so seemingly middle-class and daunting as even the Open University sometimes seems to be. If the question "more of what?" is asked, the answer must be "more of everything" and less division into academic, vocational and non-vocational skills.

We live in a age when full employment of the traditional kind will probably never be seen again. That is widely agreed and that opinion is not simply the property of one side of the House. But what are those who are not conventionally employed to do with themselves? What kind of lives will they lead? All philosophies—certainly the humanist and Christian ones—would equally answer that they should be encouraged to develop skills and to use them for the benefit of society and also for their own fulfilment. That, in turn, will contribute to the fulfilment of society.

Such skills may be found in almost anything. They may be found in matters academic; in matters vocational or in matters which might be regarded as rather trivial. In my last parish there was a lady who was a flower arranger. She carried out that task every Sunday and particularly for weddings. When she arranged the flowers for weddings she refused to take any payment whatever. To my chagrin she refused to accept payment even on behalf of the church. She insisted on doing it free. She was the best flower arranger I have known. She arranged flowers in the church which people remembered the whole week. She gave pleasure and uplift through her skills.

It is that kind of skill which we need to encourage. As I hope noble Lords will realise as I go on, it is not that I believe that many of the people for whom I am going to plead, will be able to pursue or will need that kind of skill. I am not conjuring up a middle-class vision of the deprived 15 to 20 per cent. of the population of this country queuing up to learn flower arranging. Neither do I believe that it would be a particularly good thing if they did so. We have a submerged section of our society. I live on the edge of an estate with which I am slightly involved at the moment. The estate is going gradually downhill and it is becoming what I suppose may be called a "sink estate". I know the difficulties of helping people to learn skills who live in that kind of environment and who come from that kind of background. As it is, they have skills which they do not use. A good many of the repairs which need to be done and which are disgracefully neglected by the council concerned could be done by many of the people on the estate, but they are not done from lack of motivation. To tackle this kind of problem will need a great deal of energy, a great deal of work and a great deal of money.

I do not see why the Government should so strongly resist the use of money in this field. We have people being laid off who have skills who are capable of teaching. On the other hand, we have a real shortage of such people where they are desperately needed. It is no use the Government saying that this would need more taxation. Of course it would. There is nothing wrong with more taxation. The Government have concentrated on less taxation—and look at the state Britain's economy is in now. What is more, they now propose, so far as we can see, to put taxation on the acquisition of skills in what they call the leisure sector. If we concentrated on the welfare of people as measured by the "life chances" that we gave to members of our society, we would give up taking too seriously the Treasury attitude in assessing cost benefit.

In a finite and overcrowded island we shall have to join the rest of the world in reorientating the values which govern our society. The party opposite which constitutes the Government will have to join us in this effort. In this particular field the Government could well start making their first advance, because they, too, value skills and they, too, value excellence where they find it. They, too, must wish to encourage a growth of excellence in every part of society, which includes the worst off and possibly particularly the worst off. I certainly hope that they will bear that in mind as they proceed with their proposals.

7.3 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I, too, am grateful for the opportunity presented by my noble friend Lady David in initiating this debate on adult education. I am also very grateful to noble Lords who have shown me such kindness and encouragement since my introduction to the House.

My qualifications for speaking on this subject may not be immediately apparent to your Lordships but they are, I believe, twofold. First, for the last two years of my police service I was responsible for all training in the Metropolitan Police. On the campus at Hendon I was running the equivalent of a further education college for 1,000 students aged between 18 and 45, with about 200 members of staff, all of whom were responsible for training cadets, recruits, detectives and middle managers in a variety of skills ranging from community relations to crime protection and the driving of police cars. My second qualification for speaking to the House on this topic is as a consumer of adult education for nearly 30 years. Since first attending Toynbee Hall in 1963 I have attended courses at more than a dozen colleges throughout London and studied a range of subjects from art to criminology.

Apart from the great pleasure and benefit that I have personally derived from these excursions into the nightlife of London, I have also observed at first hand the benefits of our current adult education system for many of those who have been failed by, or who have not taken advantage of, our schooling system. For many reasons, able and intelligent young people fail to obtain adequate qualifications, and the provision of widespread and affordable opportunities for education has offered a second chance for many adults.

Many such able people join the police service. The Metropolitan Police has a system of financial support for private study and for full-time scholarships which has enabled many, such as myself, to obtain degrees and other qualifications. Last year, for example, more than 600 metropolitan officers received financial assistance for their own time study. Some of those were police staff from the training school who attended the local college in Hendon to study for teaching certificates. All the frontline police recruit trainers now have such teaching certificates or higher diplomas or degrees.

Men and women joining the police service are much better educated now than they were 20 years ago. Two-thirds of all those joining the Metropolitan Police have the equivalent of five O levels, and many have degrees. This is a dramatic change since 1968 when, in the whole of England and Wales, only 168 officers had degrees. Last year, 1990, there were 7,000 graduates in the police service of whom 1,600 were in the Metropolitan Police. Many of those have obtained their degrees through part-time study with financial assistance, and some will have had, as I did, full-time police scholarships.

I know many police officers who left school without qualifications but who restarted their education in small ways—attending evening classes to pursue an interest such as conversational French or English litersature—and with increasing confidence have gone on to take exams and gain a variety of substantial qualifications. Confidence, my Lords, is, I believe, a key feature in acquiring knowledge and skills. Therefore, I view with disquiet any suggestion that leisure study should be divorced from study leading to academic or vocational qualifications. All study increases not only knowledge but also intellectual skills of analysis and understanding. It is moreover difficult to distinguish between "leisure" and other forms of study. In Kent, for example, 100 police officers have been attending French conversation classes at their force's expense. This is in anticipation of the opening of the Channel Tunnel, but will also no doubt greatly enhance the enjoyment of their summer holidays.

Most people in this country do not have the support of organisations as generous or enlightened as the police service, but nevertheless the number of part-time students in higher education in this country—no doubt in part due to that excellent institution, the Open University—has increased by 134 per cent. in the past 20 years. Government expenditure on further and adult education in the United Kingdom has doubled in real terms since 1970 and in 1989–90 more than 900,000 people enrolled for adult education classes. These are important gains which should not be jeopardised by future plans.

The recently published White Paper on Education and Training for the 21st Century draws what I believe is an artificial distinction between leisure study and study leading to formal qualifications. It suggests that the only kind of education that should be supported by public money is that leading to academic or vocational qualifications. The White Paper says that, in disadvantaged areas, there, can be a case for local authorities subsidising this work". That is welcome. My main concern is the projected division of adult education into separate colleges or institutions since for many people the initial bridge back into formal education may well be through their leisure interests and studies. It is also, however, important not to erect financial barriers that are too high for the young or unemployed to surmount.

Adult education is an essential if rather frayed safety net to catch those who fall through our education system. Every opportunity for education at all ages should be preserved, so that people may acquire the knowledge, skills and flexibility to cope with the new challenges presented by our entry into Europe and by social, technological and environmental change.

