Rate Support Grants

Education (Grants and Awards) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 6 December 1983.

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'Expenditure incurred by local authorities in providing education support grants shall be disregarded for the purposes of calculating rate support grants.'.—[Mr. Freud]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is, of course, common knowledge that 60 per cent. or more of the average county council budget is taken up in educational expenditure. We, who believe in regional excellence and in a local input of character and quality, realise that the average county council commits some 90 per cent. of its budget, if not more, to salaries, building maintenance, heating and lighting and other essential expenditure, without which it would be unable to function. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary talk about minimal expenditure, 0·5 per cent. and £1 in £200. It is true that in global terms the sum is no more than £1 in £200, but I would suggest that 0·5 per cent. of what is left over from the available expenditure after a county council's essential expenditure is quite a substantial amount.

The point of my clause is simply to say that we do not mind—we have always maintained this—the principle of the Bill but that we object to the source of money—to the fact that it is to be financed by money that has already been allocated to local education authorities and which is now being clawed back in order that the Minister might have a centrist input into his expenditure. My clause seeks to exempt the local education authority contribution from the rate support grant equation in order that the 30 per cent. or more put in by the local authority will not count towards its disqualification of target and therefore its coming into penalty.

I believe that this is a sane new clause and I would have hoped that by now the Secretary of State, who has gone to some pressing appointment, or, in his absence, the Under-Secretary of State would have shown support, pleasure, agreement and, perhaps, would have jumped up and said, "Why did we not think of this?" and, "What a good idea," as it would do the Government no great harm. It would cost little other than the clawback which the Government receive by what they call the reckless expenditure of local authorities. In fact, it is no more than good housekeeping or the engagement of a few extra teachers, some more home helps or those things for which hon. Members on both sides of the House care. I am becoming bored with the contention that only one political party cares about people.

The Government are trying to have their cake and eat it. They are saying to local authorities, "Here is your rate support grant and if you do not abide by what we feel are the rules, we will fine you and the fines are heavy." Many local authorities have had to show considerable courage, as did my own shire county of Cambridgeshire, in going into penalty because they felt that their people deserved it. I should like at this point to congratulate the treasurer of Cambridgeshire county council who today received an award for presenting the best set of accounts of any local authority.

There is no good reason why local authorities should not treat the Government as the Government treat local authorities. There is no good reason why the Government should not be kept to their targets. If they do not keep to their targets they should go into penalty and give a little extra money to the local authorities.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

It is a suggestion that deserves to be aired and discussed in the House.

On page ix of the Appropriation Accounts 1982–83 we are told: The Account shows that while there was a surplus of gross Estimate over expenditure the realised amount fell short of the Estimate of £10,216,000 by £1,125,626". If the local authority did that, it would never live again. It would go into whatever nasty form of receivership could be thought of. Volume 4, classes IV and V of the Appropriation Accounts, 1983–84, shows: Excesses totalling £102,043,615 on six subheads were partly offset by savings of £35,411,765". That is approximately £67 million out of budget. Volume I, class I of the Appropriation Accounts 1983–84 shows expenditure of £1,240,767 in excess of the gross Estimate". The Government have kept their word as to expenditure in hardly any appropriation account.

When local authorities incur penalties because they are looking after their local people, the Government are too harsh. With this on the Bill, it would be right for the Government to look again and decide that the contribution towards grant made by the local authorities will not count with regard to the rate support grant and penalties.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I support the new clause because its effect is to make education support grants new money. In principle, we are not against the Bill, as the Minister often said, and he rightly quoted my speech on Second Reading. However, we are against the idea of the Government spending local authorities' money. That is what the Bill is all about. I know that the Minister does not like that formulation, but it is true. As the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) rightly said, penalties might be incurred by that spending.

We had much innocent amusement in Committee, as the Minister will recall, in reading out the supplementary report on authorities in penalty. I shall not do that again because I do not like to embarrass the Minister, particularly by saying what is happening in Kent. The fact is that Kent has an overspend of £8·6 million and it is in a £3 million penalty area.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

But the hon. Gentleman will not say that.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Of course I shall not say that. I do not like to embarrass the Minister at this late stage.

