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Clause 18

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 18 July 1990

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Planning Permission

Lords amendment: In page 9, line 6, leave out "Class XII" and insert "Part 11".— [Mr.Michael Brown.]

Motion made, and Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 172, Noes 150.

Division No. 304]

[9.28 pm

AYES

Arbuthnot, JamesHarris, David
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Atkinson, DavidHayward, Robert
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyHeathcoat-Amory, David
Bellingham, HenryHind, Kenneth
Bendall, VivianHolt, Richard
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Hordern, Sir Peter
Benyon, W.Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Blackburn, Dr John G.Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Body, Sir RichardHunt, David (Wirral W)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasHunter, Andrew
Boswell, TimIrvine, Michael
Bottomley, PeterIrving, Sir Charles
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)Janman, Tim
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Brazier, JulianKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Bright, GrahamKey, Robert
Brown, Michael (Brigg & CI't's)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Browne, John (Winchester)King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Knapman, Roger
Budgen, NicholasKnox, David
Burns, SimonLang, Ian
Butcher, JohnLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Butler, ChrisLightbown, David
Butterfill, JohnLilley, Peter
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Carrington, MatthewLuce, Rt Hon Richard
Carttiss, MichaelMaclean, David
Chapman, SydneyMans, Keith
Churchill, MrMaples, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Marlow, Tony
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Colvin, MichaelMawhinney, Dr Brian
Conway, DerekMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Cran, JamesMiller, Sir Hal
Currie, Mrs EdwinaMiscampbell, Norman
Davis, David (Boothferry)Moate, Roger
Devlin, TimMoore, Rt Hon John
Dover, DenMoss, Malcolm
Dunn, BobMoynihan, Hon Colin
Durant, TonyNeale, Gerrard
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Fallon, MichaelNicholls, Patrick
Fenner, Dame PeggyNicholson, David (Taunton)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Fishburn, John DudleyNorris, Steve
Fookes, Dame JanetOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Forman, NigelOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Paice, James
Franks, CecilPatnick, Irvine
Freeman, RogerPatten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Gale, RogerPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Gardiner, GeorgePorter, David (Waveney)
Garel-Jones, TristanPortillo, Michael
Gill, ChristopherPowell, William (Corby)
Glyn, Dr Sir AlanPrice, Sir David
Goodhart, Sir PhilipRedwood, John
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesRenton, Rt Hon Tim
Gorman, Mrs TeresaRhodes James, Robert
Gow, IanRoberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Roe, Mrs Marion
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Sackville, Hon Tom
Gregory, ConalSayeed, Jonathan
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Grist, IanShaw, David (Dover)
Hague, WilliamShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hanley, JeremyShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Hannam, JohnShersby, Michael
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Sims, Roger

Soames, Hon NicholasWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)Ward, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Squire, RobinWatts, John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWheeler, Sir John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Widdecombe, Ann
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnWilshire, David
Sumberg, DavidWinterton, Mrs Ann
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Winterton, Nicholas
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)Wolfson, Mark
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)Wood, Timothy
Thorne, Neil
Thurnham, Peter

Tellers for the Ayes:

Tracey, Richard

Mr. Toby Jessell and

Twinn, Dr Ian

Mr. James Hill.

NOES

Alexander, RichardGodman, Dr Norman A.
Allen, GrahamGolding, Mrs Llin
Alton, DavidGordon, Mildred
Archer, Rt Hon PeterGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Armstrong, HilaryGrocott, Bruce
Ashton, JoeHardy, Peter
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Harman, Ms Harriet
Barron, KevinHaynes, Frank
Beckett, MargaretHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Beggs, RoyHenderson, Doug
Beith, A. J.Hinchliffe, David
Bell, StuartHood, Jimmy
Benn, Rt Hon TonyHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Howells, Geraint
Bermingham, GeraldHowells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Blair, TonyHoyle, Doug
Blunkett, DavidHughes, John (Coventry NE)
Bradley, KeithHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Bray, Dr JeremyJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Buckley, George J.Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Caborn, RichardJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Callaghan, JimKilfedder, James
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Lambie, David
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Leadbitter, Ted
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Leighton, Ron
Canavan, DennisLewis, Terry
Carr, MichaelLitherland, Robert
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Livingstone, Ken
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Clay, BobLofthouse, Geoffrey
Clelland, DavidMcAvoy, Thomas
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMcCartney, Ian
Coleman, DonaldMcFall, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Cousins, JimMcWilliam, John
Cryer, BobMadden, Max
Cummings, JohnMahon, Mrs Alice
Cunliffe, LawrenceMarek, Dr John
Dalyell, TamMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Darling, AlistairMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)Meale, Alan
Dixon, DonMichael, Alun
Dobson, FrankMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Doran, FrankMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Douglas, DickMorgan, Rhodri
Dunnachie, JimmyMorley, Elliot
Eadie, AlexanderMorris, M (N'hampton S)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Mullin, Chris
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Murphy, Paul
Fatchett, DerekNellist, Dave
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Pike, Peter L.
Flannery, MartinPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Flynn, PaulPrescott, John
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)Primarolo, Dawn
Foster, DerekQuin, Ms Joyce
Foulkes, GeorgeRedmond, Martin
Fraser, JohnReid, Dr John
Fyfe, MariaRichardson, Jo
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Ross, William (Londonderry E)
George, BruceRowlands, Ted

Ruddock, JoanTaylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Salmond, AlexTurner, Dennis
Shore, Rt Hon PeterWalley, Joan
Short, ClareWareing, Robert N.
Skinner, DennisWatson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Snape, PeterWigley, Dafydd
Spearing, NigelWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Steel, Rt Hon Sir DavidWise, Mrs Audrey
Steinberg, GerryWorthington, Tony
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stott, Roger

Tellers for the Noes:

Strang, Gavin

Mr. Terry Patchett and

Straw, Jack

Mr. Eric Illsley.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment: In page 9, line 7, leave out "XII in" and insert "A in Part 11 of" and leave out "1" and insert "2".— [Mr. Michael Brown.]

Motion made, and Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 203, Noes 157.

Division No. 305]

[9.42 pm

AYES

Alison, Rt Hon MichaelForman, Nigel
Arbuthnot, JamesForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Fox, Sir Marcus
Atkinson, DavidFranks, Cecil
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyFreeman, Roger
Bellingham, HenryGale, Roger
Bendall, VivianGardiner, George
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Garel-Jones, Tristan
Benyon, W.Gill, Christopher
Blackburn, Dr John G.Goodhart, Sir Philip
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Body, Sir RichardGorman, Mrs Teresa
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGow, Ian
Boswell, TimGrant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bottomley, PeterGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaGregory, Conal
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Grist, Ian
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardHague, William
Brazier, JulianHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bright, GrahamHanley, Jeremy
Brown, Michael (Brigg & CI't's)Hannam, John
Browne, John (Winchester)Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Harris, David
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon AlickHaselhurst, Alan
Budgen, NicholasHayes, Jerry
Burns, SimonHayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Butcher, JohnHayward, Robert
Butler, ChrisHeathcoat-Amory, David
Butterfill, JohnHicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hill, James
Carrington, MatthewHind, Kenneth
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chapman, SydneyHordern, Sir Peter
Churchill, MrHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Colvin, MichaelHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Conway, DerekHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cran, JamesHunt, David (Wirral W)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHunter, Andrew
Davis, David (Boothferry)Irvine, Michael
Day, StephenIrving, Sir Charles
Devlin, TimJanman, Tim
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dover, DenJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dunn, BobJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Durant, TonyKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Key, Robert
Favell, TonyKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Fenner, Dame PeggyKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Kirkhope, Timothy
Fishburn, John DudleyKnapman, Roger
Fookes, Dame JanetKnight, Greg (Derby North)

Lang, IanRoe, Mrs Marion
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Ryder, Richard
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSackville, Hon Tom
Lightbown, DavidSayeed, Jonathan
Lilley, PeterShaw, David (Dover)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Luce, Rt Hon RichardShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Maclean, DavidShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Madel, DavidShersby, Michael
Mans, KeithSims, Roger
Maples, JohnSoames, Hon Nicholas
Marlow, TonySpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mates, MichaelSquire, Robin
Mawhinney, Dr BrianStanbrook, Ivor
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickSteen, Anthony
Meyer, Sir AnthonyStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Miller, Sir HalStewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Miscampbell, NormanStradling Thomas, Sir John
Moate, RogerSumberg, David
Moore, Rt Hon JohnTapsell, Sir Peter
Morrison, Sir CharlesTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Moss, MalcolmTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Moynihan, Hon ColinTemple-Morris, Peter
Neale, GerrardThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Nelson, AnthonyThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Newton, Rt Hon TonyThorne, Neil
Nicholls, PatrickThornton, Malcolm
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Thurnham, Peter
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Tracey, Richard
Norris, SteveTwinn, Dr Ian
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidWard, John
Paice, JamesWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patnick, IrvineWatts, John
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)Wheeler, Sir John
Patten, Rt Hon JohnWhitney, Ray
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWiggin, Jerry
Pawsey, JamesWilshire, David
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWinterton, Mrs Ann
Porter, David (Waveney)Winterton, Nicholas
Portillo, MichaelWolfson, Mark
Powell, William (Corby)Wood, Timothy
Price, Sir DavidWoodcock, Dr. Mike
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Rathbone, Tim
Redwood, John

Tellers for the Ayes:

Renton, Rt Hon Tim

Mr. Toby Jessel and

Rhodes James, Robert

Miss Ann Widdecombe.

Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)

NOES

Alexander, RichardBlunkett, David
Allen, GrahamBradley, Keith
Alton, DavidBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBray, Dr Jeremy
Armstrong, HilaryBrown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Ashton, JoeBuckley, George J.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Caborn, Richard
Barron, KevinCallaghan, Jim
Beckett, MargaretCampbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Beggs, RoyCampbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Beith, A. J.Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Bell, StuartCanavan, Dennis
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCarr, Michael
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bermingham, GeraldClarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Blair, TonyClay, Bob

Clelland, DavidLofthouse, Geoffrey
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMcAvoy, Thomas
Coleman, DonaldMcCartney, Ian
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)McFall, John
Cook, Robin (Livingston)McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Cousins, JimMcKelvey, William
Crowther, StanMcWilliam, John
Cryer, BobMadden, Max
Cummings, JohnMahon, Mrs Alice
Cunliffe, LawrenceMarek, Dr John
Dalyell, TamMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Darling, AlistairMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)Meale, Alan
Dixon, DonMichael, Alun
Dobson, FrankMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Doran, FrankMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Douglas, DickMorgan, Rhodri
Dunnachie, JimmyMorley, Elliot
Eadie, AlexanderMorris, M (N'hampton S)
Eastham, KenMullin, Chris
Evans, John (St Helens N)Murphy, Paul
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Nellist, Dave
Fatchett, DerekPike, Peter L.
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Flannery, MartinPrescott, John
Flynn, PaulPrimarolo, Dawn
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)Quin, Ms Joyce
Foster, DerekRedmond, Martin
Foulkes, GeorgeReid, Dr John
Fraser, JohnRichardson, Jo
Fyfe, MariaRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Galloway, GeorgeRoss, William (Londonderry E)
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Rowlands, Ted
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Ruddock, Joan
George, BruceSalmond, Alex
Godman, Dr Norman A.Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Golding, Mrs LlinShort, Clare
Gordon, MildredSkinner, Dennis
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Grocott, BruceSmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Hardy, PeterSpearing, Nigel
Harman, Ms HarrietSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
Haynes, FrankSteinberg, Gerry
Heal, Mrs SylviaStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Hinchliffe, DavidStott, Roger
Hood, JimmyStrang, Gavin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Straw, Jack
Howells, GeraintTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)Turner, Dennis
Hoyle, DougWalley, Joan
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Wareing, Robert N.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Wigley, Dafydd
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Kilfedder, JamesWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Lambie, DavidWise, Mrs Audrey
Lamond, JamesWorthington, Tony
Leadbitter, Ted
Lewis, Terry

Tellers for the Noes:

Litherland, Robert

Mr. Terry Patchett and

Livingstone, Ken

Mr. Eric Illsley.

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

Students (Housing Benefit)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. These regulations should be withdrawn because they are technically flawed and defective. It is centred around the allocation of access funds and the moneys will be disbursed under section 100 —[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Gentleman is trying to engage my attention and that of the House, and he deserves to be heard.

As I have said, the regulation is centred around the access fund and the moneys will be disbursed under section 100 of the Education Act 1944 and section 73 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1945. No regulations have been produced by the Government under those sections. How can the House reach a decision before it has sight of the regulations which will determine how the access funds are to be distributed?

It may be that the Government do not intend to produce any such regulations. That would be worse still. Either way, it would be an abuse of Parliament for the regulations to be voted through tonight when they are technically flawed and deny the House the information on which to reach a proper decision. Will you, Madam Deputy Speaker, use your good offices with the Minister to see that the regulations are withdrawn until they are properly drafted?

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. In the view of the Chair, the regulations are perfectly in order. That is a matter for debate, and I am sure that the Minister will have something to say about it.

9.56 pm

I beg to move,

That the draft Social Security Benefits (Student Loans and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 1990, which were laid before this House on 13th July, be approved.
The contents of the regulations have already been the subject of much debate in the Chamber and in another place. Only last week the House reiterated its support for the Government's policy of withdrawing students' entitlement to housing benefit. However, hon. Members will know that the regulations do not simply remove students' entitlement to housing benefit, income support and unemployment benefit: they define those vulnerable groups of students who will retain entitlement to housing benefit and income support—with one exception, which I shall come to later. They also provide for the treatment of top-up loans and payments from the access funds in the income-related benefits.

The regulations providing for this apply not only to students who retain entitlement to income support and housing benefit but to the partners of students who will continue to have access to benefits as now, including income support, housing benefit, community charge benefit and family credit. The regulations also provide for the new rate of student rent deduction and allowances for the next academic year.

Will the Minister explain how the difficult regulations affecting community charge benefit for Scottish students in their fourth year at universities will apply? This is a difficulty that has been raised with the Department.

The hon. Gentleman might care to raise that matter later in the debate. I want to set out what the regulations are designed to achieve. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to deliver his remarks.

Two weeks ago the Government took what I believe was a helpful—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Should there not be a Scottish Office Education Minister present for this debate? It may be unreasonable to ask the Minister to be aware of the details of Scottish education, but a Scottish Office Minister should be present.

It is not for the Chair to determine which Minister moves regulations.

Whatever worries the hon. Gentleman may have about Scottish students, I made the point during our debate recently that, in the last academic year—it will almost certainly be the same in the coming academic year—a record number of students in England and Wales applied for places in higher education. The same applies in Scotland. If the difficulties were so great, it is unlikely that we would have such a record both north and south of the border.

Some two weeks ago we took what I hope was the helpful, if unusual, step of placing in the Library proof copies of the Social Security Advisory Committee's report on the draft regulations so that hon. Members could study them and use them in our discussions. The Committee's report was published with the regulations. Hon. Members will therefore have had ample opportunity to examine its findings and will be aware that, far from the Committee denouncing the Government's proposals, as recent press reports may have led us to believe, most of them have been accepted by a majority of its members.

It is fair to say that much support was expressed in last week's debate for the general principle that students should be funded by the education maintenance system and not by social security benefits. That is the crux of our policy, as enshrined in the regulations. It was never intended that students should resort to the benefits system to the extent that they do. As I said last week, that was an unplanned outcome of developments in social security in recent years.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that applications for advanced education show a substantial increase this year, even though students are well aware of the changes proposed? Is he further aware that, for the forthcoming academic year, student support will be increased by about 25 per cent.? That includes the student loan of £420, which is interest-free.

My hon. Friend outlines points which were made strongly in last week's debate and which underline this evening's debate. Were everybody terrified about the prospect of student loans being the main thrust of support for students, I do not believe that record numbers of people would be applying for higher education.

In essence, I said last week—I reinforce it without apology tonight—that the objectives of social security policy are not the same as those for educational maintenance policy. The needs and expenditure patterns of students are not necessarily typical of the population as a whole. They have particular needs and are supported for a particular purpose—further, higher and postgraduate education. Through the education system, they will have access to a range of resources, including grants and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) said, top-up loans. In addition, access funds will be available to assist students who experience financial difficulties.

The details of the access funds for further, undergraduate and postgraduate education have been announced.

I hoped that it was obvious that I meant the details for students who, if the regulations are passed and their social security is withdrawn, will be in hardship—some in dire hardship. They cannot know, because the figures have not been announced for the allocations to institutions or the details of how those institutions will act as mini-local social security departments.

