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Hi! It is a great honour to open this debate on Her Majesty's Gracious Speech, the fifth and last of this Parliament. This Gracious Speech is based on the firm belief that the Government have a vital role to play in securing economic prosperity and building a fair society, with measures to secure our economic recovery and financial responsibility; to renew our democracy and this Parliament through political and constitutional reform; to continue, as we are debating today, our investment and reform of public services-in health, with a new series of powerful patient rights and wider provision of free personal care as a stepping-stone to the creation of the first ever national care service, and in education, with every pupil and every parent to be guaranteed a good local school, a balanced curriculum, tough home-school agreements and discipline and catch-up support for those who fall behind.
These clear entitlements and guarantees are essential for a strong economy and a fair society in which everyone accepts their responsibilities. They are possible only now because of our sustained investment and reform over the past 12 years. They are tailored to the needs of individual families; they are led locally by doctors, nurses, teachers and head teachers, with Government stepping in only as a last resort. These guarantees are all actively opposed by the Conservatives and would not appear in any Queen's Speech introduced by Her Majesty's Opposition.
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Will the Secretary of State give a definition of what a local community school is when a community has a school that the Tories want to shut, but the community wants to keep?
I know that there is some history behind that intervention and meetings with the Schools Minister have taken place on these matters. It is important that local authorities are leaders in their commissioning role in their local areas, but in doing so they must ensure that they put the best interests of pupils and parents first and consult widely. I have to say that no Conservative authority in the country needs to be at all embarrassed about guarantees to ensure good local schools and catch-up tuition. If local authorities are not embarrassed by matching those pledges, why is Michael Gove so embarrassed by the idea of these pledges and guarantees? It is very hard to understand.
May I ask the Secretary of State how meaningful these guarantees are? Let us take the fifth pupil guarantee, which says that
"every 11-to-14 year-old enjoys relevant and challenging learning in all subjects" and that this pledge
"will be phased in by September 2010".
How many schools are not already meeting the fifth pupil guarantee?
I shall come on to the detail of all the guarantees in a moment, but on that particular one, we are announcing today that we have reformed the primary curriculum. We have also reformed the key stage 3 curriculum for 11 to 14-year-olds to make sure that there is teacher discretion, while ensuring at the same time that all schools are delivering a balanced curriculum. That is there in the guarantees and I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome it.
My constituency has historically had low income, low aspiration and low educational achievement. As a result of the sustained investment going into our local schools there has been a huge improvement, but it still lags behind the national average. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the measures in the Queen's Speech will go a long way to addressing the social and economic issues that hinder a child's educational performance to complement the investment that we have put into teachers and the bricks and mortar of the schools?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is not good enough for a parent to know that in their area the average child is doing well or that most schools are doing well; what the parent wants to know is that their child is getting support and their school will be improved. That is what we guarantee in the Children, Schools and Families Bill with powers to step in if it is not happening. That is what parents want-not a free market free-for-all, which is what the Conservatives are proposing.
Let us be clear that none of these guarantees could have been delivered or even promised with any credibility back in 1997 because we inherited a school system and national health service that had been subject to underinvestment for decades. Let us not forget that in 1995 it was a Conservative Government who introduced and then failed to deliver an 18-month target for NHS waiting lists- [Interruption.] Yes, it was an 18-month, not 18-week, target that they introduced but failed to deliver in 1995. In education, too, in 1997, we had leaking roofs, pupils using photocopied textbooks, a teaching profession demoralised, a third of 11-year-olds leaving primary school not secure in the basics and half of our secondary schools not even reaching the basic benchmark of 30 per cent. gaining five good GCSEs, including English and maths.
The fact is that over the past 12 years we have had over 80,000 more doctors, 40,000 more nurses and 100 new hospitals. We are not failing to meet an 18-month waiting list target; we are delivering an 18-week target nationally. That is what our investment and reform have delivered. As for schools, we have 40,000 more teachers, more than 180,000 teaching assistants, 4,000 new or refurbished schools-the biggest school building programme since the Victorian era-and over 100,000 more children leaving primary school secure in the basics. Under the Conservatives, one in two schools did not make the grade. Now, just one in 12 do not make the grade. We will get there by 2011, because this party does not want a free market free-for-all. What we want is for every child to deliver in every school. That is our record.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State is as concerned as I am about the fact that the number of children in poverty has risen each year for the past three years, and the fact that the gap between children receiving free school meals and those from wealthier backgrounds has not narrowed under the current Government. May I put it to him that, rather than trying to find political dividing lines, he should try to make common cause with those of us on both sides of the House who wish to see disadvantage tackled and not used as a political football?
I fear that the hon. Gentleman is as confused as the Conservatives' Front-Bench spokesman. Yesterday on the "Today" programme, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath began an interview at 7.10 am by saying that our Child Poverty Bill was a gimmick and a political device. By 7.15 am, he was saying that he would support it.
The fact is that between 1979 and 1997 child poverty doubled. The fact is that over the past 12 years the number of children in poverty has fallen by more than 600,000. We will do more. What I want is a cross-party consensus that child poverty should be eradicated. If Mr. Stuart is willing to join that consensus, he should know that it is not about political dividing lines, but about Governments' delivering fairness and equality. He should be supporting that.
I know that Opposition Members find this very difficult, particularly the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. At every stage, his approach to our more teachers, more investment and raising of standards is to run down the achievements of teachers, head teachers and our young people each year. Every few weeks, we hear a repetition of the usual litany from the hon. Gentleman. He comes along to the House, reads out what he calls our Mickey Mouse test questions in GCSE exams, and tries to use them in order to demonstrate that there has been dumbing down, that the exams are too easy, and that there is no rigour in our state education system.
I have to say that that is total and absolute nonsense. I have been checking exam papers over the last few weeks. I had a look at the GCSE additional science and biology paper. First question, first page:
"Name the type of enzyme that digests stains containing fats."
It sounds quite difficult to me. Does the hon. Gentleman have an answer? I should be happy to take an intervention from him.
Right. Let us try another one: "Explain how a fluoride atom can change into a fluoride ion." The hon. Gentleman is well known as an erudite and intellectual man. What is the answer? Let me repeat: "Explain how a fluoride atom can change into a fluoride ion." Does he want to try that? Does he want to try?
Third one, then. [Interruption.] Look, to be honest, these are really hard. I do not know the answers; I am asking whether the hon. Gentleman knows the answers. The third question comes from the mathematics exam, GCSE, June 2008: "Work out 33/4 minus 1" Does the hon. Gentleman want to try? I asked the Minister for Schools and Learners a moment ago. He worked it out as two and seven twentieths.. I do hope that he is right. The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs checked it as well, and he says that that is the right answer.
Hard questions, Mr. Speaker-hard questions in tough exams in which our young people are doing very well. But I have to say that there is one question to which I do know the answer. Why are more young people leaving school with good grades? It is not because there is dumbing down and the exams are getting easier; it is because of the hard work of pupils and parents and teachers and head teachers, and the investment and reform that the hon. Gentleman's party has opposed consistently over the past 12 years.
I have listened to the Secretary of State's end-of-the-pier turns with great interest, but he is being very partisan. We want to be constructive. Indeed, the whole country wants us to be constructive on the important issue of education. He has tried to entertain us, but we need some facts. Let me give him some.
More than 50 per cent. of pupils are still not obtaining five good GCSEs including English and maths. Given that all those pupils have been educated entirely under a Labour Government, will the Government accept that their policies have failed and that head teachers and teachers must be given more trust and freedom to be able to raise standards for the whole country?
I will come on to discuss the free market-and actually, when we look into the detail, rather interesting-policies of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, but as Mr. Evennett raises the issue, let me say that, yes, I am not satisfied, because 50 per cent. of pupils getting five good GCSEs including English and maths is not good enough, but the proportion was not 50 per cent. in 1997; it was a third of pupils-about 33 or 34 per cent.-12 years ago. We have made real progress with investment and reform; there are rising standards and more good teachers. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford should be backing our reforms and proposals, rather than trying to run them down for party political and partisan reasons, contrary to the facts and the reality.
The Leader of the Opposition said yesterday that he was embarrassed-that we were trying to embarrass him. There is nothing embarrassing in this Conservative Front-Bench team saying, "We will guarantee parents and pupils a good school." There is nothing embarrassing in it saying, "For 16-year-olds, we will guarantee a school, college or apprenticeship place." The reason why the hon. Member for Surrey Heath is embarrassed is that the shadow Chancellor will not let him make the pledge. That is why under a Tory Government there would be young people leaving school and not getting a school, college or apprenticeship place. That is why he is embarrassed. Conservative Back Benchers should not be embarrassed, however; they should be pressing their Front-Bench team to get in the real world.
The reality is that we are the party that is more ambitious. We are the ones who, on this track record, want to do more. We know that we need excellence for all, rather than just some, children in our schools and school system. The only way to do that-as the Bill, which the Conservative party should support, sets out-is on the basis of investing in public services and having clear entitlements for public service users. It also involves backing local leaders-the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford mentioned this-to deliver services by devolving power, responsibility and accountability, and matching that with stronger accountability through the report card, as well as, where needed and as a last resort, not leaving things to the free market free-for-all, but stepping in and demanding the best for every pupil in every school. That is what our guarantees are all about.
Let me say something about health, which will also be debated over the course of today. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is now proposing to back patients by turning targets into entitlements-an entitlement for all NHS patients to start treatment within 18 weeks, for them to see a cancer specialist within two weeks when referred by their GP, and where that is not possible, for the NHS to take all steps to find an alternative provider. He is also proposing a new legal right to an NHS health check every five years for 40 to 74-year-olds, and to lay the foundations for a national care service, starting with free personal care for those with the greatest needs. Those are guarantees which, aside from the political games being played, will have families in homes around the country saying, "Yes, that is what we want." That is what a Labour Government will deliver.
In schools, too-
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman shortly, but he asked me about our schools guarantee, so let me set out some details on that first. In schools too- [Interruption.] I would take a question from the Liberal Democrat Health spokesman, but unfortunately he has not turned up. I will take a question on schools in a moment.
We will now enshrine in law our guarantees to pupils and parents. They include providing catch-up help for any child who falls behind in reading, writing or maths during primary school and, for any child not getting to level 4, an entitlement to 10 hours one-to-one or small group tuition in year 7, with a report to parents at the end of year 7. That is not a gimmick; it is a real and tangible guarantee, which should be supported by any party that wants to invest in education for all children, rather than just some. Secondly-
In a moment. Secondly, there will be a personal tutor for every secondary school pupil, who will be a point of contact for the pupil and their parent throughout their time in secondary school. There will also be strong and effective discipline through tough home-school agreements so every family knows their responsibilities and schools have the power to take action to deliver discipline where needed. There is also-I have mentioned this before-our September guarantee to school leavers, and now our new January guarantee of a place in education, which we will deliver and the Conservative party would deny. That is not politics; it is about the lives of young people. It is about their chance of having a job, a career or an apprenticeship, which we will invest in and the Conservative party wants to cut. That is the reality.
May I bring the Secretary of State back to the issue of health? A moment ago he was chiding the Opposition parties for not welcoming the proposals on personal care. What, then, does he say about the comments that Lord Lipsey made overnight? He said that "one of the consolations" of his Government losing the next election is that it would sweep away
"one of the most irresponsible acts to be put forward by a prime minister in...recent history".
I was not chiding people for making comments about health; I was chiding the Liberal Democrats for failing to have a health spokesman on the Front Bench. As for social care, we are making a commitment now, with money now, to give support now in their homes to the most vulnerable people in our society. The hon. Gentleman should be backing them as we move forward to the national care service, on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is consulting. The hon. Gentleman should be supporting what a progressive Government do, rather than opposing it and playing politics with the regressive Government that the Opposition would provide.
Not for a moment, and I will leave my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to answer those questions when he winds up later. I could not begin even to unpack that analogy, let alone know what the hell it means. What I would say is that we and Lord Lipsey are both clear that we want decent care for people in their homes. We will deliver it because we will invest in resources. The Opposition would not deliver it because they would cut resources; that is the difference.
Let me deal with entitlements and how they will be enforced, which has been an issue. We expect in the vast majority of cases the concerns of parents, if they arise, to be resolved at school level, and that is an issue for personal tutors, heads and governors, with the parents. We legislated in the last Session for the seeking of redress, as a last resort, from the local government ombudsman. I would like to make it clear that, for any parent who is entitled to catch-up tuition for their child and is not getting it, we are announcing today that local authorities will have a duty to ensure that there is alternative provision outside the school, if that is needed, to get a child on track. Parents want tough discipline and to know that if their child falls behind, they will get the help. We will guarantee that, and as I said, there should be a consensus on this matter.
I have taken enough interventions; I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a second.
Our "21st century schools" White Paper also sets out a significant devolution of power and responsibility to head teachers. We are going to implement Jim Rose's review of the primary curriculum and create more space for teachers to be able to deliver that curriculum. We will introduce a new licence to practise for teachers, similar to that held by other high-status professionals such as doctors and lawyers. We will put the wider elements of personal, social and health education on a statutory footing, guaranteeing for the first time that all children are receiving sex and relationship education, with the parental opt-out lowered to 15. We will make the process of establishing an academy easier and reduce bureaucracy, so that all academies are guaranteed charitable status, and we will introduce a new registration system for home educators. I am told by the Opposition that there is nothing in this Bill. These are radical reforms, delivering for parents and schools the support they need to deliver for every child. As I said, the Opposition should be supporting them, rather than playing politics with this Bill.
Before I move on, let me turn to accountability. We will match these new flexibilities by strengthening school accountability in our school report card, which will include information on attainment but also set out for parents how well their school is doing for every child, in stretching the most able, and in areas such as discipline, sport and health. Because parents are clear that they want to know how their children and local primary schools are doing, I have announced in a written statement this morning that, following the recommendation of our expert group on assessment, we are, of course, retaining key stage 2 tests in English and maths, and I have today approved the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency's choice of the preferred test operator-Edexcel-to deliver English and maths tests for 11-year-olds in 2010. We will also-again, implementing the recommendations of the expert group-publish teacher assessment data for pupils in year 6 alongside those externally marked tests, and from 2011 we will introduce a new form of local moderation of teacher assessment as we build confidence in teacher assessment, alongside that objective information for parents.
Will the Secretary of State ask his colleague the Secretary of State for Health to step in to stop immediately the proposed cuts to accident and emergency services at the King George hospital, which serves my constituency, as well as that of Mike Gapes?
The hon. Gentleman has asked his question and the best thing would be for the Secretary of State for Health to answer it later. Obviously, I do not know the details of the case, but I should say that it is the extra investment in doctors and nurses and in our accident and emergency units across the country that is delivering the improvements in waiting times and in health care for people in our country.
I wish to discuss a question that goes to the heart of the debates that we will have in the coming months and of the issue raised by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford relating to school improvement: what happens when leadership is not strong, when school rolls are falling and when a school is struggling to hire a head of maths or English? In such circumstances, parents are right to say that they want action, which is why in this Bill we will provide stronger powers for parents to demand change from local areas. In addition, over the past two years we have challenged governing bodies and local authorities to drive improvement and radical change where it is needed.
As I said, that has delivered huge results. In 1997, more than 1,600 schools were not meeting the basic benchmark-that was what we inherited-but 638 schools were doing so when we launched our national challenge two years ago and as a result of £400 million of money that we are investing the figure is now 270. We are not now talking about one in two, but one in 12 and we will get the number down to zero by 2011. My message to the small number of councils that do not act and drag their feet is that there is no excuse for that and we must improve every school in every area.
We are clear that that improvement must be led by the schools themselves, local commissioners must step in where action is not being taken and we have powers and are taking further powers to demand that they act where progress is not being made. In July, when we published the White Paper, I told the House that I was concerned about school improvement in Leicester, Blackpool and Gloucestershire, and I asked independent expert advisers to report on what more could be done. Today, I have accepted and published the reports on Blackpool and Gloucestershire, where, with the full agreement of those local authorities, we are now moving ahead on school improvement, new academies and new national challenge trusts. We will receive the reports on Leicester, Kent and Suffolk shortly.
In addition, the Minister for Schools and Learners has today written tailored letters to a further 30 local authorities, which contain 38 national challenge schools where we are concerned that the action we want is not being taken. We have particular concerns about four of those 30 and we will need to know that there is a plan in place by Christmas. If there is not, we will use the powers that will commence in January to demand improvement in those schools and we will expect the local authority to issue a warning notice.
We are also particularly concerned about progress in Dudley, where there were plans for an academy but for some reason that I do not fully understand the Conservative administration in that local authority has decided that an academy may not be the right approach to take. I am sending in an expert adviser to see what has happened, what has gone wrong, who has been advising the local authority on its plans, whether the authority is getting the wrong advice and whether, in fact, we should be moving forward with this. We will see what the expert adviser tells us when a report is made to us by Christmas. If the hon. Member for Surrey Heath wishes to clarify the point, I would be happy to take an intervention now.
I thank the Secretary of State for his speech. Does he agree that the 1,600 failing schools in 1997 were directly attributable to significant areas of deprivation throughout this country? Would he like to say a few words about how this Government have tackled that deprivation, which has led to our having improved education in areas that the Conservative party regarded as "no-go" zones?
The hon. Gentleman shouts from a sedentary position that the gap has widened, but that is categorically untrue-the gap has narrowed over the past 12 years. We need to look at the facts, about which my hon. Friend was right. In 1997, half the secondary schools were below the benchmark, but two thirds of the pupils in those schools came from areas of below average income. Children from low-income families in lower-income areas were disproportionately losing out from Conservative education policy. Not only have we acted at the school level, but we are now saying that any child who falls behind will get extra help. That is the only way to close those gaps in attainment. It is a scar on our society, as it has been for generations, that children in poor areas do less well. The gap is narrowing, although there is more to do, but it will not narrow if we go back to the policies that we had before 1997- [ Interruption. ] It is narrowing.
I am working with local government across the country to drive up standards and improve schools. In the case of Dudley, we are now sending in the national adviser with the agreement of Dudley council. I am grateful for the council's support. We are working with Conservative councils, Labour councils and Liberal councils across the country to introduce academies and national challenge trusts: Labour councils such as Nottingham, Salford and Hackney; Conservative councils such as East Sussex and Coventry; we even have a Liberal council working with us in Hull, which is a great thing to see.
I believe that we have emerging cross-party consensus in our country across local government-among Labour representatives, Conservatives and Liberals-about what we can do together to improve schools. However, that consensus is not shared in this House. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath disagrees with all the Conservative councillors who are working with us. He says that there is no role for local government in driving up standards. He expects parents on their own to have the time and the know-how to set up their own schools.
I will not.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath will not match our investment in front-line public services or support our guarantees-
On top of the investment that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath will not match, he will cut £200 million from the Sure Start budget, slash our school building programme by £4.5 billion, break our promise on pay and conditions to teachers and head teachers-which he says he will scrap, along with all the benefits that we have had in working hours through the national agreement-and refuse to match our September and January guarantees to parents.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members frequently do not represent the sort of constituencies that we represent? They therefore do not have an understanding that some parents are incapable of helping their children, sometimes because they are on drugs and sometimes because they simply do not have any English. We do not want that sort of situation, but we are in it, and I do not think that there is a magic-wand solution to it. Some of our schools are doing wonderful work with these children. I have three schools where 95 per cent. of pupils enter without a word of English, yet many of those kids are ready to take A-levels at 18. We have to look for value added, and these are very difficult circumstances.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The only way to deal with this is to start with the earliest years. That is why investment in Sure Start is so important and why we have to engage parents early in primary and secondary school. As I know, because my hon. Friend and I have visited schools together, that means getting the parents involved and sometimes helping them with their learning, and also saying to every parent, "You have to face up to your responsibilities and support your child." If we do that, we can make great progress.
It is true that more Labour Members have more experience of those challenges and difficulties. I thought the Leader of the Opposition was very candid yesterday when he said there were almost no Conservative voters in the whole city of Glasgow. That is probably true of a number of inner-city areas around the country- [ Interruption. ] I apologise; let me set the record straight. There were actually 95 supporters of the Conservative party in Glasgow, North-East. I apologise to the Hansard writers for that slip and I am pleased to clarify it.
I said earlier that these guarantees are not being supported by those who sit on the Opposition Front Bench. Mr. Lansley has made it clear that he opposes our 18-week guarantee and our commitment to allow patients to see a cancer specialist in two weeks. I believe that for about an hour and a half yesterday the shadow Chief Secretary said that the Conservative party would back the two-week guarantee but was then reoriented over the course of the afternoon and came back into line, I would guess after a conversation with the shadow Chancellor.
I have to say that I am puzzled; why are the Conservatives not supporting these guarantees? Why are they giving in to those with vested interests and to GPs, rather than putting the interests of patients first? After all, the Leader of the Opposition said that he supports the NHS. He even elevated it to a cast-iron guarantee-or should I say an "iron-cast guarantee" as I am on the Government Benches? Whatever; he will drop it soon. We know how worthless cast-iron guarantees are from the Leader of the Opposition.
Labour Members see in Conservative health policy the influence of the right and the straitjacket that it is putting on the party leadership. Back in August, I remember that the Conservative MEP for South East England, Daniel Hannan, said that the NHS was a "60-year mistake". To be fair, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire has made his views clear. He has distanced himself from the views of Mr. Hannan, MEP, and I accept that and it would be wrong for me to use Mr. Hannan's views and directly attribute them to the hon. Gentleman. I will not.
The problem is that the issue of Mr. Hannan is rather more difficult for the shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families than for the shadow Secretary of State for Health, because he is rather more of an admirer of him. They are fellow neo-conservatives, fellow Eurosceptics, fellow members of organisations and intellectual soul mates. In fact, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath was listed as a supporter of a book published last year called "The Plan" written by Mr. Hannan and Mr. Carswell. It set out a very different legislative programme with his support, calling for the NHS to be replaced by a system of insurance and for the Firearms Acts to be abolished, saying that Criminal Records Bureau checks poison society and advocating withdrawal from the EU. The interesting-
That is not a point of order for the Chair, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well. It is a point about the expression of frustration.
I am not going to be neutral, Mr. Speaker. I am going to stand up for parents and pupils in our country and to expose the difference between our Queen's Speech and that which the Opposition would propose. That is the debate that we will have in this House.
It is important that I should set out these points in the debate on the Queen's Speech so that we understand the basis for the debate. The publication that was produced last year is not the only joint publication to which the hon. Member for Surrey Heath has put his name along with Mr. Hannan. There is another book co-authored by the shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Hannan, MEP, and the shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. It was published in 2005 and is called "Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party". It sets out some really interesting ideas. Does he remember? Let me prompt him.
The book says that our NHS
"fails to meet public expectations" and is
"no longer relevant in the 21st century".
I shall not make a big deal of that because I know that the shadow Secretary of State for Health does not agree with Mr. Hannan's view, although I do not know whether he has had that conversation with the shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
I think that the chapter on education in this 2005 book is particularly interesting. It has the normal sweeping attack on the "failing" state education system-we expect that. It also makes it explicit that we should restrict excellence to the few rather than broaden it. It states:
"Too many children do too many exams, all designed to get too many of them into university, where there are too many degrees on offer to too many students."
That is the description used by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath-it is very interesting. The book also states:
"The National Curriculum-designed to stop wacky Left-wing teachers filling children's heads with nonsense-has been captured by the very people it was supposed to frustrate"-
I think that means the Minister for Schools and Learners.
"It is now a principal method by which the Left-wing educational establishment imposes its orthodoxies on schools" and states:
"The National Curriculum should be abolished."
That is very interesting.
The comments are most interesting on the subject of Sweden. Let me quote:
"In Sweden...chains of profit-making schools, educating tax-funded pupils, are a particular feature of the system."
