Orders of the Day — Education and Local Government

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 29 October 1996.

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Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment) 3:33, 29 October 1996

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Address, at the end of the Question to add: but humbly regret that while the Gracious Speech did introduce a number of measures already put forward by Your Majesty's Loyal Opposition, it did not also embrace other ways of raising standards in our schools including lower infant class sizes, better teacher training, stronger national targets for primary and secondary schools leading to improved literacy and essential qualifications for all; and further regret that the Gracious Speech highlighted measures which will increase division, undermine parental choice, subsidise private preparatory schools at the expense of state schools and will make it more difficult for the efficient delivery of education locally. If we ever needed an example of it, we have today an example of the Government in shambles, in confusion, in a muddle and with a crew in charge that could not have managed to sail across the Solent, never mind around the world.

The Prime Minister's dictum of "Don't mess with Gilly" has become "Save me from Gilly's mess". When the right hand does not know what the far right hand is doing, no wonder it is not clear who is in charge, and no wonder there is no coherence, direction or vision from the Government.

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

The hon. Gentleman wondered who was in charge. Will he tell us which party is in charge of the local education authorities in Calderdale and Nottinghamshire and has allowed certain schools there to get into such a state?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

Of course, between 1992 and 1995, the Conservatives were running education in Calderdale. They forced through the amalgamation of the two schools. If they want to start throwing darts this afternoon, I shall throw a few back.

Last week, there was to be no Government Bill on a paedophile register and no Government Bill on stalkers. That was the case on Wednesday morning. By Wednesday afternoon, the Government had capitulated and seen sense. [HON. MEMBERS: "What has that to do with education?"] It has everything to do with a Government who do not have the first idea what they are doing, morning, noon or night. Last weekend, there was to be no ban on dangerous knives. Yesterday, there was the possibility of some ban, with a slight equivocation from the Prime Minister this afternoon.

On the "Today" programme this morning came the coup de grace. At 8.10 am, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was opening up the possibility of bringing back corporal punishment. By 11 am, the Prime Minister was on to her and had overruled. There she was, on a train somewhere trying to listen to a mobile telephone, hearing a crackling message saying, "Gilly, you've got it wrong again. Smacking is our—

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

It is not Miss Whiplash, but the Whip has intervened. The cane has been put aside for another era. Thank God for mobile telephones. If she had got off the train not knowing the answer to the question, all her Back Benchers could have continued running around with the media, as they have been, saying how enthusiastic they were about a good beating. Let us face it, the British people would like to give them a good beating if only they had the chance.

What a fiasco! Last Wednesday, the Government announced a Bill in the Queen's Speech. By the following week, they are not sure what is in or out of it, although apparently this afternoon they are.

Photo of Mr David Ashby Mr David Ashby , North West Leicestershire

The hon. Gentleman is talking about fiascos. Does he realise that his suggestion of a contract between parents and teachers has been rejected by every teaching union, including the headmasters? They all think that he is talking nonsense.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

Ignoring the danger of apoplexy from the hon. Gentleman, let me make it clear that the Labour party is not in the pocket of the teachers' unions. We are not the poodle of any union leader. We do not jump to the television every time Nigel de Gruchy sneezes. That is more than can be said for the Secretary of State and her colleagues.

We have developed a coherent policy. We laid it before our conference a month ago, where it was agreed. The home-school contracts, which I shall deal with in a moment, were put forward back in 1988. There are no Johnny-come-latelies here. We have developed our policy coherently, through consultation.

Interestingly, that brings me to the other element in the new Tory armoury—the re-emergence of Conservative family values. We have all heard about those values over the past four or five years. I am reminded of the Parkinson syndrome, which developed a different view of the sort of responsibilities that Conservative Members so often preach about to others. Was it not amazing to find that, on Sunday, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was trying to alter the values forum document before it had even been published? Before we had even seen it and before people could make up their own minds, someone leaned on the Secretary of State at a party, dinner or press meeting, and she decided that the values forum document did not go far enough.

Let us have some cohesion as we try to build a genuine policy for the future of our country. Let us try to realise that economic and social policies have a major impact on the way that people behave towards one another. That is why the past 18 years have made a substantial contribution to the disintegration of Britain's social fabric, and why social cohesion is breaking down in so many of our communities. One cannot preach the sort of values and mouth the sort of platitudes that the Secretary of State mouthed this weekend when one has doubled crime and tripled the number of one-parent families.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

The hon. Gentleman speaks of preaching values. The Leader of the Opposition is against abortion, but votes for it because his constituents are in favour of it. When the education Bill is introduced and those of us who are in favour of discipline table an amendment in favour of corporal punishment, will the Leader of the Opposition vote for it because his constituents favour it, even though he is probably against it?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

I understand that the hon. Gentleman has lots of experience of family life and its development. [Interruption.] If his activities and speeches are anything to go by, the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), who is shouting about gutters, knows all about them. There will not be an amendment[Interruption.] I am sorry, I meant to say the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), and I apologise to the hon. Member for Dartford. I was heading in the right direction, but had not quite located the right bit of the county—both hon. Members are to the far right of the Tory party, and develop the same policies.

The answer to the question of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) is that there will be no such vote. As the hon. Gentleman does on occasions, hon. Members will take account of the Whip that will be imposed—as the Secretary of State for Education and Employment knows to her cost.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech, and I am confused because I do not know what his policy is on discipline in schools and the Government's Bill. Will the Opposition support the Government's move to increase discipline in schools, and introduce new sanctions on unruly children? Will the Opposition support those elements of the Bill? What is the hon. Gentleman's policy?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

There are only two elements of the Bill which is to be published tomorrow and which we will presumably debate over the next two or three weeks. The first is a complete return to a failed and bygone era of selection, and the second involves straight plagiarism, as the Government try to introduce our policies half-heartedly and without the necessary cohesion to ensure that they work.

The Government preach—in the Prime Minister's words—about opportunity for all, but in practice they intend to deliver it to the very few. That is the nub of the Queen's Speech as it relates to education, training and employment.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

What is the hon. Gentleman's policy?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

I hope that you will call the hon. Gentleman later, Madam Speaker, so that we can hear the pearls of wisdom that fall from his lips. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman seems to be applauding that, so I am sure that we are in for a treat later.

The home-school contract is just one part of the jigsaw regarding discipline and a partnership between schools and parents. It is a classic example of the way in which the Conservative party does not understand what is going on. If we divide parents, schools and the education system against themselves, we cannot move forward to provide the equal opportunity and high standards that Labour intends to offer to everyone.

Under the Bill, the home-school contract would be compulsory in some schools but not in others. That would have the same effect as the breakdown in status and selection in our education system: some children would be rejected by schools that consider them unteachable. Those children would then be dumped into what would become sink schools across the country.

I shall address head on the issue of the Ridings school in Halifax, which was raised earlier. It is a classic example of how division of the education system results in some schools struggling against the odds at the expense of the children and of the staff who are trying to teach them. If there are one or two grammar schools in every town—as is the case in Halifax—some children are automatically rejected and prevented from entering the school. If there is a status breakdown—so that schools have different status, funding, admissions policies and accountability—schools can avoid taking children whom they believe will disadvantage them.

As a consequence, some schools become secondary modern: they must cope with the children whom other schools will not take and whom other teachers will not teach. Those schools struggle in such circumstances. In Halifax, the problem was compounded by the union of two schools whose pupils and others who should have known better were known to be at each other's throats. Ultimately, the community and the town was divided, and there was division of educational opportunity. It is as simple as that.

The message from Halifax is very clear: we must reject selection precisely because it denies choice and fails to provide opportunity for all our children. It divides the education system, and it creates haves and have-nots.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

Why does the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) send his children to school in Westminster when he lives in Lambeth? Why does the Leader of the Opposition, who lives in Islington, send his child to a grant-maintained school? What is so marvellous about the systems in Islington and in Lambeth that the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen choose to send their children elsewhere?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point entirely. I argue not for the denial of choice, but for an opening up of choice. My argument is that a selective system, with a grammar school in every town, which automatically denies 95 per cent. of the population the right and the opportunity to enter a school—based not on where people live, on geography or any other rational criteria, but on an examination that precludes children at the age of 11—is a denial of choice.

I think that it is time that we put that on the Order Paper. Let us be clear: the Government are offering the kind of choice that was offered to the passengers—even the luxury passengers—of the Titanic. First, there were not enough lifeboats. That is a classic case of creating a grammar school in every town and a secondary modern on every housing estate: 5 per cent. have opportunities and 95 per cent. do not. Secondly, the crew did not know how to launch the lifeboats that were available; and thirdly, no one had trained the passengers to use them. Ironically, although the luxury passengers had first access to the lifeboats, that did not save them.

As with selection in the modern era, provision can be made for the few, but it will not benefit them in the long run, because denying a good education to the many will undermine the economic fabric of society and the cohesion of our communities. It is a simple, known fact that selection destroys cohesion. The Secretary of State does not believe in that part of the Bill in any case; she fought hard against the Prime Minister to avoid having to include it; no one is in favour of it.

Only 1 per cent. of those consulted—15 out of 1,500—wanted the extension of partial selection. Only 41 schools have taken it up, and 35 of those were dealing only with art and drama, leaving only six taking it up for general selection. No one wants it apart from the Tory party, which, earlier this year, saw what it believed to be a chink of light.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

In a moment.

The Tories believed that they could embarrass us. That part of the Queen's Speech is nothing to do with standards for all and everything to do with what they describe as clear blue water. Somebody must have pulled out the plug, because we will not be embarrassed by anything whatever to do with selection. I have no compunction whatever in declaring that there will be no further selection under a Labour Government, for all the reasons that I have spelt out this afternoon.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

Will the hon. Gentleman help me and the rest of the House by confirming that it is the new Labour policy to strive for a fully comprehensive system of education?

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

That is what the right hon. Lady said in 1974 when she stood for Kingston council.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

The right hon. Lady did not do what she said—and she is blushing.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

My hon. Friend tells us that the right hon. Lady is blushing, but he also reminds us that, in 1974, she campaigned—successfully, she says—on a programme of comprehensive education for all. I take his word for that, and I applaud her previous policy.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

The hon. Gentleman should understand that I campaigned substantially throughout my career as a local councillor and as chairman of the education committee in Kingston to preserve the selective system, that I did so successfully, and that all my three children went to the selective grammar school.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

Were not they lucky to be in a home with books; lucky to have a parent driving them forward; lucky to have a primary school that crammed them to enable them to pass the examination; lucky to live in a different era from the present one, which the Government are proud about one minute and denounce the next?

Let us be clear about the fact that we live in a divided society, in which more than 600,000 young men and women under 25 have no job, no education and no training to go to; in which, even according to the Government's fiddled figures, more than 2 million people are unemployed; in which the long-term unemployed have no hope for tomorrow or for next year; in which more than 50 per cent. of those who have found jobs in the past year have become unemployed again within 12 months; in which—[Interruption.]

I hear the words "Oh, dear me." It is "Oh, dear me" for the people who are experiencing what I am talking about; for people experiencing genuine suffering after 18 years of Conservative rule; for those who face insecurity in our communities; and for those who know what the phrase "generational unemployment" means and why it has an impact on our schools.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

I will not give way for the moment; I have given way sufficiently.

I want to tell Conservative Members a thing or two about divided communities where people do not have the hope of a job; where teenagers, especially boys of 13, 14 or 15, can see no reason to study, and have no hope of a job or further education.

Photo of Mr Anthony Coombs Mr Anthony Coombs , Wyre Forest

That is a disgraceful remark.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

I am being accused of making a disgraceful remark, but that is the reality in schools and communities. Anyone who knew anything about what is going on and who realised the deep divide and economic despair that so many people face would understand exactly what I am saying. Talk to those who teach in the schools, such as those at the Ridings school, about the divisions, the hopelessness and the housing estates where 20, 30 or 40 per cent. of households of working age have nobody employed—people dependent on income support.

We are talking about welfare to work; the Government are talking about trapping people in welfare and reinforcing dependence. Three times as many children are now dependent on the welfare state as there were in 1979, but the hon. Gentleman says that it is a disgrace that I should draw attention to the hopelessness and despair of young people with no prospect of a job. It is he and the Government who are a disgrace, because they do not even understand the consequences of their actions. That is the sad and deplorable thing. They do not have a clue what they have done.

I make the Secretary of State an offer. Abandon the divisive—abandon selection and discrimination—and let us unite around those elements of the Bill that all hon. Members could support to lift standards, provide a disciplined environment and ensure that children have the chance of a decent education. If the Secretary of State really wants, as she said this morning on the "Today" programme, to promote those elements of the Bill on which there is general agreement, and the Government want to get those elements through in this legislative Session, let them abandon those elements that no one wants or favours and that are designed purely as party political dogma.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

The young people who are really trapped are those in Labour-controlled authorities such as Islington, Tower Hamlets and Southwark. The official evidence from those places has never been denied. The reading standards of more than half of 11-year-olds are at least two years behind what they should be. The only people who can get away from that are those with the wealth to get away. That is the selection that the hon. Gentleman is offering People such as his colleagues are able, through their rich earning capacity, to get their children out of that system.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

It is nothing to do with income. With one breath, the Government say that they have offered people choice, with the next they say that the choice is not there, and that they must extend it through further selection. They cannot have it both ways. Either the choice is there for parents and being exercised or it is not.

However, the House should not take my word for the divisive, corrosive nature of what the Government propose. Take instead the word of the Association of Grant Maintained and Aided Schools, not exactly a Labour-backed or Labour-supporting organisation. Its submission on the White Paper on selection states: This is an extremely divisive issue for the GM sector. Although many of our members are former Grammar Schools and some of those would like to return to their former role, the greater number are well established comprehensive schools which have been successful in raising academic standards and providing opportunities for the majority of their pupils. They would resent changes in the admission arrangements to neighbouring schools that would distort the current level playing field. We cannot get anything much clearer than that, or can we?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood , Wokingham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

I shall give way in a moment.

The association continues: Raising standards"— this is related directly to the crisis at the Ridings school— of a school with a low average ability serving an area of social deprivation has always been difficult. Creating what in parental perception is a grammar school nearby will make it virtually impossible. That is the answer to Conservative Members. If we create division, undermine opportunity and deny teachers the support they need to do the job, we should not be surprised if we end up with a fractured society, with a lack of cohesion and an inability to heal the wounds of the past two decades.

The Government have not just stumbled upon a Britain that is divided against itself. We are not talking of a Government who have had nothing to do with 18 years of right-wing radical change, of Thatcherism writ large. The Government are not an Administration who have had nothing to do with 10 million people experiencing unemployment since the Prime Minister took office. The Government carry direct responsibility for their own actions over the past 18 years, including the damage that they have brought to every community in every part of Britain.

Let us unite in putting those items on the agenda that matter to people in our communities. Let us heal wounds and ensure that schools can do their job on behalf of every pupil. Let us not confine our efforts to just a few schools that are fit to teach and learn in. Let us ensure that we can once again be proud to give every child a chance. Now is the time for a change. Enough is enough. It is time for a new agenda, with a new Government blowing a new wind of change through the schools and communities of Britain. It is time for a Labour Government.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment 4:01, 29 October 1996

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) began in unaccustomedly lively form. We all noticed, however, when the scriptwriter's text ran out. He conveniently ignored, in his new-found enthusiasm for standards and achievements, the fact that it is the Labour party which runs nine out of 10 local education authorities with the worst GCSE results. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) said, those are the LEAs where young people find themselves trapped.

The hon. Gentleman attempted to glide over the fact that it is his political colleagues in the town halls in Labour Nottinghamshire and Labour Calderdale who are demonstrating their inability to sort out problem schools and pupils. In his statement on Calderdale and the Ridings school, he ignored the fact that in Wiltshire, Bexley and Buckinghamshire, which all run selective systems, the results of the lowest-achieving schools are far higher than those of Calderdale. There is no comfort for the hon. Gentleman in his conclusions on selection in those areas.

The hon. Gentleman's statements about selection and choice to the effect that his party opposes them cannot sit alongside the actions of his right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), his hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and others. We have had much preaching from the hon. Gentleman and it is about time that he put over his message to his right hon. and hon. Friends. He must surely understand that his party's position, which is one policy for his hon. Friends and another for the rest of the population, is a ludicrous hypocrisy.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax

Has not the Secretary of State prejudged Her Majesty's inspectorate's report on the problems at the Ridings school? The right hon. Lady has said that there will be no more money for Calderdale council. She blamed the local education authority. Those statements were made before the HMI went in, as it were. Will the right hon. Lady confirm that if Calderdale received the same financial help per pupil as Westminster city council, it could afford to recruit 860 additional teachers? Does not even she accept that that would make a considerable difference to the four remaining LEA secondary schools in Calderdale?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I would not dream of prejudging the outcome of the inspector's report, but it is good leadership and sound help from the local education authority, not extra resources, that is required.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I shall just finish this point, because I am answering the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon).

The hon. Lady, who has had the opportunity to observe the situation at the school at close hand—after all, we are talking about her constituents and their children—might well have taken some action before now instead of standing by, and now, apparently, wringing her hands. It is her political friends in the town hall who have the responsibility for this. But, of course, we must await the outcome of the inspector's report.

I give way to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Secretary of State is factually incorrect when she blames my political friends in the town hall. Her political friends pushed through—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I regret that that is not a point of order, but a point of argument. I very much hope that the hon. Lady will catch my eye early in the debate so that she can make her points known.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

The Secretary of State refers, as do many of her colleagues time and again, to two of my colleagues who send their children to local authority schools in London boroughs other than their own. Can she tell me—I should like a straight answer for once—which members of the Cabinet have enough faith in the local authority system to send their children to local authority schools? Once they do that, as I did, I shall pay some attention to what they have to say about the local authority system.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

The hon. Gentleman shows well the prejudices of the Labour party. His party is against choice, selection and diversity in education. The hon. Gentleman should look for the mote in the eyes of his hon. Friends.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

The Secretary of State is well aware of the situation at Manton junior school in Worksop in my constituency, where the teachers are on strike and there is total deadlock between the governors, who insist on a boy going to school, and the teachers, who have said that they will not teach while he is there. The right hon. Lady says that it is for the local authority to solve the problem, but it is her legislation that has handed total power over to the governors. They are abusing their powers, because 75 per cent. of the parents have signed a petition asking them to stand down. They are deliberately going against the local council, the parents and the teachers.

There is now a deadlock. I have asked the right hon. Lady to intervene and meet a delegation, but she will not. I have written to her and I have raised every possible avenue with the Office for Standards in Education and everybody else, but the strike looks like going ahead. Yet the right hon. Lady is simply blaming the local council, which has no powers whatever. What does she intend to do about the situation?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

The local education authority is in charge. I asked the hon. Gentleman whether, in the first instance, he would take his deputation to see the chairman of Nottinghamshire education committee. I hope that he has now visited the school. I understand that meetings are taking place today and tomorrow. But the simple fact is that there is a dispute—a breakdown of relationships—between the teachers, the head, the governors and the LEA, and that must be solved at local level. I had conversations with the hon. Gentleman earlier, but I am always happy to talk to him on those matters. However, I am firmly of the view that it is a matter for the LEA.

The hon. Member for Brightside referred, although rather briefly, to home-school agreements. I listened carefully, and I have read what he has to say about his party's proposals for compulsory home-school agreements. I welcome the fact that he will at least support the Government's approach, but—like Margaret Morrissey of the Parents-Teachers Association, Ms Tulloch of the Campaign for State Education and the spokesmen for all the teacher unions—I doubt whether compulsion would work. Parents who support children will not need compulsion, and compulsion would make no difference to those who do not.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

My right hon. Friend seeks to produce adequate discipline in schools, and we all encourage her in that because without discipline, there would be no education. Many of her colleagues were encouraged by her brave remarks this morning and I can assure her that an amendment will be tabled to restore corporal punishment and to make it available to school governors, should they so wish.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

Perhaps I could deal with discipline a little later: for now, I wish to complete this passage.

On home-school agreements, the hon. Member for Brightside mentioned partnerships with parents—although he proposes making them compulsory, which is a curious form of partnership—and that sits ill with his party's record of consistent opposition to all the Government's policies that have put parental choice, information to parents and their involvement as governors at the centre of everything that we have done in education. The hon. Gentleman cannot expect to be taken seriously when he says that he wants parents to be partners—especially if he intends to force them into partnership—because he and his party have opposed that very concept for so long and in so many ways.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I agree with every word that the Secretary of State has just said, but does she accept that her policy is also confused? She will allow schools to choose whether to have a contract, but if they choose to do so, the contract will be compulsory. Does not that mean that Margaret Tulloch, and the other people the Secretary of State mentioned, are also critical of her proposals?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I might accept the hon. Gentleman's point if it were not for the fact that, as I have just said, the home-school agreements that we propose to make available to schools—as part of their admission arrangements—are part of a broad tranche of measures that seek to hind parents into the educational process, including, for example, baseline assessment.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell , Cambridge

Does the Secretary of State agree that the soaring class sizes in Cambridgeshire, which were reported last night in the Cambridge Evening News, are due entirely to the Government's capping of expenditure in Cambridgeshire and are not conducive to raising standards? In one school, Huntingdon county junior school, which is in the Prime Minister's constituency, more than 50 per cent. of the children are taught in classes of more than 30. Does she agree that that will not raise standards in my county?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

As I have said many times in the House and as the chief inspector has made clear many times, achievement in education depends on the quality of teaching and the quality of leadership. Teaching is, of course, more difficult if classes are extremely large, but the hon. Lady will know that teachers are helped by teaching assistants in many classes, especially in primary schools.

I wish to return to the Gracious Speech, which has as its principal themes the extension of opportunity and choice. Those principles have guided Conservative Governments since 1979 through four Parliaments and four election victories, and they will guide us through the legislative programme in the remainder of this Parliament and into the next one. The application of choice and opportunity in education means that we now have a system in which accountability, transparency, independence and the choice and diversity provided for consumers have combined to raise standards.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson , Stoke-on-Trent South

The Secretary of State recently announced that a failed independent school in my constituency will have its status changed to become a grant-maintained selective grammar school. Can she explain how that move, which is opposed by parents, teachers, the local education authority and the diocesan school commission in Birmingham and which flies in the face of local opinion, will help the 107 primary school classes in my constituency that have 30 or more pupils? Staffordshire is right at the bottom of the funding league for education.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

When we take such decisions, we take into account several factors, including inspectors' reports and whether the change will improve the range of choice and quality available to parents. The hon. Gentleman will know, as I do, that Staffordshire was extremely pleased with its current year's financial settlement. I had a letter from the county education officer telling me so, and it was reported, I believe, to the education committee.

We have made heads and governors accountable for standards in their schools. We have made the education system more transparent, so that parents know what is happening through tests, inspections and performance tables. To help schools, we have given them more independence so that those responsible have the freedom, including much more budgetary control, to deliver rising standards. It is no coincidence that the greatest successes have been achieved where those principles have been taken furthest: in grant-maintained schools. Of the top 32 schools identified by Ofsted, 14 were GM.

Photo of Mr Donald Thompson Mr Donald Thompson , Calder Valley

My constituency is in Calderdale, where one school is unfortunately in the headlines. I agree with my right hon. Friend that we should wait for the inspector's report.

Schools in my constituency are places where people want to go. A junior Minister visited what could be called a hard area and saw an exemplary school, because the schools in my area have exercised choice in all the ways that my right hon. Friend mentioned. We heard the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) say that he would close aided and grant-maintained schools. He will have to sort that out with the Churches and others, but I assure my right hon. Friend that schools in my constituency are extremely good.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I am delighted to hear that. The education Bill that will be introduced tomorrow aims to ensure that parents have even more choice than at present and that schools get even more support in raising standards and maintaining discipline. Rising standards and rising achievements in education are the key to personal fulfilment and economic success, and are the foundation stones of a civilised society.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood , Wokingham

The Government have offered a grammar school in every town if parents and local people want it. How would one go about applying for such grammar schools, and when will they be available? There are three towns in my constituency with no grammar schools.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

A number of ways of achieving that aim will be outlined in the Bill to be published tomorrow. If local education authority schools wish to become grammar schools, they will be able to take that decision. If they come up against a hostile LEA, they will be able to refer to the holder of my office for a decision. If grant-maintained schools wish to increase the selective element of their intake, they will be able to do so up to 50 per cent. without having to take further advice or apply to the Department. There are various approaches, and we shall enhance choice and diversity and provide what parents want.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

If, as the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson) says, the secondary schools in his part of Calderdale are a credit to the council, will the Secretary of State pay tribute to them? Does she recognise that if schools are doing a good job in most of Calderdale, the problems at the Ridings are specific to that school, and she should wait for the inspector's report?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I thought that that was what I had said, twice.

I did not recognise the landscape painted by the hon. Member for Brightside. Again, he conveniently ignored the achievements. One in three of our young people now receives a university education, which is almost the highest proportion in Europe, whereas in 1979 only one in eight had that opportunity. Some 29 per cent. of our young people now get two A-levels—double the figure of 17 years ago—and more than 40 per cent. get five good GCSEs or better instead of a quarter, as in 1979. Some 40,000 young people are on modern apprenticeships, and 75 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds are in education or training. GNVQs are now firmly established, with 92 per cent. of GNVQ students this year being offered a provisional university place.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins , Blackpool South

In the light of what my right hon. Friend has just said about the mistakes in the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), did she notice his mispronunciation of something that he called "coup de gras"? Did he confuse that with the foie gras eaten by new Labour, or does he not know his coup de grace from his elbow?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

My hon. Friend demonstrates his linguistic skills. I noticed the hon. Gentleman's error, but as he was in full flight, it seemed unfair to point it out.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller , Ellesmere Port and Neston

The Secretary of State read out a long list of successes. Why has there been a collapse in provision for special needs children in Cheshire—a matter about which I receive letters daily? Whose fault is it? Is it her fault, or is the Conservative ruling authority—and its partnership with the Liberal Democrats—to blame for that council-wide problem?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

Given the favourable financial settlement for Cheshire this year, it must be a question of the selection of priorities.

The achievements that I listed have come from the Government's education reforms, all of which have been opposed by Opposition Members, whose Luddite views were so perfectly encapsulated by the hon. Member for Brightside. Yet again, he made it clear that he is opposed to choice, opposed to selection and opposed to every measure that we have put in place to raise standards.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I will make some progress now.

The hon. Member for Brightside wants to fudge performance tables by introducing "economic and social indices". Yet, as the chief inspector of schools has pointed out, the most successful secondary schools achieve GCSE results six times as good as the worst performers in similar circumstances. If they can do it, so can all. Opposition Members, of course, would say that if all cannot, none should have the opportunity.