7.10 p.m.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, perhaps I may first thank the noble Baroness, Lady David, for initiating the debate and for her clarity in introducing it. Secondly, it is my great privilege tonight—and I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me—to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, on her maiden speech. If I may say so, it was appropriate, cogent and erudite. The noble Baroness brings to your Lordships' House a range of experience which stretches from the streetwise to one of the most esteemed academies of higher education. As the most successful woman in the Metropolitan Police force, her knowledge, intelligence and skills are much welcomed. Unfortunately, the one skill she will have to foresake is the taking of accurate notes—at least in your Lordships' Chamber. On her elevation to the peerage, the noble Baroness was quoted as saying that one of the best things she could do in the House of Lords was to show by "just being here" that the police service is not the Right-wing, macho and chauvinist organisation that people think it is. I believe that the noble Baroness has today achieved much more than "just being here". She has made us aware that vocational courses can be the foundation for a high flying career, and that the Government have set a minelaying course for beginners.

I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Beloff. I believe that the debate will prove to be most valuable if the Government listen and learn from the wealth of experience here in your Lordships' House and thereby reach the right decisions for the future of adult education. The Government are right to set their priorities. This country still lags behind other European countries in investment in further education. On average, people join their companies in Britain at the age of 22, whereas in Germany they join at 27. The proof of the value of five years' extra education and training is the strength of Germany's economy.

Further education has been dogged by status. Great emphasis has been placed on academic education in the past. It has received all the status and the accolades; whereas, as we know, it is the depth of training running through every part of the economic activity of the nation's workforce which is important to a successful economy.

The Government's resolve to help people in their careers, and explicitly their daily lives, by wider access to further education must be applauded. But their resolve to withdraw funding from purely leisure activities means demarcation lines being drawn. Much concern has been expressed by speakers on this issue here tonight.

While serving as a county councillor, I remember when the council drew the line. We drew the line at tap dancing on the rates. I do not know how many Fred Astaires or Ginger Rogers were lost. Indeed, we shall never know. It always seems that flower arranging dogs this debate. However, I know that flower arranging can be a route to a successful career. An example was given to me the other day of a young West Indian who was inspired to set up a florists' business after having taken adult education classes. That business now employs about eight black people in Brixton. The noble Baroness, Lady David, gave us many other such examples.

I believe that the Government's demarcation between vocational courses and those which lead to a qualification; and those which do not, is right. In my view, it is a form of leisure to spend £40 on learning to arrange flowers for one's home, especially where there are courses enough for those who attend and who want to proceed and receive a professional qualification.

Adult education can provide startlingly good value. I have with me the pamphlet from my local education college. It lists bridge for beginners at a cost of £1 per class per week. That is less than the cost of a pack of playing cards. There are many other examples which I could quote. I contend that some of them are leisure pursuits. Of course, there is provision through local determination for subsidising people who cannot afford to pay but who need to take leisure courses. The Government have recognised the fact that they can provide a valuable social function.

I can think particularly of two areas where subsidies should be used if the financial need is evident. I refer to people who have recently been bereaved and people suffering great social deprivation, perhaps as a result of long term unemployment or through unexpected redundancy. People who become depressed put their health at risk; preventing this from happening is a marvellous investment.

I do not think that we should be totally concerned in this debate with the demarcation which is causing a problem. I believe that we should look closely at the positive commitment that the Government are making to training the country's workforce and to retraining people when that is necessary. This is of the greatest importance to women who have had children and who want either to refresh their skills and return to work or to retrain for different careers.

Industry also has an obligation in this respect, not only to train its employees in workplace skills but also as regards personal development. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, pointed out, some companies have a good record. For example, Ford allocates £200 per person per year to each individual. It is interesting to note that 25,000 employees accept the challenge annually. Rover, Glaxo, IBM, Jaguar and many others also have personal development schemes. Nevertheless, whereas half the largest companies in the USA provide five days training a year for each manager for personal development, the equivalent time given in the UK among the largest half of our companies is one day a year. I think that there is room for improvement.

I am especially pleased to see the positive stance taken by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, although it does have reservations. It feels that too much emphasis is being put on the 16 to 19 year age group. The institute has made specific recommendations for adult education which I hope the Government will consider carefully.

The White Paper makes the point that it is the Government's intention to help people in their careers and also in their daily lives. I have a particular concern for the people we have traditionally called "carers". I prefer to call them "free workers". Many of them spend years acquiring the skills and the confidence to care for either a dying or a dependent relative or friend. I welcome the modular form of NVQ which will allow such people to have their skills assessed. The results of the assessment will go towards a qualification giving them due recognition for the work that they have done and the expertise that they have acquired. That will mean that their commitment over many years in caring for a relative or friend will not go unrecognised. It will be valued and it may provide a springboard for work in caring for others in a paid capacity outside the home, once their current responsibilities have been discharged.

Finally, in every area of our daily lives we need people with great knowledge and skill. Employers need a pool of skilled people. We have not done well enough in training and adult learning, but I believe that we should welcome the Government's initiative as a step forward.

7.18 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, in paying a heartfelt tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggadon. The trouble with this House is that we now have such a strong convention that every maiden speaker is congratulated. Therefore, when a new Member makes a deeply impressive speech there are no words left which sound sincere. I can only say that if the noble Baroness can maintain that standard, as I am sure she will, she will bring honour not only on herself but also on the House. We are glad to have her among us.

As a person who has become identified somewhat with criminals, it was a peculiar pleasure for me to applaud a former police commander. As I understand it, she is the only commander who has ever served on the Labour Benches in this or the other place; or, indee1, on any Benches. Of course, I am aware of the fact that, without the police we would have no law and order and no civilisation. As I said, it is a special joy to be allowed to say these words.

The other speakers in the debate have all spoken from expert and up-to-date knowledge; that is, with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who took us back to the last century, which is further hack than I was proposing to go. My experience in adult education takes me back to the time before nearly all noble Baronesses and some of the noble Lords who have spoken tonight were born. I took my WEA class in Longton; not quite in the 19th century, but some time back. Longton was claimed to be the original WEA class, many years before that. I was teaching there and managed to import my wife into the system. We became engaged in the station waiting room at Stoke-on-Trent under the auspices of the WEA, so it has many romantic associations for me.

As the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said, we must take a historical view on this, but we must also come up to date. What I had intended to say has already been said very well by several speakers, including the noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Hilton. It is almost redundant to repeat it, but it is important that the Minister who is to reply should realise that there appears to be a unanimous renunciation of quite an important aspect of the White Paper on adult education; that is, the attempt to draw a line between vocational education and leisure interests.

Leisure has rightly been derided and I join in the howl of derision that greets it. For example, when I taught political theory in Longton, I do not know whether it was leisure for anyone, but it was a form of education. It was sometimes even called political philosophy. It may not have been quite as grand as that, but my wife was teaching Shakespeare and English literature. Should that be called leisure? The distinction would have seemed ridiculous then and it still seems so now. However, from the government's proposals, we read that they believe it important that good quality education should be available to adults to help them improve their qualifications, update their skills and seek advancement in their present career or in a new career. That is the kind of education that the Government quite rightly wish to promote. However, leisure and the teaching of what might be called cultural subjects are passed over with apparent contempt. The whole House has up to now derided the attempt to draw a distinction. I am not sure whether that applies to the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, but all others did.

As always, I turn to the polytechnics for up-to-date learning. Since I am being nasty about aspects of the Government perhaps I should take the opportunity of saying what tremendous pleasure it has brought to friends of the polytechnics that the Government took the step announced not long ago of placing the polytechnics on the same footing as the universities. It would be churlish not to mention that. Returning to today's topic, the polytechnics have been at the forefront in opening up access to degree work. All kinds of students, who were not traditionally qualified, have in the end obtained degrees through them. That is one aspect of their work.

