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Orders of the Day — Education

– in the House of Commons at 8:03 pm on 3rd July 1995.

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Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch 8:03 pm, 3rd July 1995

I beg to move, That the draft Education (Assisted Places) Regulations 1995, which were laid before this House on 26th June, be approved. As hon. Members will know, we introduced the assisted places scheme in 1981 because we are committed to choice and diversity and because we wish to encourage high standards in education, wherever they are to be found. We want parents to be able to choose the education that they think best for their children, regardless of income. The scheme has opened up educational opportunities for many thousands of able children from less well-off families, and continues to be an outstanding success. Under the present Government, it is here to stay.

Our best independent schools have a long tradition of academic excellence, of which they are rightly proud; but schooling is not just about achieving good results on paper. Schools in the scheme take a justifiable pride in developing their pupils as individuals, and equipping them in every way to make a full and valuable contribution to society.

Independent schools are also here to stay. We believe that the range of opportunities that they offer should not be restricted to those who can afford to pay for them. Independent schools have a long history of providing bursaries and scholarships for less well-off pupils, and the Government welcome that, but there is a limit to what the independent schools can do themselves.

The assisted places scheme builds on and extends the schools' own contributions. It not only expands opportunities for children from lower-income families, but helps to widen the social mix and create greater awareness and understanding across communities. In short, the scheme is an academic success: assisted pupils, on average, achieve better GCSE and A-level results than their peers in independent and maintained schools, and have high entry rates into further and higher education. The scheme is successful in the wider opportunities and experiences that it provides in sport, the arts and other aspects of personal development, and it is successful in giving all those opportunities to children who could not otherwise have afforded them. Over 40 per cent. qualify for a totally free place, and 80 per cent. of their families have incomes below the national average.

The regulations governing the scheme were last consolidated in 1989. Amendments have been made in each year since then, mainly to uprate the parental contribution tables that set out the amounts that parents must pay towards their children's assisted places. The House is considering new consolidated regulations, whose effects I shall explain shortly.

Consolidation is essentially good housekeeping, to bring all the previous changes into a single document, update some detailed aspects of the rules and remove redundant wording. The consolidated regulations include this year's parental contribution uprating. There are no radical changes in the operation of the scheme. If approved, the regulations will come into force on 25 August, for the school year 1995–96.

Part I of the draft regulations—that is, regulations 1 and 2—deals with citation, commencement and application and with the interpretation of expressions used throughout the text. The main changes here are in connection with the definition of "parents" for the purpose of income assessments under the scheme, and with the use of the term "European Economic Area" with regard to the residence of applicants for assisted places.

The definition of "parents" in regulation 2 has been revised to take account of provisions in the Children Act 1989 and subsequent developments, and to limit the definition to the person or persons with whom the child normally lives. There have been no major changes of substance, but the wording has been clarified. In the usual case, the "parents" are of course the natural mother and father, and both must make a declaration of their joint incomes to be eligible for assistance under the scheme. The regulations also cater for adoptive parents, those who are guardians or foster parents and those who, although not the natural parents, have custody or care and control of the child.

Part II of the draft regulations—regulations 3 to 8—deals with eligibility for an assisted place. The wording of regulation 3 has been made clearer, and the requirement that parents and child applying for an assisted place must fulfil all the conditions specified is strengthened.

Draft regulation 4 sets out the residence requirements. The vast majority of assisted pupils will, of course, satisfy the requirement that they should be ordinarily resident in the British islands for at least two calendar years before taking up the assisted place. In addition, there have always been conditions applicable to children who have been living in European Community countries and have been nationals of those countries. Those conditions have been revised in the draft regulations to take account of the European Economic Area agreement, and to reflect our legal obligations to provide access to free or subsidised tuition for children of migrant workers on the same basis as for British residents. By the same token, the requirement that a child from a member state of the European Community be resident in the British islands on 1 January before taking up an assisted place is removed.

The conditions as to age in draft regulation 5 remain largely the same. The only exception is that the somewhat anomalous requirement that a child should have attained the age of 11—the scheme's minimum age—by 31 July following his admission to an assisted place is now amended, so that the child concerned must have reached the specified minimum age by 31 August, the conventional end of the school year.

There have been some minor technical amendments and drafting changes in part III of the draft regulations—regulations 9 to 15—dealing with remission of fees. Cross-references in footnotes to other relevant legislation have been updated. Draft regulation 11 provides for an allowance to be made for each dependent child, other than the assisted place holder, against parents' total income when calculating their contribution towards school fees. This year, the allowance is raised from £1,140 to £1,165, in line with inflation, and will maintain the help for families with more than one child.

Draft regulation 15 refers to the scales of fee remission in schedule 2 which, in turn, sets out the income bands used for assessing parents' contribution to fees for the school year 1995–96. I announced those to the House on 26 January last. Like the dependant's allowance, those bands have been uprated in line with the 2.4 per cent. movement in the retail prices index over the 12 months to October last year. The income threshold at or below which parents pay nothing towards fees is raised from £9,352 to £9,572 a year. There are corresponding increases in the thresholds for the higher income bands. The effect is that parents whose relevant income has risen by no more than inflation will continue to contribute the same proportion of that income, and indeed the same amount in real terms. Parents whose incomes have risen by less than inflation will pay less. All those adjustments help to achieve the objective of targeting assistance on those who need it most.

The provisions of the remaining parts of the draft regulations cover the administrative arrangements and miscellaneous requirements of the scheme. They remain essentially unchanged. Draft regulation 19, for example, lies at the heart of the scheme and requires participating schools to recruit at least 60 per cent. of their assisted pupils from publicly maintained schools.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins , Blackpool South

Does my hon. Friend agree that what he has just said reinforces yet again the fact that the only remaining people who disapprove of the assisted places scheme, which has already benefited 70,000 children over the years since its introduction, are Opposition Members who are still peddling the politics of envy? Does he agree that it is noticeable that people, such as a gentleman in my constituency, are resigning from the Labour party when their children have benefited from assisted places because they recognise the poverty and hypocrisy of the Opposition's ideology, which is based on, "We're all right Jack, knock away the ladder"? No fewer than seven members of the shadow Cabinet have benefited.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows full well my view that interventions should be short. That was getting very long.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) was enjoyable, however, at least from where I was sitting. I congratulate him on what he said, which is well known not just in the House, but, I am pleased to hear from his comments, among a growing number of erstwhile supporters of the Labour party.

The scheme is not intended for those who would have sent their children to independent schools in any event, but a small number of assisted place holders were attending private preparatory schools before taking up their secondary school place and have been awarded assisted places on the ground of hardship.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend

Will the Minister tell me how many pupils in Wales are currently on an assisted places scheme and what percentage that is of the overall school population in Wales?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I have that information, but I do not have it immediately to hand. Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to cope with that in my concluding comments rather than give him an estimate and then, in a sense, have to correct that estimate?

Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe , Cunninghame South

I ask the same question in relation to Scotland. Will the Minister give us the figures for Scotland?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The regulations do not affect Scotland. They cover purely England and Wales, so whether or not I can find the figures for Wales, those for Scotland are not affected by the regulations.

Finally, the technical arrangements for the computation of parents' income in schedule 1 to the draft regulations have been updated and amended, mainly as a result of various Finance Acts brought into force in the intervening years since 1989.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I am anxious to make progress, but I shall give way to the hon. Lady.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge

There is of course a great deal of alarm and concern among parents about the falling school budget. What would the Minister say to the head teacher of my local sixth form college, who has written to me and recently published a press release saying: Governors, staff, students and parents therefore want to know why recent parliamentary answers suggest that the Government allocates up to twice as much per student to buy an assisted place in an independent school as that head teacher has been allocated to teach his pupils?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

Several answers would accurately sum up the position and give useful information to the head teacher to whom the hon. Lady referred. The first and most obvious point is that the fees paid under assisted places to private independent schools cover not merely revenue expenditure, but capital, whereas the allocation under the standard spending assessment covers only revenue items. Secondly, although I hope that she would not expect me to run through the figures on 109 SSAs, she will find that, even taking that into account, the amount allocated to some local education authorities per pupil under the SSA for the current year is greater than the average allocated in relation to the scheme.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge

I have some figures here. In 1994–95, funding for 16 to 19-year-old students, including capital, at my local colleges in Cambridge—funded of course through the Further Education Funding Council—was £2,823 per year. I have not had the exact figures, but I know that the sum at a school such as Leys school in Cambridge approaches £5,000 a year. As I said earlier, the figure is almost double for such schools.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The hon. Lady has made her local point. I repeat that, considering the full range of schools within the assisted places scheme, and, separately, the amount advanced by the standard spending assessment annually, there is an enormous range of figures. In particular, the other thing the hon. Lady will know is that the whole funding of sixth forms, be it sixth form colleges or sixth forms as part of schools, displays significant variances as well.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the admirable answers that he has given to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), which I am certain will entirely satisfy her. Some disquiet is being expressed about the assisted places scheme. The disquiet that I have heard is that the Government may not be firmly committed to it. I would therefore be grateful if my hon. Friend would put those rumours to rest and nail the Government's colours firmly to the mast of the scheme.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I am delighted to give my hon. Friend the utter and complete assurance that the Government are committed to the assisted places scheme. We see its continuing advantages and we have no plans to cut it, let alone to abolish it.

I hope that I have explained to the satisfaction of the House the purpose behind the laying of these draft consolidated regulations, and that I have covered the main areas where some minor changes have been made. Whatever Opposition Members may feel about the assisted places scheme as a whole, I am confident that the House will welcome both the tidying-up that we have undertaken in the regulations and, of course, the annual uprating to preserve its value. I commend the regulations to the House.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton 8:17 pm, 3rd July 1995

We will vote tonight against the regulations and we will do so simply because we are against the whole scheme in principle. I shall explain why, but before I do, may I enlighten the Under-Secretary and tell him that in Wales approximately 720 pupils are on the assisted places scheme?

There are three principal reasons for opposing the assisted places scheme. First, it is unfair and inefficient to penalise the many to advantage the few, yet that, effectively, is what the scheme does. Secondly, in the main, schools select the most academically able through the scheme, distorting the academic profile of children in the maintained sector and inflating the image of academic excellence projected by many independent schools. Finally, it is a totally unwarranted subsidy by the state of the private sector.

The Government would have us believe that the scheme is an unqualified success, but they regularly refuse to make more detailed information available. My hon. Friends have regularly tabled questions to the Department for Education so that a clearer picture might emerge, but it has all been to no avail. On 17 January, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) sought information as to which local education authorities had a concentration of assisted places, but he was told that the data were not broken down by local education authority.

Later that year, on 2 March, my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) attempted to find out how many families using the scheme could have afforded private education anyway—something to which the Under-Secretary referred earlier. He was told that that would apply to very few. How can the Government possibly know that without the relevant data—which, from their own evidence, they do not collect?

The Scottish Office told my hon. Friend: The number of such pupils is impossible to assess accurately but they must be very few."—[Official Report, 7 March 1994; Vol. 239, c. 54.] At least the Welsh Office was honest when, on 4 March last year, it told my hon. Friend: No such assessment has been made."—[Official Report, 4 March 1994; Vol. 238, c. 906.] The truth is that the Government neither know nor care because the scheme is motivated by ideology and they do not want it to be scrutinised too closely.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins , Blackpool South

While on the subject of provision of information, does the hon. Gentleman agree that no fewer than seven of his Front-Bench colleagues have been beneficiaries of the sort of schools that his opposition to the regulations would damage?

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

I would not have a clue about to whom the hon. Gentleman is referring. Perhaps I am one of them because I went to a direct grant school that eventually opted for the independent sector. There is hardly a case to be made against hon. Members who, at the age of 11, were arbitrarily selected by a system that they neither understood nor in which they participated.

The Under-Secretary has been party to the smokescreen around the assisted places scheme. When my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) asked how many households with children on the assisted places scheme were in the bottom tenth of disposable income levels under Department of Social Security statistics, he obfuscated by saying that the information was not available in the form requested.

That lack of information and clarity does not, in any shape or form, prevent the Department for Education from making odd claims about the scheme. Last week, at my request, it faxed me its view of the scheme and made four principal claims, which have been echoed tonight by the Under-Secretary—that it widens opportunity to the poor; it extends choice to those who would not have it; it justifies the intake as otherwise not choosing the private sector; and it claims 295 good independent schools in the scheme (in England). The argument that the scheme widens opportunity lacks any conviction. Despite 100 per cent. take-up of first-year places, it consistently involves between 0.8 and 0.9 per cent. of the total number of secondary pupils. That obviously implies that more than 99 per cent. of our pupils do not cut the mustard academically to qualify for the scheme.

The second argument, of extension of choice to those who otherwise would not have it, again denies choice to 99 per cent. of the population by virtue of the narrowness of the take-up. It reinforces our view that the whole notion of choice in education is chimerical, at least for the vast majority of people. At best, preference is exercised, not choice.

The third argument is a very odd claim as it is predicated on the statement that almost 70 per cent. of assisted pupils have come from maintained primary schools. Given that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor both sent their children to state primary schools and then on to independent schools—as have thousands of parents—that appears to be a spurious deduction to make. On the contrary, I would be more concerned with the 30 per cent. plus who have gone from independent primary schools to independent secondary schools at the taxpayers' expense.

The Department for Education will continue to laud the achievement of children on the scheme, as the Under-Secretary has done this evening. Of course those children will do well academically—that is why they are creamed off from the maintained sector to inflate the otherwise dubious academic records of many of the schools in the scheme—295 in England alone.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes I will accept that many of those schools are good schools and have always been good schools in their own right. I argue against the assertion that all of them are good schools that could stand alone without the infusion of fresh blood—fresh academic talent—being brought in from the maintained sector.