It goes on:
"Financiers looking for a return on investments are the natural source of the capital needed for the establishment of new schools, which would otherwise have to come from the taxpayer; and"- this is most interesting-
"shareholders are the most effective guarantee of high standards and good management."
It then states that
"there can be no objection to the profit principle in education."
That is what this book says, and it contains policy proposals to which the shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families put his name in 2005, unlike the shadow Secretary of State for Health, who has been doing some distancing of himself from Mr. Hannan and his book.
On the national curriculum, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath has been clear: he wants all primary and secondary schools to opt out of the national curriculum altogether- [ Interruption. ] The Conservatives do not like this. I know that it is not very comfortable, but we shall carry on. The hon. Gentleman says that schools should be teaching history and phonics, but he also says they should opt out of the very curriculum in which the phonics and history will be included-totally incoherent.
On the issue of profit, the hon. Gentleman has been a little less clear over the past few months. If we want to follow his advance thinking, the important person to read is his other intellectual soul mate, the editor of The Spectator, who has said:
"It is my understanding that Cameron has agreed: he wants an English education industry. An industry needs to make profit...Until last week, I saw a flaw in the Tory plan. They were going to ban anyone from making a profit out of a school. I was wrong. From my conversations last week, I'm confident Cameron will let the new schools make a profit. I'm told it will be called a 'management fee'. They can call it 'Louise' if they like because it will give the go-ahead to what we need."
That is the Opposition's schools policy. That is what they are briefing to their friends in the press. I hope the hon. Gentleman will come clean in his speech today. That is the truth. It is not about tough regulation and accountability, but about wholesale deregulation. It is not about guarantees to parents and pupils, but about a free market free-for-all. It is not about putting the needs of children first, but about putting profits first. That is Tory education policy.
No, I will not.
This is the choice. Do we build on our progress? Do we continue our front-line investment? Do we back head teachers and teachers? Do we guarantee high-quality public services? Or do we turn back the clock and go back to a Government who will have longer waiting lists, with the vulnerable not helped? Do we go back to a world in which parents are told, "Either you set up your own school or your children will be left to wither and decline"? Do we go back to an unfair, unfunded free market experiment, in which an education industry and profits come before parents and pupils? That is the choice. That is the difference. That is the debate for the coming months and I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
It is always a pleasure to follow the Secretary of State in the debate on the Queen's Speech, not least because the Gracious Speech had his fingerprints all over it. It was, in every sense of the word, pure Balls.
Before the Gracious Speech was delivered, we were told by one Cabinet Minister that it would be the most political Queen's Speech for 12 years. Instead of that statement being a shamefaced confession, it was actually a boast. The Cabinet Minister concerned appeared to think that there was a virtue in using the Government's entire legislative programme for narrowly partisan purposes.
Whoever that anonymous briefer might be, he certainly will not come in for any criticism from the Secretary of State. After all, the right hon. Gentleman was the man who told the New Statesman that his predecessor, Ruth Kelly, was absolutely wrong to pursue consensus over schools policy. What we needed, the Secretary of State said, was
"to get back to a clear dividing line between us and the Conservatives on education policy."
Note his priority: in the very first interview he gave on education, his priority was not raising pupil attainment, extending parental choice, freeing teachers from bureaucracy, improving discipline, enhancing literacy or closing the widening gap between the richest and the poorest. No, his priorities were not our priorities. His priority was simple: creating dividing lines-putting political positioning over principle, with partisan politics instead of national renewal.
Where there was harmony, the Secretary of State promised to bring discord. That is one promise he has certainly fulfilled. As my hon. Friend Peter Bottomley pointed out earlier when discussing subatomic particles, we all know that atoms, whether fluoride or otherwise, are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. The way to transform an atom into an ion is by adding or taking away an electron. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the type of ion the Secretary of State is probably responsible for producing is one that is relentlessly negative. However, one of the problems with the right hon. Gentleman is that if subatomic particles are handled insensitively they can sometimes create nuclear explosions.
Talking of nuclear explosions brings me to relations between the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One thing has not changed in the last 12 years. The Secretary of State still thinks he is running the Treasury. He will not rest until he is in No. 11. For him, "Move Over, Darling" is not a film starring Doris Day, it is an operation he has probably subcontracted to Damian McBride. In the battle between the Secretary of State and Mr. Darling-between the man the Prime Minister wanted to be Chancellor and the man he was too weak to move-things have not quite gone the Secretary of State's way.
Let us look at the tangled story of Mr. Balls and the public spending commitments. Early in the morning of
"We want to see spending rising", he offered, but
"we can't make those commitments now."
From a firm promise of a better future to a faint hope in just a few minutes: the story of the Secretary of State's life.
The crucial thing is that the Secretary of State has not committed to a real-terms increase because the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not let him. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary have been perfectly clear: the Secretary of State is not authorised to make such promises. I notice that when the Secretary of State asked his question, he used the conditional. He was not so hesitant before. He was absolutely adamant that spending would increase-until he was slapped down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
After the Secretary of State was slapped down by the Chancellor he went quiet for a little bit over the summer. After that period of silence-I think welcomed by the nation-came to an end in September, he shared his thinking with The Sunday Times. On
"It is going to be tougher on spending over the next few years", promised the born-again fiscal conservative. He promised £2 billion-worth of cuts-5 per cent. of the schools budget cut-to come straight from the front line. He wanted to
"reduce the number of senior school staff such as head teachers, deputies, assistant heads and heads of departments."
He wanted to remove 3,000 posts, saving the Department £250 million a year. Cutting 3,000 of the most senior professionals in our schools? When the public said they wanted heads to roll because of the Government's failure, that is not what they meant.
Head teachers and school leaders are crucial to improving our education system. We should be supporting them, not sacking them. A Conservative Government would give our heads more power over budgets, over discipline, over the curriculum and over staffing. A Labour Government would give them a P45.
Unsurprisingly, the Secretary of State's proposals were described as disastrous by John Dunford of the Association of School and College Leaders. Mick Brookes of the National Association of Head Teachers said it was a sign of a Department in disorder. The Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, Mr. Sheerman, who is in the Chamber, said:
"I haven't heard of anyone in the educational network who thinks it's thought through."
That is just what the trade unions and the Labour comrades thought of the Secretary of State's plan, so perhaps we should not be surprised that we have heard no more about those proposals to decimate the number of heads in this country.
Around the country, we have seen the emergence of a few super-heads, who run two or three secondary schools. Although the Secretary of State has been silent about them today, he has welcomed them outside the Chamber. Can the hon. Gentleman let us know what the Conservative party view is on super-heads?
I am in favour of super-everything. If schools wish to federate, I am all in favour of the idea that they have an executive head who can help to co-ordinate their efforts-someone such as Dan Moynihan, for example, who does such a brilliant job for the Harris group of academies, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman admires. Dan Moynihan does a wonderful job, but the point is, as he said, that he does it in tandem with great school leaders, great deputy heads and great heads of department. He does not get rid of them; he promotes them and enhances them. He backs them.
After the Secretary of State had talked about cuts in The Sunday Times-after that particular little adventure-he decided, again, that a period of silence might be appropriate. We heard no more from him on spending until this week, when the man who, two months ago, wanted to cut the total Department for Children, Schools and Families budget by £2 billion told the Treasury that he did not want any cuts at all-quite the opposite; he now wanted an extra £2 billion spending increase for his Department.
The response from the Treasury was, I understand, curt; it was probably restricted to just two words, but there were more words in a considered response from the Financial Times. A leader in that newspaper-I know that the Secretary of State naturally has a great deal of respect for leader-writers at the Financial Times-said that
"Alistair Darling...is right to refuse this bid and should slap down" any more of that kind of nonsense. The Financial Times went on to point out that
"Mr Balls is on the wrong side of the argument, as his own past...must tell him."
The Secretary of State is wrong in the eyes of the Financial Times, wrong in the eyes of head teachers and, crucially, wrong in the eyes of the Treasury. The truth is that the biggest dividing line in British politics is the one that divides him from the Chancellor, and the Secretary of State is on the wrong side of it.
Given how unreliable the Secretary of State has been on public spending, it is perhaps no surprise that the Chancellor wants to legislate to end budgetary waywardness from Ministers by means of a new fiscal responsibility Bill. Of course, such a law would not have been needed in the past, as Mr. Clarke, a former Education Secretary, argued yesterday. He said:
"It should...be possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to subject the Secretary of State for Education to the normal fiscal disciplines, without having recourse to a fiscal responsibility Act of Parliament."-[ Hansard, 18 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 37.]
That clearly is not the case with this Government. We can all understand why the Chancellor wants to use the law to restrain the Secretary of State; indeed, given how often the Secretary of State has gone off the reservation on public spending, I am surprised that the Chancellor does not want him placed under house arrest.
The truth is that after boasting about spending increases and retreating, then offering spending cuts and retreating, and then again boasting about spending increases and retreating, the Secretary of State has absolutely no credibility left on the issue. He is the Katie Price of public spending-the Jordan of this Government. All that he is interested in is being on the front pages, so he has massively inflated what he has to offer. The past few months have left him dangerously overexposed; that means that he is in desperate need of support before it all goes south, but given his record of loyalty, it is a very brave man who would get into bed with him.
I am not going to take lectures from the hon. Gentleman about people who have an inflated sense of their importance. To get back to policy, he has made it clear that he thinks that a real-terms rise after 2010-11 would be wrong; he has clarified that. Would he match our budgets for 2010-11, or would he reduce them, if he were in government?
The right hon. Gentleman has no authority to speak about future budgets, because as we have heard, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have contradicted him on every occasion. It is always a pleasure to hear the Secretary of State attempt to sandbag, manoeuvre or finagle the Treasury into spending more money, but- [Interruption.] The Secretary of State has not answered the question. Every time that he has come out to talk about public spending, he has been cut off at the knees by either the Chief Secretary to the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we all know that the Secretary of State's promises are bogus.
Take the so-called September guarantee-the pledge that every 16 or 17-year-old who wants it should have a college place or apprenticeship. Why was it introduced? It was because a series of supposedly solemn promises from the Government were broken. In April this year, the Government wrote to those in charge of the nation's sixth forms, telling them that all the money that they had been promised for next year was no longer available. It was an outrageous dishonouring of commitments, a reneging on pledges to young people.
Under pressure from the Opposition-both from my colleagues and from the Liberal Democrats-the Government eventually agreed to do what every previous Government have agreed to do. They promised, as we have done in the past, funding for every 16 and 17-year-old who wanted to stay in education. The Government dressed that up as a wholly new guarantee, but in fact it was nothing more than established practice, which this Government had to be shamed into following.
Even after being exposed for failing to keep their word, the Government have not played straight with young people. The Secretary of State said earlier that their future was too important to play politics with, but that is precisely what he has been doing, because there is no new money from outside the DCSF budget to pay for the September guarantee. On "The Andrew Marr Show" this autumn, the Secretary of State was asked where the money for the guarantee would come from. He said that it would come from
"a squeeze on some...departmental bodies", and from colleges having
"to be more efficient in their per pupil funding."
In other words, the DCSF would cut some of its existing programmes, although the Secretary of State has not said which. He will also have to give colleges a smaller sum for every student whom they take, but he will not say how much smaller.
The September guarantee is not a pledge, or a promise from the Secretary of State to get cash from the Chancellor to pay for more students; it is an order from the Secretary of State that colleges will get less per student, is it not? What is it, other than a squeeze, to say that colleges will have to be more efficient in their per-pupil funding? That is not a guarantee; it is a confidence trick, and a particularly cruel one, as colleges are now finding out.
To make the matter absolutely clear, at the time of the Budget, we made an efficiency saving contribution to the Treasury. The Treasury announced new money that would be given back to us-£650 million. The Minister for Schools and Learners and I have written to the hon. Gentleman 10 times in the past four months, asking him to pledge to match that September guarantee. He cannot, because the shadow Chancellor will not let him. He should not talk about me being cut off at the knees; it is his party's shadow Chancellor who is not letting him match our budgets for 2010-11. That is the politics.
That is not politics; that is drivel. The Secretary of State did not answer my question. There will be less money per student, will there not? The only way that you can afford your September guarantee is by reducing the amount of money for students.
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I do not have a September guarantee.
While we are on the issue of funding, may I explore the Conservative party's policy on education funding? The Conservative health spokesman-Mr. Lansley, who is sitting next to the hon. Gentleman-has won a pledge that his party will increase health spending in real terms, if elected in the next Parliament. Did the hon. Gentleman make the same bid for additional money to the shadow Chancellor?
The hon. Gentleman is kind to ask. If he would like to know more about my conversations with the shadow Chancellor-I know that he has had certain conversations with him himself-he is welcome to join us in the Conservative shadow Cabinet; he would be a very welcome addition. As it is, I suspect that freedom of information, of which we are all in favour, can only go so far. I have cordial relations with the shadow Chancellor; he is an extraordinarily helpful guy, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would find him good company.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind offer, which I am afraid I have already declined, but I am concerned that he has not answered my question. We need to know whether he decided not to make such a request, in which case we would be concerned about his commitment to education funding, or whether he made the request and was turned down. Why, when the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire has been so successful and triumphant, does the hon. Gentleman not seem to have delivered?
When it comes to making requests for schools funding, the hon. Gentleman, whom I greatly admire, is on very shaky ground. The leader of his party said, in The Times Educational Supplement, that DCSF funding would be ring-fenced overall, but the next day-I think that the Secretary of State will back me up on this-he had to offer savage spending cuts. The Liberal Democrat leader subsequently said that the schools element of the DCSF budget might be ring-fenced, but that he could not give a guarantee in other areas. I have no wish to intrude on the private grief felt in meetings of the Liberal Democrat shadow Cabinet; I can only say that such matters are better ordered in our party. Even though the hon. Gentleman turned down our kind offer, it remains, whenever he wants to take it up. From the funding chaos of the Liberal Democrats, let me turn to the more profound funding chaos of the Government.
The Government have not answered my question. The Secretary of State has not revealed whether there will be more per-pupil funding for those who are 16 and 17. Indeed, the Government's own quango, the Learning and Skills Council, has said that there is only enough money to fund an extra 22,000 places under the September guarantee, but this year, there were applications from schools and colleges for 74,000 places. There are up to 50,000 students who do not have funding for their places this year. Most schools and colleges will not want to turn those students away, but to take them on those institutions have to cut their funding even more. The Association of Colleges says that its members alone will have to take 15,000 students for whom there is no funding. In Hartlepool, the constituency of the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs, the college principal says that there are more than 50-
That is not my constituency.
Well, your colleague, Mr. Wright.
The college principal says that there are more than 50- [ Interruption. ] Mr. Wright is the other Minister who deals with these issues. Anyway, it is sad not to see him on the Government Front Bench today.
Order. I just remind the hon. Gentleman that Ministers should be referred to by their title and, perhaps, by their constituency, but not by their name, unless the hon. Gentleman is quoting directly from a newspaper article.
In Hartlepool, the constituency of the Member who, I believe, does sit on the Government Front Bench, although he is sadly not there at the moment, the college principal says that there are more than 50 students in his college for whom he has no funding. The September guarantee does not apply to them, does it? There is a shortfall of £400,000 in the budget, and he says:
He goes on to ask:
"How can I...keep to the September guarantee if I do not know if I am going to get funded to do so? There is a good chance that I will be turning 40 or 50 students away from this college. And, given the absence of apprenticeships in this area, unless other schools and colleges take these young people, they are likely to become neets."
In Cirencester, the college principal, Nigel Robbins, has not even received enough cash from the Secretary of State to cover a shortfall from last year, when more than 100 students received no funding. This year, another 110 students are unfunded-a shortfall of £450,000. The principal is furious with the Government. He says that
"young people who fail to get a job...will...ask for a place" in his college, and he continues:
"In the past we would have taken them."
Now, however, he says:
"This year I will be saying, 'No, sorry, there is no room. We refuse to take you...because no one is funding us for this place'."
No September guarantee in Hartlepool; no September guarantee in Cirencester.
In Scunthorpe, the college principal, Nic Dakin, has also complained. He warns that
"the situation is...very tight."
On the question whether he can accept new students, He says:
"The reality is that we are very, very full."
Mr. Dakin is not a Tory troublemaker but the recently selected prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour party in Scunthorpe. He was chosen on an honesty ticket, because he would tell it straight on behalf of his community. He will be popular with the Whips when he gets here.
If he gets here-he is not here yet. I like him, but he is not here yet, sadly. He is still telling it straight, however, because under this Government the so-called September guarantee is a con trick. Even the Prime Minister appears to think so, otherwise he would not have introduced in his speech yesterday another guarantee: the January guarantee-to join the September guarantee and the other 38 guarantees that were already in the schools White Paper. This Government produce new guarantees at the same rate at which Zimbabwe prints dollars, and they are worth about the same.
The hon. Gentleman lost me somewhere during his argument, but I shall take him back, because I recognise that he is at odds with my good friend, the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman will not answer the Secretary of State's question about 2010-11, so will he clarify for others, with whom he may not be at loggerheads, his party's exact position?
Our party's position in 2010-11 is to contest and fight a general election, win it, I hope, get rid of this discredited Government and ensure that the hon. Gentleman has more opportunities to pursue his interest in education. I am delighted that he, as the Member for Dumfries and Galloway, has come to the Chamber to sit on the green Benches. Indeed, it is striking that the Government have so little support: the only people on their Benches are Parliamentary Private Secretaries and the Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families. The Government have had to draft in Members from Scotland to provide the Secretary of State with support, but I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is so interested in public spending south of the border. Let me assure him that education is safe in our hands.
Unfortunately for the Secretary of State, none of his guarantees is defensible, credible or funded. The January guarantee is supposed to give every young person not in employment, education or training a guaranteed place at school, college or on a training course, but that is what the September guarantee was supposed to offer. The Prime Minister said that, by adding 45,000 places, the new guarantee would build on the 55,000 places that the September guarantee funded, making 100,000. The truth, however, is that there are many more than 100,000 young people in need of a place at college.
Today, we discover that there is a record number of young people not in education, employment or training-more than 1 million overall, and more than at any time since the Government have been in power. There are more than 140,000 16 and 17-year-olds not in education, employment or training. How many of them will not benefit because the Government's September and January guarantees are not worth the paper they are not written on?
The fundamental problem with all these guarantees is that the Government have run out of money and are reduced to printing promises that they know they cannot redeem. They are economically bankrupt, ideologically bankrupt and politically bankrupt. They have completely run out of ideas on pushing forward reform in schools, and the Opposition parties are now making the running in the education debate: our arguments reflect the global tide in favour of more autonomy for professionals, better accountability for the public, greater choice for parents and higher standards overall.
The Government have tried to respond to the fact that the intellectual tide is moving away from them, but their response only shows how tired, exhausted and barren they are. More and more parents every year signal that they are unhappy with schools, and we propose radical change to give them more choice. Let me tell the House what the Government propose. In the schools White Paper, they state:
"Local authorities will survey parents as they apply to secondary schools, and will ask parents whether they are satisfied with the quality and range of provision."
We might expect the Government to ask parents if they are satisfied with the choice well before they have to choose, but the lameness of the Government's response does not end there. The White Paper continues:
"If a sufficient proportion of parents are dissatisfied".
We do not know what a sufficient proportion is-5 per cent., 25 per cent., 50 per cent? What if one parent is dissatisfied? I thought that every child was supposed to matter. Anyway, if a sufficient proportion is dissatisfied, the White Paper states that
"the local authority should consult parents about their specific concerns and work with them to improve the choice, range, governance and type of...schools".
The question is: why has not the local authority improved things before? We all know that very often it is at fault. The local authority, as the monopoly supplier of schools in an area, may often have resisted diversity, prevented choice and stood in the way of increasing standards
According to the Government plan, dissatisfied parents should, after their own children have been allocated to a school with which they are unhappy, work with the local authority to help write a new "plan" to be published in due course-heaven knows when. When the plan is produced, it might include proposals for federating schools, expanding some schools, even opening new schools-or perhaps none of the above, because there is no requirement on the local authority to do anything quickly. However, if parents are unhappy when the proposals are introduced, what do they do? The White Paper says that they can
"appeal to the Schools Adjudicator if they are not happy with the resulting plan, in the same way they can currently appeal about local admission arrangements."
If parents are not happy about how one bureaucracy responds to bureaucratic failure, they can ask another bureaucrat to get his bureaucracy to take a look at it. How long do we have to wait before that process starts? The Government say that later this year they will work with up to 10 local authorities to trial the approach, then use that trial to decide how things might work and further consult on its introduction.
To say that the process is advancing at a sloth-like pace is a slander against sloths, and a gross underestimation of the sense of urgency of which those gentle, leaf-eating mammals are capable. By the time the whole process is complete, the children who are in underperforming schools will be so old that they will be getting a telegram from the Queen before their A-level results.
My hon. Friend is making powerful points about local bureaucracies that too often let parents down. Does he agree that local authorities have sufficient powers to intervene if a home-educated child gives cause for concern to a local authority, either on safeguarding or on educational grounds? Does he think, as I do, that giving local authority officials with no such cause for concern the right to access people's homes is in breach of article 8 of the European convention on human rights and should be fiercely resisted?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and he is quite right to draw attention to the fact that the Government's response to the Badman review unfortunately places many admirable home educators in the dock. We should work with people who want to home educate their children, rather than stigmatise them.
I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's sincerity. It is not what Conservatives say from the Front Bench today that concerns me, but what happens with Conservatives out there running education authorities. When 96 per cent. of parents in my constituency objected to the closure of two schools, wishing their schools to remain open under a super-head, the local Conservative-controlled education authority ignored them. What percentage would they need to get to? Even Mugabe could never dream of 96 per cent.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I know that he enjoys North Korean levels of popularity with some people. I will take a close look at the point that he makes. I would be delighted to go to Colchester with him and the Conservative candidate to talk to the Conservative council some time. It is always a pleasure to spend time in Essex-
As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman has supported Every Child Matters and the five outcomes for children. Does he really believe, as he implied in response to an earlier intervention, that the five outcomes should apply to 99 per cent. of schoolchildren but not to the home educated?
The overwhelming number of home-educated children benefit from the dedication of individuals who have deliberately sought to forgo income and time to give them the best possible education, and I think that the Secretary of State agrees with that. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. We need to have a constructive debate about how we ensure that all children, everywhere, get the best possible support at every stage. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr. Stuart for raising the vital importance of not stigmatising those who choose to home educate their children. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect, would absolutely agree with that.
One of the sadnesses of the Secretary of State's tenure in office is the fact that there is a lack of freshness, rigour and credibility in everything that he has introduced. He said that there were some good ideas in the Bill that he has introduced-yes, there are, but those good ideas are ours. For example, when enforceable home-school contracts were first proposed, he said:
"I do not think a commitment to helping children to read and behave well should be put in a contract".
His junior said:
"The Home School Agreement should not be a contract forced on parents".
Today, however, in the legislation laid before us, we have enforceable home-school contracts with penalties for recalcitrant parents. When did this conversion happen? Can we have a word of gratitude for my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, who first suggested this proposal? Not a word of gratitude is offered-a remarkable and, may I say, uncharacteristic display of gracelessness by the Secretary of State.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to know about gracelessness, he will have seen yesterday's speech by the Leader of the Opposition in this House-that was truly graceless.
The issue on home-school agreements is whether they should be an optional condition in the admissions process that schools can use to exclude some parents and thus some pupils from going to the school if they do not sign them. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that, and if so, does he therefore support a change in the admissions code, as Mr. Cameron proposes?
Yes, we think that home-school contracts should be enforceable. That is why the right hon. Gentleman, having resisted them, has now embraced them.
