Education (Assisted Places)

– in the House of Commons at 10:13 pm on 9th February 1983.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North 10:13 pm, 9th February 1983

I beg to move, That the draft Education (Assisted Places) (Amendment) Regulations 1983, which were laid before this House on 20th January, be approved. Three years ago I and my hon. Friends spent many hours locked in debate with Opposition Members. We sought means of widening parental choice in education, but they opposed it, preferring as always to tilt the balance away from individual parents towards state regulation. I am glad to say that we prevailed and were able to place the Education Act 1980 on the statute book, thereby tilting the balance some of the way back towards parents.

One of the measures that we included in that Act was the assisted places scheme. I wish to remind the House of the purpose of the scheme. It is to give able children from less well-off families the opportunity of attending good independent schools and to widen the educational opportunities available to children from financially less well-off homes by helping with the cost of tuition fees where parents cannot afford the full or the partial cost.

More than 8,500 children are now benefiting from the scheme in England alone. That number will grow. Each new intake to the 220 schools in this scheme will increase the number of pupils being assisted. In a few years' time, when the schools have assisted pupils in each year group, about 30,000 children will be benefiting. Set against the total of nearly 4 million secondary school pupils, that is only a small number—less than 1 one per cent.—but it means that 30,000 more boys and girls whose parents lack the power of the purse will be at the school of their parents' choice than would have been the case if Opposition Members had their way.

Tonight we are debating various amendments to the regulations that govern the detailed operation of the assisted places scheme. These are mainly in preparation for this coming September's intake, which is already being selected by the schools in this scheme. Before describing those amendments, I shall first report the figures for the current school year.

In England it appears that, as in the first year of the scheme, schools again received on average about four applications for each of the assisted places offered for 11 to 13-year-olds. Again, however, there was a disappointingly low number of applications for assisted sixth form places. From among these applicants the schools in the scheme selected the pupils whom they considered would most benefit from the education that they offered and who satisfied the eligibility criteria of the scheme in respect of age, residence and income.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

No, I shall not give way. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have explained the scheme, but he still does not know about it and I do not wish to keep him in ignorance any longer. Otherwise, I should be depriving him and I do not like depriving hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

The Minister should take his hands out of his pockets.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I shall do so and I trust that all Labour Members will do the same when they speak.

In September 1982, 4,440 pupils took up assisted places at schools in England. Of these 3,824 were aged between 11 and 14, filling about 85 per cent. of the places available for those age groups. The remaining 616 took up almost two thirds of the assisted sixth form places on offer. That new intake increased the total number of pupils holding assisted places to 8,616.

Perhaps of more interest than these overall numbers is information of the sort of pupils that are filling the assisted places. As in the first year of the scheme—I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House are listening carefully to this—two thirds of the new intake of assisted pupils have spent at least the two previous years in maintained schools. The assisted places scheme does not benefit pupils whose parents can well afford to pay tuition from their own resources. It is to the advantage of pupils who could not otherwise get there because their parents could not pay the fee.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman must wait. I know that he is anxious to speak, but he must hear these figures. Once he knows the figures I shall give way to him. At the moment he is rising in ignorance and we must not have that.

The fact is well supported by the statistics that we collect about the relevant incomes of assisted pupils.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I hope the hon. Gentleman has also had a good dinner. We in the Conservative party want the good life for all. We want good schools for all. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me about that. Whenever he wishes to cross the floor I shall be delighted to see him on this side.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

The Minister should take his hand out of his pocket.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I have put my left hand in my pocket which is even more dangerous, but I have now removed it.—[interruption.] Hon. Members must listen to this. In the 1982 intake, about four out of 10 new assisted pupils came from families whose family income was below two thirds of the average family income in this country. Another one third—

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

The figure is 5,726. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked me. He is plainly being won over by my arguments. Another one third come from homes whose income is less that the average family income. Between 3 and 4 per cent. only come from families whose income is 50 per cent. more than the average. It means that they probably have six or seven children. If all families had the same we should have no problem with falling rolls. Some members of the Labour party have tried to persuade the country that the assisted places scheme will benefit mainly the well-off. As is only too frequently the case, the rhetoric of Opposition Members is not based on fact. We specifically designed the scheme to benefit those with low incomes and, as the statistics show clearly, it is indeed boys and girls from low income families who are taking up the overwhelming majority of assisted places. In case any Opposition Member does not understand, I shall spell out in simple human terms the type of people who are entering the assisted places scheme. If single parents, manual workers, shop assistants, the unemployed and others with low incomes have able children whom they want to send to academically good independent schools they now have the chance for the first time in many years to do so.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I shall give way when I have finished this part.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

No, I have not given way. The hon. Gentleman is very observant. He is at least awake on this occasion, which is very good.

The assisted places scheme exists to widen educational choice for just those parents, and it is achieving that objective successfully. The press has carried many stories about assisted pupils from less advantageous backgrounds, and I shall mention a few typical examples.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I shall give way when I have finished this. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to hear about the children who are going on this scheme, but he will have to listen if he stays in the Chamber.

One example is Mark, a West Indian boy from Lichfield who gained an assisted place in 1981. His single parent mother is a shop assistant and does not have to pay anything towards his fees.—[Interruption] I thought that for once the Labour party would approve of such opportunities. Perhaps, we are dealing with a different Labour party now and one which does not want this sort of thing. I suggest that hon. Gentlemen talk to that mother about the opportunities being given to her children. Her child is having an opportunity that he would not have otherwise.

Martin from Wolverhampton is benefiting also. His father, a bus driver, wishes some of his other six children could have had the same opportunity. This year Birkenhead high school gave assisted places to, among others, the daughters of a railway signalman, a machine tool setter and a bus driver.

Photo of Mr Tom McNally Mr Tom McNally , Stockport South

What about a grocer's daughter from Grantham?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

In Leeds, the parents of assisted pupils include a hairdresser, a kitchen supervisor and a coal miner. Opposition Members are not allowed to laugh at coal miners. They are part of the aristrocracy and there is silence about that.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

The hon. Gentleman can by all means come up from the pit in a few minutes. King Edward's school at Birmingham, one of the most distinguished schools in the country, took 47 new pupils in the assisted places scheme. One of those pupils is a West Indian and ten are Indians. Again, I do not see how Opposition Members can object to that if they want a unified society.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I shall give way when I finish the paragraph, and not until then. Hon. Members may not like it, but they will have to listen.

Seven out of 21 girls taken into the Talbot Heath school this year came from one-parent families. If that is not where help should be given, I do not know where help should be given. At Highgate school in London—

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

The hon. Gentleman should listen, because that is part of his constituency. Many people in his constituency may want to apply when they know what it going on. It may not threaten him at the next general election, but I should welcome it if it did. We shall wait and see, and I shall be here to see.