Is it any wonder that organisations such as the Independent Schools Information Service use the scheme as propaganda for their own promotion? For example, is it a coincidence that in the autumn edition of its publication, under a banner headline about Labour party policy and the assisted places scheme, it makes great play of the academic success of independent schools? The implication was clear—that independent schools add value to the fewer than 1 per cent. of pupils who are creamed off. Is not it the 1 per cent. who add value to the schools, not only academically but by propping them up financially? In an open market, many of those schools would have collapsed long ago.

The Department for Education claims the scheme is good value for money and that the total cost is justified by a significant increase in opportunities and an extension of choice. I am afraid that such outlandish statements are far from the truth.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The hon. Gentleman suggested that some schools would have collapsed long ago without the benefit of the assisted places scheme. Will he improve on the example given a year ago by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), speaking for the Liberal Democrats, who could submit only the name of Dulwich college as a school that would have collapsed? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could give a better example.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

The four schools out of the top 50 which the DFE says take more than £1 million a year from the public purse in subsidy, and may even have in excess of 40 per cent. of their pupils on the assisted places scheme, could hardly find it easy to exist without the material support of the students or the huge sums of money that they are given.

Between 1989 and 1995, the cost of the scheme rose from £50.9 million to £102 million—a 100 per cent. increase. Can the Under-Secretary explain why, during the same period, the number of places increased by only 2.6 per cent., from 33,280 to 34,139? Where did the money go? Obviously, the Under-Secretary either does not wish or is unable to tell us where it has gone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) referred to the position in Wales, where the average budget per pupil in the maintained sector is £2,373. In the independent sector, the grant per head for the assisted places scheme is £3,790 for the 720 pupils to whom I referred. In England, the position is even worse. According to the House of Commons Library, the average per head in the maintained sector is £2,250, but for places under the APS the average grant per place is £4,110. Where is the value for money between the two?

In my county of Merseyside, five schools are in the top 50 recipients of money under the scheme. Between them, they receive £3.5 million a year. Other schools in the county also take money under the scheme. If we assess the cost of a teacher at £20,000—a figure off the top of my head—that £3.5 million would pay for an additional 175 teachers for schools in the county. What would that do to raise standards for all our pupils in all our schools? How many other savings could be made—for example, filling surplus places that we are busy taking out of the system, which is costing a fortune both centrally and locally?

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are buying something that is, perhaps, not very good value for money? The college that I mentioned earlier—Hills road sixth form college, which is just outside my constituency—gets £2,800 per year per pupil. However, it consistently comes in the top 10 schools, including the public schools. It is the one state school that gets on to that list and consistently gets a high proportion of its pupils into Oxford and Cambridge. Schools that get twice as much money do not come anywhere near it in their results.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

It is absolutely true to say that the Government are using and abusing the maintained sector to maintain an ideological position on the assisted places scheme. The school, that takes in more pupils under the assisted places scheme than any other, is, as I recall, not a million miles from Cambridge: Wisbech grammar school. Several schools take nearly as many pupils on the scheme.

The Minister might argue that the scheme is an egalitarian measure, pointing out that around 40 per cent. of pupils pay nothing, going entirely free to these grand schools. But what of the 60 per cent. who are being subsidised in one way or another together with the schools? I note that the schools chosen by other members of the Cabinet, such as the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary—the Etons, the Harrows and the Marlboroughs—do not figure at all in any of the parliamentary answers.

Winchester is an exception, creeping into the list of schools taking up the scheme, but it is certainly not one of the top 50 schools. If anything, it has a token involvement in the scheme. Perhaps its sense of noblesse oblige does not quite square with the parvenu erstwhile direct grant schools, which are trying to gain status from the scheme rather than anything else.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I shall try not to interrupt the hon. Gentleman excessively, but he partly answers his own point. As he knows, the origins of the scheme lay in the old direct grant schools and their efforts. It would be surprising if a significant number of other schools were brought in—not least since there is a waiting list of other schools trying to get on the assisted places scheme.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

In fact the Under-Secretary reinforces my point. The scheme is ideologically driven to enable the old direct grant schools to continue a selective, elitist approach to education by creaming off the best from the maintained sector. In government, the Labour party will without doubt abolish this scheme.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

Like grant-maintained schools?

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

The hon. Gentleman refers to grant-maintained schools. Although they are not particularly relevant to this debate, his intervention warrants an answer. We propose to narrow down six categories of schools into three. He will not be surprised to find that that proposal is receiving an increasingly favourable response from head teachers, governors and parents involved in all areas of the maintained sector.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for rising like a particularly plump fish to my intervention.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

All right, rising like a trout. Is the hon. Gentleman able to say that his party, if elected to government, would abolish the grant-maintained sector in its entirety?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. I must remind the House that we are debating the assisted places scheme. We must return to that subject.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

I may be able to answer within the remit of this debate by saying that when the Labour party goes into government, Labour Members intend to look after the interests of all our children, in all our schools, regardless of the school they may attend.

The Labour party in government will abolish the scheme—not in any way which will damage the progress of the pupils currently studying under the scheme, but by halting new places under it. I hasten to add that Labour Members recognise that there are—as there have always been—cases which require support.

Only last week I met the admirable Mr. Tom Juckes, the chairman of the Lord Wandsworth Foundation, which, as the Minister may know, is an umbrella charity for a number of other worthy causes and deals with children in particular educational, social, psychiatric and financial need. We believe that, where appropriate, help can be offered to people who, like those helped by the foundation, use the assisted places scheme. At one time, in local government circles, such help was known as the Martin Rules, which were certainly catered for in section 81B of the Education Act 1944, if the Minister cares to check it out. I fail to see why the assisted places scheme has been subverted to provide places which are already catered for—unless it is for ideological reasons.

We will not perpetuate the wholly unacceptable practice of hiving off a few to the disadvantage of the many, to prop up schools which wish to remain elitist and which ignore their wider educational responsibilities to their communities. The Minister's alarm bells ought to be ringing because our new structure, catering for all schools, is looking increasingly attractive to former direct grant schools, which are aware that the future Labour Government will remove any advantages under the assisted places scheme. Indeed, they have already suffered under the pressures of the second great recession since the Conservative party took office since 1979. Labour Members will most certainly and happily vote against the regulations.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth 8:34 pm, 3rd July 1995

I was a little surprised to discover that this draft statutory instrument is being opposed. I say that quite eliberately, notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) has said, because Labour Members are now coming around to the wholesale adoption of Conservative education policies. For example, they are coming around to the acceptance of league tables. They have discovered virtue in them. They have discovered virtue in the national curriculum and even in testing. In short, they are beginning to adopt many Government policies. They have found excellence, and it is excellence that this motion is all about.

