HL Deb 16 October 1991 vol 531 cc1091-4

2.57 p.m.

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government: What are their plans to change the statutory basis of adult education.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the noble Baroness will have to wait for Her Majesty's most gracious Speech.

Baroness David

My Lords, I do not think that I need thank the Minister for that Answer! However, as the White Paper states that the funding council should devote its funds to vocational courses leading to qualifications and that fees should be charged for other courses, will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State's statement on 24th September means that he will not proceed with that proposition? Does the Secretary of State still hold the view that there is a clear distinction between vocational and non-vocational courses, bearing in mind that everyone in adult education disagrees?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the Government do not suggest a division between vocational and non-vocational education. The new FE funding councils will support a very wide range of courses: courses leading to academic and vocational qualifications; courses enabling adults to gain access to higher education; return-to-learn courses; basic skills courses; courses to develop proficiency in English as a second language and, in Wales, proficiency in Welsh. The LEAs will have a duty to secure provision on all further education for adults which does not fall into the councils' duty.

Baroness David

My Lords, the Minister has not answered the second part of my Question.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science addressed the anxieties, as the noble Baroness said, on 24th September. He reaffirmed the Government's commitment to the further education of adults. He made it clear that recreational and leisure courses would not disappear and fees would not need to be increased as a result of the proposed reforms.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the very powerful women's organisations, who in the main are supporters of the Conservative Government, are watching this matter very carefully? If the Government are really anxious about their image in the country they certainly should not continue in the way that they are. If there is an increase in rents many organisations will go out of existence.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am aware that there are anxieties and misunderstanding. I happen to believe that those anxieties are groundless. I am particularly aware of the fears expressed by women's organisations. I had hoped that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's statement on 24th September might have gone some way to allay those fears. However, I am pleased to be able to tell the noble Baroness that the Minister of State for Education and Science in another place, Mr. Eggar, has invited the chairman of the National Federation of Women's Institutes to see him to discuss their anxieties.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the statement by the Minister which he has just quoted was on the basis that local authorities would make a subvention towards non-vocational courses. However, is he further aware that there are well-justified fears that a whole range of non-vocational courses throughout the country will have to close because local authorities will not be able to support them? If he wants evidence of that will he look at an article on the education page of yesterday's Guardian?

Lord Cavendish of Furness: My Lords, I have seen the education page in yesterday's Guardian. One should be cautious about what one believes in the Guardian. I manage very well with believing very little. As it happens, I do not believe that any of the facilities need close. The average increase in education spending assessments overall for 1991–92 is 16 per cent. up on last year—well above the rate of inflation. Included in the spending assessment is 13 per cent. for adult provision. I believe it is for the local authorities to make provision along those lines.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be very helpful to the Open University if the clear distinction that has hitherto been made between the funding of part-time undergraduate education and the funding of adult education ceased to exist? There would then be more flexibility between the two areas of funding? Would the Government be in favour of the funding council, once it takes on the funding of the Open University, increasing that flexibility which would be so much more appropriate in the 1990s?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the flexibility is there. There will be flexibility between the funding council and the LEA, thereby providing a degree of overlap.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, following on from the question of my noble friend Lord Glenamara, in providing funding for local education authorities to put on so-called leisure courses will the Government take into account the cuts in adult education provision that have taken place in recent years and provide enough funding to restore provision to earlier higher levels?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the noble Baroness cannot have been listening when I said that there had been no cuts. For the year 1991–92 there was a 16 per cent. increase. In the spending assessment coveting adult provision the increase was 13 per cent.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the steep rise in fees may have an adverse effect on those seeking to study foreign languages in their spare time? Do not the Government think that rather short sighted since as a country we lag behind many other countries in this respect? Should not the study of foreign languages be encouraged by the Government?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

; My Lords, I do not accept that there need be a steep rise in fees. I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of languages. If there is a division between how the new funding councils and the LEAs work, one might put it like this. The new funding councils will cover those areas which might be described as being strongly in the national interest. Other areas may be just as important and closely reflect the needs of local people. Therefore, it is most appropriate that those should be provided locally.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, if the noble Lord believes that there has been no reduction in funding, why is it that adult education classes are being cut out throughout the country and fees are going up everywhere? How does he square those two aspects?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, it is not for me to instruct LEAs on how they distribute their funds. I merely tell them what has been the increase in funding.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, will the Government consider allowing students in adult education to apply for loans in the same way as undergraduates?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, that is a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper, but I shall look into it and let my noble friend know.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, in view of the difficulties now facing adult education, what will the Government do about the residential adult colleges? That does not need to appear in the Queen's Speech. Is it not unrealistic, as some of my noble friends have already said, to expect local education authorities to increase their contribution in that respect? In this fast-changing society, are not residential adult education colleges more important than ever?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I see no reason why residential colleges should not continue as before. They will get their fees from LEA grants and from other grants, as they have previously.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us still feel—and I am certain that the public as a whole feel—that the Government are completely out of touch with what is going on in the adult education world? The Government are passing this on to the local authorities again. The Government talk about extra money, but that is not true. Before the Bill is introduced we ask the Government to get their thinking right. We can then have a real debate when the Bill is presented to us.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, with the greatest respect, I am not passing this back to the LEAs. The question is asked whether adult education could be taken out of any new legislation. That cannot be done because the education of adults is already statutorily part of further education. Further education means education for those over the age of 16. It therefore encompasses adults and must continue to do so.