I shall quote one story supplied to me from the Polytechnic of Central London. A mature married woman, with no educational qualifications, took up a place with some friends in an embroidery evening class, a leisure interest leading to no qualification. She enjoyed it and in conversation with others fantasised about making a living out of her new interest. She was encouraged to consider this more seriously and entered courses in business and marketing. She now runs a thriving small business, having started going to a leisure—I emphasise the word—class with friends. Under the White Paper proposals the polytechnic understands that such a class will no longer be available to someone of her limited personal means. That would be shocking enough, and it is just one aspect, but leisure classes can possibly lead on to business success.

However, that is not the only reason that I and others support the so-called leisure classes. I regard education as good in itself, not just as something leading to a career. It does that, but education is good in itself. The White Paper has failed badly in that respect.

7.25 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend, Lady David, for putting down this Question tonight. I hope that the Government will be able to throw some light on the future prospects for adult education, as the White Paper seems to raise more questions than it answers. It is full of gaps and, strangely, it makes no reference to the Education Reform Act 1988 which requires local education authorities to secure adequate facilities for adult education. Presumably that responsibility still remains with local education authorities, but the funding is not mentioned in the White Paper. However, it recognises that adult education comes from a number of sources. The bulk has come from local education authorities, mainly through further education colleges. The WEA has also been an important provider, as my noble friend Lady David mentioned.

At the top of the adult education pivot, we have had the seven adult residential colleges which have provided special opportunities to people like myself who missed out on formal education in their school days and have had the opportunity of an education in a residential and scholarly setting. The residential colleges also pioneer methods of learning and teaching for adult education generally, which is an important contribution to the education scene.

All these providers of adult education seem to have a question mark hanging over the continuation of their activities, largely by the gaps in the White Paper and also the limited list of providers which can seek funding from the new funding councils. We must add to that list of providers of adult education which I have mentioned an increasing number of universities which are also providing adult education in the way of liberal courses, in addition to their professional courses. However, they often provide them on a part-time basis through the associated student scheme, allowing pensioners, people on shift work and the unemployed to take part in university education on a modular basis. However, of course, like other aspects of adult education, there is no specific funding for this work. Thus there are a number of areas on which we need a great deal more information.

One of the strengths of adult education in the past is that it has never been proscribed or limited before. It has responded to the needs and demands of local communities. Indeed, by its very nature, it is difficult to package adult education into neat, watertight compartments, as noble Lords have mentioned this evening and as everyone involved in adult education knows.

To attempt to distinguish between vocational and non-vocational courses for funding purposes is, to say the least, to oversimplify the problems. Adults are likely to have a multitude of motivations for deciding to start a course. As my noble friend Lord Longford has illustrated, a course that is started as a leisure activity may lead to a professional qualification.

I wish to refer to my local education authority in Bradford which has a policy of providing an integrated and co-ordinated programme of education to meet all needs. The main providers of that education have been the three further education colleges in the metropolitan district. One of the colleges, Bradford College, is one of the biggest colleges in the country. It has over 30,000 students and the courses span basic literacy courses to degree courses. Yet even a college of this size has relied on the local education authority to provide the strategic framework in which it can provide courses.

I am informed by Bradford College that something like 15 per cent. of adult education could be classified as non-vocational education. Non-vocational courses usually last for one to two hours per week. If such courses account for 15 per cent. of adult education, that accounts for a lot of people. We must ask what will happen to this service. A glimpse at the current programme of Bradford College suggests that we certainly cannot afford to lose its services. It provides a great breadth and variety of courses, including some which are specially geared to the different ethnic communities. One might ask whether a course on Asian/Western dressmaking is a leisure or a vocational course. It could be either. It could lead to a national vocational qualification or it could mean that an Asian woman who was interested in that course could begin to integrate herself more into the local community.

Are French or German courses for beginners access courses to GCSE or A-levels, or are they simply leisure pursuits? Again they could be either. On the one hand such courses could lead to further language study ending with a qualification but on the other hand they might just constitute an additional skill which someone wanted to acquire to develop their growing European awareness. That is a concept that the Government are keen to foster.

What category do courses on property maintenance fall into? Incidentally, those courses are advertised in Bradford not just in English but also in two Asian languages. Bradford has inner city problems. We must ask the Government where such courses would fit into the priority list of such a city. According to the White Paper, such courses would not assume a very high priority from an educational point of view. However, they should assume a high value in a city such as Bradford from an environmental and social point of view.

One could give further examples of courses that could be vocationally orientated or could be considered to be leisure or liberal activities. They are all part of the important human development that is so essential for our citizens today. The authors of the White Paper have also apparently not understood or have forgotten the definition of disadvantaged adults that was given in the Russell Report of 1973 entitled A Plan for Development. That report defined disadvantaged adults as, those who, on account of their limited educational background, present cultural or social environment, age, location, occupations or status, cannot easily take part in adult education as normally provided". The Government would do well to reconsider that definition and the Russell Report.

In introducing this debate my noble friend asked whether the Secretary of State fully appreciated, when he launched the White Paper, the extent of work that is undertaken by local authorities, the Workers' Educational Association and others in the field of adult education. If the Government do not fully appreciate the extent of that work, I suggest it might be a good idea for Government officials to visit a region such as Yorkshire and study some of the provisions that are available for the local community and for the ethnic groups within that community. Perhaps the Government might then take a different look at their White Paper.

7.36 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I find myself speaking, for the first time for six years, without the prop of a Dispatch Box. I have a particular interest in this subject. For the past three-and-half years I have had the privilege of being what is politely referred to as the principal of the Working Men's College in North London. That means that I am the chairman of council of that college. That college is one of the independent voluntary adult education institutions which is specifically referred to in the Government's White Parer entitled Education and Training for the 21st century.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred in his excellent speech to Victorian values. The noble Lord mentioned the motives of those who in Victorian times sought to extend education and training for adults. The Working Men's College does just that. It was founded in 1854 by Frederick Denison Maurice and other Christian Socialists including Tom Hughes of Tom Brown's School-Days. The distinguished teachers of the college have included Ruskin and, at a later stage, Lowes, Dickinson and E.M. Forster. For nearly 150 years the college has been keen to provide liberal education for working people. Originally the college aimed its courses at working men but since the beginning of this century working women have been educated there. Education is provided at a price that working people can afford.

The ideals of the founders of the Working Men's College are still very much before the democratically elected council which runs the college. The council is elected by teachers and pupils. The council has allowed me the privilege of being its principal. At the previous meeting of the council we discussed the Government's White Papers which are the subject of the discussion this evening. The warden, who is the real principal, was invited to write to the Department of Education and Science to express our deep concern at the way in which adult education appears to have fallen off the end of the raft of policies which the Government are proposing for education and training.

I shall discuss in a moment what the college said on this issue but, first, I wish to discuss what I have learnt personally from this involvement with adult education. I wish to consider what effect that experience should have on the policies that should be adopted. The first thing I have learned is that this rather small college of only 2,000 students is just one part of a large movement. The HMI report, which has already been referred to, makes clear that there are 3.4 million students in adult education in this country in any one year. Approximately half of them are studying in adult education institutes, but a considerable number are in further education colleges and extra-mural departments of universities.

In a study on learning and leisure by Professor Naomi Sargant, who is well known to some of my noble friends, it was calculated that 10 per cent. of the adult population was involved in adult education at the time of the questioning and a further 16 per cent. had taken part in adult education in the past three years. A further 10 per cent., while not formally enrolled in any adult education courses, were learning at home. That is 36 per cent. of the population of this country. It is a huge movement and one which ought not to be dismissed in a page and a half of a two-volume White Paper.