The motion makes a contribution to parental choice. It enables parents to select schools and it broadens children's horizons. It enables a child from an ordinary family to share in some of the benefits and the advantages which spring from the independent sector. The scheme helps those parents who, while appreciating the benefits of independent schools, would simply not be able to afford them. It enhances available diversity and choice, which Labour Members are coming around to accepting.

If Labour Members believe in diversity and choice, let them tonight withdraw their ill-founded and spiteful opposition to the assisted places scheme. The scheme positively helps children who may be socially disadvantaged; it helps children from single-parent families; it helps children who come from the inner cities. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Walton want me to give way? I thought that he wanted to intervene. Since he does not, I shall continue.

All those laudable objectives should not receive the spiteful attention of Labour Members. We are seeing the old egalitarian enmity of Labour: old Labour dressed up as new. It takes more than a smiling leader to change the mind of the hard-nosed municipal socialist. The popularity of the assisted places scheme can be seen from the fact that about 30,000 pupils hold assisted places at almost 300 participating schools. That is an overall take-up of about 90 per cent. and I have to remind the hon. Member for Walton that 100 per cent. of the new places made available each year are now being taken up.

The hon. Member for Walton referred to polls. Interestingly, a MORI poll undertaken on behalf of the Independent Schools Information Service shows that the number of parents coming from the C2 group amounts to almost 40 per cent. That is the answer to the question that the hon. Gentleman put to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Almost 40 per cent. is about 12,000 children. Among APS parents, 80 per cent. have relevant incomes below the average household income of about £12,750. Even more to the point, 40 per cent. of parents have incomes below the scheme's school's threshold of £9,352 per year, which will be uprated to £9,570 in the coming year.

Children from those families qualify for free places at APS schools. I need hardly remind Opposition Members that many of those parents voted Labour in the past, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) said. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Walton wish me to give way this time?

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

The hon. Gentleman has quoted figures. Are they for income before it is adjusted or afterwards? Can he tell us what elements are taken out before the base figure of £9,000-plus is reached?

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I am sure that those detailed figures will be given by my hon. Friend the Minister when he winds up the debate. I can, however, quote from an admirable document given to me by the Department for Education. Indeed, I will quote it in full for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. The document says: 80 per cent. of APS parents have relevant incomes of less than the national average household income of £18,760 … over 40 per cent. of parents have incomes below the scheme's threshold of £9,352 pa (to be uprated)"— as I have mentioned already— and their children qualify for free places at these schools". Does that satisfy the hon. Gentleman? I take it from his silence that it does, and I am delighted.

The House will recall that the scheme has been in operation for about 15 years. Indeed, I served on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill that became the Education Act 1980. I have to compare the debates which took place at that time with our recent debates. Fifteen years ago, Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen would speak with passion and commitment, but that has all dissolved and drained away. Increasingly, Opposition Members are coming to accept the education reforms that we have introduced, at times painfully and always in the teeth of ill-considered opposition from Labour Members.

The assisted places scheme is now an accepted and integral part of the education scene. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South said, it provides an admirable ladder of opportunity for a great many children. However, I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister that my cheerful demeanour is qualified. There is at least one aspect of the scheme that genuinely disappoints me—the small percentage of APS parents of African, Asian and Caribbean origin. The figure is only 7 per cent. I say to my hon. Friend in all seriousness that we should do a great deal more to promote the scheme to those parents.

I should like to see many more parents from ethnic communities taking advantage of the scheme. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister, therefore, to introduce measures specifically designed to encourage more children from those groups to apply for assisted places. I do not believe that the scheme should be seen as being intended principally for the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant child. It has a much wider appeal and I should like many more children from ethnic groups to take advantage of the scheme. As I said earlier, I believe that the scheme should reach out to all parts and all members of our national community. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister, when he winds up the debate, to advise the House of more measures which might be taken to widen the assisted places scheme to bring in more children from the ethnic minorities.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the assisted places scheme currently costs us £102 million a year? If the scheme were abolished, the money could be used to benefit all members of society—ethnic minorities, children from working-class backgrounds, and so on. My authority would benefit by an extra £1 million a year, which would do a great deal to make good the appalling cuts imposed by the Government this year.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

Unlike the hon. Lady, I come from a working-class background. I was born in the working class and educated in the working class, and I am proud of that. I say to her gently that I need no lectures from her on what she believes the working class requires. I want the maximum choice and diversity. It might be argued that grammar schools, for example, cost more. Is that why the hon. Lady would like to see them abolished? Is that why Labour Members would like to see grant-maintained schools abolished? Are we bringing everything down to mere money? [Interruption.] The reaction of Labour Members is to laugh. For them, the education of our children is something to laugh about. Those of us who have our children educated within the state sector do not share that light-hearted view. We take the matter seriously.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

It is a great pleasure to give way to the hon. Gentleman, whom I regard as a cheerful friend.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

The hon. Gentleman is trying to ruin my reputation with my hon. Friends. I have a simple question for him. If the answer is mere money, why is the same amount of mere money not given to children in the maintained sector as is given under the assisted places scheme?

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I have no doubt that as the economy strengthens, more funds will be made available for education. I see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education sitting in her place in this debate. Where is the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), the hon. Gentleman's leading education spokesman? He is not in the Chamber listening to what is being said. The fact that my right hon. Friend is present to hear this debate is a clear sign of her commitment to education discussions generally.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) has more faith.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has faith. Under her guidance, the education of the nation's children will continue to flourish.

Criticism has also been levelled at the geographical spread of the assisted places scheme. Again, that matter should be urgently addressed. If the participating school is some distance away from the family home, parents will be deterred from applying for an assisted place. Conservative Members at least know how expensive it is to get children to school and we know of the importance of school transport. That point is not lost on Opposition Members whose colleagues in Essex are taking away free transport for children who attend grammar schools. In those remarks, I include the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who occasionally leads for the Liberal Democrats on Education.

Earlier, we listened with a sense of déjà vu to what the hon. Member for Walton said. His speech was entirely predictable. In some ways, it reminded me of the earlier comments made by him and his colleagues about grant-maintained schools. I suspect that it will probably take an application by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) for an assisted place for his son to make this measure acceptable to his colleagues.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

My right hon. Friend makes an interesting intervention. She is right; clearly it would help. If the right hon. Member for Sedgefield applied, it would immediately stamp the scheme with the seal of new Labour. At a stroke, Labour Members would fall into line and would immediately see virtue in the APS that had previously eluded them. Like St. Paul on the way to Damascus, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield sees a blinding light which illuminates Conservative education policies and he seeks at once to make them his own. He believes that the light will show him the way to Downing street. Opposition Members will need to do a lot more than simply pinch our policies to get themselves into Downing street.

