New Clause 16 — Further education institution: hazardous material, &c.

Orders of the Day — Education Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 11:15 pm on 6th February 2002.

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'(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations require the governing body of a further education institution in England to prevent the use in the institution of specified equipment or specified materials without the approval of the Secretary of State.

(2) The Secretary of State may specify equipment or materials under this section only if he thinks the equipment or materials might endanger a person's health or safety.

(3) The National Assembly for Wales may by regulations require the governing body of a further education institution in Wales to prevent the use in the institution of specified equipment or specified materials without the approval of the Assembly.

(4) The National Assembly for Wales may specify equipment or materials under this section only if it thinks the equipment or materials might endanger a person's health or safety.

(5) In this section "further education institution" means an institution within the further education sector.'.—[Mr. Timms.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Question put, That the remaining Government amendments be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 291, Noes 178.

Division number 161

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills, Secretary of State for Education and Skills 11:39 pm, 6th February 2002

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I shall be brief, as I want to give one hon. Member from each of the main Opposition parties time to speak. It is a pleasure for me to begin this debate, but I shall start by offering some thanks to my ministerial team—my hon. Friends the Under–Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the Minister for School Standards and the Under–Secretary of State for Wales—who took the Bill through Standing Committee. I wish to thank also those Officers of the House who, as ever, have helped and guided us, and my officials in the Department.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

The right hon. Lady says that she feels pleasure. Should not she feel shame that the Bill has not been properly discussed in this place?

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills, Secretary of State for Education and Skills

That is a pity. I was just about to thank Opposition Members for—from time to time—engaging in constructive and enjoyable debate. I was not a member of the Standing Committee, but I was told that on several occasions Opposition Members were offered the opportunity to sit later in the evening, but that on every occasion they chose not to do so.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills, Secretary of State for Education and Skills

I shall in a moment.

There have been two days during which to debate the Bill—one of which was extended this evening. To a large extent, the Opposition's use of that time was determined by them. I sat through debate on a string of amendments last night. The Opposition had the choice—

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. How can the Secretary of State get away with misleading the House in such a vile way—[Interruption.]—when the fact is—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to choose his words more carefully.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

How can the Secretary of State equate what she says with what actually happened today, when the Government spent 198 minutes on a motion and the Opposition Chief Whip had to move the closure so that we could begin to make a little progress? It is outrageous for the right hon. Lady to say what she is saying.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's feelings on the matter, but it is a matter for debate not for the Chair.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills, Secretary of State for Education and Skills

Those children deserve a good standard of education in our schools—[Hon. Members: "Give way!"] I am not giving way. If hon. Gentlemen will shut up, I shall give Mr. Brady time to respond, but the more I have to give way, the less time there will be for the debate.

The Bill is important. It builds on the success of the past four years of Labour Government. It means that we can build on the successes in primary education, recognised by the Ofsted annual report yesterday and the PISA—programme for international student assessment—report published at the end of last year.

The Bill recognises that we have a hugely accountable schools service. We know where our strengths lie and the Bill allows us to use our time and energy to provide greater support for those schools that are failing, and to free up the school system so that schools can be the initiators of reform. We have an accountable system and, in coming years, I look forward to being able to build on our success, working on the ideas that come from our best teachers, our best school leaders and our strongest local education authorities so that they lead the next generation of educational reform.

I am also delighted that we have taken powers in the Bill to free up the curriculum, especially for 14 to 19-year-olds. In future months, I look forward to debates in the House about better opportunities for the many who have failed in the past.

In essence, the measure will ensure that every child who attends a school in this country has the opportunity to succeed and flourish; to build on their talents; and to be taught in well-led schools by teachers who are well trained, with the chance of professional development. During the past four years, we have made tremendous progress. That progress is recognised not only by Labour Members, but by parents throughout the country.

I have every confidence that the Bill provides the measures that we need to ensure that we deliver what we are concerned about—not counting up the number of minutes of Members' speeches, but making sure that our teachers and school leaders have the tools to do the job.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Secretary of State for Education 11:44 pm, 6th February 2002

On Second Reading, the Bill was opposed not only by Conservative Members but by nearly everyone else in education, because it concentrates on structures not standards. It will do nothing much to improve the standard of education.

The Bill has not been improved by the parliamentary process, despite the efforts of Members of all the Opposition parties in Committee, because of the Government's contempt for the House and their attempt to deny debate at every stage.

What the Secretary of State said about the Standing Committee is a travesty of the truth. What happened in Committee was that, apart from imposing too strict a guillotine on the entire timetable, the Government also imposed intermediate guillotines, which ensured that there was not enough time for debating every controversial clause in the Bill.