I have also learnt from my experience of the Working Men's College that one cannot classify courses, as the White Paper seeks to do, on the basis of the motivations of those who undertake them. Many examples have been given, most notably in the excellent maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Hilton, who spoke of the fact that what appear to be leisure interests of police students can very well be vocational interests. It does not matter if they are not. They are still better police officers if they continue learning, whether or not what they are learning is directly related to their present job.

One of the aspects of the White Paper, with its emphasis on 16 to 19 year-olds, which most frightens me is the danger that the vocational education which they are receiving at the age of 16 to 19 is not related to the vocation which they will follow throughout their life but only to their first job. That is the danger which we run if we take too literal a view of vocational education.

When the Working Men's College tries to classify its courses we can say that 80 per cent. of them fall within the definitions of acceptable education and training contained in paragraph 3.2 of Volume 2 of the White Paper—the killer paragraph. However, that does not tell us anything about the students who are taking those courses or why they are taking those courses. Some of them will be doing so purely for leisure; some of them will be doing so purely for vocational purposes related to their present job; some of them will be taking the courses because it will help them with jobs they wish to have in the future. Who is to say whether a class shall be included or excluded from the remit of the funding councils for further education on the basis of the motivation of the student? That does not make any sense at all.

What do we do about it? The first thing which I suggest we can do is not to make matters worse in the way that the White Paper appears to do. We could abandon paragraph 3.2, and we could do so without abandoning any of the rest of the White Paper. The Government could now say that they are thinking again about that particular aspect of the White Paper without in any way reneging on their commitment to improve vocational education and training. Nor should they, but it appears that a mistake has been made which could be corrected.

We could go further than the present emphasis on vocational education and training for 16 to 19 year-olds. In other words, we could treat the education of adults, who are a far larger part of the population, with the same seriousness as the Government now seek to treat 16 to 19 year-olds.

We could do something about the resources available for adult education. We could make it a duty on local authorities to provide adult education. As the White Paper is drafted it appears that there will be no such requirement. Most of the education post-16 will be taken away from local authorities and given to the new funding councils, on which local authorities are not to be specifically represented. It will be small wonder if a number of local authorities, hard pressed by poll tax capping or by the legitimate parsimony of their electors, say, "The rest of it has been taken away from us, so why should we provide adult education? The Government have indicated that much of it, except in disadvantaged areas, should be funded by the students themselves so we, the local authorities, will no longer provide it". I suggest that any legislation following the White Paper should require local authorities to provide adult education. It should require them to have a coherent plan of provision to meet the needs and demands of people in their areas. It ought to ensure that the funding of adult education is a proper part of their expenditure and recognised in their standard spending assessment.

Beyond the institutional side of adult education we ought to be moving towards a greater degree of entitlement of individuals to education throughout life. The White Paper and the training credit scheme have given a very good example. Under the training credit scheme 16 and 17 year-old school leavers are entitled to further vocational training over the next few years. It is their entitlement, which they can take where they want. Let us extend that principle later into life. My noble friend Lord Young of Dartington is carrying on his usual very effective campaign for entitlement for those over the age of 50. But why should there be a gap between the 18 and 19 year-olds, on the one hand, and the over 50s on the other? If it is too expensive to carry entitlement into the whole range of education and training—though I do not believe that it is, either in social or economic terms—there should at least be an entitlement to assessment so that people can have free access to advice about what education and training is appropriate for them.

The distinction between education and training is one which can amuse academics until kingdom come. We have to maintain the principle that we must be a learning society. It is learning which is the common element in education and training and it is learning which education for adults can provide.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, one of the disadvantages of being the last of the Back Bench speakers is that one inevitably has to repeat a number of points. That does not disappoint me: in politics repetition for the sake of emphasis is a good thing, even more so on the subject of adult education where the Government seem a little hard of hearing. Repetition will do no harm.

When the subject of adult education has been raised in this House in recent months and only partial answers given, we have been told, "Wait for the White Paper". Now that it is with us, it is by any standards a disappointing document. Adult education has long been the Cinderella of the education service. We had some hopes that it would emerge from the shadows with the publication of the policy statement.

The first requirement is a stronger statutory basis. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord McIntosh spoke forcefully on that aspect; at one stage I thought that I would be the only speaker in the debate to say it. It is the lack of such provision which has brought about the very wide variation in adult education.

In the HMI report Education for Adults it is stated that the amount spent on general and basic adult education by individual LEAs in 1987–88 varied widely from over £10 per head to just a few pence. That is a devastating comment and demonstrates clearly how much needs to be done. If quality provision is to be made and enacted, the local authority standard spending assessment will need to reflect all of the various requirements of adult education.

Like many others, I express my concern about the Government's differentiation between what they call leisure interests and other courses. That is a perfect example of repetition. But it will not do any harm, particularly following upon the excellent speeches that have been made. On the surface, there appears to be a difference between flower arranging and dressmaking on the one hand and the study of the Greek philosophers and French literature on the other. But, as previous speakers have said, you can never be entirely sure as to where learning, whatever it is, can lead. It need not lead to anything; learning is a good thing and valuable in itself.

I can illustrate the point, not by referring to some of the most interesting examples that have been given, but by explaining that I spent two years as a local education authority further education organiser. It was the most satisfying period of my life. I saw people of both sexes and of all ages try all kinds of courses. And it all sprang from the spur of learning, whatever the subject.

Nor should we forget or underrate the valuable social function that some courses provide. For many people, particularly older people, they are a lifeline. The Minister will know that in some areas there has been a drastic reduction in the number of courses. In that connection I make a special plea for specific courses for adults with special educational needs. Adequate funding is essential if the courses are to have any value. The Government have made comments on that aspect of adult education, but the proof of the pudding, as with everything else connected with adult education, will be in the eating.

It is not possible to deal with the many aspects of adult education, but it must be reiterated that the rich variety of providers is of the utmost importance. Here is another repetition. Over 3.4 million adults in England and Wales enrol every year in some form of education which, for many, provides the only experience of post-school education. There should be as many doors as possible through which entrance may be obtained, particularly as the people looking for entrance come from such different circumstances and backgrounds.

I wish to concentrate on one of those providers: the long-term residential colleges. That type of education is provided by, for example, Ruskin College, Fircroft College and the other five similar colleges. The new councils will be responsible for the public funding of those colleges. In providing studies of high academic standard, they perform at least two important functions. First, they stretch the ability of their students, usually in obtaining a qualification of university standard. I am thinking of diplomas in economics, public administration and similar subjects. As the courses are usually of two years' duration, they call for sustained effort of a high order and a successful conclusion gives immense personal satisfaction. Secondly, the qualification is usually accepted by universities as an indication that the student can proceed to a degree course.

There is no doubt about the huge demand for that type of adult education. One proof of that is the large number of applicants for the places available in spite of the problems that long-term residential education brings to many of the people concerned, not least the fact c f being separated from their families. An advantage is that the colleges do not require formal educational qualifications for entrance which is one of the essential features of adult education. I wonder whether the Government—perhaps the Minister will comment when he replies—have ever thought of establishing more of those colleges. They are a government of supply and demand, and the demand is certainly there. I see the Minister agreeing with me by nodding his head, so perhaps we shall have some good news at the end of the debate. It would be worthwhile even from the view-point of having more and better qualified people to contribute to the country's economic well-being.