I commend the regulations, especially to Opposition Members and particularly to the right hon. Member for Sedgefield. I very much hope that Labour's ill-considered opposition will be withdrawn.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 8:48 pm, 3rd July 1995

Unlike the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), I was not here for the first year of this debate and I was not a member of the Committee that considered the Bill which became the Education Act 1980, although I have been here for 12 such debates and have taken part in several of them. Fundamentally, the arguments have not changed.

Some of the evidence has changed, but the arguments have not. My party's position has also been consistent throughout, and it will remain consistent tonight. We shall oppose the regulations because they are not justified, and the Minister tonight—as with other Ministers in the past—has not made a case to justify them. The case for assisted places has never been made in a way that justifies it as a logical way of spending the relevant amount of public money. The Minister accepts that the assisted places scheme provides opportunities for a few. There is no debate about that, as we are talking about around 30,000 assisted places pupils. If one argues that the few should be treated in a particular way, one must ask whether that way is justified.

Let me make two preliminary points clear. First, there are some cases for treating a few in a particular way and for particular reasons, the most obvious of which is special needs. If special needs provision, for example, is not arranged locally through county or borough schools, it is often purchased elsewhere. That is perfectly justifiable.

Secondly, we must ask if the debate about the scheme is to do with the validity of independent schools per se. I do not oppose the existence of independent schools, and I would regard as very unsatisfactory a nation in which there were only public authority schools. If one is trying to have diversity in education, it is very important that there is diversity in the school providers. I am not arguing for one species of schooling, as a case could not be made for maintained schools or Church schools if that were so.

If we ask the principal question—whether the assisted places scheme is justified—we must then ask the following five questions. First, does the scheme fundamentally change things? I would argue that it does not, because it brings assisted places to so few pupils. Therefore, it does not make a fundamental difference to the educational provision of the nation. Secondly, is it good value for money? We have heard the regular debate tonight, and the figures vary from year to year. They are far from conclusive.

Thirdly, does the scheme provide a better product for public money than we could get elsewhere? That is at least arguable, and it has never been proven. The research has never concluded that the scheme is the best way of spending a limited amount of public money. The scheme clearly has implications of the type which were alluded to by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) in her intervention. If we take a certain amount of money to buy places for a few and we spend roughly twice as much on doing that as we would need to spend to educate the same number of pupils in the maintained or public sector—the capital costs having already been paid in those sectors—the number of people we are assisting is therefore fewer. In doing that, we are at the same time depriving others of the advantages that they would have received from the extra money. That is a very obvious point.

In an age when there is a general complaint—the Secretary of State knows this as well as anybody—from nearly all local education authorities that their real terms cash is being cut and class sizes are going up, it is clearly not to their advantage or to the advantage of the much larger number of children in those schools that such a funding system applies. If the money were used for a different purpose, more money would go to the other schools and the class sizes would not be so big. The education of others is being hindered by that money going elsewhere.

Fourthly, does the scheme reach the parts that it is intended to reach? The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth referred to an undisputed piece of survey research about what percentage of assisted places goes to which category in terms of population, economic and social categories. The hon. Gentleman made a criticism in passing that very few places go to ethnic minority children. The research has made it clear that, in the 15 years of the scheme, assisted places have not gone mainly to the sort of children for whom they were intended. They have gone to some of those children and they may now go to more, but the evidence suggests that it is the children of parents who would otherwise have benefited the most from the education system who have been the beneficiaries. They, of course, have an interest in the scheme continuing, as the lottery has come up with a good result for them. It would be difficult to abolish the scheme as far as they are concerned, but it is not providing a fundamentally large social change. We are not identifying only the most needy families and taking them out of a system which gives them the worst schools.

Fifthly, is the scheme consistent? The Secretary of State and the Minister are right to say that educational standards have gone up in recent years. So they should, and they still need to go up hugely in many parts of the country. If educational standards in county and borough schools and the maintained sector are going up, do we not need the assisted places scheme less? Surely now we do not have such a great need to take pupils out of the normal education system and to place them elsewhere.

I wish to deal with two other matters which were raised. The Minister referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), and I want to put on record in my hon. Friend's defence the context in which he referred to Dulwich college. My hon. Friend cannot be here this evening because he is on his way to Littleborough and Saddleworth. He referred in a previous debate to an article that had appeared in The Sunday Times which pointed out that a number of independent schools were pegging their fees because they were finding it difficult to attract pupils. My hon. Friend said that the schools were holding down their fee levels in an attempt to reverse the drift away by parents who were struggling to pay their bills.

One of the schools mentioned in the article was Dulwich college, which the previous year received the largest amount of assisted places money—£1.3 million. Dulwich college is a school in my borough, which is also the borough of the Minister for Transport in London, who is in his place. My hon. Friend was not arguing that Dulwich college could not do without assisted places, but he made the case that there were a small number of schools which benefited, with a much smaller number of schools which received a disproportionate benefit. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) made the point that Wisbech grammar school gets more than 49 per cent. of its pupils through the assisted places scheme.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I will not labour the point, but, as the hon. Gentleman's quotation demonstrated, the reference to Dulwich college and the fact that it received the highest amount followed immediately after a reference by his hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) to the fact that a number of independent schools … find themselves in increasing difficulties."—[Official Report, 19 July 1994; Vol. 247, c. 269.] If it was not meant to be read together, why did he follow the first comment with the second?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I do not want to go into a detailed analysis. The point is that a relatively small number of schools benefit. Clearly, the scheme is a relevant consideration and is financially helpful for them. I am not arguing that the Government keep the scheme in operation to keep certain schools in being. Coincidentally, it may have that advantage. However, if I were running an independent school that was dependent on fees, I would certainly regard it as helpful if I could get the local authority to pay for a certain number of places.

Finally, the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth mentioned a subject that is tangential to the debate, but which must be dealt with. When counties such as Essex, which happens to be under a joint Liberal Democrat and Labour administration, decide that they cannot continue funding travel out of area, they do so on budgetary grounds. Like every other education authority at a time of Government restraint on their funds, they have to look for money savings. That is not an invalid criticism. The Secretary of State and Ministers keep on telling education authorities that they must shepherd their resources properly—excuse the pun—as they must, and that was the reason for the cut. It was not an ideological attack on a certain type of schooling as such travel represented a considerable budget cost. The cut has resulted in considerable savings, which have gone to other mainstream school activities.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is purely coincidence that children whose schools happen to be attacked by both his party and members of the Labour party were selected? If he is saying that, I must point out, very gently, that I am not entirely persuaded that it is accurate.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

My colleagues voted to reduce the budget in that sector and transfer the money elsewhere, not for ideological but for cost reasons. The hon. Gentleman can believe it or not as he chooses. It is a perfectly valid ground for the decision and it is the one that they chose.

