Power of Local Authority to Continue to Assist Pupils

Orders of the Day — Education (Schools) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 10th June 1997.

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`Nothing in this Act shall prevent a local authority from reimbursing a former participating school in respect of the fees of any pupil resident in the area of that local authority whom the authority determines may benefit from education at that school.'.—[Mr. St. Aubyn.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Second Deputy Chairman:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 3—Power of charity to continue to assist pupils'—(1) Nothing in this Act shall prevent a charity from reimbursing either—

  1. (a) a former participating school, or
  2. (b) a local authority,
in respect of the fees of any pupil resident in the area of that local authority whom the authority determines may benefit from education at that school.(2) Expenditure by a charity in making a reimbursement under subsection (1) above shall be charitable expenditure within the meaning of section 44 of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993.'

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

I have found out about powers that the House has that, as a new Member, I had not dreamed I would be learning about so soon. I am very grateful to the Public Bills Office for its assistance in drafting the new clauses. I apologise if they are deficient, but they come from a new Back Bencher. I should like to explain their purpose.

In the debate in Committee, Conservatives have felt that we were dealing with closed minds in the Government. I hope that the Ministers will take the opportunity of the new clauses to show that they do not have closed minds and that they are prepared to listen to points that are made consistently and in a heartfelt way by Opposition Members. When a point with which Ministers feel that they can agree is made, I hope that they are prepared to listen. I hope that that will prove to be the case with the new clauses.

I also hope that the Liberal Democrats, bearing in mind what they said about their support for local partnership schemes in their manifesto, will give their support to the new clause.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

If it enables the hon. Gentleman to move on, I can assure him that, if the new clauses are pressed to a vote, he will get the support of the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that assurance. It is welcome and, no doubt, it will add weight to the arguments that I shall put to the Government.

While it may go against the grain for a new Labour Government to use funds from the Department for Education and Employment to meet the costs of the assisted places scheme, we have already established in debate that the additional cost, over the standard cost of education in the state sector, is no more than around £1,000 per child per year. I may be being optimistic, but in certain areas—including my area in Surrey—it might be possible to find charities or companies to put up the money, or to use funds and bursaries from the schools involved in the scheme, to bridge the gap of £1,000 per year. Such charities, companies or bursaries would not be able to meet the much greater cost of nearly £4,000 a year that would arise if all the funding for the scheme were withdrawn. We should not forget, however, that in that case the state sector would still have to pick the tab for educating the children in state schools

It should also be clear to Ministers that, however comforting the calculations made in their offices by civil servants, the impact of the scheme in certain areas is much greater than in others. While the scheme has not taken root in a big way in the areas that Labour Members represent, it has filled a need in areas about which they do not have the same knowledge but which we represent. That is why we have argued against the Bill hour after hour, and sought an extra day of debate.

I will give some examples. In the county of Surrey, there are 1,264 children on the assisted places scheme in 22 schools. In contrast, in Buckinghamshire there are just nine children at one school involved in the scheme. If we consider our cities, they tell the same story. In the city of Bristol, there are nearly 1,500 children involved in nine schools; yet in the much larger city of Birmingham there are barely 600 children involved in just six schools.

Just as the take-up of assisted places is concentrated in certain areas, the problems and difficulties created by winding down the scheme would also be concentrated. The problem is made worse because of the decision already made today that the education of those on the scheme in the primary sector will end at the age of 11. That will mean that, as the scheme is phased out, all the burden on the local state sector will be borne by one year group—year seven. While we heard some comforting numbers from the Minister the other day about the tiny percentage of children involved who will be shifted from the independent sector to state schools, in Guildford the year group numbers will be inflated by nearly 10 per cent. That is why the pressures of the scheme need a valve to relieve them.

In Surrey, we have other pressures. We already have rising school rolls. This afternoon I spoke to the chairman of Surrey county council education committee, who said that we will have to find an extra £3 million to cope with the rising school numbers in the state system, even before the effect of the abolition of the scheme. While the marginal cost of educating a child in the state sector at secondary school and in sixth form may be only £2,700, that does not take account of capital expenditure. The rise in numbers will not be absorbed by schools in my area without incurring further capital expenditure. It is clear that there are many reasons why certain local authorities would be keen to see the scheme continued.

I am conscious that we have heard from some Labour Members that they are against the assisted places scheme in principle, and not just because of the savings that they claim will be achieved to help primary schools. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) has said: My main reason for wanting to get rid of the assisted places scheme is that it perpetuates the class system."— [Official Report, 2 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 46.] The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has told us that this is a socialist Bill. We know that, but the Government are new Labour and we hope that they will listen to our points.

7.15 pm

Labour Members may believe that the scheme is divisive in their areas, but the assisted places scheme, far from being divisive, gives children in my constituency a wider choice and opportunity. They are lucky to have good state schools and they are also lucky to have the choice of assisted places. Independent education is extremely popular in my area. Nearly one in five families choose to send their children to independent schools. In such an area, the scheme is not divisive. I recognise, of course, that the area that I represent is fortunate.

If the Government wish to make savings on assisted places to give more money to primary schools to achieve the class sizes that have already been achieved in Surrey, they are entitled to do so. However, the purpose of the new clauses is to ask the Government not to be dogmatic and to leave some flexibility for local education authorities, such as Surrey, to try to bridge the gap of £1,000 a year that an assisted place costs on average through independent funding.

If we can find that funding from somewhere, why should the Government stand in the way? The Government will still make the savings that they have budgeted for on behalf of primary schools. In fact, given the doubts that we have cast on the savings, the real risk is that by pressing ahead with the scheme now you will not make those savings because of the knock-on effects of winding down the scheme. It is in your interests as much as in ours and our constituents' to allow the flexibility that the new clauses will provide.

New clause 2 would make it clear that local authorities could take the initiative and continue with a form of the assisted places scheme. The purpose of new clause 3 is to provide for a wide range of sources of funding to bridge the gap between the standard cost of a secondary school education and that of an assisted place. It would ensure that the widest possible range of sources of funding would be achieved.

I believe that it was a Government press release that, only a couple of weeks ago, talked of allowing lottery funds to be used to promote education, health and other initiatives that fell outside the services provided by taxation. There could be no clearer example of an initiative that, on your own definition, falls outside—

The Second Deputy Chairman:

Order. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is a new Member, but he keeps using the words "you" and "your". The matters under discussion are not my responsibility.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Lord. I will try to remember it.

I was trying to explain that the Government issued a press release clearly setting out the case for lottery funding, among other sources, to be used for initiatives that they do not consider should fall within the ambit of their departmental spending—a decision that, as a Government, they are entitled to make. Surely, if there is any initiative which deserves such funding, it must be the initiative that I am suggesting.

The new clause does not demand or instruct that lottery funds be used to provide money for the assisted places; it merely leaves open avenues that should be left open, in a free and open society in which the Government do not seek to dictate the minutiae of how individual local authorities and areas seek to answer educational needs as best they can, by meeting the challenge of providing a good education in their areas.

I would welcome a contribution by the Minister for School Standards, if he would like to make one, before I press the new clause to a vote.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

First, I welcome the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), to the Committee. We missed her last week, and I am delighted to see that she is now in robust good health.

On new clause 3, the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) talked about the potential for using the proceeds from the national lottery to replace the funding now available through the assisted places scheme. That shows the fundamental difference concerning the way in which the Government wish to use the proceeds from the national lottery.

We have been greatly concerned that in the past the proceeds were often used to fund the pet projects of individuals, which did not reflect the interests or needs of the nation at large. The lottery was used to buy the Churchill papers, for example, and for other types of spending that we feel do not suit what should be the people's lottery. We want to see the resources gained from people playing the people's lottery devoted to causes that have broad popular support. I have to tell the hon. Member for Guildford that I do not believe that using the proceeds of the lottery to replace the assisted places scheme would be applauded throughout the country.

People play the lottery, obviously, in the hope of winning, but also in the belief that some of the profits will be used for good causes. In my view—the hon. Gentleman may disagree with it—a new form of assisted places scheme funded by the national lottery would not be regarded as a good use of the proceeds of the national lottery. The Labour party believes that the lottery should be used to improve aspects that go beyond statutory provision, but which can in real terms add genuine quality to our provision for young people.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

Surely the idea of children from low-income families getting an extra opportunity is entirely in keeping with the thinking behind the lottery.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

The Government are determined that all children will be offered a high-quality education. That is the real challenge that we face in government. There should be no question of a small group of individual children, whether from low-income families or not, receiving a quality of education denied to other young people.

That is why we have had the debate today and last Thursday. which has demonstrated clearly the fundamental divisions between the present Government and the Members who now sit on the Opposition Benches. They had responsibility for the education service for 18 years, and although I concede that they offered a good quality of education to a handful of young people, for the vast majority they offered a quality of education that my hon. Friends and I find unacceptable.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

In a second.

We must turn that round, and in the process we shall use the funds from the assisted places scheme to make a positive contribution.

In addition, as we have said, we shall use money from the national lottery for other purposes. For example, it can fund homework clubs where young people can have support in doing their homework in a quiet environment after school hours. We believe that, in providing for that, we shall add real quality to the education that young children receive.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

The Minister described as "poor quality" the education offered to many children over the past 18 years. Does he concede that that was, at least in part, the responsibility of local education authorities most of which were controlled by the Labour party for much of the past 18 years?

Secondly, will he define for us the difference between what he regards as core provision—in which I would include homework—and what he regards as somehow outside core provision, so that homework clubs can legitimately be funded as he describes?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

That was two interventions for the price of one.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

Yes, but it should be a question of quality rather than quantity. Both his interventions show that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who is a new Member, has forgotten the policies of the Conservative Government, who refused to take action on homework. When we were in opposition, we argued that there should at least be guidance on homework. The then Government rejected that idea.

We recognised the importance of homework in terms of developing education opportunities for young people, but that was not the view taken by the Conservative Government. We were disappointed by their negative response. As things stand, homework is not part of statutory provision, but there should be an expensive network of homework clubs, and we shall use the proceeds of the national lottery to support such initiatives.

We do not believe that new clause 3 shows a proper way forward, or that lottery funds should be used to buy places in the private sector. On new clause 2, I hope that I can offer some comfort to the hon. Member for Guildford—certainly in line with the spirit in which he introduced it.

However, before I do so, I shall pick up two of the points that the hon. Gentleman made. He mentioned a meeting that he had with the chairman of Surrey education committee, who expressed concern about the increase in pupil numbers in the county and the impact that that would have on its education budget. We too are worried about the effects of rising pupil numbers—we have been for some years. That is why we argued long and hard against the policies of the Conservative Government, who failed to take any account of rising pupil numbers.

The hon. Gentleman may like to know that, in the past 10 years, the pupil population has increased by 450,000; at the same time, the number of teachers has fallen by 6,000. That is because the Conservative Government failed, as I say, to take into consideration the impact of higher pupil numbers. Hence many of us regard it as richly ironic that the hon. Member for Guildford should argue his case as he does.

The hon. Member for Guildford mentioned the number of students in his constituency with assisted places. He is right to say that there are more of them in Guildford than almost anywhere else in the country. Indeed, my officials calculate that there are about 259—

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment 7:30 pm, 10th June 1997

My officials had great difficulty coming up with a precise figure. The figure that I have quoted relates to the number of young people actually attending schools in Guildford on assisted places. There appears to be a discrepancy in the figures, and I am prepared to accept the hon. Gentleman's version. Either way, it is considerably higher than the national average.

The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that there are nearly 7,000 infants in classes of more than 30 in Surrey. In this Government's view, we should be tackling class sizes for those children, using money that currently goes to the fewer than 400 on assisted places.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

The average primary school class size in Surrey is only 26, and four out of five classes contain 30 or fewer children. The problem is that, to meet the Government's target of a maximum 30 per class, more of the 7,000 children that the Minister mentioned will be required to accept their parents' second or third choice of school. That may involve travelling further so as to bring some classes up to 30 and keep others down to 30. Some bright children may be pushed into higher years, while other children may be asked to move down to a lower year. All of this will be necessary to meet the Government's target, because there will be no extra money for teachers in Surrey.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

We shall deal with some of those issues in the White Paper that we intend to publish towards the end of this month or at the beginning of next month. We shall consult extensively, talking to authorities such as Surrey's to ensure that we put in place a scheme that will deliver smaller classes without causing difficulties for parental preference.

The main point made by the hon. Member for Guildford concerned giving local authorities the power to use their resources to pay for places in the independent sector. I intend to ask the Committee to reject new clause 2, because it is unnecessary to include its provisions in the Bill, given that the Scholarship and Other Benefit Regulations 1977, made under section 518 of the Education Act 1996, already give LEAs the discretion to pay the whole or part of tuition fees, boarding or lodging fees, and other expenses relating to the attendance of a pupil at a fee-paying school. Those regulations cover most of what the hon. Member for Guildford sought.