We are still some way away from the beginning of the academic year. The access funds will be distributed to the institutions concerned, but the thrust of the policy for their use is not that they should be unduly prescriptive but that there should be the maximum flexibility, so that those administering them at the institutions concerned can recognise hardship in individual cases and respond through them. That is the thrust of the policy, and it is right that it should be so handled.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the access funds have doubled from some £15 million to £30 million? Does he agree that that substantial sum will go a considerable way to alleviating student hardship?

I very much accept and welcome my hon. Friend's point. As he said, not only have funds been increased, but my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Education and Science have said that they will carefully monitor their adequacy.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is extremely important to monitor the effects on disabled students? I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has gone a long way in that direction, but will he keep a careful eye on the access of disabled students to universities?

My hon. Friend will recognise that, wearing my other hat as the Minister with responsibilities for disabled people, I am particularly concerned about the needs of disabled students. They are recognised in the underlying system, but I am sure that education institutions will take particular care to monitor the effects of the changes on disabled students.

If it is no longer any part of the social security system to support students, why is it any part of an education institution to judge hardship?

In a sense the hon. Gentleman has put his finger exactly on the point. It is much easier for the institutions of higher and further education to assess what amounts to hardship in the student population than it is for the social security system across the country, which is addressing an entirely different client group. That must be absolutely manifest. I said last week, and I underline today, that I believe that it is much better and will be more flexible and sensitive to the needs of students for education institutions rather than the social security system to do that, however much admiration I have for the social security system that I play a modest part in administering.

In the context of the range of resources that I was outlining, the Government are proposing to withdraw students' entitlement to income support, housing benefit and unemployment benefit. As I have argued in the past few minutes as well as last week, the alternative provisions available through the education system will provide adequate resources for students to live on. We accept that some students will have financial needs beyond the level provided by the grant and loan. That is why we have been exploring the role of the access funds in meeting any residual hardship. However, I do not believe that it is necessary for the generality of students to fall back on the social security system.

Can we have just a few facts? When the Minister talks about the generality of students, what figures are available to the Department of Education and Science or to his own Department about the number of students from the lower income groups? There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that great universities such as Edinburgh are not getting the students from relatively low income groups which they would have expected a decade ago. I have no reason to believe that the experience of Edinburgh university is any different from that of a number of other great universities.

Surveys are carried out by the Universities Central Council on Admissions and other bodies into the social backgrounds and income levels of students.

It is clear that young people from low-income backgrounds are under-represented in higher education.

Despite the usual sedentary intervention from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), we survey these matters. My right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Education and Science are concerned that entry into further and higher education represents a broad spectrum of income and social background. That monitoring and surveying will continue. However, I repeat what I have said at least twice already: we have record applications in England, Wales and Scotland that are not confined to those from the higher income groups. I am satisfied with that.

I imagine that a number of those who have intervened will want to make their own speeches. As this is a limited debate, I should hate to talk out the motion.

I imagine that the House will be somewhat relieved to hear that I do not intend to go through each of the regulations in detail, but I should like to describe some of their main features.

Regulations 2 and 3 relate to community charge benefit and family credit respectively. They deal entirely with the way in which top-up loans and payments from the access funds are to be treated in the calculation of these benefits. I should perhaps remind the House that registered students are entitled to a special relief and have to pay only 20 per cent. of the community charge. Subsequently, they are not entitled to claim community charge benefit. These regulations are needed to ensure that these payments are taken into account when claims are made by a non-student partner of a registered student. Similarly, single students cannot normally claim family credit because they cannot satisfy the requirement to be in employment for at least 24 hours a week. The provisions of regulation 3 are required to cover claims from families where one of the partners is a student and the other parent is in work and satisfies the 24–hour condition.

The rules for the treatment of top-up loans and access fund payments similarly apply to housing benefit and income support and are covered by regulations 4(9) and 5(7). Essentially, top-up loans will be apportioned as a weekly amount for the full year. Existing regulations mean that the maximum amount of loan available to the student will be assumed even where the student has chosen to take up a lower amount of loan or no loan at all. However, we also propose that the weekly amounts of loan will attract a disregard of £10, and that means that the vast majority of students will enjoy the full value of their top-up loan in the first year of the new scheme. I believe that that responds positively to the recommendation made by the Social Security Advisory Committee.

However, the disregard will apply only for so long as the recipient remains a student. I hope that the House would agree with that. If a student leaves a course before its conclusion, the actual value of any loan taken out will be taken into account in assessing benefit entitlement for the remainder of the academic year covered by that loan.

Our intention, which we clearly stated in our response to the report of the Social Security Advisory Committee and in our letter consulting the local authority associations, was that the disregard on top-up loan income should be subjected to the overriding disregard of £10 on all unearned income within the income—related benefits. That would mean that a student in receipt of a top-up loan and other income attracting a disregard would only benefit from a total disregard of £10 on the whole of his income.

However, I must confess that the regulations as currently drafted do not achieve that intention. This omission came to light only after the draft regulations were laid before Parliament. We therefore intend to correct the position at the earliest opportunity by including the necessary amendments in the separate regulation to cover the concession on deaf students which I announced last week and which we will be laying before Parliament shortly.

The Minister is asking us to pass the regulations, which presumably have received careful scrutiny by parliamentary draftsmen and by legal opinion. If he is now saying that they are defective—I will suggest further reasons why they are defective and should be withdrawn—should he not take them away and bring them back to the House only when they have been correctly drafted?

It is fairly typical of the hon. Gentleman to go over the top in responding to what is a modest error in the regulations. We will shortly have another opportunity to implement the concession on deaf students. I am sure that it is right that we should make that modest amendment at that time.

The regulations before us tonight also specify that payments for hardship, made from the access funds, are not to be treated in the same way as the grant.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I ask for the opinion of the Chair on the following point: is it proper that the House should be asked to pass a verdict—that is what we are being asked to do tonight—on legislation when we hear from the mouth of the proposer of that legislation from the Dispatch Box that it is apparently defective? This is entirely new. If it is considered defective by the parliamentary draftsmen, is it not an insult to the House to bring it before us?

I attempted to deal with that point of order at the beginning of the debate. It is a matter for debate, not a matter for the Chair. It is the responsibility of the Government, and for the Minister to answer those points in the debate.

We all know that regulations affecting social security matters are complex. However, it was right for me this evening to acknowledge that there had been a small error in the regulations and to explain how, having an early opportunity before us, we intend to correct it.

We need to know when, especially as some Scottish universities and institutions will commence their academic sessions in September.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not present when we debated these matters last week. I made it absolutely clear then that everything would be in place in good time for the new academic year, not just in England and Wales but in Scotland. They will be in place ready for institutions and authorities to be able to make the necessary arrangements. I give the hon. Gentleman that clear undertaking.

I began to explain that payments for hardship made from access funds are not to be treated in the same way as the grant. The payments are discretionary, and it is intended therefore that they be treated in the same way as voluntary payments. That means that regular payments will attract a disregard of £10, and one-off lump sum payments will fall to be treated as capital. In practice, however, we do not expect benefit recipients to be a priority group for the receipt of access fund payments.

The regulations relating to the treatment of income provide for the annual increase in the element of the student grant allowed for books and equipment. The allowance for those items is disregarded in calculating a student's grant income.

Regulation 4 deals with housing benefit. That regulation excludes full-time students from eligibility, on the basis that they are deemed not liable for housing costs. However, the regulations also provide for a partner of a student to be treated as liable for rent. That measure ensures that the partners of students will have access to housing benefit, even when the student is in fact the tenant.

Hon. Members will wish to note that the majority of the Social Security Advisory Committee members have accepted the Government's proposal to remove students' entitlement to housing benefit.

I am sure that, whatever the differences between us, the Minister would not wish to mislead the House. The majority of the committee accepted removal on condition that there was a fall-back right for the Government to give people a grant in the summer if they would otherwise be in distress. The Government have not accepted that condition, so the majority of the committee do not support the Government.

I have considered the committee's recommendations with some care. I do not think that it took account of the availability of access funds when hardship existed or of the ability of local education authorities to give grants to students during the long vacation specifically if they were experiencing hardship.

The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) made was that the Minister was possibly misleading the House. He is now attempting to cover himself by saying what the social security commissioner should have said. He has not told the House what the Social Security Advisory Committee actually said.

The Social Security Advisory Committee is just that—an advisory committee. The Government and Ministers have a responsibility to listen to its advice and to assess it against the reality of the situation and the totality of help that is available to students in the circumstances. That is why the report of the Social Security Advisory Committee and the response by my right hon. Friend have been published with the regulations.

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will have a chance later to make those points, and I shall seek to respond to them. I am not in the least attempting to deceive the House. I am stating the situation as it is and what resources are available to students in response to the situation in which they are removed from entitlement to housing benefit.

Regulation 4(6), as well as excluding students from housing benefit, sets out those categories of students who will retain entitlement. Those categories also apply to income support and include lone parents, disabled students, pensioner students, student couples with dependent children and students under 19 in further education.

We had intended that the definition of a disabled student—for benefit purposes—should be on the basis of those who meet the criteria for the disability premium, together with a transitional provision to ensure that those disabled students who had previously received income support as students on the basis of their disability should remain eligible for income support and housing benefit. That transitional provision will also apply to those who received income support as disabled students while in relevant education up to the age of 19.

Hon. Members will be aware that we now propose to extend the definition of a disabled student to include students who are eligible for the local education authority disabled students allowance by reason of deafness. However, as I implied, it is first necessary to consult the local authority associations on the proposal. It is for that reason that we have decided to introduce this measure by a separate set of regulations which will be laid before Parliament at the earliest opportunity. The regulations will be drafted to embrace students who are excluded from receiving actual payment of the disabled students allowance on grounds of parental means, and also students who fall within the discretionary award arrangements and who receive an award akin to the DSA, by reason of deafness.

Finally, the regulations relating to housing benefit provide for the annual increase in the student rent deduction. This takes account of the uprated element in the student grant for accommodation costs.

Regulation 5 excludes most students from entitlement to income support on the basis that they are not available for work during the period of study. The regulations redefine the period of study to include the long vacations falling within the student's course, but not the long vacation following the student's final year. Similarly, regulation 6, dealing with unemployment benefit, prevents students from being treated as available for work for any day on which they are a student.

The Government believe that students have made a conscious decision to follow a course of study and are not therefore unemployed in the normal sense of the word. Nor can it be said that students following a full-time course are in any sense available for full-time work. Unemployment benefit is intended to provide financial support for people who face the unforeseen contingency of unemployment, not those who have opted out of the full-time labour market. Similarly, income support, other than for those in vulnerable groups not required to be available for work, is intended to assist only those people who are available for, and actively seeking, full-time work.

Currently students are ineligible for these two benefits during term time and the short vacations. We are now making extra resources available through the education system to ensure that students have sufficient alternative support for the long vacation.

Doubtless Opposition Members will remind me that the Social Security Advisory Committee is opposed to the Government's policy on unemployment benefit. It argues that, if the contribution condition is met, unemployment benefit should be paid.—[Interruption.] Well, I shall put what I hope is an equally reasonable response to that argument.

Full-time students do not meet the necessary conditions of entitlement. I do not accept that students are unemployed in the same way as other claimants. Moreover—as I am sure the House will recognise—an adequate contribution record alone has never been sufficient justification for receiving unemployment benefit. There have always been additional conditions to be satisfied. In a previous report, the committee did not adopt its current line on the contributory principle. In 1986, it accepted that unemployment benefit should not be paid to students in the short vacations since educational provision covered those periods. To pay unemployment benefit, the committee accepted, would be to duplicate provision for personal maintenance. The Government believe that this argument remains a compelling one, and thus reject the committee's finding in its current report.

Does the Minister agree that one problem is that the provisions seem to open the way dramatically to changing the position of part-time seasonal workers? It could be argued that, although they are in a different position from students, they have deliberately opted into that way of life. Many people in my constituency have seasonal employment.

This is a debate about students, not seasonal workers. We have made certain adjustments to the way in which seasonal workers are treated for unemployment benefit. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt find other opportunities to raise that subject. However, tonight we are discussing student maintenance and whether they may be maintained through the education maintenance system or through the social security system.

Before I leave this issue, I draw the House's attention to the fact that the majority on the Social Security Advisory Committee accepted the Government's proposal to remove students' underlying entitlement to income support—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Ladywood would like me to give way, I shall of course do so.

By a majority of 8:6, the committee agreed on certain conditions. The Government have not met them, so the committee is not with the Government.

I have spoken about the role of the Social Security Advisory Committee. We do not have to accept every word and condition that it puts forward. The broad thrust of the committee's recommendations was in agreement with what the Government are doing. Anyone who knows about the social security system will recognise that it would not be logical for us to say that students are not entitled to unemployment benefit but are entitled to income support. Broadly the same conditions apply to the receipt of both benefits.

Of course, a safety net is necessary in these circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is establishing the access funds, about which we had some exchange of views earlier, to assist students in financial difficulties. As I said earlier in response to an intervention, local education authorities have the discretion to award vacation hardship allowances during the long vacations. Those can be worth more than £50 a week to the student. The costs to the education authority are fully reimbursed. In those circumstances, we do not believe that there is a case for retaining a social security safety net. The existence of such an arrangement could only provide an incentive for the access fund administrators and local education authorities to withdraw from their responsibilities. Our policies are clearly set out and they are that students should be maintained by the education maintenance system. We believe that both the access funds and the LEAs are up to the task.

I should like to explain one other provision. Although the regulations are intended to come into force on 1 September, many students will still be on their long vacation at that time. It would obviously not be right tc take benefit away from students before they were in a position to call on the new support arrangements—loans and access funds—which will be open to them. Regulation 7 specifically addresses that point: no students will have their benefit entitlement withdrawn this year until they resume their course of study.

The regulations give effect to the Government's proposals on student entitlement to benefits. The issues that they raise have been debated only recently in this House and at length in another place. I am pleased to present them, and I commend them to the House.

10.26 pm

Madam Deputy Speaker, I raised with you at the outset of the debate the point that the regulations are technically flawed and should be withdrawn. You advised me that that was a matter not for the Chair but for the House. Therefore, I seek the wider agreement of the House that these defective regulations should be withdrawn and brought back only when they have been rectified. They are defective because in large measure they deal with the distribution of the access funds. The Minister spent a fair amount of time talking about the access funds. They are to be distributed under section 100 of the Education Act 1944 and section 73 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1945, yet the regulations under those sections that will govern the distribution of access funds have not been made available.

I repeat my question. How can Parliament reach a proper judgment on the regulations until it has prior knowledge of how they will be carried through? That is exactly the point made earlier in an intervention in the Minister's speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith). The Minister simply did not seem to understand the thrust of the question. It is a very serious question, and I hope that the House understands it. The Minister has already been arrogant. He admitted that the drafting of the regulations was defective but did not even apologise for it. He simply said loftily that he would correct the error at some future date.

If the Minister admits that the drafting is defective, and if there is considerably more serious defective drafting such as I suggested, will he consider that the right course is to withdraw the regulations and redraft them so that the House can consider proper regulations? Perhaps the Minister might like to answer that question. I am not asking a rhetorical question, but asking the Minister whether he will do so.

I have no intention of withdrawing the regulations. I shall make the modest amendment when we lay the regulation about deaf students before the House.

I am not merely making a point about deaf students. I am asking how the House can reach a decision about access funds, which are at the centre of this debate, when hon. Members have no idea how they will be distributed to relieve hardship.

There is no question of the regulations being withdrawn. The access funds will be distributed to the institutions from the three different funds, and it will be up to the institutions to administer them flexibly and sympathetically, according to students' needs. It has never been intended that the access funds should be controlled by regulation.

That is exactly what I suspected. It is an important point, which the Minister had not previously admitted. I am glad to have it out of his own mouth.

The statement that the Secretary of State is required to make to the Social Security Advisory Committee says at page 3, paragraph 14:
"Although some central guidance will be given on the administration of the Funds, it is not the Government's intention to fetter the discretion of institutions in determining how the Funds are used."
That is exactly the point—either the guidance is significant, in which case Parliament has a right to prior sight of it before it is asked to pass this legislation, or it is so insignificant as not to fetter the discretion of institutions, in which case Parliament should not pass the regulations if they give such blanket and untrammelled financial powers to the Secretary of State.