According to the Secretary of State, new parenting orders have been introduced in the Gracious Speech. He says that they are new, but he clearly does not understand the history of his own Department, because parenting orders have been available to local authorities since
The problem is that in every respect the Government's proposals are either incredible or, if they have merit, borrowed. All their much-heralded guarantees are literally incredible. I suspect that few people are keener on the arts than me. I know that the Secretary of State has a deep love of music, but how does he intend to make legally enforceable in the courts his guarantee to five hours of good-quality cultural activity? Are we going to arrest head teachers who cannot get the Royal Philharmonic to play at assembly? Are we going to fetter good head teachers by taking money from schools and giving it to lawyers so they can be sued?
The hon. Gentleman is perhaps being slightly unfair to the Secretary of State on the culture guarantee. That supposed guarantee says that
"every pupil should have access to high-quality cultural activities in and out-of-school, with an aspiration that, over time, this will reach five hours".
Is not the real criticism that that is a pretty meaningless commitment?
Absolutely. I was inclined to be generous to the Secretary of State, but that guarantee is meaningless, like so much of the content of his speeches.
Let us look at the guarantee of one-to-one tuition for every child who is falling behind. That is admirable in principle, but how many children does it cover-every child below average, or half the children in the country? The original promise intended to deliver one-to-one tuition for every child who has fallen behind, but we heard yesterday that it would now provide for one-to-one or small group tuition. Can the Secretary of State tell us which it is to be-one-to-one or small group tuition-and to how many children it will apply?
In 2010-11, we will deliver one-to-one or small group tuition. For a child who falls behind in key stage 2, the commitment is to one-to-one tuition, and for a child in year 7, the commitment is to one-to-one or small group tuition. Some 600,000 pupils will get one-to-one tuition. We can deliver that because we are funding those budgets for 2010-11. We now know that the hon. Gentleman cannot match that because he cannot support the 2010-11 budgets. We can deliver those 600,000 places and he cannot, as parents around the country will know as a result of this debate.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State's acknowledgement of that retreat-another of his retreats-from the original promise. The commitment is no longer to one-to-one tuition but to one-to-one or small group tuition. The problem with the Secretary of State is that all his guarantees and commitments are literally incredible because he does not have backing from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nor does he have the resources to deliver, nor the originality of policy.
The Secretary of State could give guarantees today that would be credible and welcome and that we would unhesitatingly support. He could guarantee, as we would, that children in comprehensives would have access to the same high-quality exams as those in private schools by lifting the ban on state schools doing the rigorous international GCSEs in English and maths. He could guarantee, as we would, that every child who can do so is reading fluently after two years of primary school by introducing a universal national reading test to ensure that all children are decoding fluently and that dyslexic children are identified early. He could guarantee, as we would, to raise the prestige and esteem of teaching by saying no one with poor GCSEs or a poor degree could become a teacher. He could guarantee, as we would, to deal with failure in more of our poorest schools by promising to take quickly the 100 worst out of local authority control.
The Secretary of State could guarantee, as we would, to improve behaviour by giving teachers more powers to keep order, as well as greater freedom to search pupils and to ban disruptive items. He could guarantee, as we would, to give teachers proper protection from false allegations and to give heads the power to exclude violent children without being overruled. He could guarantee, as we would, to get more great graduates into teaching by expanding the Teach First scheme. He could guarantee, as we would, to make more superb graduates heads of department and head teachers by expanding the Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders programmes. He could guarantee, as we would, to give all heads more freedom and control by allowing all high-performing schools to become academies. He could guarantee, as we would, more choice and improved standards in primary schools by allowing primary schools to become academies. He could even guarantee, as we would, a system of funding for pupils which concentrates resources on the very poorest.
Sadly, however, the Secretary of State opposes all those guarantees, which is why he cannot guarantee what parents, children and schools need most of all: a Government relentlessly committed to raising standards, with the poorest helped most of all; a Government determinedly focused on supporting teachers, with the powers that they need delivered without delay; and a Government unreservedly on the side of parents and children against bureaucracy. The only way that we can get such a Government is through a general election-it cannot come soon enough.
It is sometimes difficult for the Chair of a Select Committee to make a speech in a Queen's Speech debate, particularly if it is a very busy Committee that is about to produce major reports on a number of issues that are touched on in the Queen's Speech. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that inhibits some of things that one can say. Let me allude to the fact that we are about to produce major reports on school accountability, on the training of teachers and on home educators, as well as much else.
There is another difficulty with being the Chairman of a Select Committee. Everybody knows that I am a Labour/Co-op Member of Parliament, but I have a job as Chairman of the Committee on Children, Schools and Families to call the Secretary of State and the Government to account on a range of issues. Often, people may think that I criticise the Government too much when I appear on radio and television and in newspapers, but that is part of my job. However, to set my remarks in this debate in context, I believe that the Government, in many areas, have profoundly improved the educational situation in our country and made a very real difference to our children.
I shall give four examples of that, the first of which is an undersung part of the Children Act 2004, which introduced Every Child Matters and the five outcomes, which I asked about in an intervention and which I believe should apply to every child in our country. The Act was a triumph and it has made so much difference because every time we discuss children and education, we can refer back to it as a benchmark. I shall go into the five outcomes in detail in a moment, but are they being delivered for every child in this country?
The 2004 Act is good, landmark legislation of which we should be proud. It is set in the context-this is indisputable-of more money spent on education per child than ever in the history of our country. That is something to be proud of. That does not mean that I am always persuaded that just money delivers real change. Money delivers the possibility of change, and we have seen many advances from using the enormous amount of money that is now spent on our children and state schools.
I also put on record my great approval for evidence-based policy-my Committee has come across it in a number of inquiries. The fundamental of evidence-based policy, across the nearly 10 years that I have chaired various education, children and schools Committees, is that, as we know, the earlier we intervene in a child's life, the better. The more money spent, and the earlier it is spent, the greater the difference to the child's life and the educational outcomes in our country, so I approve of it.
The Committee very often agrees across the parties on many of those evaluations and judgments. We disagree profoundly with each other at other times, but there is a great measure of agreement. I can bore the House again by saying that if we look at education policies and change-perhaps from as far back as Butler to Balls, or from Baker to Balls-we see far more cross-party agreement on educational matters in our country than the earlier exchange between the two Front Benchers might suggest.
Of course there are disagreements on how much money we spend and, at particular times, on fundamentals, but very often some of the greatest advances in education policy have been made on a relatively bipartisan basis. The Education Act 1944 was the subject of cross-party agreement, although the Committee on it was led by Rab Butler. I remind the House that the Dearing report from 1997 is another example of real progress being made through agreement across the House.
I am giving an overview before we evaluate particular aspects of the Queen's Speech. This is the first time in my time in the House and my experience of education that I can see an end to the silo in 14-to-19 education that marked off the academic route-the route from GCSE to A-levels and university-as the only prized route. The reforms might have gone further, and I have always been a supporter of all the Tomlinson recommendations.
I shall give way in a moment.
However, we now have, from 14 to 19, real alternatives for young people in our country-the academic, diploma and apprenticeship routes. They are not in silos. Those young people can not only choose between those routes, but cross from one to the other.
I must tell the House about the inspirational apprentice who gave evidence to the Skills Commission. This bright young fellow from the north-west, pushed on why he chose an apprenticeship, said, "Well, I've joined BAE Systems. It's a very good company and they're paying me to do my apprenticeship. I'm getting paid and incurring no debt. When I get to a certain stage, I'm going to go and do a degree as well." That was refreshing, and we hear similar things all the time-we have transformed for many children how they see their 14-to-19 possibilities.
The Chairman of the Select Committee makes a powerful point. One would like a joined-up system with the ability to move between the different routes, but does he share my concern that the Secretary of State, in introducing diplomas, has failed to deliver that programme in the way that the hon. Gentleman and I would like; that the numbers taking diplomas so far have been alarmingly low, at enormously high cost; and that there are real risks attached to that very important initiative?
The hon. Gentleman is a very good member of my Select Committee. I am going to desist from responding to that question. People watching this debate might think that there has been enough hurling of alternative policies and criticism one to the other. I am a great believer in diplomas as, I think, is he. There will be teething problems if a totally new qualification is introduced. I would not underestimate those problems, but I wish diplomas well and hope we get through that stage. Everyone recognised that there would be a transition time.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would give more credence to the diplomas that Mr. Stuart says he supports if the Opposition said that they would not pull them out of their league tables and if they included them as an achievement by the school?
I hear what my hon. Friend says and I have a measure of sympathy for that point of view.
Before I am interrupted again by a Front Bencher, I must point out one last great achievement for which there should be greater all-party support-raising the participation age. I have always championed that and believed in it. I shall return to the Every Child Matters theme in a moment, but in this country, we consider people children until they are 18. That gives enormous protection to children, but it also means, when we are talking about raising the participation rate, that no child, until they are 18, should be allowed to go out into the big, wide world and work with no training or to be unemployed-that is absolutely right.
I celebrate the fact that we are going to move the participation age to 17 and then to 18. That means not raising the school leaving age, but that every child must be in education, further education, an apprenticeship, in work with training, or in experience with training. That is a great step forward and I urge all parties to support it. It not only takes us deeply into the 21st century, but makes us competitive with nations that have similar commitments.
The Chairman of the Committee rightly praises the development of the 14-to-19 non-academic qualification. Does he agree, however, that that programme would be even more successful if there were not more than 100 colleges around the country whose promised building programmes have been halted? If the Government delivered what they promised, would that policy be more successful?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and many of us wanted money for our further education colleges. I am in the happy position that Kirklees college in Huddersfield got its money-I put my cards on the table-but I must also tell him that, as Chairman of the Committee, I know that in this past 12 years, 50 per cent. of the FE estate has been totally renewed. Since the time when the FE estate was crumbling around everyone's ears up to 1997, we have seen it transformed.
Sitting where I sit, I have seen standards of education in our country progressively improve over the past 10 years. We can have argy-bargy about it, but that is the truth of the matter. There has been substantial improvement. I know that hon. Members like to jump up and say, "But we haven't done as well as Finland or Sweden," or wherever, but if we compare this country with similar ones such as Germany, France, Spain, Italy or the United States-big industrial countries with high turnover, migration and all the rest-we see that we have done pretty well. We in this Chamber sometimes ought to congratulate ourselves on what we have done rather than always say, "We could have done better than Finland." Perhaps we could, but Finland is a funny, quirky little country.
It would be easier for Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to be kind and give that congratulation if we did not have, as I do in Beverley, bomb sites where FE colleges were supposed to be. All 16 colleges that were funded are in Labour constituencies, and the hon. Gentleman must surely be uncomfortable about that.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman, a member of my Committee, says, and I am not going to rise to it.
I have given the context, and I now want to be critical of the Government. I do not want to get too much into school accountability, but the Queen's Speech addressed it directly in a number of ways and I suggest to my party's Front Benchers that there are some concerns. I am not saying that what was in the Queen's Speech was all bad, but when we consider what school accountability is about, people say, "Well, that means Ofsted, doesn't it?" It does not. It means all the people involved in the school improvement process, such as the governing body-we underrate governing bodies and all the wonderful people who give their time and effort to be school governors-school improvement partnerships, local authorities and the whole range of bodies that call schools to account. Of course it covers Ofsted, and it also covers how testing and assessment are turned into school tables and published. Schools are accountable in a whole range of ways.
Sitting where I do, I sometimes think that we make schools so accountable that we paralyse them from action-not entirely, but it is a question of balance. Those of us in the House who take an interest in education will know that when the Department for Children, Schools and Families was set up, the remit of our Committee changed. It is a difficult remit, because it is not a tidy departmental responsibility. Matters to do with children, schools and families stretch across at least 10 Departments.
The Committee wanted to consider three things about school accountability, which are what most people think of as the three great educational reforms in the past 20 years. They date from about Lord Baker's time, although they are not all associated with him. We all know them. The first is testing and assessment, and I remember that people always used to say that Ken Baker, as he then was, had read "The One Minute Manager", which said that if something cannot be measured, it cannot be managed. They said that that was behind the great fashion for testing and assessment that has run through this country's education for the past 20 years.
The second matter that we wanted to consider was the national curriculum. Everyone in the Chamber will know that we believed that although the inspiration behind it was right-testing and assessment had gone too far-it was too crowded and needed greater flexibility. We said that the pendulum should swing back in the other direction.
The third matter was school accountability. I cannot go into too much detail about what we are going to say about it, but I shall give a tiny bit of the flavour of our analysis. School accountability should lead to improvement both in schools and in children's well-being and outcomes. Too often, schools focus on the former rather than the latter. They focus just on examination results rather than on the other things that we do for children in schools, which are broader than just the number who get good GCSEs.
Any Government have to get their message clear, because it is not school buildings or testing and assessment that improve the quality of education that children get. The quintessential element that improves their education is the quality of the teaching that they get. It is not rocket science, is it? It is about the quality of the teachers and of the leadership and support of the teaching team. In everything that we do, the priority should be investment in high-quality teachers. We have seen more investment in teachers and some really good change in the quality of people coming into teaching and being retained. It has not gone far enough, but it has gone pretty darn far.
Teaching staff want some stability in their lives. It looked as though the new relationship with schools would bring about a real change in what schools faced, such as a simplification of red tape, rules, regulations and so on. I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that although some simplification has flowed from it, there is still a bewildering array of new initiatives. That has partly negated all the good stuff in the new relationship.
We have also had the Government's "21st century schools" White Paper, which signalled even greater complexity in many ways. Additional statutory duties on governors are coming through, and there was the national challenge, which was mishandled in some ways. There were good intentions, but initially the wrong view was given to many schools about the value that they were adding to the educational process.
We have not yet written up the final report on school accountability, but my own view is that the strong thing about evaluation in schools is their self-evaluation. That is important both in how Ofsted approaches the running of a school and in a school's quality. However, we have yet again seen the role that Ofsted plays. Self-evaluation started and it told our Committee, "We want self-evaluation to be innovative and imaginative. We actually have schools that make videos of what they do." However, I think I visit more schools than anyone in the Chamber-the Secretary of State has probably overtaken me, but if he ever moves on to a new job I might still be here and going to schools, as I have been for 10 years-and I find that everyone says of the self-evaluation form, "They say you don't have to fill this in, but I'm not going to be the one who puts their head above the parapet and does not fill in the form in the way that Ofsted says".
The Committee and I will look very carefully at the Queen's Speech and the guarantees that have been announced. There are some very good ones, and I hope that we will find a system that is less onerous on schools, gives them more power of self-regulation and takes some of the load off them in areas where they have been getting too many complex messages.
We have the right to point out in this debate something that was missing from the Queen's Speech. As Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, I have learned a great deal about child protection. There have been tragic cases up and down the country, including the murder of children and dreadful things happening to them in extreme cases. A worrying number of vulnerable children have come to dreadful ends and been dreadfully treated in our country. It is a small percentage, but it much concerns everyone in the field.
Child protection is a vital element of the work of the Department and the Select Committee, but I would have liked today's debate to have touched on the protection of childhood. We have an interesting and laudable ambition for the eradication of child poverty by 2020, and I celebrate that, although it will be darn hard to achieve, because the goalposts will move all the time. It will be a great struggle, although some very good things have been achieved already.
I want to talk, however, about the poverty of childhood. When I started talking to, and being lobbied by, people, as Chairman of the Committee, I felt some reluctance toward those who said that we were truncating and squeezing childhood and that the pressure on children in our country was intolerable. However, having considered the matter, I think that it is true. The commercial world impacts on children. They are seen as a soft target for advertising and are pressured into growing up too young; they are pressured to adopt fashion accessories too young and to have mobile phones and accessories and so many other things too young. Often they are pressurised by advertisers.
I have said this to the Secretary of State before: to have a Cabinet colleague who believes, in an age of childhood obesity, that we should relax the rules on product placement seems damn crazy. I believe that very strongly. The pressures on children from commercial advertising alone are already great, without their getting even worse.
The hon. Gentleman has touched on an interesting theme. Would he agree, however, that with so much pressure on young people, the wonder is that so many of them turn out really well? In the main, they get a bad press, but more than 99 per cent. of them do valuable work, including charitable work, and get on with their lives splendidly. A disproportionate amount of press coverage is given to the rotten apples.
The hon. Gentleman is right, and he knows that I agree with him.
Another aspect of childhood today is sexual awareness. Our country still has worryingly high rates of teenage pregnancy. The life of a girl who gets pregnant very young is more or less likely to be destroyed-she will probably always be poor-but we do not take that seriously enough in this country.
The country is also awash with a focus on early sexual activity. I talked recently with members of another Select Committee who had looked at the amount of pornography on the internet available to children. That disturbs me greatly. An inquiry has been conducted into that- [Interruption.] An hon. Gentleman is laughing, but I think that the accessibility of pornography to children in our schools is a serious matter. When I go to infant schools, teachers say to me, "Children come here, at five and six, simulating sexual behaviour that they should know nothing about." That is disgusting.
I was angered the other day when I read that Rupert and James Murdoch wanted to turn BSkyB into a more trusted and loved broadcaster than the BBC. Two days before, I had read that the Murdoch empire is not only the biggest carrier of pornography in the world, but has now bought a major supplier and maker of pornography in the United States. I do not know what "trusted" and "loved" meant, but a company that makes such filth available to children does not impress me. Our children should be protected from pornography, whether it is on BSkyB or the internet. Childhood should be protected.
I shall say something that Government Front-Bench Members might not like. I talked earlier about the age of 18 being the age at which children cease to be children. I shall return to the Government's guarantees set out in the Queen's Speech, but first I remind the House of the five outcomes-the guarantees of childhood-in "Every Child Matters": to be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being. There is nothing wrong with those.
I would like, however, to say one thing to Front-Bench Members and, given the opportunity, to the Prime Minister. In an answer during Prime Minister's questions last Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that he now believes in votes at 16. I think that that fashion started with the Liberal Democrats, but the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House now seem to believe it too. However, I think that we should think extremely carefully before moving to votes at 16-it would mean adulthood at 16 and the end of the protections of childhood between 16 and 18.
Many of the things that I speak about are based on evidence sessions and intensive consideration of a subject. The first inquiry last year was on children in care and looked-after children. Having seen the vulnerability of 14 to 16-year-old children, and that of 16 to 18-year olds out in the world who are open to every kind of exploitation, we realised at the end of the inquiry that we do not want the protections of childhood to finish at 16. We lose those protections at 18 to our cost as a society.
I have commented on what I liked about the Queen's Speech-it contained some very good things-and it is my Select Committee's job to ensure that they measure up to the way that they were promulgated in the House yesterday and today. There are one or two things that I wish had been in the Queen's Speech, but hon. Members can be assured that Select Committee members will consider promulgating those ideas in the coming months.
I congratulate Mr. Sheerman, the Chairman of the Select Committee, on his speech, which has taken us a little closer to touching on some of the issues that we will need to debate when the Children, Schools and Families Bill passes through the House, presumably in a few weeks' time.
I agree with many of the points that the hon. Gentleman made in his speech, which covered a wide range of areas, and I have no doubt that he and I would agree with something that the Secretary of State said earlier: that when an organisation has failing leadership, there is a duty to intervene to deal with it. I believe that the hon. Gentleman supports that policy, not only in schools, but beyond schools, and I suspect that if his advice were taken by his party, it would have a good deal more impact in motivating the electorate and, apparently, Labour Members than the 38 guarantees given by the Secretary of State, which we are supposed to be debating today.
The Liberal Democrats believe that we should not be debating this fantasy Queen's Speech programme of Bills, some of which should not be matters for legislation, such as the fiscal responsibility Bill, which the Secretary of State touched on, and some of which will be unlikely to be passed into legislation before Dissolution, which I suspect will be in March. I strongly suspect that the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which covers a large number of areas, is one of those that might struggle to receive proper scrutiny in this place and another place. It might well fail to pass, therefore, before the end of this Parliament, although I think that most people outside this place, in particular those involved in schools and colleges, would welcome the Bill not getting on to the statute book.
In our view, we should instead be using the last months of this Parliament to tackle and focus on issues of political reform, on cleaning up Parliament after the expenses abuses earlier this year and on tackling the two big areas that largely do not require legislation: the situation in Afghanistan and the state of the economy, to which the Government will return in the pre-Budget report.
I want to focus in particular on the education issues that are likely to emerge from the Bill, accepting that, however much we regret its inclusion in this fantasy Queen's Speech, we will have to play our part in scrutinising it over the weeks and months ahead.
I may be pushing the hon. Gentleman further ahead in what he wants to address in his speech, but does he agree that neither the Badman report nor the Government have made the case that there is sufficient risk in home education to justify compulsory registration or giving local authorities the right to enter people's homes and question children when there has been no trigger to cause concern? That needs to be opposed as fundamentally illiberal.
The hon. Gentleman correctly anticipates the comments that I want to make in my speech. I am not sure that I fully agree with the extreme position that he takes on the Badman review, if I may characterise it that way, but we certainly have some concerns about how the Government are going to implement it, which I want to touch on later.
This is the second time that we have had an intervention on that point, so I just want to clarify it. When Mr. Stuart reads the Children, Schools and Families Bill, he will see the detail, which may be helpful. Local authorities have the right under existing legislation to enter the home where a child is at risk and there is a concern about safeguarding. On the quality of education-that is what is new in the Bill-the Bill makes it clear that there is a right to see the child on their own only with the permission and agreement of the parent and the child. There is no right for the local authority to enter the home or see the child without their agreement. That is clear in the Bill. It is important that the hon. Gentleman is educated about that before we take the debate any further, because home educators watching this debate on television might think that what he has said is correct. It is important to clarify that it is not correct.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that clarification. As we have been drawn into discussing the Badman review rather earlier in my speech than I had intended, all I would say now is this: first, we accept the Government's approach of saying that it is sensible for all those who are home educating to be registered. That is a reasonable minimum requirement. Our concerns, which will need to be debated when we scrutinise the proposals in detail, is whether the registration process will involve imposing a central vision of education by the back door. We are concerned also that home educators have gained the impression that there is seen as being a particular relationship between home education and child protection, which has caused a lot of anger throughout the country. The Government may not have intended that, but that is certainly the impression created by the Badman review.
We will also want to debate carefully the issue that Mr. Stuart raised and the Secretary of State touched on, which is what powers local authorities should have and what oversight they should have of home education. I would hope that in most cases a light-touch approach would be taken, but most Members would also want to ensure that in extreme circumstances, where local authorities have genuine concerns, they should have the powers to ensure that parents are doing the job that they are claiming to do. Local authorities may have powers in relation to child protection; we will debate whether they have them in relation to oversight of the education provided.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman one last time, since he has managed to draw me into this issue so early in my speech.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I put it to him that local authorities do have that power. If they have cause to believe that a suitable education is not being provided to a child, they can take action and seek a school attendance order for instance. Local authorities already have that right; the question is whether we should give them the right to make such judgments without any trigger of concern.
The hon. Gentleman is right that local authorities already have some powers. However, the debate that he is trying to encourage now, at quite an early stage in the Bill, is one that we need to return to later, because the issues are quite detailed.
The first thing that I wanted to say, before getting drawn into the details of the Bill, is that it is extraordinary and depressing that we should be debating an education Bill only one week after concluding the debate on the previous education Bill and approving it. Yesterday we had the extraordinary situation of the Secretary of State's Department issuing a press release on what the new education Bill will include. It confirmed that the Children, Schools and Families Bill, as it is called, will make amendments to nine separate Acts since 1996, one of which is the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which we passed one week ago and most of which has not even been implemented.
Does that not confirm the criticism of people involved in education throughout the country that the Government are addicted to legislation and bureaucracy, and cannot even wait until previous measures are embedded before they start legislating for new proposals? After all, we are talking about the 12th education Bill that we have had in 12 years of this Government. It is most people's view-although not, apparently, the Secretary of State's-that that degree of legislation says something not about the Government's commitment to education, but about their failure to get the basic frameworks right and then allow the education system to develop in a devolved way. Instead, we have the extraordinary tide of bureaucracy contained in the Bill, most of which is essentially about just that, which threatens to swamp most schools in the country.
