This year, my hon. Friends and I have received 20 letters from Members of Parliament, representative bodies and individuals about higher education in Wales.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post and I am glad to see him on the Treasury Bench. Did he listen carefully to the representations of the heads of higher education institutions in Wales who told him and the Government that the combination of cuts in spending that are projected to continue until 1999 and the increase in student numbers are creating an impossible situation in higher education? In particular, the 44 per cent. reduction in capital spending is serious, especially as there is no sign that the private finance initiative will take off and work effectively in Wales. Will he seriously address this situation, recognising the enormous importance of higher education to the Welsh economy and to the future success of Wales as a nation and act accordingly by at least suspending further cuts until the Dearing report has been completed and provided to the Government?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the generosity of his welcome. I regard higher education as one of the Government's great success stories. It goes without saying that the increase in the proportion of our young people with opportunities for higher education has led to some of the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman refers. From one in eight, we have moved to one in three young people now having such opportunities. That is why it was clearly right for the Government to entrust Sir Ron Dearing with studying the implications of that increase. The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met the heads of higher education last week. My right hon. Friend has said that he will take account of the points that they put to him in the coming public expenditure survey round and, in due course, when he considers any recommendations from Sir Ron Dearing. The private finance initiative should be strongly welcomed. A balance has to be struck in that initiative and, at the moment, aiming for 30 per cent. seems to be the right balance.