Six of the eight entrants this year at Highgate school in London, another distinguished school, came from single-parent families, two of which were on supplementary benefit. Another girls' school has taken five out of seven of its intake from single-parent families.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

In the first or second sentence of his speech the Minister spoke of "a scheme to assist the able child." Some time ago I gave to the Minister an example from my constituency of a boy from a perfectly respectable home but who was certainly not of marked ability. He was in the middle of the ability group in his year. The Minister, as a former head master, will understand that I have looked at the matter with the same care that he may have been qualified to exercise himself. In replying to me on that case, the Minister having spoken of "ability" tonight said that ability had no bearing on the matter. Having said that, and bearing in mind the inconsistency which has followed everything he has said since then, does he not agree that the one clear assumption that the education world is entitled to make about his scheme is that it is a means of supporting the private sector of education at a time when the bulge has fallen very low?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. I should like to see the letter that I wrote then. As an honest man, I should like to see it. The hon. Gentleman must send me a copy tomorrow. We have made it clear from the beginning that this was an assisted places scheme for able children—

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I am not denying it at all. Has the hon. Gentleman brought the letter with him? I should like to see the letter.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

The Minister should have read it before he signed it.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I have said time and again in the country, in Committee and in the House—and if once I did not say it I must be forgiven for it, but I want to see the letter first to see whether there is anything to be forgiven for—that the assisted places scheme is a scholarship scheme for able children irrespective of background—indeed, from the poorest background. It enables them to go to academically able schools to achieve what they will not achieve at other schools in this country. That is a ladder of social and economic opportunity about which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree. I must take the hon. Gentleman further on this point because I can see a sign of salvation in what he is saying—a mere glint at the present time. If the hon. Gentleman wants a scheme—not just the able scholarship scheme for going into able academic schools—for all children, he must join us to see what can be done with the education voucher. The education voucher would open such opportunities to all children. If the hon. Gentleman prefers the education voucher, that is an interesting point.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

The point that I made in my letter to the Department was that the child was of only average, if that much, ability. He was being removed from an extremely good secondary school in the state sector to an assisted place in the private sector. The only explanation that I can find is that that is an example of the snobbery that is shown by the Government Front Bench.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I am prepared to examine the correspondence, but I can say now that we believe in parental choice. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that it was probably the parents' choice to move that child to another school.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Perhaps I can assist the Under-Secretary, as I am always anxious to do, by asking him one question, without the benefit of correspondence. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) asked a perceptive and intelligent question. Will the Minister define, on the basis of his experience as a Minister and a head teacher, the word "able" in the context in which he has used it repeatedly?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

It is very interesting to get into a philosophical argument at this time of night. As I said that I have argued this matter for a long time, I am prepared to answer the hon. Gentleman now. [Interruption.] I shall answer the hon. Gentleman if he will listen forward instead of to his left. The able child is one likely to obtain high grades in three A-levels.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Why does the Minister believe that those children cannot achieve precisely those results in what he described as ordinary schools?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

The hon. Gentleman cannot have seen the results of all state schools. There was much opposition from the Labour party to our proposal to publish results, because they wished to have secrecy and not to allow parents to know the results of their childrens' schools. No wonder that Labour Members are shouting tonight. There is no truth on their side. Many state schools do well academically, but many do not, especially in the inner cities where the opportunities for working class children are lower than they have been for 60 years.

Hon. Members:

Give way.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. The Minister is apparently not giving way.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

No, but he has made a very serious comment.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) will have the opportunity to make a speech later, when he can discuss this matter as much as he wishes. Now, having won the argument on this side, let us move on.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. I am taking a point of order from the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock).

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I commiserate with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, having to deal with ignoramuses on the Government Front Bench. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] It would be entirely contradictory to the traditions and, more important, to the current interest of the House if a Minister could say, "Having won the argument", when he has not made an effort of any description, infantile or inadequate though it may be, to respond to any argument. The essence of this place is argument. When Ministers or hon. Members make no effort to respond, they have no right to say that they have responded to the argument.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

That is not really a point of order for me.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I have always wondered why, when people do not do well in an argument, they make emotional statements.

As we agreed during the passage of the Education Act 1980, these regulations have been laid in draft and require the full approval of this House and the other place before they can be made. The 1980 Act also requires my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consult a body representative of the schools in the scheme before laying draft regulations. The independent schools joint council was consulted, and I am pleased to report that it welcomed the amendments.

I shall describe each of the amendments, and if hon. Members wish to raise detailed queries during the debate, I shall attempt to answer them at the end.

There are two principal amendments and three small technical ones. The first substantive amendment is in draft regulation 3 which will abolish local authorities' power of veto on transfers to assisted sixth form places. Hon. Members will recall that in the equivalent debate last year, I promised that we would closely monitor the decisions taken by local authorities on applications by pupils to transfer from maintained schools to assisted sixth form places. The Department has made a survey of those decisions.

Of the 96 local education authorities in England, 89 responded. Six reported that they had given blanket approval for pupils who wished to transfer to assisted sixth form places at certain local independent schools, but did not know how many pupils had taken up those places. Fifty authorities reported that they had received no transfer applications in 1982. The remaining 33 authorities reported receiving 73 applications of which they approved 43 and rejected 30.

I found the returns fascinating. Those hon. Members who have long memories or who have done their homework for the debate will remember that when we were planning the scheme, local education authorities were worried that there would be wholesale transfers to assisted sixth form places and that some of their maintained sixth forms would be rendered unviable. Many authorities sincerely held that view. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), whom I am pleased to see here tonight, properly decided to meet that concern by giving authorities the power of veto over transfers from maintained schools to assisted places at sixth form level. We all know that a few authorities—because, like hon. Opposition Members, they dislike the scheme in principle—have used the veto for purposes other than those for which it was intended. That was why we set up the monitoring exercise. [HON. MEMBERS:"Name one."] I can name north and south Tyneside and Rochdale. If hon. Members want me to go on for another 10 minutes I shall give a list of about 15. I shall not do so, however, as other hon. Members wish to speak.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

No. Above all else, the survey showed that local authorities' fears about wholesale transfers were entirely unfounded.

Photo of Mr Peter Rost Mr Peter Rost , Derbyshire South East

Will my hon. Friend confirm that his amendments will help my constituent, Charlotte MacWhirter, who was arbitrarily and unjustifiably denied an assisted place, although she was accepted at Repton school, and wanted to take four subjects at A-level, on the ridiculous grounds that her subjects were an unusual combination? Will the regulations now help people who are so ridiculously persecuted by Derbyshire county council which has abused its powers and is not fit to be an education authority in power?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

A section 68 notice has gone out from my right hon. Friend in connection with that case. It is being considered. If the order is changed as proposed, such a case will never occur again. If a parent wishes a child to go to a school and the school agrees, the transfer could take place without the need for approval by the local education authority.

Photo of Mr Peter Rost Mr Peter Rost , Derbyshire South East

What would the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) do to help that girl?