Education has been bedevilled for far too long by those who make excuses for poor performance instead of encouraging the good, and the hon. Member for Brightside made it clear today that he belongs to that dishonourable band. The fact that children come from inner-city areas or poor backgrounds is not a reason for accepting poor standards. It should be an additional spur for schools to make up for the disadvantage by providing a good education. That is the way out of cycles of deprivation, enabling all students to reach their potential.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North

Is not it somewhat ridiculous for the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) to hinge his entire education policy on a diatribe against selection that is based on one experience in one town, when there are grammar schools all over the country in towns such as Colchester that co-exist successfully with comprehensive schools and sixth-form colleges? Does not that prove comprehensively that selection and achievement go side by side?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I am afraid that, yet again, the hon. Member for Brightside has demonstrated a paucity of policy and has sought to ignore the facts.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

I am grateful to the Secretary of State who, like everyone else, is concerned about breaking the cycle of deprivation. I hope that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is concerned about that also. However, would not his selection policy—while providing what the right hon. Lady calls opportunity for some—deny opportunity to others? Is she claiming that the policy advocated by the right hon. Gentleman and the selection policies to be included in the Bill will not deny opportunity to some, because in the past—as she must admit—they surely have?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I hope that the hon. Gentleman listened to the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and to my earlier points about the achievements of, for example, Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire and Bexley. There is no evidence to support the comfortable theory expounded from the Labour Front Bench that selection must result in reduced standards—that simply is not true.

We are concerned about standards. We have already done a great deal—all of it opposed by Opposition Members—but there is, nevertheless, more to be done. We are, therefore, introducing a national curriculum for initial teacher training, so that every new teacher learns the methods that really work for reading, writing and arithmetic, on which all other skills are founded. We are reforming in-service training for teachers and setting up literacy and numeracy centres. We have introduced training for head teachers, leading to a new professional qualification, because the quality of learning for children depends on the quality of teaching and leadership in schools.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge , Barking

Will the right hon. Lady explain why it took 17 years before she started to tackle the issue of teacher training?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

The hon. Lady has not been in the House for long—nor have I—but even she can hardly have failed to notice that the education agenda of the Conservative Government has been full of education reform, all of which was opposed by Opposition Members. We have sought to tackle low standards, lack of choice and lack of parental involvement. We have, indeed, reformed teacher training and we are now continuing to do more.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I want to make progress; I shall take more interventions shortly.

The enabling and empowering of individuals that is provided by education is vital, because, as I have already said, education is the foundation stone of a civilised society. Although individuals, families, Churches and voluntary organisations—indeed, everyone—has a part to play in that work, it is clear that, to use Mrs. Lawrence's words, it is in school that much can be done to ensure that our children adopt the values on which our civilisation depends.

That is why the teaching of spiritual and moral values is already part of the national curriculum and why that work, together with adherence to the daily act of worship and the school's interaction with the broader community, is already inspected by the Ofsted. It is also why Conservative Members value the work of the 7,000 Church schools within the system, whereas Opposition Members would reduce their power and change their nature—without, I understand, even consulting them.

Teachers need clear, practical advice to help them to fulfil their responsibility to provide pupils' spiritual and moral education.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) intervened in the Secretary of State's speech, yet she has not had the courtesy to stay for the answer that the Secretary of State is giving. It is appalling.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

That is a matter of opinion, not a point of order for me.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I forgive the hon. Lady—I suppose that she will not be missed.

That is why, last January, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority set up the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community. Its remit was to recommend to the SCAA ways in which schools might be supported in making their contribution to pupils' spiritual and moral development", and to what extent there is any common agreement on the values, attitudes and behaviour which schools should promote on society's behalf'. The forum involves 150 organisations and individuals—teachers, governors, parents, teacher trainers, the major religions, academics, the legal profession, the media, youth workers and employers. The SCAA will publish a document on Friday for wide-ranging consultation on a common core of values and attitudes, on how those might be dealt with in schools and on how best practice might be supported.

Schools already do much good work in that area. I must stress that they cannot on their own achieve changes in social behaviour, but they have a strong desire to take a firm stand on values and behaviour, and we can equip them with practical ways of tackling those matters.

The family, its role and how it might be bolstered, has been discussed by the forum, and at some length in the press. The forum stated: we value families as sources of love and support for all their members and as the basis of a society in which people care for others". Five members of the forum wanted to go further, emphasising that children should be nurtured and developed within a stable moral and loving home environment with preferably both mother and father present in a happy marriage relationship".

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

As the Secretary of State is now quoting from a document that is to be published in three days, and an addendum to it, would it not be a courtesy to the House that it be now published?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

Of course I shall give thought to that matter and will be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the case that if a Minister chooses to quote from an official publication in a debate, it has to be given to the House so that hon. Members can check it?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

I did not think that it sounded like a state paper. [HON. MEMBERS: "It was."] Order. We shall probably now find out whether it was or not.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

It was not a state paper, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am quoting from press coverage of the document, but there is no problem. We can ask the SCAA to make the paper available immediately to Members of the House. There is no problem.

Rightly, the SCAA wants to look at responses before it decides on the wording of an agreed statement of shared family values. As the debate starts, I can do no better, as the Archbishop of Canterbury did recently in another place, than echo the Chief Rabbi's words from his book "Faith in the Future": It is as if, in the 1950s and 1960s, without intending to, we have set a timebomb ticking which would eventually explode the moral framework into fragments. The human cost has been colossal, most visibly in terms of marriage and the family. There has been a proliferation of one-parent families, deserted wives and neglected and abused children". That is the legacy that we have inherited from moral relativism. That has weakened and partly replaced the traditional attitudes which people of all faiths and none used to regard as a bedrock of decent behaviour. I welcome the start of a debate on how we can begin to regain some of that lost ground.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier , Canterbury

In making her welcome comment on the need for a return to traditional values, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, as with religious teaching, wider ethical teaching needs to be firmly based on the Judaeo-Christian tradition, which is the foundation of our laws and customs?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He will obviously make a valuable contribution once the debate starts.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I am sure that, like me, my right hon. Friend has seen in today's The Times the reporting of the document that we are all about to see. She will also have been in contact with Frances Lawrence, my constituent, about her manifesto. Does she agree that it would be useful to children if they could recite the four points set out in The Times today which it is suggested that they might learn, but that of much more value would be the ten commandments, whatever the religious background of children, because the ten commandments give a proper ethical and religious basis to life?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. He will no doubt be extremely interested in the debate and will contribute to it.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane , Rotherham

As we are only a day away from Hallowe'en, may I invite the Secretary of State to put on her other witch's hat—that of Secretary of State for Employment? She talked about family values. Does she agree that one of the biggest destroyers of family life is that too many parents—fathers and mothers—cannot spend time with their children because of the relentless pressure of overtime and extra hours? Will she in this speech take a step to the centre and support the eminently commonsense idea of a 48-hour limit on average on the working week, to allow parents to spend time with their children?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

No. We are still two days away from Hallowe'en.

I shall now deal with the Bill to be introduced tomorrow. Its main theme is the carrying forward of the principles of choice, standards and accountability. I have already outlined some of the measures that will be introduced to increase selection and choice. In addition, primary schools will be required to assess all new pupils, to help teachers plan each child's education and to establish a baseline against which future progress can be measured.

All schools will be required to set targets for improving their performance in the key subjects of the national curriculum. We shall extend the powers of Ofsted to include the inspection of local education authorities.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield

My children either were educated or are at present being educated in Calderdale, so as the Secretary of State mentioned Ofsted's powers, may I comment on the Ofsted inspection? It would be a great pity to investigate one school and its problems without taking into account the havoc that has been wrought on education in Calderdale in the past few years by the twists and turns of the Government's policies. It would be much better to have an independent inquiry into what the past 17 years of those twists and turns have done to education in Calderdale.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

Over which the hon. Gentleman's political friends currently preside.

I now come to the matter of discipline.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the absence of choice and opportunity results in a system of class segregation? That is sadly what happened in Glasgow after the abolition of selection and grammar schools. My children attend council schools in Southend-on-Sea. The four grammar schools there, which take 25 per cent. of the community, offer unique opportunities for able, working-class children to enable them to break through the system. That does not damage other pupils, who also have great opportunities. Does she appreciate that people in Southend will be disheartened and disillusioned by the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), whose policies would serve only to deny opportunities to able, working-class children?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

My hon. Friend makes the point perfectly. I hope that those on the Opposition Front Bench are listening.

Good discipline is a prerequisite for raising standards. The Bill will include the measures that teachers have asked for to strengthen their ability to tackle disruptive behaviour. The proposed Bill will require each LEA and each school to set out their arrangements for dealing with disruptive pupils. It will allow schools to detain pupils after school without parental consent. It will increase the flexibility available to impose fixed-term exclusions, and will ensure that independent exclusions appeals committees take account of the interests of other pupils and staff at the school, as well as those of the excluded pupils. It will give schools the right not to admit pupils who have been excluded from more than one other school for up to two years after the most recent exclusion.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

Not at the moment; I am sorry.

Everyone has had fun talking about what may or may not have been said about corporal punishment in our schools. For the avoidance of doubt, I shall remind the House of what I said.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson , Stoke-on-Trent South

I saw the right hon. Lady on television.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

The hon. Gentleman could not have seen me on television, because I was on the radio. Or perhaps he could. God knows what mood he was in.

I shall remind the House of what I said, as opposed to what I have been reported as saying. The Government have not included in the Bill a provision for the restoration of corporal punishment, nor do we intend to do so, because there has been no demand for such a measure from any professional group. There is a wide range of views on the subject. My personal view is that corporal punishment can be a useful deterrent to bad behaviour in school. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister takes a different personal view. The Government's position, however, is that we shall not put the restoration of corporal punishment in the Bill. Although amendments may seek to do so from either side of the House, we shall not give them Government backing.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

May I clarify that statement? The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) said that an amendment would be tabled. If it was, would the Secretary of State vote for it?

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

I said that we would not give amendments Government backing. That should be clear.

As I said, one of the purposes of education is to prepare young people for their adult working life. The correlation between education standards and employment is clear: graduates are only half as likely to be unemployed as non-graduates, and those with no educational qualifications at all are three times more likely to he unemployed than those who succeed academically.

Under-achievement for young people is not just a problem at school; it is a legacy that will haunt and deprive them throughout their adult life. Jobs are coming on stream and have risen by nearly 750,000 in the past four years. They are principally there, however, for people with the knowledge, skills and flexibility to take advantage of the opportunities that a modern economy has to offer. As more jobs become available, unemployment is falling for young people and adults. In Britain, free from the restrictions of the social chapter and a national minimum wage, young people's job prospects after leaving full-time education are among the best in Europe.

Young people and their parents should understand exactly what would be in store for them if the policies advocated by the hon. Member for Brightside were ever put into practice. He would deny them jobs through the social chapter and a national minimum wage, and youth unemployment would rise to the levels in France and Spain.

Opposition Members make every excuse for failing schools. They complain about resources, the burdens of the national curriculum and conditions in our inner cities. They do not seem to understand that their friends who control the LEAs where most of our poor performers are to be found are a major part of the problem. Of course, conditions in inner cities can be difficult. Of course, teaching the national curriculum to a high standard is a demanding task—so it should be, if it is to give young people the standards of education that they deserve. That is no reason for some teachers, heads and LEAs to accept low standards, because other teachers, heads and LEAs succeed while facing identical problems.

Inner-city schools, such as Small Heath school in Birmingham or the Central Girls Foundation school in Tower Hamlets, can succeed. Moreover, schools that were failing, such as the Northicote school in Wolverhampton, can be made to succeed. Those are inner-city success stories. Those schools do not give up on their pupils, do not have low expectations of their pupils and do not accept low standards. What they deliver, others can deliver, too.

For 17 years, we have conducted an increasingly successful campaign to extend choice and opportunity and raise standards in schools. That campaign has been consistently opposed by the Labour party. We owe it to future generations to continue that campaign. With the help of the new measures set out in the Gracious Speech, we intend to do so. We shall ensure, throughout this Parliament and into the next, that the life-chances of Britain's children are not despoiled by the Labour party.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw 4:43, 29 October 1996

May I draw the attention of the House to a matter that is relevant to what the Minister has just said about disruptive children? The front page of this morning's edition of The Independent carries the headline: A perfectly ordinary junior school for 200 pupils, closed by one naughty 10-year-old. Why? The teachers of that school in my constituency have issued notices to take strike action tomorrow. The headmaster closed the school yesterday and there is deadlock. The problem has been on-going for the past two to three months and I drew it to the attention of the Secretary of State when it started.

That problem concerns not just my constituency—more than 11,000 children throughout the country are now excluded from school. This nationwide problem has attracted so much attention because of the difficult position in which teachers now find themselves. They are forced to draw up league tables, pass standard assessments and achieve all the results that the Secretary of State has been boasting about. Yet, when it comes to disruptive children, teachers have no help whatsoever.

The Secretary of State's suggestion might help in some small disputes but it would not solve the problems of Manton school in my constituency, where there is deadlock between the teachers and the board of governors. The problem centres around a disruptive lad called Matthew Wilson, aged 10. He has been given great publicity, with his picture on newspaper front pages and in The Mail on Sunday colour supplement. I hate to think what it is doing to the poor boy. At the end of July, Manton school said that it would no longer accept him because of his disruptive behaviour towards the staff and other pupils.

Manton is a small mining community in a low-income, deprived area where the pits have been closed and everybody knows each other. Most of the parents went to that school; they know the governors and every kid. It is a community proud of its history, but where nothing is really secret.

Matthew Wilson has had many problems. A couple of years ago his father died and his mother had a serious operation. He formed an attachment to his sister's boyfriend as a father figure and that poor man was killed in a motor bike accident. The boy needs help. There is no question about that. The teachers and parents at the school, however, said that they could no longer have him there because the other kids were not being taught. The board of governors, which now has all the powers, disagreed. The chairman of the board, Mrs. Eileen Bennett, said that the boy should go to the school. I do not know how the press got hold of the story but when the pupils went back in September there was total mayhem because the governors had decided that the boy would be taught one-to-one and the cost was to come out of school funds. So the parents went on strike. Fifty parents said, "If we have to pay for that lad out of the budget, our kids will suffer. So we won't send them to school."

It is the first time that I have ever known parents to go on strike and pull their kids out of school, but they did it for a good reason. The pits in the area have all closed and there is massive unemployment. Despite enterprise zone promises, no new jobs have been created. Those working-class people know that if their kids do not get some sort of qualification and education, they will have no future. They care just as deeply as middle-class parents about grammar schools and class sizes.

The board of governors, however, lost touch with the parents and insisted on the child returning to school. They wanted to show who was boss and were determined to take on the union. So they set up the one-to-one funding, kept the boy out of school and said that it would cost the school £14,000 of its budget. It has already cost £3,000. The local authority said that it could do nothing as it had no powers to disband the board of governors. Three quarters of the parents said, "The governors have handled this matter badly. We know who they are—they are neighbours of ours. They are playing politics." But the governors refused to stand down.

I sent a petition to the Secretary of State asking her to use her powers to request the governors to stand down and offer themselves for reselection. It suggested that they should keep well in with the parents so that the school could be united. She refused, saying that the governors were not acting unreasonably or unlawfully. I think that they were acting unreasonably, as they went against the local council, the parents, the head teacher and the teachers. They were out of line with everybody. If that is not acting unreasonably, I do not know what is. The Secretary of State, however, refused to use her powers to disband the board of governors and have elections.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier , Canterbury

Would the hon. Gentleman like to comment on the parallel position of a school in my constituency, where a boy was excluded for pushing drugs and a panel appointed by the Labour local education authority, including a Labour councillor, also went against the governors' wishes? The common factor in both cases seems to be a Labour local education authority overcoming the governors' wishes.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

I will not give way again to that sort of diversion.

I asked the Secretary of State to meet a parents' delegation during the recess, but she refused. She told me to see the local council. Its headquarters are 30 miles away, but council officials came to the area. Again, the parents refused to return their children to school because the governors were adamant. I persuaded the parents to return their children on three separate occasions, but they were so angry about the school having to fund the disruptive boy that they took their children out again. All the time, there was enormous media coverage. The effect of press and television coverage on disruptive children has been diabolical.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) will refer to another case in Calderdale. Matthew Wilson was shown on television receiving a Chinese massage in his underpants. The chairman of the governors said, "It will relieve his tension and do him good. It is a special form of psychotherapy." The boy has also been promised a trip to Disneyland. There was coverage of that case in The Mail on Sunday colour supplement. People were interviewed in the street. Children were saying to cameramen, "I've been on television before. Do you want to interview me?" What is all that doing to disruptive children?

Could not the Secretary of State include in her Bill a provision stating that, as with court cases involving a minor infringement such as vandalism, children under a certain age should not be identified? That strict law forbids children being used by the media. Kids are great imitators. Where there is violence or fighting in a school, it is often to prove who is the cock of the school—as we called it when we were lads. Half a dozen kids want to prove who can fight the others, who is the bravest, who will show off more and who will be the first to make the teacher lose his or her temper. There is much of that sort of bravado.

There are ways of solving the problem of disruptive kids. If such a boy is one of the oldest in his school, he can be moved to the senior school down the road, where he will be one of the youngest boys. However, that requires extra funding—something that schools do not have. Because funding is left in the hands of the governors, every school says, "We're not having that bad kid." At one time, disruptive children were swapped around a bit but today, funding is so tight and insulated that there is no flexibility.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

What was the situation in my hon. Friend's local education authority before the Government insisted on local division of finance, school on school? Was there at least the possibility, as in many places, of the local education authority making funding available in respect of disruptive pupils, so that the success and education of other children was not prejudiced? Is that not the root of the problem?

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

My hon. Friend knows the answer because he is much more experienced in education than me. There was that flexibility.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

There is nothing to prevent an LEA coming in with special funding, to provide one-on-one education separate from the school's budget. If Nottinghamshire used some of the money that it spends daily on publicity for the council, that authority would have ample funds.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

I will take the right hon. Lady's message back to Nottinghamshire county council. I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for answering my point about one-on-one funding, but she has not replied to my point about teachers refusing to teach. Even if funding is available for one-on-one tuition at a different school, sooner or later the boy in question will have to return to his original school. Kids want to be at school. The boy is now saying that he will behave himself if he can go back to school, because he is fed up with being taught on his own—which is understandable.

The petition against the governors of Manton school still exists. I approached Ofsted. I am glad that it is moving into Calderdale, but it refuses to move into Manton. Ofsted said that once the dispute is settled, it will immediately hold an investigation—but not now. Again, there is a total deadlock. The governors will not back off, the teachers will not back off, the council does not have the authority to move in and take over, and neither Ofsted nor the Minister wants to know. Who the hell does want to know? I am been trying to pull the four or five strings together for two months, yet there remains a deadlock.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

The LEA could do a number of things in addition to the action that I suggested. It could make its central teaching and advisory staff available to the school by short-term secondment. The LEA could arrange alternative tuition for all Manton's pupils, notwithstanding the strike. The authority could offer suitable alternative tuition to the parent of the pupil concerned because not all the alternatives have been explored. The LEA could bring itself to back publicly the governing body. I saw the chairman of the governors on television, who said: The LEA said they are behind us. It would be more helpful if they were in front.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

I welcome the Secretary of State's advice and will pass it on, but I will give another version of the comments made to her. The chairman of the governors, Mrs. Eileen Bennett, is a Conservative party nominee. She stands for the council as an independent in a rock-solid Labour area in which the National Union of Mineworkers held strong during the miners' strike. How Mrs. Bennett got to be chairman of the governors, I do not know. She is a great Conservative sympathiser. If the other governors had another chance to vote for their chairman, I do not think that they would vote for Mrs. Bennett—but I will be kind.

I am convinced that not only Mrs. Bennett but the right hon. Lady and the Tory party would like teacher strikes this winter. They think that any strike—whether on the railways, in the Post Office or in schools—will produce votes for the Tory party. There is a hidden agenda. This is not just a small issue for Manton school that is attracting big headlines. The problem is affecting 11,000 children and hundreds of schools, where teachers are fed up to the back teeth. Perhaps the teachers were fed up with having to achieve league tables, increased class sizes and being pressurised. Teachers are taking early retirement in ever-increasing numbers. Many teachers, who have already had enough, see disruptive children as the last straw. If a strike starts in Manton this week and it spreads, that would suit the Government and it might suit the union. However, the kids and the parents in the middle would be the ones to suffer.

The Secretary of State has not made any concrete proposals. She could stop the Manton problem by dissolving the board of governors and asking for new elections. I guarantee that if there were a new board of governors, the problem would end in a week. The right hon. Lady will not take that action because secretly she thinks that having teachers on strike throughout the country would be a vote winner for the Conservative party in a general election. That is what lies behind the Manton school problem.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden 4:58, 29 October 1996

I do not believe that single cases make particularly good arguments, but I sympathise with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) in one respect. A disruptive child makes it difficult for the teachers and the parents to maintain their efforts to provide a good education for the other children. There is obviously a problem with that child. I hope very much that the local education authority, which is the proper authority, will manage to resolve it. It is time that people sat down around a table and worked out a resolution of that problem.

I welcome the Bill promised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. During its passage, we shall discuss discipline in schools, among other things.

Schools deliver the most effective education. They do the job of opening the minds of children best when those schools are orderly. We have asked a great deal of teachers in the past few years. They have had the demanding job of rediscovering the things that they must teach and of ensuring that they meet the standards to enhance the children's basic education. Those requirements are right.

We make things very difficult if we, as a society, say that the only people in the country who can now instil moral rectitude in, and order among, children are teachers. Teachers have had to become social workers; they have had to become all things to all men. That is patently absurd. It is absurd to expect teachers, who frequently are confronted with not only abusive or violent pupils but abusive or violent parents, to answer for all the ills of our society simply because, in western Europe and the Americas, we have allowed ourselves to become obsessed with political correctness. We have become so obsessed that we refuse to allow the people who teach, members of a good and honourable profession, to react publicly and openly about how they feel with parents who are abusive and with children who are totally out of order.

It is important for us to support teachers who ask for some authority to be restored to them—who ask, not to be given the right to bring up children from scratch, but to be given back the authority to enable them to establish order in places of education. They are there to educate children.

The newspapers and other media, among others, indulge in another mistake a great deal. They imagine that, if children have an education, they will automatically go on to obtain a job. Teachers can only do their best to open the mind and intellect of children. They cannot guarantee those children a job; they can guarantee to enable those children to obtain the skills that will enable those children to find the training that will enable those children ultimately to obtain jobs. Teaching children to read and do maths and teaching them basic science and technology are the first steps to enabling children to get a job. Teachers cannot and should not be expected to teach children moral behaviour and how to conduct themselves in an orderly way. They can contribute to that, but they are not the first teachers.

Children's first teachers are their parents. If the mother and father are out of control, it is hardly surprising that the children are out of control. No doubt other hon. Members will have been told by teachers from their constituency of terrible experiences. A teacher in my constituency was put in hospital by a parent—I suppose it was a parent; it was certainly someone associated with the child—who decided that they did not like the fact that the teacher had reprimanded the child in class. We cannot, as a society, expect teachers to give their best in opening the minds of children if we expect them to fend off violent and irresponsible people who have no self-control.

I prefer not to indulge in a great moral debate. We need to tell teachers, "We shall give you the authority"—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State plans to do just that—"and we shall give you the means whereby you can exercise control in your schools." In that way, we can at least restore the balance for the teaching profession, which, as my right hon. Friend said, has done a magnificent job. It has helped with all the different measures that have been introduced during the past 17 years. It has made possible significant achievements. Examination results have improved, and children go to university in far greater numbers than we ever contemplated.

At one point during my time in the Government, one in 10 children went to university. The figure is now one in three. That is a tribute to the extension of university places and to the people who teach in our schools. We, as a society, should support those people to the hilt to enable them to do the job that they have chosen to do, by giving them the backing of the Government measures that will be introduced and of the local education authorities, which have a major responsibility to ensure discipline in schools.

In mentioning the Bill that is to be introduced, I should declare an interest. I have an interest in grant-maintained schools because I am vice-president of Grant-Maintained Schools Ltd. I also have an interest in the assisted places scheme in so far as I am a part of the Girls' Public Day School Trust and I am chairman of the governors of an independent school in north London.

I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering extending the assisted places scheme to preparatory schools, because I strongly support the idea of allowing talented children, from families who do not have the means to send them to the schools of their choice, to go to those schools.

As a former pupil of a school in the Girls' Public Day School Trust, I believe that we offered to girls throughout the country, without exception, one of the very best educations that anyone can receive in this country. It is single-sex education, and 25 per cent. of the girls who attend Girls' Public Day School Trust schools are supported by assisted places. That means that those girls get an opportunity that would otherwise have been denied them.

I was furious and outraged when, in 1975, the Labour Government decided to get rid of the direct grant system, so preventing children from poorer areas and from financially disadvantaged families from going to schools that would give them an excellent opportunity in life. The majority of girls who go to the 26 schools run by the Girls' Public Day School Trust manage to go to university. Those girls hold top jobs in every walk of life. They do well and are a credit to their families.

Why on earth does the Labour party want to abolish the assisted places scheme? I ask, as others will: if the Labour party really believes in excellence and in giving opportunity to children who are otherwise, especially economically, deprived, why does it not promise to extend the assisted places scheme considerably? Why does not it offer many more children the opportunity to attend independent schools and receive a good education?

I do not understand the logic of wanting to deprive people of an opportunity to do well—of wanting to deprive parents, especially. Remember this: many of the young people who go to Girls' Public Day School Trust schools and many independent schools, come from single-parent families. They are children of parents who want their children to do well enough in life to climb out of the economic disadvantage in which they have found themselves. What is wrong with that? I genuinely ask that of Opposition Members, who seem to be locked into a system which failed decades ago and has continued to fail. The notion that every child is born with the same ability is patent rubbish.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham

Does the right hon. Lady not realise that we oppose the assisted places system because it gives privilege to the few at the expense of the majority? If the right hon. Lady will tell her Ministers to spend the same amount on each child in the public sector as is spent on each child in the independent sector, I will support her 100 per cent. Does not she realise that a few people are being subsidised at the expense of the majority?

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I fail to understand his logic. The majority of those who send their children to independent schools pay their taxes and support the state system, but choose to spend more to give their children a different education. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought that being allowed to spend one's taxed money on whatever one chooses was the benefit of living in a free society. [Interruption.]

