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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:20 pm on 11th February 1992.

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Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett , Leeds Central 9:20 pm, 11th February 1992

I should have thought that even this Secretary of State could have done better than that. When talking of schools, the Secretary of State likes to use the figures per pupil. When it comes to colleges, he has to use other terms. As he knows, there has been a cut in the level of investment per student in the college sector.

The Government have failed further education, have failed to provide leadership and have now introduced a measure which is simply aimed at centralising and giving more power to the Secretary of State. The measure is against the wishes of the Government's friends in local government.

However, the further education provisions are crucial to the nature of the Bill because the Government have never seen the consequences of their actions. The worst of those consequences will be the Bill's effect on the adult education service, which is a matter of pride for students, for local education authorities and for those who work in the service. Indeed, the hon. Member for Tiverton (Sir R. Maxwell-Hyslop) argued strongly about that aspect of the Bill, mentioning the link with the community in terms of pre-16 and post 16-year-old students and adults and the impact of the Bill on education provision and the life of a community.

The Bill will put adult education at risk throughout the country. When the Secretary of State was asked to justify the new system, he said that it was neat, it was tidy and that it would work. Then we went into some of the details and the various layers in the bureaucracy. There will be a bid to a further education college in the hope that funding will be available. If it is not available, there will be a bid to the further education funding council. If the money is not available there, the college will have to go to the local education authority.

Is it not nonsense for the Government to believe that local education authorities—stripped of their further education functions, and colleges, rate-capped and under great pressure because of the poll tax in many areas—will pick up the tab from central Government to fund adult education? Have not the Government given a clear message to every local education authority that the Government value vocational adult education but not non-vocational adult education? The division does not exist intellectually or in practice, but the Government want to hold to that division because they believe that it will save money when providing adult education services.

If my hon. Friends are in any way doubtful about what will happen to the adult education service, let them look at the record of what has happened in Conservative-controlled local education authorities in the past few years. When they have been under pressure to keep down the poll tax, what service has been cut more than any other? It will always be the non-mandatory, discretionary services. In Warwickshire, it was the virtual abolition of the youth service—written out by the Conservative local education authority.