It is interesting how the Opposition have been the champions of local authorities against the centralisers, even a reluctant centraliser such as the Secretary of State. We have been the champion of not just the local authorities but the shires. Throughout Second Reading, Committee and Report it has been interesting that there has been silence from hon. Members meant to be representing the shires.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

That is true. I shall forgive the hon. Gentleman, who is the only person who spoke on behalf of his county. He should be congratulated by the House. The silence from Conservatives who represent the shires has been extraordinary. I hope that it will be noted by their electorate and by the councillors, the chief of whom I understand has been taken aside by the Prime Minister to be read a lecture on the fact that councillors must be obedient and loyal to the Conservative party and the Government and support their legislation, even if it takes away local authorities' freedom.

In Committee the Minister did not accept our amendments on the same lines as the new clause. Even if the Minister will not accept the new clause, I should like to hear him tell local authorities where they are to make savings. If it is a redeployment, as the Secretary of State said, what are they to do? Will they have to sack more teachers and have fewer books and less equipment? What will they do about building repairs?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

It is for the local authorities to decide.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I have heard before that it is for the local authorities to decide, but it is also a matter of arithmetic. If the money is not available. they have to cut somewhere. If they are to spend money in the way that the Secretary of State wants, they will have to cut elsewhere. That is the problem that the Minister and the Government have not faced. The Minister also believes that school meals and milk should be cut.

It is for those reasons that we in the Labour party will support the Liberal party's new clause.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford 8:45, 6 December 1983

I thank the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) for expressing concern for the county of Kent. If he wishes to make profit out of the alleged problems of the Kent authority, I must point out that there are 16 seats in the Kent county council area and at the election the Labour party managed only to come second in three. In my constituency, the Labour party's share of the vote fell to 26·8 per cent.—the lowest ever recorded in what was traditionally regarded as a Labour party seat. However, that is not relevant to this discussion.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

In Committee, the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to invite me to visit Kent and see how things are managed there. I wonder whether he has yet managed to swing the chairman of the LEA and arrange the invitation? I should be delighted to accept it.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. We are moving some way from the new clause.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

I was about to reply in a positive manner to the hon. Gentleman's reminder, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I shall not do so now.

The intention of new clause 8 is to promote discussion in the House on a subject about whic0h there was extensive related debate in Committee.

The new clause is technically defective. The local authorities do not provide education support grants. There has been an on-going debate—if I may use jargon—about the judgment on that question, but I understood from the wording of the new clause that the hon. Members who tabled it were concerned about the question whether expenditure supported by education support grants would count against expenditure targets. I see that the lion. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East agrees with my interpretation.

That question was considered in Committee at some length and an amendment similar to the new clause was rejected. I shall therefore limit myself to a few brief remarks. First, it is not intended that education support grants should be introduced until 1985–86. No decision has yet been taken about expenditure targets in that year. Whether there are expenditure targets in 1985–86 will depend partly upon local authority budgets in 1984–85., and their response to the targets for that year. If targets were set for 1985–86, the Government would consider carefully all representations that might be made by local authorities about the construction of targets, including any representations about the treatment of expenditure supported by education support grant. Indeed, the law requires us to do so.

The question will not be overlooked. If the local authorities are concerned and wish to raise it, it will be carefully considered.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East. I was not persuaded by his argument that net expenditure by authorities on projects supported by ESGs should be disregarded when targets are calculated. However, his speech was thoughtful and I shall consider it again and derive from it what I can.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

The Minister is telling us what the Government plan to do about the rate support grant in the year in question. Can he tell us the timetable within which the local authorities will have to operate? I understand that the first year to which the provisions will apply is 1984–85, but people will have to make bids the year before. They will need to know what the financial arrangements are to be when they make their bids, rather than when the money is to be spent. Will the local authorities know before they make the bids what the financial arrangements are to be?

