Education Investment

Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1 March 2001.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow 12:00, 1 March 2001

What his assessment is of the impact on Government finances of his plans for future investment in education. [150138]

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

As I said, because we took tough choices, stuck to prudent fiscal rules and built strong public finances, we are able to raise capital investment in education from £2.4 billion in the current year to £3.8 billion by 2004, a real-terms increase of 48 per cent. Total education spending will rise by £11.7 billion over the same period, an increase of 16 per cent. in real terms.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. When I recently visited the Water Lane primary school in my constituency, the head teacher told me that in 25 years of teaching, she had never known so much extra money going into schools. Given that capital spending on Essex schools has more than doubled in the past year, that is hardly surprising. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that investment needs to increase in future years, as set out in the three-year comprehensive spending review, and does he share my concern that were any party to come to power committed to cut that investment by £16 billion, that would be entirely the wrong way forward?

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I share my hon. Friend's concerns. I am grateful for his remarks and those of his constituent. Those remarks reflect the Government's record in already increasing average spending per pupil by £300 in real terms. That will be a £450 real increase next year. As for the future, by 2004 we will increase real-terms education spending by one third—a bigger real increase in the early years of this Government than in the entire period of office of our predecessors.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

As the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor are so keen to take comments as Budget representations, will they take the remarks of Mr. Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools, as a Budget representation, when he states: As a taxpayer, I could not stomach the way in which public money was being squandered"? Do they agree with Mr. Woodhead that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have presided over a set of initiatives that has wasted taxpayers' money, distracted teachers from their real responsibilities and encapsulated the worst of the discredited ideology that has done so much damage since the 1960s"? Do they agree that the Government have not delivered, and that a generation of children has been betrayed"?

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Education has suffered in the past from being turned into an ideological battleground. I would caution the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues against trying to do the same on the basis of those comments. The truth is that under Chris Woodhead's leadership, Ofsted made a distinguished contribution to raising standards, worked closely with us on the literacy and numeracy strategy, praised what we did in respect of cutting class sizes for infants—a policy opposed by the Opposition[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) asked a question. He must show some courtesy when the reply is delivered.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

What the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) should do is praise the accomplishment of this Government, which is based on their work on raising literacy and numeracy standards from the disgraceful level to which they fell under the previous Government, raising the proportion of pupils who achieve top GCSE grades and turning around 650 failing schools that would have continued to suffer under the Conservative Administration.