There is all the difference in the world between accepting the continuing existence of the independent sector and working with it, and buying places for a few pupils, which clearly gives them an advantage that the majority do not get. My hon. Friends and I will oppose the regulations this year, as we have opposed them in previous years, because of the failure to attain any of the objectives and the lack of evidence that the scheme is succeeding in what it was intended to do or fundamentally changes anything and, above all, the lack of evidence that it is the best way to spend what will always be limited public resources. We would not continue with assisted places. Of course, we would not prejudice those who currently enjoy them, but in the future we would look for better ways to use public money, to ensure that co-operation, where appropriate, was delivered. I believe that the public would find that considerably more acceptable.

Photo of Mr David Atkinson Mr David Atkinson , Bournemouth East 9:01 pm, 3rd July 1995

I want to use the opportunity of this debate to refer briefly to a practical example in my constituency, which clearly demonstrates how this modest, low-cost but great value-for-money assisted places scheme is helping those whom it is designed to help, by providing greater opportunities for able pupils from less well-off families, who would be cruelly affected if Labour were ever given the opportunity to abolish it, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) confirmed tonight.

Earlier this year, I received a letter from Rev. Godfrey Taylor, the vicar at St. John's Anglican church in Boscombe, which is in my constituency. I am sure that he will not mind my mentioning his name because, as he reminds me in his letter, some of his previous correspondence with me has been critical of Government policies. In this letter, however, he tells me how much his family have appreciated the assisted places scheme for children from families such as his, where money is tight. He is a Church of England clergyman on a very low income, with four children to educate, one of whom has been able to benefit from the scheme by going to an excellent independent girls' school in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill)—Talbot Heath. He certainly could never have afforded to send her there on his income, regardless of any personal sacrifice that he and his family were prepared to make.

In addition to his experience, my constituent tells me that he knows of many other families in his parish who have found this scheme of equally great assistance to them. In no way can those families—my constituents—on low incomes be described as creating a self-perpetuating elite whose grasp of the profound economic and social changes taking place is minuscule", to quote the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) in his article in The Daily Telegraph on 28 November 1994.

My constituent has not always supported the Government but has taken the trouble to commend them on the assisted places scheme. He hopes that it will be safe in the future and, in so doing, is clearly not alone among my constituents. On their behalf, may I welcome the assurance given by my hon. Friend the Minister, which he has since confirmed to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey): that the scheme, and independent schools, will be safe in the Government's hands? As we now know from both Opposition spokesmen, it will be safe only in the Government's hands.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson , Plymouth, Devonport 9:04 pm, 3rd July 1995

It is usually my lot in education debates to follow the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey): tonight is an exception, I am pleased to say. He said that the Secretary of State had entered the Chamber due to her interest in this matter. She came in only during the hon. Gentleman's speech and I suggest that it was not out of her natural interest in the debate but simply to hear his eloquence. Given how he performed tonight, I suspect that we might see his name tossed forward on Wednesday for even higher office.

The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth said that tonight's debate was about excellence. It is not about excellence; it is about division. He said that the assisted places scheme gave children from inner cities an opportunity to benefit from private education. But that applies only if they are bright. Does he accept that children from inner cities and other deprived areas, who are of average or below-average intelligence, could also benefit from the assisted places scheme? I take it from his silence that he does not accept that.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

The hon. Gentleman clearly listened to the first part of my remarks. Had he concentrated with equal intensity on their latter part, he would have heard me say that I am anxious to see the scheme reach down—for example, into the ethnic communities. I want more young people to attend those schools from all strata of society. [Interruption.] I cannot speak over the barracking nonsense from the Labour Back Benches. The hon. Gentleman may remember my saying that I was keen on ensuring that the scheme did not apply simply to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. I want it to have a much broader base.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson , Plymouth, Devonport

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reaffirming what I already believed: that he believes that the scheme should be open only for bright children and does not accept that children of average, just above average or just below average ability should benefit from it.

I shall not repeat the points that were made ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). It is interesting that we should have this debate a week or so after a debate on the capping orders. Those orders cut the budget of my authority of Devon by £9 million, which is having profound effects on children in my area.

In that debate it was argued that the funding provided for children in my area and other capped areas was sufficient. Let us contrast that argument, which we heard but a week ago, with those that we are hearing tonight from the Minister and his apologists on the Conservative Back Benches. Last year the assisted places scheme received £102 million for just 32,000 children. I do not want to trouble the Minister with too much arithmetic because I know that it gives him difficulties. May I assist him by explaining that, in a local authority secondary school—even a grant-maintained secondary school where capital is included—the average amount spent is £2,200 per pupil. Yet if the Minister works out what is spent on each place in the assisted places scheme, he will see that it is at least £3,300 per pupil. If he then adds the parental contribution, he will find that we are giving about twice as much funding to children in private schools as we are to those in local education authority schools.

Decent. ordinary people throughout the country are asking: if that funding can be made available to private schools, why cannot it be made available for our children in local education authority-funded schools?

If we need extra funding to create smaller classes in private and independent schools, why cannot that money be available to local education authority schools? Like many other matters, such as the double funding of grant-maintained schools and the massive extra amounts that have been given to city technology colleges, it is simply intended to prop up the failed dogma of the Tories.

The Minister says that the purpose of the regulations is to give choice to parents. Why does not he give all parents the choice of their children, whatever school they attend, benefiting from twice as much funding as at present?

Many other arguments have been advanced in the debate, but I shall not go into them all. The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins)—who is not in his place at the moment—said that the Opposition were displaying the politics of envy. I can tell him that people in my part of the country do not understand the politics of envy, but they do understand the politics of fairness.

There is a difference between private and independent schools and local education authority schools, and it is to do with accountability. For years, the Government have made great play of accountability, the national curriculum, the standard assessment tasks and the compulsory Office of Standards in Education report, some of which we support. However, I should like the Minister to answer the following question: why does he not expect the same accountability in those private and independent schools that receive £102 million under the assisted places scheme?

The taxpayer also pays more than £130 million into private and independent schools through the service boarding scheme. For the Minister's assistance, I calculate that slightly more than £0.25 billion of taxpayers' money is being poured into private and independent schools, which are not properly accountable in the ways that local education authority schools have been made accountable.

One or two of those schools have had Ofsted reports. Under the law as it stands, not only does an LEA school have to meet the parents, governors and the inspectors and provide to all parents a summary of the Ofsted report, but it has to make the full report available to all those parents who want it: contrast that with the schools that receive money from the taxpayer under the assisted places scheme.

I refer the Minister to a letter that I received from the then Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), on 17 February 1994. He said, on the subject of independent schools: Any … school which is the subject of a published report is supplied with copies which it can distribute as it sees fit"— none of that sending it to all parents. It is not, "make the report available to all parents", but distribute as it sees fit". One way in which a school might distribute that report is to distribute it around the head's study and ensure that it got no further than the boundaries of the school.

The then Under-Secretary of State said in the final sentence of the letter: The onus is on the school to distribute the report to interested parties or to advise them where reports can be obtained. I refer the Minister to an example of a school that I have dealt with in the past year or so, a private school that receives substantial amounts of taxpayers' money—Finborough school in Suffolk. It is not in the assisted places scheme, but it is a private school.