I should like to make a further point to the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), who seems very excited. The abolition of the assisted places scheme will not provide a pot of gold for any prospective Government who might come in as an alternative to our extremely good Conservative Government. It would benefit perhaps one child in 16 at the most. It is misleading nonsense to say, "We shall abolish the assisted places scheme and then all your children, all you poor people, will get a much better education." That is untrue. It is high time that somebody said loudly what the benefits would be. Those benefits would be minimal and would not fund anything—certainly not the aspirations of the hon. Member for City of Durham, laudable though they might be.

I welcome the extension of grant-maintained status. I was probably one of the earliest people to believe that grant-maintained status would become the norm for schools and would be of great benefit to pupils, parents and teachers. It is a pity that we are still slightly hidebound by bureaucratic local authority procedures for the allocation of school places. I do not know how many hon. Members came across that problem during the summer.

It is important that we should be able to deliver choice and diversity. Sadly, we cannot always do so when parents choose a school, for good and sensible reasons, only to find that the local authority will not allocate them a place there and that the appeals system appears not to be as fair as they would like. I am not pleased to be making that point, but the Government need to consider it. Schools should have a greater say in choosing the children whom they take in. It is better for children to go to the schools that their parents want and for parents to have an opportunity to choose the schools that they prefer for their children. That is reasonable in a free society. I dislike the allocation of places by overseeing bureaucracy. It leads me to wonder seriously whether the role of the local education authority is still too overbearing.

The remarks of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw raised some interesting issues relating to the role of local education authorities. Many LEAs refuse to allow schools in their area to opt for grant-maintained status. It is reasonable to argue that it is not up to the local education authority because the governing body chooses, but we all know the pressures that can be brought to bear on a governing body and on voting parents. Little notes have gone out in my constituency to the parents of every child in a school saying, "If you vote for grant-maintained status, your school will lose £800 this year and £1,600 next year." It is nonsense, of course, and quite wrong, but let us not deny that it happens.

We should also remember that many LEAs claiming to be giving their schools the maximum amount under the local management scheme—85, 90 or 95 per cent., whatever it may be—are misleading parents, because they do nothing of the sort. They retain far more than that. My LEA retains 30 per cent., after taking into account the way in which money is paid back to it by schools for the services which the authority says that they must buy. A considerable sum which is not properly managed or used is going back to local education authority. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government to think about that and to see whether it might be considered for a Bill after we have won the general election and a successful Conservative Government are returned.

I welcome the Government's measures and wish them every success.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 5:15, 29 October 1996

I disagree fundamentally with many of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold). I spoke immediately after her last time the House had a major debate on education, when I was so incensed by one of her remarks that I suggested that it should be widely published, so that people would know where she stood.

I hope that the right hon. Lady's opening remarks today on morality in schools will also be widely published, because they were very sensible. I was delighted to hear her say that teachers cannot be expected to take on the full burden. They have a part to play in this important issue and we should give them more trust. Although she did not say so specifically, I suspect that she might agree that our schools are already highly moral places, providing good examples for young people on issues of right and wrong.

The right hon. Lady will be well aware that many schools find themselves under considerable pressure on the issue, not least because the significantly overcrowded national curriculum has made it very difficult for teachers to devote as much time and attention as they might to what in many schools is called personal and social education—a vehicle for dealing with some issues of morality. I very much welcome her early remarks, but I shall explain later why I disagree fundamentally with some of her other points.

It was said of Calvin Coolidge many years ago, "He don't say much, but when he do he don't say much." That is a particularly apposite remark on this year's Queen's Speech—it don't say very much at all. However, it speaks volumes about the Government. They have run out of steam and run out of ideas. Many of the proposals in the Queen's Speech are aimed more at trying to embarrass other parties than at trying to solve the many problems of our society.

We are meant to be debating local government and education today. It is a pity that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment did not mention local government. Perhaps that is not surprising, because we know that the Conservative Government are no fans of local government. That is no shock, because the Conservatives have no power base there. My party now has many more councillors than the Conservatives and controls four times as many councils. However, that does not absolve the Government of the responsibility to respond more effectively and robustly to the problems of local government.

The Gracious Speech refers to one Bill on local government, which will bring forward precious few measures far too late. What a pity the Queen's Speech did not contain a serious local government Bill to give local authorities a general power of competence for the first time. The Prime Minister is keen to talk about the notion of subsidiarity—devolving power downwards—in relation to Europe. What a pity he does not take a similar view on the need to devolve power downwards from central to local government in this country.

Legislation to give a general power of competence to local government would enable authorities to take action that they believe that local people want at local level. It is a pity that such a Bill could not have had tacked on to it a Government commitment to remove capping and thus to remove the ludicrous situations which currently exist in local government as a result of capping. I would not expect it from the present Government, but it was a pity that they did not propose a change to the way in which local taxes are raised—a change from the council tax to a form of local income tax.

The Queen's Speech is also sadly deficient in terms of education. What a pity the Queen's Speech did not propose education legislation to scrap the ludicrous and cumbersome nursery voucher system. What a pity the Government did not say, "We have had trials of our nursery vouchers in four local education authorities and we will take account of the results and then act." If the Government had taken account of the results, there is no doubt that they would have decided to scrap the nursery voucher scheme and, perhaps, come to the House for the first time with a clear commitment to develop a high-quality early years education system linked to care provision for all three and four-year-olds in this country and a commitment to make available the necessary resources.

One aspect that particularly worries me is that the Government seem to have lost interest in the nursery vouchers scheme. They are so keen to go ahead that they have lost interest in their own proposals. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary might like to intervene and explain why we were told, during the passage of legislation to introduce nursery vouchers, that great importance would be attached to the inspection of the various settings in which nursery provision would be made. The Minister will be well aware that, instead of allowing Ofsted to carry out the arrangements, the Government brought in an outside contractor, Group 4, to handle them. I wonder whether the Minister is aware that over the past few days inspection contracts have been handed out by three people from Group 4 with little or no knowledge of the inspection process, and an Ofsted representative was not even invited to be present during the process. The House should be told why that happened.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

Surely the hon. Gentleman knows that the two experiments in Norfolk and Westminster have created substantial increases in the number of nursery places. He should know that Liberal and Conservative-held wards of the city of Leeds provide parents with the least chance of securing nursery provision. The Labour authority continually boasts about the level of provision in Leeds. But in my area that level is one in 10; in some of the inner-city Labour-held wards it is one in one—almost every child. The Liberal-held wards are also suffering under the present system, which the hon. Gentleman seems to back.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman takes no account of the funding mechanism in local government around the country and the differential difficulties encountered in many parts of the country. The hon. Gentleman was foolish to refer to the nursery voucher trials in Westminster. The view of Conservative-controlled Westminster council of nursery vouchers is well known. It recently made its comments to the Select Committee. Written evidence which it submitted to the Committee stated: the scheme is bureaucratic with much of the extra administration falling on our schools. It also mentioned the increased difficulties faced by parents. Would not it have been better if the Queen's Speech had referred to a new Bill to scrap nursery vouchers and introduce a proper system of high-quality early years education? But that has not happened.

What a pity that the Queen's Speech contained no clear commitment from Government to increase the resources available to the education system. One year ago I warned in this Chamber that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer cut the level of income tax in the Budget, it would lead to cuts in our schools. Sadly, I have been proved right. In the intervening 12 months a large number of teacher posts—about 4,000—have gone. That loss has led to a rise in class sizes, with all the consequent effects.

There has also been a worsening in morale and an increase in the number of teachers and head teachers taking early retirement due to stress-related illnesses. Buildings have continued to crumble and schools have continued to suffer from shortages of books and equipment. It would have been wonderful to have had a Queen's Speech in which the Government made a clear commitment, this year at least, to make increased investment in our schools a top priority. Increased investment would allow the introduction of high-quality nursery education, boost the supply of books and equipment in our schools, provide more support for children with special educational needs, provide teachers with much-needed high-quality in-service training and provide a significant boost in spending to try to tackle the appalling backlog of repairs and maintenance to school buildings.

Right hon. and hon. Members who have listened to the list that I have just given will be aware that improvements in every one of those sectors would bring improvements in the classroom. They would help to reduce class sizes and to improve the quality of the buildings, making it easier for teachers to teach and for children to learn. Giving the teachers the tools that they need—books and equipment—would raise pupils' motivation and ensure a reduction in the discipline problems that the Government are rightly keen to resolve.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, whose contributions in the House we always enjoy.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I agreed with what the hon. Gentleman said about capping—if by saying that I blight his position in his party, I am genuinely sorry. Is he aware that an answer to a parliamentary question that I received only today states that the amount spent in schools is about £15.25 billion? If the hon. Gentleman is saying that that is not enough, by how much should it be increased? Will he say a word about the degree of holdback that has occurred in local education authorities?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

In his second point, the hon. Gentleman may be referring to the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden, who talked about 30 per cent. As I understand it, the 30 per cent. level—even using the mechanism that the right hon. Lady mentioned—goes against the Government's intention. It would also run contrary to my view of the proper levels of delegation. I believe that the current 85 per cent. level is about right. It enables variation between different parts of the country and different sorts of local education authorities. I am delighted—I hope that the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) is equally delighted—that the Government have dropped their inane intention to introduce a 95 per cent. level of delegation.

The hon. Gentleman has asked his first question so many times that I wonder why he bothers to ask it again. I have placed my answer clearly on the record: the figure is approximately £2 billion. As, this time, the hon. Gentleman forgot to ask me how the money would be raised—I know that he intended to do so—I will answer the question. If necessary, and if there is no other way of finding the money, we would be prepared to raise the level of income tax by 1p in the pound.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for answering questions that I did not ask. I welcome his comments about holdback and local authority budgets. Is that now Labour policy? I am sorry, is it Liberal policy? There is now so little distinction between the two Opposition parties. May I assume that the Liberals will join us in requiring local education authorities not to withhold so much of their budgets from schools?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I did not say that. I was very clear, and the hon. Gentleman does me a slight disservice in not having listened to me. I said that the 85 per cent. level—which is current Government policy—is approximately correct and that we should not go significantly beyond it. However, some local authorities will choose to do so of their own volition. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware from the many parliamentary questions that have been asked on that point, the level of delegation is much higher in some parts of the country, including in Liberal Democrat local authorities such as Somerset.

On discipline in schools, about which many hon. Members are concerned, I share and support some of the Secretary of State's comments. She was absolutely right to say that we must have higher expectations of pupils. For all sorts of reasons, teachers often do not have sufficiently high expectations of their students. We must also have higher expectations of our teachers. I think that it is appropriate to re-establish the concept of teaching as a profession. We must give our teachers, as professionals, the support that they need, with the General Teaching Council as their professional body. As occurs in other professions, we must ensure that teachers have adequate and appropriate levels of continuing professional development.

If we re-establish teachers as professionals, we shall expect a great deal of them in return. We shall expect them not to resort readily to strike action—as has occurred in the two cases that are currently in the news. I do not believe that such action is helpful in either of the cases that are being debated in the press.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

The real problem in schools lies in low pupil and parent expectations rather than low teacher expectations. Children who come from very deprived areas and whose parents and brothers and sisters are unemployed do not expect to obtain jobs at the end of their schooling, so their expectations while at school are very low.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman only in his initial assertion that teachers do not have low expectations of pupils. I think that teacher expectations are too low in some cases. However, I entirely accept his point that pupils and their parents often have very low expectations of children's likely achievements.

I agree with the Secretary of State's remarks about raising self-esteem and having higher expectations, and it is correct that the new legislation will enable schools to introduce detention for pupils even if parents are unhappy about it, subject to giving appropriate notice. I support the Secretary of State in that aspect of the legislation. I believe also that she is right to introduce an additional layer of exclusion possibility within schools. When the Secretary of State removed the indefinite exclusion, I said that it was a mistake. I think that I have been proved correct and I welcome the fact that she is now reintroducing at least a partial additional level of exclusion possibility for schools.

I support the Secretary of State's remarks and the Bill's proposals regarding target setting and the need for schools to be very clear about their role in benchmark testing, which I support. However, I have difficulty with the Secretary of State—as will others when they study the proposals in detail—over the issue of home-school contracts. I disagree fundamentally with the Labour party's proposal to make home-school contracts compulsory in every school and to require parents to sign them before their children can enter the school.

It is vital that we improve the relationship between home and school. Far too many parents are not prepared to support either their children or the school that they attend. However, forcing people to sign a piece of paper will not solve that problem. It can be solved only if schools and parents work together to develop a better understanding of their rights and, more importantly, their responsibilities.

The Secretary of State made that point: partnership is about working together to develop something. We shall not succeed simply by signing a piece of paper. The reality is that those parents who wish to support their children and the school will sign happily. Those parents who do not wish to support their children or the school may choose not to sign—in which case, where will the child go—or they will sign, but the contract will have no meaning. Therefore, I do not believe that that approach will work.

I am equally worried about the Government's proposal. The legislation introduces a system whereby individual schools will be free to decide whether to use a home-school contract as an entry requirement. The problem that I have described with the Labour party proposal would exist for those schools that choose to take up that option. The Secretary of State generously pointed out that many organisations involved with schools expressed considerable concern about the proposal within 24 hours of its announcement. The Campaign for the Advancement of State Education and the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations have made particularly strong remarks about that issue.

If the Secretary of State were in the Chamber, I know that she would listen very carefully to the comments of one person. Joan Sallis is highly respected in the area of education. She has been involved in the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education and with many other bodies. She is a frequent contributor to education debates and she makes it clear that she has no party political allegiances. Her views are heeded around the country and I believe that the Government should listen to them.

I asked Joan Sallis to share her views about this issue. In a letter that I received yesterday, she says that the Government's funding policies are forcing many excellent home-school liaison schemes around the country to fold. She continues: I was always taught that unenforceable law is bad law". In her most telling point, she says: The link with admissions is ludicrous: children have a legal right to education and the only logic of basing admission on a signed contract, and retention on its fulfilment, is to have sink schools which don't demand parental support, a form of selection more savage than any yet proposed. Twenty years ago, Joan Sallis was one of a group of people who formulated the Taylor report. The issue of home-school contracts was discussed at that time and is covered in that report. As it is such an important part of the Government's proposals, I ask the Minister to make available as quickly as possible the minutes of the relevant debates which took place in developing the Taylor report. I am told that hon. Members on both sides of the House would find them helpful in our deliberations on the Bill.

We support some of the proposals on discipline, but we have some concerns—especially about home-school contracts. I am delighted that we do not need to have a lengthy debate on corporal punishment; that argument was had and won 10 years ago. Anyone who thinks that we can reduce the violence in our society by using a violent sanction should seriously think again. The evidence 10 years ago showed that caning and other corporal punishments were not a successful means of reducing indiscipline in our schools. I am surprised that the Secretary of State even floated the idea, albeit only as a means of assuaging a few right-wing Tory Back Benchers—one of whom is about to intervene.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

I have never discussed the matter with the Secretary of State. What has happened over the past 10 years while bien pensant people such as the hon. Gentleman have been saying how marvellous it is that we have done away with caning and that there is less violence in society? I believe that our streets have become more violent.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax

Because of Tory policies.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

Not because of Conservative policies, but because young men, in particular, no longer leave school with respect for themselves and for others or with the self-discipline that ought to be taught in schools. Part of that may be due to the abolition of corporal punishment.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, who is performing the classic manoeuvre of desperately trying to find someone else to blame for what has happened and taking no responsibility for policies that he and his hon. Friends have supported for many years.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman says that he was not here, but to my knowledge he has been here for four and a half years; he should accept responsibility for what he has voted for during that time.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham

I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman and I would not be as rude as the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan).

When I first became a head teacher, I used corporal punishment. My experience of using the cane on several occasions taught me that it did not work, because the same pupils kept coming back time and again; the naughty children who misbehaved were never deterred in the slightest by the cane, and the other children could be dealt with in other ways. Corporal punishment simply did not work.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman speaks from experience and he is absolutely right. Many years ago, I visited a school and looked at its punishment book; it listed one child who had been caned time after time.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

In a moment—the hon. Gentleman must wait until I have finished responding to the previous intervention.

The punishment book showed that one pupil had been caned on 12 separate occasions and that on each occasion his crime had been failing to attend detention. On the 13th occasion, the crime was listed as Failing to attend detention—again. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) is right to say that there is no evidence that corporal punishment works.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to intervene. Perhaps he will catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

On selection and grant-maintained schools, let me first make it absolutely clear that my party is opposed to selection, because we do not believe that that is what the vast majority of the people want; they know that a selective system may ensure a reasonably high standard of education for a few, but that it does not ensure high-quality education for all. The provision of high-quality education and excellence for all should be fundamental to our education system.

I do not want to refer to the details concerning the Ridings school, but I am in no doubt that the selective procedures that have taken place in the area have played their part in the difficulties that the school is facing.

It is bizarre that the selection debate is in part about an attempt—I do not know whether it is the eighth, ninth or 10th such attempt—to refloat the failed Tory flagship policy of grant-maintained schools. Conservative Members may not know it, but in the past 12 months, despite all the bribes and all the relaunches of the policy, only 0.5 per cent. of all eligible schools held a ballot for grant-maintained status; it is a failed policy and the Government are flogging a dead horse. The sooner they give it up and start to concentrate on ensuring that increased resources are put into securing high-quality education for all, the better. Sadly, the Queen's Speech contained no such proposal and is therefore wholly deficient in relation to education as well as in relation to local government.

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham 5:45, 29 October 1996

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on keeping her head in the morality maze, when many others have been losing theirs, and on her general efforts to improve standards in education. That is enough praise, as she is not here to receive it, and as I want to get on to some criticism.

I oppose the whole concept of assisted places. The Conservative party has a warm conscience about the assisted places scheme, and when anyone has an excessively warm conscience about anything, that normally means that there is something wrong with it. There are two things wrong with the assisted places scheme: the principle and the practice.

As I understand it, the principle is supposed to be about bridging the enormous divide between state and private schools; it does not bridge the divide, but widens it, for reasons that I shall explain. Money is transferred from the state sector into the private education sector, so a so-called independent school ceases, by definition, to be independent, and becomes reliant, at least in part, on state handouts. It is an important point of principle that an independent school should, by definition, be independent, if it wishes to remain private and to restrict access to those with sufficient money.

By subsidising such schools, as they are doing, the Government ensure their continuation in their present, highly harmful form. That is another major objection of principle to the policy. A further fundamental point of principle—I could talk about principles indefinitely, as there is so much wrong with the scheme—is that the entire concept of assisted places is de haut en bas.

Hon. Members should note the word "assisted", with that little redolence of the National Assistance Board and the outdated concept of welfare of 30 or 40 years ago. We are throwing crumbs down in a Victorian manner; the scheme could well have been administered by a Victorian charity commissioner. That is why the scheme is socially as well as educationally backward; we are working from the top down and throwing crumbs to poor, deserving children.

Unfortunately, in practice many of the crumbs are intercepted by the agile hands of the middle classes. It is no use for Ministers to tell me that 80 per cent. of the recipients of assisted places schemes have below average incomes; that is a totally meaningless figure, because, as everyone knows and as I know from talking to people in the independent system, many of those people may technically have low incomes but, by God, they are not lacking capital.

Constituents have asked me, as they must have asked other Conservative Members, how they can get an assisted place. Sometimes, especially when I know their backgrounds and their houses, I say that it is really not for them, and that that was not the idea behind the scheme. However, they persist, and they get the cash. They get it because, as people in independent schools tell me frankly but privately, the scheme has largely benefited clean-break divorcees. That is what it is about, and let us not pretend otherwise. Of course some places go to deserving children, but an awful lot do not. There are major objections to the scheme, in principle and in practice.

What is the Labour response? It is to abolish the scheme. I want to abolish it, too, but Labour's response has as much intellectual and practical validity as our policy. By abolishing the scheme and replacing it with nothing, Labour will blow up the one inadequate and fragile bridge that we have built between the two very distinct sectors of education—the independent and the state sectors. That is a purely negative policy.

The idea that we can sprinkle the £100 million, which is soon to be £200 million, in penny packets around the state sector is not entirely factious, because there is a problem of class size in the state sector. However, it again underlines Britain's problem, which is not suffered in most European countries, of the permanent interface between the public and private sectors.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

One figure that Labour spokesmen always overlook is the fact that it would cost £350 million to reduce classes even by only two.

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

I accept my hon. Friend's figure, but my point is that our position is intellectually and practically indefensible, as is that of the Opposition. That is typical of the failure of the House as a whole to confront the distinguishing feature of our education system—our system of apartheid, about which no one wants to talk because it is embarrassing for both Government and Opposition. That is why we end up with our ridiculous system.

I suspect that there is an element of political provocation behind our policy in extending the scheme. We are trying to put the Opposition on the defensive. In purely political terms, we will probably succeed. That will not help the country; it may help us a little in the general election, but I am not even sure of that. The Opposition have to reply, "We do not want to help the few; we want to help the many." The old, trite, primitive, typically British, anti-elitist argument, which has done so much damage to our education—and, in passing, to our culture—comes out yet again. I shall reprise later, and I shall try to make the same points again.

The Opposition's policy is negative. It will cut the one bridge. The private schools will be even more of a zone of money and privilege than now. Is that what the Opposition want? My criticisms may seem too easy; we need a solution. I have just published a book—it is very cheap at £9.99—in which I try to spell out my solutions. They are not easy; I understand that. Much of our time in the House—and I shall not be here for much longer—is wasted in our education debates. That is not because we cannot improve the system. I give credit to the Government for improving it, and to those Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen who have begun to admit there may be something philosophically wrong with state education.

However, there will be a clear limit on how far we can improve the system. We may make it more adequate, but it can never be more than second rate when we are the only country in the western world where the two sides of Parliament send their children to different schools. It is the only country in Europe in which the top 7 per cent. of society do not give a damn about what goes on in the rest. They do the sensible thing and send their children—and I always have to add that I did so, too—to private schools. Why? Education in private schools is not simply better but overwhelmingly better: 68 per cent. of A grades in physics at GCSE level are gained by the 7 per cent. of children in private schools. That is a catastrophic figure. We all know the arguments inside out. That is part of what is wrong with the debate.

Private schools, of course, have more resources and they are by definition selective sociologically, but those are not the only explanations. There is a third important point. The educational philosophies and expectations of the private sector are, by and large, superior. That is why people who have any money send their children to the private sector. While almost all the professional classes continue to do that, they will not be interested in what goes on in the rest of the schools.

When we discuss disciplinary problems—by God, one sympathises with the economic backgrounds of the people involved and the challenges they face—we should remember that in Britain, uniquely, the most powerful, articulate and educationally discerning people are not, and will never be, involved with those problems. They will weep a little tear and say that there should be more resources for education, but they will not get deeply involved, because they have no personal interest.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

The hon. Gentleman keeps talking about "this country", but the Bill deals with two countries, England and Wales. The situation that he describes in England does not apply to Wales. We do not have such a divide. His analysis is irrelevant to Wales, as is the Bill.

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

I am prepared to take the hon. Gentleman's assurance on that. I still think it is possible to talk about the majority of the people of this country, who happen to live in England, great, as a half-Scotsman, as is my respect for the people at the top and at the side—the Scots and the Welsh.

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

And the people on the other side of the water. If the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) does not mind, I shall stick to the big picture, because most people in the British Isles happen to be English.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

The answer to the last point may lie in the different attitude to and culture of education in the different countries. From his hard work on the matter, in which he says that there is no bridge between the sectors, can the hon. Gentleman say whether the full cost per pupil in a school with assisted places is significantly greater than that in the true community sector? Does he agree that, if people want those schools, they should ensure that the facilities, opportunities and standard of education available at them are available to all? Is not that the big criticism of the philosophy of the assisted places scheme?

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

I know what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but, despite some signs to the contrary, I am a realist. There is no prospect that any Government will raise spending in the state sector to the level of that in the private sector. Let us be frank. My book is called "We Should Know Better", for those hon. Members with £9.99 after our recent increases. My proposals start from the situation as it is. I do not start from some planet Mars where we can bring up state spending to private school levels. No one will do that.

Instead of Conservative Members sometimes having—I am sorry to use the word—a hypocritical attitude to what I call the great divide, which, in a negative sense, conditions so much of the under-achievement in Britain, and instead of the Opposition's evasive or punitive attitude to private schools, we should start from where we are. We should be realistic and ask how the hell we can open up the privileged sector. It must be done voluntarily; let us have none of the old nonsense about abolishing private schools or having envious attitudes to them. We need a positive and gradual policy. I could go on for some time—for 230 pages—but that would be very boring for me, not to speak of other hon. Members.

Curiously, I consider the matter very politically. I was surprised when the Daily Mail serialised my book, because I thought that it might be a bit radical for it. It is not a left-wing newspaper. No doubt some of my hon. Friends think that I am a screaming lefty from the way that I talk. I was trying to work out why it had serialised the book, when I realised that it is read by the middle, middle, middle classes. That is why the Leader of the Opposition reads it carefully. The middle, middle, middle classes are not resentful about private schools, and nor am I. They just want to get into them.

It was interesting to receive a telephone call from the Leader of the Opposition's chief of staff. I was told, "Tony Blair has read your book; could you come and talk to us about it?" I had two choices. First, I could say, "I don't talk to snivelling socialists like yourself." Secondly, I could say, "Yes, obviously." I said, "Yes, obviously," and obviously I talked to the Leader of the Opposition. I said that I would make the matter public because I did not want any trivial, primitive nonsense about underhand contacts, defection and all the rest of it. I made the matter public, and, as no one was interested, perhaps no one noticed. It is conceivable, however, that someone noticed, because a few weeks later I was assured personally by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he, too, would read my book.

I was genuinely surprised by the amount of, not cross-party—I do not like that term, because it assumes a permanent divide—but different ranges of, reaction to what I had to say. I was the more surprised because people seemed to think that what I was saying was new. It seems self-evident—it stares at us rather like a big nose or carbuncle on someone's face—that I am talking about the fundamental education problem. If we do not face it and think—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst , Saffron Walden

There are other problems.

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

If my hon. Friend thinks for a second and considers how any society, remembering that education is not a mechanism but a culture, can solve its problems in dealing with education in the absence of any interest being taken by its most powerful members, he will understand that, although we can and do improve things, there will be a ceiling on how far we can go. We face a limiting factor that is not present in other continental countries. I shall not talk about America, which is sui generis.