I am dealing with long-term, residential adult education. The residential aspect is very important. However, there are difficulties, not least, as I have mentioned, with married people. The Government should improve facilities for such courses on a non-residential basis. I am aware that polytechnics and some other institutions can and do provide such facilities and they should continue to do so, but I am convinced that adult education colleges provide an environment, if I can so describe it, which is better for that kind of study.

I take this opportunity to ask about a ministerial review of the purpose and function of the long-term reside initial colleges about which I have heard but not read. I understand that one conclusion is that the colleges should limit their courses to one-year access to higher education and to residential short courses for students on non-residential access courses. I hope that that is not correct. It would change completely the nature of the colleges and be a retrogressive step. Perhaps the Minister will deal with the matter when he replies.

Behind it all there is a big question to be asked: how can the factory worker, the miner, the shop assistant or the clerk afford to attend a full-time, two-year or even a one-year course? In his Statement on further and higher education in another place on 20th May, the Secretary of State said at cols. 644 to 645: My right hon. Friends and I are committed to open access to higher education for everyone who has the ability and willingness to take advantage of it. We shall not put financial obstacles in their way". I am surprised to hear that coming from the present Secretary of State, but it is nice to have it on the record. However, the Government's cuts in education and other fields inevitably raise some doubts, at least in my mind. That is the Robbins principle, and many of us are under the impression that that idea was discarded a long time ago by the Government. We look forward to seeing how it will apply to the many hopefuls wishing to undertake full-time, residential adult education.

The degree of interest, or perhaps I should say lack of interest, in adult education is shown by the Government in a mere five short paragraphs in vol. 2 of the White Paper. It does not even reflect the worry shown by the HMIs in Education for Adults which is an excellent document. One of the greatest criticisms that can be levelled at the Government is that they consistently fail to recognise that adult education students are the most highly motivated in the education system. The Government have failed to capitalise on that most potent factor and that means that they fail people as individuals and, as a result, the country as a whole.

It is evident that the struggle for a decent adult education service comparable with that of our European partners will need to continue for some time yet.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I found to my horror when I arrived here this afternoon that, through a misunderstanding, my name was not on the list of speakers. I immediately saw the Whips who agreed that I should intervene at this point in the debate.

I shall speak only of one aspect of adult education; namely, the role of the Workers' Educational Association, generally known for decades as the WEA, now facing an uncertain future in the light of those White Papers on education and training. It looks as though the Government are interested only in vocational education. I was extremely interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. Although the association was founded two years after Queen Victoria's death, the WEA was one of those historic, social institutions conceived in the late Victorian age. It was very different from the mechanics' institutes. It was a quasi-religious mission to provide access for men and women without secondary education to subjects such as history, philosophy, economics and literature. It was a set of studies that not only opened people's minds, but equipped many of them to become politicians, magistrates and town councillors.

Sixty years ago I myself found it most rewarding. I decided to go straight into journalism from Manchester Grammar School—a choice regarded as deplorable and eccentric by my schoolmasters. However, at the WEA I found some distinguished scholars of Manchester University eager to educate me. The fee—like my salary in those days—was negligible. Some years later I served with A. P. Wadsworth, editor of the Manchester Guardian who in the pioneering days of the WEA had been a pupil of Tawney. I think that if it had not been for the WEA he would have finished up not as editor of the Manchester Guardian but as editor of the Rochdale Observer.

Times have changed and educational opportunities today are infinitely richer. For example, we now have the Open University and the University of the Third Age for retired people. The WEA itself is different. If you were to attend a class of literature or visual arts in Barnes, (where I live) you would find that most of the members would be well dressed, well educated and well travelled women. That could be misleading. The WEA throughout the country is still carrying out its traditional, splendid work among less privileged people in industrial towns and in rural areas where sometimes it is the only form of adult education available. Today, it has an enrolment of 180,000 and is giving educational support to school governors, health advisers, family counsellors, hospitalised people and prisoners. It is still the major voluntary organisation working in adult education in the UK.

There is now a fear that the creative partnership that has developed between local and central government in the voluntary sector is in danger of erosion. No longer are the classes recruited with the bait of the negligible fee which I paid all those years ago. It may cost £30 or £40 to enrol for a 20-week course. That sum covers the cost of the tutor but only one-third of the total cost. Although the WEA is and always has been a shoe-string organisation, its total income per year is £6 million, of which half comes from the Department of Education and Science. There is a fear that that £3 million could now be reduced to £2 million.

If greater resources are given to vocational training for adults—an excellent thing in itself—it could mean less for the rest of adult education, or that is how it looks from these White Papers. Restructuring of the kind the Government have in mind could mean that many adults would not be able to afford to take part in this form of education, particularly the low-paid, those without paid employment and those with families.

The WEA is urging the Government to ensure that all the money now paid by central and local government continues to be paid by the funding councils and the Scottish Education Department. I fervently hope that the Government will set all the fears of the WEA at rest and make it possible for this voluntary educational body to continue its historic work.

8.4 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, first, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, on a most informative and interesting speech. She has already begun to educate us in areas of life of which we are all too ignorant, and I hope she will continue to do so on many occasions. Secondly, I have to apologise to the House and to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that I was not here at the beginning of the debate. I was inadvertently locked into the Gallery and lacked the skills to abseil into your Lordships' House in order to be here for the beginning of the debate. However, I was rescued by the police in time to hear the latter part of noble Lady's speech. Thirdly, I have to declare an interest as I am still chairman of a London adult education centre, Morley College, where, needless to say, we are deeply worried by what we find in the White Paper. In many ways I am echoing what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has said from the standpoint of a sister organisation. But he is better placed than I am because the Christian Socialists were good enough capitalists to fund his before they died. Lilian Baylis and her colleagues failed to make any such suitable provision.

As so many other speakers have said this evening, when we look at the White Paper we find reference to what are called "leisure activities"—a brush-off for adult education if ever there was one. What are these "leisure activities"? They include a whole variety of different arts: music, painting and sculpture, as well as philosophy, history. I could go on and on. They also include many perhaps more mundane and practical courses which are available to a wide variety of people. If these are leisure activities, then most of the universities in this country spend a great deal of their time at leisure. However, that is how the position stands at the present time.

Who are the people who are at present taking advantage of what adult education at its best has to offer in this country? One of the great attractions of adult education colleges is that they draw into their student body a wide variety of people. For example, in our choirs at Morley College from time to time we have senior officials from the Treasury (though I am not quoting anybody in particular at the moment) who presumably come to sing their hearts out in the optimistic view that Treasury officials have hearts. On the other hand, we have people who are lacking in basic literacy skills.

People come from both ends of the spectrum. The Treasury officials can afford to pay, and so can some (but by no means all) of the many people working in the City of London who on their way home attend classes from six to eight in the evening on subjects which in many cases are quite different from—though in some cases may be extensions of—their daily work. They provide a stimulus, a contrast, or a relaxation from taxing or boring jobs, as the case may be; but the classes are a very valuable complement to the way some people spend their lives during the day.

There are other people who are deeply in need of basic education. There have been indications from the Government—and it would be very useful if tonight we could have confirmation of it—that basic education for people in need of elementary numeracy and literacy skills, and English as a second language, are going to continue to be funded in those colleges. Can the noble Lord tell us whether that is so or, if it is not, whether the Government will think about it again? That group certainly has a special claim on the resources of the community not only in their own interests but because they are the people who are doomed to be members of that under-class, to which we refer all too often, if they continue to be lacking in numeracy, literacy and the basic skills to enable them to cope in our modern society and in our large cities.

