asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received concerning proposed changes to the initial teacher training scheme and the closure of a number of teacher training colleges; and if he will make a statement.
About 3,000 letters have been received. In addition, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and officials received deputations from hon. Members, institutions and other interests. I announced my final decisions yesterday in response to a question from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton. (Mr. Lawrence).
I congratulate the Secretary of State on saving a number of institutions from himself. However, it has not gone unnoticed in the North-West that more than half the institutions that he will attack are in the North-West, including the butchery of De la Salle college. The timing of that original announcement was an insult to the House. Does he accept that the period of so-called consultation has been a farce, because he has ignored the recommendations of his own advisory body and of the Catholic hierarchy?
I reject all those allegations. We felt it our duty to make a decision as quickly as possible so that the institutions would know where they stood. We received the recommendations of the advisory committee in the spring of this year. The consultation period was at an awkward time, but I pay tribute to all the institutions that wanted to give evidence for the admirable evidence they gave us.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the maladroit exercise that he attempted to carry out during the summer vacation has now led to 10 institutions being closed without any reason whatever being given? The reasons for this whole exercise have not been explained to the House. Will he allow time for a debate and say why he has still gone far above the ACSET limit in the closures that he is proposing and why he has hit some institutions that have invested in courses that are in short supply and which we should be expanding?
Ministers face an invidious decision in applying what they regard to be the right reductions. We must take into account a number of factors, including the quality of the different institutions, the primary age range that we wanted to encourage, the advice of ACSET, the recruiting record of the institutions, regional factors and others, together with the skills covered by the different institutions. All those matters had to be reconciled to produce an answer that was bound to be invidious, whatever the list may have been. The hon. Gentleman understands that very well, and he is trying to make mischief out of pretending otherwise.
As the right hon. Gentleman's decision includes further college closures in the North-East, in addition to the closure of both the colleges in Northumberland in earlier years, how does he intend to achieve the objective he has accepted of setting up a major teacher training centre in the North-East?
The hon. Gentleman must remember that the colleges that we are closing in the North-East have been recruiting at less than 50 per cent. of the places established. We shall be taking the advice of the national advisory body in trying to build a strong teacher training centre in the North-East.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the great bitterness in Greater Manchester about the proposal to cut teacher training at De la Salle college? Is he aware that that college did all it could to develop a new role, which he is now sabotaging? Is he confident that enough teachers will be trained in Catholic schools even to teach religious instruction by the 1990s?
We do our best to make sure that, taking into account the actual recruiting by the Catholic colleges and the use of Catholic teachers in Catholic schools and elsewhere, we shall keep pace. As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, equally sincere arguments could be advanced for each institution.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Lincolnshire we are thankful that the Bishop Grosseteste college will remain open? We are grateful that he listened with an open mind to our arguments and recognised the quality of the teachers produced by that college as well as its contribution to life in Lincolnshire.
I am glad that my hon. Friend and his neighbours are pleased, but we shall have to look carefully at how the college recruits over the next few years and how it responds to the opportunities with which it is now presented for development and innovation.