I am not basing myself on consideration of class. I am trying to push that behind us. Our problem is class first, education second. Let us put education first. Let us admit that private schools are overwhelmingly educationally superior. That is a fact. Before I hear predictable interventions, I suggest to Opposition Members that they read Mr. Will Hutton's frank acknowledgement in his book that the superiority of the private sector is part of the problem.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman is right. At one level, the independent sector has superior facilities. One of the major problems, however, is that the independent sector's approach to education is so traditional that it colours the way in which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the administrative class thinks. One of the problems with many of our state schools is that they try to ape what happens in the independent sector instead of trying to find a better way forward for education provision.

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

It is the hon. Gentleman's attitude that: is traditional. I beg him to read one page in my book where I try to correct the old-fashioned, left-wing attitude that he has taken up. The traditional teaching to which he refers is not taking place in private schools nowadays. For example, 35 per cent. of private school graduates who move to university study science and technology. I understand that 25 per cent. study the arts. Only 2 per cent. study Latin.

Let us put behind us an old-fashioned social attitude to private schools and think about what they are achieving academically, which is becoming better and better as girls' private schools come on. That, curiously, exacerbates the divide in achievement between the private and state sectors.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the superiority of private schools in England. It is the assumption that that is connected in some way with the greater resources that the private sector enjoys compared with provision for the state sector. Will he take into account the fact that the achievement of private schools in England is matched, and in many instances more than matched, by state schools and voluntary schools in Northern Ireland, which have exactly the same level of resource, by and large, as schools in England, Wales and Scotland?

As the hon. Gentleman said earlier, the difference between the private sector and the state sector may have more to do with cultural factors. In Ulster and Scotland, where we have much the same cultural attitude to education, we have a different approach to education and a different approach in the classroom from that adopted elsewhere.

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Indeed, I have no alternative but to accept it. I do not know enough about Northern Ireland to challenge him. I did not go deeply into the matter in my research, because I was told on reliable hearsay that the situation was different in Northern Ireland and therefore not typical of the United Kingdom as a whole.

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

I note what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) says. It seems rather typical of our communally evasive approach to the problem that, as soon as it is raised, 90 per cent. of those around us start what we used to describe as pushing on the periphery. They say, "What about Scotland, what about this and what about that?" They will do anything but face the central problem that, at least in this part of the United Kingdom where I speak, which I believe contains about 50 million people, we have what I consider, and what I know those on the Opposition Front Bench consider, a damaging system of education division, which no other country in Europe has, and which will hold us back.

I bore myself, and I will not be boring hon. Members for long, because I will not be in this place for very much longer, but I have one other criticism of selection. Given our primitive education culture, we have yet another primitive debate about selection. I am hesitant about the Government's selection policy.

Once again, it is common sense to recognise that there is an element of political provocation in the timing and nature of the Government's proposals. Selection is a dangerous area in which to play that game. To say, "Let us have grammar schools in every town," is, both intellectually and practically, a vulgar proposal. How can one possibly say that without being aware of the different circumstances of every town?

What is the point of reliving the dead debate about selective education versus secondary modern education? It is a social and class-motivated debate. Let us put all that behind us. Instead, let us have a serious debate about selection. Let us consider what has happened in more advanced countries than our own, where there is selection not so much by ability as by aptitude. The process takes place over a longer period. Let us not have the primitive debate that has taken place yet again today. I read Opposition Members' speeches rather carefully, and even they are beginning to edge towards the need for diversification, which the Government have the credit for introducing.

We all know that there is a problem. We all know also that the comprehensive approach is by definition self-contradictory. It represents the logic of Groucho Marks. The children of the upper middle classes will never go to comprehensive schools. Therefore, our system of schools can never be comprehensive.

Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton

I always listen to my hon. Friend with interest on these matters. I share his hope that we shall move towards selection by aptitude, which is something that is fit for the 21st century. We should not go back to the tired old dogmas of the 1960s and before. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that, under the present comprehensive system, a comprehensive school that serves a suburb is infinitely better in terms of its raw material than a comprehensive school that serves an inner city or large council estate, as happens in parts of Taunton in my constituency?

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

That may be so. I know a little about our country, and I know that comprehensive schools are very good schools for the children of other people. I am sorry to say that that is my overwhelming experience in my party. That is my overwhelming experience in discussing these matters with those I meet in society. In other words, the degree of education hypocrisy is profound, and that is reflected in the Chamber.

There is a marked reluctance in this place—I have recognised it again today, and I did not expect anything else—to confront the problem. I have no expectation that either of the major parties will do so. I thought, however, that, before leaving this place, I would throw my penny's worth into the fountain to see what happened.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax 6:09, 29 October 1996

Nothing in the Queen's Speech depressed me more than the proposal to allow more schools to select. Before the education Bill becomes law, I urge the Government and anyone interested in state education, including the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) who showed such an interest in having grammar schools in every constituency, to visit Halifax and talk to members of the local education authority, the governors of LEA schools, the children who attend the Ridings and their parents and ask them about selective education and choice.

Riding is a strange word. It is an old Yorkshire word which means thriding—to divide into three. That is what we have in Halifax—a three-tier system. When it comes to selection and choice, I urge the Government and everyone interested to talk to councillors in all parties in Halifax and ask them why secondary education in Halifax is in such a mess.

The hon. Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson), who is no longer in his seat, said how good the comprehensive system was in his constituency. Yes, it is good. It has well and long-established comprehensive schools which sometimes, in the past, provided an escape route for people in Halifax. Unfortunately, they are now mostly full. That system has existed there for years and that is exactly what we want in Halifax—nothing more, nothing less.

Halifax has always had a selective system. Because of the disastrous Education Reform Act 1988, probably the worst modern education Act ever, one of our local authority secondary schools—the Ridings—faces a crisis. The world's media have trekked to our doorstep and, if headlines are anything to go by, most had an instant scapegoat.

The Secretary of State, I am sad to say, was no exception, when she acted in a most irresponsible manner at a press conference last week. Without consulting the LEA, or any of the teachers, parents or governors, she decided to play party politics with the feelings of the children who attend the Ridings and their parents. She prejudged the inspector's report. She decided who the culprit was and drew her own conclusions before sending in the inspectors. She did not speak to the LEA until half an hour before the press conference and I had to follow her to the press conference before she would see me.

In contrast, I pay tribute to the director of education, all councillors of all political persuasions, the parents and the teachers at the Ridings who, compared with the Secretary of State, have conducted themselves with much dignity, in the face of extraordinary publicity.

Because the Secretary of State was so badly briefed about the Ridings, she appeared to be unaware that the amalgamation which has been the cause of so much of the trouble there was implemented by a Conservative-controlled administration. Some Labour councillors objected, pointing out that, without adequate resources and money to rebuild part of the school, the merger could be explosive, and they have been proved right.

I want to concentrate on what should be done now, not apportion blame. The councillors involved in that decision were faced with falling rolls, so they knew that the two schools had to be merged. Nor should the teachers or the council officers be blamed. If blame is to be laid at anyone's door, it should be directed at the Government, who, through their policies, have done more to bring about the situation at the Ridings than anyone else.

I do not know how many education Bills the Government have introduced during the past 17 years. I have been told that it is 18; it is certainly many. But they have all had one aim: to introduce and encourage selection. They have thrown admission policies to the forces of the market. All that on the pretext of parental choice—what rubbish. What choice is there for many of the pupils who attend the Ridings? There is none.

When a school is burdened with 135 children with special needs, when nearly 50 per cent. of the pupils qualify for free school meals, when a school takes 20 pupils who have been expelled from other schools and when it is surrounded by grammar schools which are highly selective and by opted-out schools, it is cruel to make comparisons, as happens in the league tables. Such comparisons show nothing about the children and what they can achieve. After everything that has happened to education in Halifax, does the Secretary of State seriously believe that parents who sent their children to the Ridings had a choice? Of course they did not. Choice is a sham, as the right hon. Lady knows well.

The crisis at the Ridings should be put into context. I do not dispute that there are disruptive children at that school. Like every other Opposition Member, I deplore disruption and violence of any sort in the classroom. We all have a duty to try to do something about it. Since the late 1970s, Halifax has put forward more schemes than I care to remember to bring about a comprehensive system to do something about the inadequacies of the education system offered to most children in our town.

As I have said, Halifax has two highly selective grammar schools operating the 11-plus that now take pupils from outside the area. I understand that they are now rejecting some of their own sixth formers with A and B GCSE grades because they can get more A-grade pupils from outside. That is causing some problems. That is the brave new world of competition in education which Government policies have introduced.

Halifax also has two secondary Church schools which have opted out and the LEA is left with four secondary schools which are bursting at the seams. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) knows one of those schools well. He has visited Sowerby Bridge school in my constituency which has 13 mobile classrooms, one of them 30 years old.

One reason I so much resent the criticism which has been made is that the Labour group has been in charge for only 18 months, but it is still trying to do something about the problems. Most recently, a school is being built at Withinfield in Southowram. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), told us to repair that school, where children were packed in like sardines; but the LEA has committed itself to building a new school there, because anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that that is the only answer.

In Northowram, the most Tory ward in Halifax—I live there, so I know—money has been spent on a nursery and a new library for the primary school there. No political bias has been shown there. The local education authority is very responsible. If LEA schools received the same financial assistance as the opted-out schools and the grammar schools, there might not have been so many problems at the Ridings.

The Secretary of State, at her press conference, denied that schools in Calderdale were underfunded. She said that that was ridiculous. Not all are underfunded. Some are very favoured. I want to put on record some of the facts about funding. Since 1991, because of the unfair funding of grant-maintained schools—double funding by the Government in an attempt to bribe schools to opt out—Calderdale has had to pay £1,093,000 more to the grant-maintained schools than the equivalent LEA schools received in cash and services. Because of the capping regime, the only way in which such additional payments could be funded was by cutting local authority services. In addition, the introduction of the common funding formula has meant that, in the past two years, grant-maintained schools have received a disproportionately high share of any increase allowed by the Government.

Even worse are the proposals for 1997–98 in the common funding formula. For all the Secretary of State's preferred options, the proposals would mean an average reduction in the allocation of resources for special needs of 15 per cent. Those allocations are for the LEA to provide services for special needs children in all schools, including grant-maintained schools. In Calderdale, if the proposals go ahead, they would mean a reduction of more than £750,000.

The reduction in the LEA special needs allocation would lead to a further increase in the funding of grant-maintained schools. That is not fair, by any measure. Schools such as the Ridings would suffer. As well as that increase, the grant-maintained schools in Calderdale have been given a capital grant of £2.9 million, but the Secretary of State has told us that the problem is not one of resources. If she thinks that is so, please will she throw the same amount of money at the LEA schools? We will tell her whether it has made any difference after a few years. She certainly has not minded throwing money at the grant-maintained schools and the grammar schools.

I wish to consider briefly the effects of the three-tier system on other aspects of education policy in Halifax, especially the policy of integrating children with special needs. As I said earlier, the Ridings has 135 children who have special needs, ranging from stage 1 to extreme needs. Some 59 are on the register with behavioural problems. Those figures expose the Secretary of State's cruel charges against the children and their examination results. We must not forget that the children went from a secondary modern to an amalgamated school, and the selective system distorts the results. Credit could have been given for the improvement, albeit small, which happened in such a short time.

We should compare the Ridings, with 600 pupils, 135 of whom have special needs, to the nearest grammar school, which last year had one child with special needs on the register. The other grammar school had three. People can draw their own conclusions, if they are fair-minded. It is not true to say, as some people have, that the Ridings did not exclude pupils permanently. Of course it did. Last year, it excluded two pupils permanently, as did the nearest grammar school.

The Ridings had to shoulder another burden: it had to absorb all the pupils excluded from other schools. It has taken an extra 20 pupils who have been excluded from other schools, so 20 out of the 61 so-called unteachable children have already been excluded from other schools. To its credit, Calderdale council does not let excluded children wander the streets. It already spends £500,000 of its limited budget to send 24 disruptive youngsters to special schools outside Calderdale.

The Secretary of State accused Calderdale council of not doing anything to help the Ridings, but it has taken steps and I shall list a few. It has seconded an advisory teacher to work with the middle managers on aspects of curriculum development and production of curriculum materials. It has assisted the school in the introduction of a computerised system to develop basic reading and comprehension skills. It has made limited resources available to support initiatives taken by the school. The council has also assisted the school to make available a residential experience to all year seven pupils. It has also helped to set up a task force to deal with the behavioural problems at the school. The council has now appointed a new head and deputy head and has started building a sports hall. Any suggestion that the governors and the LEA failed to act when it was apparent that the school faced considerable difficulties is without foundation.

A few months ago, I visited the Ridings school at the request of the governors. They wanted to talk to me about some of the problems and the new buildings that they wanted. They told me about the serious disciplinary and practical problems that they had faced since amalgamation. Since then, I have spoken to governors and teachers, who have all complained about growing problems. The Secretary of State asked what I was going to do about the Ridings. I invite her to come to my office to look at the file on the Ridings if she thinks that I have not tried to play my part to help that school. I live next door to one of the governors, so it is difficult to get away from the subject.

When I met a small group of governors and the head teacher, they spelled out some of the problems they faced. They said that it was not possible to deliver national curriculum physical education at the school. They have only one, inadequate, indoor facility—a gymnasium with changing rooms that accommodate only 30 pupils. Science is taught in various labs scattered around school, which is inefficient and presents hazards when equipment has to be moved. The technology curriculum is restricted and provision for the emergent sixth form is non-existent, because the school was originally designed for 11 to 16-year-olds. The hall is used for assemblies, examinations, tests and PE and massive daily chair removals are necessary. Some parts of the building and campus are falling into disrepair. They have real problems in that school and it is not fair to say that the governors and teachers did riot know about them and had not tried to face them.

Over the weekend, I was inundated with telephone calls from concerned parents, teachers and others. Like the union involved, I welcome the Government's intervention, but only if it is genuine. We must all hope that the Secretary of State's inspectors show more professionalism and objectivity than when she prejudged the outcome of the inspection in a knee-jerk reaction at her press conference last week. Like many others, I have every sympathy with the teachers and governors, because they have had a horrendous job.

I am sure that the inspectors will make some criticisms, but the narrowness of the remit given to them means that they will not see the overall picture. Only five inspectors have gone in for only two days and they will not consider the selection system, which I believe to be the major problem in Halifax. Such a system means that we end up with schools such as the Ridings, which has become a whipping boy. The teachers were told to cope and we have seen the resulting cheap headlines, but the blame should be directed at the Government.

I hope that, for the sake of the children, governors, teachers and parents, we get a swift, honest and practical report. If the inspectors' opinion is that there is no hope for the school, let them say so and close it. If the school can be saved with sound practical measures which will be backed up by resources from central Government, the report will be supported by everybody in Halifax, not least the children and parents from the school. If the inspectors decide to close the school, they must tell us where the 600 pupils will go. They cannot go to the three remaining, under-resourced LEA schools, because they are bursting at the seams. The grammar schools will not take the pupils, because they operate a selective system and the Church schools are full.

If people wish to see the future results of more selection, I suggest that they go to Halifax. For every state grammar school set up, they will get at least two Ridings, because such schools do not come separately—they come as a set. If one sector is deliberately underfunded and the other sector has money thrown at it, they will face the same problems that we face, which are a direct result of Tory Government policy on education.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth 6:28, 29 October 1996

Unlike the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), I welcome the Gracious Speech, especially the references to widening choice and diversity, improving discipline and raising standards in schools.

Recently, we witnessed the Leader of the Opposition offering the Prime Minister support on certain items of legislation. I wonder whether we shall hear a serious offer in the winding-up speeches tonight. I doubt it, because so far in the debate we have heard only some cheap, knockabout, claptrap stuff from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). The red thread that runs through the Labour party's education policy has always been one of opposition—never positive, always negative. Opposition Members have opposed every reform advanced by the Government. It does not matter how practical, important or necessary the measure; the Labour party opposed it, usually for cheap political advantage.

The House will remember that Labour opposed Ofsted, grant-maintained schools, the national curriculum and testing, league tables, nursery vouchers and greater parental involvement. Opposition Members are locked into a 1960 time warp where only one type of school—the neighbourhood comprehensive—is acceptable and where all excellence should be levelled down. They would abolish grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and the assisted places scheme. I wonder how long the independents would survive, were new Labour to abolish the old charitable status of independent schools.

By contrast, we have consistently argued for greater diversity and choice, believing that not all children are alike and that they have different abilities, needs and talents, which can be recognised and developed in different environments. That is why we support the concept of selection. I welcome the Prime Minister's words at Bournemouth. He said: If parents want more grant maintained schools, they shall have them. More specialist schools, we shall provide them. More selection, they'll have it. The new education Bill will give schools greater freedom to select pupils by ability.

In marked contrast to the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), in my constituency we have a boys' grammar school and a girls'—Lawrence Sheriff and Rugby High School for Girls. I therefore speak with some knowledge of the excellence of those schools and of the high schools that surround them. It is significant that we in Rugby have excellent primary schools. The standards at those high schools and primary schools are good because of the 11-plus examination and the need for primary schools to meet the challenge that it presents. Pupils who attend the high schools also benefit from the added rigour in the primary schools. The effect of selection, therefore, is felt throughout the school chain and not simply in the grammar schools.

I believe that education best takes place in a disciplined environment, and that greater efforts should be made to ensure that it exists. Accordingly, I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's statement that all schools will be required to publish a policy on discipline and that schools will once more be empowered to give pupils detention without first obtaining parents' consent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to receive the support of my hon. Friends. I also support the proposal that schools be represented at exclusion appeal hearings and that the interests of the entire school should be taken into account at those hearings.

I welcome the legislation that will enable schools to introduce home-school contracts in their admission procedures. Those contracts should be strongly written and require the active co-operation of parents. Education does not take place in a vacuum—or only within a school. It is a process that occurs in the home and the school, so a partnership between parents and teachers will be to the decided advantage of the children. Parents should clearly understand the importance of the commitment that they give when they sign a school contract.

It is a mistake to assume that all learning takes place in a classroom. Recently, I visited a primary school and was told that some children entering reception had little grasp of language and little understanding of relationships. So many children these days do not enjoy any real conversation with adults. They are parked in front of the television, and that is it. Parents must understand that their children need to learn speech and be reasonably articulate before going to school.

One of the matters that causes me concern is the increasing number of exclusions from the nation's schools. Exclusions result in the children who most need education and discipline being put outside the school gates where the devil will soon find work for idle hands. Some of those who are excluded will, no doubt, be involved in and commit misdemeanours.

Many of those who are or will be excluded would have benefited from being caned, as they would have been in my day. I therefore argue that if a school wishes to insert in its contract with parents a clause that would allow the school head to use the cane in place of exclusion, such a clause should be inserted and the contract signed by the parent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am obliged to my hon. Friends for their support. Most parents, I believe, would prefer their child to be caned on the hand, rather than excluded from school and lessons.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

Of course they would.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his comment; he is right.

Those who refer to the European Court of Human Rights—to the case of Warwick v. the UK—should recall that there was not a court ruling, but a decision made by the Committee of Ministers on 2 March 1989. I have a copy of that decision. I am anxious that teachers should have all the sanctions that they need to ensure proper discipline in the nation's schools. Corporal punishment is one of those sanctions. The mere fact that it was available would, in most cases, be sufficient. The cane in the corner of the head teacher's study is a powerful deterrent.

It should also be recalled that, uniquely, here in the United Kingdom the teacher acts in loco parentis—that is, the teacher stands in place of the parent in the school. The teacher should be empowered to use the same amount of discipline as a loving and caring parent.

I come now to the role of local education authorities in providing education for the nation's children. I hope that the public understand that the Department for Education and'Employment does not run the nation's schools. The overwhelming majority of schools, as the Opposition continually remind us when we debate GMS, are controlled by Labour LEAs. They can exert a fundamental influence over the character and running of schools. We in Parliament vote the funds and lay down the general principles, such as the national curriculum, but the teaching methods and the term-by-term running of the school lie firmly in the hands of Labour and Liberal-controlled LEAs.

The LEA has advisers, teacher advice centres and a bureaucratic machine well equipped to bring heads and governors into line. It sends out a steady stream of letters and circulars, all designed to influence the way in which the teachers teach and the schools deliver education. As Chris Woodhead said: What counts is not class size but teaching method. That method is decided principally by the LEAs, the majority of which are Labour controlled.

One of the reasons why I am a committed supporter of grant-maintained schools is that grant-maintained status breaks the chain that binds schools to LEAs. The GM school can decide many of its own policies and priorities. That is one reason why grant-maintained schools are so popular with parents and achieve so much success. They succeed because they enjoy greater freedom, with less interference from LEAs.

There is, however, another reason why I am increasingly suspicious of the role of the LEA—this point was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold). I recently read a paper produced by the Centre for Policy Studies on school funding. I was interested to note that, of the national schools budget, £12 billion goes to schools and about £4 billion to LEAs—in the main, Labour local education authorities. On average, LEAs deduct more than 26 per cent. of total school spending money in England.

The writer of the pamphlet suggests that education is not deprived of resources: the problem is one of mismanagement of resources by LEAs. The total proportion of funds deducted by LEAs—this point was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Bath, who I am sorry not to see in his place—ranges from 26 per cent. in Havering to 39 per cent. in Barking and Dagenham. It is argued that LEAs keep £3 for every £7 that they share among their schools. An average of £594 a year is withheld by LEAs for every pupil in the country, whereas schools receive an average of £1,808 for each pupil.

Extraordinarily enough, the problem arises because there are three separate budgets: the general schools budget, the potential schools budget and the aggregated schools budget. Those three budgets mean that the whole system of funding the nation's schools is fudged. Those who believe that the maximum amount withheld is "only" 15 per cent. are mistaken. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to have the support of the Government Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin). I therefore believe that the new education Bill should include a section devoted to the reform of school funding. It should ensure less holdback for LEAs and more money for schools, because that is what this House intends. Parliament is anxious that schools' money should be spent in schools, in the classrooms and on the nation's children.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

What on earth do LEAs spend this 15 or 39 per cent. on? That is what confuses me. What do they do with all the excess money?

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

The pamphlet to which I referred, entitled "School Funding: Present Chaos and Future Clarity", sets out in great detail exactly how LEAs waste the money. I repeat: I want the funds to get to the classrooms. I do not want the money spent on the bureaucracy that surrounds town and shire halls, as it so often is.

Photo of Mr Roy Beggs Mr Roy Beggs , East Antrim

If the hon. Gentleman is so committed to the money going to the classrooms, I am surprised that the Conservative Government have been creating even more local education authorities in England, Scotland and Wales.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

That argument would carry more weight were it not for the fact that the hon. Gentleman ignores the GM schools, which cut the cord that used to secure them to the LEAs. Possibly unlike the hon. Gentleman, I want more GM schools to emerge. After all, that is what the parents want, because it gives them more control and makes the schools more receptive to their wishes and more responsive to local needs. Perhaps if there were more GM schools there would be fewer schools of the type described by the hon. Member for Halifax.

More money should reach teachers and the classrooms where the real work of education takes place. I want more of the available cash to be spent on teaching children and less of it to be spent on bureaucracy. If we adopted that policy, it would be welcomed by teachers and parents alike.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham 6:44, 29 October 1996

Listening to the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), as I usually do, I was struck by what a typically arrogant Tory speech he made, as he usually does. He implied that the electors are wrong because they have voted for Labour authorities. He seems to think that they should automatically vote in Tories. Does he not realise that we have so many Labour local authorities precisely because people were sick to death of the mess that the Tories had made of local government? Does he not realise that it is because of the mess that the Tories have made in Calderdale and Halifax that things are as bad as they are?

This year's Queen's Speech clearly shows that the Government are bankrupt of sensible policies. The proposed legislation of last week was either innocuous or extreme, none more so than that arising from the Government's dogmatic education policies. Those policies favour the minority against the wishes and benefit of the majority. Measures to establish new grammar schools, to extend selection, and to extend the assisted places scheme to the primary sector will all create an even worse two-tier system in education than the Government have already produced.

A Gallup poll conducted earlier this year found that only 19 per cent. of the public thought that selection should be encouraged, while 77 per cent. thought it a bad idea. The Independent on Sunday of 30 June 1996 stated: The Tories have therefore invented all manner of devices to smuggle in selection by the back door—city technology colleges, specialist schools, opted-out schools. Ministerial assurances made again and again that none of these novelties were designed to bring about a new generation of grammar schools were lies. It is now clear that this most reactionary education policy is being drawn up so as eventually to bring back total selection throughout the education system—grammar schools and secondary modern schools. Yet Tory education policies have been rejected by the vast majority in this country. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister trundles along in his own sweet way with his crackpot ideas, even though he must be aware that local voters have swept Tory education committees out of every town hall in Great Britain except for four London boroughs and a single county, leaving Tory education authorities responsible for only 2 per cent. of our schools. Fourteen LEAs are Tory-free zones—the Tories do not have a single seat on their education committees. That just shows how much confidence people have in the Tories and their education policies. The clearest sign ever came from Milton Keynes, where the Tories campaigned in the local elections on the platform of a return to a selective grammar school and were heavily defeated.

For years, the Government have promoted the myth of parental choice, but the more the system becomes selective, the more parents will find their children being turned away from schools that are full, both specialised and selective. The policies promoted by the Government have led, not to parents choosing schools, but to schools choosing their pupils. As more surplus places are removed, choice will become more limited because schools will be full. Parents may express a preference, but they do not have the right to choose a school.

The fact is that when, each year, the time comes for parents to choose a school for their children, a large number of them cannot get their children into the school they want. At that time of the year, my postbag is always full and my surgeries are full of parents desperate for me to take up their cases and enable their children to attend the school nearest where they live. Selection will make that worse.

I suspect that the Tories themselves recognise the pitfalls of selection because they envisage a legislative safety net whereby the 50 per cent. selection powers of grant-maintained schools, the 30 per cent. selection powers of specialist schools and the 20 per cent. selection powers of LEA schools will not apply if children are otherwise unable to find school places. The Tories are worried that their supporters will be unable to find places in local schools because of the selection arrangements. That is happening already in my area, where there is no selection at present.

If more selection is foisted upon us by legislation, it will mean multiple application procedures for parents, which will benefit only those with the skills and information to protect their children's interests. As usual, the less vociferous and the less well-off in our society will suffer. As more children are bussed around their local area, more public resources will be diverted from the classrooms into school-home transport, and sensible planning will have to give way to more fragmentation. In my area, Durham county council estimates that if only 10 per cent. of its schools were selective, its extra first-year costs would be £0.4 million, rising to nearly £8 million if a total selective system were introduced.

The comprehensive system has succeeded—it is not a failure, as the Tories would have us believe. Had secondary moderns—the type of schools to which the Government want to return us—continued, the huge increase in the number of students entering higher education in the past 30 years would not have happened.