It is a serious point because within the past month Parliament has already been admonished by the courts for its carelessness in nodding through—I think the judge's phrase was "Homer nodded", which refers to Parliament, rather than Homer—such vague and open-ended powers to the Secretary of State. That was Mr. Justice Purchas' complaint about the unfettered powers voted to the Secretary of State over the administration of the social fund. However, one month later, we are being asked to do exactly the same again. That is why I ask every hon. Member who cares about the rule of law and having a check on the powers of the Executive—[Laughter.] I know that it causes great mirth to Ministers, but it is a serious matter. If Parliament is to exercise proper control over the Executive, it must reject the regulations until they have been redrafted so that they are genuinely accountable to the House—which at present they are not.

A further absurdity about the regulations, if they are not amended, is that if access funds provided under sections 100 or 73 are to be excluded from income taken into account under the regulations relating to income support or family credit, that requires specific regulations. If the Government do not propose to make such regulations under those sections, which is what the Minister said, access funds will be taken into account and will diminish student benefits. It is wholly unacceptable that Parliament should be asked to pass the regulations tonight when the crassly defective drafting leaves open such perverse consequences.

I make no apology for the time that I have spent talking about whether Parliament should pass the regulations, but I am obliged to speak briefly on the issue of substance. I shall immediately disabuse the Minister of a canard that he continues to peddle—he did so again tonight. The issue is not whether students should continue to be supported in part by the social security system. The Opposition accept, as do the National Union of Students and others, that social security benfits are not the ideal means of student financial support. The issue is whether the proposed alternative form of support is adequate, and in our view it patently is not.

The Government's whole case is that the average benefit received by students is about £315 a year, while the student loan is £420, so the average student will be better off. That argument is flawed on at least three counts. First, the research was undertaken by an organisation called Research Services Limited in May 1987, and is now more than three years old, so the figures are badly out of date. Secondly, it is an average figure, which fails to take account of huge urban and regional variations in cost. Private rents for students vary between £25 a week outside London, £45 a week in greater London and £60 in inner London. The beauty of housing benefit is that it is what the Government are always looking for—a targeted benefit. It alone takes into account these huge variations, while the Minister is deliberately switching to a scheme that does not.

Thirdly—by far the most important point—the figure is simply wrong. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, in its evidence to the Social Security Advisory Committee, said that in the south-east a student stands to lose £560 in housing benefit during the academic year. We may accept some leeway in the precision of that figure. But the Government's figure of £315 is not merely low, it is ridiculous, and it is absurd that the Government base their whole case on that.

The Government say that access funds will be set up to meet hardship. The Minister repeated it tonight. The total of access funds for undergraduates will be only £14 million, which works out at the equivalent of only £27 per student. Such sums clearly cannot even begin to compensate for the shortfall through loss of benefit. That is the key point which the Minister has simply failed to address. It is perfectly clear that a significant number of students will suffer serious hardship if the regulations go through. However much the Minister tried to wriggle when my hon. Friends were pressing him, that is contrary to the strongly stated intentions not merely of a minority of the SSAC, but of the united committee.

Since the Minister was so unwilling to state the view of the whole committee, let me now mention it to the House. The SSAC said:

"We believe unanimously that there must be a safety net which ensures that students are not left destitute".
When my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East raised the issue with the Minister a week ago, he gave this interesting response:
"The committee said that, during the long vacation, some students might be particularly hard hit, and that they should have recourse to a safety net. There is already a safety net —the power for local education authorities to pay hardship payments."—[Official Report, 9 July 1990; Vol. 176, c. 102.]
He said much the same again tonight. Tonight we want to know what guidance will be sent to local education authorities to encourage them to exercise this role and, more importantly, what funding will be made available to local education authorities to meet this hardship, and what guarantee can the Minister now give the House that all students will be catered for. Until he can answer those questions, I submit that his solicitude on this matter is not worth more than a pinch of salt.

Finally, for postgraduates the Government have clearly established a link between the provision of loans and the loss of benefits. On those grounds, we strongly contend that extension of the loss of benefits to those who are not eligible to loans—postgraduates—is outside the scope and intentions of the Education (Student Loans) Act 1990, and there is no other provision or primary legislation on which to base this sweeping disentitlement. That is another clear legislative reason why these regulations should be rejected.

It is not enough for the Minister to say, as he has, that the DES recently announced a £400 increase in postgraduate support. The current studentship awards were set in place in October 1989; no increase is planned until April 1991. With inflation touching 10 per cent., the £400 represents not an increase in resources over the 18 months but a reduction for postgraduates.

These regulations will cause severe hardship for a large number of students. They will remove postgraduates from entitlement to housing benefit, without offering them loans in replacement. They will narrow the whole basis of recruitment to higher education in the next generation, particularly among working-class students—a point that the Minister carefully omitted.

I call on the House to reject the regulations.

10.40 pm

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) began by accusing my right hon. Friend the Minister of arrogance. Front-Bench spokesmen may well occasionally display some intellectual superiority, but no one could accuse my right hon. Friend of arrogance. It would be difficult to find a more courteous, patient or sympathetic Minister.

This debate is similar to the one that we held about a week ago on the Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill. Indeed, I heard the expression "Homer nodded" last week: Homer has been wheeled out again and has nodded again tonight. There is actually a common theme running through last week's and this week's debates: does it make sense to focus student support on one Department or two? It was clear from the Opposition interventions in my right hon. Friend's speech, and from the contribution of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, that there is a strong case for having one Minister in charge of student support. Many interventions in the Minister's speech were about the education system, not about social security. The sooner we can put a stop to debates in which social security Ministers have to answer questions about education issues the better.

Each time the Opposition are confronted by the principle of focusing support on the DES they say that they agree with it; but when confronted with the consequences of that principle they refuse to jump. They always vote to retain the present system. They claim to prefer it because they say that the Government will not be generous to students under the new regime—so they prefer to stay with the regime they know.

Now, if the Government were minded to be mean to students, they could be so perfectly well under the present regime, but under the new one another £100 million will be available for students. Against that background, it is wholly illogical to adopt the attitude that the Opposition have adopted. Yet tonight I suspect that the Opposition will vote against the consequences of a principle that they have readily accepted.

If the Opposition are sincere, instead of harking back to the present system, they should seek reassurances on the sort of issues raised in this debate. Are the access funds adequate? The Government have already shown flexibility on that. They have already shown a willingness to increase the funds when it is argued that they need to be more generous. I have no doubt that if they are confronted with future evidence that the access funds are inadequate, pressure will be brought to bear by both sides of the House to ensure that the new system is flexible, generous and meets the purposes for which it was constructed.

On what principle was the amount of money in the access funds calculated?

I do not know. What I do know is that the amount has been increased in response to representations from educational interests to the effect that they are inadequate.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the access funds have increased from £15 million to £30 million? If the Government are so mean with student support, how come there are 200,000 more students in higher education now than under the last Labour Government?

My hon. Friend provides eloquent force for my argument. The premise on which the Opposition's case is founded—that the Government are minded to be ungenerous to students—does not stand up to the available evidence. If access funds are deemed to be ungenerous, there will be pressure to increase them.

Basically, the regulations continue the disengagement of mainstream students from the social security system, but there is a residual entitlement to benefit if a student has a partner. If a student is a tenant but shares accommodation with a partner, the partner can apply for housing benefit. That is a sensible, but perhaps overgenerous, regime. What assurances can be given that this provision will not be abused by students claiming that their accommodation in a university town is shared by a partner, with the partner getting housing benefit in circumstances that may not have initially been intended by those who drafted the regulations? I am sure that there will be a straightforward response—

—to avoid "abuse", which is a better word, of the system.

The disregards are generous. If a student with a partner receives a loan, the loan does not affect the partner's entitlement to benefit up to the limit of £10, which covers the existing student loan. That is a welcome regime. As my right hon. Friend the Minister explained, regular payments will have a disregard of £10, but one-off lump sum payments will be treated as capital. Where there is a benefit claim, whether the payment is regular or is a one-off lump sum obviously matters. It is advantageous for it to be treated as a one-off lump sum payment. I hope that my right hon. Friend will explain how recipients of benefit will have those payments defined, either as regular payments or as one-off lump sums.

The Opposition are wholly inconsistent tonight, as last week, in conceding the principle but failing to accept the logical and welcome consequence of the principle by supporting the regulations.

10.47 pm

The regulations pose the wrong question in relation to the student population. I shall pay particular regard to Scotland, and I declare an interest in that I am a member of the court of Stirling university. The purpose of the regulations is to reallocate resources between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Social Security. It is understandable that, in the interests of good housekeeping, the Government want support for students to come within the vote of the Department of Education and Science.

Like other Ministers, the Minister pleads in aid the increased numbers coming forward to receive the "benefits" of higher, or tertiary—a dreadful word—education. That is not the point. I shall speak not for England, Wales and Northern Ireland but for Scotland. To make headway in becoming a leading industrial nation, we cannot possibly be satisfied with the numbers coming forward. That is a basic consideration. Do the regulations and the general thrust of Government policy make it easier or harder for the broad mass of young people from, say, the age of 17 to enhance their educational potential? They will make it harder, although it will be easier for those whose parents have a reasonable income. Such parents will persuade their children to seek a loan because in theory it is a good option, when inflation is allowed for, at zero interest. Parents who practise good housekeeping in their own interests, although it may not be in the interests of the nation, will persuade their offspring to take a loan.

Matters are different for young people from working-class families, which is another term that I dislike although I do not abjure it because I know the class to which I belong. Such young people do not have a cushy background and will look at the figures. We have talked generally about student loans, but many hon. Members spend £50 or more on one dinner and that is more than a student receives to keep himself for a week. [Interruption.] All right, let us say that that is the amount that some hon. Members could spend on two dinners. I cannot speak for people in another place, but my comparison is reasonably fair. The onerous nature of the grant loan provision will deter many students from continuing further education.

A few weeks ago I went to Glasgow with some people whom one might loosely call rectors—to use the old Scottish term—of Scottish universities, to see Mr. Harrison of the Student Loans Company plc. The Minister suggested that we might go to Edinburgh. I hope that all hon. Members know that there is a difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh and that it is not just in relation to football teams. In the Student Loans Company plc the Government are erecting a massive debt collecting agency. Eventually, teams of snoopers will be employed to collect the debts that will arise if students are forced into loans.

Our nation—I am talking about Scotland—has been living on its intellectual capital for the last 20 to 25 years. Fundamental research in our universities is decreasing at a time when it should be increasing. Now universities are to be forced to undertake the onerous task of assessing hardship. There are eight Scottish universities. Will there be eight criteria for hardship? What criteria will Ministers lay down or what guidance will they give to universities? Will those institutions have to think up schemes for themselves? That is no way to administer the public purse.

Will students be willing to saddle themselves with financial difficulties or will they be attracted abroad to carry out postgraduate work or fundamental research? That is the cost-benefit analysis that the nation must make. The thrust of the Government's policy is to tidy up matters between Departments. That may look good in bureaucratic terms, but it is entirely wrong for the long-term cost benefit of the nation.

I am speaking for Scotland. If there were a Scottish Parliament, it would place a high priority on education and it would tell the Scottish people that they had to pay for it. They would recognise their responsibility to attract more people into further education because of the underlying support for it.

I must be careful not to bore the House with my personal background. I left school at 14, but I have been a student all my life. I took my last degree part time at the London School of Economics in 1986. I accepted the challenge that we should not just talk about students, but should actually find out what they are like. I must beware of giving a random sample of one, but when I went to the LSE it was packed not with British, but with foreign students. It was full of Americans. We are forcing our universities to attract students from overseas so that they can pay their way.

The overseas students obviously regard our universities as good value.

I accept that our universities are good value, but they have to bid to a central bureaucracy on the basis of their good housekeeping. That is the quasi-market structure that the Government are trying to introduce.

The thrust of the regulations and their priorities are wrong. The Government are deterring people from working-class backgrounds from going on to higher education, so that their gifts can be used for the benefit of the nation. I am not suggesting that students should live lin the lap of luxury, but onerous burdens are being placed upon them.

I shall give another example from my direct experience at Stirling. There is a proposal to put up the rents for accommodation. We are asking the students—and for reasons that I will not go into now I am resisting this—to enhance the accommodation for disabled students. It involves the paltry sum of £60,000. The university wants to expand, but constraints are being imposed on it albeit by its short historical experience.

To constrain universities and students is to the long-term detriment of the nation. I ask the Government not to be parsimonious and not to think of the well-heeled student or his well-heeled parents. We should be attracting into education those who do not have financial help from their parents.

10.58 pm

I, too, only recently left full-time undergraduate life. I reinforce what has been said about the experience of undergraduates who, in many universities and colleges, are absolutely dependent upon some form of benefit. That is a reflection of, for example, the housing costs in the surrounding areas, and there is little that can be done about that.

The impact of the regulations and the removing of the benefits will be dramatic, at least for some universities and for some students. The Government's action fails to recognise the reality of life, at least for some students. Nor does it address the position of postgraduate students. The Minister's replies on that subject were inadequate.

It is ironic that this debate immediately precedes one on the assisted places scheme. There is a sharp contrast between the Government's attitude to the provision of basic maintenance for ordinary students on difficult courses throughout the country and their willingness to push ahead with pet schemes to support tiny numbers of privileged young people under the assisted places scheme.

The regulations, which will remove students' entitlement to housing benefit and income support, have met with rejection from several bodies. It should hardly suprise the Government that they have been rejected by the National Union of Students or even, these days, by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. The Minister's response to the criticisms of the Social Security Advisory Committee was not only weak but deliberately misinterpreted its observations. It is extraordinary to find the Government using in their support a report that is damning of their actions, as is that of the SSAC.

It is all very well to argue that the committee would have been in favour of the Government's proposals if they were to be implemented in a different way, but the fact remains that the SSAC is against them as they stand. Nothing that the Minister said responded adequately to the SSAC's criticisms.

The Government are failing to make available sufficient alternative finance to meet the students' needs. I am not among those who believe that—

In just a moment, but I have little time.

I do not accept that it is preferable to operate a system whereby all students receive the same amount, but which incorporates a tiny safety net—as is suggested. A scheme tied to the real cost of being a student in certain areas would be advantageous. The Liberal Democrats would move towards a common scheme, whereby the benefits system would be used to meet the differing needs of students throughout the country.

I hope that the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) does not intend to repeat the point that he made earlier.

The alternative finance to which the hon. Gentleman referred already exists in the form of the £420 interest-free student loan. Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that student support in the United Kingdom continues to offer the highest benefits in the western world? If the Government were as cavalier as has been implied, there would not be 200,000 more students in advanced education today than when Labour was in office.

By comparison with other countries, we are not devoting sufficient resources to higher and further education. Nor are we turning out the numbers that we should. The Government are culpable of a paucity of provision that they should be embarrassed to have mentioned in such debates. The theory that the loan scheme will broadly compensate students for the loss of housing and social security benefits ignores the fact that in many parts of the country many of them will be substantially worse off—even if one does not allow for the fact that there are to be no increases in student grant with the introduction of the loan system.

The Government, together with the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, appear to be ignoring graduate students, as they will not be eligible for student loans. It is extraordinary to find the Government introducing a system that will deprive graduate students of a large measure of the support that they currently receive. It is inappropriate that we should be debating this matter. The Government are abusing their powers, but that question will have to be dealt with elsewhere rather than here. One might be forgiven for wondering whether the Government care about the adequacy of the provisions. The increased grants for postgraduate students do not allow sufficiently for inflation. That is quite separate from the loss of benefit.

The Minister has totally failed to answer the Social Security Advisory Committee's criticisms. It pointed out correctly that if a student has made the relevant contribution and meets the usual criteria, there is no obvious reason why his unemployment benefit should be withdrawn. I referred earlier to seasonal workers; there are many of them in my constituency. To reverse the position, if the long break for students were in the winter instead of the summer, they would be in an almost identical position to that of seasonal workers. It would equally be possible to argue that they were deliberately going to an area where they knew that they would be out of work for a time. I hope that the Government are not suggesting that benefit should be withdrawn from them. The reason why those people are eligible for help is that they need help. However, the Minister seems to be completely uninterested in that fact.

The SSAC also said that it believed unanimously that there should be a safety net to ensure that students are not left destitute, and that they should receive income support. The Government say that the access funds provide the answer to that criticism. Unless, however, much more money is provided, I do not believe that the access funds, when compared with the benefit support that is being withdrawn, can be considered in any sense to be adequate. Even after it has been uprated, the amount works out at only £116 for each postgraduate and £27 for each first-degree or other higher education student. However, the average student outside London gets £6·23 a week and a London student £14·38 a week under the present benefit arrangements. This is, therefore, a considerable cut in student support.

