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Mr. Willis: How does the hon. Gentleman square what he has just said with that fact--it is also in the Green Paper--that only four out of 10 schools in Norfolk will be allowed to be specialist schools under the new framework? All those schools can opt to select 10 per cent. of their students. Surely the art of selection will undermine the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman is so admirably presenting to the House.

Dr. Gibson: The way round the problem, as Norfolk education authority sees it, is to take forward the spirit that head teachers throughout the county have adopted for years. They have not split away and formed grant- maintained schools. Instead, they have worked together. They are determined to show that a specialism in one school does not mean that it is higher up a hierarchy than another school. That is the spirit of partnership that drives education forward. It is all right having a valuable sector in a school, but that does not reflect on the other sectors. Instead, it encourages them. I have worked in education establishments where there has been one really classy department. That stimulates other departments to think that they, too, can be classy. If we create that spirit, it will drive education forward. It is a scene that we have not experienced for many years.

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It would have been even more welcome if the Green Paper had fully grasped the nettle and had given the green light for all secondary schools, over a period, to develop their own specialism within a collaborative network. Perhaps Norfolk should itself work towards such a position in partnership with secondary schools in the county. I know that the people that I have mentioned--the head of the education committee and the director--have that in mind and will be reflecting that position over the years, given the increased money that the Government have given them.

It is important to recognise that Norfolk will need to continue to ensure that an appropriate balance is maintained between so-called competition and collaborative approaches as the specialist school programme develops. There is no magic blueprint. I think that a spirit of co-operation and a determination to drive standards forward will overcome many of the problems that we could perceive in perhaps a more intellectual environment.

A further tension lies within the Green Paper. Teachers will find it difficult to reconcile statements about greater freedom for schools with highly prescriptive statements about the organisation of schools and curriculum delivery elsewhere in the Green Paper. Were local education authorities to adopt some of the stances set out in the Green Paper, such as those in relation to the use of setting or curriculum delivery, it would be regarded by schools and Government alike as old-fashioned interventionism. The Green Paper therefore offers an insight into the Department for Education and Employment mindset. Much room remains for development of the trust that could enable the appropriate exercise of professional judgment at all levels within the education system, based on commonly held principles that are developed in partnership with Government, local government and schools. That should be not only allowed but encouraged.

Without doubt, the Green Paper envisages a period of rapid development in coming years in the secondary sector. It proposes a significant expansion of the specialist schools programme. It welcomes more faith-based schools and the continuing establishment of city academies, and proposes changing the law to allow external sponsors to take responsibility for under-performing schools against fixed-term contracts of five to seven years, with renewal subject to performance.

The drivers for change in the secondary sector have been apparent for some time. Put simply, changes are encroaching on secondary schools from both directions. Sustained and significant improvement in attainment at the end of primary schooling means that secondary schools must be much more able to provide continuity of experience for all children, as well as meeting the higher potential that is now being demonstrated for many.

A separate paper on the agenda considers the Government's proposals for reform of key stage 3 of the national curriculum. At the same time, key stage 4 is facing massive change. The Government's post-16 reforms are designed to ensure that in future the vast majority of young people, if not all, stay in some form of education after the age of 16. In order to achieve that, changes and reforms in key stage 4 will be vital to provide a wider variety of experience than at present. The long-overdue establishment of vocational GCSEs and workplace learning in key stage 4 will need to become realities within a short time.

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There is much more in the Green Paper, but the vision set out in it will bring about improved performance, which is already being seen in secondary schools in Norfolk and across the country, and even higher standards and greater equality of opportunity. The Budget initiatives and investments being made in schools will add to that vision, and send our people on to higher education and a more fulfilling life.

8.45 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson). He has added to the scientific understanding of the House since he entered it, and I shall follow him primarily in speaking about an educational subject, though I hope that I shall be closer to the Budget and perhaps less close to the Green Paper. A year or so ago in the Chamber, I declared interests in higher education. I apologised for their egocentricity. They are in the Register of Members' Interests, and I do not propose to be egocentric again.

The febrile attitude in the popular prints suggests that an election is on the way. In that context, I take the liberty of quoting a famous passage from the Venerable Bede:

I am addressing you, Mr. Deputy Speaker--

In that quotation, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you, of course, are the king, the Clerks at the Table are the ealdormen, and the Serjeant at Arms and his staff are the thegns. We, the Members of Parliament, are simply the sparrows who fly through the Chamber from one door to the other.

I made my maiden speech on the Monday night of the Budget debate in 1977 and, like various of my right hon. Friends and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel), I am making what may be my final speech in the Chamber on the Monday night of the Budget debate in 2001. Those 24 years are exactly what the Venerable Bede had in mind in the quotation that I have just given.

As the poet said,

Twenty-four years is a bagatelle in a rural seat. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), who is also leaving the House, says that there have been five Members in East Devon in the past 130 years. Inner-city seats are a little different. Because of that, 24 years gives me the bronze medal in the City of London, which for most of the period since 1283 has had six Members of Parliament, and it gives me fourth place in Westminster, which has had two Members of Parliament since 1544 and Members of Parliament representing the same area since 1295. As fourth place gets one money in the grand national, I think that those are two reasonable places in the two seats.

