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Mr. Mans: Does my hon. Friend agree that one way to reduce the truancy level would be to increase the number of teachers in classrooms? Will he comment on what has happened in Lancashire, where there are 12,300 teachers to teach 217,000 pupils, a ratio of less than 18:1--yet the true ratio in three quarters of classes in Lancashire is more than 30:1? That means that 4,000 teachers are not teaching pupils in classes. They are outside schools, when they could be better employed inside schools.
Mr. Forth: I hope that, following my hon. Friend's question and a similar question from my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) earlier, parents in Lancashire will be asking searching questions about what on earth is happening in their county. It appears that there is a rather odd relationship between the number of pupils, the number of teachers and class sizes. I know that my hon. Friends will help parents to get to the bottom of the matter and sort out education in Lancashire.
Mr. Turner: In terms of encouraging older students to enter higher education, the mature student's allowance has been an outstanding success. How can a Minister with responsibility for education justify a Treasury-led cut that will bring such hardship and difficulties to thousands of mature students?
Mr. Boswell: Any Minister with responsibility for education must consider all priorities in the context of the huge public expenditure on student support and universities, amounting to £6 billion a year in England alone. It is our view that, given that older students receive the full battery of mandatory award--grants and loan provisions from the access fund--and that many of them initiated a career and built up savings, every chance exists that they will continue to come to university in the numbers that have been expanding so rapidly in recent years. The position of all those already on courses has been safeguarded by my right hon. Friend's proposal.
Mr. Livingstone: Will the Prime Minister join, I am sure, all Members in the House in condemning the use of the word "nigger" by the comedian Bernard Manning, and endorse the comments of the local chief constable that that was a vile, racist performance, and that he would rather that no one among his force went to further performances by Bernard Manning? Will the Prime Minister write to Bernard Manning and remind him that such views, in the year in which we commemorate the sacrifice that our parents made to defeat Nazism, are particularly offensive?
The Prime Minister: I certainly think that everyone should avoid expressions that give offence to those who are on the receiving end of such expressions. That is true of Mr. Manning and everyone else.
Sir Jim Spicer: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the open recruitment of homosexuals into the armed forces, and the acceptance of homosexuality in the armed forces would devastate morale within our excellent service?
Mr. Blair: Has the Prime Minister had a chance to see the extraordinary spectacle of the victory parade by his Euro-rebels over the Government on the lunchtime news? Can the Prime Minister therefore tell us whether he has even secured the minimal guarantee from those rebels that, on a future vote of confidence-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: I can sense the concern in the right hon. Gentleman's voice. Perhaps he would like to tell me whether he has received the support of the 50 MPs who defied his Front Bench over Maastricht; of the 40 who defied him over European finance; on a single currency, where the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) was in dispute with the deputy leader of the Labour party; and on clause IV, which half his, I think he called them, infantile MEPs want to keep. He does not, and his deputy leader does
Column 656one day and does not the next. These are party matters. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what his position is?
Mr. Blair rose -- [Interruption.]
Mr. Blair: So the short answer is that the right hon. Gentleman has received no guarantee whatever. So is it not clear therefore that, after all his tough talk at the beginning about no unity through appeasement, he has caved in, his party is still divided and the white flag flies over Downing street?
The Prime Minister: I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman leading his hon. Friends below the Gangway. I shall give the right hon. Gentleman a real difference. We have been leading in Europe. He will follow in Europe on every issue. He will follow Europe in undermining our veto, in renegotiating our rebate, in surrendering our opt-out, in signing up to the social chapter, in higher taxes, in more spending and in more red tape. His idea of the red flag is the white flag on every conceivable European issue. If he seriously thinks that he leads his party, he should look at the faces of his colleagues below the Gangway.
Mr. Alan Howarth: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party has traditionally and rightly been loath to allow power to the state that could be used to limit personal freedom unduly, to harass or intrude on privacy? Does he accept that the alleged benefits of introducing identity cards would not justify the risks to civil liberties? Will he dismiss proposals for a national identity card, whether compulsory or so-called voluntary?
The Prime Minister: I am afraid that on this issue I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that there are significant advantages which identity cards may offer to prevent crime and to prevent fraud. It is for that reason that my right hon. and learned Friend, the Home Secretary, intends to publish a Green Paper setting out the various options that are available. We believe that on such an issue it is only right that there should be full public consultation. No option at the moment is ruled in or ruled out until we have completed that consultation period. I believe that it is right to consult. When we have consulted, we will make a decision on whether to proceed and what nature of card we may then seek to introduce.