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

Nothing. Does the Minister accept that Charlotte MacWhirter—I have no animus against her—changed her A-level subjects once she got to Repton school? That raises a fear among local authorities that, once the veto has been done away with, many people will go to these schools when they could take equivalent courses in their state schools. Does the Minister accept that in Derbyshire, many headmasters are expressing the severe worry that their sixth forms will be filleted by public schools that are touting for custom in this way?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I shall give a little more information about the case. Charlotte MacWhirter applied for an assisted place at Repton school to study A-levels in physics, chemistry, economics or biology and music. The application was turned down because Derbyshire education authority said that the combination was unusual. There is no right for a local authority to turn down an A-level combination as unusual. What has happened since does not detract from that. The decision by the Department has to be made upon her request for those subjects at that time supported by the school and by the parents. What has happened since is a different matter that will have to be examined. A section 68 notice was issued because of the rejection by the Derbyshire authority on the grounds that the choice of subject was unusual. I do not believe that the local education authority should make that decision against a school and the parents.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

Would it therefore be acceptable if a child, having opted to take Swahili at a public school, changed to English on arriving there?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I am always interested to hear hon. Members claim to state what I have been saying. I did not say that. The decision on subjects was made. A section 68 notice was issued. It is obviously not the intention of anyone in or out of Government to agree that someone accepted by a school should immediately change subjects. What the hon. Gentleman says is, to an extent, a smokescreen. Does the hon. Gentleman maintain that the authority was right to issue its rejection when the school stated that it was a practicable combination as did the school from which she was coming?

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

The extraordinary remarks of Opposition Members show a terribly inflexible attitude towards education. If they had any experience—I say this with respect—they would know that all pupils must be free to change their options. Sometimes they change them within a year of taking an A-level examination. [Interruption.] I am not saying that this is what the Minister stated. That is not the issue. I am dealing with the totally inflexible attitude of Opposition Members and their complete misunderstanding of how education works at sixth form or any other level.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. Few sixth form students in my experience have not changed subjects at some stage of their sixth form course—from a major to a minor, from a pure and applied, to a separate and combined. I took two extra subjects. Opposition Members probably took them out at that stage.

I wish to make a point about the veto. As only 70 pupils transferred from the state system into the sixth form of independent schools at that stage, it would seem that there was no requirement for a veto. Similarly, it has been policy, although it is not contained in the regulations, that no independent school could take more than five pupils at sixth form level. With only 220 schools having accepted the assisted places scheme, this means no more than about 1,000 pupils overall. I accept that we do not want independent schools bleeding the state system of their sixth forms. But the bleeding has been to the extent of only 70 pupils in all that period of time. The veto has been used by some authorities unfairly.

There has been no breaking of our word. We stated that we would see whether the veto was abused. The veto has been abused. If we had not done this, we would have broken our word. We mean to keep our word. Whatever the Opposition may claim, our actions fall within the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn. If we are attacked for keeping our word, we should be safe at the next general election.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

I appreciate the point that the Minister tries to make. If all he was trying to do was to stop abuse, why did he not simply re-define the veto so that it could be exercised only if a local authority had reason to believe that the effect on a particular sixth form would be serious?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I know of his concern for education. It would be very difficult to define. There would have to be a long investigation into whether it could be done, by which time the person would have lost the place in the school. I do not disagree in principle with the idea, but with the manner in which it would work in practice.

The second main amendment is in draft regulation 4(1) and 6. These provide for the uprating of the income scale in assessing the amount of the parents' contribution towards tuition fees. In particular, the income disregard in respect of dependent relatives is increased to £850 and the relevant income threshold below which parents pay nothing towards fees is increased to £5,616.

These increases take account of increases in average earnings in the past year. The House will note that they are relatively small, reflecting the Government's success in controlling inflation. On the proposed scale, families with average incomes will pay about £450 towards fees in 1983–84.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

Has the hon. Gentleman been present throughout the debate?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

In that case, I shall not give way.

I shall now deal with the technical amendments proposed. First, draft regulation No. 4(2) seeks to simplify the assessment of fee remission in cases where, due to death, separation, divorce or remarriage, there is a change in the parents, as statutorily defined, of pupils with assisted places. This enables account to be taken of significant financial hardship which may arise from such a change.

Draft regulation No. 5 is a consequential change in the existing provision concerning the death of a parent.

Draft regulation No. 7 takes account of amended provisions in the Finance Act 1982 concerning the arrangements for tax relief on mortgage interest payments and the removal from tax of the mobility allowance.

Draft regulation No. 8 contains the final technical amendment. I hope that I carry the Opposition with me on this one. Under this provision, teachers barred from employment in maintained schools on grounds of misconduct will automatically also be barred from teaching at schools in the assisted places scheme. I am glad that the hon. Member for Bedwellty seems to agree with that. It will streamline the administrative procedure, which at present requires the Secretary of State to issue two separate prohibitions.

I have reported to the House on the second year's intake for the assisted places scheme and I have outlined the amending regulations that we consider necessary to carry the scheme forward into a successful third year. The scheme is already proving of great benefit to able children from less well off families throughout the country, and I am sure that it will go from strength to strength. I fear that the Opposition's objections are to that very success and popularity which the scheme has achieved among the lower income families of this country.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 10:47 pm, 9th February 1983

The only virtue of the instrument before us is that it illustrates categorically yet again the maladjustment of the Government's educational priorities, which was faithfully recorded in the particularly inept contribution of the Under-Secretary of State. His performance generally reaches a much higher standard, but today, perhaps because he knew that he was trying to defend the indefensible, it was not quite up to scratch.

The Under-Secretary of State said that an "able" child who could attend what he described as an "academically distinguished" school was one who was likely to achieve high grades at A-level. That seems an extremely narrow perception of ability. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman's understanding as a teacher—an understanding not generally available to Conservative Members—that, that is not a definition of ability that he would have accepted at any time during his professional career.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

What is the hon. Gentleman's definition?

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I shall give that later, but it will certainly exclude the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). Any definition of ability would do that.

The second point that the Under-Secretary offered—

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) to make inane personal remarks?

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

In recalling your own distinguished career, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should have thought you would have said, "Go to the back of the class, Harry."

The Under-Secretary said that under section 17 of the Education Act 1980 it was necessary to provide for children who might not otherwise be able to do so to benefit—that is the word in the Act—from independent schools. He said that there are difficulties in inner city schools in the maintained sector. When challenged, it was noticeable to hon. Members on this side of the House, to the profession generally and to parents outside the House—a most important consideration—that he was unable to respond, not through lack of time, to the challenge about the provision in regard to maintained schools.

The Under-Secretary said in his closing remarks that he found it necessary to remove the veto originally sensibly allocated by the former Secretary of State for Education to local education authorities because the doubts and fears had been unfounded. He was prepared to offer again the undertaking that the schools accepting assisted places pupils would not take more than five in a sixth form. Why should we, as reasonable people, accept any undertaking about the assisted places scheme from the Under-Secretary, or any undertaking at all?

We had an undertaking about the veto.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Of course we had an undertaking. If we did not have an undertaking about the veto, why have we a statutory instrument before the House to overturn that which the hon. Gentleman says does not exist? Of course there was an undertaking. If the Under-Secretary says that there was no undertaking, he is calling his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) a liar. That is what the Secretary of State said in his press release and in his draft regulation.

There was an undertaking. Why should we accept an undertaking? There was a time less than a year ago when the Department of Education and Science produced a long statement explaining why the voucher scheme was a load of nonsense. The DES said it was absolutely unrealistic. Here we have reports of the Cabinet and the Under-Secretary of State offering to debate the voucher scheme.