Earlier the Secretary of State tried his best, as he normally does, to set up one of his dividing lines, with the Conservative party and others on one side of it. However, he is surely aware that the dividing lines are between himself and virtually everybody else involved in education. For instance, the other day the respected secretary-general of the Association of School and College Leaders criticised most of the measures in the Bill in very blunt terms, and particularly the guarantees. The National Union of Teachers, which is not normally associated with the forces of the right, was equally critical of many of the guarantees in the Bill, as well as other aspects. I could also mention the National Association of Head Teachers, and the list goes on.
I take very seriously the interests and views of the NAHT, the NUT and the Association of School and College Leaders, as the hon. Gentleman does. However, I am sure that he would agree that, as well as listening to the views of teachers and the profession, it is important that we stand up for the rights of children and parents. The change to the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 does not affect schools directly. We now have a power under the 2009 Act to ask local authorities to consider issuing a warning notice. The new power will say that if they refuse to do so, we can issue one ourselves, if we believe that a school is consistently underperforming. Does he think that that is the right approach or does he prefer the "let the free market rip" approach proposed by the Conservative party?
On the Secretary of State's latter question, there must be strategic oversight of schools at some level, although I am not sure that I agree at all with the Government's approach. My point was that if they wish to legislate on the issue, they should have done so in a coherent way in the previous education Bill, not by having the debate twice. When he says that the NUT and NAHT are not the only ones involved, I would refer him to what some of his own Back Benchers have been saying. He says that he respects very much the views of the NUT and the ASCL. Perhaps he also respects the views of Mr. Clarke. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State heard the right hon. Gentleman's interesting speech yesterday, in which he even got a mention. However, in case the Secretary of State did not hear it, the right hon. Gentleman said that those guarantees
The dividing lines therefore seem to be dividing the Secretary of State not from one faction in the House of Commons, but from virtually everybody involved in the education debate.
Before I come to the important issue of guarantees, let me make it clear that the Liberal Democrats are certainly not opposed to having some core standards for public services, for which those services can be held to account. Indeed, my hon. Friend Norman Lamb proposed a standard whereby if the NHS has not delivered treatment within a certain period, it should have the ability to pay for the patient concerned to go into the private sector. However, there is a big difference between such a guarantee, which is meaningful, deliverable and funded, which does not seek to micro-manage, which avoids bureaucracy and which focuses on the outcomes and not the inputs, and the list of guarantees that the Secretary of State has come up with in the Bill. The Bill contains 38 guarantees that are united only by the fact that most of them are either meaningless, undeliverable, bureaucratic and meddling or focus on inputs. As Peter Riddell said in The Times this morning, guarantees without funding, some of which I want to return to, are not worth the paper that they are written on.
The issue is not only whether pupils and parents will be deceived by the guarantees, but whether, in trying to implement some of them and force their delivery, we will end up creating enormous bureaucracy, encouraging a vexatious system that will draw many parents into going to the ombudsmen and drawing the ombudsmen into debates that they are unfit to participate in, given the scale of their resources and their ability to rule on such issues.
I draw the Secretary of State back to a debate on some of the guarantees that he is proposing. They seem to me to fall into a number of categories. The first category consists of those that are meaningless or vague, and therefore pretty worthless. Earlier today, I raised with him pupil pledge 5 from the White Paper. I do not think that I had an answer from him on that point, so I will put it to him again. That pupil pledge says that every 11 to 14-year-old should enjoy
"relevant and challenging learning in all subjects" and develop
"their personal, learning and thinking skills so that they have strong foundations to make their 14-19 choices."
Apparently, that will be phased in by September 2010.
Can the Secretary of State tell us whether there are any schools in the country that are currently failing to deliver that pledge, in his view? If any parent went to the ombudsman to challenge that pledge and whether it was being delivered, they would find that the ombudsman would conclude that it is utterly meaningless and therefore utterly unenforceable. Is there any point creating supposed guarantees that cannot be enforced because nobody knows what they actually are?
We also have a whole series of guarantees that seem to bring in an unwanted level of bureaucracy. Pupil guarantee 15, for example, says that
"every pupil identified as gifted and talented receives written confirmation by their school of the extra challenge and support they will receive, by September 2010".
Is that really a level of bureaucracy that we want to impose on schools? If we in this place actually believe what the Government constantly tell us-that every child matters-why try to pick out one small group of youngsters and associate such a measure with them, rather than assuming that the ability to serve the interests of all youngsters should not be relevant to all young people in schools and colleges?
On the issue that was debated a second ago with the Conservative spokesman, parent guarantee 5 says that once a child is in school, their parents will be expected to sign a home-school agreement each year. Is the Secretary of State really suggesting that every parent whose child goes to an English school should be required to sign a home-school agreement, and that that should take place each and every year of school? If so, that also involves a level of bureaucracy that is totally unnecessary and would be unwanted and wasteful for the vast majority of schools.
We come to the category of pledges that are probably undeliverable or are phrased in such a way that it would be almost impossible to decide whether the Government have met them. The supposed pledges made on sport and culture fall precisely into that category. Pupil guarantee 17 is supposed to guarantee
"five hours...of high-quality PE and sport per week, in and out of school", yet we know that for 75 per cent. of children, that standard is not met at present. That pledge was supposed to have been delivered by September 2009. Can the Government say whether that is the first of the guarantees that they have failed to deliver? Their own statistics demonstrate that they are not delivering it today.
What could any ombudsman make of the supposed guarantee on access to cultural education? All that it actually says is that
"every pupil should have access to high-quality cultural activities in and out-of-school, with an aspiration that, over time, this will reach five hours a week for all".
Does the Secretary of State really think that any parent who sought to challenge that guarantee-guarantee 19-could get any serious conclusion from an ombudsman on whether it was being delivered? I put it to him that it is phrased so as to be completely meaningless and unmeasurable.
I return to an important guarantee, pupil guarantee 13, in this extraordinary list of 38 different supposed guarantees. The guarantee relates to one-to-one tuition in English and mathematics. Is that really the best way to deliver additional support to those youngsters for whom additional support is crucial? We have argued for a pupil premium to deliver additional resources in schools to help the most disadvantaged get up to the right level in terms of the basic skills that we expect them to have before they leave primary education and, unlike the Conservative party, we propose to fund it. Any pupil premium introduced in an environment where there is no overall increase in funding is simply undeliverable, because no Government of any party would be willing to take money away from schools to fund others.
Is the pledge of 10 hours' free one-to-one tuition a sensible way to deliver support to youngsters who, after all, will have very different problems? The youngsters who fall beneath the threshold for intervention will include some who are very close to it and some who are disastrously far from it and will probably never meet it because of the nature of their special needs. In the modern world and the 21st century, what type of Government, other than one with the instincts of a Soviet Government of 50 or 100 years ago, would really think of prescribing centrally that the same number of hours, 10, should be delivered for all such youngsters, regardless of the views of teachers and head teachers on what they need, regardless of the need for flexibility to deliver in different-sized groups and regardless of whether some youngsters might need 20 or 25 hours and others with considerably fewer challenges might need only four or five?
Surely that is the kind of pledge that gives the Government such a bad name for trying to impose such solutions from the top down. I hope that we will hear further responses on the matter from the Government next year, when they complete their review of deprivation. Surely the right answer is to introduce a fair system of funding for schools that delivers more, particularly to deprived youngsters, and then to allow the schools themselves to deliver the standards that need to be set nationally in a light-touch way and enforced by Ofsted.
I look forward to the debates that will happen in Committee. We will set out more details on how we will implement the guarantees as we take forward the White Paper in advance of that. As usual, the hon. Gentleman is making serious policy points. The point that he made about the pupil premium is absolutely right. A pupil premium could lead to more or less resourcing going to a school with more disadvantage, depending on what else is happening to school budgets and the school formula. Simply saying that one wants a pupil premium could be consistent with major and substantial cuts, so it is an important point. However, a pupil premium where money went to the school based on the number of disadvantaged pupils would not guarantee that the pupils with disadvantages or extra needs would actually get the support that they need.
We are not saying that there has to be detailed prescription; we are saying that it should be for the school to make the decision in year 7 about a pupil who is falling behind. But we are saying that there should be a minimum entitlement of at least 10 hours for any pupil who has not got to level 4 at the end of year 6. If we do not do that, parents cannot know that their child with greater need will get greater support. How that is delivered-singly or in small groups and over how many hours-is a matter for the school to decide, but unless we set a minimum entitlement, how will we know that the pupil will get the support that they need?
The Secretary of State raises a serious issue about how we achieve accountability for money that goes to schools, but his solution is still entirely the wrong one. The problem with him-this is what divides his grouping within the Labour party from my party and, to a certain extent, from the Conservative party, although the Conservatives have different ideas about the amount of devolution that should apply to schools-is that he believes, ultimately, that the man in Whitehall and Westminster knows best. There is no better version of the man in Whitehall and Westminster who thinks that he knows best than the Secretary of State.
Because the Secretary of State thinks that he knows best, he thinks that the only way that schools can be trusted to deliver on such matters is for him to tell them precisely what they will have to deliver. The problem with that is that no Secretary of State can reflect from one desk in Westminster and Whitehall all the requirements, complexities and particular circumstances of 23,500 schools and 11.5 million pupils. He has gone way too far in this particular supposed guarantee in imposing a one-size-fits-all solution from Westminster and Whitehall. That is the wrong way of holding schools to account.
I apologise to Members of the Conservative party, but this is the serious debate about policy that we did not have earlier from Michael Gove, so I would like to engage in it. There is an issue here. I agree that we have to make sure that we get more flexibility and power to head teachers and teachers, but at the same time, parents want to know that their school will be a good school and that if their child falls behind, they will get extra help. How can we ensure that that will happen without the right combination of accountability for the progress of every child and without telling parents that their child has a right to extra support? If we simply leave it to local decision making-or, as we know from the Conservatives, basically opt out entirely from the national curriculum of the state system and have a much more market-based free-for-all-it might work for some children, but how can we guarantee that a child from a particularly disadvantaged background whose parents may be less engaged will get the necessary support? How can we make sure that we deliver social justice in that way?
We can never ensure that we deliver social justice by trying to prescribe from Westminster and Whitehall a system that will fit every school and every child in the country. What we can do is ensure that an individual school has the funding it needs and then that the school is held properly to account for what it does with the money. The Government's job, it seems to me, is to put in place a system of oversight and inspection that will then hold schools to account for the money they get. That is very different from telling schools how to spend that money.
I accept that. We are having a legitimate debate about how we frame these guarantees to get these matters right both in terms of funding and how they are specified. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but does he agree that telling schools to opt out of the national curriculum, to stop being part of the state school system, to not accept the accountability that comes from the report card and then basically to sink or swim depending on whether the school is a good one, is totally unfair, unjust and would leave many children substantially disadvantaged? Does he agree on that point, even if we can debate our differences about the guarantees?
The Secretary of State is trying to draw me into agreeing to something. Even though we would like to see a much more devolved system of education with much more freedom for schools, I agree that we will never end up delivering high school standards in the foreseeable future by relying only on market mechanisms. I would still like to see much more choice and competition in education, but we will need some type of strategic approach to make sure that schools deliver, particularly in the most deprived areas where, as Mrs. Cryer said earlier, we cannot always assume that parents will have the ability or the inclination to move pupils around. We have to be able to bring successful schools to those communities and cannot rely on youngsters and parents moving large distances.
Let me move on from this exchange with the Secretary of State to discuss the obvious issue of school accountability. Another important part of the debate is about the school report card. When we heard the statement on the White Paper in June or July this year, we said that we welcomed the idea of having a school report card. I think that there is potential to deliver a much better overview of what schools are achieving. At the moment, Ofsted goes to inspect every few years, but it is only every few years and circumstances in schools can change pretty rapidly. It would be valuable to know more about parental views and it would be useful to be able to compare families of schools with similar catchments rather than just on the basis of the overall results.
We nevertheless have some fairly serious concerns about the school report card model that the Secretary of State is seeking to introduce. First, my understanding-I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong-is that the school report card is, to my surprise, going to be delivered not by Ofsted or even by local authorities, which, in the Government's jargon, although not usually in the substance, are supposed to be the commissioners of education, but by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. That rings all the alarm bells because trying to manage and oversee 23,500 schools from Westminster and Whitehall is deeply damaging. It potentially leads to a situation in which anyone running education from the Department has the strong incentive over time to demonstrate that schools are improving.
I understand that in New York, where this school card approach has been tried, schools were initially awarded a single grade from A to F-or something like that-and there was originally quite a good distribution of schools in different categories. The latest figures came out from New York recently, but they showed that virtually all schools were graded in the A and B categories. That sends out a warning: there is a risk both of those who oversee these arrangements having an interest in the outcomes and of creating a whole series of measures of school performance that are woolly, difficult to measure-things such as well-being and pupil perception-and open to the predictable attempt by schools to meet the targets in any way possible, which often fails to measure what is going on underneath. Anyone serious about what is going on in education in this country is worried that the existing target approach used by the Government to drive up standards-with some success in many areas-is actually leading to serious distortions in what is being chosen in terms of subjects and how it is being delivered.
I believe that Teach First graduates are giving a presentation of their views on education here next Monday; they will put forward their view that in some of the most deprived schools in the country, many youngsters end up making choices about the curriculum and qualifications based not on their own interests but on the desires of schools to achieve in the league tables. It is deeply worrying if choices are being made in education only to meet targets rather than because they are right for the pupils.
On that particular point about distorting choices-we will soon be able to have our debate in Committee-what is the hon. Gentleman's view of the proposal that we should exclude all vocational qualifications from these school-by-school comparison league tables? For example, it is proposed that we should not include construction, music, dance, design, IT or any of the vocational qualifications. Does he think that that would lead to a distortion in the choice that schools and pupils would make? Would that be a good distortion or a bad distortion?
Yet again, the Secretary of State is trying to draw me to his side of the Chamber. He knows that I think that the Conservative proposals-to leave vocational subjects out of the league tables-are very bad. I believe that the Conservative party may already have made a U-turn on this, if Mr. Gibb was right the other day.
Ah, it seems that there are two spokesmen on whether there has been a U-turn because the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said the other day that the Conservative party had dropped that particular proposal.
Well, it is on the record. The reason why this issue is so important is, as the Secretary of State said, that we do not want children choosing subjects because of league tables, because in many cases vocational subjects may be right for young people. What school is going to encourage the take-up of vocational subjects if they are not included in the league tables? The issue is to ensure that the weightings are right and realistic, which they may not be at the moment, and not to aspire to a curriculum that might have been appropriate for Eton in 1850 but is not right for England today. I hope that there will be some changes to the school report card process as we take the Bill through Committee. At the moment, we do not think it will deliver and we think it will replicate a lot that is happening elsewhere in the system.
We dealt a few moments ago with the Badman review. I shall say only that we share many of the concerns about the perception of home education that the Badman review process has created. Although we think it is reasonable for all parents who are home educating to register their children, our greatest concern is that that should not become a back-door way of foisting much of the bureaucratic and centralised education system on those who are seeking to home educate often precisely in order to escape from that system. They do not want it coming in through the back door.
I believe that I have made clear our major concerns about the Bill. We believe that it will usher in a tidal wave of new bureaucracy that will do very little to drive up standards in schools. Many of us will conclude that if this Parliament comes to an end before the Bill comes into law, it will be a good thing for education.
It has been interesting to listen to today's speeches and some from yesterday also repay reading. I would particularly like to commend the speech of Andrew Mackinlay, which showed what a model Member of Parliament can cover in not that many minutes after 17 years in Parliament. It was an inspiring speech, which I commend to anyone elected to this Parliament after the next election. It will show how it is possible to be on the Government side, pretty loyal, and interesting as well as representative of the interests of constituents.
I would like say a few words to the Secretary of State, if I may have his attention for a moment. [Interruption.] It is not comfortable for either the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State to spend all their time talking to people beside them on the Front Bench when a Member is trying to make a remark about them. It shows a discourtesy to the House which I find regrettable. The fact that the Secretary of State is now choosing to leave the Chamber could be described as going beyond what I had expected.
I think that one camera ought to be trained on the person at the Dispatch Box when a Member on the other side of the House is speaking. Yesterday we saw the Prime Minister spending all his time chatting to people. During the part of the debate when the Secretary of State was not getting involved with the Liberal Democrat spokesman, he was talking to the person sitting beside him. All that he wanted was for the person beside him to smile and nod as though he were being very clever. I think that a better example would be given to people in our schools and colleges if the Secretary of State could actually listen to the debate that the Government have introduced. I think that that is what people in this country expect.
When I speak in schools and colleges, I say to pupils, "If you are good enough, consider being a teacher." We want the best people to become teachers. They are not always the ones with firsts, or even the ones with degrees, but I think that in many fields, whether it is formal education or otherwise, being a teacher is one of the most rewarding of experiences, and certainly very important to society.
My mother-in-law was a teacher, my sister has been a head teacher, my brother-in-law has been a lecturer, and two of our nieces are teachers. I think that it is tremendous to be able to provide education, together with inspiration, motivation, aspiration and dedication. It means saying, "I will not necessarily become as well off as some of my contemporaries who have gone into fields such as industry," but, at the end of a working life or, indeed, at the end of a whole life, being able to look back and say, "Here are the people whom I have helped to teach and to share an excitement and interest"-whether the subject was science, literature, languages, philosophy or mechanics.
I went up to Cambridge last week to attend the launch of a book on the history of earth sciences at the university. A large part of it was dedicated to my great-great uncle, Sir Gerald Lenox-Conyngham. He never went to university, but he became a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Reader in geodesy and geophysics as a result of his help in developing those subjects. He has now been succeeded by Dan McKenzie, described by the present president of the Royal Society as probably the greatest living geophysicist, who made people aware of plate tectonics. Being able to challenge received ideas about what is going on inside our earth, let alone ideas about astronomy and even theories about how education can be made to work, is a great thing, and I am glad that today's debate is about education, although I shall also say a few words about health.
My wife and I have five grandchildren who attend the same primary school that our three children attended. It has no advantage over other schools-it has as great an ethnic mix as any-except for the fact that, over the 40 years or so for which we have known it, the head teachers have been people who believed in order, and in having expectations of what teachers and children can achieve together. Every child learned to read, and, having learned to read, was given a hymn book. Every child learned to swim. Every child learned, when out, to behave in a way that prompted people to ask, "What school does that child come from? It must be very impressive." That is something that does not require money. It is something that should be common and shared, and I hope that it will be.
The downside is that parents and teachers together do not always succeed. I hope that, when my party serves in government, we shall find a way of publishing, perhaps every two years, the results of studies keeping track of young people in each age cohort. I hope that we shall publish, for instance, the number of young people who each week, for the first time, commit a serious criminal offence. That figure used to be more than 2,000 a week. The vast majority of those young people were male, and by the age of 30 a third of young people had been convicted of an offence for which they could have been jailed for six months or more. I am glad that they were not, but those are pretty horrifying figures.
I hope that the position is now changing, but it used to be the case that 5,000 people in this country took up smoking each week. The same number of cigarettes were being sold each week. We knew that 2,000 people had died-not all of them prematurely-and we knew that 3,000 had given up while still alive. Virtually all those 5,000 people were under 21. Smoking was a habit copied from other people-a social contagion.
Let us take another issue that affects people's lives-not just the lives of teenagers, but those of many people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The number of people in the country who, each week, contribute to a conception that ends in a termination is over 6,000. More than 40 per cent. of people will, at some stage in their lives, contribute to a conception that ends in a formal termination.
All those figures are as easy to reduce as reducing the incidence of drink-driving among young men proved to be. We managed to reduce the number of occasions-2 million a week-on which a young man aged under 30 would drive a car having consumed more than the legal limit of alcohol to 600,000. Two thirds of a socially acceptable, body-breaking, illegal habit evaporated with no change in the law, no change in sentencing, and no change in enforcement. We achieved a change in understanding, a change in behaviour and a change in results.
I do not claim that that was purely a Tory achievement, but some figures stick in my mind. In 1979, 1,800 people a year died in this country because a driver or rider had been on the roads having consumed more than the legal limit of alcohol. In 1986, when I became directly involved, the figure was 1,200, and it is now between 400 and 500. We have achieved massive reductions without having to opt for massive spending, massive legislation, more policing or any other Government-type approach. Making people behave differently is partly a political gift, partly a result of leadership, and partly a result of not devoting too much attention to things that do not work. We could have lowered the limit, we could have increased enforcement and we could have introduced all sorts of penalties, but none of those actions would necessarily have had the same impact.
Let me return to the subject of education. What the Government propose is not necessarily based on bad ideas, but I have been looking at what has happened since 1997-for instance, the number of first-class packages sent to teachers and governors. I once asked a Minister how high a pile just the first-year's worth would make. The Minister could not answer. I think that far too much has been pushed out to people. What has not been said nearly often enough is that if something is working well, people will copy it. By discussing good practice and doing enough measuring to show what does not work, we can make a big change.
I experienced my first public responsibility as a governor of a school in Lambeth, south London, which in theory contained 1,200 girls. Forty per cent. of the intake was judged to be ethnic-minority. It was not until I asked that I discovered that after the raising of the school leaving age, more than 30 per cent. of the young people were not in school each day. It was not until I asked that I discovered that more than 20 per cent. of the teachers were not in school each day. It was not until I was able to get two of the West Indian mothers on to the governing body that any girl was allowed to take an O-level in the fifth form. Within three years, we saw our first pupil go to medical school.
Accepting lower standards and not having aspiration was seen to be a bad thing. One of our next-door neighbours in Lambeth said that he was sending his grandchildren back to Jamaica because they would be educated better there than they would be in London. That was shocking, and it was one reason why I decided to go into Parliament. I do not place a great deal of trust in the Bill that the Government are talking about, but I put a lot of faith in the ability of teachers of all political persuasions and none, working with parents of all political persuasions and none and with young people, to ensure that we see fewer failures and greater successes, and it becomes ingrained to bring respect into the fact of education and the excitement that it can bring.
Let me turn, relatively briefly, to the subject of health. A great many acronyms have been floating around. My right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, the Leader of the Opposition, has pointed out that "NHS" were the letters missing from the Queen's Speech. No doubt that was an oversight. I am sorry if there was an oversight, but that was probably the reason.
In 1997, the Government decided-for some reason that seemed to be pretty arbitrary-that the CHCs, or community health councils, would be abolished. That decision was followed by a succession of three or four changes in the way in which the interests of people in local communities in their health system would be focused in England. CHCs were not abolished in Scotland or in Northern Ireland, and I doubt that they were abolished in Wales. We repeatedly asked here, informally and formally, why that was being done, but no serious reason was ever given. When we ask now whose idea it was, no name comes forward. That is the kind of legislation which has a harmful impact on the ground.
I hope that when we come into government-as I hope and presume that we will; I shall work hard to ensure that we do-we can, for a start, re-establish a Department for Education. I see no reason for us to continue to split education between different Departments. I also hope that we can have a Department of Health, which, if people want CHCs to be brought back with the same level of resources that they had before, will be able to do that. I think that-both in Greenwich, where I was first a Member of Parliament, and in my present constituency of Worthing-such a system, with some adaptations, would work better than the current system in which the load is placed on volunteers. The current system is almost impossible to describe, and very difficult to sell to those whom we wish to become involved.
In respect of turning aspirations into laws-this is of relevance to the Queen's Speech-we must also acknowledge that Ministers, whether of the Labour, Conservative or any other party, should not introduce measures that will work badly.
Incidentally, on the subject of Governments saying they want to enshrine in legislation things that they are committed to doing, such as halving the deficit, can we not move forward to a time when if a Government say they want to do something, they just do it, instead of passing a law that in effect says, "This is what we will find ourselves not to have done by law afterwards"? I find that difficult to justify to college students in my constituency.