Mr. Rendel: Given that the level of balances held by county councils is already considerably lower than the level that the Government assume in their calculation of grants to those councils, how does the Prime Minister
Column 657justify calls by himself and many of his hon. Friends that county councils should further run down their balances to make up for the Government's education cuts?
The Prime Minister: As I have indicated to the House before, perhaps when the hon. Gentleman was not here, the levels of expenditure on education have risen, not fallen. Of course, in different counties different priority is given to education. Some education authorities-- Conservative Brent, for example--have found it possible to increase their spending on education by 6 per cent. Other councils have done the same. It depends on the choices that councils themselves make. I regret that many Labour councils and many Liberal Democrat councils have chosen not to give the priority to education that I would have preferred.
Mr. McLoughlin: Will my right hon. Friend consider today the many changes that the Conservative party has brought about in education policy in the past 16 years, which have widened and diversified choice? Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Secretary of State for Education about whether it is time to move one stage further to a national funding formula for education? Is he aware that in Derbyshire the local education authority holds back £720 per pupil compared with £570 in Nottinghamshire, and £550 in Staffordshire? If that money went directly to the schools, there would be no need for any cuts in the number of teachers in our schools. Is it not time that we started to show up the money which LEAs spend in county hall rather than in the schools in our constituencies?
The Prime Minister: I think that my hon. Friend speaks for many people in what he has just said. Many responsible education authorities are coping with this year's settlement by getting their priorities right and by ensuring that the bulk of resources go to front-line services such as schools. Many Labour education authorities are not doing that. They seem to be in the lead in financing a messy bureaucracy. I do not know the position in Labour-controlled Derbyshire, but no doubt my hon. Friend does and was correct.
Mr. Griffiths: Does the Prime Minister recall telling the House on 21 March that there were two administrators for every three teachers across the country? Where did he get those fictional figures, when the Department for Education and the Welsh Office have said that it is impossible to calculate a ratio of administrative staff to teachers? When outside experts have tried to calculate a ratio, they put it at about 1:8 rather than 2:3. Will he now apologise for misleading the House inadvertently with his spurious reference to that ratio, which was a feeble effort to divert attention from his miserly decision not to fund the teachers' pay award?
Column 658much on Conservative principles? Does not the the Leader of the Opposition pay the Government the greatest compliment by spending most of his time trying to convince the country that when the day comes when he has a policy of his own, it will be a Tory one? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that if the people of this country were to support that new consensus, which was created by the Conservative party, the best thing that they could do is to vote Conservative and not for the vacuous, pale imitation on the Opposition Benches?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman both criticises our policies and copies our policies whenever he can. I am content for him to do that. I regard imitation as a very sincere form of flattery.
Mr. Marshall: In response to a previous question, the Prime Minister referred to high taxation. In that context, will he inform the House how much extra taxation the average family in this country is paying compared with the amount paid in April 1992?
The Prime Minister: I can tell the hon. Gentleman, and he will be pleased to know, that even after extra tax and inflation, households on average are expected to be about £250 better off this year. I can also tell him that most of the figures used by the Labour party about tax should be divided by two before one gets remotely near accuracy.
Mr. Luff: Whatever the rights and wrongs of teaching children in classes of more than 30, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be repellent for teachers to pick on some children in such classes and expel them from lessons? Is not that an appalling abdication of responsibility for the education of our children?
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend.I do not think that removing children from classrooms where there are more than 30 pupils will appeal to very many teachers. I know that some people have suggested it. I believe that the common sense of the vast majority of teachers will reject any such notion.
Mr. Berry: In recent debates on the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill, they have suggested that citizens advice bureaux will be important in enforcing the Bill's provisions. Is the Prime Minister aware that the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has just said that it is in no position to do so? How on earth does he expect the provisions of that Bill to be enforced?
Column 659The Prime Minister: The Bill contains a wide number of provisions. It also contains the provision for the National Disability Council to advise the Government on such issues and we will take whatever advice it chooses to give us on that issue.
Mr. Gallie: Has my right hon. Friend seen the excellent report from Scottish Nuclear today, which shows that the cost of generation has been reduced to 2.2p per kWh--without the nuclear levy enjoyed by Nuclear Electric? Does he feel that that suggests that, if
Column 660the Government ever picked privatisation for the nuclear industry, Scottish Nuclear could do a magnificent job as a single entity?
The Prime Minister: We are very close to the completion of the nuclear review and an announcement about its conclusions will be made and a White Paper published as soon as possible. We will present the conclusions to Parliament at that time. Privatisation of the two nuclear generators before the next election is an option that is actively under consideration and so is the future of the fossil fuel levy.
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