We know very well that it is the intention of the Conservative party that if this country has the misfortune to have another Tory Government the voucher scheme will be introduced, with all the division, damage and demoralisation in the schools that will follow from that. Why should we accept any undertakings from people who last year said that the voucher scheme was no good whereas this year it gets the endorsement of the Cabinet? Why should we accept the undertakings of people who two years ago said that the LEAs would have a reasonable veto but who now are introducing a statutory instrument to withdraw that democratic power from the local education authorities? We do not believe a word they say. Nor does the rest of the country.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Greenwich Woolwich West

The hon. Gentleman is raising points which are removed from the draft regulations. Is not the simplest answer both to him and to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) that a good number of parents do not want to be told by an elitist Member of Parliament that they are snobbish or that they have views with which he disagrees? They do not want education to be run by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who on a bogus point of order loses his temper because he thinks he is going to lose the argument. Why should not parents have the same right to put into effect their views about education for their children in the same way as the hon. Gentleman wants to put his views into effect for all children?

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I lost my temper, he must have had a very gentle upbringing. The objection that he has to elitist Members of Parliament is exactly the objection that people have to section 17 of the Education Act 1980 which in its proposition presumes that such is the inadequacy of the maintained sector for what the Minister called "able pupils" that they can be accommodated only in the private sector of education. That is the essential proposition of the law in section 17 of the 1980 Act.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I would be glad, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you would communicate to Conservative Members that I shall not be giving way for some considerable time. I want to ensure that my hon. Friends have a chance to chip in.

Our original objection to section 17 was that central to it was the idea that children of a particular ability could be catered for only in the private sector. It was palpable nonsense then, and it is palpable nonsense now.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

It was a deliberate insult to maintained education and, more important, it was the statutory definition of central Tory education philosophy that "bought is best". Indeed, it was a statutory commitment that by cuts, maintained education provision would be undermined and that morale in the maintained system would be undermined by a system of subsidised private places.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

That has been the accumulated product of nearly four years of Tory rule over education.

In their repetitive cries, Conservative Members might try to gainsay what I shall say, but they cannot gainsay the view of Her Majesty's inspectorate, the Royal Society or an assortment of other independent authorities who jointly condemn a Government who, although elected to raise standards of achievement, are conniving at the deterioration of standards by a process of cuts and demoralisation.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

If I will not give way to someone who may conceivably understand something about education, I shall not be giving way to the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins).

If we want a definition of Tory attitude, we have to look not much further than the words of the former Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn, a man who commands a certain respect in my bosom. He accomplished everything required of him by the Tory Government, and for his pains he got sacked.

Now in repose, he gives himself to authorship, and, together with Mr. Stuart Sexton, has produced a notebook for the use of Tories so that they can counteract our proposal for the erosion and abolition of private schooling.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Their definition of the Tory view of the maintained system and private education is perfect. They say that Tories will have to tramp the country saying that if we were to abolish private schooling, including the assisted places scheme, which we shall terminate in the first academic year in which we are elected, it will deprive parents of a basic right; risk political manipulation of monopoly state schools, as if we are not politically manipulated now by the assisted places scheme; and—this is the "beaut"—

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

It is Australian. I thought that the hon. Gentleman represented a constituency with a mixture of ethnic backgrounds, but he betrays that as well as everything else.

The notebook continues: and cause a certain fall in standards because there would be nothing by which to judge state schools if independent schools were not there". That is our resentment. Conservative Members have in their constituencies a majority of pupils who use and trust the maintained system, yet those Members constantly tell their constituents "Don't trust the maintained system. Don't judge the maintained system by its own merits, or by the way in which it deals with the requirements of an individual child, nurtures talent, develops interests, or produces skills. Don't do that. Don't judge the maintained system on the basis of a child's achievement against the almost insurmountable odds of an uncaring background or the misfortunes of environment. Judge that maintained schooling system by the produce, not of that system, but of the independent sector."

There is such a quintessential unfairness and injustice in the way that Conservative Members continually taunt the maintained school system by saying "We will not judge you, measure you, assess you in terms of your own competence, but in terms of the competence of an entirely different schooling system, catering in small classes for children from fortunate backgrounds"—

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

—"with invariably highly motivated parents, even if those parents demonstrate their motivation by signing cheques." That is an insult that we cannot tolerate, and it is crystallised in legislation in the form of the assisted places scheme, which is why we have such undying enmity towards that scheme.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

No, I shall not give way. The hon. Lady may be exercising, and that may be of benefit to her, but she will not intervene until I say so, and that is not yet. [Interruption.]

We heard again tonight about the voucher system. The Secretary of State is said to be intellectually attracted by that system. That alone would be good enough reason for the rejection of the voucher system. I know his other intellectual attractions, which include the idea of managing the economy by creating millions more unemployed. So intellectual attractions must spawn some suspicion and reluctance in the minds of any sane human being. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary is also in favour of the voucher system. [Interruption.] He is prepared to extend the procedure whereby—

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) must contain himself. I am anxious to hear this important debate, and frankly, a running commentary from a sedentary position does not enhance the debate at all.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member promised to tell me how he defined an able child.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Ability will not be defined in a voucher system by giving £1,000 or £1,200 a year subsidy to parents who want a cut-price private education for their children. Whatever else that demonstrates about the nature of our society or the Tory attitude to education, it will have nothing to do with ability.

Let us come to ability. This statutory instrument is the Miss MacWhirter testimonial case. Miss MacWhirter's name has been mentioned, and I echo the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) that none of our views here is evidence of any enmity towards her. Whatever she is capable of, we wish her the very best. However, the Secretary of State took it upon himself to introduce this instrument because of the difficulties and complexities that he encountered with the Derbyshire county council in the case of Miss MacWhirter. Henceforth I shall express no view about that lady, but as the case has been mentioned, and as it is central to the consideration of this legislation, we should reflect on the situation that arose.

Miss MacWhirter wanted to take a combination of subjects at advanced level of the general certification of education. It appeared that there would be some difficulty—but not an impossibility—in accommodating that choice of subjects in the maintained sector in her area. We are told that it was possible for her to take courses, or comparable courses, in a college of further education or in a joint arrangement scheme between two school sixth forms.

We must judge Miss MacWhirter's case in terms of the treatment meted out to others in a comparable situation. If we were to look at section 31 of the 1980 Act we would see that it makes it difficult for youngsters to transfer between local education authorities in order to undertake further education. That is a Government provision. Therefore, it is extraordinary that the Government are here introducing legislation to facilitate the movement of a young pupil out of the maintained sector into the private sector, with subsidy, so that she can undertake an unusual combination of advanced level subjects when a couple of years ago they passed an Act which effectively prohibits the movement of pupils in the maintained sector between local education authorities. We have heard much about freedom and choice from the Government but where is the choice for the people in the maintained sector who want to move between local education authorities in order to take a combination of subjects?

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I shall give way eventually.

It is extraordinary that the Government have expressly avoided awarding educational maintenance allowances to youngsters who want to undertake full-time education after the age of 16. Indeed they have so contrived through their cuts to demolish that rudimentary system of educational maintenance allowances that existed in Britain. Yet, here they are, quite prepared to introduce new legislation to facilitate the provision of a form of educational maintenance allowance to a pupil as long as that pupil moves out—

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The device of giving way has been abused so rudely that those hon. Members who want a serious debate will not have the opportunity so to do because Conservative Members are constantly rising.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

It is in the hands of the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the House. If he does not give way, we must proceed with the debate.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Admonitions from two head teachers should be acknowledged by all hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I shall give way eventually.