Turning to health, one of my greatest friends was a cardiologist called Professor Philip Poole-Wilson-indeed, he led the world's cardiologists. He told me, as did doctors in my own hospital, that the Government-or the Department of Health or the national health service, depending on who wants to take responsibility-plans for MMCs, or modernising medical careers, and the MTAS, or the Medical Training Application Service, system would work perversely.
When the then Secretary of State had stopped being Secretary of State and two years later said she was surprised at how badly that had gone, we ask ourselves why had she not been listening at the time to Professor Philip Poole-Wilson, my local adviser, Dr. Gordon Caldwell, or some people on her own political side, and certainly many on my side, who had said that that was not going to work? When a good doctor with a relevant PhD in a clinical subject gets marked down, and somebody else has ripped 150 words on leadership off the internet and puts in an application, and five qualified doctors at a hospital not far from here get not a single interview between them for a next job when they are the very people who will become the consultants and teachers we need in the future, we wonder what has been going on in the Government and the Department of Health. That is not what I knew when my wife was working there.
Incidentally, Philip Poole-Wilson was one of those people who switched careers; he did not start as a doctor. When, sadly, he died, there were 29 other professors of cardiology whom he had trained. That he achieved that by the age of 65 shows that if we allow people of distinction to achieve things, they can attract a group of people around them who can then go around the world and make enormous contributions.
My last point on the NHS is to do with the national health service IT system. Every strategic health authority said that one of their hospitals must be a victim in order to bring in this new system, and, sadly, Worthing was chosen in my SHA area. The hospital tried to put that off for as long as possible, but when it came in, within six to nine months an extra £2 million had to be added to the hospital budget of £140 million a year to provide the clerical and manual back-up to substitute for the system that had been put in to replace the computer system it had, which was working, but was not working in the way in which someone, who has now left their job, up at Whitehall had imposed on them. That is terrible. Those £2 million could have been very usefully spent on some things that truly matter. When I thought of the doctors, nurses, administrators, managers and others in the hospital having to face that, knowing it was coming in and it would not work, I wept. It is not what the Government are supposed to be doing.
The final topic that I wish to address is equality. I attended an important NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Edinburgh over the weekend. At one point, on the platform were put a brigadier and three other officers, all of whom were women. After they made their presentations, it was time to make some contributions. I had been reminded of my first ministerial role at the Employment Department, when I was responsible for, among other things, equality and diversity. I asked why it was that in Departments in those days-we are going back 25 years now, to 1984-80 per cent. of first-line managers were female but two promotion grades later only 40 per cent. were female. In part, the answer to that is that there was an agreement-I call it a conspiracy-between the management and unions that staff had to serve a certain number of years before they could get a promotion. Secondly, they had a system where staff had to apply for promotion; people were not told, "We want you to go for this bigger and better job." The issue came down to the generalisation-it is no more than that-that most men who are half-qualified for something think they are over-qualified, and most women who are half-qualified think they are disqualified. The same applies normally-this is just a generalisation-to doing a good job; a woman doing a good job thinks it is a good reason to go on doing it, whereas a man doing a good job thinks it is a good reason to change and do something else. Some of these issues are cultural.
We also had issues over race. I remember being questioned on the BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme about why racial discrimination in employment had not appeared to have improved very much. I pointed out that "Today" had 40 staff, not one of whom was black or Asian. I asked whether that was because they did not have the qualifications or somebody in recruitment was discriminating. I was on the show twice more in the next few weeks. I asked the same question, and I then got a letter from the director of personnel saying would I please stop exposing the BBC to scorn by asking questions, which seems an odd request to come from the BBC. It said it would have, in effect, an open access policy, under which people doing media training at the then polytechnic next door would get work experience, so people would no longer have to be called Dimbleby or Jay or something else to get an internship at the BBC, and the BBC has now changed. Therefore, being open and fair and giving people opportunity is what unites the education and health sides of this debate, and it is certainly the driving force behind my participation in public and political service.
I hope that the Sir Christopher Kelly changes, whether modified or not, will not lead to the middle being excluded from participating in this place. I have a fear that we will have a Parliament of just the rich and the poor and not the people in between. We should also try to ensure we get the ordinary practitioner in medicine to think they might come into Parliament at some sacrifice and do well, and the average head of department of a good school, too-not to do better than they otherwise would in financial terms, but to make a contribution. Unless we make sure we do not exclude the middle, we will end up with a rather emptier Parliament.
I am grateful for having been given the opportunity to make a short contribution on this Queen's Speech. Clearly, it will not be as short as the Queen's Speech-nothing could be. I love pomp and ceremony, but I assume that the events of yesterday were not put on just so that I could be cheered up on a grim, blustery day. This Queen's Speech covers only three pages-it costs £4 from all good booksellers, no doubt, but it must be one of the worst buys in the country. To distract Her Majesty from her other duties to come all the way to Parliament in order to deliver this very short speech, which most people do not believe will be delivered on in any great way, shape or form, was a complete waste of time. I am sure it was great for the tourists, however-I am sure they enjoyed the event.
Perhaps, however, this was the Prime Minister giving a dry run of what will become the real Queen's Speech next May, when most people expect the general election to be. We will then get a Queen's Speech that will be full of substance and will be properly delivered and have the mandate of the public. As we all know, at present the Prime Minister has not been endorsed by any member of the public. Indeed, at the last general election the "great" Tony Blair said he would be Prime Minister for a full term. That did not happen and two and a half years into his premiership the keys of No. 10 were dangled above him and out went Tony Blair and in came the current Prime Minister. Therefore, yesterday's Queen's Speech has not got the mandate of the general public.
There was a great opportunity for the current Prime Minister to call a general election as soon as he was given the position; it is a great shame that he did not. If he had won that election, at least we would have had a series of Queen's Speeches over a five-year period which would have had the endorsement of the general public.
While I am talking about things that have not got the endorsement of the general public, I should mention today that it is very likely that in Brussels our unelected Prime Minister will vote for somebody whom the great British public will also not have a say on: the President of the European Council. I am not quite sure what it takes these days to fulfil that particular post. I do not think that the jobs pages of The Guardian carried an advertisement so that anybody who wished to apply could do so. It is more mysterious than a papal announcement. This is supposed to be a President who will speak on behalf of the whole of Europe, yet who this person will be is a complete mystery. Will it be Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian Prime Minister-a household name, no doubt, throughout Europe; or will it be someone who really is a household name throughout the UK, at least, and who fills me with even greater dread: Tony Blair? The fact is that this position has not been endorsed by the general public of this country, even though it was created by a treaty that we were told we would have a referendum on.
For the growing number of unemployed in this country who have looked at the generality of the Queen's Speech, the question is, "Is this going to help me? Will it help this country, and help provide more jobs?" Today we are talking about health and education, in the main, but for all the education that is being delivered in this country-vocational education was mentioned by the Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee-the sad truth is that there are no jobs for some of the people now being trained and educated.
What is also very disturbing is the number of firms already based in this country that are now looking at opportunities to outsource or to move part of their company, if not all of it, abroad. David Stern, UK managing partner at Roland Berger, said that the
"Government must help UK companies and employees become more competitive in the global market place. This will require reducing bureaucracy, enhancing the skill of the labour pool, and alleviating the cost burden on business", which clearly is not happening. That study found that 49 per cent. of businesses believe they would be significantly more competitive if they moved more business functions outside the UK, and 72 per cent. have moved or are considering moving a proportion of manufacturing overseas. The study's most alarming finding was that 81 per cent. of the UK's largest multinational firms are either considering moving or already planning to move at least one major business function overseas by 2015. Furthermore, one in seven companies have already relocated manufacturing abroad. We clearly have a lot more to do to ensure that manufacturing is assisted in this country, and that we look at the burdens we are putting on our businesses. The money being diverted into rules and regulations could be invested in those companies, providing jobs for the future for the work force-for the people whom we are educating now in our schools and in further and higher education.
Two other areas are also under pressure, one of which is the pub industry. I am vice-chairman of the all-party group on beer, as everybody knows; it is an arduous task, which I fulfil with great dexterity. When the VAT rate was reduced to 15 per cent., a percentage was added on to alcohol so that it did not benefit from the reduction. In the context of tourism and the great British pub, beer is one of the great British traditions. As the Government know, 50 pubs are closing a week, destroying not only jobs but the fabric of life in many parts of the country. When the VAT rate goes back up to 17.5 per cent. on
I turn now to the dairy industry, another industry that is struggling, but which is vital to the Ribble Valley. In 2000, there were 20,000 dairy holdings; by 2008, the figure had virtually halved, to 10,112. In Lancashire, there were 1,144 dairy holdings; by 2008, the figure was down to 634. In the Ribble Valley over a similar period, a figure of 206 dairy farms reduced to 134-a decline of 35 per cent. Such a great number of dairy farms are closing simply because the cost of production is beyond what they can sell their milk for. No business can survive for any length of time when the cost of production exceeds the sale price.
I want to touch on one aspect of education that has not been mentioned today: the student loan fiasco. We are trying to encourage as many people as possible to enter university and higher education, but to date some 119,000 students still have not had their student loans. I heard a student say on the radio that his university has a scheme whereby if a student is suffering from complete hardship, they can borrow from the university, which he has done up to now. However, that still means that for the time that he has been at university he has been unable to fulfil the full role of a student, simply because he has not had any money. I suspect that a great many of the 119,000 students who have not received their loans to date are struggling, facing Christmas with still no prospect of their loans being paid to them.
Has my hon. Friend, like me, had constituents on low incomes contact him who are themselves suffering hardship because they are having to give money to their children to enable them to survive at university? It is a disgrace that that has been allowed to happen, and that those who are most vulnerable are suffering the most.
Absolutely. I imagine that every constituency will have a number of families who are wondering how they will survive this Christmas. There might even be guilt on the part of some students, thinking that they will go back to university in January still having to rely on parental contributions so that they can eat and live. It is an absolute scandal. The Secretary of State said that more money is going into education, which is absolutely true, but this issue needs to be properly addressed.
At least the Secretary of State cheered me up no end when he said that this is the last Queen's Speech of this Administration. In fact, this is the last November of this Administration; next month will be the last December; and then we will have the last Christmas of this Administration-until we finally get to the general election, which will further cheer me up no end. Like my hon. Friend Peter Bottomley, I will be working very hard indeed for a change of Administration, but I suspect that we have a half-open door to a general public who want such a change and to see fresh policies and ideas.
Given the obesity time bomb in this country, the Government want more young people to get off the couch and participate in sport. We must do more to ensure that when youngsters go to school, they have the necessary facilities and time within the curriculum for sport. Sport must not be seen as the easy option, or something that they do instead of the serious work of academic education. Sport and a healthy lifestyle are vital to our youngsters, and in many senses this issue is relevant to the health arena. If youngsters participate in sport they will be healthier, and the health budget will probably thereby be less than if they were not doing sport, eating the wrong sorts of foods and leading very unhealthy lifestyles. This issue will have a huge health impact, so let us get it right now by investing in our youngsters through sport. Let us not treat sport as a Cinderella subject that is unimportant in schools. It is vital.
I also mentioned to the Select Committee Chairman the question of youngsters, in the main, getting a bad press, which they do; I do not know why. I know that it is easier for journalists to pick on the very small number of young people who do bad things, and blow it out of all proportion, as if everybody under the age of 18 is a young thug waiting to pick on some unsuspecting member of the public and rob them, for example. That is clearly not the case. I am co-president of the British Youth Council and in my estimation, having talked to young people, the vast majority are really interested in what they are doing. They actually want to make a contribution to society, and a lot of them do tremendous charitable work, day in, day out, of which we read very little in the newspapers. I wish that there could be a deal or pact with young people so that, for every bad story that a newspaper carries about them, they also print a good one about some of the great things that some young people are doing in this country.
Sometimes I hit the supermarket industry-I declare my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests at this point-for the way in which it forces down the amount of money that it is prepared to pay to the dairy industry, to give just one example. However, one thing that supermarkets do on education and training-I should mention Tesco and Sainsbury's in this regard-is operate the voucher scheme that provides computers and other equipment to a number of rural schools in my constituency that otherwise would not get access to them. I am sure that a number of MPs get the opportunity to present those goods to their local schools once a year, and I think that the scheme is fantastic; the gratitude, in particular that of small rural schools, is tremendous to see. If ever the supermarkets look to change the emphasis of that scheme, they could give shoppers an opportunity to donate their vouchers in store so that they could be reallocated to smaller, more rural schools, because the number of parents and grandparents collecting vouchers for those schools will be that many fewer. That is the one suggestion that I make to supermarkets.
I shall briefly discuss health. On this morning's "Today" programme, we all heard that Nexavar, a drug that would help and prolong the life of those with advanced liver cancer, is not going to be provided to those people, who are suffering, thanks to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. The reason given for their not being able to get the drug is that it costs too much. That is despite the fact that Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, Pete Johnson, says that the situation is enormously frustrating because people know how effective that particular drug is. Some 600 to 700 patients a year are affected by this. People who are suffering from cancer, and their families, are hearing that a drug is available that can prolong their life and are then being told that they cannot have access to it, despite that fact that people in Romania get access to it. What is so special about Romania that people there are able to get access to this drug when this advanced country, which is giving cohesion funds through the European Union to countries such as Romania, cannot give the same guarantee to its patients who are suffering and to the families who are suffering, in other ways, with them?
I hope that we can reconsider which drugs are made available to the public. Where a drug could improve somebody's life, there must be a really compelling reason for it not to be made available here when it is available in other parts of the world. Money simply cannot be the only criterion-if it were, we could say that we are not going to provide all sorts of drugs and procedures because they cost too much.
"N", "H" and "S" were the three letters missing from this Queen's Speech. As many hon. Members know, my mother died of clostridium difficile this year. I hope that when the Government, yet again, look at the procedures in place, they will place a special emphasis on tackling C. difficile and hospital-acquired infections. The number of death certificates mentioning C. diff increased each year from 1999 to 2007. In 2007, there were 8,324 such cases-an increase of 28 per cent. on 2006. Among death certificates mentioning C. diff, the percentage on which it was an underlying cause of death has been similar in each year, at about 55 per cent. The mortality rates in 2007 involving C. diff in the 85 and over age group were 3,429 and 3,396 per million of population for males and females respectively.
There needs to be far more education of, and awareness among the public on this. C. diff is not the same as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. On MRSA, we clearly need to ensure that our hospitals are clean and that the deep cleansing that the Government promise is delivered, so that people who go into hospital with one condition do not come out with another or die in hospital from a hospital-acquired infection. Why, for things such as C. difficile, are prebiotics not made available as a matter of course to ensure that people with one sort of condition are not left so weak that they then pick up a hospital-acquired infection?
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in debating the last Queen's Speech of this Administration. We will all be going back to our constituencies at the end of this year and the general election campaign is fairly well started as it is. I am not surprised that a man who occupies the position of Prime Minister and takes 12 days to work out what sort of biscuit he likes dithers to a greater extent as to when the date of the general election will be. This Queen's Speech is a great wasted opportunity but, unlike the Lib Dems, I do not think that we ought to have spent the next few months trying to sort ourselves out. The only thing that will sort out Parliament and bring back the trust that people want to have in this institution is a general election. People widely expect one and the House that will come back will have at least 300 or so new Members. That new House will be elected with a mandate to clean up properly the arrangements for how this House should be working. Aside from the NHS, the other thing missing from the Queen's Speech was mention of something to deal with the legislation necessary to implement the Kelly findings; the Conservative party fully endorses those recommendations.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate on the Queen's Speech. I must say how much I enjoyed the speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley). Both of my hon. Friends gave us lots of ideas and things to think about as they covered areas of the Queen's Speech and the way forward on health and education. I am delighted to see the shadow Health Secretary on our Front Bench, because he has done so much for, and is so heavily involved in, health matters across the country. We very much hope that before long he will be responsible for the health of our country.
In the final year of this Parliament, at a time when this country is suffering so greatly because of the economic recession, it would have been expected that the contents of the Queen's Speech would be constructive and would attempt to deal with the real major issues confronting us. Regrettably, that was not the case and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley said, the Queen's Speech was very thin. I wish to highlight the fact that the Government Benches are devoid of any Back Benchers or participants in this debate on a very important legislative programme. Where are the Labour Members? There is no one on those Benches, save a few Members on the Front Benches. The empty Benches reinforce the belief that Labour Members, too, think that this Queen's Speech is inadequate to meet the needs of the nation.
In general, the Government's legislative programme appears to show that they have run out of ideas, and that this was a political speech and an attempt to save them at the general election. They will not succeed on that. They should be endeavouring to outline a programme to clear up the mess they have created over the past decade, be that in health, education, any other such matter or, more importantly, the economy. Too much of the programme in the Queen's Speech is, regrettably, partisan point scoring and is not about improving people's lives.
I am disappointed that the Education Secretary is not here, because his speech highlighted what is wrong with the Government and with this Queen's speech. His contribution was partisan and, regrettably, it was not constructive. When I intervened on him, I endeavoured to suggest that on education we should be looking to work together to improve in the areas where we need to improve for the benefit of our children and our country. On this occasion, we need real change to create jobs, reform the health service, deal with our huge debt, put forward plans on immigration and offer real reform in schools. The Government have nothing to offer on ideas, vision or practical policies. Most of their measures have been window dressing.
Two areas of great concern to my constituents and across my borough of Bexley did not get prominence in the Queen's Speech. In fact, some aspects of them were not mentioned at all. One is the NHS and the other is immigration. Cutbacks in our local NHS in Bexley, financial problems affecting our local hospitals, the closure of wards and the proposed permanent closure of the accident and emergency at Queen Mary's hospital, Sidcup are causing anger and concern in my area. My hon. Friend Mr. Lansley has come down to Queen Mary's to see the problems at first hand. We have a good hospital that is losing a facility that is much loved and much needed in my area. Obviously, we need reforms to the NHS to ensure that the system works better. We should not set our sights against change-we believe in change-but what we need is a new approach and I do not believe that this Labour Government can bring that new approach to the NHS or anything else.
As for immigration, there needs to be a change in both the approach and the policy. There was nothing in the Gracious Speech on a subject that even the Prime Minister recently admitted in a speech was causing concern across our country. One might therefore have expected some mention of it in the Queen's Speech or some proposals. Regrettably, that was not so.
Today's debate, of course, focuses on education and health-two of the most important issues to our constituents across the country. We all know that things need to improve and need to be better. Yes, money has gone in, but what are the results and the outcomes? That is what our constituents are looking for. I want to concentrate mainly on education today, and the Government's proposals are, I think, an admission of failure in education after 12 years in office.
As a former teacher and lecturer, as well as a father, grandfather and school governor, I remain very concerned about the state of education and our schools in this country. So much for the 1997 Government slogan or mantra of "Education, education, education." We have had so many education Bills and so many reforms, yet we still have many problems. That is quite an indictment of failure for the Government.
The Government have said that they believe that their new legislation will allow them to create world-class standards in schools, to listen to parents, to give them more information and to act to protect vulnerable children. These are commendable aims. We are all in favour of them and believe that they are vital. Why, after nearly 13 years, have we not achieved them? Why is still more legislation being introduced? The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families should be ashamed, I think, of the Government's record in education.
What will the new Children, Schools and Families Bill do? We heard a large number of interventions from the Secretary of State about the bureaucracy and the aims of the Bill to give guarantees to parents and pupils. That is commendable in principle-we want to see guarantees of good schools and a lot of these aims are worth while. The Opposition do not disagree with some of the principles, but we are concerned about the bureaucracy that will be created. Of course we want guarantees, of course we want parents to be more involved and of course we want teachers to be freed up from bureaucracy so that they are able to do their jobs. We want heads and schools to have more independence. Our proposals are not as unfettered as Mr. Laws tended to suggest, but we want to ensure that the professionals can get on with the job-whether they are in the health service or in education.
Many of the measures in the Children, Schools and Families Bill are to be welcomed. Some are really good ideas. As my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families said in an impressive, entertaining and constructive speech, a lot of the parts of the Bill that we agree with are measures that we proposed that have now been taken over by the Government. Of course we welcome that fact-anyone welcomes a sinner who repenteth, and this Government have a lot of sins.
Legally enforceable home-school contracts were an idea that we were very passionate about, proposed by the Conservatives. It is just a pity that it has taken the Government so long to come forward and accept them. Regrettably, however, the Government seem to be tinkering a lot with education rather than grasping the real need for school reform.
Of course, we must deal with the worst and poorly performing schools as a matter of urgency. Children are being failed by the system and in 2009 that is not good enough. The majority of children who are failing the most are those in the more deprived and difficult areas, who have fewer opportunities. That cannot be acceptable and must be attacked as a top priority.
In the longer term, the whole education system must be more responsive to parents. A system of legal guarantees, as proposed by the Government in their measure, could be expensive and time-consuming, and will not give parents more control over their children's education. We should be giving parents more real choice by opening up the system, not closing it down and introducing more and more bureaucracy.
In his speech, my hon. Friend was positive about the need for educational reform. We need a radical approach to transform poor and failing schools-not more bureaucracy. The Conservatives have positive and radical ideas. We believe that there should be a new generation of independently run state schools. We do not believe that local authorities should have total control over our education system. In some areas, they have failed to take the initiative.
I commend the local education authority in my borough of Bexley as innovative and good. We are looking towards even greater diversity. We have grammar schools, comprehensive schools and single-sex schools. We also have Church schools and some academies. The academy in Welling is doing well, and we hope that the new one in Crayford will open next September. The primary part of the school is already open-I had the privilege of opening it in July. We look forward to the innovative education at the school giving real opportunity to people in that part of my constituency. The Haberdashers' Aske's federation is behind the project and is to be commended for taking the initiative.
Conservatives want passionately to smash down the regulatory barriers, such as planning guidance and building regulations, so that it is easier for new providers to open a school. Moving to a per capita funding regime, whereby new schools are paid if they attract pupils, and introducing a pupil premium to direct extra funding towards the poorest pupils must also be a way forward.
We are keen on turning the best schools into academies, giving every school the opportunity to apply for academy status and extending the academy programme to primary schools. Forcing schools that have been in special measures for more than a year to be taken over by an excellent academy provider is a way of taking real action to improve schools that have been failing our children and communities. Giving parents the power to take over schools that local authorities want to close is another option for the future.
We believe in giving schools greater freedom, but that must come alongside making schools more responsible to parents. In that way, we shall have better and more balanced education provision for every child, all over the country, not just those who happen to live in an area where there are already good schools.
We want positive action. We shall look carefully at the pupil and parent guarantees of a legal right to a good education, but we have concerns. We believe that we need to free things up rather than increase bureaucratic regimentation and control, and to be much more effective at pushing up standards.
Standards are the key. People should have the opportunity to be educated, to aspire and to develop to their maximum potential. Many of us are very grateful to the state schools we attended and to our teachers. They gave us opportunities to get on and make something of our lives. I am certainly grateful to the teachers at my primary school and grammar school.
Teachers do a fantastic job. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West said in his excellent speech, teaching is a vocation. Teachers can really help pupils to develop. We should be grateful to people who go into that profession and give their lives to encouraging, enthusing and educating our young people. It is a tremendous career, but a demanding one. We should appreciate, too, the head teachers who give leadership and encouragement and set the benchmarks for their school. We believe in head teachers, teachers and parents, and we want more power for them, so that they can help improve standards, and can enthuse pupils and give them the necessary aspirations.