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we went into this matter at some length in Committee. I shall repeat it for the benefit of the House. It is intended that the expenditure will be incurred in the year 1985–86. As far as I know, all local authorities start their budget exercise in the November of the previous year. It is expected that bids for expenditure to support a local authority activity will be made in about May or June. We intend to use the summer to evaluate those bids and to let the authority know before the budget-making round commences and before they decide where the money will come from for their possible 50 per cent. of the total expenditure.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

With the timetable that the Minister has just given, he is saying that local authorities will have to make their bids before the target is set; therefore, the authorities are bidding blind. They will not have the first idea whether there are expenditure targets and whether they are committing their ratepayers to expenditure which would put them beyond target. In a county such as Staffordshire, where I am a councillor—we are already in penalty—there is no way in which we could act responsibly to our ratepayers and, although we would want to, apply for the schemes covered by the Bill. Can the Minister encourage us to do so before we know the targets? Is the Minister speaking solely on behalf of his Department, or have his statements been cleared with the Department of the Environment, and has the Secretary of State for the Environment sanctioned what he is saying—that genuine consideration will be given to what the Minister is effectively saying will be exemptions?

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

The hon. Gentleman must accept that in the first year we want to evaluate fully all local authority bids. They need to know reasonably early whether the bid has been successful. We intend to use the summer in any year to evaluate the bids to see which activity can be supported by a particular local authority. The authority will be told in time for it to establish from where the money will come for its contribution towards the total expenditure.

There is no other way in which we can get round the matter. We must accept that we are talking about activities to be pursued by local authorities. It is for them to decide which activity they wish to pursue. I imagine that some will be quite small, some may be quite large and some may be done in partnership depending upon the discussions with the local authority associations.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

When will the local authorities know whether they are to be targets for the particular year?

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

I cannot embark upon that matter. It depends upon their responses to targets and budgets in the preceding years.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

I must press the Minister on this. I realise that he has a difficult task, but does he accept that local authorities cannot bid reasponsibly unless they know whether their bid will carry them into penalty? This clause simply seeks to ask whether the bid will be exempted, because it can be made if there is an exemption. Unless the local authorities know that, the bid cannot be made within the timetable given by the Minister.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

We are acting in response to the local authorities associations. They have asked whether decisions about bids will be made known to local authorities before they start their budget manouvres. We are responding to that request in the way that I have explained.

On the question of targets, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) must learn patience. The Government give guidance about targets in July each year. Whether we have targets for 1985–86 remains to be seen, as I said to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

The Secretary of State is saying to a local authority that a bid is prepared with two unknowns: first, whether the Government will accept it, and, secondly, whether they will be able to afford to carry it out. The Government are asking local authorities carefully to prepare bids to allocate resources and to make out a case for some of this money with those two unknowns. Surely the Government ought at least to reduce the unknown on whether they can afford by it by giving the local authority a clear undertaking that it will not be from local authority money and it will not incur penalties.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

I have some more remarks to make on penalties. We have given an undertaking that my Department feels it has a duty to inform the local authorities as early as possible. As time goes on, as the mechanism becomes more sophisticated and easier to work, we shall try to bring forward the information as early as possible.

The normal practice for specific and supplementary grants is that expenditure funded by grant is not counted against an authority's target, but the balance is so counted as part of the authority's total net expenditure on all its services; in other words, local authorities are expected to accommodate their own expenditure on grant-aided activities within their targets. In the case of education support grant, this would mean that 30 per cent. or whatever of approved expenditure that is not covered by the grant would count against an authority's target.

The total of targets is derived from the Government's plans for local authority expenditure and those plans reflect the Government's policies and priorities. In arriving at their expenditure plans for education for future years, the Government will be taking a wide range of factors into account, including the need for expenditure in different areas within the education service, including those areas in which activities might be supported by ESGs as well as the scope for economies and the general need for continuing restraint in the level of public expenditure. As ESGs are concerned with encouraging a limited redeployment of expenditure, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that local authorities' expenditure on grant-aided activities should be counted against their targets.

I therefore advise the House to reject the new clause.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

It seems to me, and I am sure it seems to all hon. Members, that the new clause is a mess. If the Minister will agree to look at the new clause again, I shall not press it to a vote. I am glad that the Minister will look at it again because if he decides there is merit, perhaps not in the exact formation of the amendment but in the thought behind it——

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

The hon. Member is being very helpful. I do not want to mislead him by saying I can promise or guarantee that there will be fundamental changes. The substance remains the same. I said that I shall look at his remarks and see what I can derive from them. I must not give any undertaking beyond that. If the hon. Member wishes to press the matter to a Division, that is for him to decide.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

I accept the Minister's statement, perhaps with more grace than he made it.