I do not propose to spend what may be my final speech in the Chamber wandering down memory lane, save to make one confession and, from it, a single point. A year

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or so ago, as I mentioned earlier, I indicated the intention to pursue in the House the issue of higher education in the latter part of this Parliament. That that was a reasonable intention is evidenced by the fact that in the Palace this very evening a meeting has been debating the future of higher education. That I have been prevented from doing so over the past months has been because my constituency office has become an outstation for the Home Office, to compensate for the latter's taciturnity and reticence towards my asylum-seeker constituents. Every Monday morning, I tidy up the asylum-seeker backlog from the previous week and, by Monday afternoon, the asylum- seeker constituency mail for Monday and the previous weekend has refilled the tray that I emptied in the morning. Although the correspondents have no votes, I do not begrudge the time I spend repairing the country's honour towards asylum seekers. Like all Tories, I recognise that, sadly, we live in an imperfect world.

My confession, as my prolegomenon may have made clear, relates to our universities, which have been a continuing interest of mine throughout my 24 years in the House. I spoke sympathetically about university pay in the Chamber in 1978 and thought it careless of the Association of University Teachers never to quote it against me when I was the higher education Minister five years later. My confession relates to that period. My Secretary of State was the late great Sir Keith Joseph, who was as sceptical about public expenditure--I use the old-fashioned term--as he was enthusiastic about freedom. My noble Friend Lord Lawson of Blaby, under whom I later served at the Treasury, was awash with oil revenues in the same way as the Chancellor is with mobile phone licence revenues. The universities, on the other hand, were imprisoned in a straitjacket of state planning. That meant that, in 1983, if a university sold an asset, it had to return the proceeds to the Treasury--a spectacular disincentive to entrepreneurialism, which we happily soon corrected, even if in two stages. It also meant that, even when we framed the rules on overseas student fees in sufficiently flexible language to encourage entrepreneurialism at all academic levels, universities tempted to try it feared that the University Grants Committee would penalise them. Thus Gulliver was held down by tiny but restrictive ropes.

My regret is that I did not even attempt to persuade the late great Sir Keith--who played a large and honourable part in changing the intellectual playing fields of British politics, on to which new Labour was finally obliged to follow us--to seek to persuade Lord Lawson to set free what were our then 45 universities with the encouragement of endowment if they were ready to be cast loose. Of course, I would not have insisted on their being cast loose. In the words of C.S. Lewis, if one hears of someone going round doing good to others,

However, for those to whom freedom is important, there is no substitute for it. I seek to make amends for my juvenile silence in the mid-1980s by nailing my colours to the mast of freedom now that I have entered the final third of my first century, and as I leave this place.

The Chancellor has chosen to put the proceeds of the mobile phone licences towards repaying the national debt. I am aware of the attraction of that repayment for the Chancellor's place in history. Because I go back to

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prehistory--that heady mixture of Rider Haggard's "She" and Sir Leonard Woolley's "Ur of the Chaldees"--I recall the level of the national debt in 1979. I did so during the lengthy speech of the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), who made me recall an observation about Margot Asquith in the first world war. After she had visited the wounded in hospital, someone said of her:

I recall the level of the national debt in 1979, so I recognise why Government's base date for the national debt in this Parliament has always been 1990, rather than 1979, especially as international commentators warmly commended the previous Government's handling of the national debt during our full 18 years in government. Of course, the fact that the Chancellor has used the proceeds of licence fees for debt repayment, rather than true investment in our higher education by endowment, does not prevent the next Conservative Government from borrowing to set our universities free, without offending against the Chancellor's golden rule.

I pay the Chancellor tribute for championing genuine investment for 15 years, as against new Labour speak for revenue expenditure, unknown in the late Sir John Hicks's classic book on the national accounts. The Chancellor has championed genuine investment in training and higher education, for which I admire him all the more. Endowing universities would provide real investment, under whichever Government, and would set universities and the Chancellor free from the Laura Spence syndrome.

Under a planned system, an Oxford college--I declare an interest as a former undergraduate--is free to allocate places only in limited numbers and in particular subjects, determined by the system. Under a free system, Harvard--I declare an interest as a former postgraduate student there--is free to offer Laura Spence a scholarship, albeit in a different subject to the one that she sought to study at Oxford, because of the endowment funds that it has accumulated for that purpose.

I acknowledge the amount that the Government have put into higher education in the current year, and I do so unreservedly. I am happy that they have done so, but theirs is not the same aim as the one that I am espousing. When I was in the private sector, I gave up a day a year to sit at the feet of the futurologist Herman Kahn. One year, in the mid-1970s, he said that the United Kingdom's opportunities in post-industrial society would be in its three special centres of excellence: medicine, higher education and government. My ambition potentially embraces not just one of those centres of excellence, but even one and a half.

When I was at the Treasury, we held the view that anything that could not be measured did not exist. That view was put to the test some years ago by the Foreign Office, which we all know and love. There was concern in the British embassy in Brussels that the doorway between the main spare bathroom and the main spare bedroom in the embassy would be insufficiently large to encompass the then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Ernest Bevin, who was, I acknowledge, a large man. A telegram was sent from Brussels to London, which stated:

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A telegram came back from London, which demonstrated that those in the Foreign Office--for those of us who know and love it--are possibly more literate than numerate. It stated:

Beyond measurement--and, therefore, infinite--is the potential of our universities, which respond to the spirit of the British genius. I hope that, as I leave this place, in this new century, our 90 British universities will blossom in the way they truly deserve to do.

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