I conclude with a short word on the Queen's Speech in general. There is very little in it-and, to be realistic, how many of the Bills that it mentions will be enacted by the time the election comes? I do not know. The Queen's Speech is a missed opportunity for a Government who, when they came in, promised so much, but who have delivered so little in nearly 13 years. They are political to the last, as they always have been. The speech was a regrettable missed opportunity to deal with the issues facing our country. Therein lies the Government's tragedy. I am sure that the electorate will pass their verdict on them in the near future.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families began his speech by saying "Hi". I will resist the temptation to say the same to you, Mr. Speaker, but I observe that he might have done better to begin by saying "Bye", because that is the message given by Labour Members this afternoon.
Indeed. By the time the Front-Bench speakers had wound up, they had all gone, apart from the distinguished Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, of which my hon. Friend Mr. Stuart is a distinguished member. At the moment, the lonely presence of the Health Secretary's Parliamentary Private Secretary, Phil Wilson, is guarding the Government Benches. Labour Members are presumably off to their constituencies, but perhaps they have come to the conclusion, as we certainly have, that there is nothing wrong with the Queen's Speech that a speedy general election will not put right.
It is appropriate that I should begin by reflecting on saying goodbye, because this is not only the Government's last Queen's Speech, but mine. I am in the process of saying goodbye myself. As I go about doing so today, I want to reflect, in a local way, on the public services-health and education. First, I want to say something about public service itself and some of the issues that have arisen as a result of the expenses scandal over the past year. I shall conclude, if I have time, with a few brief remarks-a kind of coda-about the situation in Afghanistan.
It almost goes without saying that it has been a debilitating and, in many respects, disastrous year for the House of Commons, what with the expenses scandal and the issues that arise from it. I want to try to take a step back for a moment and ask a fundamental question of principle that is rather more important, in the long run, than some of the detail with which the issue can sometimes become surrounded. The basic question that the House has to ask is whether it sees Members of Parliament fundamentally as citizen legislators who are free to earn and work elsewhere, or as professional politicians. Professional politicians are, by definition, not so free to earn and work outside, and are therefore inevitably members of a political class, distinct and separate from the constituents whom they represent.
Looking back at the journey that has taken place this year-beginning, probably, with Nolan, through to the House's decisions of
My answer to the question, "Why shouldn't hon. Members fill in time sheets in the way that has been suggested?" is that the Commons should not become a monopoly for the political class who work here, work here only and do not have any outside interests and expertise, whether in dentistry, the law, the City or charities and so on. If hon. Members disagree, as some will, I simply make one observation: ultimately, what is good for the goose must be good for the gander. If being a Member of this legislature is a full-time job, it follows as night follows day that Members cannot moonlight as Ministers on the Government Benches; and, if that is the way that this House and the voters want it, the legislature and the Executive must go their separate ways. I should not like that, but I am afraid that that is the position into which the House is getting itself. I make that point gently but, I hope, firmly.
I do not want this contribution simply to be about Members, so I shall return to my constituents' concerns about health and education and make two simple, local points. On health, last week, two mums-of course there were more-gave birth in my constituency, and I am sure that the whole House will want to congratulate them. Unfortunately, they did not do so in the safety of a labour ward: they both gave birth in ambulances. They did not give birth in the security of a hospital, either: one gave birth in an ambulance in a lay-by on the A4010, which stretches between Wycombe and Aylesbury; and the other gave birth in an ambulance outside the Eden shopping centre, which has many virtues but is not, after all, a hospital.
My constituents will ask the simple question that our party asked during the 2001 general election: "Where has all the money gone?" Although I could revisit the territory that has been covered by some of my hon. Friends, who have seen health cuts and closures in their constituencies following the Government's change to the health service funding formula in 2004, I shall resist the temptation to go back and, instead, make two points about the present.
In Buckinghamshire, we are trapped in a vicious circle. After the restructuring of the past eight years and, in particular, the change to the funding formula in 2004, we have had a primary care trust deficit. That tends to leak into the hospital deficit, and, because the hospital trust has a deficit, it is very hard for it to make progress on its entirely noble aspiration to become a foundation trust. We receive about 17 per cent. less NHS funding per head than the average citizen in England, so we cannot address the deficit fully. I am not suggesting that the PCT does not have a role to play in getting its deficit down, but that is very hard if it is 17 per cent. behind the rest.
I have had several constructive conversations with my hon. Friend the shadow Health Secretary, who, unlike the Health Secretary proper, is in his place on the Front Bench, listening to the debate. My hon. Friend has been able to reassure me that there will be a simpler, fairer and independently administered funding formula if a Conservative Government are elected in May, as I believe they will be, and that will greatly help to improve my constituents' situation. In the long term, if some of that extra money can unlock foundation status, Wycombe hospital may be able to regain some of the facilities that it lost to Stoke Mandeville hospital after the 2004 changes to the Government funding formula.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will get any structural changes that he wants to make in early, because, like my hon. Friends in other areas, we have seen absolutely bewildering health-structure change in Buckinghamshire. When I arrived, there were three primary care groups, which became three primary care trusts. There is now one primary care trust. The mental health trust has been merged with Oxfordshire. The regional health authority has been abolished and recreated, and the ambulance authority has been merged. Not one single team of chair and chief executive is in place now that was in place in 2001. For us, the experience of the NHS in Buckinghamshire has been almost like watching permanent revolution in China. If my hon. Friend Mr. Lansley becomes Health Secretary, as I am sure he will, my constituents will look to him to introduce some stability to the situation.
On education, I want to make a simple point about social mobility. I will not rehearse all the figures-my hon. Friends will be familiar with them-which show that social mobility has stalled under this Government since 1997 and that the gap between rich and poor has not narrowed but, in several key respects, widened. Our education system in Buckinghamshire is unusual, although not unique, because we still have a selective system. For a long time, it has been my party's policy not to seek to reintroduce a selective system nationwide or to seek to disrupt the selective system where it is working well, as it does in Buckinghamshire. Given that the 11-plus, at least as it works in our county, is essentially not dissimilar from an IQ test and seeks to match pupils to schools, and given that a large proportion of pupils in our excellent grammar schools appear to come from better-off areas, I want to ask one simple question as I approach my departure from the House in March, May, or whenever the general election takes place. Are we absolutely certain that that test is working as well as it should for pupils in the poorer areas of my constituency, who would greatly appreciate the chance to be as socially mobile as their predecessors were a generation ago, and who arguably appear to be doing less well out of the system than others?
I want to conclude with a few remarks about Afghanistan in the light of my experiences, which my hon. Friends and Members in all parts of the House will have shared, on Remembrance Sunday. As each year passes, certainly in my constituency, I have observed the crowds growing as the involvement of our servicemen and women becomes greater, and sensed a greater appreciation of the sacrifice that they are making.
The current strategy in Afghanistan is that the American Government and our Government require a surge-there is no controversy about that. Clearly, our troops need to be better equipped. In some respects, the Government's record on that has been absolutely scandalous. The alternative to a surge and better-equipped troops-immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan-would plainly be disastrous; apart from anything else, it would place enormous strain on the western alliance. I am sure that no one in the House would want to contemplate an immediate unilateral withdrawal. However, we must look forward and ask ourselves seriously whether, if the surge does not work, the Helmand mission in which our troops are engaged is fundamentally indispensable to our national security. There are different views in the House about that. Dr. Howells recently said, in effect, that it is not indispensable, and called for much higher spending on security in this country and for a scaling down of our presence in Afghanistan.
I think that hon. Members and others would benefit from reading the recent interesting pamphlet by my hon. Friend Mr. Holloway, which was published by the Centre for Policy Studies. It follows very much the line of thought developed by a man who I believe will be a future colleague here-Rory Stewart, our excellent candidate in Penrith and the Border-and argues that a new emphasis should be placed on more local decision making in a country where, after all, there is no history of unitary Government. My hon. Friend and Mr. Stewart emphasise the need for a smaller military and development presence but, crucially, enough of a presence to be able to search out and destroy any bases that the al-Qaeda leadership might seek to re-establish. Those ideas are well worth examination.
It would be wrong of me to anticipate the general election result next May, but I must say that I am looking forward to the possibility-I will put it no more strongly than that-of a Conservative Government led by my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron. The challenges, which are not substantially addressed in the Queen's Speech, if they are addressed at all, are enormous.
The deficit, Afghanistan, to which I just referred, and the emerging crisis in Iran-any one of these would be a big enough challenge for one Government, but it is quite possible that my right hon. Friend will find himself dealing with them all at once. This is not my last contribution, but a valedictory note is perhaps appropriate. Those will be very big challenges for him if he becomes Prime Minister, and all I want to say is that I will be cheering him on from whatever journalistic perch I happen to find myself occupying.
I am very pleased to make a short contribution to the debate, which gives an opportunity to tie health and education issues together. Although a lot of legislation endeavours to do that, I think we are all aware of the huge gaps where children's services and health services are not working together as they should.
I should like to speak about access to health services and subsequent outcomes for children and young people. Mr. Sheerman mentioned child protection and said that even after a year of debate and after we have identified so much that needs changing in our children's services, it did not come up in the Queen's Speech-perhaps I should say that it is yet another such issue that did not come up. The problem has impacted greatly on the public and they certainly want to hear more about how we can tackle it.
I have tabled amendments to a series of Bills to achieve provision of therapeutic services for all abused children, starting with the Bill that became the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Sadly, I have been unsuccessful so far, but most of my political life has been "Try, try again," so I have not given up yet. As an ambassador for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, I agree with its call for comprehensive post-abuse therapeutic provision for children in care, custody and refuges, and for children exhibiting sexually harmful behaviour.
Child abuse remains an unacceptably large problem in the UK. An NSPCC study from way back in 2000 showed that 16 per cent. of children had experienced some form of sexual abuse, which may well have been by a parent or another relative. Other forms of abuse-physical or emotional or neglect-can also have a traumatic impact on children. In 2006, the then Department for Education and Skills said that of 60,000 children in care, 63 per cent. were there because they had experienced some form of abuse or neglect. Of course, in reality, the problems are likely to be much more widespread, because instances of abuse go unreported or because they are reported many years after they occur. The long-term consequences of child sexual abuse include anxiety and depression, anger and guilt, phobic reactions, substance abuse, difficulties functioning at school, poor self-image and difficulties with personal relationships and parenting.
The Corston report in 2007 highlights criminality as a very real potential consequence of these problems, and it revealed that a high proportion of female inmates have a history of sexual abuse. Adults being treated for mental health problems often identify childhood abuse as an influence. Research shows that 25 to 40 per cent. of all alleged sexual abuse involves young perpetrators. The majority of those children and young people have been, or are being, sexually, physically or emotionally abused themselves.
Therapy at an early stage could therefore help to reduce the scale of the problems over time by breaking the cycle. In addition, of course, it could save much money and anguish, and many troubled adults. Therapy can transform children's lives, but provision is inadequate and patchy across the country.
A recent NSPCC report published just this year, "Sexual Abuse and Therapeutic Services for Children and Young People", concluded that the overall level of specialist provision is low, with significant gaps in provision both nationally and locally, and that there is a huge gap between the estimated need for services and service availability. The report identified potential shortfalls in provision ranging from around 51,000 to 88,000 therapeutic places. That is a massive problem.
I was talking to a member of the NSPCC just yesterday about ChildLine, a service so important that I hope that all parties will say in their election manifestos that they will continue funding it. Young people who do not want to speak up face-to-face with someone do manage to contact ChildLine and explain what has happened to them.
ChildLine also provides counselling services at the end of a telephone, and has allocated times when children and young people can ring in. Obviously, that is not as good as face-to-face counselling sessions but it is a start, as talking about these issues has to be a good thing. All the contacts made through ChildLine indicate how much a comprehensive service is needed.
Specialist services are not only too few but are often offered too late, when a child or a young person is already showing symptoms of mental health or behavioural problems. There are very few services available for young people who have been raped or seriously sexually assaulted. Recently, a Victim Support volunteer from my constituency came to talk to me about the total lack of rape counselling in our area for young people under 16 who have been raped. It took an enormous amount of work to convince people that merely referring a person in those circumstances to a website was really not satisfactory.
Not so long ago, I got a letter from a mother whose child, sadly, had been raped. The child had waited months for counselling, and I do not think that that is good enough. That may not be the most popular of items to talk about in relation to the Queen's Speech, but there are problems that we need to face up to and do something about.
Finding resources to provide a comprehensive service will obviously be a problem in today's economic climate, but I should like to see at least a commitment to a strategy to make such services fully available in time. Preventive action that should be taken automatically now will save money and heartbreak in the long run.
We need joined-up thinking. The new Department for Children, Schools and Families covers not only schools and children, but young people's health issues and youth justice. All those matters must be brought together when considering the need for therapeutic treatment. My last attempt to get the provision of therapeutic treatment included in legislation was on Report on the Children and Young Persons Act 2008. As I recall, the Government had agreed to amend the Bill to make provision for medical assessment for children taken into care. I tabled amendments to link the provision of therapeutic treatment to that assessment where appropriate. I was advised by the Bill Clerks that it was a DCSF Bill and that it would therefore probably not be possible to have an amendment accepted for debate which would place a monetary commitment on the Department of Health. Sure enough, my amendments were not selected.
I should like to ask all the Ministers who have been present at some point during the debate what more can be done at national level to ensure that health and children's services are fully co-ordinated. We should not get the answer, "This is not my Department," if we are looking at the child as a whole. I made a similar plea for more therapeutic services two years ago in the Queen's Speech debate and was heartened by the response that I got from the then Secretary of State for Health, who said:
"My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and I will work together on children's health on a Joint Committee to try and join services up in the way that the hon. Lady seeks."-[ Hansard, 13 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 637.]
I do seek that, and I seek real movement on it before the general election.
I recognise that the Government have invested in child and adolescent mental health services. There will never be enough money, but there has been considerable investment. However, that pot of money will not necessarily help the children about whom I am talking, because they may not have a diagnosable mental health condition, for example, and not all children and young people will wish to receive CAMH services.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children delivers excellent programmes, and Action for Children is doing a lot of work with children in care, including running some pilots for the Government on the provision of therapeutic treatment. There is a lot of good work, but we need more. The Barnardo's report "Whose Child Now?", published just this week, identifies the need for better services in local authorities, to provide special support to children who are sexually exploited or at risk. We need more preventive work in all our local authorities to stop sexual exploitation and truly tackle trafficking rather than pretend it does not exist. When it sadly does happen, there needs to be appropriate treatment and counselling if young people are to be able to go on in life and fulfil their full potential.
I congratulate the Secretary of State in particular on his commitment to supporting disabled children and their families, but I recently came across a local case in which there was a battle between the primary care trust and social services about who would pay for the support in overnight care that was necessary for a very sick child to be returned home from hospital and restored to his parents. The battle was acted out over four to six weeks, with the parents tragically in the middle. I hope that everybody is happy now, because three nights' support are being provided by the PCT and two by children's services, but why should the family have been in the middle of that tussle? That is one family, needing one set of services. Why cannot we do these things better?
I wish to touch on maternity services, which are a local issue that Mr. Syms will also be concerned about. When we are talking about good outcomes for children and young people, we have to go back and get pre-birth services right. Equally, it is really important that mothers have a good experience at the time of the birth, because attachment to the baby, love and caring are all-important. If there is not a strong bonding, perhaps because of an unfortunate situation at birth, it can lead to all sorts of further problems. We have to get that right at this level.
My granddaughter was born on Poole maternity unit just 16 months ago. Although it was a proud moment, I was shocked at the physical state of the buildings. A few months later, on a routine visit to the chief executive of Poole hospital, I mentioned that I had been deeply shocked. It had been many years since I had last been there, but clearly the buildings were outdated and it was difficult for staff to operate in such conditions. I was reassured at the time because I was told that everything was in hand for a new maternity unit to be built. That is long overdue and the existing buildings are past their sell-by date.
Poole hospital is an important, main hospital serving a large area, including my constituency, and has really tackled the Government's agenda. It was recently awarded a double "excellent" rating. What more can we ask of an NHS hospital? It has been ranked as the safest hospital in the country, because of how it has tackled infections. We are not talking, therefore, about a badly managed hospital-quite the contrary. Yet problems have arisen with the funding for the new maternity unit. I make a special plea to the Minister to look into the matter. The unit is much needed in a hospital that has been managed extremely well.
We are approaching the 20th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, and I am really disappointed that no one from the Department for Children, Schools and Families is here. The anniversary should be acknowledged in all debates today given that we are debating the Queen's Speech on health and education. That is really important. We have some wonderful programmes in our schools on the rights and responsibilities agenda put forward by UNICEF over the years. I am sure that many hon. Members will be visiting schools to celebrate the 20th anniversary.
I make a plea to the Government: so much has been done and the Government are getting much better reports when they go to the United Nations and talk about the progress that has been made, but this country has not fully implemented the convention, despite being an early signatory. We need to care about, for example, children in detention and asylum seekers' children, and fundamental issues need to be addressed. As we face the 20th anniversary, we have much to celebrate, but we need to ensure that we put our children first and foremost.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. We have heard some interesting contributions, although, as ever, one of the most revealing comparisons was between the contributions of the Front-Bench spokesmen for the two main parties. We should compare the partisan, petty approach taken consistently by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families with the thoughtful and responsible approach taken by my hon. Friend Michael Gove.
In truth, there are not so many things that divide us: we are all committed to creating an education system that is fit for purpose and in which teachers are valued and their roles recognised. Most important, we must do everything to ensure that educational opportunities for the most vulnerable children from the poorest families are as great as for those from better-off families. In order to make progress, we must recognise the reality of the situation.
The debate is not just a sterile exchange of data. The truth is that the Secretary of State said repeatedly that the gap between rich and poor had narrowed. Despite being prompted repeatedly, he failed to provide any evidence for that. We always end up with a slightly mixed picture, depending on the data that we look at, but the truth is that most independent assessments suggest that the gap between rich and poor has not been narrowed. That is something that all of us across the House should be worried about. We should work consensually to provide a framework for teachers, schools and parents to ensure that the current injustice in opportunity through education is addressed.
I plan to focus my remarks on the proposals that we are told will be in the Children, Schools and Families Bill to deal with elective home education. Elective home education is where children who have either never been to school-some parents may never put their children into school-or been taken out of school, which can happen for various reasons, are educated at home. I want to put on record my tribute to the commitment, enthusiasm and success of the many parents and children involved in elective home education. They have been shocked and horrified at how they have been portrayed. Even in yesterday's Queen's Speech, the Government's proposals for the compulsory registration of all home-educated children was put under the heading of "safeguarding", suggesting, as Ministers have done repeatedly, that there is some stigma or safeguarding problem with home-educated children.
The picture is complex. There are children who are electively home educated because the schools have effectively pushed them out, because they do not want children who are not succeeding to lower their percentages for certain targets. There are also children suffering from bullying, children with special needs that are not recognised and sometimes even children with special needs that are recognised, but who are deeply miserable at school. A complex set of people are covered by elective home education; but have the Government, if they are serious and concerned about it, set out to get a comprehensive understanding of children who are electively home educated? Have they tried to get robust data? I would put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Government have not done that.
The Badman review, which the Government commissioned, failed to tackle the issue. Badman said in his first report:
"Our own data concurred with the DfES (2007) report, that there are around 20,000 children and young people currently registered with local authorities."
However, Badman was not even certain about that:
"We know that to be an underestimate and agree it is likely to be double that figure"- in other words, more like 40,000 young people-
"if not more, possibly up to 80,000 children."
After people involved in home education challenged the Badman review's findings, which suggested that more of the children involved had child protection plans, Badman went out again, to gather additional data. He then came back and told the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families that children with child protection plans-that is, children about whom local authorities have the greatest concern-accounted for 0.4 per cent. of electively home-educated children, which he compared with the national average for all children of 0.2 per cent. He therefore said-he said it on the record, in a letter to the Committee-that the percentage of home-educated children who are subject to child protection plans is double the percentage for the population as a whole. Yet his numbers were based on the 20,000 who were known to be registered, and he himself said that the figure was probably at least double that. When challenged by me in the Committee, he failed even to understand and, in a later letter to the Committee, again failed to accept the basic point that if there are at least 40,000 home-educated children, as appears to be the truth from his evidence, and if every child on a child protection plan is known to the local authority by necessity of being on such a plan, it is clear that the percentage of home-educated children with a child protection plan is, if anything, probably lower than the national average overall.
Therefore, the whole idea that there is a special risk around the home-educated population appears to have no supporting data. I would say that children who may be a cause for concern to local authorities are sometimes taken out of school, perhaps to disguise behaviour, abuse by parents and the rest of it. Then there are issues with Traveller communities. We have no information, particularly from Badman, about the number of children moving around the country all the time. Children in a number of categories may or may not be greater cause for concern. However, it is clear that for the broad number of dedicated electively home-educated children, the risk of their being on a child protection plan and thus at risk of abuse appears to be less than for the population overall.
The fundamental basis of Badman and the Government's approach-that there is a problem from a safeguarding point of view that needs to be solved-seems to be statistically flawed. The Government should not be rushing forward with legislation to introduce compulsory registration and possibly to erode the civil liberties of the families concerned; they should be building a much better understanding of the system overall. What do the Government's proposals mean for children's services, social workers and those involved in home education? More work load and yet another database.
One expert from the reference group to the Badman review said:
"In my 30 odd years of professional life in education I have rarely encountered a process, the entirety of which was so slap dash, panic driven, and nakedly and naively populist."
The statistical evidence collected by the review was so weak, as I said, that the author had to collect the data again.
However, the Secretary of State seems to have made up his mind. He talked today of giving parents the support that they need, but we know that he has been described by Mr. Sheerman as a "bit of a bully", and we know what happens to parents who reject his support. Parents on benefits, whose children stand little chance today of getting the grades that they need to help them escape poverty, are told to be grateful for all the money that Labour has spent, despite the fact that the outcomes have not been delivered. Parents who go to desperate lengths to avoid the inadequate school dished out to them are labelled as failing to do their duty. And parents who want to set up their own school? Not in the Secretary of State's name.
As for parents who reject the Secretary of State's school system entirely and sacrifice their time and career to bring up and educate their children themselves, they are stigmatised as more likely to be child abusers than normal people. It is an absolute affront to those in the home education community, and it is baseless. The scheme is all about getting home educators in a headlock and forcing their children back into the Balls fold.
On the cost of the proposals, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has estimated that the registration and monitoring scheme would cost £21 million to set up and £7 million a year to run. That would pay, just about, for 1.5 additional staff members for each local authority in England. Is that enough to cover the additional demands of registration, database maintenance and additional inspections? A former head of research at Citigroup estimated the cost of launching and running the scheme at £500 million. Whatever figure one wants to choose-I imagine that it is somewhere between the two-a huge resource will be spent setting up a registration system.
Annette Brooke, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, said that she has been persuaded that a light-touch registration scheme for home-educated children would be appropriate. At first glance it looks as if that would offer benefits, just as with ID cards it seemed obvious at first glance that they would provide us with defence against terrorism and make us more secure. The more we gained an understanding of how ID cards would actually work and of the nature of the terrorist threat, the more the efficacy of ID cards to help us in that regard melted away. I would suggest that the idea of light-touch registration to make children safer or to make it more likely that they will get a suitable education will, on closer inspection, also melt away. I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that people who move around the country will not be caught by the net, but the typical people who will be caught by it are those who live in one place, who are committed to elective home education yet have to face someone from a local authority coming and knocking on their door.
I was interested and reassured to hear the Secretary of State's earlier intervention, but it is a shame that the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ms Johnson, is not in her place, because the Secretary of State seemed to suggest that, contrary to the Badman recommendations, he would not bring forward into the Bill-there is no draft Bill as yet-the recommendation to allow local authorities to enter people's homes as of right. If that concession has been made and that is not going to happen, it is a tremendous breakthrough. I am certainly pleased about it, but I would like to hear it repeated from the Front Bench again.