If the local authority wants to use the money that it raises locally for this purpose, that is for it to decide. It will be held accountable by Surrey people, if that is how it wants to spend money from the education budget. The authority has the freedom to exercise that power—

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

Will the Minister make it absolutely clear that, if the local authority decides to provide a place for a child at a fee-paying school and can bridge the gap between the cost of a place at the state school and the cost of a place at the independent school by raising the money from charity, sponsorship and so on to do so, the Department will still refund the local authority to the tune of at least the standard cost of such a child's education, had he or she remained in the state sector?

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

That is a quite different point, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows. A child attending an independent school will not trigger a payment for standard spending assessment purposes, and we have no plans to change that arrangement. I therefore cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. What I can say is that existing regulations allow local authorities to bear the full costs of a place in the independent sector—and rightly so. The hon. Gentleman is trying to move us on to a different debate which may not be entirely in order this evening.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

As I pointed out earlier, the standard spending assessment cost is critical. If the local authority is paid that cost, it is entirely realistic in areas such as ours to hope that the additional cost of sending the child to a fee-paying school can be met—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Interventions must be brief. The hon. Gentleman cannot make a speech during an intervention.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. The local authority must carry the full cost of exercising its discretion.

I hope that I have been able to reassure the hon. Member for Guildford, at least in part. I know that I have not been able to give him complete satisfaction, but I can at least say that the power he wants to give to local authorities already exists. We can see no merit in including such a provision in the Bill, because it merely duplicates a power already in existence.

I ask the Committee to reject the new clause if it is pressed to a Division.

Mr. Lembit Öpik:

The Liberal Democrats support the new clauses, on the grounds that they are simply common sense. The Government have said that they want a smooth and sensitive transition from where we are to where we want to be. The new clauses would facilitate such a responsible transition.

We would be completely opposed, however, to the provisions being used as an opportunity to reintroduce the assisted places scheme by the back door. Nevertheless, there must be sufficient flexibility in the system to ensure that children who in some exceptional circumstance can benefit from a special opportunity for study are allowed to do so.

There must be an element of trusting local authorities: we must believe that they would not necessarily abuse the additional provisions. If we cannot trust authorities to make responsible decisions, there is a great problem in our education structure.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

The hon. Gentleman says that the Liberal Democrats support the new clauses. Do they support new clause 3 and the use of lottery funds to buy places in the private sector?

Mr. Öpik:

If that led to the simple replacement of the assisted places scheme with a similar scheme paid for by the lottery, absolutely not. We are saying that the provisions could provide a way for the Government to honour their commitment to a strict spending package and yet provide local authorities with some flexibility, ensuring that the people who benefit from the special educational opportunity can survive. I emphasise again that we are with the Government on abolition of the assisted places scheme: we do not support its reintroduction.

We are concerned about being seen to be fair. We want local authorities to have some limited flexibility to make such decisions. The Minister has reassured us about the provision that already exists. If that provides the flexibility that we seek to achieve through the new clause, perhaps that is a satisfactory solution, but if there is a failure to honour that flexibility in the long term, we shall be uncomfortable about it.

We support the new clause on the assumption that the provisions represent a sensible way in which to proceed, but we do not want assisted places to be supported wholesale by the national lottery.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford

I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik), and I welcome the Minister's comments, as far as they go, but I am afraid that we have witnessed a loss of nerve tonight. The imaginative course would be to leave open a variety of opportunity in the Bill, when it is being offered on terms which do not jeopardise the plans to increase spending on primary school teachers.

It is a great pity because, in the Minister's narrow interpretation of a local authority's existing powers we heard a sharp closing down of the scheme and of the opportunities that it would give to children over and above those that we all want to give them in the state sector. I am, however, grateful to him for making it clear that all the local authorities' powers may be used to create what we might still loosely term assisted places and the Government will not stand in the way.

Having secured some clarification and assistance, with as much grace as I can, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) 7:45 pm, 10th June 1997

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill is one of the first of the new Government. It shows our commitment to education and our determination to have an education service that raises standards for the many, not the few. It makes it absolutely clear that we have turned our back on policies based on the belief that only a few can succeed or that to reach the top one has to escape from the maintained sector.

The Bill will release funds that we will use to cut to 30 or fewer class sizes for all five, six and seven-year-olds. That pledge was one of the reasons why the people elected us to govern. Today, less than six weeks after the general election, we are passing legislation that will provide the resources to enable us to keep our promise.

Throughout our consideration of the Bill, we have been reminded that the maintained sector was run for the past 18 years by a Government who did not believe in its potential. We share the understandable concern that children should attend schools where they can achieve at the highest levels. We differ, in that Conservative Members such as the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) believe that that cannot be done in the state sector.

Bright children pass examinations, go to universities and other institutions of further learning and take posts in all walks of life, at all levels, with all sorts of responsibilities, having been educated and given their life chances in the state system. The challenge for our country is not to devise ways of helping some to escape to the private sector but to ensure that all our pupils get the standard of education that can currently be found in the best of our state schools.

The resources that will be released through the Bill will be used to give a better start to the 440,000 five, six and seven-year-olds who are currently in classes of more than 30. Class sizes matter. They matter most in the early years, because children can get more attention, more teacher time and more space, and they can be taught in more manageable groups. It is not the only thing that matters and will not by itself solve all the problems that we face in our education service, but we believe that it is a crucial part of our overall plans to raise standards for our children.

No one can be surprised by the contents of the Bill. As was drawn to our attention on Second Reading, we have opposed the assisted places scheme every single year since it was introduced. Private schools have had every opportunity to prepare for the removal of the subsidy. In any case, the Bill fulfils our promise to protect the interests of those children who are currently in the scheme or who have already been offered places to start in the next academic year.

The previous Government presided over steadily rising class sizes. Much has been said by Conservative Members about the number of assisted places in their constituencies. They have not spoken about the five, six and seven-year-olds in their constituencies who will benefit from a reduction in class size: 7,000 in the area that includes the constituency of Chesham and Amersham; 4,000 children in the area that includes the constituency of the shadow Secretary of State; and almost 50 per cent. of the children in Bromley, which includes the constituency of the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

Will the hon. Lady confirm that there are no assisted places in her constituency, that of the Minister for School Standards or that of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment? Is she not happy to introduce the measure because she knows that it does not affect any of her constituents?

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment)

That comment does not deserve an answer, but I shall answer it.

We were elected to speak for the people of this country, for parents who wanted opportunities for their children and who were fed up with finding that their children were not getting the best chance at infant school because they were in large classes. I have every confidence that what we have said during the Bill's passage will be welcomed by parents and teachers who, like us, want to give a good start to all our children. Our belief in the inherent value of every child, and in the potential of every child to achieve, is different from the values of Conservative Members, which are vested in the potential of only a few children.

If I thought for one minute that the brightest children could not achieve in the state sector, I would not support the Bill. The brightest children can achieve. The children of the Lady's constituents and of those of other hon. Members have gone on to achieve great things. If she had shown the same passion for the state system that she has shown for the independent sector during the Bill's passage, I confidently believe that we would not have inherited a system in chaos.

We speak for parents, for children and for all people who want high standards for everyone. When the Conservatives had the chance to do something about class size, for their constituents or for ours, they did nothing. We will take action. The Bill honours a pledge to the electorate on assisted places. It confirms our determination to make education our highest priority. The resources that it will release will help in our drive to raise standards. It is a good Bill; the House has had the opportunity to consider it; and it will be welcomed by the public. I commend it to the House.

Several hon. Members rose

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Nine hon. Members wish to make their maiden speeches. May I ask more experienced Members to assist me, because I wish to call as many maiden speakers as possible who have been in the Chamber all day?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Conservative, South West Norfolk 7:52 pm, 10th June 1997

I thank the Minister for School Standards for his kind words. I apologise for my absence, which was enforced by antibiotics, from Committee last Thursday. To judge from the Official Report, there was a thorough discussion, at least by Opposition Members, of some aspects of the Bill's intentions, although there was little clarification of its practical effects from the Government.

It is a matter of regret that the passage of the Bill so far reinforces the somewhat unattractive reputation that the Government have earned in the few short weeks since the general election. They have earned a reputation for seeking to disregard the parliamentary process; for an over-mighty attitude towards the conventions of the House; for a determination to drive through dogma-led policies, regardless of the consequences for individuals, institutions or local education authorities; for an inability on the part of Ministers to answer the simplest of questions about the means by which their ends are to be achieved; and for a reliance instead on the use of soundbites as solutions.

On disregarding the parliamentary process, the Bill was published on the first day of the spring bank holiday recess, when the House was not sitting. The compliance cost assessment was not made available in time for Second Reading. The Government attempted to compress all debate on the Bill into just one and a half days. Information requested through written parliamentary questions was not made available for Committee, truncated as it was, until points of order were raised. To judge from the Official Report of Friday's proceedings, a rather irritable business statement had to be wrung out of the Leader of the House so that the Bill could proceed this week.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

It is important to clarify the point about parliamentary questions. Answers to parliamentary questions can be provided by 3.30 pm at the earliest, and very often, as Government Members who have been in opposition well know, they are often not received until nearer 10 pm. The parliamentary questions to which replies were made last Thursday were handed to Opposition Front Benchers by 4.30 pm at the latest so that they had the information to take part in the debate. It is misleading to say that answers to parliamentary questions should be received at 3.30 pm; it is 3.30 pm at the earliest.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Conservative, South West Norfolk

I was not aware that I had made that point. I merely said that answers to parliamentary questions were not delivered until asked for. The Minister will agree that that is the case.

The Government say that this is only a seven-clause Bill, the implication being that time need not have been devoted to debating it. They also say, and Ministers have reiterated today, that the Bill is very important. We agree, because it is about the principles of freedom and choice in education. Those words have been curiously absent from the enormous thesaurus of statements of reviews and announcements which have poured out of Ministers' mouths since 2 May. It is significant that, although the Government claim that they attach importance to the Bill, they do not attach so much importance to it that they wanted to have more than a one and a half day debate on it. Nor did they wish that its provisions should be subjected to the proper scrutiny of a full Committee stage upstairs.

To judge from the Official Report and from today's proceedings, Government Members are entirely uncritical of the Bill's effects on their constituents, their local education authorities and their maintained schools. They apparently have no questions about when class sizes may be reduced, by how much or by what means. That is fortunate for Ministers, because they have no answers.

Let us turn to the substance and purpose of the Bill. It is designed to reduce choice and opportunity for children from poorer backgrounds who could benefit from a different route through education in a different sort of school. On that we are agreed. The difference between the Opposition and the Government is that we know that choice and variety in education help to drive up standards, while the Government choose to deny it, except in some cases where their own children are concerned. As I said on Second Reading, the Government are motivated by that old Labour principle: if all cannot have, none should. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said on Second Reading that it is a socialist Bill. We agree.

The Government have been unable to explain why they have gone back on the commitment made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). I do not propose to rehearse the arguments about that, because they were thoroughly debated earlier. I heard what the Secretary of State said. I certainly do not regard him as dishonourable, but it is absolutely clear from the letter of the hon. Member for Walton, who was then one his shadow team, and from the letter sent to a constituent by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett), that it used to be Labour party policy to allow children to continue with their education until 13. It was a pledge in the clearest terms. It is now equally clear that the pledge will not be honoured. The great question is, given the Secretary of State's emphasis on his discretion, for whom will the promise be kept? That question cannot be answered—like so much else today.

In even more lamentable responses to questioning by Conservative Members, Ministers have been totally unable to explain the following: exactly how much money would be saved from the abolition of the assisted places scheme; when, year by year, the savings would become available; and the discrepancy between their hope for savings of £100 million by the end of the century and the calculations of the Institute of Public Finance of savings of just £34 million, and that is without taking into account the implications for capital spending. They seem, by their silence on the subject, to have declined to place in the House Library a detailed explanation of that discrepancy. Perhaps we can hope for some answers when the Minister for School Standards winds up.

The same airy vagueness surrounds the Government's unsatisfactory responses to the problems of individual local education authorities, which will result from the scheme's abolition. It is clear from the Library research paper that the effect on different LEAs will vary enormously. Perhaps the Minister for School Standards will explain how the Government propose to cope with that.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) asked the Minister for School Standards how many additional primary teachers would be provided from the abolition of the assisted places scheme. His answer was masterly in its character of non-sequitur. No doubt, it was provided by the Department, but it was signed by the Minister, who is smiling—I think that he remembers, therefore. When asked how many additional teachers would be provided from the abolition of the assisted places scheme, he replied: It will be for individual LEAs to judge what adjustments will be needed to primary teacher numbers to ensure smaller classes. I am sure that he will explain how it is that, somehow or another, one of them signed the wrong answer to the right question.

I suggest to the Minister that LEAs will be interested to know how much money is coming to them from the abolition of the assisted places scheme, when and in what form. I suggest to LEAs that they should not hold their collective breath—they are not likely to get an answer.