That is how the Government behaved in Committee and they have continued to behave as outrageously on Report. Today, 17 groups of amendments were on the amendment paper. We have dealt with three of those groups and we finished with the first group only because the Opposition Chief Whip moved a closure. The Government were happy and prepared to spend the entire day and night discussing one group of amendments, leaving many important issues entirely undebated.

The Government will also know that, partly because we have not been able to have a vote on a matter of particular interest to Welsh Members, which was also not debated in Committee, the entire part of the Bill dealing with Wales—a significant part—has not been discussed at any stage in this House. That is a complete insult.

We must now invite another place to consider how well this House has done its duty. At least the Government have failed so far in their plans completely to emasculate their lordships House as well, so we can still invite their lordships to do their job fully and thoroughly, not least because of the areas that we have failed to debate tonight, which cover an enormous range of policies that are deeply important to schools, parents and teachers.

We have not discussed the Government's proposals on sixth forms or schools' powers to form companies—a radical and revolutionary proposal that the Government welcome and that everyone agrees is one of the most important changes to affect our schools—[Interruption.] The Government seem to think that it is funny that we have not debated it. Also, we did not debate the governance and financing of maintained schools, schools forums or admissions policy. If the Government do not think that admissions policy is important to every parent, they are even more out of touch than I thought. We have not discussed the proposals on school organisation, which would allow the setting up of academies and other new schools.

Finally, we have not discussed the curriculum, although a huge number of amendments were tabled that would change it. Nothing could be more at the heart of our school system than what is taught and learned in our schools.

The Government have failed to allow any proper discussion in the House and it is a disgrace. The Secretary of State should realise that in the long run this is not just a parliamentary matter. Clearly, it is serious that the House is held in contempt by the Executive of the day, but it is more than a parliamentary matter. It will affect everyone in the country. We will be piling up problems for our schools and their teachers and pupils because the House will be passing bad and inadequate law.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Does my hon. Friend also agree that schools are dreading the regulatory impact of much of the legislation. What really matters to head teachers and parents in my constituency is, for example, the impact of the decriminalisation of cannabis on the sixth form life of their schools. We have not even discussed that tonight.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The Government could have given the House the opportunity to debate that and many other important measures. They have deliberately failed to do so. The tests that the House and the country will set the Bill are: will it encourage a single extra teacher to stay in the profession; will it cut the red tape that is driving teachers out of our class rooms; and will it improve discipline in our schools? The answer to all those questions is a very clear no.

Conservative Members would have welcomed moves to give more freedom to schools to improve standards. In our period in office, we gave schools those freedoms. Those are the freedoms that this Government have taken away. The Bill will increase the centralisation of our education system. Every important decision will have to go across the desk of the Secretary of State. That is not the way to run a modern, flexible education system.

Apart from the fact that the Bill is another turn of the ratchet in making Parliament irrelevant, we now know that not only are the Government holding this House in contempt tonight, but that they propose to do so through the institutions of the Bill. The fact is that the Bill will take away the power of the House to pass primary legislation on important details. The Government will deal with all important details by secondary legislation. They have amply shown their contempt for the House, and the Bill shows that even further.

The Bill was inadequate on Second Reading, and the Government have conspired to ensure that the House cannot fulfil its function of improving it. For the sake of our schools, we must ask the Members of another place to do their best to reduce the damage. The Bill was inadequate; it is still inadequate, and I invite those hon. Members from all parties who care about our schools and our children's education to reject it.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham 11:50 pm, 6th February 2002

An important aspect of the Bill is the introduction of citizenship as a foundation subject. That goes to the heart of the Government's agenda to involve children in these institutions and in society generally. However, I am concerned about a matter that specially relates to Wales. Citizenship is not included as a foundation subject in the national curriculum for Wales. That is a matter of concern, and I should like to flag it up briefly now, because the National Assembly for Wales has the power to incorporate citizenship under the Bill and by the powers that have been devolved to the Assembly. It is important that the Assembly buys into the concept of citizenship and educates our children about our institutions and their duties in society. It is unfortunate that that issue has not been considered in as much detail as it ought to have been. It is important that the Assembly closely considers the issue, and I hope that it will introduce the measures that apply in England.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 11:52 pm, 6th February 2002

It is interesting that Ian Lucas has had to raise an issue on Third Reading that, frankly, should have been raised in Committee, but we were not able to discuss it then.

The great sadness for me now is that we were promised in the Green Paper and the White Paper that the Bill would revolutionise secondary education. We were told that this would be the big reform of secondary education, but what we have is a hollow sham of a Bill. At the end of Second Reading, the debates in Committee and, I presume, Third Reading, we still do not know what it actually means.