Hon. Members can be certain that a system that allows only a small number of children to be selected for grammar schools while the rest go to secondary modern schools will not go down well with the vast majority of electors—particularly Tory electors. Rather than being an election winner, it will be an election loser for the Tories. Even Westminster council—that bastion of Toryism—warned that by giving schools greater freedom to select pupils, one could be seen to be diminishing parents' rights to select schools. As a result, there could be fewer—rather than more—satisfied parents.

It is a sad fact that right-wing dogma has created such a crazy system, but even crazier is the fact that, despite all the vilification heaped on comprehensive schools, there is no proof that they have failed because the Government have never evaluated their successes. Recently, independent research has found success despite the existence of selective schools.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham

No, I certainly will not. The hon. Gentleman spoke rubbish for 20 minutes, and I will not give him an opportunity to give us some more.

The successes in the comprehensive system were made clear in the 1996 research by Ben and Chitty.

Up till now in my speech, I have concentrated on the evils that I believe exist in the selection system, and on what parents, local authorities and the Government might want. One thing that I have not commented on—frankly, no hon. Member has referred to this in the debate—is what children want.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you refresh my memory? In 1976, did not the then Labour Prime Minister call for a great debate on education as he believed that the education system was failing his grandchildren?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Whether I recall it or not is beside the point—that was not a point of order.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham

That was an appalling abuse of parliamentary procedure by the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth. That is the typical of the way in which the arrogant Tories present themselves in this place. I will now return to what I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted.

We must ask what children want and how they Feel about the selection procedures. I have personal experience of what it is like to sit the 11-plus examination and fail. It was a traumatic experience at the time, and the sense of failure never leaves as one gets older. I do not want hon. Members to go "Ah!" nor do I want any sympathy from the House, but my father died when I was seven. My mother was convinced, and rightly so, that the only way in which anyone could progress in the world was to have a good education, and her ambition was for me to pass the 11-plus and go to a grammar school.

I can clearly remember the despair on the morning when the results of the 11-plus were announced in the hall, where everyone was lined up as the headmaster read out who had passed. My name was not on the list. I have never known a feeling like it, and to this day I can remember the horror. I ran away from school to my grandmother's because I was so ashamed of failing, and I was unable to face my mother, who had placed such store on my passing that dreadful examination.

As it happens, I was fortunate in that I went to a secondary modern school that held GCE exams—there were not many of them at that time—where I did reasonably well. I got my GCEs and transferred to a grammar school—which, incidentally, was the only place where one could do A-levels at that time. I got my A-levels, and I went to college.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham

Yes, a happy ending, but the vast majority of youngsters did not have such a happy ending. That is the point—the vast majority who failed the 11-plus did not go to a secondary modern school to try for GCEs. They were unable to take GCEs at the school they attended and, consequently, their education was second class. That is the system that the Government want us to return to. It is absolutely appalling. It seems to be fashionable these days for people to say that they failed the 11-plus but went on to have a successful career. That may well be the case, but failure was traumatic at the time and it made a lasting impact. We must not return to those days.

The proposals in the Queen's Speech regarding grant-maintained status show that the Government are still flogging what I would call a dead horse policy. Immediately before the general election in 1992, the then Secretary of State for Education—the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—predicted that an avalanche of schools would opt out as soon as a Tory victory was assured. To this day, he continues to get his figures wrong.

Grant-Maintained Schools Ltd. claimed that 2,000 schools would quickly opt out. In 1992, after the election, the then Secretary of State said that by 1996, most of the 3,900 maintained secondary schools, as well as a significant proportion of the 19,000 maintained primary schools could be grant maintained". The present Secretary of State claims that grant-maintained schools are increasingly popular with parents. They were, but they are not so popular now that the money has dried up. The boasts and propaganda of Tory Ministers were bogus, as we all know. Figures released recently show that there are only 1,100 grant-maintained schools in operation, while the number of LEA schools remains at more than 24,000. The right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) said today that the LEAs responsible for those 24,000 schools had influenced them not to opt out. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous in your life? How could 24,000 schools be influenced by Labour LEAs? What a load of rubbish.

Even though all the evidence shows that the British people do not want grant-maintained schools, this arrogant Government press on with their implementation. We have seen the absolutely despicable behaviour of the Secretary of State, who played appalling politics when a school in the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition voted not to opt out. On the say of the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), the Secretary of State requested an inquiry, although she had been told by the head teacher that he was happy with the situation. That is an example of how low the Tories will stoop—they will question the legitimacy of decisions because they do not like them. The Secretary of State had to admit eventually that she was wrong and that there had been no misdemeanour in that area.

Photo of Mr Timothy Devlin Mr Timothy Devlin , Stockton South

The Secretary of State called the investigation not at my behest, but at the behest of the headmaster, who had written to her to complain. A copy of the letter was passed to the media at the time, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. He should not misrepresent what went on.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham

With great respect, I do not accept that. A letter from the headmaster, which was printed by the press, said that he had no objection to what had gone on and was quite happy with the situation. He added that the hon. Member for Stockton, South had originated the complaint. [Interruption.] We have different points of view—I know which of us the House will believe.

The Government are now going to allow grant-maintained schools to create nursery classes, sixth-form classes and boarding facilities and to expand their capacity by up to 50 per cent. without needing central approval. They are going to allow the Funding Agency for Schools to set up new grant-maintained schools in all areas where it thinks that they are needed and to charge the cost to local education authorities. How, in the name of heaven, does the FAS know what a local area needs? Only the local education authority and the people living in the area can know that—not a remote Tory puppet such as the FAS.

Allowing grant-maintained schools to expand by 50 per cent. without approval undermines the planning role both of the FAS and of local education authorities, which have a strategic role to play in each area. The Bill goes a long way toward introducing a free market into that sector of schooling—something that, in the past, successive Secretaries of State have refused to allow. In addition, allowing the FAS to set up new grant-maintained schools in all areas undoes another part of the Education Act 1993, which stipulates that 10 per cent. of pupils in any area must be in GM places before the FAS can propose a new school. The new proposal further compromises sensible planning.

In response to claims that GM schools are achieving better results than local authority schools, it is worth quoting Local Schools Information, which says that local education authority comprehensive schools cater for 50 per cent. more pupils entitled to free school meals than grant maintained schools and that when the performance of the local education authority and the grant maintained comprehensive schools within the same LEA is compared by reference to free entitlement, there is no significant difference in performance. It is clear that the Government intend, in their usual underhanded and cynical way, to create more grant-maintained places at the expense of local education authority schools. Schools and parents will not opt out, so the Government will force them to use grant-maintained schools by reducing LEA places and increasing GM places. Of course, places at those GM schools will be available through selection—another example of how the Tories will extend selection by the back door.

Instead of announcing in the Queen's Speech that they intend to reduce class sizes in primary schools, the Government announced that they intend to extend the assisted places scheme beyond schools that cater for secondary pupils. Primary school children will be brought into the scope of the assisted places scheme. The Government will now spend an extra £140 million during the next financial year subsidising private school places.

The Government ignore the advice of the National Association of Head Teachers, which says that class sizes are clearly significant for behaviour and results. Ofsted concedes in its report on independent schools—I repeat, independent schools—that smaller class sizes are important; but because Tory Ministers and the Prime Minister say that class sizes do not matter, Ofsted plays down the importance of class sizes in the state sector.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax

They have been nobbled.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham

Exactly, they have been nobbled.

The importance of smaller class sizes in the early years of education is widely recognised by experts, but the Tories ignore that and put more and more money into the private sector.

The measures announced by the Government in the Queen's Speech have nothing to do with choice. The Tory propaganda of giving parents choice has always been a con and a sham—the real aim of Tory education policies over the past few years has been to take money from the state sector to subsidise the private sector. The policies on selection, grant-maintained schools, the assisted places scheme and the nursery vouchers scheme all transfer wealth and resources from ordinary people to better-off people to subsidise private education.

The proposals on discipline in the Queen's Speech are weak. They do not address the real problem, which concerns local education authority support for schools. The dash to integrate or close special units because of lack of resources is one of the main reasons why we have so many discipline problems in our schools today. In addition, the Government's rigid requirements on deregulation have broken up valuable behaviour support services. I do not oppose giving schools the power to detain pupils after school without the consent of their parents, or to exclude pupils for 45 days in any year instead of the current 15 days per term. Having said that, I nevertheless believe that head teachers' professional judgment in respect of expulsions is not given enough support.

I am not at all sure about home-school contracts. I am afraid that the parents who would most need to be bound by the contracts are the very parents who could not care less about their children's education or what their children get up to in school. The only time that such parents show an interest is when they can get themselves on television because their children have been excluded for bad behaviour. Contracts will not help their children at all. Perhaps I am being unduly pessimistic—I hope so.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he does not approve of the policy expounded by his hon. Friends on the Labour Front Bench this morning?

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham

I am saying that I am very sceptical about it—

Photo of Mr Timothy Devlin Mr Timothy Devlin , Stockton South

If you had left him, he would have dug himself in.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham

I would not have dug myself in. The fact is that I have my own views on education, but for between 95 and 99 per cent. of the time I agree with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. However, I am not sure whether home-school contracts will work. I shall be interested to see schools try to use them and I shall be delighted if they work, but I am sceptical.

The truth is that the Tories have allowed education and discipline to decline while giving priority to private education. Last year, the Tories pretended that they gave the education budget an extra 4.5 per cent., but the actual increase was only 3.2 per cent., funded by cuts in other council services. Even the rising rolls were not fully funded, and last year's teachers' pay award was not funded at all. Tory Government cuts in education have led to large class sizes, crumbling buildings and not enough teachers, books or equipment. Those are the problems we face in education—selection and subsidising the private sector only make matters worse.

In conclusion, I shall quote from the report produced by the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations from its third state of schools survey, which states: The results of our survey give us genuine cause for concern. We set out to discover whether parents' fears, such as rising class sizes and the lack of books and equipment, were justified. We now know that they are. The survey confirms that not only are class sizes rising, staff morale is low, teachers are asked to teach subjects in which they lack confidence and there is a need for more books and equipment. A continuation of all this right-wing rubbish will not solve the country's education problems. Instead, it will continue to divide education into a two-tier system, in which those who can afford it will have a high-class education and the vast majority who cannot will receive a second—class education. That is what the Government have been developing for the past almost 20 years.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst , Saffron Walden 7:08, 29 October 1996

The House will be relieved to learn that I have not written a book, and so shall not be spending a great deal of time boosting it.

Today's debate is devoted not only to education, but to local government, about which we have heard little so far. I notice that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration is to wind up the debate. I shall not spend much time talking about matters other than education, but I want to start by welcoming the promise in the Queen's Speech of a local government and rating Bill that will allow for the possibility of 50 per cent. rate relief for village shops.

It is extremely important to those of us who live in rural communities to maintain the village shop, which is a vital element of village life and an important social centre. It may be that village shops will become more important commercial centres as, over the next few years and as a result of new technology, more people are able to spend a proportion of their working life at home instead of having to travel to work. I warmly welcome the measure.

Also, we may have to start thinking how we can help towns as well. The growth of towns helped to diminish the commercial viability of villages, but the viability of towns is in turn being diminished by the development of new out-of-town and edge-of-town shopping centres. We need to consider measures whereby towns can be helped, or can help themselves, to ensure that they retain their viability and that there is a balance between that type of shopping and the other type, which involves travelling some distance.

I should have been happy to see in the Queen's Speech some promise about improving compensation—a development of the Land Compensation Act 1973. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration will be aware of the impact of the development of Stansted airport on my constituency. The process by which people are compensated for the loss of value in their properties deemed to have resulted from the airport's development is slow and that is causing great distress in many cases—it is certainly causing great annoyance. I hope, therefore, that it will not entirely escape the Government's mind that some improvement in compensation needs to be made.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), towards the end of his speech, called for a new agenda in education, but there was little on his agenda today. He did not even seem to speak to the terms of the amendment on which we shall no doubt vote later. He did not talk about the specifics of that amendment and certainly did not suggest how the education improvements that the Labour party wants are to be funded. All we know is that there is a commitment to take away the assisted places scheme, as though that would deal with all the remaining problems in education. A certain number of children would presumably have to come back into the maintained sector if they were not being assisted in education elsewhere. I do not understand how the Labour party can condemn what is going on without giving a realistic account of how it would find the funds to bring about the improvements that it wants.

By contrast, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, seemed to have an agenda that was stuffed full and I puzzled as to how 1p on the standard rate of income tax would pay for it all. If one assumes that that would raise £1.5 billion, which would have to be split among more than 100 education authorities, the result would be £1.5 million each. That would not go far when spread across all the ideas that the hon. Gentleman put forward.

We are all aware of the great discipline problem in our schools. Two Opposition Members spoke with feeling about the circumstances confronting them. Although there is a problem with discipline in schools and there always has been, it is as well to remember that all the rest of our schools—barring those enjoying half term—are working, and working reasonably normally. We ought to be careful that the debate on education is not skewed by the circumstances that are occupying the headlines.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst , Saffron Walden

The hon. Lady, who has been an expert in the sedentary comment throughout her time in the House and ought to know better, should say that to her two hon. Friends, who felt sufficiently concerned about the problems in their constituencies that they had to speak at some length.

I wonder whether the problem being faced and dealt with, with fewer headlines, in many schools, is one of growing numbers of difficult children or whether it is becoming more difficult for some schools to cope. Clearly, in so far as there are some ill-disciplined children, they are spread throughout many schools and are not the preserve of one or two. The vast majority of schools are managing to cope without arriving at the extreme situations that we have heard described today. An uncomfortable number of children may be being excluded, but by and large one has the feeling that the teaching profession and the administrative bodies—be they governing bodies or local education authorities—have the expertise and are able to deal with the difficulties.

I accept that we need to include the power to exclude in the Bill, but I wonder about the use to which it will be put as a result of the legislation. Perhaps there will be more special pupil referral units, but are they to be an end in themselves or a route back into mainstream schools? I am not entirely clear how it is envisaged that those will work, given the feeling that seems to be becoming entrenched that a child, once excluded, will be difficult to get back into the system.

On the whole, I support the idea of a home-school contract, but I much prefer the Government's idea of having such contracts in certain cases rather than the universality suggested by the Opposition. I would like to think that, for most people, an implicit contract already exists. They want their child to be educated at a certain school by virtue of their decision to send the child there and it seems unnecessary for them to have to sign a piece of paper as well. Alas, something extra may be required from parents in cases where difficulties have arisen, and perhaps it is reasonable for them to have to do so.

I hope that the power to detain a child in school after school hours without the permission of the parent will be applied with care and sensitivity. Again, I am speaking for a rural area and I am all too well aware of the transport difficulties. I would feel some concern if a child legitimately and properly suffered the punishment of detention but then faced the problem of how to get home in the dark. One does not need too vivid an imagination to worry about the dangers that such a child could face, so we have to think that aspect through carefully, although effective forms of punishment have to be available to teachers.

On choice and diversity—a subject that has taken up a fair part of the debate—it is true to say that as far as Labour policy is concerned choice equals division. There is a fundamental difference of approach between the two sides of the House. I honestly think that the Conservative party speaks more with the instinct of the parent in this matter. Parents are trying to exercise some element of choice and commitment. That is a grain with which we should work, rather than trying to obstruct it. Judging by what has been said today, the Labour party seems to want to take away any vestige of choice. It is no good complaining that choice is not absolute and should therefore be denied to everyone. Under that arrangement, one would send one's child to the school that one was told to send them to and would have no creative input in the decision, which would be a considerable step backwards. We are saying that there should be an opportunity for schools to develop. Opposition Members should remember that many grant-maintained schools are essentially comprehensive schools and that they now want to build on their successes.

At the same time, I hope that the Government will recognise that geography is a factor when it comes to trying to create diversity and extend choice. What is possible in a town, with three of four schools whose characters might be developed in different ways, is not so easy in rural areas—it is difficult to see how that sort of diversity can be achieved there. We have to be careful to take in the geographical factor and to remember that, in those circumstances, money will be needed to expand existing schools if not to build additional schools to accommodate the expression of popular choice.

Perhaps, the private finance initiative can be harnessed more effectively to that end than it has been thus far. My part of the county of Essex has no single-sex girls school. The only opportunity for education in such a school is across the border in Hertfordshire. There are precious few places in relation to the number of people seeking them. There would be better balance in the available education opportunities in my part of Essex if we had a single-sex girls school. At present it is almost impossible to see how that could come about. If ways could be opened for that and other types of development, that would be welcome.

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) invited us to sympathise with the problems of the child who fails an academic selection test. I understand what he says, but I hope that he understands the feelings of rejection, puzzlement and desperation on the part of children who are excluded for no apparent reason from a particular school other than that 143 applicants for 45 places does not work. How does one explain to children of 11 that their friend two or three doors away can go to that school while they cannot, when there is no logical basis for the distinction and it is made purely on the basis of numbers? I invite the hon. Gentleman to see that there is more than one side to that coin. Many people accept that selection on the basis of ability and aptitude carries more understanding among parents and children than perhaps the hon. Gentleman was prepared to allow.

The role of sport in our schools is close to the heart of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Without wanting to disturb the national curriculum too far, we are trying to boost the opportunities for sport in schools. For all sorts of reasons, there will be some difficulties in achieving that quickly. I shall not list all the reasons, but they are fairly obvious.

We have talked about contracts. Can we not talk about them in another context? There could be a contract between many of our voluntary sports clubs and schools to provide coaching opportunities to young people. Moneys can be directed towards clubs through the national lottery or various other foundations to enable clubs to use their capacity to help coach youngsters. I believe—it may be an old fashioned view—that if youngsters have more opportunity to play sport, that is helpful for self-discipline and social contentment.

I believe that diversity in education is helping choice. It does not make it perfectly available to everyone on demand, but it is helping. It is also boosting standards. The policies offered by the Government and the ideas that they put forward in the Queen's Speech are more exciting and hopeful than the drab conformity which seems to be the only alternative offered by the Labour party in a recall of the 1960s.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart 7:22, 29 October 1996

I shall make just one quick point about school sport. I speak as a Scottish Member of Parliament, so I am not always all that aware of what is happening down in England and Wales. What destroyed school sport in Scotland, particularly team sport, was a long strike by teachers because they were not properly paid and felt that they were not being properly looked after by the Government. During the strike, school sports disappeared and it has taken a long time to get them back.

We must not emphasise only the major team sports. Surely the aim should be to give youngsters a broad spread of sports from which they can decide which one to take on into later life, whether golf, tennis, judo or whatever. I have a son who plays rugby. I want to see him playing rugby at school. He plays club rugby very much in relation with his school.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

Would the hon. Gentleman be interested to know that no less a rugby luminary than Mr. Cliff Morgan, who is not particularly well known for his dedication to the Conservative party, said clearly that the decline of Welsh rugby began when the grammar schools were abolished?

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

In Scotland, that would not be true. The problem with Scottish schools rugby is that it is dominated by boys from a small number of schools in the independent sector rather by those than from state schools. Even when a state school team wins in a trial in Glasgow, 12 out of 15 boys come from the five independent schools rather than from the other schools. Out of 45 boys selected from three school districts in Scotland—Central region, Lothian region and Glasgow—only five came from the state sector. We cannot encourage rugby in the state sector if that is what happens.

As a Scottish Member of Parliament, I do not often hear the Secretary of State for Education and Employment speak, but every so often I hear colleagues and Conservative Members tell me how good she is. Her speech today was one of the most appalling speeches that I have ever heard from the Front Bench. I wondered initially why she was taking so many interventions. By the end of her speech, I had worked it out. If there had been not one intervention in her speech, she would have sat down within 10 minutes. She had nothing to say. She kept taking interventions, making points in response to them and hoping and praying that someone else would intervene so that she could keep her speech going for the 43 minutes or whatever it was for which she spoke.

The Secretary of State kept saying that selection and choice went together. I do not see how selection and choice go together. Let us imagine that I am a parent of a 10-year-old child about to go into the secondary system in England. In Scotland, the child would do so at 11. Let us say that I want to send my child to a particular grant-aided school. The school says that, to get in, the child must pass an examination. My child fails that examination.

It is not me, the child or my partner who has made the choice, but the school. I do not see the difference between that and the system under which the local authority decides what school a child goes to. Where is the parental choice which supposedly has been at the core of the Government's argument about education? The introduction of selection is the denial of all choice in education.

The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir A. Haselhurst) said that choice was often denied under the LEA system because parents could not get their children into specific schools. I accept that parents choose from two schools which are the same the one they think is better, but under a selective system they choose between two schools that are radically different. One school is supposedly best because it has the brightest pupils, and the other takes the dimmer pupils. That is the major difference between the two systems.

One reason why the 11-plus was abolished was that on educational grounds it often failed to select the right pupils, as it so obviously did in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg). He should obviously have been selected. One has only to look at his career since to know—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) may laugh, but my hon. Friend went on to do A-levels, go to university, go into teacher training, become a teacher and then become a head teacher. That is not the normal route for someone who fails the 11-plus.

If the hon. Member for Blaby had been here when my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) spoke in a recent Scottish debate on education, he would have heard him describe the trauma that occurred in his family, not when he failed—anyone who knows my hon. Friend knows that he is an exceptionally bright academic—but when his brother failed the 11-plus. There was great trauma in the household and the parents were in despair that the child was to go to a secondary modern, or junior secondary as it was called in Scotland.

Unlike my hon. Friend, his brother went to junior secondary and did not sit his O-grades or take A-levels. He left school at 15 and worked in the shipyards in Greenock. When he was 17 or 18, he realised what a waste that was, so he educated himself, and he is now professor of aerodynamics at an English university. The system failed to select: some children in grammar schools should not have been there, and some children in junior secondaries, or secondary moderns in England, should have been in grammar schools.

Photo of Mr Rod Richards Mr Rod Richards , Clwyd North West

Cannot the hon. Gentleman see the difference between parents having their first preference rejected by selection, and possibly their second or third preferences accepted, and not having any preferences at all because the education authority dictates which school their child should attend?

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

Under legislation that the Government have introduced, local authorities cannot dictate the choice of school. I have some sympathy with parents who move into an area in, say, October or November—perhaps because their jobs have taken them there—and cannot get their children into the local secondary school because it is full as a result of parents exercising parental choice. They have a right to feel aggrieved. The school their children should attend may be next door to where they live, but they have to travel two or three miles to another school.

It is argued that comprehensive education has failed in this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham said, comprehensive education has not failed the vast majority of pupils. It has given more children more opportunities to succeed in education and in whatever they do thereafter than the old selective system did. As my hon. Friend said, the expansion in higher education under the Conservative Government and the last Labour Government would not have occurred without comprehensive schools. Higher education would mainly have been limited to pupils from grammar schools, which would not only have damaged children but have caused excessive damage to our society.

Throughout this century, one of the major problems has been the failure properly to educate enough of our population. Children in this country lose badly compared with children in the United States, France or Germany. Far from comprehensive schools failing our society, the Government have failed comprehensive schools. They have consistently under-resourced schools, and have constantly changed the curricula and the structures by introducing new ideas. The Government have always made it clear that they do not believe in the comprehensive system. As a result, the morale of teachers is very low.

My family has 130 years of teaching experience, mainly in Scotland. Most of my family on my mother's and my father's side were teachers. I was a teacher, my wife was a teacher, her father was a teacher and her brother is a teacher. Despite that tradition of teaching, none of the next generation of children—my brother's children, my sister's children and my in-laws' family—is opting for teaching. Why? Because they believe that the teaching profession is not properly regarded by society, and is badly paid compared with other professions taken up by people with ability. Teachers feel that they have no real option, because many Conservative Members do not agree with the comprehensive system and do not send their children to comprehensive schools.

There has been much talk about discipline and morality. I do not accept that there is a breakdown in the moral structure of our society. The same arguments were made in the 1960s when the Beatles grew their hair long and youngsters copied them, and when there was an upsurge in the taking of soft drugs. When mods and rockers rioted in the streets of Brighton, we were told that our society was collapsing around our ears. That was blamed on our schools.

We cannot expect schools to solve the social problems that arise from other sources. Discipline can be a problem in schools, but it is the indiscipline outside school that causes the problems, not what is happening in schools. I made the point to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) that children who live in deprived areas do not see the point of going to school. Their fathers and mothers are unemployed, they live in poor housing where they have no chance of doing their homework, and their brothers and sisters and most of their friends are unemployed. They are wrong, and we should ensure that they see schools as better places than they do now.

Some children succeed in that system, largely because of their parents. I hope that the two women on the Opposition Front Bench do not think that I am being sexist, but I must say that it is usually the mother who provides the drive and motivation to improve her child's position. Bright children may succeed, but it is difficult for ordinary pupils in such deprived areas to become motivated.

Motivation is vital in education. Children need to feel that there is some point to what they are doing, and that there is an end product. The end product, after four or five years of listening to teachers teaching them subjects that they do not find interesting and that they do not think are relevant, is a visit to the social security office, to be told that they cannot have any dole money. They may be unable to find a job, and if they do find one it is very low-paid. It is easy to understand why many of those kids stay away from school, or cause problems if they go to school.

Let us not put the blame entirely on indiscipline in schools. Of course unruly children cause problems in some schools. That is true even of the independent sector: in the 1830s, Marlborough college was burnt down by rioting students. We should not believe that we can solve problems in schools simply by tightening discipline.

There is also much talk about a moral code. I always feel queasy when politicians talk about moral codes. The idea of a daily religious service in schools is abhorrent to many people. Fewer than 20 per cent. of people in this country attend church on anything like a regular basis, yet their religion is shoved down the throats of the other 80 per cent. I am not religious: my children have never been christened. I openly and proudly announce that I am an atheist. But I did not take my children out of religious education in school. Cowardly? Perhaps, but I never wanted to make my children feel that they were different or stood out, because to make children feel that they are radically different from their contemporaries is the worst thing that one can do to them.

Why should I have had to make that choice? Why should I have been put in that position? I do not believe in religion, and my children certainly do not believe any of it now—so why should they have been made to have religious education?

The second aspect of the moral code is that we must bear in mind the fact that intelligent young people's moral standards are different from ours. We cannot impose on the new generation, even on those who know best, a moral code that stems from the 1940s and 1950s. Modern contraceptive methods have meant that the sexual morality of our young is different from the one in which we were brought up. More casual sexual relations are now possible, without the side effects—children. Young people now are also more tolerant of sexual relationships that are not the norm. For instance, they are much more tolerant of homosexuality.