It is wrong — and I am glad that the Secretary of State is present to hear this — to take pride in an amelioration of the pupil-teacher ratio when so much of the amelioration depends on the penalties that are invoked by what Opposition Members would call responsible but what the Minister would call reckless local authorities.

Question put and negatived.

9 pm

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had an interesting debate, in which a number of items have been discussed and I feel that I should place on record a factual analysis of the Bill, partly for history and partly for the convenience of hon. Members who have not followed our proceedings with the same interest as those of us who were members of the Committee. On a personal note, I enjoyed my first Committee, as I hope the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) did. It was a happy Committee, despite a lovers' tiff towards the end.

The Bill is in two parts. Part I would empower the Secretary of State to pay grants to local education authorities in England and Wales. The purposes to which the grants were to be put would be set out in regulations. subject to affirmative resolution in this House and in another place. The Bill places an upper limit on the expenditure which might be approved for grant purposes; the limit is 0·5 per cent. of local authorities' total expenditure on education. This reflects the intention of the Bill, to influence expenditure at the margin.

The Bill also requires the holder of the Secretary of State's office to consult the appropriate local authority associations about regulations to be made under the Bill. My right hon. Friend has recently written to the chairmen of the education committees of the AMA and ACC about possible activities that might be supported by ESGs in 1985–86. These are the possible areas for grant support which he described to the House on Second Reading.

Part I of the Bill will leave unchanged the broad relationship between central and local government. It will provide the Secretary of State with the means to encourage local authorities to redeploy their expenditure at the margin in the light of national priorities. But the final decisions on expenditure will remain with the local authorities.

Local authorities over the years have pioneered many imaginative developments in the education service. Education support grants will provide a means to encourage the development and dissemination throughout the education service of new initiatives in responding to changing needs and circumstances. They will facilitate the introduction of recommendations such as those by the Cockcroft committee, which have been widely welcomed in this House. The Bill gives effect to the recommendation of the Select Committee on Education in the last Parliament that the DES should have the ability … to fund direct such new developments on a temporary basis as may seem to it be desirable". Part II is a technical measures which ensures that mandatory awards will continue to be available for students on courses validated by the Business Education Council and the Technician Education Council, which have recently merged. The Bill amends the law regarding awards to reflect that merger.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education 9:03, 6 December 1983

This is not a major Bill, but I suspect that it will prove to be significant not so much for what it does or will do but for what it reveals about this Government's and this Secretary of State's state of mind.

The Minister said that the Government were operating at the margin. That is so, but they are operating at the margin in a way that takes away local authority freedom. That is because the Government are not putting in additional money but are taking away money that local authorities thought they should be spending for their own purposes, and they are doing it at a time of great financial stringency, as successive HMI reports have shown.

That is happening at a time when local authorities—Tory as well as Labour—are deeply concerned about the Government's encroachment on their autonomy. We have just discussed targets, penalty areas and so on. We have before us the possibility of a rate-capping Bill and the abolition of the metropolitan counties. It is not surprising that local authorities are concerned about the whole question of local autonomy, and they see this measure, rightly in my view, as a further threat to their freedom and autonomy.

When we consider the Government's purposes, it is clear that those purposes have changed since the consultative document. It is significant that three out of five of the original reasons why it was said that we needed education support grants have been withdrawn, with other reasons having come forward.

If the Government are uncertain, it is not surprising that we are uncertain about whether the Secretary of State knows where he is going with education support grants.

Of course, the Bill will go through. It will get its Third Reading. Therefore it is right to say a few words about the means. I hope the Secretary of State will accept it when I say that consultation should be real and not a shadow boxing exercise and that he will listen to what the local authorities have to say about how the money should be spent. As I say, if he is uncertain in his own mind about the purposes for which the Bill will be used, he must ask the local authorities.

The second point is the timetable for the bids. We have revealed both in Committee and just now considerable obscurity on the part of the Government about the timetable. It is only fair to local authorities, if they have to bid for the money, that they should know about the timetable which is to be used.