The Social Security Advisory Committee also said that it is impossible to judge at this stage whether the amount being put into the access funds is adequate. The Government's commitment to ensuring that the access funds are administered fairly and properly is revealed to be wholly lacking, since no guidelines have been provided to the institutions that administer them. Social Security Ministers are responding to the debate. They know well that under the social security arrangements one treats individuals who are in the same circumstances in the same way. That is one of the most important principles of any support system.

The Government appear to be creating a system under which no student can be sure of his treatment by any institution. He can be virtually certain that an entirely different set of rules would apply in another institution. It is a complete and utter mess that people will be entitled to support not on the basis of what they need but purely on the basis of what the Government have allowed to a particular institution and what it feels on a particular day and at a particular time about that individual. That is a disgraceful way in which to operate a system of support and it is disgraceful that the House is being asked to agree to it.

11.8 pm

The order is the final part of the Government's package in their move from student grants to student loans. We are removing the right of students to claim unemployment benefit—for which they paid—housing benefit and income support. It means that some students' standard of living will be below that laid down in social security legislation.

We have heard that the regulations are defective. The Minister says to us, "I am putting something that is totally defective before you, but we expect you to vote it through and we shall put it right later." That says something about the Government's respect for the House of Commons.

The regulations provide that those who have to pay rent are not deemed to be paying rent and that those who are available and looking for work are deemed not to be available for and looking for work. That is what we are talking about.

The move from student grants and the availability of means-tested benefits for those who need them to student loans is deeply mistaken. It is a backward move. Compared with other countries, Britain is backward educationally. It is no good for Conservative Members to say that the numbers in higher education in Britain are increasing when we are starting from way behind and the number is increasing less rapidly than in other countries. Even South Korea has more of its young people in higher education than Britain. That is an enormous cost to the life opportunities of talented people who are not being given the chance to participate in higher education and is massively damaging to the future of Britain's economy. We are failing to nurture the talent of our people and thus slipping ever backwards relatively in our economic performance.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Robert Jackson)

The hon. Lady is factually incorrect.

I am not factually incorrect.

The Minister for Social Security has perhaps some excuse—he is not an education Minister—for pretending to the House that there is not low participation in higher education among people from low-income backgrounds.

The statistics show that if one comes from a family with a manual background the chances of participating in higher education are very low. I am sure that the Minister knows that.

We are massively wasting the talent of many people from low-income backgrounds—

I have made it clear that I do not intend to give way, but the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) is harassing me. Time is short. He is disrupting the limited remarks that I have time to make and I ask for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that I can make them.

As I said, we are wasting the talent of people from low-income backgrounds and this move will make things fundamentally worse.

The Government's excuse for the move is that students should not be supported by the social security system. That is uncontentious across the House. But it is a big fib. If one wants to remove students from the social security system, one gives them grants that leave them above the means-tested standards. The Government are removing their eligibility for means-tested benefits so that some of them will fall to a level of income lower than those who live on means-tested benefits.

The present system is that we have means-tested grants backed by access to unemployment benefit if it has been paid for and housing benefit and income support if they are needed. It is an efficient system in that the money is targeted and goes to those in need. People who are not in need are not eligible for means-tested benefits and those who do well as a result of their higher education and earn a higher income will pay back through the tax system. We are moving to a system that will penalise people on low incomes.

Less than 20 per cent. of students claim income support in the summer vacation. To be eligible for income support they have to be available for and actively seeking work. Under this Government those tests have been made harder and harder. This provision will penalise students who come from areas of the country where there is high unemployment. Only 11·5 per cent. of all students claim housing benefit and 2 per cent. claim housing benefit in the summer. They are the students who do not have another home to go to. Those are the groups that will be penalised by the move that we are making tonight.

It is ideology run mad. The lunacy is that it will be less equitable and efficient and will cost more. Those who already have more will be better off under the new scheme and those with least will be worse off. That is what the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) did not understand. The Government are making available more money but are distributing it in such a way that the poorest will have less than they have now. Those are the facts of this new, ridiculous structure, which will cost more but be less equitable and efficient. The principle of the Thatcher years is that for those who have more, more will be given, but for those who have less, it will be taken away. That is how the regulations will apply to students.

The Government recognise that the regulations will create hardship for students from low-income households and therefore have introduced access funds—they tell us to prevent hardship. The funds will be distributed by the Government to education institutions on the basis of a formula about which we know nothing which will then distribute them to people in need. The Minister tells us that universities and polytechnics know which of their students are in need. That is not true. When a student goes to a university or polytechnic he or she does not fill out forms on income but participates in education. Being aware of the quality of a student's work tells one nothing of his or her income or maintenance means. It is an inefficient way of getting money to those in need. The Minister has not answered the point, but the legality of this move is questionable. Given that he will not answer the point, it is likely to be contested in the courts.

The Minister misled the House—I am surprised that he did so—about the report of the Social Security Advisory Committee, which was set up to replace the previous committee and to make it more favourable to the Government's social security policy. Officials appointed to it by the Government were split eight to six. The majority said that they were willing to accept the removal of housing benefit, but only on one condition. They were worried that some students would become destitute—their word, not mine—because of the provisions of the scheme. They expressed an overriding concern about that and recommended that the Government should follow the principle that they adopted for 16 and 17–year-olds and that to avoid hardship the Secretary of State for Social Security should have discretion to authorise payment of income support for a limited period during the summer vacation.

The Government refused to accept that recommendation and therefore have the support of no member of that committee. It was wrong of the Minister to call the committee in aid when the Government are not complying with its recommendations.

As the committee said, the effect of the regulations is that destitute students will be running round our cities in the summer. Another badge of the Thatcher years is the many young homeless and destitute people in our cities. In future, highly talented qualified young people who are studying will be destitute in our cities.

The proof that the Government's claim that the purpose of the regulations is to avoid students being dependent on the social security system is a big fib are their provisions for postgraduate students, who will not have access to loans and will be deprived of the right to claim housing benefit. They will simply be worse off. The Government are increasing their grants by less than inflation and taking the extra money from the pool available for postgraduate students. We shall have fewer postgraduates in the future than we have at present.

I am the first member of my family to have had a university education. I received that education because full grants were available. When I was 17 years old and was getting 2s. 6d. pocket money, I would not have contemplated the loan that is envisaged. I now know that I could have paid it back, but at that time I would not have dared. The effect of the regulations is that future generations of people like me will not have access to higher education. That is what the Government are doing tonight.

11.18 pm

The regulations cover several provisions across five separate benefits. I shall seek, in as co-ordinated and orderly a manner as possible, to respond to the points that have been made.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not it a courtesy that the Minister should ask the permission of the House to speak a second time?

The Minister does not need the leave of the House on this occasion. He moved a motion.

I try to take advice on those matters and I thought for one moment that the hon. Gentleman had caught me out. I am grateful for your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Much of this evening's debate, not least the opening speech by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), has circulated round the issue of the adequacy of and the reasons for the access funds. I want to address that issue at the outset.

In response to an intervention, I said that the regulations do not in any sense relate to the distribution of the access funds. They give effect to withdrawal of benefit entitlement from most full-time students except those in vulnerable groups and the treatment of income of those in vulnerable groups who will retain entitlement. I repeat what I said: there will be no regulations covering the payment of access funds. They will be operated by the Secretary of State for Education and Science under powers in the Education Act 1944.

The point about there being no regulations covering the access funds is that large sums of taxpayers' money will be handed over for the unfettered discretion of education institutions. We have no idea how that money is to be used, how it will be allocated, how many will get it and how much they will get. I submit that it is improper for the Government to ask Parliament to pass legislation as open ended as that. The courts will disagree with such legislation as they have disagreed with previous legislation.

In a sense that is surprising. I seem to remember being urged by the Opposition on more than one occasion to further enhance the resources available to the independent living fund, which provides substantial sums of taxpayers' money to be distributed at the unfettered discretion of the trustees of the fund in order to meet need. Perhaps what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander according to the hon. Member for Oldham, West. Flexibility and funds distributed by people with particular expertise in and sympathy for the needs of individual groups of people in need of help is not a principle against which I would argue. The hon. Member for Oldham, West can pick and choose the issues to which he wants to apply that principle. I believe firmly in it.

Will each institution of higher or further education devise its own criteria? Is that what we are being asked to support? Surely the Minister's colleagues will tell him that that cannot be right and that guidance will be given by the Department of Education and Science.

I shall try to address the various points that have already been raised, and how the access funds should be administered is one of them. I have just made the point that they will be operated under the powers of the Secretary of State for Education and Science under the Education Act 1944.

Allocations have already been made to the funding councils and their allocations to individual colleges will be announced in the next few weeks. There was some criticism that that was all a bit late in the day. The 1989 student number data upon which the allocations will be based will not be available to those in the DES administering the access funds until later this month. The beginning of August is therefore the earliest date by which allocations can be notified to colleges. However, I believe that that still gives them adequate time before the beginning of the next academic year to make their dispositions.

The Scottish colleges of further education to which the regulations apply start in the middle of August.

Even so, they will have a number of weeks at least in which to make their dispositions. In practice, I estimate that it will be some weeks before students come forward and ask for help from the access funds. They will have their loans and top-up grants. The access funds are, as it were, a residual—

Is the Minister aware that the student loans scheme does not apply to Scottish FE colleges?

Of course, I understand that. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was making a general point about further education within Scotland. I believe that the access funds will be better administered by each individual education institution. Institutions will be given guidance, but that guidance will be largely in terms of accounting procedures and how the institutions account for the money that they get from the funding councils. They will be much more finely tuned to the needs of individuals.[Interruption.] I ask the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) to pause for just a moment. I cannot believe that the existence of access funds will not become more well known in institutions of further education.

I anticipate that the National Union of Students, if no other body, will make it well known that access funds are in existence. It will he in the interest of institutions themselves also to make it known that such funds are available. They will get to know the students, and will be much better equipped to meet and assess the needs of individual students than the social security system could possibly be. The funds will be much better focused on students' needs than the generality of social security claimants could ever be. Higher education institutions will be much better informed.

There are some advantages of that system compared with the other system. For example, no student who is living in hall in any university or institution of higher education can claim housing benefit at the moment. However, a student who is in hall might be eligible for help from the access funds if he runs into particular hardship, That will certainly be an advantage of the new system.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science have already said that they intend to monitor carefully the operation of the access funds and to make sure that they are adequate to meet students' needs in the new circumstances. For example, they will reflect different rent levels in different parts of the country. That will be an important flexibility for the funds. They will become well known among students and among those who are responsible for administering them. The institutions will be able to administer them in a much more flexible manner than we possibly could through the social security system.

There is no disincentive, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West alleged, for local education authorities to make hardship payments. They are fully reimbursed by the Department of Education and Science for any payments that they make. There is no disincentive whatever for them to make special hardship payments. The payments are made entirely at the discretion of local education authorities in order to prevent hardship.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) raised several points. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) alleged that students might pretend to cohabit to get housing benefit under the new scheme. It is, of course, up to local authorities to satisfy themselves that the conditions for entitlement to benefit are being met. If both partners are students, they would not be entitled to housing benefit unless they had dependent children, otherwise one partner must not be a student. Although I am sensitive to my hon. Friend's point—we are always conscious of the need to protect public funds—I do not see that that need be a major problem.

My hon. Friend mentioned that he saw the disregards within the present system as very generous. I certainly agree with that—they are generous. They are best targeted on those who need help most. He asked also how we would check whether the payments made from the access funds were regular or lump sum payments. I see no difficulty about that. Already within the income-related benefits system charitable payments can be assessed, whether they are regular or lump sum payments. Exactly the same criteria will apply in the new system of access funds as apply to charitable funds already.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West was critical of the Government because of the percentage of students in higher education, and implied that we are performing less well than other countries. The number of 18–year-olds in higher education has steadily risen since the Government came to office. When they came to office, 11 per cent. of 18–year-olds were going into higher education. By 1990 the figure had risen to 15 per cent. We estimate that, by the end of the decade, the figure will be up to 23 per cent. When we came to office in 1979, we pledged that, by 1990, we would have achieved 1 million students in higher education. We achieved that by 1988, and the figure is still rising. As I have said, this year we have a record number of students in higher education and next year it looks as if the figures will be even better. A lot of distorted statistics have been pushed backwards and forwards across the Floor of the House this evening, but the fact is that this country's percentage of the 18–year-old cohort who graduate is one of the highest in the world—

It is absolutely true, beyond peradventure. The percentage of the 18–year-old cohort who graduate is higher in this country than anywhere else in the world.

That is perfectly true.

I am delighted that the provisions make special arrangements for disabled students. As the Minister for disabled people I have a particular interest in them. The fact that the basic disability allowance for students has been increased from £765 to £1,000 per year and that new allowances have been introduced to help them with the cost of helpers and special equipment—

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business).

The House divided: Ayes 267, Noes 141.

Division No. 306]

[11.31 pm

AYES

Alexander, RichardBoswell, Tim
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBottomley, Peter
Amess, DavidBottomley, Mrs Virginia
Amos, AlanBowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Arbuthnot, JamesBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bowis, John
Arnold, Sir ThomasBoyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Ashby, DavidBraine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Aspinwall, JackBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Atkinson, DavidBrazier, Julian
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Bright, Graham
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Baldry, TonyBrown, Michael (Brigg & CI't's)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Browne, John (Winchester)
Batiste, SpencerBruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bellingham, HenryBuck, Sir Antony
Bendall, VivianBudgen, Nicholas
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Burns, Simon
Bevan, David GilroyBurt, Alistair
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnButcher, John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterButterfill, John
Bonsor, Sir NicholasCarlisle, John, (Luton N)
Boscawen, Hon RobertCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, MatthewJackson, Robert
Carttiss, MichaelJanman, Tim
Cash, WilliamJessel, Toby
Channon, Rt Hon PaulJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Chapman, SydneyKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Chope, ChristopherKey, Robert
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Kirkhope, Timothy
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Knapman, Roger
Colvin, MichaelKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Conway, DerekKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Knowles, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Lang, Ian
Currie, Mrs EdwinaLawrence, Ivan
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Davis, David (Boothferry)Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Day, StephenLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Devlin, TimLightbown, David
Dicks, TerryLilley, Peter
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Dover, DenLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Dunn, BobLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Durant, TonyMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Eggar, TimMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Maclean, David
Evennett, DavidMcLoughlin, Patrick
Favell, TonyMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Fenner, Dame PeggyMajor, Rt Hon John
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Mans, Keith
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyMarland, Paul
Fishburn, John DudleyMarlow, Tony
Fookes, Dame JanetMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Forman, NigelMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMates, Michael
Franks, CecilMaude, Hon Francis
Freeman, RogerMawhinney, Dr Brian
French, DouglasMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Fry, PeterMellor, David
Gale, RogerMeyer, Sir Anthony
Gardiner, GeorgeMiller, Sir Hal
Garel-Jones, TristanMills, Iain
Gill, ChristopherMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMitchell, Sir David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMoate, Roger
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMoss, Malcolm
Gorst, JohnMoynihan, Hon Colin
Gow, IanNeale, Gerrard
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Needham, Richard
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Nelson, Anthony
Gregory, ConalNeubert, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Grist, IanNicholls, Patrick
Ground, PatrickNicholson, David (Taunton)
Grylls, MichaelNorris, Steve
Hague, WilliamOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Page, Richard
Hampson, Dr KeithPaice, James
Hanley, JeremyPatnick, Irvine
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Patten, Rt Hon John
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Harris, DavidPawsey, James
Hayes, JerryPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hayward, RobertPorter, David (Waveney)
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidPowell, William (Corby)
Hind, KennethRaffan, Keith
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Holt, RichardRathbone, Tim
Hordern, Sir PeterRedwood, John
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyRoberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Roe, Mrs Marion
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Rowe, Andrew
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Ryder, Richard
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)Sayeed, Jonathan
Hunter, AndrewScott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Irvine, MichaelShaw, David (Dover)
Jack, MichaelShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)

Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Townend, John (Bridlington)
Shelton, Sir WilliamTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Tracey, Richard
Shersby, MichaelTredinnick, David
Sims, RogerTrotter, Neville
Skeet, Sir TrevorTwinn, Dr Ian
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Viggers, Peter
Soames, Hon NicholasWakeham, Rt Hon John
Speller, TonyWalden, George
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Waller, Gary
Stanbrook, IvorWard, John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Steen, AnthonyWarren, Kenneth
Stern, MichaelWatts, John
Stevens, LewisWells, Bowen
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Wheeler, Sir John
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)Whitney, Ray
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)Widdecombe, Ann
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnWilkinson, John
Sumberg, DavidWilshire, David
Summerson, HugoWinterton, Mrs Ann
Tapsell, Sir PeterWinterton, Nicholas
Taylor, Ian (Esher)Wolfson, Mark
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Wood, Timothy
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Tebbit, Rt Hon NormanYeo, Tim
Temple-Morris, PeterYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Thorne, Neil

Mr. Alastair Goodlad and

Thornton, Malcolm

Mr. Tom Sackville.