With her customary passion, which I respect, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), has expressed on a number of occasions her firm belief that the Bill will help all children. If that is her belief and that of her colleagues, is it not time that we had some answers on how? Labour Members have on many occasions employed the soundbite—or something like it—that the Bill is intended to benefit the many at the expense of the few. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who is not in his place, seemed to have swallowed that argument.

If that is the view of Ministers, surely they should by now have at least some hazy idea of how they intend the many to benefit. Can they say when the savings will be made—in which academic year—and how many additional primary teachers can be appointed and when? Can they announce a target for the reduction in the size of primary classes? Can they say if, and how, they would ring-fence the money for LEAs? Can they say if they would impose from the centre standard admission arrangements? Can they say how parental choice would be maintained, although I see that that would hardly be their priority? Can they describe how an appeals procedure would have to be changed?

The truth of the matter is that the House is being asked to agree to the destruction of the assisted places scheme, the destruction of choice and opportunity for children whose parents want them to take that route and the destruction of excellence in order, to use the Minister's words, to benefit the many when they do not have the least idea how to bring that benefit about.

The Government have cynically sought to limit debate and to disregard the conventions of the House in order not to reveal the fact that they cannot deliver the improvements that they have promised. The Bill is dictated by class envy and dogma. It is destructive of choice and excellence. It will not work, and we oppose it.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney 8:03 pm, 10th June 1997

As the newly elected Member for Waveney, I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech on a subject that is dear to my heart and to follow the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), in whose county I have taught for the past 11 years.

Waveney is distinguished by being the most easterly constituency in the United Kingdom and I have the honour of being the second Labour Member to be elected in the history of the constituency, which was formerly known as Lowestoft. Edward Evans was the first Labour Member, and he served from 1945 to 1959. He is still fondly remembered as a kind, caring and dedicated Member of Parliament.

Following my success on 1 May, I was delighted to receive a letter of congratulation and support from the chairman of Adnams, the fine Suffolk brewers and wine merchants, especially as he reminded me that his grandfather, Pierce Loftus, was the Member of Parliament for Lowestoft between 1934 and 1945, although he was a Conservative.

Probably the most famous Member to represent Waveney is the present Lord Prior, who is held in the highest regard even among many Labour voters. I pay tribute also to my predecessor, David Porter, who was a diligent constituency Member. He was proud to represent the area in which he was born and grew up and, as hon. Members will know, he spoke out regularly for the fishing industry. We have lived near each other for 10 years—I as his councillor and he as my Member of Parliament. It is a tribute to him that, despite being adversaries for so long, it was easy to maintain a courteous and dignified relationship, which extended to a reasonably civilised election campaign.

Waveney—when one finds out where it is—contains the main town of Lowestoft, which is immediately associated with fishing, but there is so much more to our area. Indeed, we want to correct the image of a declining fishing industry. Lowestoft is Britain's most easterly point. That is not as widely known as it should be, and the local district council, which I have had the privilege of leading for the past six years, has been making efforts to try to emulate Land's End in both visitor numbers and the economic benefits that such visitors will bring.

Lowestoft has the best beach in England. That is official, because it won the competition organised by the English tourist board in 1991—the fact that the competition has not been held since is fortuitous for our town. We also have the beautiful Oulton broad, which is part of the Broads national park.

Industry is important too. Our geographical position marks Lowestoft as Britain's most easterly port, pointing straight at Europe, with the opportunities that that could bring us. It is also home to the southern fields headquarters of Shell. Bird's Eye and Sanyo are also located in the town.

Beccles is in the constituency. It is a Suffolk market town of real character, with historic buildings and a riverside quay on the Waveney, which gives the constituency its name. Recently, Beccles had new fame, being the home town of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell). The people of Beccles were full of congratulations for his victory.

Bungay is another historic market town with a castle. Two or three weeks ago, it celebrated the election of its first mayor. It is also home to the printing press that printed the Prime Minister's book, last year.

Overall, Waveney has a most pleasant environment, hence the recent marketing slogan for industry, "Room to breathe". The people of Waveney are as loyal and hard-working as one will find anywhere, yet, unfortunately, they suffer the blight of high and sustained unemployment. Waveney is often called the black spot of East Anglia. Unemployment has been double the regional average for 15 years. The people there are fed up. They ask, "Why us?"

Once Waveney was a thriving area, with shipbuilding, fishing, engineering and canning. Many hon. Members will remember that Waveney was the trademark on the Co-op cans that they bought some years ago. Those industries have gone, but they have not been replaced because of the absence of modern transport links to a remote and peripheral location. The roads to Lowestoft are poor and the railways are worse. Lowestoft is cursed by a lift-up bridge on the trunk road in the middle of the town, which is raised more than 13 times each day, bringing commercial activity to a standstill—I believe, a unique situation in the country.

The people in Waveney feel neglected and left behind by the failure of Government to modernise transport in our corner of the country. They will be looking to the new Government to rectify that. I intend to pursue the cause vigorously in the House.

The youngsters in Waveney are not badly educated. Despite enforced cuts, Suffolk county council has done its best to maintain funding above the standard spending assessment level. Parents and pupils generally respect schools and teachers, who in turn are proud of their achievements. But there is also a feeling that education in my constituency could be much better, and my constituents welcome the Government's crusade to raise standards. They are enormously relieved that a stable comprehensive system, brought in by a Conservative county council many years ago, will not be disrupted by the introduction of grammar schools and the extension of education vouchers beyond the nursery phase.

I have just entered Parliament after 25 years as a teacher in secondary and high schools. I know from my experience that when pupils enter secondary education at 11 or 12 with unsolved literacy or numeracy problems—when they have fallen behind—it is usually too late to remedy the situation. Sadly, experience shows that the likelihood of them catching up is not good. It is all too often a tragic story of continued weakness, low achievement and, sometimes, a failure to gain any qualifications—in short, it is a waste of human potential.

The Government are therefore right to concentrate on the early years. The Bill's targeting of resources on the early years in order to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds puts the money where it will be of most benefit. It will also complement the provision of more nursery places, using the money that was wasted on voucher bureaucracy.

Class size does count—my experience tells me that, all teachers know it and more and more parents know it. As parents spend more time helping in schools, they see for themselves that class size is important. Pupils also know that class size matters. When a youngster remarks on a day when many children are off school with 'flu, "It's nice in here today, sir," he is making a statement on class size. Large numbers in class mean that space can run out and discipline and safety standards can deteriorate.

Some people try to deny that class size makes a difference, but those same people defend small classes in the schools to which pupils are sent under the assisted places scheme. As we have heard, some hon. Members mourn the demise of the assisted places scheme, but even they know that resources are finite and we have to make the best use of them. It is sensible and fair to spend resources on the many, not the few. That policy also meets the needs of the nation at the end of the century. Our nation no longer needs simply an educated elite, with many less well-educated manual workers, as happened in the 1950s. Times have changed.

When I consider my education, I realise that I had an assisted place, although it was not called that. I attended a direct grant school and was referred to as someone from a less advantaged background. My father's only connection with the school was that he did some of the signwriting on the honours boards. I know that I had a good education at that school, and I have analysed what made it good. Was it the teachers? I have seen many teachers over 25 years, and when I consider my teachers I realise that some were good, some were ordinary and some were not very good at all. Was it the facilities? There were excellent sports facilities, but facilities in the classroom were not special. Was it the books? No. There were plenty of dog-eared books with broken spines. What made my—assisted place—education good was the fact that the class sizes were small.

It is fitting that the Government will use state money from the assisted places scheme to reduce class sizes for so many children. There is something wrong if a Government, charged with the responsibility for state education, simply say that they cannot provide for the brightest pupils in that sector and instead rely on the private sector. That sort of Government do not believe in the state system. People expect better of a Government and this Government will do better. That is why I support the Bill.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset 8:13 pm, 10th June 1997

I am grateful to be called to make my maiden speech. I shall begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard)—he has the great advantage over me of having overcome the hurdle of the maiden speech. I hope that at the end of my speech I shall have done as well as he did, although I do not have the advantage of his many years as a teacher.

I was, however, for some years involved in the former Department of Education and Science as a special adviser; I played a part in the creation of the assisted places scheme, which the present Government are undoing. Despite that, I had not intended to make my maiden speech, or to intervene, in the current demolition job on the assisted places scheme. As someone who has been involved in and concerned with education for many years, I thought that it was an open question. I did not know whether the good done by reducing class sizes, which I believe is a matter of importance, would outweigh the advantages of the assisted places scheme. For reasons that I hope to explain, having listened to the debates during the Bill's Committee stage, I have become persuaded that it is imperative for the country to realise what is happening.

I shall begin with some uncontroversial remarks, as I believe that that is traditional with maiden speeches. The part of the country that I am lucky enough to represent—West Dorset—is, without question and notwithstanding many comments to the contrary in other maiden speeches that I have heard in the past few weeks, the loveliest part of the loveliest county in England. The grandeur of the coast from Abbotsbury to Lyme Regis is unsurpassed, as is the beauty of the hills that stretch from Dorchester in the south to Sherborne in the north.

West Dorset is a part of England that is old England—where tradition is appropriately mingled with enterprise and where children attend fine schools, both maintained and independent. The vast majority of those children grow into responsible citizens who make a contribution to the community. It is a part of England where the voluntary sector flourishes. I speak not only of charities and other activities often referred to under that heading, but of the vast multitude of cultural, sporting and other activities in which people participate on a voluntary basis. They participate in those activities because they know each other, care about each other and like to act together. It is a part of England where there is, in the proper sense, a community—something which, I fear and regret, is missing from many other parts of the country.

I shall make another uncontroversial remark: West Dorset, beautiful, prosperous and pleasant as it is, has had the luck to be represented for the past 23 years by an outstanding constituency Member of Parliament, Sir James Spicer. Jim Spicer was held in high esteem on both sides of the House, not least because of his robust defence of democracy in the Westminster Foundation and elsewhere and for the contribution that he made to the physical well-being of Members of Parliament through his immense contribution to the gymnastics performed in the House of Commons gym.

It was not in the House that Jim was, above all, prized—it has been an extraordinary undertaking for me to replace him as Member of Parliament for West Dorset, where he was held not just in esteem, but in tremendous affection. It was extraordinary to find, throughout the length and breadth of the constituency, that many people who voted for parties other than the Conservative party believed that Jim was an unparalleled constituency Member of Parliament. I repeatedly came across people to whom he had given help, tirelessly and effectively. It is therefore with some humility that I inherit his seat.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, I had not intended to participate in the debate. I understood the motive behind the abolition of the assisted places scheme to be the recouping of money to be used to reduce class sizes. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) tabled two new clauses that were rejected by the ministerial team. We were told that where additional money was available—for example, from a charity—Ministers did not intend to allow a local authority that wished to send a child to an independent school to benefit from a unit of standard spending assessment. When the Minister of State said that, I wondered whether the House or indeed the Minister and his officials realised how devastating a hole it blew in the argument about recouping money.

A child who is currently benefiting from an assisted place and who moves into the maintained sector on the abolition of that place will cost roughly the standard spending assessment. If the local authority is not allowed to spend that money because the child still attends an independent school, albeit supported by an outside source with an amount equal to the difference between the maintained sector cost and the independent school cost, it cannot be the Bill's intention to recoup money. There must be another motive.

As a Conservative Member, I am perhaps unusual in hoping that the new Labour party has genuinely learned the lesson of the past 18 years and converted to the proposition that is of immense value to our democracy: that there is no longer any merit in fighting ideological battles or in making education the ground for such battles. I was sorely disappointed by the Minister of State's response, because it showed that the Bill has an ideological aim. It is designed not to recoup moneys to reduce class sizes but to end a scheme which, for ideological reasons, is regarded by the Government and their supporters as objectionable.

That in itself is a retrograde step, and it augurs ill for an issue of even greater moment which, I trust, will shortly come to the House—if in their august majesty the Government deign to bring such matters before the House. I refer to grant-maintained schools, about which the Government have vouchsafed the House and the country little information. If on that matter the Government are driven by the same ideological concerns and dogmatic intentions that have driven them on this issue, it will be sad for the country, for the Labour party, which I thought had grown out of such ways of conducting business, and for our children. I am grateful for being called to speak in the debate.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 8:22 pm, 10th June 1997

I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on an excellent maiden speech, some of which I agreed with. I especially agreed with his comments about the beauty of his constituency. I have spent many weekends in the Lyme Regis area and I can vouch for the accuracy of his remarks. I hope that the next time the hon. Gentleman sees me sitting on the Cobb at Lyme Regis he will, in a spirit of inter-party friendliness, buy me a cup of tea.