In March 1994, the head teacher wrote to the parents of the school, as follows: We have not obtained copies of the Report the Ofsted report— for parents because and then he goes on to list all the reasons why parents cannot have the Ofsted report.

I suggest to the Minister, and to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that if we are to place £102 million of taxpayers' money into private and independent schools, the least that we should expect of them is the accountability that we expect of local education authority schools.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch 9:14 pm, 3rd July 1995

We have had an interesting debate. If nothing else, I can assure Opposition Members that any doubts that they may have about the assisted places scheme are not shared by the many parents on modest incomes whose children have benefited from it in the past, who continue to benefit from it now and who hope to participate in it in the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) made that point well in his good speech.

The assisted places scheme is plainly achieving its objective of giving access to some of the best independent schools for children who would not otherwise have been able to contemplate them. Conservative Members believe that it can be only to the pupils' and the nation's advantage. We believe that the scheme has a vital continuing contribution to make. That is why we have introduced the draft regulations.

Hon. Members raised detailed points, which I shall deal with briefly. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) leads for the Opposition on these matters. He must have enjoyed being able to made an education speech in which for once he was able, root and branch, to oppose a Conservative reform. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) so tellingly reminded us, a litany of reforms introduced in the past 10 years or so were fought tooth and nail by Labour Members only for us to find, particularly in the past couple of years, that suddenly the penny had dropped, the light shone and all the things that we had said about testing, publicising results and so on—I will not go through the whole list now—were accepted as a significant contribution to improving standards in this country, as of course they are.

The hon. Member for Walton found a subject tonight on which his party was able to unite. I find it a strange subject on which it unites. Let me go into the detail of some of the points that he made. He and several hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), made great play of the alleged extra cost of the assisted places scheme. I covered part of the point in my immediate response to the hon. Member for Cambridge, but let me say a little more.

The most obvious point is that any suggestion that the abolition of the scheme would save more than £100 million a year is obviously untrue. If the scheme were abolished, the great majority of assisted pupils would have to be accommodated in the maintained sector because their parents simply would not be able to afford full fees in the independent sector. Moreover, the figures quoted by some Opposition Members were misleading. That possibly even includes the hon. Member for Devonport, whose grasp of some of the figures may be just a little shaky. There is little difference between the average cost of an assisted place and that of a maintained school place when all relevant factors are taken into account. It is misleading to contrast the average net cost per assisted pupil—about £3,700 in the current financial year—with the standard spending assessment unit cost of maintained secondary schooling, for example—currently more than £2,600 pre-16 and more than £3,600 post-16. That is not comparing like with like.

First, the assisted places scheme has a greater proportion of sixth form places, which, as the House will be aware, are more expensive to provide. Moreover—

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

No. I was generous in giving way earlier, as I know the hon. Lady will concede. I am anxious to answer the points raised in the debate.

The scheme's overall unit costs include elements for capital and other overheads not counted in SSAs. There are wide variations in SSAs between different local authorities. Some of them, for example, in inner London, are higher than the cost of the average assisted place, even without making the adjustments that I have just mentioned. Above all, the assisted places scheme offers good value for money. It produces better GCSE and A-level results than the maintained sector, as well as choice and diversity.

The hon. Members for Walton and for Southwark and Bermondsey, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, asked about targeting. I do not want to drown the House in figures, but the simplest way to demonstrate how the scheme continues to reach those on low incomes is to compare figures on the average income of parents with children on the assisted places scheme in 1984–85 with the average national income and the figures nine years later in 1992–93—the latest year for which I have the full figures. In that time the proportion of parents on average income with children on assisted places has fallen from 69.3 per cent. to 58.5 per cent. In other words, as average national incomes have grown, the average income of parents with children on the assisted places scheme has not increased at the same rate.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

The Minister has moved sharply from costs to targeting. I remind him of one of my earlier questions. To put it simply, if the cost of the scheme between 1989 and 1994 has gone up 100 per cent., from £50.9 million to £102 million, can he explain why the actual expansion of places available has gone up by only 2.6 per cent. and the take-up by just 6 per cent? Where has the money gone?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The simplest answer to the hon. Gentleman is to look gently at how the costs in education have grown in that time. He will note a significantly similar movement in the figures. He can by all means pursue the subject on a future occasion, but I suggest that that is where the answer lies.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey spoke about targeting. The Government do not claim, nor have they ever done so, that the assisted places scheme alone will meet our educational needs. The scheme should be seen as part, albeit an important one, of the Government's overall strategy to improve the education of all pupils in the maintained or independent sector. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth said in a telling intervention, if one were to run through each and every aspect of diversity in education—which the Government endorse and applaud—the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey could pick off grammar schools and a range of other measures and subject them to exactly the same schedule.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) asked about Wales. I confirm that 700 pupils have assisted places in schools in Wales. I cannot give a precise figure for the percentage that that represents of the total pupil population in Wales, but I do not believe that it will be different from the corresponding figure in England of about 0.5 per cent. The number of assisted places in Wales reflects the number of schools that wish to participate—eight—and the demand from parents for places.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, whose speech I have already praised, made an important point about the use made by ethnic minorities of the assisted places scheme. I take his point, but the proportion of such children on the scheme is broadly in line with the population as a whole. I will, however, certainly consider what further steps the Government and schools might take to ensure that ethnic minority families are fully informed about the scheme and given every encouragement to seek places on it.

The hon. Member for Devonport rehearsed his argument about the accountability, real or imagined, of independent schools to Ofsted. I am inclined to repeat what the Minister of State said to him 12 months ago: he should take the matter up with Ofsted because it is an independent body which is not in any way controlled by the Government.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

No, let me finish. Hon. Members have had a good run and I have given way quite a lot. I believe that I have covered all the points raised in the debate.

Despite the current user-friendly style that the Labour party leadership tries to throw over all its policies, the Opposition remain at heart opposed to real parental choice. That was demonstrated in their recent education policy statement. Nothing better underlines that attitude than their continuing opposition to APS. We point out tonight, and on every occasion that we can, that the Labour party, led incidentally by someone who was educated at Scotland's premier private school, no longer has time for bright children from poorer backgrounds. There was a time when the Labour party would have emphasised enhanced opportunities for such children. Now, those children and their parents must look to the Conservative Government to fight their cause. We shall not let them down.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 243, Noes 169.