Thurnham, Peter

NOES

Alton, DavidFields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Anderson, DonaldFlannery, Martin
Armstrong, HilaryFlynn, Paul
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyFoster, Derek
Ashton, JoeFyfe, Maria
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Galloway, George
Beggs, RoyGarrett, John (Norwich South)
Beith, A. J.George, Bruce
Bell, StuartGolding, Mrs Llin
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bermingham, GeraldHardy, Peter
Blunkett, DavidHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Boyes, RolandHinchliffe, David
Bradley, KeithHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Howells, Geraint
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Buckley, George J.Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Caborn, RichardHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Callaghan, JimHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Illsley, Eric
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Carr, MichaelJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Clay, BobKennedy, Charles
Clelland, DavidKilfedder, James
Clwyd, Mrs AnnKirkwood, Archy
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Lamond, James
Corbyn, JeremyLeadbitter, Ted
Cousins, JimLewis, Terry
Crowther, StanLivingstone, Ken
Cryer, BobLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cunliffe, LawrenceLofthouse, Geoffrey
Dalyell, TamMcAllion, John
Darling, AlistairMcAvoy, Thomas
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)McFall, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dewar, DonaldMcKelvey, William
Dixon, DonMcWilliam, John
Doran, FrankMadden, Max
Douglas, DickMaginnis, Ken
Dunnachie, JimmyMahon, Mrs Alice
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Eastham, KenMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Fatchett, DerekMeacher, Michael

Meale, AlanSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Michael, AlunSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Snape, Peter
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)Spearing, Nigel
Morgan, RhodriSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
Morley, ElliotSteinberg, Gerry
Mullin, ChrisStott, Roger
Murphy, PaulStrang, Gavin
Nellist, DaveStraw, Jack
O'Brien, WilliamTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Paisley, Rev IanTaylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Patchett, TerryTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Pike, Peter L.Turner, Dennis
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Walley, Joan
Prescott, JohnWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Primarolo, DawnWatson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Quin, Ms JoyceWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Redmond, MartinWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Reid, Dr JohnWigley, Dafydd
Richardson, JoWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Robertson, GeorgeWinnick, David
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Ross, William (Londonderry E)Worthington, Tony
Ruddock, Joan
Short, Clare

Tellers for the Noes:

Skinner, Dennis

Mr. Frank Haynes and

Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Mr. Robert Wareing.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Social Security Benefits (Student Loans and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 1990, which were laid before this House on 13th July, be approved.

Assisted Places

11.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Alan Howarth)

I beg to move,

That the draft Education (Assisted Places) (Amendment) Regulations 1990, which were laid before this House on 27th June, be approved.
I would like to describe briefly to the House the regulations governing the administration of the assisted places scheme. The draft regulations before us provide for certain small amendments to the Education (Assisted Places) Regulations 1989, which were consolidated last year.

The assisted places scheme was established for the purpose of widening the educational opportunities of able children from less well-off families. As the House knows, it provides their parents with assistance towards—[Interruption.]

Order. I hope that hon. Members who are not listening to the debate will move out of the Chamber as quickly as possible.

The APS provides parents with assistance towards the fees at certain independent schools. The assistance is on a sliding scale based on parental income and the principal changes embodied in the amending regulations are concerned with the annual revision of those scales.

Regulation 1 of the draft regulations deals with citation, commencement, application and interpretation. The regulations would come into force on 21 August 1990, subject to the approval of both Houses.

Regulation 2 of the draft regulations provides for grant-maintained schools within the meaning of the Education Reform Act 1988 to be included in the definition of "publicly maintained schools" referred to in regulation 19(2) of the principal regulations. That amendment is necessary because, under the principal regulations, participating schools must ensure that at least 60 per cent. of their assisted pupils attended state schools immediately before taking up their assisted place and for this purpose we must make the amendment to the regulations to include grant-maintained schools in the definition of state schools.

Regulation 3 of the draft regulations updates the 1989 regulations. Its effect is to discount reductions from total income allowed on payments for medical insurance made by parents aged 60 or over.

Regulation 4 sets out the income scale used for assessing parents' contributions towards fees. That has been uprated to take account of movements in the retail prices index. The threshold at or below which parents pay nothing towards fees is raised from £7,584 to £8,200.

The provisions and amendments I have just described are necessary technicalities and would ensure the continued smooth running of the assisted places scheme. Opposition Members consistently demonstrate hostility to the assisted places scheme. It may therefore be helpful to the House if I explain why we have this scheme, and why we, and a great many people in the country, value it very much. Our reasons are that we are interested in encouraging high standards in education, wherever they are to be found; and we want parents, particularly those on lower incomes, to be able to choose the education they think best for their children, regardless of income.

It is those very features of choice and independence that the Labour party apparently finds so offensive. Our best independent schools—many of them former grammar schools that were driven out of the maintained sector by the destructive dogma of the Labour party—see no inconsistency between independence and service to the community. The assisted places scheme, which the Conservative Government introduced in 1981, has enabled many of them to keep faith with their traditions and offer the prospect of an excellent academic education for children who are suited to it, regardless of their social or economic background. But schooling is not just about achieving good examination passes; schools in the APS take an admirable pride in preparing their pupils in every way to make a full and valuable contribution to society. All in all, they provide educational opportunities of a quality that should not be restricted only to those who can afford to pay for them.

Let me stress, to anticipate one of the favourite debating points of the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), that I am not saying or implying that there are not maintained schools that provide excellent education—of course, there are many. But we want those first-rate schools in the independent sector to be accessible to pupils whose parents are unable to pay the fees.

These are not just abstract concepts—the assisted places scheme is about helping real, individual children. I should like to tell the House about some assisted place holders who have done exceptionally well, notwithstanding early disadvantages.

Do Opposition Members resent the success of the Bristol girl who gained four grade A passes at A-level and is now studying veterinary science at Cambridge? I am sure that her father, a window cleaner, is rightly proud and glad that the APS has given his daughter such a launch. And so is the bus driver from Blackburn whose son also achieved four grade A passes at A-level and is reading biochemistry at Oxford. Does the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) really intend to deny such opportunities to his own constituents? If an assisted place gave those parents the opportunity for their child to be educated according to their wishes, do he and his hon. Friends begrudge them that?

Then there are the twins from Wandsworth, who both gained three grade A passes and one grade B at A-level and have gone on to study mathematics at Oxford.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for cataloguing a few excellent examples. Will he draw to the attention of the House those Opposition Members who send their sons and daughters to schools on the assisted places scheme, as that would elucidate matters considerably?

Tempting though it is to respond to my hon. Friend's invitation, perhaps at this time of night I should refrain from such an indulgence. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point of general principle, and it is something that should bring blushes to Opposition Front-Bench Members. I have argued for the scheme in terms of parental choice, but I might also justify it in terms of pupil choice. I am assured by the headmaster of Wolverhampton grammar school, a very distinguished school in the assisted places scheme, that it is not uncommon for 11–year-olds to identify, of their own initiative, the grammar school as the school that they wish to attend. Mr. Patrick Hutton, the headmaster, told me of the case of one young boy from Wolverhampton who did just this. His parents had separated, and his mother was facing great difficulties. He went on to achieve 4 As at A-level and is now reading modern languages at Leeds. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) will at least be relieved to know that the young man turned down Cambridge because he thought it too middle class.

I could tell hon. Members of many more deserving cases—there are more than 27,000 of them throughout the country—but there are other important matters which I must briefly cover.

Opposition Members for ever complain of the cost of the assisted places scheme, but if they must insist on measuring the value of education exclusively in material terms, I am sure that the twins from Wandsworth whom I mentioned will repay to society many times over the investment in their assisted places. The truth of the matter is this: in 1988–89, the average cost to the taxpayer of each assisted pupil was £2,121. The average cost of a secondary school pupil in the maintained sector was £1,985, which is a difference of only £136. But in considering even this small difference we have to take account of the fact that sixth-form education is about 60 per cent. more expensive than education for 11 to 16–year-olds. Whether or not we can conclude that that makes the assisted places scheme cheaper per capita to the taxpayer than maintained secondary provision, there is no question but that it is an extremely close-run thing.

Why is it that the Secretary of State, in the past two months, has given me a figure of more than £2,400 for the average cost of a place on the assisted places scheme, and that that is the figure that the Independent Schools Information Service independently quotes?

If the hon. Gentlman had listened carefully to what I said he would have realised that I was referring to the year 1988–89. That should satisfy him.

Another spectre raised by Opposition Members is that the assisted places scheme creams off and impoverishes the maintained sector. Again, the case of Wolverhampton grammar school is instructive. On a basis of 18 comprehensive schools in Wolverhampton, and 171 assisted pupils at Wolverhampton grammar school, on average about two pupils a year have been diverted from each comprehensive. Two pupils a year is hardly robbing a school of a crucial intake. It is absurd to claim that the existence of the assisted places scheme is prejudicial to the academic standards of maintained schools.

What the APS scheme does, and this is its great strength, is to give a genuine extension of choice and opportunity. I need hardly say that all of the schools in the scheme have been carefully selected on the basis of their proven records of academic achievement. The same criteria are also applied to any new schools entering the scheme. The breadth and quality of the curricula they offer are in every case of high quality. And so are their records of success in public examinations.

Last summer 89 per cent. of A-level entries by APS pupils resulted in passes, and of these nearly 25 per cent. achieved grade As and nearly 23 per cent. achieved grade Bs. In addition, 87 per cent. of GCSE pupils in the scheme resulted in grades A to C.

Throughout the nine years of its existence the assisted places scheme has been a major success. Predictably, therefore, Opposition Members want to abolish it. I wish they could find the courage to acknowledge that, so far from removing a source of inequality and striking a blow against privilege, abolition of the APS would serve only to worsen social divisions of class and race and culture which the APS is working significantly to diminish. Without the APS, access to independent education, and to some of the finest schools in the country, would be open only to those who could afford to pay. So perhaps the hon. Member for Durham. North-West will explain later how she would further the cause of an egalitarian society by limiting choice to the affluent.

It is interesting to hear of the success of APS pupils in exams. That was one of the main reasons for introducing the scheme. Has any progress been made in broadening the IQ range of pupils accepted for the scheme; indeed, do the Government have any plans thus to broaden it?

It is for the schools to set their entrance exams and establish their own principles of selection. A number of schools are anxious to broaden the range of their social intake and are prepared to be flexible about their academic requirements. Schools in the scheme are well seized of my hon. Friend's point.

I wonder what Opposition Members would have to offer the children of this country if they were to abolish this excellent scheme. The difficulty of the hon. Member for Blackburn—one of his difficulties—is that he does not have an education policy. Moreover, he feels, very uncomfortably, the hot breath of the Socialist Education Association at the back of his neck. It does not make it any more pleasant for him that the hon. Member for Leeds, Central was rather a success at its conference. So the hon. Gentleman makes his pledges of abolition and destruction. Beyond that he offers nothing more than vague and completely unconvincing commitments to spend more money than we would on our other policies that they have said they will not reverse. I would put it to the hon. Member for Blackburn that the interests of children from poorer families are of rather more permanent importance than the hon. Gentleman's beleaguered career in the Labour party.

I have been impressed by hearing of the academic performance of some of these youngsters. It very much resembles the performance of youngsters in the good grammar schools of Northern Ireland. In view of the success of these distinguished youngsters, does the Minister have any plans to increase the number of places on the scheme?

Indeed. I am pleased to tell the House that we are committed to increasing the number of assisted places to 35,000 by the mid–1990s. We are strongly on course to meet that target—

I have been impressed by the Minister's enthusiasm on this subject. He referred at least three times to "the country" in his speech.

Now that he intends to extend the programme, will he extend it to the nation, rather than to what he considers to be the country?

I can well understand the right hon. Gentleman's eagerness that his constituents should benefit from the scheme, but that he must pursue with the Northern Ireland Office. I certainly note what he has said, however.

Our response to the success of the APS is as predictable as the Opposition's desire to abolish it. We are building on it so that parents in every part of the country will have access to the opportunities that it offers. Last year we added 52 new schools to the scheme. From this September, 17 more excellent schools in areas in which there was previously little provision under the scheme—including the north-east, the area from which the hon. Member for Durham, North-West comes—will open their doors for the first time to assisted place holders. A number of existing schools will be allocated increased quotas to enable them to meet the demand that they are experiencing for extra places.

The assisted places scheme is flourishing. It is working to the detriment of no one and to the great benefit of many. For all the reasons I have given, I commend the draft regulations to the House.

12 midnight

In opposing the draft regulations, I should like to congratulate the Minister on what I think is his first full speech from the Dispatch Box. It is good to hear him in full flow, and not just at Question Time.

In opposing the regulations last year, I outlined the research which demonstrated that the assisted places scheme has totally failed to meet the Government's objectives. I shall not go through that research in detail this year, although many of the contradictions were clear in the Minister's speech.

I shall not give way. It is not in the interests of anyone to conduct the debate as though it were taking place in a bar room. I certainly did not learn to do things that way at my state school.

The assisted places scheme has created needless divisions in society. To use the word "choice" in this context is a questionable use of the English language. Perhaps the Government need to go back and learn what some words mean.

The Government have been slow to learn. Everyone—even, in the past week, the Secretary of State—has conceded that we need, and this nation demands, an effective performance for all our children from the education system. People may have thought that education opportunities for all were a socialist aspiration—they never were, of course—but they cannot be that. Education is now a pressing necessity as we see the thwarting of not only the opportunities of individual children but the opportunities of our nation to cornpete effectively with our European neighbours. Despite that, the Government continue on a course which is unsuccessful but which gives the message, "We know what is good and we want 1 per cent. of the nation to benefit from it."

The scheme was meant for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the Minister outlined the history. I hope that he has read some of the research into the scheme. I hope that he has read "The State and Private Education: An Evaluation of the Assisted Places Scheme", which was published in the past year. An interesting review of the book in The Times Higher Educational Supplement was written by the Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who wrote the book?"] The book was written by Professors Tony Edwards, John Fitz and Geoff Whitty and it was funded by the Government through the Science and Engineering Research Council.

The review was written by the Minister who was responsible for guiding the Education Bill through the House in 1980. He said:
"Certainly ministers, including myself, have claimed in the annual debate on the scheme in Parliament that the sons and daughters of bus and lorry drivers, miners, butchers, recent immigrants and one-parent families, for example,"—
he missed window cleaners—
"have through the scheme received a first-class education they would not otherwise have attained and this has been to the good of the country and to the pupils.
The authors, however, put a new light on this. Only 10 per cent of assisted-place pupils have fathers who are manual workers and 50 per cent are employed in service industries."
Does 10 per cent. meet the Government's objective? The right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) then says:

"Even more significantly, 68 per cent of mothers and 51 per cent of fathers of such pupils attended either private or selective education."
The right hon. Gentleman also deals in the article with the issue raised by the Minister about what happens to the local comprehensive. He asks whether the scheme has damaged the academic standards of such schools. He reminds us, as did the Minister, that only 1 per cent. of pupils occupy assisted places, which are unevenly scattered. The right hon. Member also said:
"I suspect, however, that the aspirant assisted-place parents with their educational backgrounds would not have sent their children to inner-city sink comprehensives, but they would have been wise enough to shop around and get them into better comprehensives with higher academic achievements. Thus if there is any damage it must be to the better … comprehensive schools."
That is a former committed Minister recognising that the scheme has failed.

The scheme was also designed to provide choice and support effort in local communities. I have a letter relating to the trustees of the Harpur Trust in Bedford.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The convention of the House is that if an hon. Member intends to quote or refer to another hon. Member, that person be so advised. Has that convention been observed in this case?

I sent a note to the right hon. Member for Brent, North and he was also informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) when he was quoted at Question Time.

When the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) was informed about my hon. Friend's comments on his review and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), did he say that my hon. Friends in any way inaccurately reflected his view as a former Minister and headmaster?

I have not spoken to the right hon. Member for Brent, North and would not want to assume anything of the sort. I am quoting what he wrote for The Times Higher Educational Supplement. The scheme is frustrating voluntary and charitable effort. There is a voluntary scheme that supports poor people who want to get their children into Bedford school. The terms of the bursary for the assisted places scheme have been issued for this year. They say that a parent earning £39,500 per annum who has one child at Bedford school be helped with fees. Parents with two children can receive help when their income is £41,800. With three children the annual earnings figure is £47,300.

