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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:55 pm on 11th February 1992.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell , Great Grimsby 7:55 pm, 11th February 1992

I thought that when the Secretary of State introduced the Bill he gave us a demonstration of his usual bull-at-a-gate tactics in respect of yet another field of education into which he is rushing to impose change.

With the claim of simplifying, he is creating a much more complicated structure. In the name of eliminating distinctions, he is creating new ones. That restless process of change is typical of his approach. He introduced it first in the health service, transferred it to secondary education, and is now transferring it to further and higher education. In that process of change, he is not making any allowance for the simple fact that change itself has a cost. Indeed, change is expensive to introduce. Unless he increases spending to allow for the costs of that change, it will fail.

Here we are, in the last dying days in the life of the Government, rushing through a major change in the system with inadequate consultation. The Secretary of State has not demonstrated to us the evidence—the representations from local authorities—on which the change was based. He has not told us what arguments they offered against it. The Bill is being rushed through with a guillotine to follow and with no time to consider it. It is being imposed as the Government go out—with a twilight already shining on their shoulders. The Bill will throw higher and further education into another mess, just another achievement of the bull-at-a-gate Secretary of State in that area.

What I have said does not obviate the need for change, but change has to be managed, has to be carried through by a process of consultation, and has to be financed. That is the danger of the changes which have been introduced by the Government.

My main argument is on the effects that the Bill will have on a service which we are very proud of in Humberside—the Humberside adult education service. I wanted to intervene when the Secretary of State spoke, but unfortunately I could not. We are very proud of that service. It has 100,000 enrolments and 40,000 students, and it provides a valuable service, siphoning people into education who would otherwise drop out or would not be attracted to it, because it provides education where they live—in the village hall, and schools in the locality, in villages and towns, in the main using the facilities of secondary schools.

Although the service provides both vocational and non-vocational training—the Government have created a contemptuous distinction between the two—it siphons people from one to the other.