Is it not the case that if the money spent by Welsh Office Ministers on sponsoring pupils in private schools was spent on the state sector it would mean at least £5 per child in secondary education? Is it not also true that, according to the latest polls, parents believe that, under this Government, standards have fallen largely because the state sector is still underfunded, even in an election year? Her Majesty's Inspectorate points to an alarming situation where parent-teacher associations are now bailing out our schools throughout the length and breadth of Wales. Is it not a fact that since 1979 Welsh Office Ministers from public schools have neglected our state schools and favoured their own?
The hon. Gentleman's first point is quite wrong. I have already told him in the House that, even if we were not to spend on the assisted places scheme, it would add only 30p to the £1,400 spent per child in the maintained sector. The amount spent is only 0·126 per cent. of total spending on the maintained sector. As for falling standards, I deny that absolutely. We have taken steps to improve education in Wales, and will continue to do so. As for spending, the hon. Gentleman must know that, while spending has remained roughly constant, pupil numbers are now 14·5 per cent. down on what they were in 1977–78, whereas the number of teachers has declined by only 7 per cent. We are spending more per pupil than was spent under the last Labour Government.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are to find more resources for state schools in the Principality the most effective way is to remove surplus places at a faster rate? I instance the example of Clwyd, where at present 22,300 surplus places in the primary and secondary sectors are costing £3·5 million a year just to keep empty. Why do Labour Members not get off their backsides and support the Government in trying to reach their target of removing two fifths of those surplus places so that we can spend the money on where it is most needed—in the hard-pressed urban primary and secondary schools?
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) could begin by supporting his education spokesman, the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), who is encouraging teachers not to take industrial action. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside should give his hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North his support. However, with regard to surplus places, my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) is absolutely right. There are about 150,000 surplus places in Wales and I know of some schools—in Clwyd, for example—where there are more surplus places than pupils at individual schools. I am also glad to say that a number of local education authorities are at various stages in the consideration of plans for rationalising school provision, particularly in the face of the declining secondary pupil numbers.
The hon. Gentleman put his finger on the matter when he described the schools as "smaller comprehensive schools". Obviously, the smaller the school, the more difficult it is to provide a broad-based curriculum, particularly at secondary level. That is why so many local education authorities are considering sixth-form and tertiary colleges and other such reorgansiations.