The Government has the full confidence and support of the House. In the past two years it has made significant progress in the economy and areas of social policy, including education, health and crime prevention. It has been a busy two years of solid work and achievement.
I add my support and backing to my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy Nora Owen, a friend and ally in Government. She has been a supportive member of Government and shown an interest in and commitment to all areas of Government policy, including my own work in the Department of Education.
The Minister inherited a serious and escalating crime problem. With the active co-operation of her colleagues in Government, she has tackled it effectively. I have had the opportunity to work with her on the anti-drugs task force. As a result of this work and co-operation, I will be in a position shortly to launch a major new anti-drugs campaign targeted at all primary schools. Co-operation and participation of the wider school communities will be the key to the programme's successful implementation.
The Minister has faced this difficult challenge in her usual honest and fortright way. She has admitted publicly that the systems of communication in her Department have failed and has responded swiftly by setting up an independent inquiry into the sequence of events surrounding the Government decision to remove Judge Lynch, at his own request, from the Special Criminal Court.
This House will have to wait for the inquiry to be completed, until all the relevant information becomes available. It would be unwise of Members to rush to judgment before seeing all the relevant facts, which will be put before the House. The Minister in her statement last week committed herself to returning to the House on completion of the inquiry and she is prepared to respond to further questions on every aspect of the matter. I welcome the major changes announced by the Taoiseach today on how our courts and prisons are to be administered.
I can assert to this House absolute confidence in the Government, which has truly been a Government of renewal. Two years ago the Government made commitments to the people on reform, progress, targeting the employment needs of all our people and enhancing our social and economic life. Our policies were outlined in the policy agreement, a Government of Renewal, an agreement between Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Democratic Left. We have focused on these policies, have worked for them and have achieved significant progress in the past two years.
As Minister charged with implementing the educational provisions of the programme, A Government of Renewal, I am ever more conscious that education has a central role to play in improving the life chances of young people today. Our education system is a success. It is the key to a dynamic economy. It is essential for increased employment and is needed for the holistic development of our young people.
Our policies are succeeding. Students staying on to leaving certificate represent more than 80 per cent, well on target for 90 per cent by the year 2000. Thousands of additional students have gone on to third level studies, a progress which is assisted by the dramatic abolition of fees by the Government, a policy objective which was stated by previous Governments but achieved by this one. We have reformed the curriculum at first and second levels. We have developed new courses at leaving certificate to meet the needs of a growing and dynamic economy. The leaving certificate applied programme is flourishing and the leaving certificate vocational programme has been improved and expanded. In the traditional leaving certificate we are engaged in steady reform of each subject to meet the needs of today.
The financial and fiscal policies which have been developed by my colleague the Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, have led to a declining debt burden, low inflation, low interest rates and a range of tax incentives to encourage employment. My colleagues in the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Deputies Richard Bruton and Rabbitte, have promoted new business, provided retraining and operated dynamic and successful programmes to increase employment. The success or failure of these policies depends on a highly skilled, flexible and adaptable workforce ready to respond to changes throughout their lives. It depends on high skills being available to all. It depends on the investment which we, as a people, make in education.
The facts are striking. The OECD calculates that in 1992, 70 per cent of the unemployed had left school before completion of the senior cycle. On the other hand, the World Competitiveness Report, 1995, shows that of 48 countries surveyed Ireland's education system ranks second, after Singapore, in meeting the needs of a competitive economy. In the past two years the Government has sustained a planned and targeted investment in our greatest resource, our people. Investment in education has increased by more than £100 million in the lifetime of this Government. This investment has been targeted wisely and well throughout our education system, at primary level, second level, third level and in adult and continuing education to promote lifelong learning.
At primary level we increased the capitation grant last year and again this year. We targeted capitation support on disadvantaged schools. We expanded the Early Start project to give a good foundation to a child's education, to help prevent early drop out from school, combat school failure, enhance later employment prospects and improve life chances. Recently I launched a programme called "Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage". Thirty-three urban schools and 118 rural schools will be involved in the programme.