I hope that it will be borne in mind that the educational maintenance allowance, for which Conservative Members are campaigning, which will be available to Miss MacWhirter as a consequence of this change in the law, is not available to the thousands of other deserving 16, 17 and 18-year-olds whose further education could be facilitated if the Government were prepared to put resources at their disposal.

Miss MacWhirter wanted to do chemistry, physics, economics or biology and music at advanced level. I am very much in favour of people following a general curriculum. Indeed, one of the purposes of the examination and curriculum reform advocated by Labour Members is to allow pupils to achieve just such a choice and breadth in the curriculum. However, here is yet another extraordinary irony. The Government, who want to facilitate Miss MacWhirter in undertaking this collection of advanced levels are the same Government who have so cut back on schooling provision as to endanger the existence of science teaching in many British schools. The National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers published a survey last month which demonstrates that. The Royal Society's report "The Swing from Science in Schools" published a fortnight ago demonstrates that. Her Majesty's inspectors recorded that in primary and secondary schools severe damage is being done to the teaching of science in the maintained schools in Britian because of Government cuts.

Miss MacWhirter wants to take music. I think that is great, and I hope that she does. However, if we look around Britain, at the local education authorities that are being permitted, with the benign neutrality of the Secretary of State, to avoid the general comprehensive provision of music tuition, either instrumental tuition or music in the curriculum, it is an extraordinary irony that the Government are willing to put resources at the disposal of Miss MacWhirter when thousands of children throughout Britain are effectively being deprived of music education.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

She wants to do economics. If she does if effectively and thoroughly, the last thing she will do is to support the Government's view on economic policy or education.

Photo of Mr Peter Rost Mr Peter Rost , Derbyshire South East

The country will note the hon. Gentleman's arrogance with regard to my constituent. Was it right of Derbyshire county council to deprive the daughter of an unemployed constituent of mine of an assisted place purely on the ground that it did not regard her four subjects as anything but unusual? Is that not an extraordinary display of political prejudice which has nothing to do with the educational merits of the case?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am very reluctant to intervene, but would you appeal to both Front Benches not to make constant reference to the personal and individual circumstances of children who cannot possibly be advantaged by being described in such detail?

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

That is a fair point. Had it not been for the extraordinary, grandiose procedure of introducing a statutory instrument, the young lady could have retained her desirable anonymity. However, the point made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was well made. We should have loved to observe it, had it not been for the fact the fight started in a different place. Miss MacWhirter's Member of Parliament, the hon Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), tells us about her father's unemployment. To paraphrase the response of countless Ministers, that matter is best taken up with the Secretary of State for Employment.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East has mentioned Miss MacWhirter and demanded a response. Although I thoroughly object to the assisted places scheme, the Secretary of State had the power under the arrangements established by the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn and the 1944 Act to serve what he perceived to be—although I do not—Miss MacWhirter's interest without recourse to a supplementary statutory instrument. That still does not explain, excuse or justify the introduction of further supplementary legislation. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East knows that well. Had he not pursued the matter, he could have maintained Miss MacWhirter's desirable anonymity.

There are no friends for the proposition to remove the veto for local education authorities. The body representing those interested in gifted children is critical of it. Only the Freedom Association appears to sustain it. There is a contradiction in the Government's policy of seeking to ensure that 60 per cent. of assisted places are awarded to children from maintained schools. Indeed, 87 per cent. of those aged 16-plus who take up assisted places come from private schools and only 13 per cent. come from maintained schools. I do not complain about that, but it is an example of the Government's inconsistency and dishonesty. This is another instance of the way in which the Government dictate to local education authorities.

We have heard the Conservative party's rhetoric on local democracy. In reality, it means penury and subordination for local government. That has been the case in every sphere of local government from transport to housing, social services and education. The subject before us is only the most recent definition of the centralised and authoritarian view of a Government who are willing to use their majority to squash the views of a local education authority that was responding as best it could to the general and individual educational interests of children.

The Under-Secretary of State said that the Government had consulted the Independent Joint Schools Council—a body representative of participating schools—and that the council had indicated that it was content with the amendments. It is just like Barlorak Karmal, the Quisling governor of Afghanistan, saying to the Kremlin, "It will be all right if you invade next Thursday". That is all the authority of that body. Of course it will accept the proposition. Millions of pounds in subsidies and much more status and kudos are being given to private schools by a Government who are determined to undermine maintained schooling and local democracy.

When the Secretary of State says that the worries of the local authorities were unfounded, I am not sure what the response should have been. Is the right hon. Gentleman, having said that, determined to make sure that their worries were well founded, or is it that in the regulations he is simultaneously demonstrating the failure of the scheme, and making a devious attempt to give it new life to suck in yet more youngsters from maintained schools on the false prospectus that they can be cared for properly only in the private sector?

We have before us an inconsistency—which is a euphemism for dishonesty—and a dictatorship over the local authorities that will demoralise the maintained sector of education. The Government also do that with cuts and legislation, but their sins will find them out. I hope that Conservative Members who have the interests of maintained schooling and the welfare of the children in their constituency at heart will join us in voting against the regulations.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn 11:16 pm, 9th February 1983

I shall be brief because, much as we all adore my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), it is slightly unfortunate that they should have taken 62 minutes of a debate that can last only an hour and a half.

I am the person responsible for introducing the assisted places scheme. I believe that it is working well and as we intended. The Under-Secretary reminded us that, of the 8,500 children who have places in the scheme, two thirds of the families have below the national average income, and about one third are taking a full grant. That gives the lie to the accusation made to me often when I sat on the Government Front Bench that the scheme would be a means of giving support to middle-class people who wanted some assistance with their school fees.

The scheme is providing opportunities for children who would not have had the chance of being educated in these schools. I have never said, as the hon. Member for Bedwellty claimed, that children of a particular ability could be provided for only outside the state system. That has never been my view. The ethos, particularly of the old direct grant school, was that assisted children of ability, should be able to obtain the type of education that they could not have achieved without it. We should remember that education is about opportunities given to the individual child, and the desires of the parent about how the child should be educated. Despite the attack that was made at the time, there is no evidence that the scheme has damaged the state system. Over the past year, I have been to various assisted place schools where I have been involved in prize givings and functions of that nature. Where ever I go, I am told not only of the support given by the schools involved but of the growing support and co-operation of the headmasters of the local state schools in the area, and particularly of the headmasters of primary schools.

The scheme was meant to be, not in opposition to the state scheme but complementary to it. It was meant to give to certain children a greater opportunity to pursue a particular form of academic education that was regrettably not otherwise, particularly in the cities, available to them. The scheme is achieving that aim.

In regulation 3, the Under-Secretary is proposing to change something that I proposed. It is right, as the hon. Member for Bedwellty said, that I agreed at the time of the introduction of the scheme that if at 16 young people wanted to go to an independent school under the assisted places scheme it should be only with the agreement of the local education authority. I did that because I tried to meet head on local education authorities' anxieties that in some way their sixth forms would be creamed off as a result of that proposal.