The third issue is administration. There must be a proper check on all the pilot schemes. I hope the Secretary of State is certain that he has proper administrative mechanisms within his Department to check the pilot schemes. If not, the country will not get the proper benefit from them. Therefore, I hope he is considering that carefully.

The Minister has treated us with courtesy in Committee and at other stages of the Bill. I should like to thank him for that, but I cannot say that our questions and fears about the Bill have been answered satisfactorily. In any case, we believe this is the wrong Bill at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons; so we shall be voting against Third Reading tonight.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough 9:06, 6 December 1983

The only good thing that can be said about the Bill is that it has enabled us to discuss education, which was inadvertent on the part of the Government. It is a squalid little Bill, to say the least. I am glad the Minister was polite during the Committee stage because he was most offensive and rude to me on Second Reading. However, I shall generalise and hope that his manners mend; apparently they are mending.

The Bill cannot be mended. As my hon. Friend has said, it removes from local education authorities about £46 million which they would have had automatically and which they would have been able to use in the interests of education at a time when cash is scarce in local authorities. It is nonsense to talk any longer about a partnership between local authorities and central Government. Local authorities are being thwarted in what they can do. A party whose proud boast once was that it was the party of local government is centralising affairs in general and in education in particular in such a way that there must be a fight back. The measure of that is the struggle that we have put up here today.

The way authorities are being forced to queue and compete with one another for money is a disgrace. Many of them will not get any. While other schemes to democratise education are being kicked out, this antidemocratic measure which deprives local authorities of much-needed money, is being introduced. What makes it worse is that the amount involved is so slender and local authorities need it now more than ever precisely because of the cuts in education.

What is really nauseating about the cut is that it is running parallel with the iniquitous assisted places scheme. In other words, at a time of scarcity of money when masses of people are in poverty and are wondering how they can pay their bills because of the wretchedness of the Government, public money, which would have given a tiny bonus to education, is being taken away.

What the Government are doing will result in some remedial teachers, who should be helping our children to read, being missing. As a teacher, I cannot laugh about that. The Bill means that scarce resources will not go to areas to which they should go and yet millions of pounds of taxpayers' money will go to the private sector to ensure that children of the well-to-do are even better looked after at our children's expense.

Ministers talk as though they are being generous to poor children and as though they are giving them money. In fact they are taking money away from millions of such children so that they can provide for a few of their own choosing. It is now absolutely clear that the Bill is squalid. I wish it were possible to defeat it but at least what the Government are doing to our children is now on the record.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central 9:10, 6 December 1983

The Bill addresses a vital educational need—educational experiment and curriculum development. Those are subjects about which Governments of both parties have done less than they might. However, the Government's credibility and their sincerity in espousing the cause of educational experiment would have been somewhat greater if they had given more support in the past four years to the Schools Council rather than running it down, if they had given more support to Her Majesty's inspectors with regard to experimenting with new educational ideas rather than being concerned only with administration, if they had offered more support for teacher training rather than closing down teacher training colleges and if they had offered more support for local education authorities and allowed them to maintain expenditure to invest in coherent advisory services rather than forcing them to cut expenditure on what have inevitably been regarded as the luxuries of education. For those reasons the Government's credibility in the education world is slight and shallow.

The Bill addresses a need but it is not the appropriate method by which to address it. The sums of money that are being discussed will not match up to the challenge of curriculum development and experiment for the future of our education. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) demonstrated admirably that such development and experimenting has been funded wrongly. Conservative Members who know about education are aware that, if the Bill were to make any educational sense, it would have to involve new money. It does not.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

The hon. Gentleman is a Socialist old Etonian.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

The Bill is incoherently timetabled and incoherently administered. It is sad that, when the Minister replied to the debate on new clause 8, he was quite clearly at sea. I hope that when he examines the wording of that new clause he will seriously consider it. He must conclude that, if he does not adapt his response to it his project, inadequate though it is, will founder and fail. Now, only those authorities which are far from penalty will be able to risk taking up the scheme. In other words, only the richest authorities will be able to get involved with it. I am sure that that is not the Secretary of State's intention. I hope that he will seriously examine new clause 8.