Many young people do not see why it is right—or, if not exactly right, certainly not condemned out of hand—to drink 10 pints of beer with one's pals or have a few whiskies after a game of sport, and it is all great fun, whereas, if someone takes one ecstasy tablet, or smokes one reefer of cannabis, that is both morally and legally wrong. Our youngsters do not altogether understand when people say that it is wrong to take drugs, but that, although one should not really do it, going out and drinking 10 pints of beer is okay.

Finally, as I said earlier when I was talking about motivation, the real answer to the problems in our schools is to make them places where children want to be. That is why the "back to basics" stuff about the three Rs is nonsense. I have stood in front of 25 or 30 kids in a classroom, and it means that one has to base the teaching on the average, so the bright get bored, if one is not careful and does not give them enough work, and the less able never manage to keep up.

We should give real choice and equality in education. That is how we can ensure that each child can develop his or her talents to the fullest extent, at the speed and level best suited to that child's abilities.

That may sound like the sort of lecture that I used to give in a college of education in the 1970s, when modern ideas were all the thing, but I still think that it holds true. The problem in the past was that, because of the structure of schools, because of the training of teachers and the way in which they taught, because of the 45-minute or one-hour periods, and because of the way in which learning techniques were put across, the aim was not easy to achieve.

Often the attempt did not work. I accept that the aim was difficult to achieve, and that there were failures with those modern methods of learning. I say "methods of learning" rather than "methods of teaching", because it has always been my view that education is about learning rather than about teaching. We tend to forget that.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North

That says it all: the hon. Gentleman is against teaching.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

I am in favour of children learning. That seems to me a better concept than someone standing in front of a class teaching.

I accept that there were problems in the past, but now we are on the verge of being able to achieve what we wanted. Why? The most astonishing feature of the debate so far—this is a criticism of my hon. Friends on the Labour Front Bench as well as of some of my other hon. Friends—is that, although an information technology revolution is taking place all around us, in the world of entertainment, in commerce and business and in our own homes, so far not one Member has mentioned the word "computer".

Information technology will genuinely enable each child to develop. I recently saw a news item about the changes taking place in education in Minnesota—an item that in some ways could be seen as leaning towards the Government, because it was said that in Minnesota every parent had the right to choose. Fine, but what I noticed was not the fact that people had all those choices, but the fact that every shot taken in a classroom showed a child sitting in front a computer, perhaps with the teacher helping and advising, or teaching a little bit—

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

A computer linked with the Internet, and with CD-ROMs, enables people to learn in interesting new ways that have never existed before. Of course that is education. Of course it is learning. That is what it is all about. We must break down the attitude that computers have nothing to do with education and never will have.

At the Conservative party conference, the Deputy Prime Minister said that, once the millennium has passed, the Government would use the Millennium Commission money to provide computers for schools. That means that it will be five years before we do anything serious about putting computers into schools. By then we shall be unbelievably far behind the rest of the world. We cannot wait that long. We must tackle the need for computers in schools.

I am not talking about computer education—a room set aside with a few computers in it, where kids can come once a week to put their hands on them and play around. I am talking about a computer on every desk for every child throughout his or her school career, from which those children can learn. That must be the aim. I realise that I have spoken for rather longer than I intended, but must express my hope that that will be the aim of education policy for the next Labour Government. It must be, because only then will we be able to give children education at the speed at which they want to learn, and enable them to develop their skills in the way they want.

Only in that way will we be able to develop the technological economy that the country requires, with people who are at ease with computers and use them without difficulty. Unless we have those policies, and unless we aim to have a computer on every child's desk by the millennium, so that every child can learn properly, we will have failed our children for generations to come.

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test 7:47, 29 October 1996

I praise the Secretary of State for Education and Employment for the magnificent work that she has done—against tremendous opposition from the Labour party, as we have heard.

We have not mentioned this subject much so far, but of the schools in my constituency that have been examined by Her Majesty's inspectors of schools, one had to look to its curriculum and to the quality of its teachers and another, La Sainte Union, although a well-known and highly creditable university for teaching teachers, was found by the inspectors to have a curriculum insufficient to provide the qualifications that it bestowed.

Consequently, the vice-chancellor himself had to telephone me to say that he was awfully sorry to have to tell me about the criticism, and that things were being put in order as quickly as possible. That is what inspection is all about. The Secretary of State does not intend to put a heavy foot on any school or university, but there has to be quality in teaching. Some teachers may be two or three generations removed from what is happening. All the work being done by the Department for Education and Employment is designed to improve the standards not only of schools in themselves but of the teachers and of the discipline within the schools.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) took 25 minutes to tell us that he was still making the same speech that he made 25 years ago. It must have been a good speech at the beginning, but it is getting a little threadworn now. The hon. Gentleman talked about discipline in schools. We have had a terrifying time in Southampton, with children dying from glue sniffing. He mentioned ecstasy; a child in Southampton died from taking that. Some of the problems in the school playground may be caused by under-18 drinking, as plenty of that goes on. Luckily, it is covered in the Crime (Sentences) Bill, which we shall soon debate in Committee.

I am aware that I may not be as strong on education as some hon. Members who have spoken before me, simply because I went through the terrifying period when Shirley Williams demolished all schools apart from comprehensives. Southampton had some worthwhile grammar schools such as Taunton school, Itchen college and King Edward's, which had a tremendous ability to produce results and provide proper education. After the great Shirley Williams saga, only one school was left, and it has now gone completely private. It divorced itself from the LEA and was funded by a number of people. It is now the best school in Southampton. That was achieved through its own ability, as it took not a penny piece from the taxpayer to change from a grammar to a private school. The school takes many scholarship pupils and, in the past few years, has built a huge gymnasium and plenty of ancillary buildings and created wonderful rugby fields. The Government should highlight such schools to refute the nonsense that good education must be comprehensive.

Education in Southampton has been thrown up in the air and is now beginning to come down. I hope that the old political warhorses will not come out again, determined to keep all education down to the level of comprehensives. We must think afresh on education, as the Secretary of State is trying to do. She will not get much co-operation at this stage, but the ideas are there.

I do not like accusing the Labour party of anything—I am one of the gentler souls in the House—but I hear that Labour Members oppose objective testing and inspection and favour, dare I say, trendy and progressive education theories rather than basic facts. Education must be considered according to the city that one represents. The quality of education depends not just on a city's schools but on its universities.

Southampton has a splendid university. It has had to go outside for research contracts and, although it is doing nicely, it would still like a little more money. It is taking over the site of the old Taunton grammar school and incorporating it into the university, so it is moving forward. The only problem has been that Southampton college of higher education started to invest some of its budget abroad. It set up three little universities consisting of just four or five rooms, one of which was in Athens, and lost a great deal of money. That was adventurous but hardly in keeping with what colleges should do with their budgets. Naturally, the head of staff had to go, but I am sure that all that is over now and that the institution is returning to budgetary stability.

Three higher education establishments and some 18,000 students in one city can cause problems, such as increased traffic, and many older residents in Southampton object to seeing so many students in the town. The students have a certain number of their own public houses and the licensed victuallers complain that they get cheaper drink.

Those are elements of the growing provision of education in Southampton, which will result in a high standard of education for practically every child in the area. We have lost the Walsash school of navigation to Southampton, because most of the students there are from other nations' navies or merchant navies and we can no longer build on that.

There is a focal point for everything, however, and if we get into a yah-boo type of debate on education, we shall ruin not only some of the bad things, as the Opposition would say, but all the progressive new work that is now coming through. A large percentage of youngsters in my area will now go to university. They have chances that we did not have 40 or 50 years ago. Consequently, we should co-operate on some subjects, regardless of our political parties' views. I bear no ill will to Labour Front Benchers who want better education for their children, even if they must take them miles and miles to get it. They are showing the way to most of their Back Benchers. It is time that we took the silliness out of education and ensured that every child has the best possible education.

I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will not mind my saying a few words about local government in Southampton. These debates are always a golden opportunity to mention what is happening. I have been worried for a long time about asbestos in high-rise blocks of flats. I presented three petitions to Parliament, but the answer that I received from the Department of the Environment was of little use. The Department was supposed to review the condition of asbestos in high-rise blocks. The danger exists in all cities, not only in high-rise blocks but in four-storey blocks and even normal houses. Asbestos was once considered a jolly good material. When we used it, we were building for heroes, although people had to be heroes to live in some of those flats, because they were badly designed and let in the damp. They were built with inferior materials and, ultimately, the tenants became disgruntled. That aspect must be examined by local authorities.

When three flats in Southampton were identified as having asbestos panels, the Labour council said that there was no need for the tenants to move out while the panelling was removed. The council had forgotten the health and safety rules on asbestos. The authority was fined £29,000 by Eastleigh magistrates court for not providing sufficient protective clothing and equipment to the workmen and tenants. The situation is still up for grabs and nobody knows what the local authority will do. There ought to be a national campaign to identify clusters of blue asbestos or any other type.

One family with young children wrote to me saying that asbestos boards were sawn up in their flat. The parents were terrified that asbestos fibres had got into the lungs of their children. I have brought a particularly sad case to the attention of the local authority. The mother coped with all the problems of bringing up her children in that evil atmosphere; when she wanted to redecorate the flat, she and her husband were offered £150. That is an insult. One can hardly redecorate a toilet for that sum these days. Councillors must be more realistic.

I was so angry about the local authority's attempts to ignore the asbestos problem that I invited the councillors to give up their homes to the tenants affected and move into the high-rise blocks, if they thought that there was no risk. That proposal was greeted with great laughter, as always happens when one asks someone to make a great sacrifice. I felt justified because those councillors and anyone else involved in the local authority must realise the penalties for disregarding these dangerous times. Asbestos is a legacy from the times of wanting to build homes quickly and cheaply, while pulling down hundreds and thousands of terraced houses.

Councillors must be made aware that tenants are well informed these days. They have only to turn on their radio or television to get all the vibes possible. Councils should have the leading voice, saying, "You have suffered a certain amount of privation. We cannot prove that you have contracted anything dangerous, but there must be some form of compensation." This is the modern world. In the United States of America, such tenants would get a lawyer to secure the highest possible compensation from the responsible authority. We in the UK do things differently. The Department of the Environment and local councils ought to recognise the public's fears and produce compensation; in that way, they would quell everything and avoid extreme agitation.

I can only hope that some of the measures in the criminal justice Bill will help to deal with some of the massive problems on large council estates. I had a bit of a chuckle when I read that young tearaways who commit crimes in their neighbourhoods are to be electronically tagged; the courts would have the power to impose curfews and to tag young offenders, so that they stay at home and off the streets. I could visualise a mum and dad who might not be so enthusiastic about finding themselves on a Saturday evening in the company of a couple of tagged lads, restless after drinking their second or third can of lager. Those parents might find that they had trouble in their own home.

There must be further examination of how to curb the bitterness in some young people that arises because they do not have the job that they desire or cannot manage on the money that they are getting from social services—[Interruption.]Who is trying to help me?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. Although the themes of the debate are broad, his remarks should relate to education and local government. I am not sure how his last comments do so. Perhaps he will enlighten me.

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the chance to explain that all those matters revolve one on another.

Thuggery on council estates will not stray past a playground. Youngsters stay at school until the age of 16. Boys and girls seem to be much more developed these days. Unless there are sufficient facilities in an urban conurbation, youngsters turn to a certain amount of what I call thuggery. That could be one reason for a boy of 10 being able to terrify a whole school. That seems incredible to me, but that is the way in which things have developed over many years. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was brave even to hint at some sort of corporal punishment. I believe that the public are almost unanimous in thinking that some restrictions, discipline and punishment must return—and that things must not continue to stray as they have.

Photo of Mr Roy Beggs Mr Roy Beggs , East Antrim 8:06, 29 October 1996

The Gracious Speech makes this commitment: In Northern Ireland, my Government's priority will he to maintain progress towards peace, prosperity and reconciliation, based on a comprehensive political settlement commanding widespread support. That statement should be welcomed across Northern Ireland, but we fear that it is just more talk, and that no action is likely to follow that takes into account the wishes of the people who choose to live in Northern Ireland and who intend to continue living there.

In 1993, the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) was the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland. He had this to say in the consultative document that reviewed education administration, which was published at the time: There are few, if any, other areas of day to day life in Northern Ireland where churchmen and laymen, both from the main traditions, meet so regularly and work together so constructively. It is important that we preserve and build upon this co-operation and seek to extend and strengthen these links and not weaken them. I could identify with that fine tribute from my own experience, having served on an education board as a member, vice-chairman and chairman, and chairman of the finance committee. In fact, I have met no one in Northern Ireland who does not long for peace, prosperity and reconciliation. Nor have I met anyone who disagrees with the need for a comprehensive review of all aspects of education administration, including a review of the role of the education and library boards, the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, the Northern Ireland Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education.

The present Minister with responsibility for education in Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), in his statement of 25 June 1996 on a review of education administration in Northern Ireland, signalled the strongest attempt yet by the Government to replace the existing area board structure in Northern Ireland. Previous attempts to impose change have been successfully repulsed by strong argument, backed by political and community opposition.

The announcement by the Minister of State and the publishing of draft legislation on board restructuring have given the clearest sign yet that our previous analyses of the situation have proved correct—that the Department of Education has always wanted a three—board structure, that the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools is a sacred cow and must be left out of any review and that the Department of Education will not be part of any review.

So far, the review exercise has been the opposite of what the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes desired when he was Northern Ireland Education Minister. The Department of Education has continually ignored the wishes of the Northern Ireland population. The usual arguments about changed roles and over-administration in boards are repeated and, although those arguments have been shown to be a distortion of the truth, repeated again.

The Northern Ireland Forum Education Committee has considered the position and, in its interim report, highlighted the fact that there are no educational, social or economic reasons for the type of review of education administration that is proposed. The Northern Ireland education permanent secretary accepted, during his visit to the Northern Ireland Forum, that much more than 90 per cent. of those who responded during the consultation exercise wished any revised system to be built round the five-board structure.

All the political parties in Northern Ireland had expressed the view that the current five-board structure should remain until a legislative assembly was established. All the political parties representing Northern Ireland in the House of Commons deplore the decision by the Minister of State to destroy the existing five-board structure. All the trade unions, including Unison representatives, whom I met this morning, support the retention of a five-board structure.

I am sorry to have to say that there has been an arrogant disregard for the expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. All borough and district councils in the North Eastern education and library board area, including councils in my constituency, still support the continuance of the North Eastern education and library board in its present configuration. That reflects the views of district and borough councils in other education and library board areas in Northern Ireland.

The Department has continually provided misinformation, if not false information, throughout the review exercise, in a bid to confuse. In 1992, a claim was made that Northern Ireland was over-administered. Research showed that the five Northern Ireland education and library boards were in the top half of all local education authorities in the United Kingdom by size. Since reorganisation, 80 more local education authorities have been created in England, 15 more in Wales and 20 more in Scotland, yet there is a determined attempt to reduce the five that have served Northern Ireland so well to three.

It is important that there should be parity and consistency of treatment within the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is often compared with Yorkshire. In Yorkshire, the number of local education authorities has increased to 13 since reorganisation. Hundreds of councillors and an increased number of education officers are now involved in education administration. Yet it is proposed to reduce our five area boards in Northern Ireland to three.

In 1995, it was announced that savings of £2 million would be achieved in a four-board structure. That announcement was based partly on inaccurate figures. In 1995, we were told that regionalisation of services would save £1 million. Working parties comprising Department of Education officials and area board officers set to work. They showed, after their analysis, that regionalisation would cost £1.2 million more.

In 1996, it is claimed that regionalising purchasing, architectural services and student awards will achieve considerable savings. The evidence produced is to the contrary. In fact, savings of only £38,000 in purchasing could be made. However, it would cost £380,000 extra to regionalise architectural services. It would cost £622,000 to regionalise student loans under a lead board in Northern Ireland.

In 1996, we have been told that the current review proposals will enhance political representation from 40 per cent. to 48 per cent. It has taken a very long time to move towards making matters more democratic in Northern Ireland. We do not need a complete restructuring of the boards to increase the number of elected representatives who serve on them.

However, the facts are as follows. With the new proposals, a new south eastern board would have eight fewer district councillors than the current Belfast and South Eastern education and library board, and each councillor on that new board, if it ever came into being, would be expected to represent twice as many constituents as councillors currently do.

Since 1989, the Department of Education has been responsible for significant additional expenditure on education administration in the system by establishing the Northern Ireland Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools and the Youth Council for Northern Ireland. Since 1990, those organisations have cost an additional £20 million to administer.

Further education incorporation in Northern Ireland has also resulted in significant additional expenditure. The Department of Education has now allocated £500,000 so that those new colleges can advertise for finance officers, at more than £30,000 per year, to do the work that our education and library boards have done efficiently at minimum cost.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Did not the hon. Gentleman find it incredibly ironic that when the proposals were being developed about a year ago, local papers in Northern Ireland were saying that Northern Ireland would learn from the experiences in the rest of the United Kingdom? The experiences of further education colleges on this side of the water have been disastrous, with one in eight now moving towards bankruptcy.

Photo of Mr Roy Beggs Mr Roy Beggs , East Antrim

I thank the hon. Gentleman. We in Northern Ireland do not consider that we have anything to learn from the blunders made over here. We should much prefer to be left to manage our own affairs, because we can make them work.

The boards in Northern Ireland have been prohibited from addressing their accommodation needs, yet the Department of Education appears to be embarking on a major capital expansion at its headquarters in Bangor, County Down. The Minister's proposals are based on seriously flawed information and advice, which some of us suspect to have been tailored by civil servants to help achieve their agenda. If the Minister refuses to listen to the hard, accurate fact that no savings can be obtained, only chaos in education can be created where there has been stability. His three-board option would be divisive and sectarian and could destroy the consensus and harmonious working relationships that have stood the test of troubled times.

The Northern Ireland Forum Education Committee has been snubbed. It received 44 submissions, heard 24 hours of oral submissions and produced a report within three weeks, but the Minister dumped the report in the bin and stubbornly published his own proposals immediately.

In his speech following the publication of the draft order, the Minister said that he would consider alternative structures. Alternative structures much better than those that have been offered will be produced. If broad consensus is achieved in Northern Ireland, will the Minister accept the alternative proposals? Will he agree to set aside the draft order and give serious consideration to the alternatives? Will he accept that any review of education administration in Northern Ireland must be total? Will he accept that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want any revised education administration system to be built around the five existing boards? Positive responses to those questions will give confidence in Northern Ireland that the Minister is open to persuasion by those whose children are likely to be most affected by any change that he may impose.

Has the Minister considered the benefits that may flow from the amalgamation of the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Department of Economic Development? After all, education and employment go hand in hand here. Why not in Northern Ireland? I genuinely want to believe that the Minister with responsibility for education in Northern Ireland wants to do what is best for education in Northern Ireland. However, he must work with, not against, the people of Northern Ireland. He should set aside the draft legislation on education administration. He should co-operate with those of us who seek to promote peace, reconciliation and prosperity and who want to create an economy with a well-trained, educated work force and an education system that continues to meet the needs of society in Northern Ireland for the present and for the future.

A satisfactory resolution of the future pattern of education administration in Northern Ireland should be given the highest priority. The Minister and Northern Ireland Office civil servants should pay heed to the advice offered to them.

That issue overshadows all the pressure and stress on principals and school governors—pressure to balance budgets; pressure to cope with inadequate funding; and pressure to deal with growing concern as class sizes increase, because the only way to make a significant saving in a school is to make a teacher redundant. Additional funding is needed in the Northern Ireland education budget. We have too many caravan parks of mobile classrooms. There is an urgent need for them to be replaced with permanent accommodation. There should be enough money in the budget to enable schools to provide the books and equipment to which all children should have access. Above all, there must be an urgent reappraisal of the formula for funding each pupil.

In addition to the matters referred to in the Labour party's amendment, Her Majesty's Government have undoubtedly done immense damage to the stability and security of the education service in Northern Ireland through the stubborn decision of the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland to destroy five successful area boards that have served Northern Ireland so well. It is therefore impossible for the Ulster Unionist party to support Her Majesty's Government's education policy.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 8:26, 29 October 1996

I understand that tonight's debate is on education and local government. I do not know how far hon. Members understand local government in Northern Ireland. If they heard the experiences of local councillors, I am sure that they would be shocked by their lack of powers and by the forcing of things on the people of Northern Ireland by the Northern Ireland Office.

We have a crisis in education in our province such as we have never seen before. Our school system was all shaken up by a former Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), who rammed down our throats in this House a book in the form of an Order in Council. We could not have read it in the three hours that we had to debate it.

Now another Order in Council is to be rammed through the House that will result in every school in Northern Ireland being upset again. The principals, the teachers, the parents and the scholars have been upset. The whole education system has been rehashed, but not to the benefit of the pupils, their parents, their teachers or those responsible for education. It is timely that we should have the opportunity tonight to highlight what the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland is up to.

It is strange that the Minister does not think that his Department should be looked at. He will not allow the eye of scrutiny to look into his Department. He is not prepared to have a thorough and proper reform of the education system. That reform should start in the Northern Ireland Department of Education, which must be scrutinised by those who can call it to account. Every Department in Westminster can come under scrutiny, but the Departments in Northern Ireland cannot because we do not have the machinery to undertake that task.

The Minister, presiding over his Department, looked at the education system and decided that he would do something about it. His first proposal was for four boards and then he decided to reduce it to three. He did not think out his proposals properly—if he had, he would never have made the first proposal. He removed that proposal from the table and said that he wanted to listen to the people of Northern Ireland. They have now spoken. The hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) knows that nine councils in his area joined with the teachers union, with other organisations that have an interest in schooling, with parents and local authorities to reach a unanimous decision. That consensus extended throughout the Province.

The Minister received a petition from the Western hoard signed by tens of thousands of people. What did he do with that petition? He put it in his wastepaper basket, although he had called upon us to make representations so that the views of the people could be heard.

I have been involved in Northern Ireland politics and have sat in this House for 26 years, and I have never seen such unity before. The Social Democratic and Labour party, whose members do not sit on the forum, joined the forum deputation to the Minister to express anxiety at what was occurring. Roman Catholics, Protestants and atheists like the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), who said that he did not want any standards—I felt like going to him and saying, "Thou shalt not steal: give me your money. I shall be quite happy to take it"—were united in their views.

Opposition Front Benchers, who travel to Northern Ireland from time to time, knew that there was unity. The Labour spokesman for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), knew that there was unity on that issue: we opposed the destruction of the boards. However, the Minister went ahead with his plans.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea , Mid Ulster

Will my hon. Friend confirm that Her Majesty's Government are seeking, through political discussions, a way forward in the political affairs of Northern Ireland? This issue has united opinion in the Province across the political spectrum. It is the first opportunity for the Government to show that they will listen to a united expression of opinion, yet they have closed their ears. Is it not time for the Government to listen to an opinion that is expressed by all political parties in the Province?

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

It is amazing, given the divide in Northern Ireland politics. The SDLP does not attend the forum, but its members who serve on the boards were prepared to go before the forum to give their opinion, to bear testimony to that opinion and to take the united opinion to the Minister. As the hon. Member for East Antrim has said, the Minister did not wait to read the report: he destroyed it completely and made a quick judgment.

The Minister is not so quick to handle other matters. We have guns in Northern Ireland; there are arsenals of arms and weaponry in Northern Ireland. What is happening to them? The Minister has put it on the long finger; he does not break into a sweat over that issue. He does not hurry to introduce a policy that will bring in those guns. Let no one think that there is peace in Northern Ireland. Today, another leading figure was slain as a result of internecine terrorist activity among the so-called loyalist paramilitaries. While that goes on, the Minister is running fleet of foot to destroy our education system. He does not have time to run after those who are destroying our country.

The teaching community in Northern Ireland has endured the burden and the heat of the day. It is not easy to be a teacher in Northern Ireland. Schools and parents have been subject to attack. This is an unfeeling Minister. I took deputation after deputation to him, but he would not listen. He could not answer our arguments—he did not want to. When I put points to him, he replied, "Well, you'll still have your opinion when you leave and I'll have mine". I said, "We do not want that. We have come to argue with you to persuade you to change your mind," but he would not be persuaded, as he was intent upon his course of action.

What will happen if the people say no? What will happen if those who man the boards, the teaching community of Northern Ireland and the parents and children say no? The Unionists, Nationalists, Republicans, Ribbonmen, Hibernians, Orangemen, Arch-Purplemen, Blackmen and apprentice boys of Londonderry are absolutely united across the board. The Government should heed the words of all the politicians of Northern Ireland and pull back from this calamity. They must reconsider the matter.

The Government are good at pulling back—perhaps when they should not have done so. This time, the Government could pull back to their credit, because I do not see how the people of Northern Ireland will take it on the chin. The House should know the unity that has been forged on this matter. The personnel of the boards would be scattered across the Province, sending people as far as North Antrim and Omagh, in order to bring the organisation together. It is the height of madness. I trust that someone in government will tell the right hon. Gentleman to think again.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea , Mid Ulster

Today the Prime Minister intervened to ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to pull back on caning in schools. He could surely intervene in Northern Ireland and ask the Minister to pull back on the destruction of the boards.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I think that the Prime Minister should cane the Minister—a good sharp rap on his wrists would do him good. The situation is grievous and I cannot adequately convey to the House people's anxiety. Some of our schools are a disgrace—one would think that they were caravan parks as they consist simply of outbuildings. The time has come for the Government to rethink the matter.

I hope that Opposition Members will take on board the fact that Northern Ireland Members are not happy about having an Order in Council thrust quickly through. The matter needs careful deliberation and examination. We do not want another "Mawhinney saga", as it was called in Northern Ireland, with a huge book of legislation being rushed through the House.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said that what we are being asked to accept did not work on this side of the water—so how will it work in Northern Ireland? I make a plea to the House tonight to put pressure on the Minister to think again before he proceeds down the road of educational disaster in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North 8:39, 29 October 1996

I have listened with great interest to the debate about the situation in Northern Ireland and it is clear that there is a problem of democratic accountability there. There is also a problem of democratic accountability in Wales, particularly in relation to the Bill that we shall discuss tomorrow and the White Paper that was published some months ago.

It was claimed in the Gracious Speech that the legislation would widen choice and diversity and raise standards in schools. In Wales, it will do no such thing; it will certainly not raise standards, although it may add a bit of diversity at the margins, and it will reduce choice for pupils and for families. I can confidently assert that all the themes of the White Paper, "Self-Government for Schools"—the encouragement of grant-maintained status, the extension of selection, the development of grammar schools, the weakening of the role of local education authorities and the encouragement of the private sector—are unacceptable to the vast majority of people in Wales, including the 25 to 30 per cent. who regularly vote Conservative.

