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Orders of the Day — Further and Higher Education Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:44 pm on 11th February 1992.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Secretary of State for Education and Science 4:44 pm, 11th February 1992

Let me say en passant that I have never attacked teachers. The hon. Gentleman's reference to yesterday's pay settlement as a bribe shows that even he cannot see it as a subtle attack on them.

The main point of the Bill's provision for further education and sixth form colleges is to give them independence from local government. The purpose is not to attack local government gratuitously but to enhance the colleges' ability to thrive, expand and broaden their provision. In my opinion, local authority control is not the best way in which to bring that about. The same arguments were used in regard to polytechnics, but their history shows that they positively thrived once they were taken away from local authority control.

I see that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is becoming distressed at this point. Labour has approached the Bill with an automatic attachment to local government control of everything. Labour Members are so firmly tied hand and foot to Labour councillors up and down the country that they cannot concede that further education and sixth form colleges might do better to take the next logical step, from local management to total autonomy—being allowed to run their own affairs. The colleges do not regard our proposals as an attack. The hon. Member for Blackburn, who follows these matters, may well have seen a poll of principals that was conducted by what was The Times Higher Educational Supplement—it is now called "The Higher". I do not always rely on polls, but this poll showed that two thirds of principals agreed with the policy of granting independence—