Some 130 years ago, John Ruskin spoke about the duty of the state. He said: the first duty of a State is to see that every child born therein shall be well housed, clothed, fed and educated till it attain years of discretion. That is a good yardstick by which to judge the government of the United Kingdom. How are we to do that, and how well are we doing 130 years on from Ruskin in terms of my constituency and my city of Southampton? I cannot say hand on heart that, if John Ruskin visited us now, he would say that we had succeeded. What would he make of our homelessness and of the gross inequality in educational opportunity that we tolerate, although we have the technical and organisational capacity to realise Ruskin's vision?

Hampshire and Southampton are by no means the worst areas of the country in terms of educational opportunity, but 25 per cent. of Hampshire's infant schools and 30 per cent. of its infant and junior schools have classes of more than 30. In Southampton, 1,221 infant school pupils and 2,123 junior school pupils are being educated in classes of more than 30. Whatever we think about the arguments on the quality of teaching, common sense tells us that the larger the class the less the individual attention, particularly in the early years. That means that pupils are more likely to under achieve.

As a child of the state system and the father of two children who attend the comprehensive school nearest to my home, I am passionately concerned to ensure that the state system works in the best interests of everybody. Class sizes are important, and their reduction will make a difference even if in the beginning the classes are only a little smaller. I was astonished by some of the speeches of Conservative Members on Second Reading, particularly that of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who suggested that we should reduce class sizes only if the reductions are huge. He said that we could keep assisted places because the difference that their abolition would make to class sizes would not be very great.

The true import of that statement is revealed by changing some of the characters. It is like saying that a small increase in the number of policemen on the beat would not make an enormous difference to crime; only a huge increase would have that effect. Therefore, it is said, we should keep many police on one or two estates so that at least a few people can have a good quality of life and be free from crime. That example may help us to understand what Conservative Members are talking about.

Much about the Opposition's case is suspect. They quote the case advanced by the Institute of Public Finance in its 1996 paper on reducing class sizes. I am not sure how many Opposition Members have read that paper. The assumption is that the only saving that is available to the Government is the difference between the aggregate cost of an assisted place and the aggregate cost of a secondary school place. Using that calculation, the savings will amount to only £ 13 million in 1998–99. It is interesting to note that, by the end of the Government's first term, even the IPF suggests that they will be only £ 16 million short of their target if they use the aggregate amount that is saved by abolishing the assisted places scheme to reduce class sizes of five, six and seven-year-olds.

The Government say that those figures are incorrect. In a written reply on 22 May, it was stated that there are 800,000 empty places in existing LEA provision. Therefore, there is ample scope to accommodate pupils without assisted places. Who is right? The Minister's case seems to be strong, and we can carry out a test by examining the number of assisted places per local education authority. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) spoke about that. A more accurate picture can be obtained by using places in counties as the yardstick, because many people in London boroughs and metropolitan boroughs who take up assisted places come from outside those areas.

As we have heard, the discrepancies are huge. People in some parts of the country are more likely to gain access to assisted places than people in areas where there are few such places. That in itself is a scandal, and anyone who attempts to defend assisted places must explain the enormous disparity in the availability of assisted places in different parts of the country. A written answer of 27 January reveals the interesting fact that, even if we take, county by county, the number of places presently provided by the assisted places scheme and set that against the number of vacancies county by county, not in one case is the number of places potentially lost by the scheme anywhere near the number of vacancies. Therefore, even on a local level, the numbers can be accommodated within the state system at very little additional cost. The IPF figures are simply wrong; the savings are not as it suggests, and they are far more likely to be close to what my hon. Friend the Minister suggests.

I like to think that Southampton is a city of educational opportunity. It is certainly a centre for business. It has enormous European connections, a fine university and a thriving institute of higher education. One in seven citizens of Southampton is a student. Its port has links with the whole world. Its football team generously lets in goals to visitors the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, although it sometimes scores itself.

Oddly enough, the city was represented by my namesake, Colonel Whitehead, between 1642 and 1644. In between his parliamentary duties, he besieged and captured Bishops Waltham palace, which was, I suppose, an early example of business interests outside one's parliamentary duties. The city was also represented, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by your illustrious predecessor, Dr. Horace King, later Lord Maybray King. In his maiden speech in the House in March 1950, he spent much time describing the devastation wrought on Southampton by the blitz. I have not, of course, had to endure such trials. Instead I have lived for almost 30 years in a rapidly changing and prospering city that has been kind and generous to me. I hope that I can repay some of that by my endeavours here on its behalf.

You will also recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my predecessor Sir James Hill for his particular hard work in chairing many Commons Committees as a member of the Chairmen's Panel. I understand that he was an habitué of the many fine restaurants in the House, only some of which I have discovered so far. I wish him a long and healthy retirement from politics and thank him for his work on behalf of my city.

In a recent debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) said that Oscar Wilde lived in Reading under enforced conditions for some time, but I discovered recently that, for some years, he lived freely of his own accord in a house on the edge of Southampton common. He is not just a pretty epigrammatist. In an essay in 1895 entitled "Socialism and the Soul of Man", he made a profound description of the many and the few: Socialism will be of value simply because it will lead to individualism. Under the new conditions individualism will be far freer, far finer and far more intensified than it is now. I am not talking of the great actual individualism of such poets as I have mentioned, but of the great actual individualism latent and potential in mankind generally. As I have illustrated, the socialism that Oscar Wilde proclaimed considered all human potential: not just the dazzling achievements of the few, but the unleashing of the potential of the many.

I cannot find a better vision of the socialism of the Government I believe in than the observations of Ruskin and Wilde. However, the figures that I have quoted on the children denied the opportunity to make the best of their individuality bear witness against that vision. We have a choice and I am proud to make my maiden speech in this debate to advocate that choice—to keep the faith, albeit in a small way, with the vision of potential in everyone, which we in society can unlock, instead of giving privileges to some children while allowing others to fall by the wayside. I know what I want for the children of Southampton. That is why I have been proud to support the Bill.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills) 8:34 pm, 10th June 1997

It is my pleasant duty, on behalf of colleagues, to thank the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Whitehead). His maiden speech contained some light touches about the city that he is clearly proud to represent and, in its substance, reflected a degree of preparation and passion that we shall remember and note. May I also be the first from the Conservative Benches to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on his speech. He showed a remarkable blend of both fluency and cogency in advancing his argument.

Clearly the Government may claim a mandate for the passage of the Bill, but just because they claim a mandate does not mean that it is of itself sensible. I advise the House to reject its Third Reading tonight. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and others have spoken both this evening and earlier of the Bill's flaws. I sum them up simply by saying that it displays misplaced opportunism and suggests that the problems that our schools have undoubtedly faced and continue to face will, in some way, be solved by the Bill's passage. It is dangling a false and shining prospectus before us.

The Bill contains neither the adequate financial means nor the mechanism to secure the class size reductions and the improvements of standards that Labour and indeed Conservative Members want. The substance of the Bill is very much less about class size and, sadly, reverts to the class war, but rather than go on about the overall sweep of the Bill, I should like to leave the House with one or two points for it to consider.

In my speeches in Committee, I have emphasised both the Bill's impact on individuals—on parents and pupils—and, to some extent, the institutional impact. I am concerned—I say this after receiving a sensitive and, in certain respects, helpful response from the Under-Secretar—that the way the Bill is structured will still create problems for individuals at age 11, who will find themselves caught in the transition from private education through the assisted places scheme to the maintained sector when they would typically have expected to remain in their prep school until the age of 13.

That is a human problem. The Minister sought to justify it by saying that she felt and had received advice that the settling in for those children would be less traumatic at age 11 than at 13. Clearly, that was not the view of her colleague, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), a former shadow education spokesman, who made his views clear in his pledge to the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools and later in April. However, whether it is her view or not, the House needs to consider the views of parents and the interests of the children.

I hope that, either in subsequent consideration of the Bill in another place, in regulations or at least in advice to local education authorities, the Government will bring forward the principles that, first, the interests of the child, the individual pupil, should he paramount and, secondly, that parents' views should be taken into account by the Secretary of State in exercising his discretion on when the transfer should take place or assisted places funding should be withdrawn.

That is the personal and human side of this, but I should like to close on the Bill's overall impact. Last week, I told the House that I was concerned that, just as the move to comprehensive schools in the 1960s and 1970s, however well intentioned, had driven apart the state and private sectors of education, the Bill too ran that risk.

The hon. Member for Walton has featured extensively in our debates. I have already referred to his pledge. He has been the Banquo's ghost of the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading. One thing that he was quoted as saying, however, struck me as interesting; I hope that it is an earnest of the Government's intentions. He was quoted as saying that he wanted to build bridges to the private sector. I agree with that, but I fear that the Bill may build wedges dividing the state and private sectors rather than bridges linking them.

I do not claim that the private sector has a monopoly of wisdom, although it has many fine schools. It has a strong commitment to education; it often has the involvement of paying parents, as well as those benefiting from assisted places schemes. Those are great strengths, along with the other strengths that the Government will no doubt wish to advance. The sector also has the ability to innovate, and to be a little more flexible in its approach not only to the most able children but, on occasion, to the less able. On the other hand, it must surely benefit both sectors if they talk to each other and associate with each other, especially in view of the number of children who move from one sector to another in the normal course of their schooling. I consider that both socially right and educationally appropriate.

My major worry about the Bill is that it is overselling its achievement—its ability to resource other changes designed to improve the quality of state education—and driving a wedge between the state and private sectors. I feel that the Government owe it to the House to listen to the points that were raised on Committee, and to reflect on them before the Bill is passed. Even if we believe that the Bill will go through untrammelled, and that it will damage the private sector, it will be an earnest of the Government's good intentions if they reflect on the damage that they have done and seek to repair it by trying wherever possible to bring together the private and public education sectors.

Photo of Margaret Moran Margaret Moran Labour, Luton South 8:41 pm, 10th June 1997

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. As the first woman Member of Parliament for Luton, South, I must first thank all the voters in that constituency for the trust that they have placed in me and in our new Labour Government.

I speak as one who trained as a teacher, and also as a governor of two Luton schools, Cardinal Newman and Denbigh infants and junior school. In the latter capacity, I can certainly attest to the enthusiasm of teachers, governors and parents for our proposals to phase out the assisted places scheme to honour our pledge to reduce class sizes—but I shall say more about that shortly.

When researching my predecessor, Sir Graham Bright, I was fascinated to learn that it was one of his teachers who introduced him to politics. Although I cannot agree with his political direction, I believe that all our children should be given the same opportunity. Sir Graham Bright was perhaps best known as the parliamentary private secretary of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). I know that they are firm friends, and I am sure that they will both spend their new-found leisure time enjoying cricket—all the more so, no doubt, since our national team's new-found success under a new Labour Government.

The name of Ivor Clemitson is still well known because of his love of Luton, which I share. I am sure that he would share my anger about the fact that a men's magazine called For Him this week dubbed Luton the worst town in the country. I intend to start an "I love Luton" campaign to correct that unfair and untrue slur on our town.

I would say to the magazine's contributors, "Get a life!" They should try visiting Luton's carnival. Second only to the Notting Hill carnival, it is the work of Luton's council, its schools, play groups and clubs and its many voluntary organisations, which make it a spectacle not to be missed. Alternatively, they should try visiting Luton's newly extended airport. Made infamous by Lorraine Chase—with whom I share only a gorblimey accent—it is now the United Kingdom's fastest-growing airport.

I know from listening to many of my hon. Friends' excellent maiden speeches that it is traditional at this point to conduct a comprehensive political Cook's tour of one's constituency, but I intend to break that tradition. Instead, I want to pay tribute to Luton's greatest treasure, her residents.

We celebrate a diverse community, which includes many generations of Lutonians, some of whom are still in the traditional hat industry. It also includes two large communities—to one of which I am proud to belong—who share a history of coming from beautiful but sad and divided lands. I refer to Ireland and Kashmir. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for their energy and commitment to achieving peace in those troubled lands.

Luton's many peoples went there looking for work—for instance, the Welshmen who walked there in the 1930s, and my dad—to whom I owe a debt of honour—who found his first job after arriving from Ireland at Vauxhall Luton. Sadly, Luton's once-expanding manufacturing and car industries are now much smaller, but I am delighted that the IBC-Renault deal is likely to bring another 900 much-needed jobs to the area. Many of those will be skilled jobs, and Luton's prosperity depends on a well-skilled work force. That is why the Bill is so important to us: the skilled work force of the future requires a well-educated community today.

I listened carefully to the arguments of Opposition Members as they opposed the Bill and described the iniquities of the phasing out of assisted places schemes. I dispute some of the amounts that they cited when they spoke of the cost of those schemes. I understand that assisted places fees can range from £4,000 to £9,000 per pupil.