The most serious criticism that can be levelled against the Government in introducing the Bill is that they have done so without any educational flair or imagination. They have no real love for the learning process or the development of children of all abilities. When the Government introduced the Bill we heard little—almost nothing—about education. We heard about the nuts and bolts, the justification for the administration, and other ways of funding the system, but we heard nothing in the speeches tonight, nor did we on Second Reading, by the Secretary of State or the Minister to show that they have risen to the educational challenge that could have been addressed by the Bill. The truth is that we have not heard from the Government any encouragement or incentive——

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

The hon. Gentleman has not been present throughout the debate.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

—to challenge established educational ideas. The Bill should be concerned with initiating projects, about which we have heard nothing.

We have a real opportunity to examine some of the less brilliant and less idealistic educational practices. The small projects that will be funded could begin to question educational standards that should have been questioned in the past. I am not making a party political point, as Governments of both parties failed to address themselves to this issue.

We have not heard a clarion call by the Government for the new educational thinking and ideas that we might have heard. That is a tragedy for education, and an opportunity that the Government have missed. The opportunity has slipped through their fingers. It will be for local authorities to take up the challenge, in spite of the Government rather than because of them.

Photo of Mr Sean Hughes Mr Sean Hughes , Knowsley South 9:16, 6 December 1983

The Minister, in his opening comments to the Committee, said: We, who are searchers after truth, will find as much time as we can to explain the detail of the Bill."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 22 November 1983, c. 3.] The real truth to which the Minister failed to address himself is that the Bill is irrelevant to educational needs. The truth is, as the report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of July 1983 emphasised, that resources cannot be stretched to meet present demands and that the existing basic provision of education cannot be maintained. The Bill does nothing to meet that problem, as it does not provide new money, there is no injection of new funds and it does not even propose the principle of redistribution of existing funds.

If the purpose of the Bill was to redress the educational imbalance in our country, it would have won the support of the Opposition. If the purpose of the Bill was to direct resources from the educational haves to the educational have-nots, there would be reason to cheer. However, the Bill is not concerned with robbing Peter to pay Paul, and not even concerned with robbing Peter to pay Peter; it is about robbing Peter to extract a little more from him when he asks for his money back.

The Bill is apparently oblivious to the real educational problems in some areas where the basic need is scarcely met. It takes money from those authorities which are already hard pressed and on the border of a penalty zone, and which are striving to maintain basic levels of education in socially deprived areas, and will give it back to pay for schemes in support of priorities that are yet to be finalised, in amounts yet to be decided and at rates which will fluctuate with no guaranteed minimum. For the Government to say to local education authorities, "We are taking from you X amount, which you can have back as long as you spend it on Y and, by the way, you will have to pay Z for the privilege," is an incredible concept. It might help matters if we could have some faith in the Secretary of State's judgment of what is best. No one seems to be sure about the number of priorities, let alone what they are.

The Secretary of State said last year in Leeds that there were five or six priorities. On Second Reading I thought he said that there were eight or nine priorities. I gained the impression in Committee that there were three or four priorities. When pressed in committee, the Minister seemed to waffle a little. He spoke of the need to consult, and the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) described to the Minister what consultation means. He also spoke of the need for flexibility in future developments. Now we are asked to accept that the Government believe that some priorities deserve public expenditure and attention at the expense of projects on which local education authorities are already spending resources, presumably because the local authorities believe them to be priorities in their areas. This provision must be made at the expense of something else, since the Government have made it plain that there will be no new money. How can the Government claim that, when they do not yet know what the priorities are?

This provision appears increasingly to be a political rather than an educational move. It seeks to increase the Secretary of State's influence on local government spending and to reduce still further local initiative. It reminds me of the old saying, "Go and see what Johnny is doing and tell him not to."

This evening Conservative Members have said much about the importance of choice in education. Choice, like freedom, is a much-abused word by Conservative Members. The existence of choice in education is based on the presumption that the vast majority of people will not exercise that choice.

In my borough—I am glad that the Secretary of State visited it last week, although he went only to the northern part and not to the southern part, which I represent—the word "choice" is a meaningless charade, not because of the dictates of local government but because we lack the material resources, the pleasant environment, the good quality housing and the tradition of educational ethos to make the fullest use of educational opportunity. So long as the Government deny the borough resources, the only choice that my constituents have is either to grin and bear it or not to grin at all.