Today people are talking about supporting the family. Perhaps we have a new definition of the family in poverty. The people that I have mentioned are certainly well-paid window cleaners. To use the rationale of choice to try, unsuccessfully, to legitimise such a policy is nonsense. What choice is there for parents in Doncaster, Calderdale, or North Tyneside? The Government have said that too much is being spent on the children of such people, but they are prepared to pay an average of £500 more per child on the assisted places scheme. What choice is that? What choice is there for parents who are limited by what the Government are prepared to allow their local authorities to spend on their children? The scheme does not meet the Government's objectives as they were originally outlined—

I refer the hon. Lady to choice a little nearer to home. She may not be aware that children in her constituency can obtain assisted places at Yarm and Durham schools. Is she prepared to go back to her constituency and say that those children should not be allowed such places and instead should be sent to the local comprehensive school?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's information is more up to date than mine. My information is that Durham county does not support any assisted places. However, the hon. Gentleman may be right. We intend to phase out the assisted places scheme, but we will not penalise any child who is already participating in it. We are determined that all children, whatever their backgrounds, will have the very best opportunity. It is not only in their interests to ensure that our commitment and investment in education meets that aspiration; it is in all our interests.

I shall complete my quotation of what the right hon. Member for Brent, North said in his review:
"One criticism of the assisted-places scheme not mentioned in this book is that it took up too much time and effort of the Conservative Party … the assisted-places scheme could have taken the party down a side alley. Is this now being repeated with the city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools or even local financial management? A careful reading of this book has caused me to have this very worrying thought."
I invite the Minister to read the book. The Opposition have learnt, even if the Government have not, that the scheme meets no one's educational objectives, not even the Government's. Perhaps they should learn some of the political lessons that the right hon. Member for Brent, North has learnt. I invite my hon. Friends to oppose the regulations and to ensure that we have a Government who will fight for every child.

12.12 am

The House should consider this important matter with due consideration, especially as some 4,000 places in England are available to brighter pupils with limited financial assistance. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Minister cannot raise the sum that he is considering. The fact that 4,000 places in good independent schools are not taken up shows that a small advertising campaign would greatly assist those pupils to whom my hon. Friend so rightly referred.

I wish to concentrate my remarks on the north-east. It is clear that there has been a good take-up of places in Yorkshire—for example, Batley grammar, Bradford grammar, Bradford girls grammar, Harrogate college and schools of that ilk. We would all be proud to send our children to schools of such quality. I am proud that in or near to my constituency children have the opportunity to attend St. Peter's in York, England's oldest school, and Pocklington near York.

When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that he will advise us how we can ensure that all children in the north-east appreciate the possibilities of a brighter and wider education in the independent sector. The latest figures available show that 70 per cent. of places had been taken up in the north-east, but that leaves a yawning gap of opportunity which I hope will be filled at the earliest opportunity.

In 1988–89—the latest year for which figures are available—the average cost of a place was £2,591, but there are certain differences that should not act as a disincentive. The fact that 52 per cent. of pupils on assisted places secured either A or B grade A-levels compared with 45 per cent. across the sector is another reason pupils of good academic ability should have their names put forward.

I declare an interest as a governor of Yarm private school in my constituency, which operates the assisted places scheme. Does my hon. Friend agree that the scheme's real importance is that, like direct grant, it gives the talented child from whatever background the opportunity to maximise his lifetime opportunities? Is not it surprising that the scheme is opposed by Opposition Members when there are many among them who benefited from the direct grant scheme in the past? In only the last week we saw a marvellous example of how it can assist the very best to get to the top in society, because my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was himself a direct grant boy at Dulwich college.

Order. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that interventions should be brief.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making such a salient and relevant point. It would do right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House much credit if they acknowledged the benefits of education through the independent sector and the opportunities that many young people have been given by the assisted places scheme, rather than constantly denigrate it and argue that we should go for the lowest common denominator.

Opposition Members should accept the truth of that, and not deny the advantages of such an education to those who follow them.

This issue merits a full-scale debate. The Opposition are obviously rattled, knowing that they are on very slippery ground. I commend the regulations to the House, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address in particular the difficulties of the north-east and the opportunities that are available there. I hope also that a leaflet can be produced explaining to parents the financial aspects of the scheme, because the calculations based on relevant earnings are difficult to understand and require the help of a local bursar.

12.18 am

You will note, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have Ulster behind me. But the people in front of me—

Conservative Members are in high good humour tonight, but I hope that they will listen to my comments about the assisted places scheme.

The entire British education system is in urgent need of assistance. Last week, a group of Sheffield schools sent a delegation to Whitehall in the hope of seeing a Minister. They did not manage that, but I believe that they saw a civil servant instead. They came down to tell us that they were short of teachers, that their schools were crumbling and that there was a lack of morale among teachers.

The speed with which the so-called reforms are being pushed forward is having a parlous effect on schools. They cannot possibly keep pace with them. On top of all that is the assisted places scheme. The children of Conservative Members are being educated privately, whereas we are trying to cater for the needs of the vast majority of children. Money is short because the Government are deliberately keeping it short. They provide expensive education for their children and cheap education for ours. On top of that, the Government have the effrontery to say that we are being naughty when we attack what they are doing.

If we examine what the Government mean by choice in the case of the assisted places scheme, or anything else, we have to ask ourselves—since they have private education and have created the city technology colleges—what choice ordinary children have in the schools on which so little money is spent. The city technology colleges are to be paid for by industry. Their pupils are hand picked. Are assisted places available in those colleges for ordinary children? The assisted places scheme is a piece of gross effrontery. Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money are being siphoned off to provide private education for the children of Conservative supporters. It is done under the guise of helping poor children, but the Government know that that is a piece of gross effrontery.

I have in my hand the Government's document that deals with the scheme. It began in 1984–85 and £22 million was spent on it in the first year. In 1985–86 another £30 million was spent on it. In 1986–87, £38 million, in 1987–88, £46 million, in 1988–89, £51 million and in 1989–90, £59 million was spent on the scheme. Up to today, that has taken £246 million out of the state education system. In the next three years, £62 million will be taken out of it in the first year, £60 million in the second and £70 million in the third. That amounts to another £192 million. Taken together, £438 million has been taken away from state education. In addition, the city technology colleges have taken £52 million this year. During the next three years they will take £135 million. The grand total that is being taken away from state education is £635 million.

The Government ask us to support that proposal tonight. No Conservative Member has referred to those figures. The cost to the state education system is absolutely staggering, especially when one remembers all the difficulties that Her Majesty's inspectors of education have highlighted. That money would buy books and materials for all our children. The Government claim that they are providing choice for our children. However, they are pouring all that money into a private education system that caters for their children and they are shoring it up by that means. They do it under the guise of catering for our children.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the figures that he quoted, a large number of teachers who were trained at public expense and who are much needed in schools such as those in Tower Hamlets are being used to ensure that the classes of the privileged minority are kept small?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why Conservative Members are keeping so quiet. They know that in their report Her Majesty's inspectors point out that a third of our children get what they call a raw deal. They are taking money from the state system and giving it to the private system, which is already wealthy beyond measure. It is a bribe to Tory supporters and a handful of others. It is money taken from our children who are being starved of funds in the state system. They glory in it. It is all part of a merciless attack on the state system, which the Tories loathe and never use. It is the same with the national health service, which they also do not use and are starving of funds—[Interruption.] No amount of shouting at me will help. They know that I have a habit of telling them uncomfortable truths.

While this measure is being discussed late at night, the state system is under attack and, according to what the Tories have said recently, the comprehensive schools will be next. However, they have gone over the top. The people have seen it for the dogma that it is and they are extremely angry at the state of the education system and the fact that the Tories are siphoning off money. Those angry people will be coming to see all of us before long because there is not enough money to teach our children. Local management of schools is adding to the list of schools without teachers. That is the position in which we have been placed by the assisted places scheme, city technology colleges and the siphoning off of money that should go to our children.

12.26 am

Despite the lateness of the hour, the sort of ideological claptrap that we have just heard should not go unanswered. I am slightly surprised at the Labour party's depth of opposition. Basically, this is an egalitarian measure. It provides opportunities for people who would not otherwise be able to afford them to take advantage of a private education. For that reason it is scarcely surprising that it is popular. When it was introduced in 1981 only 7,000 people took advantage of it, but by this year the figure will have increased to 27,000 and just under one third of those will get their education entirely free. A large proportion of the others who take advantage of the scheme will pay relatively little for what would remain an unobtainable privilege if such a scheme did not exist.

I should have thought that it was a good sign that 294 private schools—there will be 16 more this year—were prepared to offer places to people who otherwise would be unable to afford them. I should have thought that that would make them less exclusive, widen the social spectrum of those able to go there and increase opportunities for people who otherwise would not have them.

Although the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) talked about cost, I believe that the basic reason for the Labour party's opposition to the assisted places scheme is purely ideological. In 1976 the Labour party signed the United Nations covenant on economic, social and cultural rights which says:
"The State Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by public authorities".
However, if we look behind that, we see that that is a human right upon which the Labour party frowns. It is a human right which it would prefer nobody to take up. It wants every child in the country to go to comprehensive schools in the state sector and to have little choice and no opportunity to go to private schools.

The Labour party is suspicious of choice, variety, high standards and selection. It opposes grammar schools. It opposed and effectively demolished the direct grant schools. It opposes grant-maintained schools which are popular with parents. It opposes CTCs despite the fact that the CTC in Solihull is seven times over-subscribed as it is so popular with parents. In Birmingham it opposed the concept of open enrolment within the state system. In other words, it believes that children should attend the school that the local authority thinks they should attend. It opposes the private sector because it wants to end charitable status and has the idiotic idea that by so doing it will help children who would otherwise be unable to attend private schools. In short, whether it is parental choice, selection on merit or high standards, its Pavlovian reaction makes Pavlov's dog look reasonably rational.

The Labour party tries to dress up its arguments as being rational. The first argument advanced by the hon. Member for Hillsborough was cost. He said that the £61 million a year that is being spent for 27,000 pupils on the assisted places scheme, at an average of £2,300 per pupil, would not be available for the private sector, but as a headmaster of a participating school said recently, that is a gross cost. The cost to the state of sending a pupil to a school in the maintained sector is not incurred if he attends a private school under the assisted places scheme.

As there is evidence that parents contribute to the cost of their children's education under the assisted places scheme, and as schools, especially boarding establishments, also contribute to the cost of children's education under the assisted education scheme, the most intelligent way of looking at it is that the scheme offers the state an opportunity to provide an education that would normally cost £4,000 or £5,000 for a net average cost of £2,200. That is a good deal for the taxpayer.

The other point which has not been mentioned so far but which is put forward by opponents of the scheme is that it draws bright children away from the state sector. The effect is far too diffuse to affect individual schools. No one has said to me, "Our school is being affected by children taking up the assisted places scheme." Although this idea seems antipathetic to the Labour party, I thought that schools were meant to be run for pupils rather than for schools.

Labour Members fall back on their ideas of egalitarianism—the lowest common denominator. Irrespective of the examples that the Minister gave tonight, of the academic quality of the results achieved by pupils on assisted places in private schools and of the fact that the scheme broadens the number of people who attend private schools and therefore the social spectrum, all that they can say is that if not everybody can attend them nobody should do so.

Exactly. If that is not the politics of envy, malice and means-spiritedness in the extreme, I do not know what is.

The scheme speaks for opportunity and high standards and it does not damage the stage system. As The Observer said in 1988—this is the most up-to-date article on the assisted places scheme, which shows how accepted it has become in the education establishment—

"The Assisted Places Scheme has confounded its critics by providing art opportunity for low income parents to opt for an academic education."
The scheme has made private education more accessible. I hope that the 7,000 places on it will be taken up and that it will be expanded in the future. I shall be delighted to support it in the Lobby tonight.

12.34 am

I would not describe the regulations as egalitarian. I would describe them as nauseating—like the contributions that have been made in this debate which have attacked and derided the quality of education in our state schools. Conservative Members have told us how wonderful private, fee-paying schools are and that that is where high academic standards are to be achieved. They tell us that we are mean-minded to say that the very few should not have access to those academic centres of excellence.

Speaking as a parent who has a child in the state education system, I want all children to have access to the highest quality of education as a right to prepare them with the tools to contribute to our society. Extraordinary points have been made in this debate. On the one hand, we were told that the scheme is helping to break down the inequalities in our education system. On the other hand, we were told that only a few have access to the scheme. The very presence of the scheme widens the inequalities and opportunities between those who attend the state sector and those who attend private fee-paying schools.

It is all about buying privilege for the few. I totally reject the establishment of an education system that operates, as some hon. Members have suggested, on the lowest common denominator. I would not want the lowest common denominator education for my son; I want the very best that the education system can offer him as his right to build his future.

The Government are two faced about education. Avon county council has been poll tax-capped and the Government tell us that Avon is overspending by £57 million a year. However, it costs £1,898 a year to educate a pupil in a comprehensive school in Avon. I looked at the many private fee-paying schools in Avon to get an idea of the system that we are being told is egalitarian in which privilege and rights are bought in our society.

I am interested in what the hon. Lady is saying about equality and egalitarianism. Does she recall the time when we had an enforced system of comprehensive schools in London? Where catchment areas were drawn by local authorities, the determinant of entry to a school was not ability or religious background; it was whether one's parents could afford to buy a house in the catchment area of one school as opposed to another. Tonight the Labour party might like to make it plain that given the opportunity Labour would require all schools to be organised along comprehensive lines, with 11 to 16 schools and tertiary colleges serving them. Nothing else would exist. Will the hon. Lady come clean on that point?

I had the privilege of attending an excellent comprehensive school in the constituency of the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). It had excellent academic achievements. It was an excellent example of how well-resourced comprehensive education operates. It is a tragedy that, in several ways, the education system in which my son now finds himself is worse than the education system in which I was at his age. Schools are In worse condition, resources are declining, and insecurities are worse as a result of 10 years of this Government.

To quote at random, at Monkton Combe school, Bath, a day fee-paying school, annual fees are £5,625. At Clifton college, Bristol, a day fee-paying school, annual fees are £5,820. At Colston's school, Bristol, annual fees are £3,555 per year. That is much more than is being spent on my son's education. That is wrong. There should be no distinction. All bright children should have the right to go to schools that stretch their abilities. All children should have the right to go to properly resourced schools. On the Minister's own figures, the average cost of an assisted place is higher than the cost of educating a child in the state sector.

People talk about academic education, good exam passes, preparing pupils to take an active role in society, equal opportunities of quality, and the benefits of education. All our children have a right to access to all those things—not the odd one or two children who get through on the assisted places scheme. Let us make no mistake. The schemes are being expanded because there are not enough pupils to keep schools going because of the drop in the population, thereby taking children out of our state system.

Bright children will do well whether they are in private schools or state schools. It is appalling that the House should say that a tiny proportion of our children should have the right to additional resources, to the detriment of the rest of the children in this country. Avon county council has been poll tax-capped. The Government have told it to cut expenditure and have then given more money to state-assisted places. That is obscene.

The Government have been exposed for what they really are. They favour privilege for the few at the cost of the rest of us. If we are to have a lecture on egalitarianism, perhaps we should start with basics, not buying privilege.

12.42 am

I cannot possibly agree with or follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), who would restrict entry to independent schools to those who earn £30,000 or £40,000 a year or more. That cannot be right, because the assisted places scheme has been successful. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) say that the scheme was a failure and was not working. Having taught young people on the assisted places scheme, I can say that it is a success for the vast majority of those young people. The Government should be proud of that scheme, along with the other ideas that they have brought forward to provide variety and choice in education.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) referred to the money that is going into the assisted places scheme. He said that that money is lost to the state system and to our young people. It is an insult to the 172 young people who are going through Norwich high school on the assisted places scheme. They would not like to be told that the money that is being spent on them is a waste. These arguments are total nonsense—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] As my hon. Friends are reminding me, the assisted places scheme is basically a good, successful scheme. After all, it is good not only for the boys and girls who attend schools that use the scheme, but, from my experience, I know that it is good for the schools themselves. They benefit in many ways from that intake of pupils.

I have not heard one argument from the Opposition to convince me that my personal experience of the scheme is mistaken in any way. I assure my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that they have the support of my hon. Friends and of the overwhelming majority of parents in this country. The Opposition's arguments are total nonsense and the sooner we recognise that, the better.