I endorse the hon. Gentleman's point. Does he agree that one of the big problems is the confusion of education and child protection? If I am teaching in a school, I am hopefully trained to recognise signs of child abuse and will report it to the appropriate authorities, which will not have to set out to solve it. Is not the problem the attempt to wrap this all into one, instead of being clear about what the issues are?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the two issues-safeguarding children who might be at risk and ensuring a suitable education for all children-have been mixed up. As I say, the data on the safeguarding issue suggest that elective home education in and of itself is not a problem area, although there may be groups covered by that heading and certain children who need greater support. We do ourselves no favours by mixing up the two issues.
The Badman report's recommendation 7 said:
"That designated local authority officers should... have the right of access to the home".
That right applies not after being given cause for concern or because the local authority has reason to believe that the child is not being properly educated or that the child is at risk or because of any issue whatsoever. This is a profound right to enter the home as the local authority sees fit. The recommendation also states that those officers should
"have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate".
The Badman review thus recommends that local authorities, some of which will have significantly let down the families and the children concerned by failing to tackle fully any under-performing schools or by leaving children and families traumatised and upset, should be given the right to march into the home to start monitoring and make an assessment of the child's education. That is fundamentally wrong and if the Secretary of State's intervention on Mr. Laws means that that will not happen, it is good news. I say to the Minister of State, Department of Health, Mr. O'Brien, who is in his place on the Front Bench, that I would be most grateful if that assurance could be repeated in the summing-up speech. That would provide enormous reassurance to people.
If we think about light-touch registration, it sounds perfectly reasonable at first. We do not want children below the radar or children who are not known to anyone-that is what moved the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and one can go along with her on that. If, however, we look at the detail of how it might work, we need to think about what "light touch" actually means. Does it mean that there is a registration system at local authority level and that the local authority then does nothing with it, or are we going to ensure, as Badman recommends, that every child who registers is visited within one month of registration? Local authorities do not have the resources to provide for that, so I can easily see that instead of the scarce resources of local authorities being used to give support where it is most needed-to families that are crying out for the extra support-we will end up with a bureaucratic procedure whereby the limited, overstretched staff will be forced to go around visiting family after family after family even though there are no issues and no concerns.
In the meantime, under a system that is supposed to ensure the provision of education and safety for children, what will actually happen-and it is typical of this new Labour Government, who are so wedded to bureaucracy and databases-is that the families most in need will be let down, because local authorities will not have the resources that would allow them to do something positive with the information that they are given. What else could happen? If local authorities obtain, in one way or another-from central Government or from their own resources-additional funds to invest in home education, and if we follow the Badman recommendations, we shall see local authority officers repeatedly entering homes and monitoring educational progress.
A fundamental principle of our system of government has been that parents are responsible for delivering the education of their children. It is parents who should take the lead, not the state. I fear that this draft Bill may change fundamentally the relationship between the state and parents, and that from now on the overarching responsibility for the welfare and education of children will be assumed to rest with arms of the state. The state will have to come in and satisfy itself that local authority officers cannot be sued and that their defensive position is watertight. We do not want them to get into trouble, so if we follow the Badman recommendations, they will have the right to enter homes.
I have another reason for asking the Minister to ensure that we hear a repetition of the Secretary of State's earlier pledge that local authority officers would not go into homes-if, indeed, I heard him aright. In June the Secretary of State wrote to Badman, saying that
"LAs need greater powers to monitor...home educated children must be seen regularly in their education setting".
That clearly suggests that local authority officers would go into the homes of home educators, but it also suggests that the Secretary of State fails to grasp the nature of much of home education. There is not necessarily a classroom in the home. Home-educated children are educated in libraries, in local leisure centres, in the park and when visiting country houses. They are educated everywhere, and a great deal of their education takes place on an autonomous basis: in other words, the child leads the education.
Academics have studied this matter, including one at the Institute of Education in London. He said that he was sceptical at first, but has become convinced that autonomous education, including many of the alternative approaches adopted by home educationists, is tremendously effective, ensuring that children are educated in a way that is sympathetic to their needs and interests.
I hope that the Minister will tell us what percentage of home-educated children the Government expect to register. Will only families in one place be pursued and possibly prosecuted? Will peripatetic families escape the net? How much will be spent on ensuring that all children, or as high a percentage as possible, are registered on the various local databases? And-this is a key question for many home educationists-should failing local authorities be allowed to decide what a suitable education looks like, when so many of their own schools and institutions are not delivering? Is that right? Is it right for the state to take away from families the overarching responsibility to ensure the education of their children?
Why cannot the Government adopt a humbler approach? Why can they not invest more money in research, enabling us to gain a better understanding of who is not at school and who is being educated at home? Why can we not be given a better understanding of where problems might lie among electively home-educated people? Why can we not have a voluntary registration system, perhaps involving additional financial support for families educating children at home? The present position is absurd. A home educator told our Select Committee that one father had to pay £1,000 to cover the cost of GCSE exams taken by his daughter, although he was a taxpayer like the rest of us.
Why do we have to go down the compulsory route? Why do this Government always think they know best? Why can they not work with people on a voluntary basis, build up the picture and then and only then-with a complete picture and a real understanding of the risks in respect of safeguarding and education-come forward with proposals, which might involve compulsory registration if there is due and proper cause. Due and proper cause does not currently exist, and I sincerely hope those aspects of the Children, Schools and Families Bill that deal with home education will not become law.
First, may I make something clear for the record? Earlier in the debate, Mr. Sheerman seemed to think that my generally cheerful and happy demeanour meant that I disagreed with his points about child pornography and the internet. I wish to state that I felt he made some very sensible, solid and powerful points about the protection of children, with which I wholly agree.
May I also say that it is a pleasure to follow my parliamentary neighbour, Annette Brooke? She made some excellent points about the protection of children. I know she feels strongly about that and has done a lot of work on it. It was nice of her to talk about Poole maternity hospital, too-and I know that she enjoys being a grandmother. All of us in Poole want to have a better maternity hospital. We all have an expectation of this project going ahead, and I hope we can somehow get through the current financial problems so that Poole can have a maternity hospital of which we can all be proud, and which is fit for purpose for the century.
I have been trying to work out how many Queen's Speeches there have been since I was first elected to Parliament. I certainly vividly remember the first one I attended, which was in 1997 and was replied to by Sir John Major. It was clear at that stage that the new Government were in the ascendancy; the place was packed with Labour Members. Some of us who had arrived in this place for the first time were keen to make a contribution, but the Conservative parliamentary party as a whole was very dispirited; that was clear from how empty the Conservative Benches were. In that respect, things have changed a lot over the subsequent 12 or 13 years. This is the Queen's Speech of the current Government of course, and yet we have had only one contribution from the Government Benches so far-although we may have another powerful contribution in a moment. It seems that we on the Opposition Benches are keener to contribute than Members sitting on the Government side.
The Labour party abandoned clause 4 but it still seems to think that Whitehall knows best. It still thinks that if it pulls a lever, passes a law, or has a press conference in London, that will change the world. Indeed, a substantial number of the Bills that have gone through Parliament have had elements that have not been enacted or have not been introduced. From my experience of the past 13 years, I firmly believe that the only way of getting proper public services that are delivered well is to trust the people who are delivering them and those who are the recipients of them. I truly believe that decisions made in Dorset are generally better than decisions made in Whitehall. In terms of, for instance, the police authority, the fire authority or local government, an awful lot more can be done if we give people the resources and let them get on with the job, rather than always try to second-guess and always be introducing changes.
My experience of the health service over the past 12 or 13 years is that there has been constant change-health authorities have been changed, and there have been mergers. However, I have never known a change in the NHS or in local government to have either saved money or delivered better services; indeed, it is often a distraction from the delivery of decent services. If my party is fortunate enough to win the confidence of the British people in the middle of next year, one of the lessons that I hope my Front-Bench colleagues will learn is not to go in and immediately make fundamental changes. We should leave people in post, let them do the job, and give them clear targets. The "Whitehall knows best" approach is unsustainable.
I was going to mention home education, which my hon. Friend Mr. Stuart dealt with eloquently and in more detail than I had intended to do. There are many parents who are committed to educating their children-some because their children have special needs or autism, and it is the only way they feel able to educate them-who feel they have been stigmatised, although I know that that was not the Government's intention. They already undergo an inspection regime, which they feel is fundamentally wrong. I therefore hope that if the education Bill becomes law before the election, we can iron out some of these difficulties.
The speech of my hon. Friend Mr. Goodman was measured and sensible, and it is a great pity that politics is to lose somebody who can make such a contribution; there are too few people in this Chamber who are thoughtful. He made some very good points, none of which I disagreed with. For example, he made a very good point about social mobility. One of my first experiences of politics involved Wiltshire county council. Several teachers who had retired decided to reappear on the county council. Most of them had grown up in areas of great poverty; some were from south Wales, and their fathers had been miners. They were able to enter and make a contribution to teaching because the education system was able to give them the qualifications and skills and get them out of the mining villages. As all the social statistics are saying, we have lost some of the social mobility that our grammar school system, in particular, provided for many of our less fortunate constituents. I hope that a Conservative Government look to tackle that issue. The idea behind Disraeli's "one nation" conservatism is to give everybody the opportunity to use the skills that they have to get on. We have lost a lot of that.
What do I support in the Queen's Speech? Well, the Flood and Water Management Bill is a good one; water is a valuable element. Subject to seeing the detail of the Child Poverty Bill, I think it a good thing that we will be legislating in that area. I do not think there is any great disagreement with the bribery Bill, and we Conservatives agree with the cluster munitions Bill. There are many Bills that we partly support.
I hope we will have the opportunity to table amendments to the Financial Services Bill that reverse what happened to the Bank of England. One reason why we are where we are with our finances is the changes undertaken in the first flourish of the current Government: they gave independence to the Bank of England, but took away that large and important element of bank supervision. The country lost a lot as a result, and the Financial Services Authority has never fulfilled the same role with the confidence that the Bank of England showed.
It is interesting that we have a Bill that promises the halving of our deficit. I am always a little suspicious when people put into Bills aspirations for the longer term, rather than actions to deal with the given issue. We have a major problem with the public finances, and it will be a priority for whoever is elected in the middle of next year. Unless we tackle it, our children and grandchildren will be paying the very real costs of dealing with the heavy level of debt and the associated interest payments, which will divert money from important public services unless we grasp the nettle at a very early stage.
Inevitably, it was a short Queen's Speech. We know that a lot of it will not be enacted before the general election, and that there will be a lot of "boxing" and political debate over the next six or seven months; that is politics-we are all trying to put the best case for the future of our country. My right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron and our Front-Bench team now have a coherent policy programme that they can put to our country. That will make a major difference. I can honestly say that whereas the last three general elections were a foregone conclusion, the next one will be a fight, and there is a real chance that we can have a change of Government. That is what the British people want, and I hope it is a Conservative Government.
I must apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The simple reason for my absence was that I was attending a memorial gathering at St. Martin-in-the-Fields for Professor Peter Townsend, who passed away earlier this year. It was a tremendous gathering of people who will remember him from his days at the London School of Economics and for being very much involved in the Child Poverty Action Group. Coincidentally, this Queen's Speech refers to the Child Poverty Bill and, in a way, I suppose that prompted me to think about coming in here to say a few words, especially given that this debate is on health and education, which are near and dear to my heart.
I listened to Mr. Syms, who talked about passing laws. He said that that was almost a waste of time, despite suggesting a few at the end himself. It is important to remember that we do a lot of things in life and here in Parliament. We pass laws-Labour Members certainly do this-to try to better the lot of the many and not the few. That is one of the reasons why I wish to start off by talking about pleural plaques, which is a health issue.
A couple of years ago, the Law Lords, across there in the other place, decided that even though pleural plaques had been recognised for many years as the precursor to mesothelioma, which, as we all know, is one of the worst diseases that anyone can get, they would get rid of the compensation. I hope that the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. O'Brien will pass the message on, although we have already had meetings with the Prime Minister about this matter. Although it is not specifically mentioned in this Queen's Speech, it comes under the general heading of "any other measures"-I suppose that expenses could be thrown into that too. It is necessary to ensure that we make progress on this issue to restore the position to what it was way back in 2007.
Another thing that I want to say to my right hon. and learned Friend is that we do not want a scheme that will be similar to the one that the miners had for chest disease and vibration white finger. That was a wonderful scheme in itself-it got us about £4 billion to £5 billion for miners who were suffering from chest disease and vibration white finger-but it had, built within it, a system that forced every miner to have a separate solicitor. The net result was that the solicitors got a lot of money out of it. I must say to the House that we do not have to have that kind of system, because our system for pleural plaques and for mesothelioma could have a different basis. It could be based on the scheme that we had for pneumoconiosis back in 1974 and 1975 and for the slate miners in Wales in 1979. What we did then was introduce benefits based on the severity of the disease; we are talking about perhaps 10, 15 or 20 per cent. and it did not matter which pit someone worked at, that was the amount of money they would get. The pneumoconiosis scheme was completed by the Labour Government in 1974-75 in next to no time. No solicitors were involved, no solicitors got paid and every penny went to the miners and to the slate workers in Wales. What I am saying is that from here on in the Government should remember that scheme and introduce a pleural plaques scheme on that basis, so that we steer clear of these solicitors' making a small fortune out of every case.
So, that is the first thing that I want to refer to today. The other is that we should also remember that help for cancer is very important. I speak with a bit of authority on this, although I never thought 10 years ago that I would. I believed, like a lot of people in this place, that I knew everything about a lot of subjects. I thought I knew a lot about the NHS but, frankly, I knew very little until I went in, when I realised that I had a big problem and had to have an operation to remove the cancer. It is then that we realise the importance of the NHS and of passing laws.
We raised the sum that was spent on the national health service from £33 billion in 1997 to about £106 billion today. When I lay there in that hospital, it was in the knowledge that more money would be coming from a Labour Government than had been in the tube. I do not think that we can avoid that argument. The Tories refused to support us in the 1 per cent. increase in national insurance and they made a big mistake. I am sure that they all recognise that now, because the national health service has grown in strength ever since we took that decision way back in 2001. That is why almost everybody who works in hospitals understands the ethos.
When I had a serious operation-open-heart surgery-in 2003, it was almost like being back in the pit. When someone is in intensive care, they see the wonderful teamwork. People can be seen answering telephones while dressed in suits, and suddenly patients see the same faces in nurses' uniforms helping because there is a crisis. It is like going back to those days when teamwork was essential working down a coal mine.
That is why we should all treasure the national health service. Of course, nobody is going to say that it is 100 per cent. perfect-it never will be. We have an ageing population-I am one of them-and once a person has been in, they keep going in. I have been to hospital in London more than 20 times ever since I had that operation. I have been for check-ups and for this, that and the other, hoping that everything is okay. That is why the £33 billion that is now £106 billion was not wasted on people who should not be there. A lot of people over the age of 60, once they start using the NHS, are going to use it for a long time. That is what we have to understand and what any Government will have to understand in the future. We must ensure that the NHS has the money to keep up that progress.
For instance, on dementia, a Bill will be introduced that will help people with dementia in their own homes. Everybody knows that it is a problem-the longer people live, the more likely it is that there will be many more cases of dementia. That is why I spend my time doing not just ordinary sudoku but killer sudoku to keep my mind going, hoping that I will not suffer the same fate as my mother and my sister, who both suffered from that terrible disease. That is why I welcome that Bill, if it will give some comfort to those people who suffer from that terrible disease.
We are debating schools today, too. It is important to remember that in the first 25 years for which I was a Member of Parliament, I almost never attended a school opening in my constituency where a substantial addition had been made to the school or where a new school had been built. I do not think that there were more than 10 in those 25 years. One thing that we should always remember in this imperfect world-nothing is perfect in schools, either-is that I have attended more openings of schools in my constituency in the past 10 years than I did in the previous 25.
In the past, people have heard me arguing in the House about a Church of England school that had hydraulic pit-props holding up its roof for 17 years. Under the Tory Government, I could not get anything done, but it was one of the first things that happened under Labour because we injected a load more money into schools. We now spend about two and a half times more on schools in real money than in 1997. The result was that I got a new school in Bolsover. The Church of England school has been moved away from the castle to Welbeck road. There is a brand-new school. The kids have been down here about three times on visits. The same thing is true right across my constituency and I am sure that it is mirrored up and down the country. I want to ensure that it continues.
The health service will be a big issue at the next general election. As I said, we are already spending £106 billion. When we look at what is happening in the United States, we can appreciate just how valuable the NHS is. Everywhere we go, people tell us what a wonderful service it is now.
There are about 47 nationalities in the London hospital I go to. People on the right wing-the British National party-talk about sending people back. I do not know where. Forty-seven nationalities-I counted them when I was in hospital for all those weeks. I finished up with a United Nations heart. I had a Dutch doctor, a Syrian cardiologist and a Malaysian surgeon-the same one who operated on the last Speaker but one, Betty Boothroyd. He is one of the top five in the world. All those people worked together. If I had been in hospital for that open-heart surgery another month, I would have sorted out the Israeli-Palestine issue. All the ingredients were there. In a hospital, it does not matter where people have come from-they all work together. That is what we should remember when we hear talk about differences and sending people back. That is why debate is important.
We are beginning to come out of the recession. There is no question about it; it has been a terrible period, but there are enough green shoots to indicate that things are moving the right way at last. I forecast that would be the case at Prime Minister's Question Time about three months ago. I have been looking at the unemployment figures, and for the past two months, they have been going in the right direction. I thought it would be the turn of the year before we would see that. It is a wonderful and valuable indication of the fact that the stimulus we injected in the economy is beginning to work, particularly on jobs. We should remember that in the run-up to the next election. It will be a very important factor, because there will be better economic news every single month from now until we have the election in May, June or whenever.
How did we get into that mess? The world got into that mess because of what I call, loosely, instant gratification. Over the past 20 to 30 years, people have believed they could get summat for nothing. We have been living in a credit card society where people do not appreciate that they have to struggle to get something valuable. They have been able to get things at a whim. That instant gratification spread through families and through bankers, who believed there would be money to burn for ever. The net result was that everything fell in a heap and we have had to sort it out.
People say that we have been saving banks, but I do not use that language. I say that we intervened in Northern Rock, HBOS, the Royal Bank of Scotland and others simply because 70 or 80 per cent. of our constituents had deposits in those banks. All of us across the House recognise-or should do-that we had to save the banks because if we did not, we would not have saved all our constituents' deposits in those banks. We saved the deposits, and we should say that time and again.
As for bankers, Members can put me on any list that calls for a curb on bankers' money and bonuses; I will sign any such motion that is put in front of me. But believe me, we had to intervene. If one of the large banks had fallen, the rest would have fallen like a pack of dominoes, and we all know that. However, we saved our constituents' deposits. There are six months or so before the next general election. The two issues that we are discussing-education and the national health service-will be major factors in that election.
I believe in the argument that we should spend money now to get the unemployment total down; that is more important than saying, "We'll do it some time in the future." We do not want another 1929 to 1935. My father was out of work in the pits for all those years. Some people say that the recession ended in '32, but by God it did not. It lasted much longer than that. It was only when German rearmament took place under Hitler that our Government suddenly realised that they wanted more coal, and my father and his mates were able to get back to full-time work in the pits. We have put in place a scheme to avoid that, and to get people back into work now; that is what we should work on in the next six months and beyond.
I will look forward to another Labour Government administering the national health service, which looks after me and everybody else. Whatever people say about big government, the national health service is very important to us when we are lying on that hospital bed; by God, we are thankful for it.
There are not many occasions on which I agree with Mr. Skinner, but there is one issue on which I do: the importance of a national health service. Last night in my constituency, I held a meeting, and more than 200 people turned up to hear about the plans to cut accident and emergency and other services at the King George hospital. That hospital serves my Ilford, North, constituency and is based in the neighbouring constituency of Ilford, South. Not one person in the room, with the exception of the representatives from the primary care trust, thought that it would be a good idea to cut services in the accident and emergency department. Not one of the clinicians who came to see me beforehand thought that it was a good idea. The only people who said that it was a good idea were the people from the primary care trust who proposed it.
I asked what would happen if someone was knocked down outside the King George hospital. I was told that even though it has an active accident and emergency service, they would not be seen there, but would be taken to Queen's hospital in Romford. That is a new hospital, and I am very happy that the people of Romford have it, but we have to look at what it has replaced. There was a hospital in Harold Wood; there was already a hospital in Romford; and there was the King George hospital. Now the proposal is for just one A and E department, based in Romford, to serve all my constituents.
In the London borough of Redbridge, where my Ilford, North, constituency is located, there has been a lot of house building over the past few years, and more is taking place over the next few years. Those homes are needed, but where are the services that the people who live in them will use? Where will those people be taken if they are ill?
Despite the fact that it has been a difficult year for every Member of this great House, I believe that one of the greatest honours that anyone can have is to serve as a Member of Parliament. When we are elected, we are elected to represent the people who put us here and their interests. That is what I pledged to do, and that is what I will continue to do while I have the honour of serving as the Member of Parliament for Ilford, North. To those ends, I ask, as I did earlier when I intervened on the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the Government to intervene, to stop the proposals now and to impose a moratorium. I thank my party's Front-Bench spokesmen for saying that they support that. There should be a moratorium until after the general election, when what is best for the residents of Redbridge-for my constituents-can be considered and discussed outside a political forum.
At last night's meeting, a member of the primary care trust said that he wanted the NHS to become like Marks and Spencer. Those were his exact words, and they will be reported in the local press, which chaired the meeting. He said that he wanted the success of Marks and Spencer to be repeated in the NHS, because it gave its customers what they wanted. Well, the customers of the NHS in the London borough of Redbridge do not want to lose their accident and emergency department. If it were lost, it would be the equivalent of Marks and Spencer saying, "This is our best-selling line, so we're not going to stock it any more." I urge the Government to make the intervention that I have requested, and in the winding-up speeches perhaps we will hear whether they are willing to do so and put a stop to the closure now.
I shall move on to an education matter: the plight of children suffering from autism and Asperger's. There is a postcode lottery, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution for those children, who are some of the most needy in our community. In various debates over the years in which I have been in the House, I have called for the ring-fenced funding of education provision for children suffering from autism and Asperger's. The issue was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but I ask whether it, too, can be looked at under the heading, "Other measures". Those are the two points that I felt it vital to get across, and, on behalf of my constituents, I ask that they be listened to and acted on.
You represent a Suffolk constituency, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and you share with the county of Essex the birthplace and home of the country's greatest landscape painter, John Constable. He, of course, is famous for his broad canvasses, but within them there is a great attention to detail, and later on I shall turn to that point. Government Ministers will be pleased to know that every Constable painting had a dash of red to attract attention- [ Interruption. ] And it has just worked.
The Gracious Speech states:
"My Government will work to build trust in democratic institutions...Legislation will be brought forward to introduce guarantees for pupils and parents to raise educational standards."
"My Government will legislate to protect communities... My Government is committed to ensuring everyone has a fair chance in life and will continue to take forward legislation to promote equality, narrow the gap between rich and poor and tackle discrimination," and that efforts will be made to
"abolish child poverty by 2020."
We are now in the 13th year of a Labour Government. In 1997, the number of children in child poverty was estimated to be 4.5 million, and after 12 years of a Labour Government-a new Labour Government-there are approximately 4 million children in child poverty. What a damning indictment of any Government that so many children live in child poverty. One only has to look at the efforts of Shelter to focus attention on the Government's failure to provide decent housing for all our people, despite having the world's fifth richest economy. After 12 years of a new Labour Government, they should hang their head in shame. Ministers are completely ignoring this speech, as they have ignored the plight of the homeless and of children for the past 12 to 13 years. What an indictment of any Government that they cannot even house their own people and can tolerate 4 million children living in poverty.
In responding to the Loyal Address, the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition said:
"A real Queen's Speech would not tinker with the education system, but would break open the state monopoly, allowing new schools to be set up and giving parents more choice."-[ Hansard, 18 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 19.]