Division No. 191][9.25 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Dorrell Rt Hon Stephen
Alexander, RichardDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Duncan, Alan
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Duncan-Smith, Iain
Amess, DavidDunn, Bob
Ancram, MichaelDurant, Sir Anthony
Arbuthnot, JamesEggar, Rt Hon Tim
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Ashby, DavidEvennett, David
Atkins, Rt Hon RobertFabricant, Michael
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)Fenner, Dame Peggy
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Fishburn, Dudley
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)Forman, Nigel
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Baldry, TonyForth, Eric
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bates, MichaelFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bellingham, HenryFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bendall, VivianFreeman, Rt Hon Roger
Beresford, Sir PaulFrench, Douglas
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnGale, Roger
Body, Sir RichardGardnier, Sir George
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGarel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Booth, HartleyGarnier, Edward
Boswell, TimGillen, Cheryl
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bowden, Sir AndrewGorman, Mrs Teresa
Bowis, JohnGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Boyson, RI Hon Sir RhodesGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Brandreth, GylesGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Brazier, JulianGrylls, Sir Michael
Bright, Sir GrahamHague, William
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Browning, Mrs AngelaHampson, Dr Keith
Budgen, NicholasHannam, Sir John
Burt, AlistairHargreaves, Andrew
Butcher, JohnHaselhurst, Sir Alan
Butler, PeterHawkins, Nick
Carlisle, John (Luton North)Hawksley, Warren
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)Hayes, Jerry
Carrington, MatthewHeald, Oliver
Carttiss, MichaelHendry, Charles
Cash, WilliamHiggins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHill, James (Southampton Test)
Chapman, SydneyHordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Churchill, MrHoward, RI Hon Michael
Clappison, JamesHowell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Coe, SebastianHughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Colvin, MichaelHunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Congdon, DavidHunter, Andrew
Conway, DerekHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)Jack, Michael
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Corrnack, Sir PatrickJessel, Toby
Couchman, JamesJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cran, JamesJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)Key, Robert
Davis, David (Boothferry)King, Rt Hon Tom
Day, StephenKirkhope, Timothy
Deva, Nirj JosephKnight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Devlin, TimKnight, Greg (Derby N)
Dicks, TerryKnight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Knox, Sir DavidRyder, Rt Hon Richard
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)Sackville, Tom
Lait, Mrs JacquiScott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanShaw, David (Dover)
Lang, Rt Hon IanShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lawrence, Sir IvanShephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Legg, BarryShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Leigh, EdwardShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lidington, DavidShersby, Sir Michael
Lightbown, DavidSims, Roger
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Spencer, Sir Derek
Lord, MichaelSpicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Luff, PeterSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
MacKay, AndrewSpink, Dr Robert
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
McLoughlin, PatrickSteen, Anthony
McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickStephen, Michael
Maitland, Lady OlgaStern, Michael
Major, Rt Hon JohnStewart, Allan
Malone, GeraldStreeter, Gary
Mans, KeithSweeney, Walter
Marland, PaulSykes, John
Marlow, TonyTapsell, Sir Peter
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Merchant, PiersTaylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Mills, IainTemple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Nelson, AnthonyThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Neubert, Sir MichaelThornton, Sir Malcolm
Newton, Rt Hon TonyThurnham, Peter
Nicholls, PatrickTownend, John (Bridlington)
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Twinn, Dr Ian
Norris, SteveViggers, Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir CranleyWalden, George
Oppenheim, PhillipWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Ottaway, RichardWaller, Gary
Page, RichardWard, John
Paice, JamesWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patnick, Sir IrvineWaterson, Nigel
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWatts, John
Pawsey, JamesWells, Bowen
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Pickles, EricWhitney, Ray
Porter, David (Waveney)Whitfingdale, John
Powell, William (Corby)Widdecombe, Ann
Rathbone, TimWiggin, Sir Jerry
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnWilkinson, John
Renton, Rt Hon TimWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Richards, RodWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Riddick, GrahamWolfson, Mark
Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmWood, Timothy
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir WynYeo, Tim
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Tellers for the Ayes:
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)Mr. Simon Burns and
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame AngelaMr. David Willetts.
NOES
Adams, Mrs IreneByers, Stephen
Ainger, NickCaborn, Richard
Ashton, JoeCallaghan, Jim
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Barnes, HarryCampbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Battle, JohnCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Bayley, HughCampbell-Savours, D N
Beckett, Rt Hon MargaretCann, Jamie
Bermingham, GeraldCarlile, Alexander (Montgomery)
Berry, RogerChisholm, Malcolm
Betts, CliveClapham, Michael
Blunkett, DavidClark, Dr David (South Shields)
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Burden, RichardClarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clelland, DavidMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMartin, Michael J (Springburn)
Coffey, AnnMartlew, Eric
Cohen, HarryMaxton, John
Corbyn, JeremyMeale, Alan
Cummings, JohnMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Dalyell, TamMilburn, Alan
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)Miller, Andrew
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)Morgan, Rhodri
Denham, JohnMorris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Dewar, DonaldMudie, George
Dixon, DonMullin, Chris
Donohoe, Brian HMurphy, Paul
Dowd, JimOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Dunnachie, JimmyO'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethO'Brien, William (Normanton)
Eagle, Ms AngelaOlner, Bill
Eastham, KenPike, Peter L
Etherington, BillPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Flynn, PaulPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Foster, Rt Hon DerekPrescott, Rt Hon John
Fyfe, MariaPrimarolo, Dawn
Galloway, GeorgePurchase, Ken
Godman, Dr Norman AQuin, Ms Joyce
Godsiff, RogerRaynsford, Nick
Golding, Mrs LlinReid, Dr John
Gordon, MildredRendel, David
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Grocott, BruceRoche, Mrs Barbara
Gunnell, JohnRooker, Jeff
Hall, MikeRuddcok, Joan
Hanson, DavidSedgemore, Brian
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoySheerman, Barry
Henderson, DougShort, Clare
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Simpson, Alan
Hinchliffe, DavidSkinner, Dennis
Hoey, KateSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbemauld)Smith, Chris (Islton S & F'sbury)
Hood, JimmySmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Howarth, George (Knowsley North)Snape, Peter
Hoyle, DougSoley, Clive
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Spellar, John
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Steinberg, Gerry
Hutton, JohnStevenson, George
Illsley, EricSutcliffe, Gerry
Jamieson, DavidTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)Tipping, Paddy
Jones, Marlyn (Clwyd, SW)Turner, Dennis
Jowell, TessaTyler, Paul
Khabra, Piara SWallace, James
Kilfoyle, PeterWalley, Joan
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Lewis, TerryWareing, Robert N
Livingstone, KenWatson, Mike
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Wicks, Malcolm
Loyden, EddieWigley, Dafydd
McAllion, JohnWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
McAvoy, ThomasWinnick, David
Macdonald, CalumWorthington, Tony
McFall, JohnWray, Jimmy
McKelvey, WilliamWright, Dr Tony
McLeish, HenryYoung, David (Bolton SE)
McMaster, GordonTellers for the Noes:
McWilliam, JohnMr. Joe Benton and
Madden, MaxMr. Jon Owen Jones.

Questions accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Education (Assisted Places) Regulations 1995, which were laid before this House on 26th June, be approed.