The basic fault of the Bill is that it does not offer new resources, but withdraws present resources, and for that reason it deserves to be opposed.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North 9:22, 6 December 1983

As a member of the Select Committee that recommended this Bill, I welcome its introduction. A significant feature of the debates on the Bill has been the sight of a Socialist Wykehamist and a Socialist Etonian telling Conservative Members, who are well experienced in state education, in a way in which they have never been and never will be, what we should do about comprehensive education. I do not wish to be told by a Wykehamist that his experience of comprehensive education is secondhand and therefore extremely valuable. I do not relish the thought of an Etonian who has not attended the debate standing up in the House and saying that an evening of valuable debate on education has had no educational content. I should tell him that this evening, in his absence, we debated support grants, nursery education, the education of the handicapped and the disadvantaged, education support grants, post-16 education, remedial education, the entire spectrum of educational policy, streaming and setting in comprehensive schools, mixed ability teaching, English literature courses and examination courses.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I shall certainly not give way. For the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) to say——

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I will not give way. It was nonsense for the hon. Gentleman to say that the Schools Council should have been given more influence on Government policy. He is speaking of a folly that has rightly been abolished, having been in existence for a great many years at the cost of nearly £7 million a year without making any impact whatever on the schools it was intended to serve.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has not made a proper contribution to the debate.

The Bill is valuable and I am sure that its effect on education will be of benefit to everyone.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire 9:25, 6 December 1983

We believe that any Government have a duty to make adequate educational provision for the public sector, and until such adequate educational provision is made, the Government do not have a right to introduce new schemes financed by money that has already been allocated. That has been the substance of the argument from the Opposition Benches. We have heard a great deal of sizzle, but have not had enough steak, and the steak is simply that this is a fair Bill using wrong funding.

We have heard much talk about choice, of which we are in favour. If that choice is assisted places that work out as seven in every constituency a year given, and taking, the opportunity of leaving the public sector and going into the private sector, that is not a great deal of choice. As hon. Members have said, most of our constituents have no choice when it comes to schooling. We should like to see innovations, and we should like to see the Government put their money where their mouth is to pay for them.

There has been much talk, although not in the last few speeches, about the courtesy of the Minister. He levelled an accusation at me at one time, because I had voted twice for the Conservatives and nine times with the Labour party during the passing of the Education Act 1976. He received a message from his advisers and told the House, "The hon. Member is a Socialist." The Minister obviously has reading difficulties because the message that he should have read was, "The hon. Gentleman is a specialist." I am a Liberal and the Liberals have an education policy just as other parties do. If the Minister has not read it, I suggest that he does, because that may broaden his mind.

I join Labour Members in welcoming the concept of the Bill and opposing its funding, and I warn the Government that the way that the Bill is being funded will mean that it is an elitist Bill, and only those authorities who are in no fear of going into penalty will contribute towards it.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 193, Noes 102.

