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8. Mr. Rowe: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assistance is given to encourage children aged 16 years or over to stay on in full-time education. [30078]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Raymond S. Robertson): We are developing a new system of courses and assessment--"Higher Still"--to give all young people from age 16 the opportunity to stay on and gain relevant qualifications to the highest standard they can reach. Financial support is available in Scotland for this age group through child benefit of £40 million and, with bursaries and other allowances, to more than £91 million in total.

Mr. Rowe: Will my hon. Friend confirm that the staying-on rate has risen to an amazing 43 per cent. since the Government took over? What does he think would be the effect on the staying-on rate if the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) were ever to have the opportunity to put into effect his proposal to remove child benefit from this group of people?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the teenage tax proposed by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East would hit Scotland hardest of all parts of the United Kingdom. Because of the Government's outstanding success, more 16-year-olds opt to stay on in school in Scotland than in any other part of the land. Therefore, Scottish families would be hardest hit by that learning levy--that tax on learning.

Mr. Canavan: Did the Minister see the report in The Herald yesterday about the Scottish student who was forced to pay £20 a week to live in a broom cupboard under the stairs because he could not afford to pay a higher rent? Bearing it in mind that the maximum student grant is now only a fraction of what it was when Labour

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was in power, will the Government take urgent action to eradicate student poverty and to help build better opportunities for all our young people?

Mr. Robertson: Madam Speaker, it is for you to work out the procedures of the House, but, surely, during Question Time, we should now distinguish between new Labour and more traditional Labour, because what the hon. Gentleman has just said is not what the rest of his party is saying. He is talking about student grants, but Opposition Front Benchers want to abolish grants and ensure that students subsidise themselves and pay back grants over 20 years. He should know that, under our proposals and our system, grants and loans together now amount to more than they did when his party was last in government.

Lady Olga Maitland: As more children than ever before are sitting highers this summer with a view to going to university, does my hon. Friend agree that their hopes would be entirely dashed if they were penalised in the support that they receive to stay on in full-time education? Does he agree that the teenage tax would kill opportunity, whereas the Conservative party provides opportunity?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The proposal by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, the shadow Chancellor, is probably one of the most odious and obnoxious proposals to come from any shadow Chancellor.

Mr. George Robertson: May I tell the hon. Gentleman that Opposition Members passionately believe in encouraging children to stay on in full-time education? Does he realise that his half-baked--even sinister--plans for mandatory national testing will do nothing to keep young people in the education system? Does he realise that, by alienating parents and teachers with this hidden Thatcherite agenda for selection and for vouchers in schools, he offers no hope to young people who want to stay on in full-time education? Before the Government damage more irreparably the Scottish education system by trying to breathe some life into the Thatcherite corpse, will they think again and abandon their dangerous plans?

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) will take kindly to being called Thatcherite. He said:

Why is it right for the Leader of the Opposition to have those rights and that information, but it is not right for the hundreds of thousands of Scottish parents?

9. Sir Hector Monro: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what percentage of pupils remain at school over the age of 16 years in Scotland; and what is the United Kingdom average percentage. [30079]

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: In 1994-95, the age 16 staying-on rate in Scottish schools and equivalent course in further education colleges was 81 per cent. The closest comparison for the UK was 72 per cent.

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Sir Hector Monro: Does my hon. Friend agree that that major difference of between 9 and 10 percentage points shows that Scottish children would be disproportionately affected were there a teenage tax of £560 a head in lost child benefit? Would not that be devastating for teenage education in Scotland?

Mr. Robertson: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. To abolish child benefit for pupils staying on for higher and further education would be equivalent to levying a tax increase of 5p in the pound on the average taxpayer with one child aged 16 to 18. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) says that Labour is only reviewing the proposal, but will he tell us whether he will be supporting or opposing it?

Mr. Davidson: Is the Minister aware that one source of income for families whose children are staying on at school is the higher school bursary? Is he further aware that, since the abolition of Strathclyde regional council, many authorities in the west of Scotland are, for financial reasons, unable to give bursaries to children who go outwith their own boundaries? In such circumstances, will the Minister consider providing additional finance for all authorities so that they can provide bursaries for children going outwith their area, or will he introduce legislation to make it compulsory for all children from any education authority to be treated equally, no matter whether they go outwith their authority's boundaries?

Mr. Robertson: We are now spending some £45 million on further education bursaries, which in real terms is 188 per cent. more than was spent in 1979. We spend some £6 million on school bursaries, which is 123 per cent. more than was spent under the previous Labour Government, so we will take no lectures on our support for bursaries.

Health Service and Local Government Funding

10. Mr. Ian Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the effects on public finances of making per capita funding from the Treasury for the health service and local government in Scotland the same as the average for England. [30080]

Mr. Michael Forsyth: Health and personal social services spending would fall by 20 per cent., and local government aggregate external finance grant by some 30 per cent., if funding was on the same per capita basis in Scotland as in England.

Mr. Bruce: Has my right hon. Friend thought that it might well be a winning policy in the rest of the United Kingdom to introduce a tartan tax to allow Scotland to have its independent tax-raising Parliament which would then raise taxes to pay for that extra funding? Has he made any estimate of just how much the tartan tax would have to be to pay for that additional spending in Scotland?

Mr. Forsyth: If I understand my hon. Friend's question correctly, he is asking how much we would have to raise through a tartan tax in order to make up for the additional expenditure that we enjoy in Scotland over and above what would be spent if we had the same level of spending in England. It would be about £3.5 billion. I think that

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1p on income tax raises about £130 million, so my hon. Friend can work it out for himself. He began by asking whether I thought that it would be an election-winning strategy. From what I hear, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) considered the notion and decided that it certainly was not.

Mr. Dalyell: The Secretary of State will have no problem whatsoever understanding my question; it is very simple. What is the Scottish Office's notional figure per capita for the cost of local government reform?

Mr. Forsyth: I should be happy to give the hon. Gentleman an estimate, if not a notional figure, of the cost of local government reform, and I should be happy to write to him. There is one question that his colleagues seem to have difficulty understanding--it is the question that he used to ask repeatedly but which I understand he has now been prevented from asking; the famous West Lothian question.

Mr. Bill Walker: Does my right hon. Friend agree that a critical part of the spending differential between the health service and local government in Scotland are the funds that have been spent on care in the community? If the funds are not used properly, we end up with blocked-off beds in the health service and care in the community is starved of money. Does he agree that the inquiry currently being held on Tayside will help to unravel some of the ghastly aspects of this problem?

Mr. Forsyth: I cannot anticipate the results of the inquiry. Suffice it to say that Scotland enjoys considerably higher expenditure per head on health than they do in England. If we had a tax-raising Parliament, or indeed a Parliament without tax-raising powers, there is no doubt that that funding would be called into question. Opposition Members who support that change are putting at risk the funding of vital services.

Rev. Martin Smyth: Will the Secretary of State admit that the comparison between a nation of 48 million people and one of 5 million or 6 million people scattered over a large area is not adequate to address per capita spending? Should not the needs of a scattered community, rather than that false comparison, be borne constantly in mind?

Mr. Forsyth: I certainly agree that it is important to take account of needs and the range of services. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for local government, the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch), has undertaken a study to find out why local government in Scotland spends about 45 per cent. more per head than local government in England. It will be interesting to see where the resources are going.

At present, our funding is determined by a formula, and not as a result of any needs assessment. The point that I was making to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) was that setting up a Scottish Parliament would undoubtedly result in pressure from this House for some proper needs-based assessment of expenditure in Scotland. My advice to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) is that we should leave things as they are and not risk the changes that would result from the setting up of such a wind machine in Edinburgh.

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