12.45 am

I have listened with some interest to the speeches of Conservative Members. Two appalling comments stood out which are, unfortunately, indicative of the attitudes behind the Government's creation of the assisted places scheme. One Conservative Member said that the scheme provided an academic education. The publicly run schools in my area of Cornwall have a high reputation and the teachers whom I visit would be most insulted if anybody suggested that they provided anything less than an academic education. There is no such distinction. It is wrong for any hon. Member to suggest that those who work in the state system are providing anything less than that which is provided in the private system. There may be more money in the private system and the ability to select more highly, but it is absolutely wrong to suggest that the teachers in the state system are not providing an academic education to the best of their abilities, that they are not doing the best for their pupils and that they are not tailoring the education to their needs.

Worse, however, was the earlier suggestion of another Conservative Member that, by arguing against the assisted places scheme, the Labour party was arguing for the lowest common denominator. No argument in favour of the state system and about whether resources should be used on assisted places suggests that the target is the lowest common denominator. Nor does anything that happens in the state system point to the lowest common denominator. All the teachers to whom I speak or with whom I work and visit in my part of the country—I know that this is true in other areas—are looking to the highest common denominator, to do the best for all their pupils and to tailor the education that they provide to the needs of their pupils. To suggest that the state system is about the lowest common denominator is redolent of insults about everything that takes place there. Such suggestions should not be made by any side of the debate.

If the public sector of education is the lowest common denominator, that is an indictment of the Government who have been responsible for administering and running it for the last 10 years.

That is absolutely right. That is precisely the point to which I was coming.

The attitudes that we have heard from Conservative Members and the system of the assisted places scheme itself are both elitist and defeatist. The system is elitist because it seems to suggest that we can give the best education only to a few for whom extra resources are provided, which are diverted into the private sector. Therefore, by definition, the scheme is limited in the opportunities that it can provide because it cannot provide those opportunities to the vast majority.

The system is defeatist because it also seems to suggest that—no matter what—public policy has to direct what resources there are to those whom Conservative Members believe are the best pupils and to the private sector because it is impossible—they believe—to provide that best education through the state sector. That defeatism is not right. I should not argue against what the Government are doing if I believed that it was right. I believe that it is possible to provide the best education for all pupils from all backgrounds in the state system.

So that we can see whether there is any connection between the philosophy of liberalism and the title of the hon. Gentleman's party, will he tell us whether he believes that there should be any assisted places scheme, direct-grant schools in the form of grant-maintained schools or any other form of education that is not in the hands of the state?

We need diversity and I have never argued otherwise. However, directing extra resources to, by definition, a limited number of pupils to send them into a system that most people will never be able to enjoy is not the best use of the limited resources available to the Department of Education and Science. That is why we are against the assisted places scheme.

The argument in favour of the assisted places scheme falls down in its own rationale. We are told that it is intended for pupils who are bright but would not otherwise have the opportunity to attend an independent school. Yet within the state system there is plenty of evidence that, if there is a group that does not do well, it is not the brightest pupils nor, indeed, the least bright. It is the middle range of pupils, if any, that suffers. The resources should be directed at them.

The argument in favour of the scheme is also based on the assumption that bright children will receive a better education in the independent system than in the state system. Several individual cases were referred to earlier. We were told that one child was the daughter of a bus driver and another was the son of a window cleaner. I have rarely heard anything so patronising in this Chamber. There is simply no evidence to suggest that those who come from a background where their parents work as window cleaners or bus drivers will necessarily fail in a state school. The implications behind those statements absolutely appal me. It is simply a fallacy.

The most important factor in whether such pupils fail is the support that they receive from their parents, the quality of the education offered by individual teachers, irrespective of the type of school in which the teacher works, and the motivation and ability of the pupils. We are all aware of many examples of pupils who go to schools which do not have a good reputation for achieving high academic results—often because the pupils who attend it do not have the support to which I referred—yet overcome their difficulties and do well.

Many people whom I know have achieved extraordinarily good results—grade A in all the exams that they have taken throughout their careers at schools in the state sector which have no special reputation for academic results but which, when a bright pupil comes along, can offer the necessary support.

The fundamental issue addressed by teachers and others in schools which I visit in my work as a constituency Member of Parliament is the overall size of the cake. They stress the need for more text books, more resources in schools, and more teachers to offer the greater flexibility and support for the individual pupil that the private sector can offer, precisely because it is more expensive. It is the withdrawal of those extra resources and their placement in the assisted places scheme and, therefore, in a private sector that is already over-resourced that is so appalling and makes the whole scheme wrong.

I do not believe that Conservative Members have said anything to justify the scheme. Rather they have justified the assumption that is built on prejudice. It reflects that prejudice and will continue to do so.

12.54 am

I want to recount my experience in education so that the House understands that I do not speak from what the Opposition might describe as a privileged background.

I went to a state comprehensive school and taught in the state sector for 10 years. I was a member of the Inner London education authority and, before I entered the House, I was an education officer for a local education authority. All my experience has been gained in the state education sector and, therefore, I speak with some knowledge about the state education system.

As I have listened to the debate I have been depressed by the total lack of thought that Opposition Members have given to the principles of education and freedom of choice. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), a representative of the Liberal party, spoke about taking freedom of choice away from parents. That party has come a long way from the Liberal party of the 19th century which believed in choice and diversity. It believed in the rights of parents to exercise choice. The hon. Gentleman should consider the book on liberty written by John Stuart Mill which contained the famous statement that it would be a grave mistake on the part of the state if all or a large part of education was concentrated in its hands. We have come a long way since then.

It is important that our education system should offer as many different forms of teaching and opportunities as possible from which parents can choose. It is only through diversity and competition that educational standards increase. If the state and local education authorities had complete control of all schools, if no one was allowed to send their child to a school outside local education authority control and teachers had to work in local education authority schools, there would be no impetus to provide competition and increased standards. There would be no other benchmark by which to judge those schools. It is therefore important that we should have such diversity. There are extremely good schools in the state system, but they will not maintain their excellence if no one else is allowed to provide education outside the state system.

I deplore the attitude of the Labour party. Opposition Members have had the opportunity of grammar school and public school education. They have been able to exercise such choice, but now they are seeking to pull up the ladder behind them. They tell working-class, ordinary people that they may not have that same choice. Look at the direct grant grammar school boys on the Opposition Benches who want to ensure that no one else can exercise choice in education. It is vital that we do not pull up the ladder of opportunity. People must have choice in our education system.

It is a fallacy to pretend that, because everyone cannot enjoy freedom, no one should. That is like the old socialist argument that, because everyone cannot dine at the Ritz, no one should. The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) spoke about withdrawing choice from education. Not everyone can own his own home, but does that mean that we should all live in council houses? Not everyone can afford a car, but does that mean that no one should own a car? That is the logic of the Opposition's argument.

The hon. Gentleman asks whether the fact that everyone cannot own his home means that no one should. It does not, but it means that no one should be homeless. Equally, if all children cannot have a privileged education, they should at least have a teacher. Privilege should not mean that some children are in smaller classes while others have no teacher.

I do not disagree with the hon. Lady, but that is not what the Labour party is advocating. It argues that no one should have choice outside the state education system. The hon. Member for Durham, North-West has not argued that because not everyone has equal opportunity, no one should have any opportunity—she believes that no one should have any choice.

It was interesting that when the hon. Member for Durham, North-West intervened in the speech of the hon.

Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) she implied that she believed in the direction of labour, and that teachers should not be allowed to teach in private schools because they had been taught and trained in the state sector.

It is interesting to finish on that point because it shows that Labour Members do not think through what they say. Their policies imply that they would have to create a police state in this country. If the Labour party took to its logical conclusion its policy that nobody should be educated or teach outside the state sector, it would have to create a police state to stop those schools moving to southern Ireland, France and other countries. It would have to introduce laws to stop parents sending their children abroad. If it wishes to do that it will have to set up an edifice of controls and regulations to prevent people from trying to get round the rules by taking their children abroad. Labour Members should think through what they are saying before they decide to take away choice, variety and diversity.

I believe in this small measure, which gives working-class people an opportunity to have a choice in their education, and I support what the Government are doing.

1.2 am

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall speak again.

The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) should not lecture other people when he does not follow his own lessons. No one is saying that people in this country cannot have a choice, and there is much choice within the state sector. We are saying that taxpayers' money should not be used to subsidise a division in education which means that the Government can say that they are content with buying for 1 per cent. what they consider to be the best. Even if they want to get away with that in terms of their ideology, this country cannot afford it. We must get the best for every child.

I invite the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) to look again at the research. I judge the scheme according to the criteria that the Government set out. It is against those criteria—

I shall not give way because I am responding to a point raised by the hon. Member for Norwich, North.

In response to the criteria set down by the Government, the scheme has failed. I am happy that the hon. Gentleman should have a look at that.

Certainly—now that I have answered the hon. Member for Norwich, North, I happily give way to the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn).

I thought for a moment that I was going to be ignored.

Will the hon. Lady confirm and place on record that I can go back to the people of Dartford and tell them tonight that the Labour party's policies would lead to the closure in Dartford of the grammar schools, the city technology college, the grant-maintained school, the organisation of all secondary schools along comprehensive lines with a range of schools for 11 to 16–year-olds being served by tertiary colleges, and the total elimination of the Church schools?

The hon. Gentleman has a vivid imagination. To save the time of the House, I will send him our policy review so that he can read it for himself. I want to be straight with the hon. Gentleman and if I were to answer him fully, I would take some time, which I do not have.

People are saying that the Government's policy is popular, but, in that case, why are 6,000 places—not 4,000, as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) said—unfilled?

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) for pointing out the effect of the measures on many places.

I shall finish, not with another quote from the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), although that is tempting, but with a quote from people in the independent sector who have assessed the effect of the assisted places scheme on that sector. They know that the main effect on that sector is to subsidise it. David Woodhead, director of the Independent Schools Information Service, has said that if the removal of the assisted places scheme were to go ahead
"there would be a lot of worried schools."
The bursar of St. Mary's college in Crosby said:
"Schools that have not made some form of provision to back up the assisted places scheme if it was withdrawn could be rather exposed."
Judith Sichy, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said that it was impossible to say quite how much schools would lose if charitable status was abolished, but it would be a "blow" and would lead to fee increases for parents. That is the fear of Conservative Members—that the independent school sector, or much of it, would collapse because it would lose the public subsidy.

Let us use that public subsidy to good effect for the children of our country who need such support, so that we can ensure that they are able to take the country forward to an effective economy and an effective future. If we do that for all our children, no one will need to argue for any assisted places.

1.7 am

I was grateful to the hon. Lady for the kind words that she spoke at the beginning of her speech, but then I was disappointed, because I had hoped that the Labour party, in the process of its policy review, would have given some fresh thought to this issue, which we have debated many times in the past. Yet it seems to ignore the realities before it.

For example, the hon. Lady disputed—

We were of two minds on what to do about the assisted places scheme until we read the review by the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). It was his view that this experiment had been such a failure that led to our decision to phase the scheme out.

Again, I would have hoped that the Labour party would muster its own intellectual resources to think up an education policy, but it has not.

The hon. Lady ignored the fact that there is choice. In her own area there is a choice; in county Durham children may go to Barnard Castle school within the scheme, and with the extension of the scheme there will be a new opportunity for children to go to assisted places at King's School in north Tyneside, to which the hon. Lady also referred. The hon. Lady, like the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), said that her purpose was to ensure that excellent education was available for all. We can all agree upon that.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South then spoilt it by making it clear that she believes, not in equality of opportunity but in equality of outcome. She developed a curious, and indeed interesting, theory, which might have its attractions, that an equal sum should be made available from public resources for all children. I am not sure whether she was beginning to argue for a voucher scheme and whether that is more evidence of the influence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) on the thinking of the Labour party. Really her idea was a travesty of my right hon. Friend's thinking. All hon. Members know that my right hon. Friend has always been a great champion of freedom and of choice.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) for the support that he expressed for the assisted places scheme. He raised some serious and practical points. He asked, as did the hon. Member for Durham, North-West, about the lack of complete take-up of assisted places in some schools. It is inevitable that there will be some schools where there are not applications for all the places, just as there are many other schools that are over-subscribed under the scheme. We have a system of negotiation to transfer the surplus quota of places from the under-subscribed schools to the fully subscribed schools, and we are working on a more flexible and quickly responsive scheme of pooling to enable us to deal with that problem.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of publicity. The principal responsibility for publicising the scheme rests with the schools. I pay tribute to the effort that so many of the schools in the scheme make to ensure that young people and their parents are aware of the available opportunities. That will be part of a much wider culture, because under the local management of schools, and with open enrolment, all schools will have to seek to make themselves attractive to the parents and children whom it is their responsibility to serve.

My hon. Friend the Member for York asked whether we provide leaflets: we certainly do. They explain how the scheme works and how families can benefit from it. I hope that more local education authorities will recognise their responsibility to make known the existence of scheme schools in their area. Equally, I look to primary heads to ensure that children who could appropriately go on to a school in the scheme know about it.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for York asked about the north-east. I am pleased to say that, as part of the extension of the scheme this September, no fewer than six new schools will be admitted to the scheme in the north-east, and there will be three additional places in the Yarn school of which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) is a governor. He made a powerful speech in which he reminded us of the disappointing record of the last Labour Government, who destroyed the direct grant scheme. Their commitment to destroy this scheme is a dreary return to that kind of prejudice.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) spoke up doughtily for Sheffield, as he always does. He was right to do so, just as the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon) rightly spoke up for Tower Hamlets. I recognise the educational difficulties that those local authorities and parents, children and teachers in their areas face. Of course we shall do what we can to help. I met a deputation led by the leader of the Sheffield LEA recently, and I have fully absorbed his concerns. Only this afternoon, I saw the director of education in Tower Hamlets, and I pay tribute to her remarkable efforts to improve the quality of the service in that area.

The hon. Member for Hillsborough became rather old-fashioned when he got to the bit about the assisted places scheme. The cost of the scheme in the financial year 1989–80 was less than half of 1 per cent. of total public expenditure on schools. The hon. Gentleman has got he issue out of proportion. Since we came to office we have increased real spending by more than 40 per cent. per child. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) mentioned expenditure on books and equipment. That, too, is up by 28 per cent.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) and for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) for the refreshing good sense they brought to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest recited a gloomy catalogue of the destructive pledges of the Labour party. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North spoke with legitimate pride of his experience of teaching in one of the great schools in the scheme—Manchester grammar—and about Norwich high school.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) brought to the debate the benefit of his authority as one who has great depth of experience of working in the maintained sector. He talked a great deal of good sense.

I must take issue with the hon. Member for Truro, who wrongly extracted from the remarks of Conservative Members the inference that there had been some disparagement of the maintained schools, merely because we believe that the APS widens choice and gives the parents of less well-off children the opportunity to send their offspring to some of the best schools in the country. There are many extremely good maintained schools. We must cherish excellence wherever it is found—and support it. I look forward to meeting a deputation from Cornwall next week and I shall do what I can to ensure that the teachers of Cornwall, to whom I pay tribute, have every opportunity to continue to serve their pupils.

I commend the draft regulations to the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 215, Noes 89.