Then there are other groups. When the Education Reform Act of 1988 was passing through this House, those who were connected with it must have received—as I did—some of the most moving letters that they have ever had. For example, I had a letter from a woman who said that she spent all her days and nights looking after an invalid parent. She had managed to arrange to get out once a week to attend a class. She wrote, "If I have to abandon that class, that is really the last straw. I cannot go on. It is a lifeline for me".

There are the old. There is an increasing number of old people in society. More and more people are retiring earlier. What do they do? Many of them have started to learn new things. Out of that has come all sorts of skills. Some have turned those new skills, learnt through adult education, into new second careers or partial careers of one kind or another. For some people new doors have been opened on aspects of life that they never contemplated before. Adult education keeps them going. The letters from pensioners are very moving and indeed revealing.

Are we to say to such people that the fees will now be sc much and it will not be possible for them to continue to attend? That is what we are saying to a great many people who exist only on the basic pension. I should be the first to agree that not all pensioners are in that position. I suppose that most of the Feers in your Lordships' House are pensioners, and very few of them exist on the basic pension. It is a different matter to have a good secondary pension. Many pensioners have nothing or practically nothing except the basic pension. If they are to pay the financial cost of classes, it will be the end of attendance for them. They are there and they have a very big demand on adult education. In the past adult education has been extremely successful in meeting those needs.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, put a number of specific suggestions to the Government as to their course of action. I should like to echo his observation that it is surely time that at last adult education is included in the statutory obligations of the authority that will be responsible for it in so far as anybody is to be responsible for it. It has always been a problem that adult education has not been a statutory obligation. If that could be done, to even quite a small extent, it would make a great deal of difference.

Most important of all is for the Government to recognise that such "leisure" activities are of the greatest importance educationally and that they warrant payment support out of public funds. That is the oily way to proceed. In a variety of ways other countries subsidise the arts and music a great deal more than we do. We are a nation of philistines. This Government have been called a philistine government. They have not been falsely so-called. Let them show that they are not as philistine as most people think they are.

Running through the White Paper is the message that so far as the Government are concerned education is about preparing people for jobs. Preparing people for jobs is extremely important. I have spoken of it many times in your Lordships' House. But let us not forget that that is not the primary purpose of education. Education is to turn out people who are capable of thinking for themselves, criticising governments, criticising society and developing the kind of approach and understanding that a civilised society requires. That is what education is about primarily. Skill training is a part of it but it is the smaller part. If the Government will admit that, they will do something to restore their reputation and refute the accusation that they are philistine. If the Government destroy adult education, the kindest thing that we can say is: you know not what you do.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, like other speakers in this debate I congratulate my noble friend Baroness Hilton of Eggardon on an excellent maiden speech. We very much look forward to hearing her on frequent occasions in the future. I am extremely glad that her policeman managed to rescue the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who was locked in the Gallery. If the noble Baroness had been to one of the excellent adult education classes in gymnastics—defined no doubt as leisure—she might have been able to abseil into the Chamber and it would have had vocational relevance and advantage for her.

I must declare an interest, as have a number of other speakers. As the Master of Birkbeck College, I am responsible for a very wide range of adult education courses in the London and Greater London areas. Indeed, the largest department of extramural studies in the country is under the auspices of Birkbeck. We serve some 19,000 students studying a wide range of courses. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred to Victorian values in relation to adult education and my noble friend Lord Ardwick referred to the WEA having been set up just at the end of the Victorian period. But Birkbeck goes back to the pre-Victorian period. It was set up in 1823 as the London Mechanics' Institute, as a place where men who work by day could study by night. We are still doing it 180 years later, and long may that be the case.

This has been an excellent debate in which every speaker has commented on how much adult education is valued and how important it is in our society. While it is undoubtedly the case that there is an urgent need to reform and improve 16 to 19 year-old education, the focus of the White Paper on improving education and indeed training for 16 to 19 year-olds has obscured the Government's plans—if indeed they have any—for adult education, by which I mean education of all kinds for mature adults over the age of 21.

What saddens me greatly is that the emphasis on initial education for 16 to 19 year-old students has resulted in a serious failure to consider the importance of continuing education—lifelong education—which is often of its nature intermittent and fragmented, but none the worse for that. Nonetheless, it is highly significant for the education and social wellbeing of the country.

As my noble friend Lord McIntosh said, it is a huge movement and one that we should value. For example, the proportion of mature students aged over 21 in further education colleges is now very substantial. One would not have thought it from reading the White Paper. Those students engage in education for a very wide variety of motives, which may be professional, practical, recreational, or academic. Moreover, on any one course in adult education there will be students in the class who have all those different motives all mixed together. It may well be that during the course of such a class their motives will shift from initially being recreational to later being either academic or vocational.

In their main White Paper proposals the Government wish to secure equal status for academic and purely vocational studies. I do not wish in any way to disagree or dispute the approach. In many ways it is long overdue. But it is strangely at odds with the new division that is being introduced. Courses for adults which have a predetermined outcome—NVCQS, GCSEs, A levels, access to higher education, access to higher levels of further education, basic skills, literacy and numeracy and English for speakers of other languages—are to be funded by the new councils; those courses which relate to so-called leisure interests are expected to be self-financing. As many other speakers in this debate have said, that is a totally unrealistic and unworkable separation.

It is extremely interesting to note that those companies to which my noble friend Lady David referred which have started major programmes of education for their workforce are not making this philistine and unworkable distinction. Perhaps I should declare another interest. I am on the board of the Rover Learning Business which provides opportunities for people from the shop floor to senior executives to register for a variety of courses. Such absurd distinctions are not made in that regard.

The study pathways followed by adult students are enormously varied. In my own institution, Birkbeck, there are many students who started by taking general interest courses—which the Government would presumably define as recreational or leisure—in local education authority institutes before going on to an extramural certificate or diploma and on to a degree level course. How do the Government propose to maintain such pathways in the future if those courses are all to be self-financing? That will mean that relatively high fees are to be charged which many people will not be able to afford to pay.

There are many forms of public service and role-related education which do not appear to fit within the framework of the White Paper; for example, parent education, or education for carers of the disabled. There are many such examples. All those activities improve the quality of life of the nation. Can we be assured that those education opportunities which are so important to many people will be supported under future arrangements? Many other examples have been given by noble Lords.

The White Paper mentions the possibility of LEAs financing otherwise non-funded activities in socially disadvantaged areas. However, will the standard spending assessments of the poorer LEAs be adjusted to take account of that? Will the Minister give us an answer to that question? Although there is recognition of the social value of leisure education in advanced areas in vol. 2 of the White Paper, if local authorities are eventually divested of the powers and funding to provide further and adult education it is unclear how they will be able to provide those subsidies. In many ways why should they? They are no longer providing the service. I should like clarification on how such a discretionary system might work.

My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey suggested that adult education should be left with the local education authorities and that there should be a statutory requirement by local authorities to provide adult education. Other noble Lords referred to that. I agree with that proposal.

I suggest that the restrictive categorisation of fundable courses must be reconsidered when detailed regulations are worked out. Emphasis on the post-school age group should not have an inadvertently damaging effect on the educational opportunities of much older age groups. That appears to be the net effect of the White Paper.

