I thought that 22 out of the 43 colleges had received less money this year than they did last year. Given that the Minister is budgeting for further education in Scotland to get less money next year, he is saying that, no matter how many colleges work well and attract more students, at least half of them will receive less money next year. What sense is there in such a Government policy?
The hon. Gentleman is totally mistaken. No spending plans on how much will be allocated to further education have yet been decided. He stands up and says that there will be less money, but he does not have a clue how much money will be allocated next year. All I can say is that we have increased spending on further education colleges every year since incorporation in 1993.
Does my hon. Friend believe that, if we went down the route of taking away child benefit from those aged 16 to 18 who hope to go on to further education, it may mean that a number of people who might have stayed on to do A-levels at school will be dissuaded from doing so and will have to go out and find a job? There will therefore be fewer people going on to further education.
My hon. Friend is right. The teenage tax proposed by the Labour party would hit Scots young people harder, since more young people stay on in school in Scotland than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Labour's tax is uniquely designed to hit the young people and families of Scotland.
If the Minister is going to encourage his colleagues from southern constituencies to come to Scottish questions, could he first give them a crash course in Scottish education and other matters? How does he expect Scottish industry to thrive if there is not sufficient expenditure on further education courses?
Here we have yet another spending pledge from the Labour party. The hon. Lady seems to forget that we now have more students, studying more courses and getting more and better qualifications in our colleges under record funding from the Government. She would do the further education sector in Scotland a great service if she for once—just once—recognised that.
Further education colleges in Scotland are, of course, funded more than equivalent colleges in England. The funding formula that we introduced last year, after full consultation with the colleges, is rewarding student activity and efficiency in colleges, which is surely the right way forward.
Does the Minister recall that, during an exchange in Scottish questions just before the summer recess, he agreed that a meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and myself concerning the funding problems that are being encountered by various colleges, such as Inverness and Thurso, in the north would be appropriate? Given that final decisions have not been taken, but those colleges are, like others—as the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) said—likely to have future funding problems, could we have that meeting before spending decisions are taken?
The hon. Gentleman is right. I offered a meeting to him and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). They have never got back to me to arrange that meeting. Of course I should be delighted to see them.
Why does the Minister deny that, in 1995, the Government cut £1 1 million from their previous plans for funding further education in Scotland? Those cuts are not sustainable without redundancies and a diminution in the quality and range of teaching in Scottish further education colleges. Will he accept that his inability to protect Scottish education from the narrow dogma of the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) is undermining Scotland's economic future?
Only the hon. Lady could turn an 11 per cent. increase into a cut. Today of all days, she has suggested that the £233 million that we spent last year on further education is not enough. If she was being honest, she would have said how much she would spend. Would she spend another £50 million? Another £60 million? Another £70 million? For us to have an informed debate on further education funding, she must come up with her figures. I stand by what we have done. The hon. Lady is not in a position to respond to me during Question Time, but I give her notice that I shall write to her this afternoon. I hope that she will be able to write back, telling me how much more than our £233 million she would put in were she in my position.