If Opposition Members want to know the impact that such figures would have in schools, I simply ask them to visit one of the schools in my constituency, such as Dallow infants and junior school, which I visited recently. They should come and meet Nazia, who might be a typical pupil. As with 90 per cent. of her classmates, English is her second language; her elder brothers are unemployed, like one in five of all young men in the area. She, or one in four of her friends, will return to a home that is unfit, in disrepair or overcrowded. If she is lucky, she will have a yard to play in but no garden. Nazia is in a class of 37 pupils and, try as her dedicated teachers might, they struggle to give her and her classmates the attention that they need to have a real head start.

Dallow is a good school. It has dedicated staff, governors and parents, and they deserve better. Reducing class sizes for Dallow, and for other Luton schools, will allow teachers to raise educational standards and to give Nazia and her friends real opportunities.

Let me make a final, impassioned plea—that we use the opportunities afforded by the Bill to raise standards not just in the three Rs, but in the use of information technology. Nazia will face a world of work and training in which information technology will be further advanced than we can possibly imagine, but she has no computer at home. Many schools rely on the sheer enthusiasm of staff, and on supermarket vouchers and other such schemes, for the IT equipment that they need. Yet access to technology in the 21st century will be as important as access to books in the 20th century.

I hope that we shall use the wonderful opportunities that the Bill provides, perhaps working with business, to champion the wider use of technology, so as to open up all the new world of work, of communications, of citizenship and of training for Nazia and her friends into the 21st century.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead 8:49 pm, 10th June 1997

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the generality of the Bill. In Committee, the hon. Member for Wallsend told us about some lessons that he had learned—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

I do apologise, as a new Member, if I have got the name of the hon. Gentleman's constituency wrong. The hon. Member for whatever the constituency was—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

The hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) gave us the benefit of advice that he had received at an early stage from his father about Conservatives. That set me thinking about the lessons that I had learnt at an early stage about the difference between socialism and Conservatism.

Socialism is about levelling down. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Conservatism is about levelling up. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Socialists believe that, if everyone cannot have something, no one shall. Conservatives reject that. Socialism destroys opportunity, whereas Conservatism builds up opportunity.

We have been told that the present Labour Government will be different, because the Government are new Labour and new Labour is different. Sadly, the Bill shows how wrong that claim is, because it is a socialist Bill—not my words, but those of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). I suggest that he is better able to judge than I am.

This is a socialist Bill, because it destroys opportunity instead of providing it. Ministers have defended the Bill on the ground that the Government will govern for the many, not for the few. The Bill, abolishing the assisted places scheme, does nothing to improve the education of the many, but it does much to destroy educational opportunities for a few.

In her opening remarks, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris)—I hope that I have at least managed to get that one correct—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

The hon. Lady said that the Government spoke for parents who want opportunities for their children. I can only assume that she and her colleagues have not met Geraldine Ewan—a teacher in my Maidenhead constituency, who was interviewed for an article in the Maidenhead Advertiser last week. The article said: Geraldine's passion for the Assisted Places Scheme is born out of hard experience.Ten years ago she was living on social security with children officially classified as 'gifted' and in need of special education.`If it wasn't for assisted places my children would not have got the education they needed,' she says …The Labour Government's actions to repeal the scheme puzzle Mrs. Ewan.`What's so strange about abolishing it is that I would have thought the Labour Party was interested in breaking down class barriers and that's exactly what assisted places do'. I have spoken to Mrs. Ewan. She told me about her children. Six children have benefited from the assisted places scheme. She told me about the children who have been to university, the subjects that they have read and those who are currently doing A-levels. She described the assisted places scheme as "a lifeline to us" and said that she could not understand why the Government were "kicking the vulnerable", because abolition of the scheme is hurting the children.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

That is what a lady with several children who have benefited from the assisted places scheme has told me, and the remarks that hon. Members are making from a sedentary position are extremely unfortunate.

As Mrs. Ewan is a primary school teacher in my constituency, I spoke to her about class sizes. She is worried about primary school class sizes, especially because she is concerned with the needs of gifted children and believes that they can be given the challenge that they need only in small classes. [HON. MEMBERS: ": "Oh."] She, and the head teacher of the primary school at which she teaches, do not believe that the Bill will reduce classes at that school, because they do not believe that the money is sufficient to improve class sizes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] They also doubt whether the money will be forthcoming.

The reactions that I am receiving are interesting, because the point about Mrs. Ewan's case is that her children were classified as gifted and they were able to get the education that they deserved because of the opportunity that was given to her, a parent on social security, to have her children provided with the best education that they could get, through the assisted places scheme. It is unfortunate that Labour Members are not interested in providing opportunities for children and ensuring that they get the education that is right for them.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) eloquently pointed out, the Bill's great failure is the fact that it does nothing to put into place the other side of the equation that the Government claim is in their mandate.

Of the few Labour Members who have spoken during the Bill's passage, some have spoken passionately about what they believe to be the genuine need to reduce class sizes. The speech in Committee by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) was an especially passionate call for money to reduce class sizes.

However, I say to those hon. Members and to the House that the Bill does nothing to reduce class sizes in our primary schools. It does not provide the mechanism that will ensure that money goes to primary schools to reduce class sizes. It does not even show us the mechanism whereby money will be given to local education authorities, and we all know the problems of getting money from local education authorities into schools—except in the case of Conservative-controlled authorities, such as Wokingham, which, I am pleased to say, having moved from Liberal Democrat control to the Conservatives, as a unitary authority will now pass on a higher percentage of its education budget to schools.

I welcome such decisions, but the Bill provides no extra money to schools to pay for the extra teachers or buildings that may be necessary if some schools are to reduce class sizes. It is pulling the wool over the eyes of the electorate, but it is not pulling the wool over the eyes of teachers.

I refer Labour Members to comments made by the National Association of Head Teachers, which has said that the Bill will not provide sufficient money to provide the number of teachers and buildings that are necessary to produce reductions in class sizes of the order that is being talked about.

All the Bill will do is to destroy opportunity. It will do nothing to improve the education of the many, and it will do much to reduce the quality of education of children who benefit from assisted places. If the Government had had their way, Mrs. Ewan's children would not have been able to benefit from schemes such as assisted places. If the Government had had their way, Mrs. Ewan's children would not have had the education that they deserved. The Government are not governing for the many or for the few, they are governing as a socialist Government. It is about time that Conservative Members ensured that people understand exactly what the Bill is about.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough 8:58 pm, 10th June 1997

I should like to praise the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Ms Moran), who represents a town that has much in common with my constituency of Slough—apart from the fact that Slough's airport is rather larger than Luton's. The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) spoke passionately in claiming that the Bill is kicking away opportunity from people, but that is rich coming from a supporter of a Government who, for 19 years, stamped on children's opportunities to get the best of their education in towns such as Slough.

It is traditional in a maiden speech to say nice things about one's predecessors, but, for me, doing so will be not a duty but a pleasure. I sought the Labour nomination for the Slough constituency because I knew that, if there were a queue of parliamentarians that included Joan Lester and Fenner Brockway, I jolly well wanted to be in it. I knew Fenner when he was frail and elderly, and occasionally I made the mistake of telling him, "Take care, Fenner." He would reply, "Don't take care—LIVE!" I only hope that, in representing the town of Slough, I have the same boldness, courage and principle that distinguished both of those former hon. Members. I am very proud that Joan has followed Fenner into the other place, where I know that she will distinguish its debates, particularly on the issue of children, which we are debating today.

My most immediate predecessor, John Watts, belonged to the Conservative party, but I know from my constituents how hard he worked on their behalf, especially when they were embroiled in the travails of Britain's immigration law. I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has already started to unravel some of the most unfair aspects of those rules.

John Watts had close relationships with many of the diverse communities in Slough, and I know that some of them were very disappointed when he went off on—as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions calls it—"the chicken run." Unfortunately in John Watts's case, he ran into a fox's lair. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Ms Griffiths) on occupying what John Watts had hoped would be his place.

Slough is one of the few towns in the south-east which, despite 18 years of decline in manufacturing industry, still makes things, such as Mars bars, Badedas bath products and Dulux paints. Everyone has used something made in my town. Although jobs in many of our traditional industries are gone, we pioneer new technologies and are proud to be the gateway to Britain's silicon valley.

The work available in Slough has made it a town of immigrants—from south Wales, the north-east, Poland, Ireland, Punjab and Kashmir—who have travelled to Slough in search of work and a better life. For their children, education is the key to that better life. The assisted places scheme, however, does not give most of those children the key.

We have heard about how assisted places are regionally unequally distributed, but we have not heard about the degree to which most children who benefit from the scheme already have educational advantage within their families. More than two thirds of those pupils' mothers have themselves received a private or selective education, and their mothers are four times as likely as members of the general population to have an A-level. It is also not true that the assisted places scheme is the only way in which to achieve quality in education. In my county of Berkshire, more than 25 of the comprehensives have better A-level results than Pangbourne college, for example, as do my grammar schools in Slough.

The wonderful thing about the Bill is that the money that will be saved will benefit pupils in their youngest years in education, and investing in something that will take such a long time to repay shows the Government's courage. Who will benefit from such long-term investment? Every infant in a class of over 30 will benefit. I cannot list all the schools in Slough which have such classes, but they include Wexham Court combined, Cippenham Infants', Priory, Ryvers, Holy Family, Marish, St. Mary's, St. Anthony's and many others.

Teachers also will benefit from the Bill's provisions. I have been a primary teacher in an inner-city school, and I remember how much more exhausted I was in the year in which my class numbers increased by five pupils over the previous year. I also know how much better I did my job when I was teaching 24 children. Earlier this year, I was visiting the Lea school, in Slough, and a journalist asked a teacher at the school how she would vote. She simply said, "I am a teacher." For her, the choice was obvious, because no self-respecting teacher could vote for the Conservative party, which has shown such contempt for teachers' talents and efforts.

Our new Labour Government are already working with teachers. The letter that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State sent to schools and colleges emphasising that every school was good at something and that, in order to deliver high standards in education, we depended on working in partnership with teachers, was very welcome, and it has done much to provide the foundation for our initiatives.

I will tell the House about the reception class in one infant school in Chalvey which I know well. It has 28 five-year-olds in it, many of whom live in overcrowded homes with parents who are on low incomes. Twenty-five of those 28 five-year-olds can already do something that I, with many years of expensive education, cannot; they can communicate in two languages.

Children with English as a second language, however, are less likely to have access to reading materials and English at home, and they tend to perform below their ability in reading tests. I hope that the initiatives that we are taking to invest in the early years of education will provide those children, at the time when they can most benefit from it, with the key to open the educational doors which have been closed to them until now.

It is not just teachers and children but all of us who will benefit from our initiatives. Research such as the Perri/High Scope work in the United States shows that, for every £ 1 spent on the early years of education, we save £6 later in preventing crime and in remedial education.

Schools in my constituency are showing other ways in which the infant school can contribute to a harmonious community. Our Lady of Peace infants school uses its close links with parents to run an excellent parenting education class. As the consultation document "Preventing Children Offending" issued by the previous Government showed, such initiatives contribute not only to a happy home but to keeping children out of trouble. I commend them to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Crime and youth disorder have brought Slough to the headlines. I dispute the Daily Mail claim that a "culture of violence" pervades our Britwell estate, but it is certainly true that many living there have been victims of violent crime, which has more than doubled since 1979. We need action that works on that issue. Young people themselves, including those who have been involved in violence in the streets of Slough, know what kind of action is needed. When asked by their peers, something like one in five of them said that the priority for action was improving their educational opportunities.

Many of our Government's plans focus on human rights. I commend to my Front-Bench colleagues one human right that will never be written into law, but which we have a responsibility to deliver. I refer to the right to read. The Bill is a crucial step on the road to delivering that right. Smaller infant classes and early intervention for children who do not do well with reading are the first steps to delivering the right to read.

If those children do learn to read, they may use their skills to read the poem by John Betjeman which seems to encapsulate the public view of Slough. I wonder, however, how many hon. Members have read beyond the invitation to the friendly bombs to destroy my town. The poem goes on to condemn the lecherous business men and to lament the ignorance of the clerk who makes his profits and drinks in the bars—mock-Tudor bars, as I recall—of the constituency of the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), but who dares not look up and see the stars.

Slough's great astronomer, Herschel, used a telescope to see the stars, but the stars of hope and ambition are revealed to most of us through the power of the written word. The Bill will mean that more children can raise their sights, achieve more for themselves and achieve more for our society. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Luton, South (Ms Moran) who made her maiden speech before I spoke. I completely failed to congratulate her on it, which was bad manners on my part. I congratulate her on it now and say that, if the quality of her speech is anything to go by, she will be an excellent advocate for Luton.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:08 pm, 10th June 1997

I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on her excellent maiden speech. She could have mentioned ICI Paints of Slough, a company for which I worked in the past.

I thank the electors of Carshalton and Wallington for electing me and for putting their trust in me, as other hon. Members have thanked their electors.