In reality, all hon. Members should recognise the fact that this is the first Education Bill that establishes a national system of education, controlled and ordered by the Secretary of State. She will have all the powers necessary to do whatever she wants in future. However, a Labour Government will not always be in power—a Liberal Democrat Government soon will be—and the powers that the Secretary of State will be given under the Bill can be used not in a benign way, but in a pernicious way by other Governments in future.

When we finish with the Bill tonight, all hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee and were involved in the debates on Report will know that the Bill's character will be determined by regulation and secondary legislation. That is the heart of the Bill, and most people will know nothing about it until it starts to appear on head teachers' desks in the form of regulations produced by the Department for Education and Skills.

The Bill will totally bypass local education authorities. Perhaps Conservative Members think that a good idea—that is a fair point, which they can make—but the Secretary of State has further neutered the powers of LEAs. They are not allowed to innovate; all they have to do is facilitate. Powers over their budgets have been taken from them and the Secretary of State can determine what they spend on their schools. What is the point of having local authorities involved if the Secretary of State can dictate from the centre what schools will do, how and when they will do it and how much they will have to spend?

The Bill promises greater diversity. There will be greater diversity—that is correct—but it will be diversity without equality. By the end of this Parliament, 50 per cent. of our schools will be specialist schools, but 50 per cent. of them will not be. They will be something else—presumably still "bog standard" in the Government's terms. That disastrous slur has never been removed.

Schools will obtain more autonomy, but only those 10 per cent. that the Secretary of State believes should get it. Schools will have greater powers to innovate, but they will not be the schools that need to innovate the most. Only the ones that the Secretary of State chooses will be able to innovate. There will be academies, but the House does not know what form they will take. Companies will be able to run schools and those companies can be traded on the stock market. We know that, but we do not know what else is involved.

This is a sham of a Bill of which the Secretary of State should be ashamed. Liberal Democrats will certainly vote against its Third Reading.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr 11:56 pm, 6th February 2002

If democracy in England has been poorly served by the way in which the Government have dealt with the Bill, democracy in Wales has been utterly failed. Education has always been at the heart of our concerns in Wales, because we have always had a historical commitment to state education as a means of personal and collective advancement.

On the whole of Report, we had just six minutes to deal with the clauses relating to Wales. More clauses relate to Wales than there are clauses relating to England, but we did not have a vote on the issues that affect Wales. The Minister also misrepresented the views of the trade unions in Wales on the devolution of pay and conditions. That was absolutely scandalous. We heard from the Secretary of State for Health the other week that he did not "do" Wales. The virus of Taffism has now apparently spread to the Department for Education and Skills.

We are glad that there are enabling powers in the Bill that will allow us to reject new Labour's policies for education in Wales: no to naming and shaming of schools; no to specialist schools; no to school league tables; no to privatisation. I look forward to the day when we have a Government in the Assembly who will use those enabling powers to give us a policy that is made in Wales for the people of Wales and that will drive up standards for the people of Wales.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire 11:57 pm, 6th February 2002

The Secretary of State has taken to herself powers that many tyrants have not had. As a result of the Bill, she will be able to dictate. As Mr. Willis accurately pointed out, we shall have to wait for the orders and we shall have little chance to discuss them. In fact, by diktat, the Secretary of State will impose things on schools.

Anyone who is truly concerned about the quality of education in this country and who has a real concern for parliamentary democracy should leave the House tonight thoroughly ashamed at the way in which the Bill has been steamrollered through by an intolerant, arrogant and appalling Government who do not really care for the quality of education and who do not have a single care for the quality of legislation.

These proceedings have been an affront to the democratic dignity of everyone of our constituents in whichever constituency we represent on whatever side of the House. No Labour Member can go back with pride to his constituents and say, "We have discussed education; we have improved the Bill; and we have put through the House a Bill that has received proper scrutiny, examination and a thorough discussion so that it will raise standards for you. We can explain why." Labour Members have voted like zombies; they have a supported a Bill that has not been properly examined; they should be ashamed of themselves.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 11:59 pm, 6th February 2002

What is going to be taught in the citizenship classes about the democratic system of the House? How will the Secretary of State explain that we did not discuss the key issues of the Bill? How will citizenship be taught by a Government who hate the House of Commons and give us no chance to discuss the issues? A generation has been betrayed by the Secretary of State and the Government. She is establishing a series of classes in every one of which children will learn of the shame of tonight, of the shame of the Secretary of State and of the shame of the Government.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

Head teachers want a measure that will reduce bureaucracy, ease teachers' work loads and sort out the problems of discipline in the classroom. The Bill will do none of those—

It being Twelve o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

The House divided: Ayes 287, Noes 179.

Division number 162

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.