The pupil-teacher ratio in urban schools will be 15 pupils to one. This is a dramatic change. The research presented to me by the Combat Poverty Agency of the Education Research Centre proved that unless the pupil-teacher ratio was as low as 15:1 no real change would take place. This is for the long haul, to enable children to stay at school longer and enhance their life chances by preventing them becoming the new long-term unemployed. These 33 schools will receive increased grants for projects and equipment and there will be special in-service training for all the teachers involved. The effects of these new plans will be carefully evaluated. The schools are being invited to develop a five year plan so that there will be real innovative and dynamic teaching and learning in these schools. Rural schools will be in clusters of 25 and each cluster will have a specially trained co-ordinator of the project.
Both Early Start and Breaking the Cycle will rely heavily on partnerships between home and school. The reason I have increased the number of home-school links teachers is to help this partnership. Parents are now part of the life of every primary school and when the Education Bill is introduced parents will have statutory rights in the development of the curriculum and management of the schools.
At second level we increased capitation grants last year and again this year. We launched a huge in-career development programme so that teachers can respond to the challenge of change. We have enormously expanded the number of students who take the transition year, a year which ensures they are better prepared for work and life. Major developments are under way in the second level curriculum. Revised syllabuses are being introduced in phases and in-career training and development for teachers of each subject is taking place.
The leaving certificate applied programme, a two-year programme aimed at preparing students for adult and working life, has been introduced in 130 schools for more than 3,000 pupils this year and will expand next year. A restructured leaving certificate vocational programme with a strong vocational dimension is being introduced on a phased basis. This year 11,000 students will avail of the leaving certificate vocational programme. In addition, more than 550 schools will offer the transition year to 28,000 students this year. Civics, social and political education will commence in 300 schools this September and will be part of the core curriculum. Relationships and sexuality education is being developed and an agreed school policy and suitable programme will be in place in all schools during the 1996-97 school year.
At third level, 1996 is the historic year when full time undergraduates will no longer have to pay tuition fees. It is the year when students maintenance grants have again been increased by double the rate of inflation and when the hardship fund for third level students continues to be available to help students overcome obstacles to continue in their studies.
This Government has also recognised education as a vital echelon in improving employment prospects throughout a person's life. This Government has provided for additional resources for adult education, the vocational training opportunities scheme and Youthreach places. This Government has targeted resources on adult literacy and on second chance education for disadvantaged adults.
This record of achievement is in stark contrast to the lack of policy, direction and focus on educational issues which we see on the Opposition benches. Fianna Fáil promises much but fails to deliver. Fianna Fáil promised free third level education in 1992 but this Government delivered it. Fianna Fáil promised a White Paper on Education but this Government delivered it. Fianna Fáil promised education legislation but this Government will deliver it.
The lack of coherent policy from Opposition speakers is matched only by their lack of commitment to education when they held the responsibility for it. Fianna Fáil is the party which froze capitation grants for schools, savagely cut investment in school buildings and signally failed to deliver on in-career training for teachers. Today, Fianna Fáil is the party committed to every issue but it delivers on none.
This Government delivers. This Government has policies and is committed to education reform. Our education, employment and economic policies are bearing fruit. The economy is growing strongly in 1996. Strong retail sales growth, buoyant construction activity and the strong trend in tax receipts support this view. Gross National Product will grow by at least 6 per cent this year, personal consumption expenditure will increase by about 5 per cent and investment will record a further substantial increase which is expected to be about 9.5 per cent.
Most importantly of all, the policies of this Government are translating into growth in employment. This year the number of people at work will be almost 1.3 million. The number of new jobs created this year will be around 50,000. Contrast this with the 6,000 jobs created as recently as 1992.
The success of this Government in education, enterprise and finance has been reflected in other social areas, such as health, social welfare, the reform of legislation, growth of the arts, planning of the environment, attracting visitors to Ireland as a tourist destination and in promoting and safeguarding the fishing industry.
This has been reflected in the contribution made by my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy Nora Owen, to creating a society where justice is done and seen to be done. The citizen can rely on the law and the vulnerable in society are protected from attack and crime. Deputy Nora Owen has introduced more reforms to the justice system than any Minister in recent times. She has worked incessantly on a comprehensive package of measures to ensure that the twin evils of lawlessness and drug abuse are combated at every level. With the full support of her colleagues in Government, she has progressed an unprecedented range of measures to ensure the safety of all citizens.
I am proud of the record of this Government. I stand over my record in implementing the education commitments of the programme for renewal and I stand over the record of each and every member of this Government which has provided strong, united and confident leadership to the people over the last two years. I commend this motion of confidence to the House.