Many other points in the White Paper are disturbingly vague. Some institutions, such as the four central London colleges currently funded through the London Residuary Body and the WEA, are completely unclear about their future role when funded by the new council. My noble friend Lord McIntosh, who is the principal of one of them, will confirm that. It appears that those institutions are not to be funded to perform what is, and has been for many years, their primary role—to provide general cultural education. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide clarification, if not today in the very near future.

Adult education can be maintained only if there are buildings in which classes can be held. Have the Government taken into account the implications for adult education of the new funding and organisational arrangements? There is not much sign of that in the White Paper. Appropriate capital resources must be provided for the education of adults. The provision of accommodation is a central, not a peripheral, matter. In many areas of the country, adult education takes place in school premises. There is anxiety that adequate facilities will not remain available if LEAs cease to have any responsibility for further education and the schools become increasingly independent under LMS arrangements. It is vital that that aspect of the proposed changes is given serious attention.

Adult educational opportunities are an essential component in a democratic society. It would be short sighted and very foolish if a substantial part of our educational heritage were to be destroyed by inadvertence—perhaps I am being generous to the Government—or worse, by an attempt to achieve rather small economies. I believe that spending on non-vocational adult education is less than 0.5 per cent. of total education expenditure. It is now nearly 20 years since the Russell Report recommended that expenditure on adult education should rise from 1 per cent. to 2 per cent.

Surely in a civilised society we should be able to spend at least that amount on helping adults to continue to learn. Learning should take place over people's entire lives. It should not be confined to the years between the age of three, or perhaps five, through to the early 20s. Staff working in adult education are at present confused and anxious about the White Paper's proposals. They fear that the many years spent in building up an adult education system within this country will he thrown away. I agree with my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington about the importance of having a specialist adult education environment rather than assuming that all adult education can continue in FE colleges, schools or wherever.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred to teaching in the blackout. We kept our adult education classes going throughout the Blitz and later in the war. Surely this Government will not wish to jeopardise teaching now during a period of peace and relative affluence. I regret to say that the White Paper is an opportunity lost to make a major commitment to adult education, to the need to expand it, and to build on the expertise available. If we want a better educated and better trained society, there are few aspects that provide better value for money than the voluntary network of evening classes around the country.

I hope that on receiving the many concerned responses to the consultation—and, like my noble friend Lady David, I have seen some of them—the Government will think again. Let us hope that they will relent and take a less narrow, less instrumental and less philistine view in their approach to adult education. Full cost fees will lead to the collapse of many of the so-called leisure courses around the country. When that occurs, it will not be the privileged middle-classes which lose out but some of the less advantaged members of the community to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, referred—the elderly, those who missed out at school and young mothers seeking the opportunity to escape the relentless demands of small children. Many speakers today have registered their anxieties about the White Paper. The Government must reconsider their position and I hope will do so urgently.

8.30 p m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for asking this Unstarred Question on the important subject of adult education. However, I must say that at times it has sec med more like a two-and-a-half hour debate on a White Paper. The House will also be grateful to her for providing an opportunity for the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, to make her maiden speech. It was not only an excellent speech but a valuable contribution to a debate, and it was based on her experience as a provider and a receiver of adult education.

This has been a fascinating debate, and I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will read the Official Report with great interest. In my reply, I propose first to explain the Government's plans for adult education, and then I shall do my best to answer the specific points that have been raised if I have not already done so.

I must tell the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that my grandfather was closely involved with the Polytechnic of Central London in the days when it was called the Regent Street Polytechnic. Like the noble Earl, I am pleased to learn that under the proposals in the White Paper it will be allowed to call itself a university when the necessary legislation is passed. I am sure that my grandfather would also have been delighted.

In explaining our plans I think that it would be useful to place our new policy in the context of the many opportunities in education which are already available to adults and which the Government have been instrumental in providing. Opportunities for adults in both further and higher education have never been so numerous or varied. The evidence is impressive. Figures for November 1989 indicate that some two-thirds of the 1.8 million enrolments in further education establishments were by people aged 19 or over. Between 1979 and 1988 the numbers of mature home first-year students in higher education increased by 55 per cent. from 131,000 to 203,000.

The facts speak for themselves. Adults are occupying their place in the education system with increasing confidence. I shall explain how this confidence has been built up. It is partly by increasing flexibility of provision in FE institutions through schemes such as accumulated credit transfer. This enables students to gain exemption from study for the qualifications that they already have. It also introduces greater flexibility by allowing students to put together programmes to meet their own particular needs.

The Council for National Academic Awards has taken the lead in this field through its credit accumulation and transfer scheme, which was launched in March 1986. The CNAA is now proposing to set up a national framework for the recognition of general academic credit. This would enable locally determined credit ratings to achieve wider general currency. It would be used by students, educational institutions, employers and professional bodies.

The DES has also been prominent in this area in its funding for the educational counselling and credit transfer information service developed at a cost of nearly £5 million to provide a national computerised information service about opportunities in further and higher education and to assist counselling and careers guidance services.

There has also been a significant increase in the number of access courses which represent an important route into higher education for mature entrants without traditional qualifications. There are now, for example, something like 600 access courses throughout the country compared with some 130 in 1984. So a demand is clearly being met. Although a relatively recent development, they have matured rapidly. The early courses were in the social sciences and humanities—traditional disciplines for the mature student. The provision has rapidly spread to other areas, including law and business studies. Twenty per cent. of access course provision is now in mathematics and science-based disciplines.

Both the DES and the Department of Employment have supported research and development work aimed at improving access opportunities. We have sought to safeguard standards and establish the currency of access courses through support for a national access courses recognition scheme. I must mention the Open University which has done an unprecedented amount in bringing university education to a large number of adults with a wide range of qualifications. The Open University is teaching some 75,000 undergraduate students, 40 per cent. of whom lack standard entry qualifications, and last year awarded a degree to its 100,000th graduate.

Those in employment are increasingly taking opportunities to update their skills and acquire new ones. The PICKUP programme, supported by the Government, has been highly successful in encouraging colleges, polytechnics and universities to improve and increase their provision to meet the training needs of the adult workforce. Enrolments to PICK UP courses have been increasing by an average of 20 per cent. a year during the past five years.

The further education and higher education White Papers build on these achievements. The HE White Paper, for instance, lays great emphasis on the importance of both access and of flexible learning opportunities. But I want today to pay special attention to further education where there are exciting opportunities to provide an even better deal for adults than exists at the moment. The recent White Paper Education and Training for the 21st century signals the Government's firm commitment to the further education of adults. It outlines our clear goal—to secure a highly-skilled and well-qualified adult population.

A substantial amount of money is already available to LEAs for the further education of adults. This year's local authority financial settlement allows for local education authorities to spend some £150 million on adult education centres. In addition, the £1.7 billion to be spent on further and higher education colleges includes their provision for adults. A great deal is being achieved. But I must admit that provision remains patchy. Our aim is to ensure that resources are concentrated on priority areas of provision and that those kinds of education are uniformly available.

We propose to achieve this by channeling resources through new further education funding councils in England and Wales into crucial areas of education which will be of lasting, worthwhile and practical benefit to adults in their jobs, certainly and as citizens too. Let me make it plain that the Government are concerned about securing the future of both vocational and non-vocational education for adults. The duty will remain to secure adequate provision of all kinds of further education; but in future it will be divided between the funding councils and the LEAs.