The figures that we have been given by the Minister show, as I believed they would, that that fear was unjustfied. I made it clear, as the Under-Secretary did last year, that if I felt that that proposal was being abused by local authorities putting a blanket prohibition on the movement of children at that age, we would remove the prohibition. I assume from what the Minister said tonight that he believes that there is evidence of that abuse and that the local authorities fears were not justified and that as why he has removed the prohibition.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

Is there not now a new position? Might not those fears be justified now that the veto has been abolished?

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

I think not, because I think that the figures given show that creaming off does not occur.

I believe that the atmosphere of co-operation with the state schools is, happily, better than it was two years ago. I believe that there is an understanding between heads that they are anxious to do the best for the children in their area. I believe that the movement will be small and that it will be advantageous to the children involved.

I believe strongly that in the end the Secretary of State's responsibility must be to those children in the state system, but I look upon the assisted places scheme as a means of widening the opportunities of those children who would otherwise be within the state system, not because the state system is, of its nature, inferior, but because in certain areas there are schools which can give opportunities that the state system in that area cannot.

I hope sincerely that if there is an opportunity to widen help in this area the Secretary of State will consider doing it by widening the assisted places scheme rather than by looking at the voucher scheme. I believe that would raise problems between the state and the independent sector that I do not believe the assisted places scheme raises.

I welcome what the Minister has said today. I believe that the scheme is working well. I am certainly in no way ashamed of the fact that I first brought it to the Dispatch Box. I believe that it is working to the advantage of many children. I am horrified to hear the hon. Member for Bedwellty yet again declare the Labour patty's determination, if given the chance, to remove the scheme—presumably cut it at once—which would affect the lives and future of those children then in the scheme without regard to the damage it would do to their education.

Photo of Mr Tom McNally Mr Tom McNally , Stockport South 11:22 pm, 9th February 1983

I hope that the Secretary of State listened to the wise words of the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) about the voucher scheme, which I endorse fully. I shall be brief because, like the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn and other hon. Members, I have suffered from a clash of titanic humilities from the Front Benches tonight in the amount of time that they have taken to explain their views.

Where I depart from the views of the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn is when, like a number of his hon. Friends, he keeps using the word "chance". He talks about having the chance to escape from the maintained sector. It almost gives the game away. They believe that it is second best and that people are willing to buy themselves out. They use all the right words. They talk about the defence of parents' rights, and the rights of individuals, when we know that they are defending the vested interests of a small proportion of parents and children to buy themselves privilege in the education system.

We have the utter humbug of the Government talking about the rights of local authorities when, not for the first time, and not as the first Department, they are bringing forward legislation that takes away the right of local authorities. That is why, once we are past the bounce and bluster of the Under-Secretary of State, and have listened to the explanation of the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn, what we have before us tonight is the fact that to get his measure through, the Secretary of State was able, and willing, to pay Danegeld to the Tory Right. Tonight, the Under-Secretary of State is collecting that Danegeld.

The then Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn, put the original Bill before the House arguing that he would not intervene, that there would be protection for local authorities unless there was evidence that that power was being abused. Tonight we heard a long speech from the Under-Secretary of State, even allowing for interventions, but not once did he explain or justify why he needed this added authority, contrary to the spirit of what the then Secretary of State presented to the House.

What the Secretary of State has put forward is what we expected all along, a two-stage operation, indeed, a three-stage operation. First, we had the Secretary of State's "softly softly" Act; secondly, tonight's regulations, and that will be followed by the voucher scheme, all intended to be a subsidy to private education and an undermining of the maintained sector.

We have heard all the old arguments about the lack of the power of the purse. I can tell the Under-Secretary and he should well know it, that the power of the purse, or the lack of the power of the purse, still applies to 90 per cent. of children and their parents. Nothing that he has said tonight will cut away from that power of the purse. We should have a commitment from his right hon. Friend and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in the Treasury to vote money into the maintained system to put quality of education into the maintained system. All the rest is candyfloss and packaging.

One of the other things with which the Government have tried to mislead people is the idea of choice. The idea that the Government have offered choice to parents is a fraud, and well the Minister knows it. For most parents there is no choice in the maintained system. The good schools are over-subscribed. Children are not given choice any more than they were before the Act.

Therefore, all these ideas, all these bits of publicity that are brought before the House and country do not hide the fact that real choice and a real chance for British children will come from investment in the maintained sector and not from subsidy of the private sector. That is why we shall vote against the Government tonight.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Merton Mitcham and Morden 11:27 pm, 9th February 1983

I have been somewhat surprised to hear the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) make such tremendous assertions about the rigidity of the maintained sector and the rigidity of Conservative-controlled authorities about the maintained sector.

As a chairman of an education committee at the time the Education Act 1980 was introduced, I accepted, as did my Conservative colleagues, that the veto for the assisted places scheme for the over 16s was a good idea. I accepted, and as a Conservative authority we passed it, that we would agree not to allow children to cross from the maintained sector into the independent sector. I am proud to say, having watched the progress of the sixth formers—the progress of the choice which we — I am proud to say it — in the maintained sector can offer our young people of over 16—that I do not regard the lifting of this veto as in any way a threat to the maintained sector.

Moreover, I say to the hon. Member for Bedwellty that it would be just as well if he were to observe what actually happens in local education authorities. It was quite clear from a number of the things he said this evening that he has no understanding of the way in which, for example, local education authorities allow cross-boundary education to occur at post-16 years. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will know very well that only recently my local authority had a great argument with a neighbouring local authority about the exchange of 16-year-olds across boundaries. My hon. Friend, kindly and rightly, agreed that parental choice and the child's choice should be paramount.

No Opposition Member would wish young people not to have the opportunity to make the right choices for themselves, backed up by their parents, to go to whichever authority will provide sixth form education. [Interruption.] Never mind about the numbers of A-levels. One does not need to change the law. The law already exists to enable young people to do exactly as they wish. It displays the ignorance of Opposition Members about what local authorities can achieve for young people, especially those aged over 16.

We should all welcome the enablement of young people to study various subjects within both the maintained sector and, if necessary, to cross the boundary into independent schools. It should be welcomed not for party political reasons, but because all hon. Members should be interested in helping youngsters to study those subjects, and to obtain the maximum qualifications that they need to advance in the world and to become proper members of society. It is reprehensible that any hon. Member, because of party political dogma, would wish to restrain young people from doing things that schools or colleges in the independent sector can offer them simply because he does not approve of crossing boundaries.

The best way to ensure that our educational system is perfect is not to accept that those boundaries exist, but to ensure that there is true partnership between the independent sector—which provides only a small part of education—and the local education authorities, which should be willing to enjoy that partnership. It will be a shame, and of great detriment to the people who are running education, if they do not accept that they can join those who provide independent education in allowing young people, such as the young woman who has been mentioned, to enjoy the maximum possible benefit and to further their educational aims.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough 11:32 pm, 9th February 1983

The Opposition believe that the assisted places scheme has nothing to do with helping a few thousand poor and able children, but has everything to do with strengthening and building private education. If the scheme helps a few children who could well have obtained education in comprehensive schools, that is just a by-product of its real aim.

