Schools

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 10:25 am on 19th July 1991.

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Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett , Leeds Central 10:25 am, 19th July 1991

Will the hon. Gentleman be patient for a few moments? I have only just started.

When the Government's record is exposed, Labour's opinion poll lead increases. That is why we always welcome education debates.

The Minister's speech was well trailed and well rehearsed. It was in the Conservative research department brief and I had the pleasure of reading most of it along with the Minister. The delivery was perhaps not as good as the original text, but we expect little better from the Minister.

Interestingly, the Minister's speech concentrated hardly at all on standards for all our children. We need to talk about that. Labour's aspiration and ambition are to increase standards across the education system and, in that regard, we share a concern felt deeply by parents.

Conservative Members will no doubt have seen a poll, published in early spring, which showed that British parents felt the greatest anxiety in western Europe about education standards. That concern extends to the Conservative party. A Carlton club political committee seminar held in March 1991—and, incidentally, attended by the junior Education Minister—also discussed standards. The brief on that occasion was slightly different from the Minister's brief this morning, in which he seemed to be suggesting a very different line in terms of the Government's performance.

The Carlton club seminar referred to anxiety about standards and said that the Government's education reforms were not working. Present on that occasion—at a meeting chaired by a former Cabinet Minister, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)—was the present Minister. Now, only a few months later, the Minister is trying to pretend that standards are improving. That came from the Carlton club, deep in the heart of the Conservative party. Only this week, a report from the disbanded Assessment of Performance Unit showed a slight decline in writing standards, according to the reports in The Daily Telegraph and elsewhere.