Division No. 307]

[1.14 am

AYES

Alexander, RichardBatiste, Spencer
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBellingham, Henry
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Amess, DavidBevan, David Gilroy
Amos, AlanBoscawen, Hon Robert
Arbuthnot, JamesBoswell, Tim
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Arnold, Sir ThomasBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Ashby, DavidBowis, John
Aspinwall, JackBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Atkinson, DavidBrazier, Julian
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Bright, Graham
Baldry, TonyBrown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Buck, Sir Antony

Burns, SimonKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Burt, AlistairKnowles, Michael
Butterfill, JohnLang, Ian
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Lawrence, Ivan
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Carrington, MatthewLightbown, David
Carttiss, MichaelLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Cash, WilliamLord, Michael
Chapman, SydneyLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Chope, ChristopherMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Maclean, David
Colvin, MichaelMcLoughlin, Patrick
Conway, DerekMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Mans, Keith
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Marland, Paul
Cran, JamesMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Davis, David (Boothferry)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Day, StephenMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Devlin, TimMellor, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMiller, Sir Hal
Dover, DenMills, Iain
Dunn, BobMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Durant, TonyMitchell, Sir David
Evennett, DavidMoate, Roger
Favell, TonyMorris, M (N'hampton S)
Fenner, Dame PeggyMorrison, Sir Charles
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Moss, Malcolm
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyMoynihan, Hon Colin
Fishburn, John DudleyNelson, Anthony
Fookes, Dame JanetNeubert, Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Nicholls, Patrick
Franks, CecilNicholson, David (Taunton)
Freeman, RogerNorris, Steve
French, DouglasOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Gale, RogerPage, Richard
Gardiner, GeorgePaice, James
Garel-Jones, TristanPatnick, Irvine
Gill, ChristopherPatten, Rt Hon John
Goodhart, Sir PhilipPattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesPawsey, James
Gorst, JohnPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Gow, IanPorter, David (Waveney)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Raffan, Keith
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Gregory, ConalRathbone, Tim
Ground, PatrickRedwood, John
Hague, WilliamRenton, Rt Hon Tim
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hanley, JeremyRoberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Roe, Mrs Marion
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Rowe, Andrew
Harris, DavidRumbold, Mrs Angela
Hayes, JerrySayeed, Jonathan
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyShaw, David (Dover)
Hayward, RobertShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hind, KennethShelton, Sir William
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Shersby, Michael
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Soames, Hon Nicholas
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Hunter, AndrewSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Irvine, MichaelStanbrook, Ivor
Jack, MichaelStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Jackson, RobertSteen, Anthony
Janman, TimStern, Michael
Jessel, TobyStevens, Lewis
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineSummerson, Hugo
Key, RobertTapsell, Sir Peter
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Kirkhope, TimothyTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Knapman, RogerTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Knight, Greg (Derby North)Temple-Morris, Peter

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)Wells, Bowen
Thorne, NeilWheeler, Sir John
Thornton, MalcolmWhitney, Ray
Thurnham, PeterWiddecombe, Ann
Townend, John (Bridlington)Wilkinson, John
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)Wilshire, David
Tracey, RichardWinterton, Mrs Ann
Trotter, NevilleWinterton, Nicholas
Twinn, Dr IanWolfson, Mark
Viggers, PeterWood, Timothy
Walden, GeorgeYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Waller, Gary
Ward, John

Tellers for the Ayes:

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Mr. Alastair Goodlad and

Warren, Kenneth

Mr. Tom Sackville.

Watts, John

NOES

Anderson, DonaldLofthouse, Geoffrey
Armstrong, HilaryMcAllion, John
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)McAvoy, Thomas
Beggs, RoyMcFall, John
Beith, A. J.McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)McKelvey, William
Bradley, KeithMcWilliam, John
Buckley, George J.Mahon, Mrs Alice
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Carr, MichaelMeale, Alan
Clay, BobMichael, Alun
Clelland, DavidMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMorgan, Rhodri
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Morley, Elliot
Corbyn, JeremyMullin, Chris
Cousins, JimMurphy, Paul
Cryer, BobNellist, Dave
Cunliffe, LawrencePatchett, Terry
Dalyell, TamPike, Peter L.
Darling, AlistairPrimarolo, Dawn
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Quin, Ms Joyce
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)Redmond, Martin
Dewar, DonaldReid, Dr John
Dixon, DonRichardson, Jo
Dunnachie, JimmyRobertson, George
Eastham, KenRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Short, Clare
Fatchett, DerekSkinner, Dennis
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Flannery, MartinSmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Foster, DerekSpearing, Nigel
Galloway, GeorgeSteinberg, Gerry
George, BruceStraw, Jack
Gordon, MildredTaylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hardy, PeterTurner, Dennis
Heal, Mrs SylviaWalley, Joan
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Wareing, Robert N.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Illsley, EricWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Kennedy, CharlesWorthington, Tony
Lamond, James
Leadbitter, Ted

Tellers for the Noes:

Lewis, Terry

Mr. Frank Haynes and

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Mrs. Llin Golding.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Education (Assisted Places) (Amendment) Regulations 1990, which were laid before this House on 27th June, be approved.

House Of Commons (Services)

Ordered,

That Mr. Robert Rhodes James be discharged from the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) and Mr. Graham Bright be added to the Committee.—[Mr. Nicholas Baker.]

Mr David Simpson

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Nicholas Baker.]

1.25 am

I wish to express my delight at obtaining this Adjournment debate, although it is diminished by my regret at having to raise the issue in such a public way. I recognise that raising this case in the House will inevitably arouse memories, anger and anguish among those concerned in the incident three years ago.

I wish that we—myself, Mr. David Simpson and his solicitor and his barrister—had been able to convince the Home Office and the Minister, through private correspondence, of the need to pay Mr. Simpson compensation for the three months that he spent in prison for a crime that he did not commit.

I do not think that there is any disagreement between me and the Minister about the background to the case. There was a fatal road accident in April 1987, and there is no doubt that Mr. Simpson was subsequently charged with causing death by reckless driving. Throughout, Mr. Simpson protested that he was the pillion rider and not the driver rider of the motor cycle involved.

The Minister will know that Mr. Simpson was on bail for about 14 months until he appeared in Leicester Crown court on 1 to 3 August 1988. He was convicted on a majority verdict and received a 12–month term of imprisonment. However, in the light of further evidence his conviction was quashed at the Court of Appeal on 11 November 1988. After some three months in prison, that innocent man was finally vindicated.

I must emphasise that Mr. Simpson was extremely lucky that two new witnesses came forward to support his case. It was fortuitous that they did so before the appeal was heard. They had seen a report in the 10 August 1988 edition of Motor Cycle News and realised that there had been a miscarriage of justice. At the time of the accident, the two witnesses had been living in Leicester, but had subsequently moved to Cornwall and so were not familiar with what had happened; neither had they seen reports of the court case in the Leicester Mercury, the local evening newspaper.

When the witnesses saw the report in Motor Cycle News, they realised that it was their duty and responsibility to come forward and support Mr. Simpson's case. In the absence of those new witnesses, there would have been a distinct possibility that an innocent man would have had to serve the remainder of his sentence.

In the light of that background—and I bear no animosity towards the Minister—I wish to emphasise that I deeply resent and regret that the fact that he included the following sentence in a letter to me on 13 November 1989: I quote from the third page of the Home Office letter and the words of the Minister, or perhaps of his civil servant:
"The new witnesses, although apparently known to a friend of Mr. Simpson, did not appear until three days before the appeal hearing—some 18 months after the incident."
I am not sure what was meant by those words, but I draw from them two inferences that I find deeply offensive. The first is that Mr. Simpson should or could have been aware of the existence of those witnesses at the time of his trial, and that some fault therefore lies on his shoulders for not bringing them forward then. The second is that those witnesses were somehow sprung on the Court of Appeal at the last moment. If I am wrong in drawing those inferences, I shall be delighted to hear the Minister say that they do not represent his point of view.

The barrister who defended Mr. Simpson is convinced that the original conviction was a miscarriage of justice. The Minister will have read a letter from Mr. Gaskell to the Home Office dated 12 February 1990, in which he wrote:

"Normally, as counsel, I do not concern myself with questions about whether a defendant actually did or did not commit the crimes alleged. But as the evidence in the trial unfolded, it became clear that this was a wholly exceptional case. Sometimes juries do get it wrong: they did here. The conviction was, in my view, plainly wrong. Accordingly, Mr. Simpson spent 3 months in prison for a crime he did not commit."
It will come as no surprise to the Minister that the effects of the incident on Mr. Simpson and his family were devastating. I will quote his own words. He explains that in the pre-trial period he was bailed for 14 months,

"during which time the mental stress of having the case `hanging over me' was unbearable and had already affected a four-year relationship with my common law wife. At this time she left me."
The relationship between Mr. Simpson and his common law wife broke down as a direct consequence of the pre-trial stress. His elderly parents suffered great mental stress, ending with their both being treated with medication by their doctor. Mr. Simpson's relationship with his two children, then aged 19 and 20, also suffered during the pre-trial period as a consequence of the stress, irritability and depression that Mr. Simpson felt.

Mr. Simpson continued to protest his innocence throughout this time in prison. He writes:
"My total bewilderment at my predicament, constantly protesting my innocence, led me to suggest to the prison doctor the drastic action of a hunger strike. I was told I would be put in a hospital wing in a padded cell if I suggested such a thing again."
Perhaps that was the natural reaction of an innocent man, trying to show the authorities that he was prepared to go to any lengths to protest his innocence. He goes on:
"While sharing a small, cramped cell with two other prisoners, one of the inmates threatened to hang himself with a sheet, whilst another inmate close by was threatened with rape, and a brutal attack ensued. Those are just two examples of the awful atrocities I encountered on a daily basis."
That further illustrates the ordeal that this innocent man had to endure throughout his three months in prison.

After this innocent man's conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal some 18 months ago, he was released, but he is still trying to draw the threads of his life together. I quote him again:

"To this day I feel I have been mentally scarred by these events. It has left me feeling confused, persecuted and unable to trust. Family and close friends have commented continuously about my changed personality. I have been unable to form a close relationship since my release. I am constantly depressed, increasingly bitter by the complete injustice of this ordeal. This is despite the fact that I have endeavoured to build a new life for myself, completing a year's Fine Arts Course and gaining a place on a BA (Hons) Degree course. Despite my efforts throughout the last 18 months I have suffered severe financial loss due to this case, my parents (who are both pensioners) have also suffered financially due to this case. I am still in the process of paying off debts incurred while I was in prison. The constant refusals to pay any amount of compensation for this ordeal, even after my innocence was exonerated by the high court, is still creating mental pressures and fuelling the bitterness I feel.
I am picking up the pieces of my life. I would like very much to put this dreadful experience behind me. Not only for myself, but for my family and supportive friends who have all suffered because of my constant determination to see justice be done. My worst fear is that this experience could happen again to an innocent man."
I recognise, Mr. Deputy Speaker—as I know that both you and the Minister will—that no amount of money can remove these mental scars. Only the passage of time will remove them from the forefront of Mr. Simpson's mind. No decision by the Government or the Minister can remove those scars. However, I hope that the manner in which I have dealt with Mr. Simpson's case—I have not castigated the Minister personally—will lead to recognition of the fact that an injustice was done and that there was a miscarriage of justice. I hope, therefore, that some compensation will be made for the time that Mr. Simpson spent in prison.

1.37 am

I begin by saying two things to the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). First, I appreciate the measured way in which he has pursued this case on behalf of his constituent. Furthermore, I appreciate the reasoned and reasonable way in which he has put the case, both in correspondence and in the House tonight. It was in the best traditions of the House. No constituent who found himself in this or in any other unfortunate circumstance could wish for anyone more assiduous as his Member of Parliament than the hon. Member for Leicester, South in taking his case to the highest quarters. The hon. Gentleman's constituent must be fully aware of the way in which his case has been advanced by his Member of Parliament.

It is unnecessary for me to go in great detail into the facts of the case. There is no dispute about the facts of the trial and the appeal, as it unfolded. Before I deal with the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, the House might find it helpful if I outline briefly the criteria to be applied when considering applications for the payment of compensation in cases of wrongful conviction such as this. It is important to get the facts in front of us.

Compensation may be payable under section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 or, where that does not apply, it may take the form of an ex-gratia payment. Under the terms of section 133 of the 1988 Act compensation may be payable where a person convicted of a criminal offence has that conviction quashed by an appeal made to the court of appeal, either "out of time" or following a reference by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, or by means of a free pardon on the ground that a new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that there has been a miscarriage of justice. I remember the debates on section 133 of the 1988 Act when I took the Bill through the Standing Committee.

There is an ex gratia scheme, because those cases which do not meet the criteria of section 133 are considered in the light of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), the then Home Secretary, on 29 November 1985. Such ex gratia cases are now confined to those cases where people have spent a period in custody but where a conviction is quashed by the Court of Appeal following an "in time" appeal or to persons charged and where proceedings were later terminated, possibly because of some alleged misconduct by the proper authorities.

The criteria to be applied in these cases are as follows. First, the detention must have resulted from serious default by a member of the police force or of some other public authority or, if there is no evidence of such a default, there must be exceptional circumstances that justify compensation. Quite often, after due process in the Court of Appeal, a conviction is overturned without any allegation of serious default by a member of the police force or any other public authority. Therefore, it is important to realise that, in many cases, quite properly, compensation is not paid because there has been no such default.

An example of exceptional circumstances would be the appearance of facts at the trial or on appeal that completely exonerate the accused person. Compensation will not normally be payable in cases where persons have been acquitted at trial or subsequently on appeal because the prosecution were unable to sustain the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in relation to the specific charges brought. That bears repeating. According to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary, compensation will not normally be payable in cases where persons have been acquitted at trial or subsequently on appeal because the prosecution were unable to sustain the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in relation to the specific charges brought. Such an occurrence would be the failure of a witness to attend, therefore preventing the prosecution proceeding with the case.

Requests for compensation are usually made by letter from the claimant or his solicitors. The facts of the case are first considered to decide whether it falls under the statutory scheme, the ex gratia scheme or neither. Such applications often require further inquiries to be made, for example of the police, before a decision can be reached. The question of eligibility for the payment of compensation is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, entirely a matter for determination by the Home Secretary of the day.

It has been important to rehearse these facts because those who are concerned, such as Mr. Simpson and his family, should know the facts that underlie our system of compensation.

I now turn to the claim for compensation, which was advanced so powerfully by the hon. Member for Leicester, South on behalf of Mr. Simpson. On 5 May 1989, Mr. Simpson's solicitors applied for compensation for the three months that their client had been detained in custody. That is common ground between the hon. Gentleman and myself.

Following that application, detailed inquiries were made of the Leicestershire constabulary, which investigated the accident. As Mr. Simpson's appeal had been in time, his claim did not meet the requirements of the statutory compensation scheme under section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The only possibility available to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was to consider it under the terms of the exgratia scheme.

In Mr. Simpson's case, there was no question of serious default by the police in bringing the charge of causing death by reckless driving against him. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and I agree on that. I see him indicating assent. The charge against Mr. Simpson was brought on the basis of evidence from witnesses of his position on the motor cycle at the time of the accident. The evidence of a forensic scientist cast doubt on the suggestion that the rider had been thrown from the motor cycle while it was moving. That evidence was presented to the jury which, in the light of its majority decision, must have accepted it, although none of us will know what went on in the jury room.

The two new witnesses presented on appeal questioned that evidence but did not make themselves known to the police prior to the trial—it strikes me as peculiar that they did not do so—hence the sentence that the hon. Gentleman said that he resented. I do not think that there is any reason for resentment. It is peculiar, but sometimes there are peculiar circumstances in criminal cases that are hard to understand. I find it hard to understand why they did not come forward earlier. Linden Arnold's comment —he was one of the two new witnesses that the police did not ask them to make statements is understandable from the police's point of view because they were unaware of those witnesses when they conducted their investigation. The police behaved properly in the pre-trial period.

The witnesses were, however, known to a friend of Mr. Simpson's before the trial. In the circumstances, there are no grounds to suggest that the police were at serious fault in charging Mr. Simpson or that the conviction was wrongful on the basis of the evidence available at the trial. The new evidence produced by the two witnesses three days before the Court of Appeal hearing questioned the safety of the evidence presented by the prosecution at the trial. However, from the information available to me, it would appear that their evidence contained several discrepancies, compared with the earlier evidence given by the police officers. Some conflict about who was driving the motor cycle remains unresolved.

On the information available, Mr. Simpson's case does not appear to my right hon. and learned Friend to meet the criteria required to establish a claim for an exceptional payment of compensation under the terms of the ex gratia scheme. His application was refused accordingly.

I am grateful to the Minister for the measured way in which he is replying to the debate. Again, he has made the inferences to which I referred about the two new witnesses, but the fact of the matter is that the Court of Appeal accepted their evidence. That new information led it to quash the original conviction as being unsound and unsafe.

I appreciate that that leads to discussion and argument about the way in which the police conducted the original inquiry and I have my doubts about that. However., I deliberately did not raise that issue this evening because I did not want to cloud the specific injustice that had been done to Mr. Simpson with wider allegations about the original investigation.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. Let us just rehearse briefly the representations that he has made since he first wrote on 26 September 1989 to the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney, who is now the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Then and on previous occasions Mr. Simpson's case has been given the most careful and detailed consideration and that consideration underpinned the letter that I wrote on 3 November 1989, which contained the offensive sentence, informing the hon. Gentleman that the case was not one in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary would feel justified in authorising any ex-gratia payment of compensation from public funds.

I reconsidered Mr. Simpson's case with officials on two further occasions following the hon. Gentleman's letters of 11 December 1989 and 23 February 1990 to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. As the hon. Gentleman knows from my letters to him of 15 January and 2 May, we could find no grounds to justify departing from our earlier decision.

I listened with careful interest to what the hon. Gentleman said tonight on behalf of Mr. Simpson, but I do not think that any new matters of consideration have been put before the House. In the light of that, I must inform the hon. Gentleman and the House that I do not think that it will be possible for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to change his earlier decision.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes to Two o'clock.