Let me mention my predecessor, Nigel Forman, who represented the constituency for 21 years. He was a good constituency Member and took an interest in education. Indeed, he was a Minister responsible for higher education for some months in 1992.

Carshalton and Wallington is in the London borough of Sutton which has been Liberal Democrat-controlled since 1986. It is in that belt of seats in south-west London that fell to the Liberal Democrats. The London borough of Sutton is unique in at least one respect, in that it has not only a Liberal Democrat council, but two Liberal Democrat Members and a Liberal Democrat peer.

My constituency stretches from Clock House in the south to St. Helier in the north, a large estate built in the 1930s, and from Beddington in the east to Carshalton in the west of the constituency.

The history of the area is well documented in a book by Douglas Cluett. The first sign of life dates from 1000 BC and there are still traces near St. Philomena's school in the constituency. In 1871, excavations on the site of the Beddington sewage farm revealed that the Romans had been there for a very different purpose: there had been a Roman bath house on the site. A number of the parishes were mentioned in the Domesday Book, including Beddintone, or "Beader's farm", Waleton, which was probably a Welsh settlement, and Aultone, or "farm by the spring". Those parishes became Beddington, Wallington and Carshalton.

Newer additions include the St. Helier estate, which comprises 40,000 houses and was built as a garden city in the 1930s. Many of its original features survive to this day. The Roundshaw estate is a much more recent addition and was built on the site of the old Croydon airport. Many of the streets and blocks in the area are named after famous aviators or aircraft manufacturers. Amy Johnson primary school is one example. The Roundshaw estate is currently the subject of a major regeneration project. The council, in partnership with various other organisations, is spending £105 million on the estate, taking away the walkways and the underground garages and making it a place where people will be proud to live.

I return to the subject of tonight's debate by mentioning Bandon Hill primary school, which is attended by many of the children who live on the Roundshaw estate. It was the first constituency visit that I made after my election and many exciting developments are taking place. Seven new classrooms are being built, and for the first time the school will have an assembly hall that is big enough to accommodate all its pupils. That is excellent news.

I do not understand, however, how the abolition of the assisted places scheme will help other schools in the borough that are in similar need of major renovation works. Temporary buildings—a euphemism for huts—have been in place for 30 or 40 years, and there is no possibility of their being replaced in the short or medium term.

The abolition of the assisted places scheme will not do anything about the Greenwich judgment, which affects all the constituencies in south-west London, particularly my own. In some schools, more than 50 per cent. of the pupils in any given year come from outside the borough. Perhaps we are victims of our own success. Since we cannot predict how many out-of-borough pupils will take places from local pupils who need them, we have the problem every year of a mad scramble to try to find enough school places in the borough.

The Liberal Democrats pledged an extra £2 billion each year for education. That is what we think is necessary to provide an education system that is second to none. In contrast, all that the Bill proposes is an extra £100 million. That may sound a lot—there is some dispute about whether the figure is £100 million or £40 million—but is it really enough to provide high-quality education for absolutely everyone? The Liberal Democrats want to provide the best for all our pupils, as I am sure do Government Members. I am afraid that Conservative Members are talking about a select group of people to whom they want to give priority.

The £100 million on offer through the abolition of the assisted places scheme is the only new money being found by the Government for education. Although we will be supporting the Bill, I urge the Government to be more ambitious. We must tackle head-on the legacy of 18 years of neglect. If we do so, we shall command the respect of the British people, who are crying out for change.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling 9:15 pm, 10th June 1997

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. In line with all the other maiden speeches that have been made in this debate, the speech by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) was very well thought out and shows that, when one is involved in debate and discussion, one can learn from the opinions and thoughts of others, as I am sure we all will in future.

It is a great honour and privilege for me to be able to address the House as the first Labour Member for Gedling—or Carlton as it was called from 1951. It is also an honour for my family, although the first concern of my children was that I should not be seen on television. Many hon. Members have told me that I should get out of that habit fairly quickly if I want to make any progress. I thank the people of Gedling for their support and assure them that I will represent them to the best of my ability.

My immediate predecessor was Andrew Mitchell, who was extremely well regarded in the constituency. He was respected as a hard-working Member of Parliament, who took up the cases of many constituents and fought hard for local issues. Whatever the reasons for his defeat, they were nothing to do with lack of work in the constituency.

Andrew Mitchell and I have been political opponents for a number of years. He was first elected as the hon. Member for Gedling in 1987, which was also the year that I first stood for the constituency. In all that time, he has always been polite and courteous to me, and never more so than on 1 May when, despite his personal disappointment, he congratulated me and wished me, as well as the Labour Government, well for the future. I am sure that he will return to public life—although I hope that it is not in Gedling in 2002.

The name Gedling often provokes the questions, "Where?" or "Sorry, did you say gelding?" Gedling is not a type of horse: it is an area of rich diversity that adjoins the city of Nottingham. It borders Sherwood in the north, the River Trent to the south-east and the city of Nottingham to the south-west. The main urban centres are Arnold and Carlton. Arnold has much rich history and is mentioned in the Domesday survey. Until the 1800s, it was a quiet forest village, although now it is a predominantly residential area. Carlton includes the conurbation of Carlton, the more industrialised areas of Colwick and Netherfield to the south and, to the east, the rural area of Gedling, from which the constituency takes its name. Gedling retain much of its village atmosphere, with many old shops and cottages.

There are also two beautiful rural villages. Burton Joyce is the larger. It is popular with commuters to Nottingham and has a most beautiful 13th-century church. Stoke Bardolph is in the valley of the Trent, with lovely views across the river to Shelford and Radcliffe.

The constituency is primarily residential, but has an important industrial and commercial base, which has been badly hit in recent years by the closure of Gedling colliery in 1991 and the more recent closure of the Home Ales brewery in Daybrook, following the Scottish Courage merger, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs and the sad demise of another local brewery.

Gedling borough council is well thought of, particularly for its policies on housing, crime prevention, environmental protection and recycling. I am acutely aware of the number of local issues that I shall want to highlight in the House, including the need for additional funding from one of the many special schemes to help continue the efforts to regenerate Netherfield, the future development possibilities of the Home Ales breweries site in Daybrook, the restoration of the Gedling pit site to form a country park, which seems slow in coming to fruition, and the associated campaign for a Gedling bypass.

Today's debate is about education, focusing in particular on reducing class sizes. Just 11 weeks ago, I was a deputy head teacher in Big Wood school, a Nottingham city comprehensive. I applaud the measures that the Government have already taken. There can be nobody who does not regard raising standards of achievement for all children as a major priority for any Government. Phasing out the assisted places scheme and reducing class sizes for all five, six and seven-year-olds will mean a better deal for all our children.

A survey that I conducted of all the primary schools in my constituency showed considerable problems with class sizes. There are many classes of well over 30 for the youngest pupils in Gedling. Indeed, several are approaching 40 and one class has 45. Parents will welcome action on class size because it will help to start the process of meeting the targets set by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of 80 per cent. of 11-year-olds reaching national curriculum level 4 in English and 75 per cent. reaching that level in maths. As many hon. Members have said, basic numeracy and literacy are essential for all pupils. Without them, nobody can achieve.

I should like to highlight two other areas of concern that are not helped by ever larger classes. The first is the relatively poor standing of the teaching profession. That is clearly demonstrated by the great difficulty that many schools have in recruiting suitably qualified staff. There are difficulties in head teacher recruitment. The Times Educational Supplement pointed out last week that there were 40 per cent. more advertisements for headship vacancies in the primary sector during the first four months of this year than in the same period last year, and nearly 60 per cent. more in the secondary sector. Coupled with the teacher recruitment shortage, that means that real difficulties could lie ahead. Those problems are affecting schools all over the country, including those in my constituency. I look forward to working with the Government to tackle those and other problems.

The second problem is the increasing disaffection among a significant proportion of school children. If we are to raise levels of achievement, all pupils must be able to learn in a calm, reasonable environment and teachers must be able to teach. Class size matters—as does good teaching—because it allows teachers to deal with individual problems.

Statistics from the House of Commons Library show that there were 11,084 permanent exclusions from schools in 1994–95, compared with 2,910 in 1990. We need to deal with that worrying upward trend across the country. The Bill gives us an opportunity to do something for the majority of children in our schools. By abolishing the assisted places scheme, we will provide extra resources to tackle the problem that faces our youngest children.

We have a modernising Government who are determined to raise achievement for all. There is a mood of great optimism about education, but there is also a realistic acceptance that there are no quick fixes and that tough and difficult decisions will have to be made if we are to improve our schools. We have great confidence about the possibilities before us. I look forward to the challenge and I will work hard to do my best to play a small part in achieving the goals of the new Labour Government—a fairer, more just society in which opportunities are available to all, whatever their background. If we are to realise those goals, the success of our education policies will be crucial, and the Bill will be a start along that road.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot 9:24 pm, 10th June 1997

I congratulate the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) on his maiden speech, which was fluent and interesting. He paid a generous tribute to his predecessor, Andrew Mitchell, who was a great friend of many Conservative Members, and we noted the hon. Gentleman's courtesy. Andrew Mitchell was a fine constituency Member and I worked closely with him on the coal industry.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on her interesting contribution to the debate. I had an especial interest in her speech because her late father, Sir Ian Mactaggart Bt, was a close friend of mine. He was a sound Conservative for whom I campaigned with great diligence and enthusiasm in Fulham in 1970 when he failed to take the seat from Michael Stewart, the Labour Foreign Secretary. I am sure that the hon. Lady's father would be pleased to see her in the House, although, as he was a fine supporter of the Common Market safeguards campaign, he will look down on her for some sound views on the European single currency.

When I was a Member of Parliament in the 1980s, I took great pride in the Conservatives' efforts to extend opportunity through the assisted places scheme. We gave the opportunity of a first-class education to many pupils who would not otherwise have enjoyed it. The scheme was a ladder of opportunity that we extended to some 80,000 children, but the Bill will kick that ladder of opportunity away.

The Bill is squalid and it represents old Labour, not new Labour. The Bill is spiteful and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said, it will not level up, but level down. The attitude is, "Because not everybody can have it, nobody shall have it." I have not heard one Labour Member suggest that the quality of education received by those with assisted places was anything to complain about. Labour Members know that they will take away from children a quality of education that is second to none, and they should be ashamed of what they are doing tonight. They speak not for the parents, but for the old school of Labour envy. The message must go out to the people that Labour has not changed its spots, and that one of the first measures that it has introduced is this spiteful, squalid little measure. It shows where Labour's true allegiance lies.

The Government have introduced the Bill in the name of providing funds to reduce class sizes. Everybody is in favour of reducing class sizes, but I can tell Labour Members that people do not send their children to independent schools simply because of the class sizes. That is a myth. People send their children to independent schools—many of them make huge sacrifices to do so—for other reasons. They do so because of the ethos and the discipline.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

The hon. Gentleman does not understand those matters because he is an old-fashioned socialist. I know him from my time in Staffordshire and he has not changed, as we shall find out.

Independent schools provide a first-class education, and children are benefiting from that today. Their parents are grateful for the scheme—my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead mentioned a specific case—and it is a tragedy that it is being withdrawn. The Bill demonstrates the Labour Party's innate hostility to excellence and to independent education. I hope that we shall not see further moves in that direction.

Finally, I am disappointed that the Government did not seek to amend the assisted places scheme in any way. As a former Education Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) will know that in my previous constituency of Cannock and Burntwood is Maple Hayes, an independent school for dyslexic children that provides a fantastic service and is extremely popular with parents. That school has done an immense amount of good work, and from discussions that I have had with my hon. Friend I know that it was her desire, if funds had become available, to extend the assisted places scheme to cover special educational needs.

I accept the fact that I have been fairly hostile to the Bill. None the less, may I, in a spirit of compromise, suggest that the Minister could pick up the assisted places scheme? Instead of portraying himself, as he and his colleagues do, as pursuing a policy out of a sense of dogma and envy, he could say, "We shall keep some element of the scheme, and provide assisted places for special educational needs."

We all know that in the maintained sector there is little or no boarding or specialist provision. A great deal more could be done in that regard. I hope that, even at this late hour, the Labour party might consider the opportunity that assisted places could provide for extending the benefits of special education in the independent sector to a wider range of children.

I hope that the Minister will respond to that point, and perhaps give Conservative Members some hope—and also some justification for the belief that the Bill is not motivated simply by dogma.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton 9:31 pm, 10th June 1997

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) and I have sat on the Government Benches for many hours of debate on the Bill over the last couple of weeks, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his own excellent maiden speech.

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech. Like my predecessor, Gordon Oakes, who had a long and distinguished career in the House for more than 30 years, I was born and brought up in my constituency. Gordon Oakes became the Member for Halton when the seat was created in 1983, but was first elected to Parliament in 1964 as the Member for Bolton, West. He lost his seat in 1970, but won another at a by-election at Widnes in 1971.

