Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:34 pm on 26th October 1993.

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Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott , Wigan 7:34 pm, 26th October 1993

Our experience of compulsory competitive tendering in Great Britain is that it is bad in principle. It has led to many local government workers losing their jobs, and people employed by the organisations that win the contracts find that their terms of employment are worse than they were hitherto.

Will the Minister ensure that during the tendering process his Department will require that a board must insist on obtaining information about potential employees—including their previous work history and national insurance status—as already happens in Northern Ireland during compulsory tendering for local authority work?

Part III of the order applies restrictions to the scope of the factors that boards can consider when awarding contracts. By prohibiting a board from asking detailed questions about the terms and conditions of employment of a competitor's employees, the Government are removing a board's capacity to maintain high standards in employment and working conditions, a theme to which I continually return. Yet again, the Government are content to reduce working standards. Instead of looking at the overall picture, they are merely looking at the figures which the Minister outlined. That kind of attitude results in reduced employment protection and leaves the United Kingdom with the lowest paid work force in Europe and a high level of unemployment.

I fear that the Government's plans will be all the more devastating for Northern Ireland, which has traditionally relied on the public sector for employment. I warn the Minister that Northern Ireland cannot afford an increase in the only figure with which I am concerned—the unemployment figure—which is already obscenely high.

Part IV of the order provides for the amalgamation of two or more institutions of further education; it does not provide for any significant consultation process before such an amalgamation. Surely the listening Minister will wish to hear from those who work in the colleges, the parents of those who attend those colleges and the wider community, all of whom share a stake in their local institutions of further education. Will the Minister ensure that provision is made for a concerned party to make known its anxieties prior to any amalgamation?

To achieve the required standards and implement change, the education service ultimately depends on the quality of its teachers and lecturers. Although many such people have already positively responded to the added pressures of education reform, the onslaught of Government legislation is demanding so much of their energy and commitment that the quality of provision for pupils and students in schools and colleges is in danger of being lowered. If that is to be avoided, it will be necessary not only to employ the most effective forms of in-service training, advisory and support services to assist teachers in implementing change, but to win the vital endorsement and support of parents, teachers, employers and members of the local community.

It is regrettable that the order does nothing to bridge the ever-widening gap between the Government and those who work in and use the education service. Instead, the Minister and his colleagues are intent on selling our schools in the marketplace. The Minister should concentrate on supporting teachers and freeing them from the bureaucracy of previous reforms. Instead, the Government, through the order, consider that it is more important to give the education and library boards in Northern Ireland a lesson in free market philosophy.

I said earlier that the order is like the curate's egg. It is unfortunate that we do not have a proper procedure whereby we can amend it and fashion a better one. The problems contained in the order outweigh its benefits, and I therefore ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against it.