On the council side a very wide range of provision will be supported. It will embrace courses leading to both academic and vocational qualifications. It will also include education leading to the acquisition of basic skills (that is, literacy and numeracy); to proficiency in English as a second language; and provision which meets special educational needs. I hope that answers the anxieties expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

We believe that it is crucial to give every encouragement to adults aspiring to the higher levels of further education and to higher education. The funding councils will in addition therefore support courses giving access at all significant levels. Meanwhile, it is important to emphasise that LEAs will retain the duty to secure the provision of other kinds of further education. This will include recreational and leisure classes; for instance photography, philosophy, holiday Spanish and the rest. We know that these are much valued by local communities and by people of all ages. Their-costs are already met largely from fees and we believe that that should continue to be the case.

The White Paper recognises the case for local education authorities subsidising such classes, particularly in disadvantaged areas, for those who cannot afford the fees. But we do not believe that it is unreasonable to expect most people to pay for education which is intended to meet leisure purposes. In many places adult students are already paying all or most of the cost of such classes. The classes need not be expensive.

Many people fear that our proposals mean the end of LEA education services for adults; that we want to put a stop to a long tradition of courses in creative writing and motor car maintenance. Let us be quite clear that this is not the case. As I have said, local education authorities will retain their duty to secure the provision of that part of further education for adults which will not fall to the duty of the new funding councils. Accordingly the range of duties in relation to further education which is already on the statute book—it is in Section 41 of the 1944 Education Act as amended—will not be diminished.

So there need be no uncertainties about the continuation of recreational and leisure classes. Where there is demand there will be a range of bodies—colleges and voluntary bodies as well as local education authorities—prepared to put on such classes in places readily accessible to local communities. We also propose to extend the range of providers by making it easier for schools to run classes on their own initiative. School governing bodies will be able to admit adults to sixth forms and provide day and evening classes for adults on school premises.

The newly independent further education colleges will be responsible for providing the education for adults which the new funding councils have a duty to secure. They may provide it themselves or they may buy it in from other providers; whichever best suits the local circumstances. Often the education may best come from a local community college, for example, or from a voluntary body. What we want to see, and what we expect to see, is the best use being made of the available resources in each area in the interests of further education opportunities for adults.

We recognise that certain colleges have a special role to play in the new framework. The new funding councils will therefore support directly the seven long-term residential colleges for adults: Ruskin, Plater, Hillcroft, Fircroft, Northern College, the Co-operative College and Coleg Harlech in Wales. The Council for England will also support the four inner London colleges—Morley College, the City Lit, the Mary Ward Centre and the Working Men's College. Furthermore, the councils will provide direct funding to the Workers' Educational Association.

The opportunities for adults in Scotland will be equally exciting. The Government's policies are outlined in the White Paper Access and Opportunity—a Strategy for Education and Training. Funding of FE colleges will be made directly from the Scottish Office education department from 1st April 1993. Funding will cover a similar range of activities to that supported by the funding councils for England and Wales.

I shall now reply to the specific points raised in the debar e. The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked if LEAs; would be able to bid to the funding councils for funds for their own institutions. That is not intended. LEAs; will have their own source of funds through the revenue support grant. The noble Baroness quoted a number of cases in Hounslow where adults were progressing from one class to another; for example, to a GCSE in Spanish. The White Paper makes it clear that the funding councils will have a duty to secure provision which will enable adults to progress to higher levels of further education.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, and my noble friend Lord Beloff asked about the imposition of VAT on adult education classes. The Government are aware of that issue and will be looking at it carefully before legislation is brought forward. My noble friend Lord Beloff also asked about response to the White Paper. I assure him that the responses will be carefully considered and analysed before the Government bring forward a Bill. My noble friend mentioned classes for adults; in Hackney. The Government are not proposing to take away those classes. It is now for LEAs to put on those classes and subsidise them so far as they wish. LEAs will retain the duty to secure the provision of those classes and a power to subsidise them so far as they wish.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount, but this is an extremely important matter. He used the word "duty". Does that mean that now LEAs will have a statutory obligation? Is that how we should interpret "duty"? I do not know how we shall get the money out of Lambeth, but that is another matter.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, that is another matter. We must discuss the duty further when we debate the legislation. At present that is the word I use and I can go no further than that.

I welcome the general support which my noble friend Lady Cumberlege gave to the White Paper's proposals. I assure her that the Government have no intention of erecting hurdles for those returning to learn. She spoke also of LEAs taking particular account of the bereaved and socially deprived in subsidising courses for adults. I am sure that that will be done.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that lines should not be drawn. However, lines are always drawn. LEAs decide now which courses they will subsidise and for which courses they will charge higher fees. They decide to whom they will grant concessionary fees and to whom they will not. It is not realistic to suppose that all education can be treated in the same way without some priorities being given.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, although it is the case that lines must be drawn in certain respects, I do not believe that any local education authority has drawn the kind of lines which are proposed in the White Paper between on the one hand those courses which are defined as leisure or recreational courses and other courses. That is the anxiety which many speakers in this debate have addressed. Perhaps the noble Viscount will elaborate further on that and will reveal whether he is happy for that distinction to continue to be made.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, with respect, this is an Unstarred Question. The noble Baroness's question is more suited to a debate on the White Paper. I have been asked to give the Government's plans for the future of adult education which I am attempting to do.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I must protest. This is an Unstarred Question about the Government's plans for the future of adult education. This is a central issue to that Question. Therefore, I believe that the House deserves a reply.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am sorry but my understanding of an Unstarred Question is different from that of the noble Baroness.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, asked about the future of long term residential colleges. Following a review of the long term residential colleges, they have been asked to concentrate on access to higher education for the disadvantaged. This is not a cost-cutting exercise. We believe that on education grounds the courses at some of these colleges need to be modified. They need bringing up to date. The Colleges should be well-equipped to provide intensive access courses for those who missed out in early life.

In general, access courses need to last for only one year. LEA access courses usually last for one year, and they are non-residential and less intensive than the courses at the LTRCs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, spoke about courses which would be of social value in inner city Bradford. The White Paper makes it clear that LEAs will continue to support courses of social value. There will be no question of the ethnic minorities in Bradford losing educational opportunities.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, expressed worries about the future of adult education under the LEAs. I should make it clear to the noble Lord that LEAs will have a duty—and I repeat the word "duty"—to secure adequate provision of those parts of further education for adults which are not the duty of the funding councils.

The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, asked about provision for adults with special educational needs. The funding councils will have a statutory duty to secure adequate provision of further education for adults with special educational needs.

They will need to ensure that colleges have adequate resources to make such provision. The noble Lord referred also to access to higher education and the Robbins principle. I reaffirm the Government's commitment to that principle covering access to higher education. That was made clear in the HE White Paper which also stated the Government's continuing commitment to awarding higher education a fair share of public expenditure.

The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, expressed worries about the future of the Workers' Educational Association. The Government are anxious to secure the future of the WEA. The Council for England will take over some £2 million per year now being paid to the WEA by the Department of Education and Science. Local authorities will keep the sums of over £1 million transferred to them for the WEA and we expect them to continue to fund the WEA.

I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that LEAs will continue to have recognition in their standard spending assessments for adult education. That will be weighted towards disadvantaged areas. The Government will consider carefully the funding of both the new council sector and what is left with LEAs.

We have set our priorities for the further education of adults and we shall set in place the arrangements needed to give them effect. I am confident that under those new arrangements adults will have more educational opportunities than ever before.

House adjourned at thirteen minutes before nine o'clock.