Gordon was an able Member of the House, and served as Parliamentary Secretary at both the Department of the Environment and the Department of Energy. He was promoted to Minister of State, Department of Education and Scienct in the previous Labour Government, and was made a Privy Councillor in 1979. He was also an excellent constituency Member of Parliament, and helped many thousands of people during his career. I wish him a long and happy retirement.

It is right for me to mention, too, that the constituency produced another excellent Member of ParliamentJack Ashley, now Lord Ashley, whose work on behalf of the disabled is well known.

Halton is not a town in itself, but an area based on local government boundaries drawn up in 1974. It comprises the proud towns of Widnes and Runcorn and the beautiful village of Hale. Most of the original town of Runcorn is in my constituency, although most of its new town area is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall).

Mine is a constituency of many waterways—the river Mersey, the Manchester ship canal, the Bridgewater canal and the St. Helen's canal.

The early pioneering chemical industry had its roots in my constituency, and that industry is still the largest local employer today. There are few household goods which do not contain components produced by the chemical industry in Halton.

One of the legacies left by the chemical industry was massive land contamination, especially in Widnes. However, through the fantastic efforts of the borough council and the local community, that situation has been transformed by a large land reclamation programme over the past 20 years. Where once were the most polluted tracts of land in the country, we now have a superb shopping centre, a golf course, open spaces and parkland.

With a much improved environment and excellent transport links, Halton is now a popular place to live. It is also the home of one of the most imaginative and interesting museums in the country—the national chemical industry museum, Catalyst.

Our most famous landmark is the Runcorn-Widnes bridge, similar in design to the Sydney harbour bridge and dwarfing the Tyne bridge. It is a stunning sight when lit up at night. Unfortunately, the bridge has now reached capacity, and we face regular congestion and queuing to get over it. I feel sure that this Government will adopt a much more positive approach to working with Halton borough council and the Merseyside and Cheshire local authorities to come up with a solution for a second crossing, which is crucial to the economic and social development of the area.

My constituency has a great sporting tradition, as the home of Runcorn football club and Widnes rugby league club, now known as Widnes Vikings. Widnes rugby league club is the second most successful club in the history of rugby league. Indeed, given the size of the town, it has done even better than Wigan.

I mentioned earlier that the chemical industry is our largest employer. Over the past 20 or 30 years, it has shrunk significantly, and there is a need to continue to bring more diverse industries into the constituency. Our biggest challenge is high unemployment: real unemployment is running at 24 per cent. and youth unemployment is more than 40 per cent. A recent survey of local employers showed a 40 per cent. skills shortage—which explains why I wanted to speak in today's debate.

Education and training are crucial to my constituency. The Prime Minister was right to make education our No. 1 priority, and I know that the new Halton unitary authority, due to take over next April, will make education its top priority so as to help to regenerate the towns of Widnes and Runcorn by producing a skilled and flexible work force and improving the cultural and social lives of its citizens.

We must get things right at the very beginning. Lifelong learning starts in the early years, and I am pleased by the commitment to extending early years provision. I welcome the Bill and the move to end the assisted places scheme and to use the money to cut class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. That is very important to primary schools in Halton, where there are 141 classes of 30 or more. That means 4,464 children, or 40 per cent. of the total. Our children deserve better individual attention from their teachers, and small classes can help to achieve that.

Although this is only one component in the strategy to raise standards in education, it is a crucial one. In Halton, 54.6 per cent. of 11-year-olds fail to reach the required standard in maths, and 50.6 per cent. fail to reach it in English—hence the importance of this measure to my constituency.

I also believe that the breadth of the curriculum that primary teachers have to deliver is onerous. It does not leave enough time to spend on teaching the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic. I welcome today's announcement by the Minister in that regard.

It is clear that the early years are a crucial part of a child's education. An 11-year-old who is not properly equipped for secondary school will quickly fall behind, making the job doubly difficult for teachers in secondary schools. Many secondary school teachers have told me that they despair at the poor numeracy and literacy skills of some of their pupils. Those pupils then struggle throughout the rest of their time at school.

I also welcome the Labour Government's commitment to improved teaching standards. Most teachers do an excellent job and deserve the highest praise. Many have their jobs made much more difficult by the immense problems of social deprivation and poor parenting in some areas; but there are also teachers who are not up to the job, and they should not be anywhere near a classroom. Some schools are clearly failing their children. Although there may be poverty and poor discipline in some homes, that should not be used as an excuse for poor teaching and poor schools. There are plenty of examples of good teaching and good schools in similar circumstances. I therefore welcome the commitment to deal effectively with incompetent teachers, and the publication of the names of failing schools, as clear signs of our determination to raise standards.

As a further element in improving standards, I hope that the Secretary of State will publish much more information about the performance of schools. The current league tables are flawed and do not accurately reflect the true achievements of many schools. Nor do they give parents enough information.

Finally, I thank the people of Halton for electing me. It is a great privilege to sit in this House as their Member of Parliament. They are hard-working and generous people who have waited a long time for a Labour Government.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry) 9:39 pm, 10th June 1997

We have had a long and wide-ranging debate on the Bill, and one of the great pleasures has been the number of maiden speeches made on Second and Third Reading. I congratulate unreservedly all those hon. Members who have chosen Third Reading to make their maiden speeches. In particular, I congratulate the hon. Members for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), for Southampton, Test (Mr. Whitehead), for Luton, South (Ms Moran), for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake), for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) and for Halton (Mr. Twigg).

I want to single out two of the maiden speeches made this evening. I extend a personal and warm welcome to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) because, although she cut this point out of her speech, she went to the same school as I did—so now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have two Cheltenham ladies college girls to deal with. The way in which the hon. Lady acquitted herself suggests that they are a force to be reckoned with.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who made an excellent maiden speech. It is a humbling experience to see how hon. Members make their maiden speeches and remain entirely note-free zones—an art which I cannot claim to have mastered myself.

The number of teachers, or ex-teachers, who have participated in the debate, especially from the Government Benches, leads me to remark that, while they can rightly be proud of being teachers, their presence has probably contributed to an increased pupil-teacher ratio. Perhaps they could give some thought to that.

I hope that many of the good teachers will remain in the profession. Those who have come here will bring their expertise on education. I hope that the Government will realise that not everything that they do in the future will be supported by those hon. Members who used to be teachers, but more of that later.

The Bill, with its seven clauses, is small and looks innocuous, but like a bullet it is small and lethal. It is lethal to families on low incomes. I remind the House of the reasons why the assisted places scheme was introduced. In 1979, the then Secretary of State, Mark Carlisle, said: The direct grant grammar schools gave a high-quality academic education to children of ability, irrespective of the means of their parents. We on the Conservative Benches regretted greatly the decision to put and end to that scheme … They are, therefore, available only to those who can pay. Many of the schools had gone independent; therefore, he said: The schools exist. That means of opportunity exists. That means of opportunity should be restored to able children whose parents are unable to meet the cost."—[Official Report, 5 November 1979; Vol. 973. c. 41.] The reason why the scheme was introduced is apparent to all Conservative Members but ignored by Labour Members. By introducing the Bill so rapidly, the Government have shown that they still practise the politics of envy of the worst possible sort. The Labour party remains true to the old principle: if my neighbour has a Rolls-Royce, do I work hard and try to buy one myself? Do I feel happy that he has worked hard enough to buy the car? No—I work to ensure that that Rolls-Royce is removed from him.

That is what the Bill does: it takes a type of education which suits certain children away from those of limited means. We have learnt that the Government will not even listen to reasoned argument. They believe that they are absolutely right. [Interruption.] I can see that Ministers believe that they are absolutely right. Laurens van der Post once wrote that there is no more dangerous animal than a man who believes that he is absolutely right.

The Government are dangerous men and women, because they will not listen to anything which could possibly make better that which they have laid before the House. In Committee, they brushed aside all the constructive arguments put forward by Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members to try to improve the legislation.

Behind the legislation lies a false promise. It is false because it aims to reduce class sizes in primary schools, yet the Institute of Public Finance report shows that eliminating all classes exceeding 30 for five, six and seven-year-olds would cost about £65 million annually, with an estimated additional cost of £100 million and that that would happen only if action was taken simultaneously to restrict admissions to primary schools.

The Minister for School Standards estimated that, by the turn of the century—not next year or the year after, but the year 2000—he might have saved £100 million. He is not sure; he cannot give us the figures. He cannot give us the figures for reducing class sizes. In fact, I wonder whether he can answer any of our questions. In the debate, the Minister exhibited a lack of understanding of what we were saying. His completely inadequate responses make us ask us a lot of questions about him and the brief that he holds. He did not answer any Opposition questions in any of his speeches on any of the amendments. In particular, he did not explain how the money that he hopes to save from the assisted places scheme will be ring-fenced to ensure that it reaches the primary classes whose sizes he hopes to reduce.

The Minister believes that his is the party of unity and that all Labour Members agree with what the Government are doing. Not according to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), however. Writing in the Manchester Metro News as recently as 13 May—the article was written by him, not a journalist, and says that small classes may not get top marks—he says: Labour's election promise to reduce infant school classes to 30 seems an obvious first step towards better education all round.But I am afraid it is not going to be plain sailing. Here's a hypothetical example. Seventy-one children apply to a school; it accepts 66 children which it plans to put into two classes of 33; five have had to be turned down. The result—five sets of upset and indignant parents.If the school is forced to limit class size to 30, a further six children will have to be turned away. A nearby less popular school could take the original five rejected children and the additional six. But now there are 11 sets of angry parents.Alternatively, the intake could be reorganised into three classes. That would allow the five children who had been refused a place to come to the school after all, making two classes of 24 and one of 23. But there is no third classroom, so where could they go?Now there are 23 angry parents complaining about their children having to have lessons in the school hall or a portacahin in the playground.Of course, small classes are ideal—but, as this example shows, the way ahead is going to be littered with pitfalls. It isn't necessarily going to be as popular with parents as you might think. I hope that Ministers will talk to the hon. Gentleman and explain how they are going to solve those problems.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

No, I have very little time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."]. I am sorry, I did not realise that it was the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) who wanted to intervene. I will give way by all means.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett Labour, Denton and Reddish

If the hon. Lady was so keen to quote me, she could have given me notice that I should be in the Chamber—fortunately, I was here. If she is so keen on quoting the article, will she explain my experience as a young teacher, facing large classes and the problems that that posed? It would have been fairer to quote the whole article, since she went so far.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

I apologise. I did not realise that it was the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish intervening. I think that the article is good and I congratulate the hon. Member on it. Of course, he would know, because he was a teacher.

The Government have put education at the top of their list of priorities, but have we seen anything constructive in the Bill? No—it is busy taking something off children, rather than adding something to education. We have learnt a lot from the Bill. We have learnt that the Government can break pledges just weeks after they are elected: the Walton pledge has been broken. We have learnt that the Government will ram-raid policy through. We have learnt that they will make pledges when they do not know where the money is to come from. We have learnt that they intend to answer no questions from the Opposition.

This legislation attacks the few, not the many, and it attacks the weakest. It has been introduced to fulfil a bankrupt pledge. The Government are busy stifling the small voices of the minority because it is easy to stifle the weakest in our society. The Government are levelling down, not levelling up. I give them this warning. We have said that, if the Government are going to improve the education sector, we will support them, but I warn the Minister for School Standards now that the Opposition will resist any attempts such as this to destroy the range of choice and diversity that we have created in the education sector—the state education sector.

This is an appalling Bill, and the Labour Government should be ashamed of bringing it in.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment 9:51 pm, 10th June 1997

Tonight, we have had an informative and useful debate, with a number of excellent maiden speeches, in particular from my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), for Southampton, Test (Mr. Whitehead), for Luton, South (Ms Moran), for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) and for Halton (Mr. Twigg), who all spoke with great compassion because they know that our key pledge to reduce class sizes for every five, six and seven-year-old was one of the main reasons why Labour had such an overwhelming success on 1 May. That was the pledge on which we stood in the election and that is the pledge that we are beginning to honour this evening.

We also heard maiden speeches from the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and—from the Liberal Democrat Benches—the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake), both of whom spoke about the need to improve the education service.

In the time available, I want to deal with the issues raised in the debate, particularly those raised by Opposition Members. There has been concern about the cut-off in clause 2 at age 11 for young people receiving an assisted place. I assure the House that the discretion to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment referred on Second Reading will be honoured. That means that the discretion will be flexible and it will be exercised in a way that is generous and sympathetic towards the needs of the pupils concerned.

Particular concern has been expressed about the position of 10-year-olds. Some have received accelerated places—they have been given a secondary education at the age of 10. As the law stands, only those young people aged ten and a half or older are deemed to be in secondary education and therefore receiving an assisted place through to the age of 18 in that school. As a demonstration of our commitment, in a generous way, to exercise the discretion contained in the Bill, it is our intention to extend that provision to all 10-year-olds so that they will receive an assisted place at the same school until the age of 18.