Division No. 91][9.28 pm
Alexander, RichardHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Amess, DavidHampson, Dr Keith
Ashby, DavidHannam,John
Aspinwall, JackHargreaves, Kenneth
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Harvey, Robert
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Baldry, AnthonyHawksley, Warren
Batiste, SpencerHayes, J.
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyHayhoe, Barney
Bellingham, HenryHayward, Robert
Benyon, WilliamHenderson, Barry
Best, KeithHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnHill, James
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnHirst, Michael
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Body, RichardHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Boscawen, Hon RobertHolt, Richard
Bottomley, PeterHooson, Tom
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Hordern, Peter
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Howard, Michael
Braine, Sir BernardHowarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHowarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Bright, GrahamHubbard-Miles, Peter
Brinton, TimHunt, David (Wirral)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Bruinvels, PeterHunter, Andrew
Budgen, NickJessel, Toby
Bulmer, EsmondJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Burt, AlistairJones, Robert (W Herts)
Butterfill, JohnJoseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Carttiss, MichaelKey, Robert
Chalker, Mrs LyndaKing, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Chope, ChristopherKnight, Gregory (Derby N)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Knowles, Michael
Clegg, Sir WalterKnox, David
Colvin, MichaelLang, Ian
Conway, DerekLawler, Geoffrey
Cope, JohnLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Cormack, PatrickLester, Jim
Couchman, JamesLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaLightbown, David
Dicks, T.Lilley, Peter
Dorrell, StephenLloyd, Ian (Havant)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardLord, Michael
Dunn, RobertMcCrindle, Robert
Durant, TonyMcCurley, Mrs Anna
Dykes, HughMacfarlane, Neil
Emery, Sir PeterMacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Evennett, DavidMcNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Eyre, ReginaldMcQuarrie, Albert
Favell, AnthonyMadel, David
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMajor, John
Finsberg, GeoffreyMalins, Humfrey
Fookes, Miss JanetMalone, Gerald
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Maples, John
Franks, CecilMarland, Paul
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)Marlow, Antony
Freeman, RogerMates, Michael
Gale, RogerMaude, Francis
Galley, RoyMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)Mellor, David
Garel-Jones, TristanMerchant, Piers
Goodlad, AlastairMeyer, Sir Anthony
Gower, Sir RaymondMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Greenway, HarryMills, Iain (Meriden)
Gregory, ConalMills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)Moore, John
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Ground, PatrickMoynihan, Hon C.
Grylls, MichaelMurphy, Christopher
Neale, GerrardSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Needham, RichardStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Neubert, MichaelStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Newton, TonyStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Nicholls, PatrickStradling Thomas, J.
Norris, StevenTemple-Morris, Peter
Onslow, CranleyTerlezki, Stefan
Oppenheim, PhilipThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Osborn, Sir JohnThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Ottaway, RichardTracey, Richard
Page, Richard (Herts SW)Trippier, David
Pawsey, JamesTwinn, Dr Ian
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWakeham, Rt Hon John
Pollock, AlexanderWaller, Gary
Powell, William (Corby)Ward, John
Powley, JohnWells, John (Maidstone)
Prentice, Rt Hon RegWheeler, John
Proctor, K. HarveyWhitney, Raymond
Raffan, KeithWilkinson, John
Rathbone, TimWood, Timothy
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonYounger, Rt Hon George
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Ridsdale, Sir JulianTellers for the Ayes:
Sayeed, JonathanMr. Archie Hamilton and Mr. Tim Sainsbury.
Sims, Roger
Spence, John
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Canavan, Dennis
Beckett, Mrs MargaretCartwright, John
Beith, A. J.Clarke, Thomas
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Clay, Robert
Bidwell, SydneyCocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)
Blair, AnthonyConcannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Boothroyd, Miss BettyCook, Robin F. (Livingston)
Boyes, RolandCraigen, J. M.
Bray, Dr JeremyDavies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Dewar, Donald
Bruce, MalcolmDormand, Jack
Caborn, RichardDouglas, Dick
Duffy, A. E. P.Maxton, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Meadowcroft, Michael
Eastham, KenMichie, William
Evans, Ioan (Cynon Valley)Mikardo, Ian
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Ewing, HarryMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Faulds, AndrewMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fields, T. (L 'pool Broad Gn)Nellist, David
Fisher, MarkO'Neill, Martin
Flannery, MartinPenhaligon, David
Forrester, JohnPike, Peter
Freud, ClementPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Godman, Dr NormanPrescott, John
Golding, JohnRadice, Giles
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Randall, Stuart
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Redmond, M.
Hardy, PeterRichardson, Ms Jo
Harman, Ms HarrietRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterRogers, Allan
Haynes, FrankRooker, J. W.
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Home Robertson, JohnRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Rowlands, Ted
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Kirkwood, ArchibaldSilkin, Rt Hon J.
Lambie, DavidSkinner, Dennis
Lamond, JamesSoley, Clive
Leighton, RonaldSpearing, Nigel
Lewis, Terence (Worsley)Stott, Roger
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Lofthouse, GeoffreyThorne, Stan (Preston)
McGuire, MichaelWardell, Gareth (Gower)
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Wareing, Robert
McWilliam, JohnWinnick, David
Madden, Max
Marek, Dr JohnTellers for the Noes:
Martin, MichaelMr. Lawrence Cunliffe and Mr. Don Dixon.
Mason, Rt Hon Roy

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.