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Industry and Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:46 pm on 21st November 1994.

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Photo of Mr David Evennett Mr David Evennett , Erith and Crayford 5:46 pm, 21st November 1994

I am pleased to be able to make a contribution to the debate. I do not wish to follow on from what was said by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), because Conservatives believe in industry, in wealth creation and enterprise.

I shall concentrate my comments on education and the Government's education policies. Before doing so, I wish to say a few words about measures proposed in the Gracious Speech. I welcome warmly the proposal to promote enterprise and improve the working of the labour market and, particularly, to reform the unemployment and income support benefit and create a jobseeker's allowance.

All hon. Members, from both sides of the House, believe that unemployment is one of the greatest evils of our age. Although I am delighted with the falls that we have seen recently in the level of unemployment, must be done to encourage people to get into training, retraining and, I hope, back to work. My constituency has pockets of very high unemployment and my constituents look to the enterprise culture, to the retraining potential, to get jobs and opportunities for them along the Thames gateway. We look with interest at the development of the planning and industrial opportunities, which that area of the Thames gives.

I believe that the proposed contract between the employment service and the unemployed person will be of great benefit to both. A new approach to help genuine work seekers, with job experience, training and retraining, will result not only in better value for money for the taxpayer, but also a much better service to the client—those people who want to job. While the workshy are a small percentage of the total unemployed, the aim of the new allowance will be as a means of support while the unemployed person looks for work, and not an income for life divorced from the world of work. That is progress. We need good training and profitable and successful industries to create the jobs for those people.

I welcome the abolition of the regional health authorities, as proposed in the Gracious Speech. We need less bureaucracy. We need more cash up front so that the health service can provide service for the patient, not bureaucratic structures. Contained throughout the Gracious Speech is the belief that we need less government and more effective utilisation of our natural resources, for the benefit of all.

I am delighted that no major education reform Bill was included in the Gracious Speech. There have been many good measures in the recent past, and decisions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), who was Secretary of State for Education. I feel, however, that the fact that this Session will include no major education reform measure is good for education, good for the taxpayer and good for the nation's children, teachers and parents. In the past, so much had to be done because, regrettably, the education service declined during the 1960s and 1970s as the wrong policies were implemented. This Government confronted and tackled the problems; the results are beginning to feed into the system, and more achievements will follow.

In the past decade, much more public money has been spent on education in real terms—some 47 per cent. since 1979. More has been spent on books and equipment; we have seen better pay for teachers, and improvements in the teacher-pupil ratio. We have also made considerable progress in our aim of improving educational standards.

Out have gone the trendy views of the 1960s and early 1970s—the destruction of good schools, and the endeavour to make the large, monolithic comprehensive the norm. In has come reform—attention to standards, and pure common sense. We have seen the establishment of the national curriculum, local management of schools, regular testing of pupils, greater choice, more information about schools for parents, pupils and the local community, the expansion of higher and further education and so much more. That is a real record of achievement in the past decade.

Those measures were intended to improve our education service—[Interruption.] Opposition Members do not like to hear about real achievements that were prompted by our ideas rather than theirs.

We aim to improve our education service, and to ensure that individual children are given the best chance to develop their talents to the maximum. In addition, those who must foot the bill—the taxpayers—want to know that their money is being well spent for the nation's future. The fact that we now have more information—not only about examination results but about discipline, truancy and all the other matters that are of interest in individual schools—allows parents to make reasoned choices.

Parents want to know more about which schools deliver which services, and what advantages their children will gain if they go to particular schools. Parents can now attend annual meetings and ask questions; they are no longer excluded. I congratulate the Government on what they have achieved so far. Moreover, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has launched a crusade to improve spoken English: our national language, which has now become the international language, is often spoken better by foreigners than by some of our children, and we want to make improvements.

Needless to say, the Opposition rejected all our reforms at one stage and have taken a long time to catch up. At the weekend, I was interested to learn that the Opposition's education spokesman—the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett)—now thinks that the publication of results is not such a bad thing after all. Some of us have been saying that for some years.