In opening the Third Reading debate, the shadow Secretary of State spoke about the mechanism that we would need to fund our commitment to reduce class sizes. The funding made available to local authorities will be ring-fenced and will be used only for the express purpose of reducing class size. I understand that some local education authorities will not respond positively to that and will argue that they need flexibility to meet local needs. However, we believe that there is one pressing need in the education service at present: to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. It is a pledge that we intend to honour, which is why the funding will be ring-fenced.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

I welcome the Minister's announcement on 10-year-olds. I hope that it was, in part, a response to some of the Opposition's reasoned arguments.

On class sizes, has the Minister had a chance to look at the written answer that I received earlier today on the number of children—14,000—who belong to travellers' families and who his Department estimates are not in education? Has he estimated the cost of adding 14,000 more children to the education system? Will he make efforts to get those children back into the education system? How will that affect class sizes?

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

That comment comes ill from someone who was a Minister in a Government who cut section 210 funds, which expressly made money available to travellers for their education.

We share the shadow Secretary of State's concern about the impact on the school population of those pupils who would have received assisted places and may well have to go into the maintained sector. We shall start phasing out the assisted places scheme in September 1998; 10,000 young people would have entered the scheme at that time. If all those young people return to the maintained sector, the number will represent one eighth of 1 per cent. of the total school population of 8 million young people—that is the scale of the problem that the shadow Secretary of State identified. When in government, she presided over a regime that saw more than 450,000 additional pupils in the school sector at the same time as budget cuts meant that there were 6,000 fewer teachers.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

No, I shall not.

Those were rich comments from a shadow Secretary of State who, when in office, failed to meet the needs of the majority of our young people.

The Government agree with the comments of a former Conservative Member of Parliament for Buckingham, George Walden, who said that there were just two things wrong with the assisted places scheme: the principle and the practice. He was absolutely right and we agree with his analysis. That is why tonight we begin the process of dismantling the assisted places scheme, the costs of which cannot be justified—£160 million this year, rising to £200 million by the turn of the century. The phasing out of the scheme will free resources to meet our class size pledge. That is in stark contrast to the Conservative party, which presided over increase after increase in class sizes.

The Bill marks the end of the assisted places scheme which benefited the few at the expense of so many. It is the beginning of the end of overcrowded infant classes and represents another milestone in our crusade to raise standards. Some 440,000 young people in overcrowded classes are the innocent victims of the previous Government's neglect of the state system of education. That must come to an end.

Forty days ago, the British people elected a new Labour Government. In just 40 days, the House with its Labour majority will honour one of our key election pledges. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 399, Noes 147.

Division No. 26][9.59 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeCohen, Harry
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Coleman, Iain
Ainger, Nick(Hammersmith & Fulham)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Colman, Anthony (Putney)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Connarty, Michael
Anderson, Janet (Ros'dale)Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyCooper, Ms Yvette
Ashton, JoeCorbett, Robin
Atherton, Ms CandyCorbyn, Jeremy
Atkins, Ms CharlotteCorston, Ms Jean
Barnes, HarryCousins, Jim
Barron, KevinCox, Tom
Battle, JohnCranston, Ross
Bayley, HughCrausby, David
Beard, NigelCryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Begg, Miss Anne (Aberd'n S)Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Berth, Rt Hon A JCunliffe, Lawrence
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCurtis-Thomas, Ms Clare
Bennett, Andrew FDafis, Cynog
Benton, JoeDalyell, Tam
Bermingham, GeraldDarvill, Keith
Berry, RogerDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Best, HaroldDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Blackman, Mrs LizDavidson, Ian
Blears, Ms HazelDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Blizzard, RobertDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidDavies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Boateng, PaulDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Borrow, DavidDawson, Hilton
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Dean, Ms Janet
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Denham, John
Bradshaw, BenDewar, Rt Hon Donald
Brake, ThomasDismore, Andrew
Breed, ColinDobbin, Jim
Brinton, Mrs HelenDonohoe, Brian H
Brown, Rt Hon NickDoran, Frank
(Newcastle E & Wallsend)Dowd, Jim
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Drew, David
Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock)Drown, Ms Julia
Buck, Ms KarenDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burden, RichardEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Burgon, ColinEdwards, Huw
Burstow, PaulEfford, Clive
Butler, ChristineEllman, Ms Louise
Byers, StephenEnnis, Jeff
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Etherington, Bill
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Fearn, Ronnie
Campbell-Savours, DaleField, Rt Hon Frank
Canavan, DennisFisher, Mark
Caplin, IvorFitzsimons, Ms Lorna
Casale, RogerFlint, Ms Caroline
Caton, MartinFlynn, Paul
Cawsey, IanFollett, Ms Barbara
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Chaytor, DavidFoster, Don (Bath)
Chidgey, DavidFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Chisholm, MalcolmFoster, Michael John (Worcester)
Clapham, MichaelFoulkes, George
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Fyfe, Maria
Clark, Dr LyndaGalbraith, Sam
(Edinburgh Pentlands)Galloway, George
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Gapes, Mike
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Gardiner, Barry
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)George, Andrew (St Ives)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Gerrard, Neil
Clelland, DavidGibson, Dr Ian
Clwyd, Mrs AnnGilroy, Mrs Linda
Coaker, VernonGodman, Dr Norman A
Coffey, Ms AnnGodsiff, Roger
Golding, Mrs LlinKing, Miss Oona (Bethnal Green)
Gordon, Mrs EileenKingham, Tessa
Gorrie, DonaldKumar, Dr Ashok
Graham, ThomasLawrence, Ms Jackie
Grant, BernieLaxton, Bob
Griffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E)Lepper, David
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Leslie, Christopher
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Levitt, Tom
Grocott, BruceLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Grogan, JohnLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gunnell, JohnLiddell, Mrs Helen
Hain, PeterLinton, Martin
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Livingstone, Ken
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Livsey, Richard
Hanson, DavidLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietLlwyd, Elfyn
Harris, Dr EvanLove, Andy
Heal, Mrs SylviaMcAllion, John
Healey, JohnMcAvoy, Thomas
Heath, David (Somerton)McCabe, Stephen
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)McCafferty, Ms Chris
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Hepburn, StephenMcDonagh, Ms Siobhain
Heppell, JohnMacdonald, Calum
Hesford, StephenMcDonnell, John
Hill, KeithMcFall, John
Hinchliffe, DavidMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Hodge, Ms MargaretMcIsaac, Ms Shona
Hoey, KateMcLeish, Henry
Home Robertson, JohnMcMaster, Gordon
Hood, JimmyMcNulty, Tony
Hoon, GeoffreyMacShane, Denis
Hope, PhilipMactaggart, Fiona
Hopkins, KelvinMcWalter, Tony
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)McWilliam, John
Howells, Dr KimMahon, Mrs Alice
Hoyle, LindsayMallaber, Ms Judy
Hughes, Ms BeverleyMandelson, Peter
(Stretford & Urmston)Marek, Dr John
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Humble, Mrs JoanMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hurst, AlanMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hutton, JohnMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Iddon, BrianMartlew, Eric
Illsley, EricMaxton, John
Ingram, AdamMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)Meale, Alan
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)Michael, Alun
Jamieson, DavidMilburn, Alan
Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)Miller, Andrew
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)Mitchell, Austin
Johnson, Ms MelanieMoffatt, Laura
(Welwyn Hatfield)Moonie, Dr Lewis
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Moran, Ms Margaret
Jones, Ms Fiona (Newark)Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)Morley, Elliot
Jones, Ms JennyMorris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
(Wolverh'ton SW)Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Mountford, Ms Kali
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Mudie, George
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Mullin, Chris
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Murphy, Dennis (Wansbeck)
Jowell, Ms TessaMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldMurphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Keeble, Ms SallyNaysmith, Dr Doug
Keen, Alan (Feltham)Norris, Dan
Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Keetch, PaulO'Brien, William (Normanton)
Kemp, FraserO'Hara, Edward
Kennedy, CharlesOlner, Bill
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)Opik, Lembit
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Organ, Mrs Diana
Khabra, Piara SOsborne, Mrs Sandra
Kidney, DavidPalmer, Dr Nick
King, Andy (Rugby)Pearson, Ian
Perham, Ms LindaStevenson, George
Pickthall, ColinStewart, David (Inverness E)
Pike, Peter LStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Plaskitt, JamesStinchcombe, Paul
Pollard, KerryStoate, Dr Howard
Pond, ChrisStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Pope, GregStringer, Graham
Pound, StephenStuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)
Powell, Sir RaymondStunell, Andrew
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Swinney, John
Primarolo, DawnTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Prosser, Gwyn(Dewsbury)
Purchase, KenTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Quinn, LawrieTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Radice, GilesTaylor, Matthew
Rammell, Bill(Truro & St Austell)
Rapson, SydThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)Timms, Stephen
Rendel, DavidTipping, Paddy
Robertson, Rt Hon GeorgeTodd, Mark
(Hamilton S)Touhig, Don
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTrickett, Jon
Rogers, AllanTruswell, Paul
Rooker, JeffTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Rowlands, TedTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Roy, FrankTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Ruane, ChrisTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ruddock, Ms JoanTyler, Paul
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Vaz, Keith
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Wallace, James
Ryan, Ms JoanWalley, Ms Joan
Salter, MartinWard, Ms Claire
Sanders, AdrianWareing, Robert N
Savidge, MalcolmWatts, David
Sawford, PhilWebb, Steven
Sedgemore, BrianWhite, Brian
Shaw, JonathanWhitehead, Alan
Sheerman, BarryWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert(Swansea W)
Shipley, Ms DebraWilliams, Dr Alan W
Short, Rt Hon Clare(E Carmarthen)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Singh, MarshaWillis, Phil
Skinner, DennisWills, Michael
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wilson, Brian
Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)Winnick, David
Smith, Miss GeraldineWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)Wise, Audrey
Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)Wood, Mike
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Woolas, Phil
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Worthington, Tony
Snape, PeterWright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Soley, CliveWyatt, Derek
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, JohnTellers for the Ayes:
Squire, Ms RachelMr. Clive Betts and
Starkey, Dr PhyllisMr. Graham Allen.
NOES
Amess, DavidBruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelBurns, Simon
Arbuthnot, JamesButterfill, John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Cash, William
Baldry, TonyChapman, Sir Sydney
Bercow, John(Chipping Barnet)
Beresford, Sir PaulChope, Christopher
Blunt, CrispinClappison, James
Boswell, TimClark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Brady, GrahamClarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Brazier, Julian(Rushcliffe)
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Browning, Mrs AngelaCollins, Tim
Colvin, MichaelMadel, Sir David
Cormack, Sir PatrickMalins, Humfrey
Cran, JamesMaples, John
Curry, Rt Hon DavidMates, Michael
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Davies, QuentinMay, Mrs Theresa
(Grantham & Stamford)Merchant, Piers
Day, StephenMoss, Malcolm
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenNicholls, Patrick
Duncan, AlanNorman, Archie
Duncan Smith, IainOttaway, Richard
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterPage, Richard
Evans, NigelPaice, James
Faber, DavidPaterson, Owen
Fabricant, MichaelPickles, Eric
Fallon, MichaelPrior, David
Flight, HowardRedwood, Rt Hon John
Forth, EricRobathan, Andrew
Fox, Dr LiamRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Fraser, ChristopherRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gale, RogerRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Garnier, EdwardRuffley, David
Gibb, NickSt Aubyn, Nick
Gill, ChristopherSayeed, Jonathan
Gillan, Mrs CherylShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gray, JamesSoames, Nicholas
Green, DamianSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Greenway, JohnSpicer, Sir Michael
Grieve, DominicSpring, Richard
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnSteen, Anthony
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamStreeter, Gary
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieSwayne, Desmond
Hammond, PhilipSyms, Robert
Hawkins, NickTapsell, Sir Peter
Hayes, JohnTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Heald, OliverTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Hesettine, Rt Hon MichaelTaylor, Sir Teddy
Horam, JohnTemple-Morris, Peter
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelTownend, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Tredinnick, David
Hunter, AndrewTrend, Michael
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelTyrie, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Viggers, Peter
Jenkin, Bernard (N Essex)Walter, Robert
Johnson Smith,Wardle, Charles
Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWaterson, Nigel
Key, RobertWells, Bowen
Kirkbride, Miss JulieWhitney, Sir Raymond
Laing, Mrs EleanorWhittingdale, John
Lansley, AndrewWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Leigh, EdwardWilkinson, John
Letwin, OliverWilletts, David
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Wilshire, David
Lidington, DavidWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Woodward, Shaun
Loughton, TimYeo, Tim
Luff, PeterYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTellers for the Noes:
McIntosh, Miss AnneMr. Patrick McLoughlin
MacKay, Andrewand
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidMr. Peter Aiansworth

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.