It would be interesting to know how many, if any, favourable responses there were to the Welsh Office consultation. I have seen the responses from my own constituency and I dare say that the Government would not be surprised to hear that the local county council is unsympathetic to the White Paper and condemns its proposals. The Government would probably say that that was because the local authority had a vested interest in the status quo, but the Ceredigion Federation of Governing Bodies, which represents schools and parents, is equally condemnatory and even more direct in its language.

The rejection in Wales of the whole enterprise of grant-maintained status since 1988 has been overwhelming. We have 17 grant-maintained schools in Wales out of a total of 2,088 schools—0.8 per cent—after eight years of blandishments and incentives and constrained local authority funding. The few parental ballots that have been conducted recently resulted in overwhelming rejection; yet the single chapter on Wales in the White Paper pursues the laughable illusion that at some stage there might be a case for establishing a schools funding council for Wales, just to administer the 17 grant-maintained schools.

The White Paper mentions extending selection. If that were implemented in Ceredigion, for example, it would reduce choice and oblige rejected pupils to travel every day the 10 or even 16 miles to the nearest comprehensive that would take them; the transport costs would have serious implications for the local authority, which is already strapped for cash. According to the map in the White Paper, there is not a single grammar school in the public sector in Wales.

The White Paper suggests that there should be a compulsory delegation of 95 per cent. of the local education budget to schools. I understand that the Government are now thinking again about that, but it is worth emphasising that in Wales the delegation is 95 per cent., compared with 90 per cent. in England. That reflects not Welsh preferences but Welsh Office preferences, which is an altogether different matter.

In a survey conducted by Ceredigion county council of 77 primary schools in the area, only 5 per cent. said that they would welcome an increase in delegated funding. Indeed, the evidence is that the great majority would like to see the process at least partially reversed. The Ceredigion Federation of Governing Bodies says that head teachers who have to work full time in small schools—schools with as few as three teachers—cannot give additional time to more and more administration without the fundamental task of ministering to the academic, social, physical and emotional needs of their pupils suffering. So much for raising educational standards by giving schools more so-called freedom—a freedom that they do not want.

My strong hunch is that attitudes would be similar throughout rural Wales—most of Wales is rural and we have a pattern of widely dispersed small rural schools—and in the greater part of urban Wales. There is a strong case for allowing greater flexibility and, in some circumstances, less delegation, in consultation between schools and local education authorities.

On the encouragement of the private sector in schools, I believe that the doubling of funds for the assisted places scheme would be regarded as a misuse of scarce funds—that has already been discussed effectively in this debate—and that private sponsorship would be regarded as entirely inappropriate, if not repugnant.

In a host of ways, educational and social traditions m Wales are radically different from those in England. In Wales, we have an infinitely less class-conscious, class-oriented society. There is a strong and pervasive sense that it is morally unacceptable for educational success for the privileged few to be bought at the expense of the many. Social solidarity remains a bedrock value in Wales, despite all the traumatic changes that have taken place in various aspects of life over the past 20, 30 or even 50 years.

The position of private schools in England and in Wales illustrates well the difference between the two countries. According to the White Paper, in the whole of Wales only six independent schools are in the assisted places scheme and about 2 per cent. of Welsh children attend private schools; in England the figure is 10 per cent.

As the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) said earlier, the English elite is educated in an entirely different sector from the mass of the population. He regards that class divide as a fundamental problem that needs to be solved—a social fracture, one might say, that needs to be healed—and advocates the introduction of selection in state schools as a means of enticing private schools into the public sector. I do not agree with his approach, but I do not question the sincerity of his motives or the intractability of the problem with which he is grappling. The important point for me is that in Wales it is not a problem; by and large, the Welsh elite send their children to comprehensive schools. What they want is for standards to rise in those public sector schools, for their children and for everyone else's. The great majority of the people in Wales will regard the proposals in the White Paper with a mixture of irritation and exasperation, if not something even stronger—and they include the 25 per cent. of Welsh people who vote Tory from time to time.

The proposals come from an English perspective and they are designed for English priorities, but I do not think that they are good for England. It is seriously inefficient to try to run two parallel public sector school systems—the local education authority system and the grant-maintained system—in the hope that one will gobble up the other. We know that that is the theory, because that is what the former Secretary of State used to tell us: we were told that gradually we would move to all schools being grant-maintained. We are now told that the most enterprising and efficient schools will become grant-maintained and that the rest will remain in the LEA sector. That is a grossly inefficient approach to running a public sector education system.

There is a real danger that through further extending selection we shall see created a seriously divided and dysfunctional society. It is wrong that Wales, where no democratic support exists for the Government's proposals, must be dragged along the same route. Why should we? Scotland is not obliged to conform to the model. The proposed Bill will not apply to Scotland. Why should Wales be obliged to conform? Our education and social traditions are every bit as distinctive as those of Scotland, if not more so in many ways.

It is not only a matter of being exempted from irrelevant and damaging legislation. I accept that the education system in Wales is not without its deficiencies, and some of them are serious. At the same time, much of education in Wales is excellent. Examination results over large areas of Wales show that clearly. They are excellent, that is, in British terms. That is not the same as saying that they are excellent in terms of international comparisons.

There is under-performance in significant parts of Wales. We have been guilty of complacency and, in our own way in the past, of emphasising the success of the upwardly and outwardly mobile at the expense of the less academic. We have had our own unhealthy elitism within our public sector schools, including comprehensive schools. We do not want merely to be exempted; we want to be more positive than that. That being so, how are we to raise education standards? How are we to prepare Wales for the challenge of a rapidly changing world?

As the proposed Bill passes through the House, there will be an opportunity to outline my party's proposals. I shall take every opportunity to do so, relevant as they are to specific conditions in Wales. Partnership and collaboration are the key principles, not competition. There should be partnership between school and school. There must be partnership between school and local authority. They should agree, for example, on a sensible and practical degree of delegated responsibility.

There should be partnership between teacher and teacher in sharing experience and good practice, not guarding them like trade secrets, which is what teachers find themselves obliged to do these days. That is what they tell me. There should be collaboration and co-operation between schools and colleges of further education instead of the damaging competition and duplication that takes place in the 16-plus sector.

At the heart of the system that my party would advocate would be a national system for quality assurance, integrating assessment, examination, inspection and support. In other words we would combine in one organisation the functions of the Curriculum Council for Wales, the examining body for Wales, the inspectorate and the current advisory services of local authorities. Wales happens to be both large enough and small enough to make crucial provision possible at an all-Wales level.

We must examine carefully the separation between inspection and support. Industry would not countenance such separation, with the punitive five-yearly inspections that schools have to undergo. The effect on teacher morale of the inspections is serious. That is true even in Wales, where we have a more sensitive and less aggressive regime than that in England. I understand that there are few other countries where inspection and support are separated in such a way.

The system that I have outlined would be adequately resourced. There would not be the crazy competitiveness that the Government so fanatically pursue, leading to the sort of targets listed in the sixth paragraph of the White Paper, which might be described as the Welsh afterthought.

How could we create such a system in Wales, a system that would work and deliver the desired results for us? The House knows my party's thinking. We think that there should be democratic structures in Wales that have the necessary powers.

I conclude by asking the Labour party a question. I note that no shadow spokesman for Wales is on the Opposition Front Bench. I understand, of course, that we are all short of time. It says something about our system of government, however, that when discussing a White Paper and legislative proposals that will bear on Wales and could have far-reaching effects on it, there is only one spokesman on the Opposition Front Bench to represent Wales. How would a Labour Government create the education system for Wales that I have described? How would they enable the creation of an education system of which Wales could be proud? We know that the Labour party hopes to form the next Government. Could its proposed non-legislative assembly introduce such a system? I think not.

If that is so, will Labour allow separate legislation for Wales in this place, which Scotland now enjoys, after the general election? Will Labour base any such legislation on proposals emanating from Wales that bear on Welsh priorities? What mechanisms would a Labour Government have to enable that to happen? We need answers to these questions as a matter of urgency, given the coming debate on democratic devolution in Wales that will take place over the next year or more.

I leave the House with a final question. What happens if, following a five-year Labour Government, the Tories return to power committed, as they might well be, to complete the process of which their White Paper is a part? We all understand that the process is about making selection the norm. It is also about strongly developing the private sector in education. What will happen if a Tory Government return to power in the early 21st century committed to completing the process? What will Wales do then, equipped with no more than Labour's non-legislative assembly? That is the question.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not an old convention of the House as a debating chamber that Members who are called should, as a matter of respect to their colleagues, be here for the opening speeches? Some of us have been here now for five hours while others have not.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

It is a courtesy for all hon. Members to listen to the opening and closing speeches. The time spent in the Chamber is also relevant to whether an hon. Member is called.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough 8:58, 29 October 1996

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) is not referring to me. I was present during the first two or three hours of the debate and I have been sitting here for more than two hours since. I hope that there are others who have spoken to whom his strictures apply.

I do not want to wander into the byways followed by some Opposition Members, but there is one point that I must make. I listened to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on television today and again this afternoon and he seemed to claim that the Government were responsible for the enormous increase in one-parent families. That is one of the most disgraceful charges that I have heard. All sections of society have been responsible for the increase in the number of one-parent families, including the parliamentary Labour party, so I do not know how any politician has the gall to make such a comment.

I welcome the measures in the Gracious Speech, particularly those in relation to education and local government as far as they go. With regard to education, many of us are particularly pleased that discipline is to be strengthened, with after-school detentions and temporary suspensions. However, as has been said, we must address the problem of the education of those who are suspended or excluded from school. But the Government are rightly recognising that teachers now provide the kind of support that is being proposed.

The current moral crusade is laudable and must be supported, but we must accept that a substantial minority in our society cause many problems. For example, I was told of a five-year-old boy in my county whose language at school was disgraceful, using words which the head teacher did not even know existed. Eventually, in desperation she called him into her study and threatened that if he continued to talk in such a way she would have to scrub his mouth out—knowing full well that she would be prosecuted if she attempted that. The five-year-old thought for a moment and then said, "Well, Miss, I won't use them words at school, but please can I carry on using them at home?"

That goes to the nub of the problem facing many of our teachers in schools today. Too many parents do not support teachers in the way that they should, particularly when teachers discipline their children. Yet too many of those same parents expect schools and teachers to perform tasks that are really the responsibility of the family.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to be congratulated, not just on the greater flexibility in education that she is offering to grant-maintained schools, but on her proposals for increased discipline. I agree with what she said about corporal punishment. I am only sorry that more of her Cabinet colleagues do not share the same view. We have recently had support for a degree of corporal punishment from a most unlikely source—the Archbishop of Canterbury, no less, so perhaps he cannot always be wrong.

My constituency has, in its main town, four secondary schools, three of which are grant-maintained and successful, but all sniped at by the leadership of the local county council. The chairman of the education committee believes that grant-maintained schools should be abolished and brought back under LEA control. It is proposed that the only secondary school in the town controlled by the LEA, the John Lee school, should be closed because it cannot attract sufficient pupils. That is the result of the local authority's administration of one secondary school in Wellingborough.

The anticipated demand for secondary school places next year will be 720 but, as a result of the wonderful decision to close one school, only 607 places will be available. So much for socialist management and its attitude to local schools. Instead of apologising for the mess that it has made, the LEA's only response is to blame the grant-maintained schools for their success and, by implication, the parents who have chosen to send their children there. Therefore, the possibility that the one school controlled by the local education authority will be closed should be re-examined.

It would be wrong if I suggested that Northamptonshire had no education problems. I carried out a survey of the schools in the county and discovered that, without the more generous help that we had last year, some 36 out of the 48 schools in the Wellingborough constituency would have used up all their reserves. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was able to obtain an extra £12 million for us, but the reserves are now low and need to be replenished for the essential expenditure that has been deferred, because in the medium and long term that expenditure has to be made.

My plea today is for extra help for my county. We have to make that plea because our county's standard spending assessment seems to have been reduced more than that of many other counties. For example, in the current year, our SSA is £46 per primary pupil less than the county average, for secondary pupils it is £61 less and for post-16 students it is £76 less. That is unfortunate, but when we compare ourselves with the adjoining county of Bedfordshire we find that the gap is £131 for primary schools, £178 for secondary schools and £158 for post-16 education. Why has that disparity arisen? It is largely because the adjoining county benefits from the current area cost adjustment scheme. It is manifestly unfair that adjoining counties should have such large discrepancies in the money given to them.

I was delighted, therefore, when Ministers in the Department of the Environment agreed to set up an investigation into the area cost adjustment, and the results have recently been published. If Professor Elliot's proposals were implemented, they would aid counties such as Northamptonshire, which seems to have been underfunded recently. His proposals are based on a more credible model of employee behaviour and employer response; they reflect the fact that staffing costs differ throughout the country, even between counties in the south-east; and they are based on more comprehensive and reliable data than the present system.

Having commissioned the Elliot report, why do the Government appear to be hesitating? It is because the local authority organisations, all controlled by the Labour party, object to any change and would rather perpetuate an unfair system than move towards the fair society that they are so fond of spouting about.

I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration that the time has come to accept the advice of the Elliot committee and to implement its proposals. They could be implemented immediately, with some transitional relief for those counties which might lose out. At the least, we should move toward the Elliot proposals over some years. One of those alternatives is desperately needed, not just by my county but by others, such as Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, which have suffered similarly. It is time for the Government to show that they will be as courageous in implementing change in the area cost adjustment as they are in education.

Although I am critical of the spending priorities of Northamptonshire county council, I accept that it has problems, not just with education but with social services. Of course it could manage its affairs differently, but I believe that any political administration in Northampton would need a better deal. That is why I am sorry that there has been no mention of a change in the area cost adjustment apportionment. I hope that we shall have a helpful and constructive statement from Ministers some time in the next few weeks.

The Government have been wise in their proposals in the Queen's Speech, especially those to help rural shops and to improve school discipline, but for my constituents—and also for yours, I suspect, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the Government would be wise to take the advice of the report that they commissioned and to make the changes in the area cost adjustment that we so desperately need.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I take it that I am not the only Member who has not been called in today's debate. Last night the 10-minute rule applied. May I take it that Members who were on the list but were not called because they were not in the Chamber will receive a rebuke from the Chair for their discourtesy to the House yesterday? Perhaps that is why the 10-minute rule was not applied today.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

The hon. Gentleman will do well not to try to second-guess what the Chair is doing.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 9:10, 29 October 1996

I am glad that the Secretary of State for the Environment has graced us with his presence, albeit late in the day. The words "moral crusade" have been mentioned once or twice during the debate, and no moral crusade would be complete without a man who was once responsible for a publication called "Pulpit Monthly".

Northern Ireland Members are not present, but I undertake to draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) their comments about Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State has started yapping, now that he has arrived. To keep him quiet, may I tell him that the Bill affecting rural areas, which I understand may be debated next week, is generally welcomed by the Opposition?

Whatever the merits or shortcomings of the speeches made in tonight's debate, there is no denying that they reflect immense public concern about the state of our country—what might be called the feel-bad factor. Speeches over the past few days have revealed some of the things about which people feel bad: crime and the fear of crime; unemployment and the fear of losing a job; not being able to afford a mortgage or the rent; not having anywhere decent to live; having to suffer from air pollution; wondering whether it will be possible to get treatment in the local hospital; trying to work for a living but not being paid a living wage; not being able to live on their pension; fretting about the future of their children and grandchildren.

Those and other practical matters are major sources of concern to people all over the country. Looming over them all is the feeling that Britain is not as decent a place as it once was, and that it is getting worse. On that, most speakers in the debates have been agreed. The differences arise as to why our country has got into such a state and what we must do to make it decent again.

According to some of the pundits, the problems are all the fault of schools, children, teachers, and, most recently, parents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) made clear, the Labour party wants everyone's children to get a good start in life. We recognise the importance of good teachers, and want to encourage them. We recognise the even more crucial importance of parents and the positive or negative contribution they can make to the education of their own and other people's children.

Clearly, what goes on in schools influences society in general, but it is equally true that what goes on in society influences what happens in schools. What people do outside the schools can make it easier or harder for children to learn, for teachers to teach and for parents to bring up their children. Let there be no mistake: at present all three groups have a hard job. It is hard for children, teachers and parents—much harder than writing an editorial, mouthing off on "Newsnight" or even making a speech in the House of Commons.

Let us consider just one of the problems faced by children, parents and teachers, a problem over which they have little control and for which, generally, they are not responsible: drugs. Drugs are being peddled to children not only in every town and city, but now in many villages. It is not the fault of children, teachers or parents that Governments the world over have failed to put enough effort into stopping international trafficking in drugs. It is not the fault of parents or teachers that financial institutions switch the drug barons' money around the world in a virtually untraceable electronic maze.

It is not the fault of parents that, instead of combating the drugs menace, some countries' secret services—in particular, the United States Central Intelligence Agency—have trafficked in drugs themselves. The flood of drugs into our country is not the fault of teachers or parents, but they and the police must cope with the consequences. Drugs are just one of the problems that children and parents face.

Nearly everybody tries to get their children to grow up knowing the difference between right and wrong, good and bad.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

Why do they grow up to vote Labour, then?

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Nearly everyone wants his child to be well behaved, not to be greedy, not to steal—

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

—not to interrupt—not to lie, not to be violent, to show concern for others, to control their temper and not to be rude. In other words, most parents want their children to adopt the values and standards that we like to think are our own. To achieve this, we must put more effort into bringing up and educating our children.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

No. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) took up so much time that I cannot give way.

We cannot dump the responsibility for bringing up children on to schools, teachers and parents. They influence children, but they and the children are in turn influenced by what is happening in society as a whole.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Many Conservative Members will agree that it is hard for parents and teachers to promote decent values in their children when, every day, television, radio, newspapers, comics and videos are doing just the opposite. Television is the most powerful instrument of communication in the history of humankind, but is it being used to educate and to promote high standards? Far from it. As everyone in the House knows, some of the programmes made for children are among the worst dross ever produced.

The apologists for television try to tell us that their output does not affect the behaviour of children, but they are trying to raise advertising revenue by emphasising that advertising Levi jeans on television increased their sale fifteenfold and advertising Pepperami sausage pushed up sales by 55 per cent. within a month. An advertisement for Tango drinks that involved clouting children around the ear led to copycat incidents the next day in a thousand schools around the country. Of course television affects the behaviour of children, and it is time people in television grew up and accepted their responsibility, because they are quick enough to criticise everybody else.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

The question of examples goes further and deeper than that. One good example is worth a thousand sermons. Children notice what happens in the grown-up world, and they see what is rewarded and what goes unpunished. Dad tells little Johnny not to tell lies, but he is undermined when Johnny hears that Ministers of the Crown have lied to the House of Commons and got away with it. Mum punishes little Gillian for sneaking a pound from her purse, but she switches on the television to see that a City fraudster has avoided punishment for taking millions of pounds by a plea bargain to save the taxpayer the cost of bringing him to trial for his thieving.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Hon. Members:

Go on.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman who has the Floor will not give way, and the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) should not be tempted by those Opposition Members who are inviting him to intervene.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Let us look at sport. Sport can be healthy and entertaining, and can promote sporting behaviour—hence the expression, "Be a sport," which is regarded as a good thing. Sport can promote teamwork and loyalty, but, far too often, the heroes of young people are obsessed with money and their teams regularly change their strips to make money from merchandising rather than from sport. Entire sports in this country have been sold out to the highest bidder, and the Atlanta Olympic games were sacrificed on the tacky altar of their sponsors. Such bad examples are commonplace, and are just a part of the overall problem.

For the past 17 years, we have had a Government who have preached—and, to be fair, practiced—the creed of greed. They have said, "Everybody should look after number one"; that "We should be selfish"; that "Being competitive is natural" and that "Caring for other people is for wimps."

All that has had an effect on children. It has made it harder for teachers and parents to instil decent values into children. They have had to row against the fashionable tide. Some people denounce political correctness—often rightly—but they never denounced it in the 1980s, when the prevailing political correctness was the Tory creed, "Be greedy."

Let us not accept any Tory attempts to blame their predecessors in government—not one child at school today was at school under a Labour Government. The present generation of children is sometimes described as Thatcher's children, but that is not fair. As a result of the efforts of their parents and teachers, the vast majority of children are pretty good, pretty well behaved and pretty hard-working, and they are doing their best in a difficult and complex world. Yet the Tories continue to blame parents, teachers and schools.

The Government have introduced a market-based model for schools in each locality. The theory is that schools should compete against one another and the most successful will prosper and expand—but where there are winners, there are bound to be losers, and, under the Tory market forces model, the least successful schools will contract and go to the wall. Then the Tories and the Tory newspapers will make a great song and dance about the shortcomings of everybody but themselves and their policies.

Some schools get in trouble for no good reason and need to be sorted out or closed, but others simply cannot compete. Those include the schools that, as some of my hon. Friends pointed out, have to take the troublemakers successful schools get shot of so as to keep up their success rate, or the children successful schools interviewed and turned down.

It is no use criticising schools in badly off areas for not doing as well as schools in more prosperous areas. Schools in poorer areas certainly should do better, and, for our country's sake, must do better. Many have not been sufficiently ambitious in the past. Their location and intake are not an excuse for not trying, but they are often an explanation for not doing well.

The Department for Education and Employment publishes figures showing the proportion of children achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A to C as a measure of success. The Department also publishes figures showing the proportion of children taking free school meals as a measure of deprivation. When those figures are brought together, they reveal the vast gap between well-off areas and deprived areas.

The national average for free school meal take-up is 18 per cent., but it is only 10 per cent. in the 10 education authorities with the best examination results. In the 10 education authorities with the worst examination results, the average take-up of free school meals is a staggering 51 per cent. —nearly three times the national average, and five times the figure for the most successful areas. On that evidence alone, it is impossible to argue that deprivation does not make it much harder for a child to succeed.

That reveals another aspect of Government policy that militates against parents' efforts to ensure that their children do well at schools—the growing gap between rich and poor. As was spelt out in the recent Rowntree report, the gap between rich and poor is wider now than at any time in the 20th century. This Government have rewarded the rich and taken money from the poor.

Another conclusion of the Rowntree report was that there was a widening income gap between rich areas and poor areas, so, unless something is done, we can expect the need for free school meals to continue to rise in poor areas and fall in rich areas. Equally, without special measures to compensate, we can expect the gap in educational performance between rich areas and poor areas to grow rather than diminish.

Labour is determined to diminish that gap, using the measures outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside. Poverty is an educational handicap, however, so those educational measures will have to be augmented by a parallel effort to attack the multiple sources of deprivation that affect poor areas. Deprived areas do not suffer from one or two individual problems—they suffer from a combination of problems. The Queen's Speech does not even mention most of them, let alone propose solutions. Deprived areas have high levels of unemployment, and often very high levels of youth unemployment. Many of the people who have work are badly paid. As a result of both of those factors, many families have a poor diet.

Air pollution is more commonplace in deprived areas. Crime is high in deprived areas. All these things make people and make children ill prepared to learn. In badly off, rundown areas infant mortality rates are higher and babies' birth rates are lower; people are less healthy, and they die sooner. When we talk airily about the quality of life, we sometimes lose sight of the basic fact that the biggest difference in quality of life is the stark contrast between being alive and being dead; that, if people live in a poor area, they will die sooner.

The quality of health care, which is not in any way the responsibility of Labour local authorities, is often lower in deprived areas, so that, when people fall ill and need treatment, they are least likely to receive the quality treatment that they need. We are determined to mount a campaign to improve the nation's health. We cannot afford to go on as we are. Enough is enough.

We cannot afford to allow illness to cause the loss of 175 million working days a year. We cannot afford to have people who are not fit for work or children who are not fit for school, because that means that those men, women and children, who should be assets to our country, become liabilities instead. We must change those liabilities into assets. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and I are determined to improve the nation's health by tackling the things that make people ill. We shall do so through health authorities, health trusts, local councils and the Health and Safety Executive.

Far too many people in our country are ill. The pain and anxiety they suffer is bad for them and their families, but the damage does not stop there.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that the debate is exclusively on education and local government.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Everything I am talking about is related to the functions of local government, as I shall go on to demonstrate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The damage does not stop with the people who suffer ill health. Their ill health is bad for the rest of us, as well. It is bad for us as taxpayers because we have to pay for their medical treatment, and the costs do not end there. If people are ill, they cannot work, so we have to pay for the benefits that they need, including housing benefit, which is a responsibility of local authorities. We have to find the money to make up for the tax that they do not pay, including council tax. We have to go without the goods and services that they would produce if they were at work. Their employers in the Confederation of British Industry are deeply concerned, so they tell me, even if the Secretary of State is not, about the 175 million working days lost each year.

As a society, we should try to help the victims of unavoidable illness. As a society, we should offer advice, help and inducements to choose a healthy life style. Most important, as a society, we must act together to combat the innumerable causes of ill health and injury which spring from the conditions in which far too many people are forced to live and work.

Poverty is a health hazard. Unemployment makes people ill. Poor-quality food makes people weak. Air pollution chokes people. Bad working conditions are literally sickening. Low pay undermines people's health. Stress and anxiety make people ill, mentally and physically.

That is why we are determined to do something about it. We are determined to launch a concerted programme on the causes of illness. We want everyone to be involved. Our programme will not be a burden on business or on the taxpayer. It is illness that is a burden on business and the taxpayer. We are determined to reduce that burden. We believe that environmental and economic benefits will flow from our strategy.

First—local authorities are involved in this, Mr. Deputy Speaker—on food standards, which were not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, our proposals to set up an independent food standards agency will promote public health, improve children's health and help the food industry by bolstering consumer confidence.

Secondly, transport was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Environment

Will the hon. Gentleman help me? The Labour party originally said that the debate would be on education and the environment. The hon. Gentleman then decided that he had nothing to say about the environment, so he withdrew that topic and decided to talk about local government. He is now talking about food safety. Can he talk about either the environment or local government? After two and a half years, it would be nice to hear him make a speech on the environment. Most of us believe that he knows nothing about it.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

That is a bit rich coming from the right hon. Gentleman, who is apparently so ignorant of the courtesies of the House that he did not bother to tell us that he did not intend to reply to the debate. He turned up literally one minute before I started to speak. On the subject of food safety, it is worth reminding ourselves that people's principal recollection of the Secretary of State is his attempt to feed a hamburger to his daughter, which was too hot, so she refused to eat it. People tend to forget the sequel to that: he ate it himself, and what is more, the effects are beginning to show.