If Conservative Members wish to help many poor children, they should read the report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, which the Government have been good enough to publish recently, to see what they are doing to the vast majority of poor children. It ill becomes Conservative Members to weep crocodile tears about poor children when the Government have introduced massive and horrific education cuts that mean that our children must use dog-eared books, that two children must use one book, and that there is not enough money in the maintained sector to buy equipment.

All the education journals say that there is a lack of music teaching, and peripatetic music teachers—[Interruption.] I notice the offensive attitude of some Conservative Members, with the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Myles) pretending to play a fiddle as though I am not telling the truth about the sacking of peripatetic music teachers and the attack on music teaching in ordinary schools.

It hardly becomes Conservative Members to laugh. The reality is that the parents of many children who are studying music are having to pay for lessons which hitherto their children obtained free. There is massive unemployment in the homes from which they come and millions of pounds of taxpayers' money are being used to support private education in an area in which the creaming-off process has resumed. That area is steadily expanding as public money is put increasingly into private education.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

There is no time for me to give way to the hon. Gentleman, as the debate has almost ended.

There is an attack on the freedom of local education authorities to make decisions about the education of sixth formers. These are the realities from which Conservative Members cannot possibly escape. They are scheming for the voucher system when they assume office again, if they do. They are attacking the principle of comprehensive education by the creaming-off process because they know that there has never been such a boon to our children as comprehensive education. It goes from strength to strength. Nearly 89 per cent. of our children are in comprehensive schools and receiving a first-class education, which becomes better and better all the time no matter what the creaming-off process is.

We are witnessing an attack on comprehensive education by those who are destroying the school meals system and pretending that they want to help poor children. They are taking money from those who are poor to give it to those who already have sufficient. It is an attack on education and we shall reverse it when the next Labour Government take office.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Ripon 11:37 pm, 9th February 1983

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) failed to tell us that in the northern region there are the worst A-level results in Britain. There is a decline in the number of pupils staying on at school and over the past few years there has been a decline in the number of pupils going on to further and higher education. At the same time, the region enjoys more than the average financial entitlement per pupil and more nursery provision than almost any other area—60 per cent. provision against an average of 30 per cent. It has better pupil-teacher ratios than almost any other region apart from Scotland. How does the hon. Gentleman square the notion that standards depend on financial provision with those facts?

The Opposition have lacked a sense of proportion. The education budget is £9·5 billion and they are carping and building up steam about a motion that involves £9 million. In the past year my right hon. and hon. Friends have announced a £14 million new technology scheme, a £3 million a year microprocessor scheme, a £2 million scheme for the under-achievers of 14 and 15 years and a £1 billion scheme for those who leave school too early, like many in the north-east, on the youth training scheme. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, gave us an example of verbal diarrhoea and showed a complete lack of proportion. His purpose throughout was to concentrate on the well-being of the maintained sector. Conservative Government after Conservative Government since the war built up the maintained sector.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

How can the hon. Gentleman gay that? Has he read the HMI report?

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Ripon

For 13 years there was a Conservative Government—those years were not wasted—during which the education system expanded considerably. During the 1970s the Conservative Government ensured the major place of comprehensive secondary education.

The Conservative Government's record is as good, indeed better, than that of any Labour Government. The hon. Member for Bedwellty insists on the well-being of maintained schools, but he does not insist on the well-being of individual pupils and parental choice.

Education authorities such as Lancashire, Derbyshire, Leeds, north Tyneside, Gateshead and Wakefield are vetoing the chances of pupils transferring into private schools that have standards their local state schools do not provide. I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for these regulations, which widen the choice for pupils and parents. It is not an attack on maintained schools but a widening of opportunity and choice.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill 11:40 pm, 9th February 1983

It is especially offensive that when higher education, further education and secondary schools are losing money needed for books, stationery and equipment, and when the numbers of teachers is being cut, money can be found for assisted places in private schools.

What I should have liked to hear from the Minister—we did not hear it—is how much the scheme costs. It would have been useful if the House could have measured its cost against the cuts in the state sector, whether in higher or further education. It would have been useful to know its cost in the light of the cuts in university places that have taken place in the past three years, and as the first of our lecturers has been sacked. It is outrageous for the Government still to find money for assisted places in private schools in such circumstances.

We have heard a great deal today about how youngsters in inner city areas will benefit from this scheme. I represent an inner city area. It must be said that many youngsters in comprehensive schools in inner city areas are getting a bad deal at the moment, because state schools are in a crisis. That crisis will not be helped by a reduction in funds and the transfer of the best pupils to private schools. We must rationalise the schools that exist and give them additional help and resources.

Names of people who are being educated in our schools now have been bandied around the Chamber today. It is extremely unfortunate that young children's names have been used as they have. Behind those names are people who might listen to this debate tomorrow morning on the radio.

It does the House no good to use young girls' names as it has today, or for us to hear details of their families. Nor does it do those children any good. When we hear hon. Members talk of closing down the scheme at the first opportunity, as we did from the official Opposition, they fail to take into account the children who are on those schemes now—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 280, Noes 204.

