HL Deb 20 May 1998 vol 589 cc1646-8

2.53 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

By what amount expenditure on education in 1998–99 will exceed expenditure in 1996–97; and whether there will be a further significant increase in the following year.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, we anticipate spending on education in the UK to rise by £2.6 billion between 1996–97 and 1998–99. This includes an additional £1 billion for schools recurrent, over and above the plans of the previous administration for 1998–99; and an additional £300 million for schools capital, part of the New Deal for Schools programme of £1.3 billion across the Parliament. A further £100 million for capital projects and education action zones was added in the March Budget. Expenditure for future years will be set following the Government's comprehensive spending review. When noble Lords see the outcome of the spending review they will clearly see our commitment to education.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Will she confirm that her Answer means that the Government have already more than matched the yield of the 1p extra on income tax which the Liberals promised so frequently during the last election? Does her Answer also mean that the Government are demonstrating such commendable commitment to education as to mean that the previous government's contribution was grossly unsatisfactory? If I may say so, does that explain why the Opposition kept us here half the night in an example of belated remorse?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am sure that it was nothing to do with belated remorse that kept us here until ten past three this morning. We were having an interesting debate in the Committee stage of the School Standards and Framework Bill. We cannot know what the Liberal Democrats would have spent on education. They have not been in government for rather a long time; neither are they very likely to be in government for a long time. So I think we have to take what they say with a pinch of salt. However, we know that they have often said that they would put an extra penny on income tax and put the proceeds towards education. One penny on income tax would raise £1.8 billion, which is only 70 per cent. of the increase we have delivered. In the first year alone we are doing £800 million better than that and we have not raised income tax rates.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, spending as a percentage of GDP in 1996–97 was 4.9 per cent. Spending as a percentage of GDP on education in 1998–99 has fallen to 4.7 per cent. In the last 11 years of the previous government, spending on education was increased over all of that period by 2.7 per cent. in real terms per annum. Is it the Government's intention to sustain that level of increase in real terms per annum into the future, or even to better it?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, because of the comprehensive spending review, I cannot anticipate what spending on education or indeed on any other part of public expenditure will be in the future. But what I can say to the noble Baroness is that provision for local authority recurrent spending on schools rises by £1,017 million or 5.7 per cent. in cash, a real terms increase of 2.7 per cent. for this year; and provision for schools' capital rises by £320 million over the previous administration's plans for 1997–98, a 48 per cent. cash increase or a 44 per cent. increase in real terms, which I think compares very favourably with the record of the previous administration.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that it is slightly extraordinary that her Answer to the initial Question indicated in some way an attack on the Liberal Democrats, who shared the objective of the noble Baroness to improve education standards in this country? Does she agree, following the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that it is true that the Government are spending a lower proportion of GDP in real terms on education than the previous government did? Will she accept that we will not achieve significant improvements in education unless the result of the spending review is the release of more money to the education sector?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, of course I want to see more money released to the education sector and I am delighted to have support for that from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I hope the noble Lord will convey his views on this to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are looking for support from anywhere we can find it.

My noble friend Lord Hardy asked me about the position in comparison with the Liberal Democrats. I gave what I thought was an accurate answer. We are £800 million further up the ladder of educational spending than we would have been after 1p on income tax—in the very unlikely event that there might have been a Liberal Democrat administration.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, can my noble friend say how much additional expenditure will be devoted to raising standards in our schools?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, yes. The standards fund will support a programme of £505 million, which is an increase of £200 million over the equivalent programme in 1997–98. Some key elements supported by the fund are £50 million for the National Literacy Strategy—I have already mentioned in Answer to an earlier Question the importance we attach to improving literacy; £22 million for reducing infant class sizes; £100 million for the National Grid for Learning—I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it is very important that we introduce IT into our schools; £21 million for improving pupil attendance and behaviour; £2 million for work-related learning; and £20 million for school security.

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