The third item should appeal to the Secretary of State, if he can listen patiently. Home energy efficiency, which is to do with the environment, was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. At present, the homes of many of the worst-off families and pensioners are poorly insulated. Although their fuel bills cost a fortune, they waste so much energy that they cannot keep warm. Labour's plans for a home energy efficiency programme, which have been drawn up by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), will cut household fuel bills, help the environment by saving fuel, add warmth, improve health and create jobs.

Fourthly, housing was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Apparently the Government think that the position on housing is okay, that nothing more needs to be done, and that their housing policies are succeeding. If the Government are satisfied with what is happening, they are far too easily satisfied. The figures show that 48,000 families had their homes repossessed last year, and that, at the beginning of this summer, half a million families were in negative equity and almost 200,000 families were in serious mortgage arrears. The Government do not propose to do anything to help.

The shortage of housing—which, according to chartered surveyors, has driven up the price of houses—is being made worse because housing starts are down. Private housing starts are down, housing association starts are down, and council housing starts are virtually non-existent—just 651 in the whole of last year. Not one council house or flat was started in the north-west or in London last year.

To anyone who can make the connection, it should be no surprise that thousands of people are sleeping rough. The Government have organised surveys of the number of rough sleepers in York, Cambridge, Norwich, Bath, Exeter, Gloucester, Basingstoke and Reading: it is no longer just big cities that have a homelessness problem. In the past year, 120,000 families were officially classified as homeless. Hundreds of thousands more are living in overcrowded or substandard conditions. According to the Government's own figures, more than 1.5 million homes are unfit for human habitation, yet they propose to do nothing about it. They do not even mention housing in the Queen's Speech.

This drift is damaging the country. Not having somewhere decent to live makes people ill, makes it hard for breadwinners to hold down a job, and makes it difficult for children to do well at school. Anyone with a grain of sense knows that doing homework is well nigh impossible when a child has no decent home to go to. This drift not only harms people who have nowhere decent to live, but puts building firms out of business and building workers out of jobs. It loses orders for building supply companies, and deprives professionals of job opportunities.

It is time that the Government made a start on building homes for people in need. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said in his speech at the Labour party conference and repeated when he opened the debate on the Queen's Speech, we are committed to encouraging councils to invest the takings from the sale of council houses in new and rehabilitated homes. That will provide not just new homes and jobs for people in the building industry but orders and jobs for firms that make door hinges in Dudley, electrical fittings in Basildon, carpets in Brighouse and Halifax, lavatory pans in Stoke-on-Trent and glass in St. Helens—jobs all over the country.

Those are just three specific examples of what we intend to do to improve the country's health and make it a better, safer, cleaner, healthier and more prosperous place to live. That is why we shall win the coming general election.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon 9:35, 29 October 1996

My father was headmaster of a primary school within sight of Armley gaol in Leeds; my mother took teacher training as a mature student and also taught in one of the most difficult areas of Leeds; my aunt was head teacher in a rural school; and my uncle was a school inspector specialising in truancy and delinquency. I am responsible for the Government's regeneration programmes, and I will not take lessons from the Opposition on how to help those most in need in this society.

One always listens to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), entertaining the hope that he will stray inadvertently into common sense. We are invariably disappointed. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, this was supposed to be a debate on the environment. At least Labour knew that we had a new policy on that. It was then to be a debate on local government, and now we know that Labour has no policy on that. Out of 30 minutes, the hon. Gentleman gave us just 30 seconds—it may not have been quite so long—on the Government's proposal for rural areas, which shows the measure of the Labour party's concern for the fate of those who live in the countryside.

We heard the most extraordinary diatribe against the media and television from a Front—Bench spokesman of a party whose leader galloped off to a coral reef in Australia to commune with the Murdoch empire to try to get it on his side. That is a curious formulation of the Labour party's views on the media, given its desperate anxiety and its circumnavigation of Fleet street and docklands to try to persuade editors that it can be touched after all.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras was supposed to give a winding-up speech. He was wound up outside the Chamber like a tin soldier. He charged in and flailed frantically around without landing a single punch. I do not know who wrote his speech. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is bidding for the leadership in anticipation of the next election defeat for his party, but it was an extraordinary performance. The only comment he made on local government was the old canard, "Let us release capital receipts from local government." This is the do-it-all-with-mirrors school of thought on finance. The Labour party has suddenly found the piggy-bank of £5 billion.

The hon. Gentleman must realise that, if he is to release £5 billion of capital receipts, the effect will be identical to increasing credit approvals. Indeed, it will be worse, because they are not in the right place. If that is what the Labour party wants to do, it would be far more sensible to increase credit approvals. That, however, would increase public expenditure, because the Labour party says that it would not redefine the public sector borrowing requirement. Would the Labour party liberate all future capital receipts as well? [Interruption.] All Governments say that they will contain public expenditure. The Labour party's Treasury team hastens to impress us at every opportunity by saying that, whatever its housing spokesman may say, we should not believe a word of it because it will keep the purse strings, but it is not prepared to change the public sector borrowing requirement.

My hon. Friends the Members for Saffron Walden (Sir A. Haselhurst) and for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) mentioned our proposals to help village shops and rural communities. That need is crucial. We talk constantly about regeneration in terms of inner cities, and their problems are real and important enough. However, regeneration is also an issue in rural communities. Our country takes a particular pride in such communities. Our countryside is unique and we want to preserve it, but it must be a countryside in which people live and from which they can earn their livelihood—not one preserved purely as a museum.

The key to many villages is the village shop, on which many elderly people depend. Our proposals to give mandatory rate relief will assist a large number of people who are themselves disadvantaged and in some cases marooned. We will also allow local authorities to give discretionary relief to a wider range of shops, so that they can give a great deal more assistance to their communities. That is a subject of great amusement to the Opposition parties, but many people in Britain prize our rural communities and wish to assist them.

There has been a lot of talk about subsidiarity and devolution. Our proposals for parish councils put them into action. [Laughter.] I am delighted with the merriment that that statement attracts from Labour Members. I shall point out to my constituents, who live in a large rural area in which a village of 300 souls might be thought quite large, the sheer entertainment value that Labour contemplates when it considers the problems of rural areas.

We will allow parish councils to raise funds to help community transport and promote crime prevention. Councils will be required to consult parish councils more. We will open the way to the creation of new councils, including some in rural areas, where people want that to happen. Our measures are of great importance to rural areas and we will carry them through.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I shall not give way. I am emulating the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, who took only one intervention from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I shall wait for a more substantial intervention.

Our package of measures recognises the problems of preserving a living countryside which people want to admire and visit, and in which they want to work. Those measures are devolution in practice. They follow our creation of national park authorities, which give a specific role to local people who live within the parks and know their problems.

There has been much talk of social cohesion and exclusion. Last week, I attended a Council of Ministers meeting in Dublin to examine those issues. It was interesting to note how many of our European partners, in pursuing their national policies, agreed that one had to approach social cohesion and exclusion from the viewpoint of the problems of the community—and that the time when national prescriptions could tell people what they wanted had passed. That is why it is so important that the integrated programmes that this Government have developed should work effectively—bringing the community effective choices and responsibilities in the cities.

One cannot solve a city's problems by focusing on education, training or housing alone. One must get a grip on the integrated difficulties. That means difficult choices, because one must choose a small community. The regeneration budget is crucial, because it embraces local partnerships, local initiatives and local delivery. Education and training are overwhelmingly two of the great priorities of all the partnerships that are addressing social issues. They are the most common elements in the programmes. That was so in the two earlier rounds and will be so in the third round, which will be decided shortly.

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) knows that that is true. He tried to be frightfully fierce today—a sort of Hemingway of the Back Benches, but it did not really suit him. He came to see me a little while ago to ask whether I could assist with the transfer of a housing estate in his constituency, because that was the way to achieve regeneration there. We were able to help. The transfer was agreed by a massive majority of the tenants. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his concerns for his constituency. We were able to work together to deliver something of benefit and effective regeneration. He is much better when he concentrates on those problems than when he tries to read diatribes from the back of the Chamber.

There will also be opportunities for local government in capital challenge; we shall announce those shortly. That is a chance for local government to create an integrated programme and for different parts of a council to talk to one another, which does not always happen. Once again, we are getting high-quality, well-integrated bids, and we find that education is a strong runner. Local government is being given new opportunities to choose its own priorities, and rightly it often chooses education as one of those priorities. It is local government making the choice, reflecting local people's views.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

What advice would my right hon. Friend give the Liberal-Labour coalition that runs Kent, which has had the most generous settlement ever given to Kent county council, and which consistently complains that it has not enough money to run services to the necessary standard?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I would advise it to study some of the most efficient authorities—those much more efficient than itself, which put less premium on simply employing more people—and find out what can be done if people set about the task of being an effective enabling authority. That is happening throughout the country, and it is a new road for local government.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) mentioned education funding and other issues. He gave us the Liberal litany of financial permissiveness: the ending of controls on local government expenditure, the abolition of competitive tendering, the local income tax and the education surtax. He did not mention—but, as he chided my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) for not mentioning something that he believed he should have mentioned, I shall do the same—the site valuation principle for the business rate, which means that if a large tower were built in the City of London, and Fred's diner was next door, occupants of the two would pay the same business rates.

The hon. Gentleman should consider where the opportunities lie for local government to assist education. They lie in local government addressing itself sensibly to the opportunities of a private finance initiative. I have announced changes to that initiative that tackle the two issues about which local government was most worried. First, where councils sign a contract, they will no longer have to make credit provision up front for those sums. That was a major problem for local government. Secondly, those revenue payments that are made will no longer be caught by capping rules, and the Government will provide them through the standard spending assessment mechanism. Those were the two issues raised most consistently; we have addressed them.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I thank the Minister for the changes that he made, which were desperately needed; unfortunately, as he will acknowledge, there is no monitoring in the Department for Education and Employment of the use of the private finance initiative, and the Government's own financial adviser cannot begin to say how much money will come in through the initiative for education, so we do not know what it will do.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

We have made an allocation for next year and the following year on the volume of capital schemes that will be financed under the private finance initiative. Allocations have been made of £50 million for next year and £200 million for the following year. We believe that those allocations will be adequate to meet demand. 'We, local authorities and the Department for Education and Employment are working extremely closely on that. There is an organisation, run by local authorities, called the 4Ps, which is promoting that through local government.

I shall be grateful if the hon. Member for Bath 'will proselytise and argue the case for the private finance initiative. All Governments are trying to find ways in which private finance can assist the public good, because we all live in the global economy.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson , Stoke-on-Trent South

I want to help the Minister to drag out his speech until 10 o'clock; he seems to be running out of notes. Would he care to comment on the fact that, since the Government imposed business rates in my constituency, business rates have increased by nearly 40 per cent.?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the business rates reflect the assumed rental characteristics of an area and are subject to evaluation every five years. Where there have been changes, people in some parts of the United Kingdom have had their business rate cut and others have had their business rate increased. The system has to keep pace with the changing circumstances in the economy.

As the hon. Gentleman represents a part of the world that has benefited substantially from the Government's regeneration programmes, he would do well to realise the possibilities for local government in the combination of regeneration—

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

Will the Minister tell the House when the commitment made by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment about placing the SCAA's values forum report in the Vote Office will be fulfilled? She gave that commitment to the House this afternoon under the procedures of the House and my hon. Friends are finding it difficult to locate the report even at this time of the evening.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

My right hon. Friend made it clear that she was quoting from newspaper reports and said that she would take steps to make that document available at the earliest opportunity. I have no doubt that she has fulfilled her promise, as she always does.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Employment)

A commitment was given and, as the Secretary of State is not here, may we presume that she is photocopying—[Interruption.] She is here—I apologise to the Secretary of State. I did not see her behind the—

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. Mr. Curry has the Floor and may give way to whomever he likes. [Interruption.] Order. I must point out to the hon. Member for Brent. South (Mr. Boateng) that this is the Chamber of the House of Commons and he should respect that fact. I call Mr. Curry.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

On reflection, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have decided to give way to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Secretary of State for Education and Employment

The documents will be available for hon. Members first thing in the morning.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

In one of the few moments when he mentioned local government, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras spoke about housing policies. He quoted, I assume, from the document that deals with the extension of the rough sleepers initiative outside London. I hope that he is not suggesting that that is an undesirable thing to do. We made it clear that the policy has been extremely successful in central London. We then made it clear that, where there was a significant problem outside London, we would seek to apply the same mechanisms to address it.

To find out the extent of the problems, we paid a consultancy, Shelter; so nobody can say that the Government have sought to control the figures. Shelter has now reported and I shall shortly announce the conclusions in order to extend the initiative. The policy is widely acknowledged to be unique, successful and to rest on a collaboration between Government and the voluntary sector that many other people would like to emulate. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to politicise that policy and that relationship, he is making a serious mistake. I trust that he does not want to do so.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

If homelessness and rough sleeping have become so extensive that the Government need to conduct surveys in places such as York, Cambridge, Norwich, Bath, Exeter, Gloucester, Basingstoke and Reading—those places constitute about a third of the total—the problems are indeed extensive. I am condemning the Government not for carrying out the surveys but for implementing the policies that made them necessary.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

In that case, perhaps the hon. Gentleman should wait for the results of the survey before he decides how substantial his fears will be. He may be somewhat surprised by the findings.

The hon. Gentleman referred to social housing, but he did not mention that co-operation with the private sector has brought £10 billion in private sector money to the delivery of social housing since 1988. He mentioned the worst estates—I have already referred to the hon. Member for City of Durham in that context. Our programme of transferring some of the worst estates into the private sector, with the consent of the tenants, provides new opportunities and hope to people in some of the most difficult circumstances. We have transferred large numbers of properties into the private sector, where private sector money can be mobilised for renovations and improvements. Without exception, the tenants benefit from and enjoy their improved circumstances.

In the housing Bill, we have made it possible to create housing companies so that local government, together with other agencies, can develop a new means of delivering housing.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

What happens to those areas where there is no private sector investment? The Government have cut investment and people are living in housing of an appalling standard.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

The hon. Lady perhaps does not realise that the estates being transferred are in areas such as Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Greenwich, Durham and Sheffield. They are some of the worst estates in the country and they do not have any value. We are able to transfer them to the private sector because we are able to mobilise private capital. Local authorities are increasingly realising that that is the sensible way forward in housing policy. The Conservative Government have created those opportunities.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras is locked into his obsession with council housing and with local authorities wanting to build more housing and wanting the patronage that goes with it. That is the old policy and it does not work. It is much better to move housing into the private sector, with the consent of the tenants, where it can benefit from full private sector investment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough raised a particular concern regarding local government finance. Hon. Members will know that, every year, we review the figures for the local government settlement. We try to ensure that we use up-to-date figures that most accurately reflect local authorities' spending needs. There have been a number of serious reviews this year, which we are discussing with local authorities. As I said last year, if we are satisfied that the surveys are providing better-quality, fully worked out information, we shall want to apply it. If we believe that the information is incomplete and needs further work, we shall adopt that course. I note my hon. Friend's concerns, which he has expressed consistently, about the situation in Northamptonshire and the funding of that local authority.

We have sought to bring to local government many new opportunities, a number of which are linked directly to education and the needs of people in the worst communities. We have developed regeneration programmes which have brought training, jobs, learning recovery, housing and town centre development. We have introduced programmes that have enabled local people to decide their own needs rather than having impositions from the top. We have delivered a great deal more opportunity to local government, so that it can develop new means of financing and new partnerships. Those partnerships are crucial for our future.

We have also brought to the rural areas a series of considered measures that will affect the people on whom we depend as the guardians of one of this country's most precious assets: the countryside. Our education measures show, yet again, that the Conservatives are masters of the political agenda. The measures that we propose for local government and the countryside show, once again, that creative thinking comes from Conservative Members.

The tired old nostrums and prejudices and all the old baggage of Labour were rolled into the non—stop rant of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. That shows the inability and the unwilling, debilitating egalitarianism at the soul of the Labour party. We will have nothing to do with it.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 283, Noes 297.

Division No. 1][9.59 pm
Abbott, Ms DianeClelland, David
Adams, Mrs IreneClwyd, Mrs Ann
Ainger, NickCoffey, Ms Ann
Allen, GrahamCohen, Harry
Alton, DavidConnarty, Michael
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Corbett, Robin
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCorbyn, Jeremy
Ashdown, PaddyCorston, Ms Jean
Ashton, JosephCousins, Jim
Austin-Walker, JohnCox, Tom
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Cummings, John
Barnes, HarryCunliffe, Lawrence
Barron, KevinCunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE)
Battle, JohnCunningham, Ms R (Perth Kinross)
Bayley, HughDafis, Cynog
Beggs, RoyDavidson, Ian
Beith, A JDavies, Bryan (Oldham C)
Bell, StuartDavies, Chris (Littleborough)
Benn, TonyDavies, Denzil (Llanelli)
Bennett, Andrew FDavies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bermingham, GeraldDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Berry, RogerDenham, John
Betts, CliveDewar, Donald
Blunkett, DavidDixon, Don
Boateng, PaulDobson, Frank
Bradley, KeithDonohoe, Brian H
Bray, Dr JeremyDowd, Jim
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burden, RichardEagle, Ms Angela
Byers, StephenEastham, Ken
Caborn, RichardEtherington, Bill
Callaghan, JimEvans, John (St Helens N)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Fatchett, Derek
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Faulds, Andrew
Campbell-Savours, D NField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Canavan, DennisFlynn, Paul
Cann, JamieFoster, Derek
Carlile, Alex (Montgomery)Foster, Don (Bath)
Chidgey, DavidFoulkes, George
Chisholm, MalcolmFraser, John
Church, Ms JudithFyfe, Mrs Maria
Clapham, MichaelGalbraith, Sam
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Galloway, George
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Gapes, Mike
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Garrett, John
Gerrard, NeilMaddock, Mrs Diana
Godman, Dr Norman AMahon, Mrs Alice
Godsiff, RogerMandelson, Peter
Golding, Mrs LlinMarek, Dr John
Gordon, Ms MildredMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Graham, ThomasMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Martlew, Eric
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Maxton, John
Grocott, BruceMeacher, Michael
Gunnell, JohnMeale, Alan
Hain, PeterMichael, Alun
Hanson, DavidMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hardy, PeterMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Harman, Ms HarrietMilburn, Alan
Harvey, NickMiller, Andrew
Henderson, DougMitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Heppell, JohnMolyneaux, Sir James
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hodge, Ms MargaretMorgan, Rhodri
Hoey, Miss KateMorley, Elliot
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)Morris, Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Hood, JimmyMorris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hoon, GeoffreyMorris, John (Aberavon)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Mudie, George
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Mullin, Chris
Howells, Dr KimMurphy, Paul
Hoyle, DougNicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Oakes, Gordon
Hughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)O'Hara, Edward
Hutton, JohnOlner, Bill
Illsley, EricO'Neill, Martin
Ingram, AdamOrme, Stanley
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)Paisley, Rev Ian
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)Parry, Robert
Jamieson, DavidPearson, Ian
Janner, GrevillePendry, Tom
Jenkins, Brian D (SE Staffs)Pickthall, Colin
Johnston, Sir RussellPike, Peter L
Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side)Pope, Greg
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)Powell, Sir Raymond (Ogmore)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)
Jones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak)Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd SW)Prescott, John
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Jowell, Ms TessaPurchase, Ken
Keen, AlanQuin, Ms Joyce
Kennedy, Charles (Ross C&S)Randall, Stuart
Kennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen)Raynsford, Nick
Kilfoyle, PeterReid, Dr John
Kirkwood, ArchyRendel, David
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Lewis, TerryRobinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Liddell, Mrs HelenRobinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Livingstone, KenRoche, Mrs Barbara
Lloyd, Tony (Stretf'd)Rogers, Allan
Llwyd, ElfynRooker, Jeff
Loyden, EddieRooney, Terry
Lynne, Ms LizRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McAllion, JohnRoss, William (E Lond'y)
McAvoy, ThomasRowlands, Ted
McCartney, Ian (Makerf'ld)Ruddock, Ms Joan
McCartney, Robert (N Down)Salmond, Alex
McCrea, Rev WilliamSedgemore, Brian
Macdonald, CalumSheerman, Barry
McFall, JohnSheldon, Robert
McKelvey, WilliamShore, Peter
Mackinlay, AndrewSimpson, Alan
McLeish, HenrySkinner, Dennis
Maclennan, RobertSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McMaster, GordonSmith, Chris (Islington S)
McNamara, KevinSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
MacShane, DenisSnape, Peter
Madden, MaxSpearing, Nigel
Squire, Ms R (Dunfermline W)Wallace, James
Steel, Sir DavidWalley, Ms Joan
Steinberg, GerryWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Stevenson, GeorgeWareing, Robert N
Stott, RogerWatson, Mike
Strang, Dr GavinWelsh, Andrew
Straw, JackWicks, Malcolm
Sutcliffe, GerryWigley, Dafydd
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Wilson, Brian
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)Winnick, David
Thurnham, PeterWise, Mrs Audrey
Timms, StephenWorthington, Tony
Tipping, PaddyWray, Jimmy
Touhig, DonWright, Dr Tony
Trickett, JonYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Turner, Dennis
Tyler, PaulTellers for the Ayes:
Vaz, KeithMr. Joe Benton and Mr. Robert Ainsworth.
Walker, Sir Harold
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Clark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd)
Aitken, JonathanClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Alexander, RichardClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Alison, Michael (Selby)Coe, Sebastian
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Congdon, David
Amess, DavidConway, Derek
Ancram, MichaelCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F)
Arbuthnot, JamesCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Cope, Sir John
Ashby, DavidCormack, Sir Patrick
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Couchman, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Cran, James
Baker, Kenneth (Mole V)Currie, Mrs Edwina
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Curry, David
Baldry, TonyDavies, Quentin (Stamf'd)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Davis, David (Boothferry)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Day, Stephen
Bates, MichaelDevlin, Tim
Batiste, SpencerDicks, Terry
Bellingham, HenryDorrell, Stephen
Bendall, VivianDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Beresford, Sir PaulDover, Den
Biffen, JohnDuncan, Alan
Body, Sir RichardDuncan Smith, Iain
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDunn, Bob
Booth, HartleyDurant, Sir Anthony
Boswell, TimDykes, Hugh
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Eggar, Tim
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaElletson, Harold
Bowden, Sir AndrewEmery, Sir Peter
Bowis, JohnEvans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)
Boyson, Sir RhodesEvans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Brandreth, GylesEvans, Nigel (Ribble V)
Brazier, JulianEvans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bright, Sir GrahamEvennett, David
Brooke, PeterFaber, David
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes)Fabricant, Michael
Browning, Mrs AngelaFenner, Dame Peggy
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Budgen, NicholasFishburn, Dudley
Burt, AlistairForman, Nigel
Butcher, JohnForth, Eric
Butler, PeterFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Butterfill, JohnFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Carlisle, John (Luton N)Freeman, Roger
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)French, Douglas
Carrington, MatthewFry, Sir Peter
Carttiss, MichaelGale, Roger
Cash, WilliamGallie, Phil
Channon, PaulGardiner, Sir George
Chapman, Sir SydneyGarel-Jones, Tristan
Churchill, MrGarnier, Edward
Clappison, JamesGill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs CherylKnight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Goodlad, AlastairKnight, Greg (Derby N)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaKnox, Sir David
Gorst, Sir JohnKynoch, George
Grant Sir Anthony (SW Cambs)Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Lamont, Norman
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Lang, Ian
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Grylls, Sir MichaelLegg, Barry
Gummer, JohnLeigh, Edward
Hague, WilliamLennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Hamilton, Sir ArchibaldLester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Lidington, David
Hampson, Dr KeithLilley, Peter
Hanley, JeremyLloyd, Sir Peter (Fareham)
Hannam, Sir JohnLord, Michael
Hargreaves, AndrewLuff, Peter
Harris, DavidLyell, Sir Nicholas
Haselhurst, Sir AlanMacGregor, John
Hawkins, NickMacKay, Andrew
Hawksley, WarrenMaclean, David
Hayes, JerryMcLoughlin, Patrick
Heald, OliverMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Heath, Sir EdwardMadel, Sir David
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidMaitland, Lady Olga
Hendry, CharlesMalone, Gerald
Heseltine, MichaelMans, Keith
Hicks, Sir RobertMarland, Paul
Higgins, Sir TerenceMarlow, Tony
Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test)Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Horam, JohnMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Hordem, Sir PeterMates, Michael
Howard, MichaelMawhinney, Dr Brian
Howell, David (Guildf'd)Mellor, David
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)Merchant, Piers
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)Mills, Iain
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne)Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Hunter, AndrewMoate, Sir Roger
Hurd, DouglasMonro, Sir Hector
Jack, MichaelMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Needham, Richard
Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)Nelson, Anthony
Jessel, TobyNeubert, Sir Michael
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyNewton, Tony
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Nicholls, Patrick
Jones, Robert B (W Herts)Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Jopling, MichaelNorris, Steve
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineOnslow, Sir Cranley
King, TomOppenheim, Phillip
Kirkhope, TimothyOttaway, Richard
Page, RichardStephen, Michael
Pace, JamesStern, Michael
Patrick, Sir IrvineStreeter, Gary
Patten, JohnSumberg, David
Pattie, Sir GeoffreySweeney, Walter
Pawsey, JamesSykes, John
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethTapsell, Sir Peter
Pickles, EricTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Porter, David (Waveney)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Portillo, MichaelTaylor, Sir Teddy
Powell, William (Corby)Temple-Morris, Peter
Rathbone, TimThomason, Roy
Redwood, JohnThompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Renton, TimThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Riddick, GrahamThornton, Sir Malcolm
Robatnan, AndrewTownend, John (Bridlington)
Roberts, Sir WynTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)Tracey, Richard
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Tredinnick, David
Roe, Mrs MarionTrend, Michael
Rowe, AndrewTrotter, Neville
Rumbold, Dame AngelaTwinn, Dr Ian
Sackville, TomVaughan, Sir Gerard
Sainsbury, Sir TimothyWaldegrave, William
Scott, Sir NicholasWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Shaw, David (Dover)Waller, Gary
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Waterson, Nigel
Shephard, Mrs GillianWatts, John
Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)Wells, Bowen
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Whitney, Ray
Shersby, Sir MichaelWhittingdale, John
Sims, Sir RogerWiddecombe, Miss Ann
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)Wilkinson, John
Soames, NicholasWilletts, David
Speed, Sir KeithWilshire, David
Spencer, Sir DerekWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)Wolfson, Mark
Spink, Dr RobertYeo, Tim
Spring, RichardYoung, Sir George
Sproat, Iain
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)Tellers for the Noes:
Stanley, Sir JohnMr. Timothy Wood and Mr. Roger Knapman.
Steen, Anthony