Division No. 64][11.43 pm
AYES
Aitken, JonathanChalker, Mrs. Lynda
Alexander, RichardChannon, Rt. Hon. Paul
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelChapman, Sydney
Ancram, MichaelChurchill, W. S.
Arnold, TomClark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Aspinwall, JackClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Atkins, Robert (Preston N)Clegg, Sir Walter
Atkinson, David (B'm'th.E)Cockeram, Eric
Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone)Colvin, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Cope, John
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyCorrie, John
Bendall, VivianCostain, Sir Albert
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Cranborne, Viscount
Best, KeithCritchley, Julian
Bevan, David GilroyCrouch, David
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnDickens, Geoffrey
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnDorrell, Stephen
Blackburn, JohnDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Body, RichardDover, Denshore
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDunn, Robert (Dartford)
Boscawen, Hon RobertDurant, Tony
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)Eden, Rt Hon Sir John
Bowden, AndrewEdwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Boyson, Dr RhodesEggar, Tim
Braine, Sir BernardElliott, Sir William
Bright, GrahamEmery, Sir Peter
Brinton, TimEyre, Reginald
Brooke, Hon PeterFairbairn, Nicholas
Brotherton, MichaelFairgrieve, Sir Russell
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)Faith, Mrs Sheila
Browne, John (Winchester)Farr, John
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnFell, Sir Anthony
Bryan, Sir PaulFenner, Mrs Peggy
Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A.Finsberg, Geoffrey
Buck, AntonyFisher, Sir Nigel
Budgen, NickFletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Bulmer, EsmondFletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Burden, Sir FrederickFookes, Miss Janet
Butler, Hon AdamForman, Nigel
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Fox, Marcus
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Mayhew, Patrick
Fry, PeterMellor, David
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gardner, Sir EdwardMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Garel-Jones, TristanMills, Iain (Meriden)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMiscampbell, Norman
Goodlad, AlastairMitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Gorst, JohnMoate, Roger
Gow, IanMonro, Sir Hector
Gower, Sir RaymondMontgomery, Fergus
Grant, Sir AnthonyMoore, John
Greenway, HarryMorris, M. (N'hampton S)
Grieve, PercyMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Murphy, Christopher
Grist, IanMyles, David
Grylls, MichaelNeale, Gerrard
Hamilton, Hon A.Needham, Richard
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Nelson, Anthony
Hampson, Dr KeithNeubert, Michael
Hannam, JohnNott, Rt Hon Sir John
Haselhurst, AlanOnslow, Cranley
Hastings, StephenOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hawkins, Sir PaulPage, John (Harrow, West)
Hawksley, WarrenPage, Richard (SW Herts)
Heddle, JohnPatten, Christopher (Bath)
Henderson, BarryPatten, John (Oxford)
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelPattie, Geoffrey
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Pawsey, James
Hill, JamesPercival, Sir Ian
Holland, Philip (Carlton)Pink, R. Bonner
Hooson, TomPollock, Alexander
Hordern, PeterPorter, Barry
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Hunt, David (Wirral)Prior, Rt Hon James
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Proctor, K. Harvey
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickRathbone, Tim
Jessel, TobyRees-Davies, W. R.
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyRenton, Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRhodes James, Robert
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRidley, Hon Nicholas
Kaberry, Sir DonaldRidsdale, Sir Julian
Kimball, Sir MarcusRifkind, Malcolm
Kitson, Sir TimothyRoberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Knight, Mrs JillRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Lamont, NormanRossi, Hugh
Lang, IanRost, Peter
Langford-Holt, Sir JohnRoyle, Sir Anthony
Latham, MichaelRumbold, Mrs A. C. R.
Lawrence, IvanSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lawson, Rt Hon NigelShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lee, JohnShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkShelton, William (Streatham)
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Rutland)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)Shepherd, Richard
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Shersby, Michael
Loveridge, JohnSilvester, Fred
Luce, RichardSims, Roger
Lyell, NicholasSkeet, T. H. H.
McCrindle, RobertSmith, Dudley
Macfarlane, NeilSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
MacGregor, JohnSpeed, Keith
MacKay, John (Argyll)Speller, Tony
Macmillan, Rt Hon M.Spence, John
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)Sproat, Iain
McQuarrie, AlbertSquire, Robin
Madel, DavidStainton, Keith
Major, JohnStanbrook, Ivor
Marland, PaulStanley, John
Marlow, AntonySteen, Anthony
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Stevens, Martin
Marten, Rt Hon NeilStewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Mates, MichaelStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Maude, Rt Hon Sir AngusStokes, John
Mawby, RayStradling Thomas, J.
Mawhinney, Dr BrianTapsell, Peter
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Tebbit, Rt Hon NormanWalters, Dennis
Temple-Morris, PeterWard, John
Thomas, Rt Hon PeterWarren, Kenneth
Thompson, DonaldWatson, John
Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)Wells, Bowen
Thornton, MalcolmWells, John (Maidstone)
Townend, John (Bridlington)Wheeler, John
Trippier, DavidWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Trotter, NevilleWhitney, Raymond
van Straubenzee, Sir W.Wickenden, Keith
Vaughan, Dr GerardWilkinson, John
Viggers, PeterWilliams, D. (Montgomery)
Waddington, DavidWinterton, Nicholas
Wakeham, JohnWolfson, Mark
Waldegrave, Hon WilliamYounger, Rt Hon George
Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Walker, B. (Perth)Tellers for the Ayes:
Wall, Sir PatrickMr. Anthony Berry and
Waller, GaryMr. Carol Mather.
NOES
Adams, AllenDean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Allaun, FrankDewar, Donald
Alton, DavidDixon, Donald
Anderson, DonaldDobson, Frank
Archer, Rt Hon PeterDormand, Jack
Ashton, JoeDubs, Alfred
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,)Duffy, A. E. P.
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Dunnett, Jack
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)Eadie, Alex
Beith, A. J.Eastham, Ken
Benn, Rt Hon TonyEllis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Bennett, Andrew (St'Kp't N)English, Michael
Bidwell, SydneyEnnals, Rt Hon David
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertEvans, loan (Aberdare)
Bray, Dr JeremyEvans, John (Newton)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Faulds, Andrew
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)Field, Frank
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Flannery, Martin
Buchan, NormanFord, Ben
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)Forrester, John
Campbell, IanFoster, Derek
Campbell-Savours, DaleFraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Cant, R. B.Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Carmichael, NeilFreud, Clement
Carter-Jones, LewisGarrett, John (Norwich S)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Clarke, Thomas (C'b'dge, A'rie)George, Bruce
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)Golding, John
Cohen, StanleyGourlay, Harry
Coleman, DonaldGraham, Ted
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Conlan, BernardHamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Cook, Robin F.Hardy, Peter
Cowans, HarryHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Crowther, StanHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cryer, BobHaynes, Frank
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n)Heffer, Eric S.
Dalyell, TarnHogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Davidson, ArthurHolland, S, (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Home Robertson, John
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Homewood, William
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)Howell, Rt Hon D.
Deakins, EricHoyle, Douglas
Huckfield, LesPrice, C. (Lewisham W)
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Race, Reg
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Richardson, Jo
Janner, Hon GrevilleRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
John, BrynmorRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Johnson, James (Hull West)Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)Robertson, George
Jones, Barry (East Flint)Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRooker, J. W.
Kinnock, NeilRoper, John
Lambie, DavidRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)
Lamond, JamesRowlands, Ted
Leadbitter, TedSever, John
Lestor, Miss JoanSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Litherland, RobertSilkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Lofthouse, GeoffreySilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
McCartney, HughSilverman, Julius
McDonald, Dr OonaghSkinner, Dennis
McElhone, Mrs HelenSmith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
McGuire, Michael (Ince)Snape, Peter
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Soley, Clive
McKelvey, WilliamSpellar, John Francis. (B'ham)
MacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorSpriggs, Leslie
McMahon, AndrewStallard, A. W.
McNally, ThomasStoddart, David
McNamara, KevinStott, Roger
McTaggart, RobertStrang, Gavin
McWilliam, JohnStraw, Jack
Marks, KennethSummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton)Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Martin, M (G'gow S'burn)Tilley, John
Mason, Rt Hon RoyTinn, James
Maxton, JohnTorney, Tom
Maynard, Miss JoanVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Meacher, MichaelWainwright, E. (Dearne V)
Mikardo, IanWalker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)
Millan, Rt Hon BruceWarden, Gareth
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Watkins, David
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Welsh, Michael
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)White, Frank R.
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Morton, GeorgeWhitehead, Phillip
Moyle, Rt Hon RolandWhitlock, William
Mulley, Rt Hon FrederickWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Newens, StanleyWilliams, Rt Hon A. (S sea W)
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWilliams, Rt Hon Mrs (Crosby)
O'Halloran, MichaelWilson, Rt Hon Sir H. (H'ton)
O'Neill, MartinWinnick, David
Palmer, ArthurWoodall, Alec
Park, GeorgeWoolmer, Kenneth
Parker, JohnWright, Sheila
Pavitt, LaurieYoung, David (Bolton E)
Pendry, Tom
Pitt, William HenryTellers for the Noes:
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)Dr. Edmund Marshall and
Prescott, JohnMr. Ron Leighton.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Education (Assisted Places) (Amendment) Regulations 1983, which were laid before this House on 20th January, be approved.