Clearly, more choice must include the status quo in instances where the parents wish the status quo to remain. This is where I come to the detail in the broad John Constable landscape painting. Last May, in Children, Schools and Families questions, the Secretary of State said, in response to a question from me, that in respect of secondary school reorganisation in Colchester, Essex county council's preferred way forward was for Alderman Blaxill school and Thomas Lord Audley school to remain and operate as a trust. The following day, I had a meeting with the then Schools Minister and officials, in which we were given assurances that by September last year a federation of those two schools and Stanway school could be in place, under the executive headship of the inspirational head teacher, Mr. Jonathan Tippett.
I regret to inform the House that within weeks Essex county council went back on that promise-the pledge that it gave to the Government and which was repeated here-and announced that it was going to close Alderman Blaxill and Thomas Lord Audley schools. Bearing in mind that Colchester is the fastest growing borough in the country, it said it would transfer the children to other schools, one of which, as we now know-it was never put in the public domain, but the leader of Essex county council has confirmed it to the leadership of Colchester borough council-would have to expand to 2,500 pupils. To the best of my knowledge, Conservative Front Benchers do not wish to have secondary schools of up to 2,500 pupils. Members may recall that I raised this issue two weeks ago at Prime Minister's Question Time. I should like to put on record my appreciation to the Prime Minister and to the Department, which is considering what I have said.
The Government have referred, although not today, to the concept of super-heads, and I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for welcoming that proposal. I urge Ministers to reiterate the fact that it is Government policy to encourage the concept of super-heads. I was not too enthusiastic when I first heard about it, but one particular head, Mr. Tippett, has transformed Stanway school into arguably the best secondary school in Colchester-I have to say "arguably" because other schools may disagree. He has transformed Thomas Lord Audley from a failing school to one that last year produced the best exam results in its history, sailing past the Government's artificial target of a 30 per cent. pass rate. In September this year, the number of pupils joining at year 7 was the highest for many years; and this at an allegedly failing school in a town of falling rolls. The numbers simply do not add up.
I will turn to Building Schools for the Future and Partnerships for Schools in a moment. I am not in the business of wasting public money- [ Interruption. ] If those on the Government Front Bench will give us the courtesy of listening to the debate, I would like to ask a question. This is rudest display I have witnessed in 12 years in this place-Ministers are simply not listening to the debate. That is discourteous to the House, to me and to my constituents. I am grateful that one Minister is now listening.
My question is this: where is the capital funding for the further education sector? For more than 100 colleges around the country-although not 13 or 14 in Labour-held seats-money has been stopped. Building works were promised and were under way, but the guillotine fell. I have a further education college in my constituency that is a building site. We need an explanation for that.
Why, after 12 years of a new Labour Government, is funding per student in sixth-form colleges less than the funding per head in a school sixth form? There are two selective schools in my constituency. Funding for their students is greater than the funding per head for students attending the successful Colchester sixth-form college, which is arguably the most successful sixth-form college in the country. We need an upward equalisation so that students at all sixth-form colleges, of which there are more than 100 across the country, are treated on the same basis as students attending school sixth forms.
The Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, Mr. Sheerman, referred to the Education Act 1944. I encourage Ministers, their advisers, researchers and experts, to look at that Act, because in the midst of war, politicians from all parties realised that something better for the young people of this nation was called for. The Act was about more than just teaching in the classroom. It was a passport for young people for future generations. It was for education, but it also dealt with social matters, through the school meals service, and, linking with the health aspect of the debate, it introduced medical, eye and dental checks. If this Government, or any Government, could get back to the ethos and principles of the 1944 Act, many aspects of the health problems in this country would be addressed. I urge the Minister to look at the thinking behind the Act and the cross-party consensus that brought it about.
By happy coincidence, today is the seventh anniversary of my presenting to the House the First Aid Training in Schools Bill under the ten-minute rule. I urge this Government, or any Government, to think about that measure. If our young people, from the age five upwards, were given first aid training in schools, they would automatically learn every aspect about themselves-good eating and healthy lifestyles as well as the dangers of excess smoking, taking illegal drugs and substances, obesity and so on. That would bring together health and education and dramatically reduce the number of people who end up at accident and emergency departments who, frankly, should not be there.
I referred to the extraordinary behaviour of Essex county council and intervened on the shadow Secretary of State, Michael Gove. When the Essex county council consultation went out to the good people of Colchester, 96 per cent. said no to the proposals. We had the extraordinary situation about 18 months ago that education officials-the professionals-were putting forward a case for closing two schools and amalgamating them on one site as an academy. However, they were told by their political master-the person who took over the education portfolio after he had dispensed with the previous post holder's services-that both would shut. The schools would not be amalgamated, and the children were to be shipped away. The Tory leader of the county council said to me, "I've got to get those children off those estates so that they can be taught with the children of more aspirational families."
What a gross insult to the people on the Berechurch, Shrub End, and Greenstead estates! The leader of the county council was saying that it was all right for children to live there, but that they would have to be removed for teaching between the hours of nine and four, or whatever, when they could be shipped back. That is not on. I am not having any part of my constituency treated in that way. I am looking to the Government to deliver that part of the Queen's Speech which is about not being a party to discrimination.
However, we know that the county council's figures do not add up. As I said, Colchester is the fastest growing borough in the country, and I am grateful to a parent, Mr. Joe Slatter, who is the father of twins at a local primary school. He has done his own research, based on the county's figures, and he told me this morning that Essex county council will run out of secondary school places because the number of primary school places required is soaring.
There are 600 extra primary school pupils in Colchester today than Essex county council originally planned for-the equivalent of an entire primary school, and a bit. One new primary school opened in September, and two more are planned. The town is growing-booming-but the county council proposes to shut the two secondary schools in the south of the town, with the children to be shipped elsewhere. That is all part of a £130 million expansion programme for existing schools.
Where is the parental choice when 96 per cent. of those who respond to a consultation say, "We don't want these two schools shut"? I know that I am having a pop at the county council, but I am looking to the Labour Government-the Government of the day-to ensure that my constituents get fairness and justice.
There is a nice little aside to this: because of the Conservative party's absurd policies in my town, Colchester is one of the few places in the country where the Tories have lost ground in the borough and county elections held over the past two years. They lost five seats and control of the council last year, and they just managed to hold one of their county council seats this year, although their majority was slashed by more than 1,000 to just 19. We nearly had a clean sweep, so in political terms I am grateful to Essex county council Conservatives for all that they are doing.
According to my constituent Mr. Joe Slatter, it is forecast that by 2014 there will be an additional 1,561 primary school pupils. My experience is that primary school children usually tend to become secondary school children, but that figure is based on the children who we know are already born and breathing and does not take account of the massive new house building programme. I accept that that is temporarily in abeyance, but at my advice surgery on Friday I had my very first parent from the new housing being built on the old garrison. That person cannot get a child into either of the two nearest schools because they are both full up. We already know the numbers that will be involved, and the Government must intervene.
I welcome investment in education in my town. We all do, but that is the broad picture and I want to explore the detail. I do not support wasteful public expenditure. In the current economic climate, there is no guarantee that the £130 million that the county council has talked about will materialise. Members of the Conservative administration in the county council want to rush the closure project through, and the irony is that they are doing so because they fear that there will be cuts if their party forms the next Government.
I find that ironic. There is no guarantee that the £130 million will materialise, and in any event it would be much cheaper to the public purse, in both capital and revenue terms, if the two threatened schools remained open and serving their local communities, because several hundred thousand pounds a year will be needed to transport youngsters. The journeys will be 2 to 3 miles in the case of my constituents, but in the case of those in the neighbouring constituency, they will be tortuous 14-mile journeys across country from West Mersea on the island of Mersea across to Tiptree. They are not my constituents, so I cannot speak for them, but I can speak for my constituents, who do not want their schools shut.
There is now clear evidence that the Office of the Schools Adjudicator should investigate the situation. Unfortunately, getting the matter before it is virtually impossible. A Member of Parliament cannot do so, nor can Colchester borough council, but I hope that the Government can say to the OSA, "Please investigate these figures, because they do not add up." We know that there will be a shortage of secondary school places in Colchester. The capital sum required for the secondary schools reorganisation under Building Schools for the Future could be dramatically reduced by retaining the Alderman Blaxill and Thomas Lord Audley schools. It is agreed that the Sir Charles Lucas secondary school in the north of the town needs to be replaced. I do not agree that it should be replaced with an academy, but I can park that argument for today. I urge the Government to refer the whole Colchester secondary school reorganisation proposal to independent review by the OSA.
Incidentally, I understand that the county council is not so sure of its case anyway. In a letter that I have with me from the leader of Essex county council to the leader of Colchester borough council, he tries to explain what would happen if a new access road were not provided to one of the secondary schools. I find it hard to believe that the whole future of a £130 million Building Schools for the Future project depends on an access road being put across a piece of public open space.
Earlier this month, the Minister for Schools and Learners wrote to the leader of Colchester borough council, stating:
"Partnerships for Schools...has not yet had any formal discussions with Essex County Council about its plans for the Colchester schools".
Interesting. In a letter to me dated three days later,
"to the best of our knowledge there has been no communication between Essex County Council and Partnerships for Schools with regard to the new access road...Partnerships for Schools has yet to engage formally with Essex County Council on the development of these proposals."
There was then confirmation from the leadership of Colchester borough council that the leader of Essex county council had told them that the Philip Morant school would need to expand to up to 2,500 pupils.
In an open and democratic society, we cannot have Essex county council or any council proceeding on figures that have been massaged or claims that do not stand up to examination. For example, it has put forward the case for the BSF expenditure on educational grounds, yet I am told that Colchester has the sixth highest GCSE results of all the parliamentary constituencies in Essex and is above the Essex average.
What is going on? I believe that what is going on is that Colchester is the only local authority area in the whole county of Essex that is not run by the Conservatives. The inspirational leadership of Mr. Jonathan Tippett has turned around not one, not two but three secondary schools. He is exactly the sort of executive head or super-head that the Government say they want. There is already a guy there doing it, so let him do it.
If necessary, why can the Government not remove those three schools from Essex country council? That is what the population wants. It has no confidence or trust in the council or its officers, who, 18 months ago, made a case to justify amalgamating two schools, but who were then obliged, because of a direction from the political leadership, to do away with two schools. They then came forward with arguments that are now rapidly unravelling. I urge the Government to consider the details of the situation, because it is not acceptable.
In conclusion, I point out that the leader of Essex county council is also a shadow Minister in Her Majesty's Opposition in the other place.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to respond to this interesting and, in many respects, good debate.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and the Prime Minister, at the start of their responses to the Gracious Speech, talked about the recent losses in Afghanistan. Last Sunday, Rifleman Andrew Fentiman, from my constituency, died in Helmand province, so is now among those whom we have lost. His lieutenant, Lieutenant Heap from 7th Battalion the Rifles, said of him:
"He died alongside his friends doing a job he loved".
That says something powerful about the nature of the young people serving in Afghanistan. It should also further reinforce our determination to ensure that they have every support they need-by support, I mean not just equipment and other physical support, but moral and political support for their job in Afghanistan. I want to express our deepest sympathies to Andrew Fentiman's family in my constituency.
It has been an interesting debate. Bob Russell told us about education in Colchester. He was right to instance Rab Butler in the 1944 Education Act, and in doing so he struck a note in harmony with that of Mr. Sheerman, who was one of only two Members to speak from the Government Back Benches, but who, in talking at the outset about the history of education policy, and the consensus, in many respects, on it, struck a powerful contrast with the Secretary of State, who sought not a consensus, but only to create his own absurd self-styled dividing lines, the purpose of which clearly is to manipulate educational policy for party political advantage. As far as I can tell, it comes to nothing.
Indeed, much of the Queen's Speech seems to have been constructed around party political opportunism, rather than public interest. That is a great pity, because we have talked today about two subjects-education and health-in which often, in the midst of debating, we find that we have shared objectives. We might have differences of opinion about the means by which those objectives can be met, but so often we have shared objectives and sometimes, as it turns out when we get into the debate, a great deal of commonality on what some of the underlying mechanisms should be.
My hon. Friend Peter Bottomley echoed what he had previously said we should see in the speech from Andrew Mackinlay. He touched on a range of subjects, but in all respects was interesting, brief and to the point. In particular, I was struck by what he and-in an interesting speech-my hon. Friend Mr. Evennett said about education. They highlighted the importance of the quality of teaching. My hon. Friend Michael Gove said from the Front Bench that the quality and status of teachers is central to the improvement of education.
If I may digress for a personal moment, my two hon. Friends reminded me in their speeches that 12 and a half years ago, shortly after I came here, my old politics teacher at Brentwood school in Essex retired. He visited Parliament for tea, and there were four of us who gave it to him: two Labour Members-Mr. Straw and Mr. Hamilton-along with myself and our former hon. Friend Howard Flight, the then Member for Arundel. Our teacher had taught us all politics and inspired two Labour Members and two Conservative Members, which struck me as an admirable illustration of his capacity as a teacher. There were no Liberal Democrats, I hasten to add, as he was clearly a man whose inspiration to the art of politics obviously had all the right effects.
My hon. Friend Mr. Evans echoed the point that was made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield about young people getting a bad press. He also touched on an important health issue. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has said in a decision-I hasten to add that it is a provisional decision-that it does not propose to recommend sorafenib as a drug for primary liver cancer, which is a very serious disease. Only about 5 per cent. of those diagnosed with primary liver cancer are alive five years after diagnosis. There has been an increase in the number of people with primary liver cancer of about three and a half times in the past 30 years, so the issue is important. Even though it may have limited effects, sorafenib is recognised as the only drug of its kind available for treatment, as most patients at that stage will be beyond surgery.
If the Government are talking about guarantees, as they are in the context of patients' rights in the NHS, we have to find a means by which patients recognise that they have guaranteed access in the NHS to the treatment that they need when they need it. With sorafenib, of course it is unacceptable for pharmaceutical companies to have limitless opportunities to produce new drugs and simply ask the NHS to pay any sum of money. That is why I have made it clear that it will be our intention, the electorate permitting, to move to a system of value-based pricing in the NHS, so that the reimbursement price to pharmaceutical manufacturers should reflect the value of that medicine-the therapeutic value, the innovative value and, where appropriate, the wider value to society.
On that basis, the question should never be, "Should this drug be available on the national health service?" if it is licensed and effective; rather, that drug should be available for patients, and clinicians should have access to it. Then the argument will be between us and the pharmaceutical companies about what the appropriate reimbursement is. However, if we all genuinely believe that patients must come first, we must ensure that they have access to the medicines that they need, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley for making that point.
I listened to a patient speaking on the television this afternoon about the treatment that he receives. He gave the example of Norway, which is another country where the drug is made available. Does my hon. Friend agree that patients in this country who need that cancer drug will find it rather bizarre that it seems to be available in so many other European countries, yet not here?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I remember talking to a consultant oncologist-working in bowel cancer, as it happened-who said that she was embarrassed at international meetings that her colleagues across the world had routine access to cetuximab to treat bowel cancer. She worked at one of the regional centres of excellence in this country, but every time she wanted to prescribe cetuximab for a patient, she had to go through the long and bureaucratic process of explaining why it was exceptionally justified in the case of that patient.
Ministers asked Professor Mike Richards to undertake a report, which they then brought here and which the Secretary of State's predecessor said would mean that patients would get the drugs that they needed. That has not happened and we need a further reform to make it happen.
As I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford talked about education, but he also mentioned Queen Mary's hospital at Sidcup. Having visited with him and talked subsequently to managers of the new trust formed in south-east London, I hope that additional services will be based at Queen Mary's in future. Looking at the population, there is obviously an opportunity for access to cancer services, for example, based at Queen Mary's. I hope that we can look to a positive future for hospital services based in Sidcup.
My hon. Friend Mr. Goodman and I have often discussed maternity services. I share entirely his view that the NHS seems to be in constant revolution as an organisation. Organisational upheaval and reform do not seem to correlate well. The organisational upheaval over the past decade seems to have impeded reform rather than furthered it. It is therefore important for us, as my hon. Friend says, to give people structural stability while ensuring that the dynamic process of reform happens. One touchstone of that will be, as he has stressed in his own constituency, the need for patients and local clinicians to be able to make decisions about where services can best be provided. He has been an effective advocate on behalf of his constituents. For that and for all the other reasons that he demonstrated in his speech, we will certainly miss him after the election in this place.
Annette Brooke talked about the problems of child abuse and the number of children contacting ChildLine, and I note the extent to which children are now subjected to online bullying-cyberbullying. The other day, at Netherhall school in my constituency, I met a group of young people who I thought were doing an excellent job as cybermentors, in the school and online, to people who feel themselves victims of cyberbullying, helping them to deal with it effectively. That is just one more good example of the importance of recognising that there are many impressive young people doing very good things, which we should celebrate.
My hon. Friend Mr. Stuart talked about home education, making some important points that tell us something broader about the nature of the relationship between the state and public services. Sometimes we have to trust people more. We have to trust that the decisions that parents make about their children and that patients make about their health care will sometimes, individually and in aggregate, be better than those made by a bureaucracy. I echo the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Syms when he said that decisions made in Dorset were better than decisions made in Whitehall.
Mr. Skinner made the only other contribution from a Labour Back Bencher. I have counted 11 Back-Bench contributions, two from the Government Benches and nine from this side of the House. I am afraid that that is a telling and damning indictment of the Labour party's commitment to its own Government's legislative programme. It is the weak legislative programme of a tired Government clearly incapable of being supported by a tired Labour party that has run out of time, ideas and steam.
However, it turns out that one person who never runs out of steam is the hon. Member for Bolsover. His killer sudoku seems to be working. I must say to him that his point about the impact of an ageing population on demand for health care services was right. On that basis, my right hon. Friends Mr. Cameron and the shadow Chancellor and I have made it clear that we are committed to real-terms increases for the national health service in the life of the next Parliament. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that that commitment has not been matched by his own Prime Minister or those on his own Front Bench.
My hon. Friend Mr. Scott talked about a meeting that he held last night in relation to the accident and emergency department at the King George hospital. He said, rightly, that we need to ensure-if necessary by imposing a moratorium after the general election, if the electorate permit us-that the proposals are not based on the impact of the European working time directive or a response to the failures of management. As my hon. Friend knows, there have been sequential failures in management of the health service in parts of north-east London, including his area. Rather, decisions about the configuration of services, particularly the commissioning decisions of local general practitioners, should respond to the needs and wishes of local people. There is no way that we should allow bureaucratic organisations to pre-empt access or service decisions made by local commissioners on behalf of local people under the sort of devolved decision making in the health service that we hope to introduce.
It may well be. One of the worst reasons for denying people access to health care services is as a result of the failures of management that have allowed deficits of that kind to build up. If it is the consequence of inequalities of access under the funding formula, we need a more independent and transparent process, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe rightly said, by which resources for the NHS are distributed across the country on the basis of a fair assessment of the prospective burden of disease in each area rather than on the Government's distorted funding formula.
We have talked a little about the NHS during our debate, but of course the Gracious Address does not actually refer to it. Health care is not mentioned in it. Arguably, then, on the basis of the Queen's Speech, this debate should not be about the health service. I think I know, however, why there was no mention of the NHS in the Queen's Speech; it is because the Government have no ideas about what to do in the NHS. Their reform programme has completely stopped. Three years ago, Tony Blair, who was then Prime Minister-
Where is he now? I do not know. Perhaps he is somewhere in a corridor outside the Council of Ministers in Brussels-who knows? Three years ago, Tony Blair as Prime Minister said that there were drivers of reform in the national health service and that practice-based commissioning was going to be one of them. It stalled. The national clinical director for primary care at the Department of Health said the other day that practice-based commissioning was a "corpse" that was "not for resuscitation" and was
"certainly not seen as a major vehicle for change".
Payment by results, instead of payment by activity, is an absolutely instrumental process in trying to deliver the services we need in the NHS. It needs to be introduced and it needs to be reformed. It has stalled. Progress has not been made to the extent that it should have been. The Government literally took their feet off the accelerator on payment by results simply because they did not realise that it was bound to have an impact on the distribution of resources between hospitals. What they should have done is to move faster to a much more effective payment-by-results system that accurately reflected the costs of different procedures.
Payment choice is supposed to have been offered by April 2008, yet the latest patient choice survey shows that still fewer than half of patients feel that they have been offered any choice, while foundation trusts were supposed to be another driver of reform. Last year there were 28 new foundation trusts and there were 28 in the previous year; this year, there have been eight so far. The Health Bill of the last Session before prorogation showed the Government moving towards trying to de-authorise foundation trusts rather than to authorise more of them.
On the independent sector, the NHS should be open to new providers, which is also important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath made clear, in the schools context. The Government have gone into reverse. Instead of having a policy of any willing provider who will meet NHS standards within NHS prices, which is the policy that we have consistently argued for and I thought that the Government had accepted, the Secretary of State writes a letter to the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress announcing a U-turn, saying that the NHS is going to be a preferred provider. Frankly, he was saying, social enterprises and the independent sector can go hang. Mr. Milburn, who is not in his place, described this as "a deeply retrograde step". He said:
"If we are going to drive efficiency, productivity and quality on the scale required, the last thing you do is renew a monopoly and say your existing provider is your preferred one."
So the former Secretary of State, who launched the NHS plan that the Government were supposed to be pursuing, himself says that the Government have abandoned the process.
The only thing that the Government did not include in the Queen's Speech-although they had previously suggested that it would be included-was the idea that their targets should be turned into guarantees. The guarantees to which they have referred do not seem to be the kind of guarantees described by the Secretary of State for Education; they are narrow-process guarantees.
The NHS equivalent of the education guarantee would be "All patients should have access to good-quality treatment when they need it, where they need it, and from the person from whom they wish to receive it." That is the sort of guarantee that we are seeking, but it is not the guarantee being offered by the Government. The Government's narrow-process target suggests that if a patient receives treatment within 18 weeks that is good enough, but there are many patients for whom it is not good enough. There are many patients whose maximum waiting time should relate to their condition and circumstances. Just as education should be built around the individual needs of children, health care treatment should be built around and assessed according to individuals' health care needs.
Because of the way in which the Government's target approach works, hospital clinicians often find that the bureaucracy has ordained that patients who have been referred should not see a consultant for eight weeks, and that a decision can be made after that. The consultant will suddenly find that a referral has been made without his or her knowledge, and that it relates to a patient who should have been seen on a more urgent basis. The problem is that patients are treated as if they were on a production line rather than on the basis of their clinical priorities. Identifying clinical priorities is central to providing patients with good-quality treatment in the future, although, in the case of many patients, that does not preclude the provision of quality indicators demonstrating the standard of treatment that should be provided. What I am saying-we have been saying it for a very long time-is only exactly what the Secretary of State himself said in January 2007. He said then:
"Overall, from 2009, there should be fewer national targets...Targets and priorities should be set locally wherever possible, within national service frameworks and national standards such as those set by NICE."
We are looking for quality indicators set by NICE-the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence-making it clear what should be the basis of a contract between the commissioners and the providers of health care services. When the Government talk about legally enforceable rights, what they mean is that, through the contracts, patients should have access to the rights to treatment that are specified in the contract between commissioner and provider. That is exactly what we are talking about, and that is the kind of guarantee that we should be talking about. What we need in future is for patients to know what are their entitlements to treatment, and to know that those entitlements are reflected in the commissioning undertaken by their GPs on their behalf. The Government's "legal entitlement" is no such thing. What they are describing is simply an expression of a wish in the NHS constitution-a wish that, if it is to become a reality, must be turned into the contracts made between commissioners and providers.
As I have said, the Government talk of guarantees, but where is their guarantee of access to the medicines that patients need at the point at which they need them? Where is their guarantee that patients will have access to a "zero tolerance of infection" environment in hospitals? We may talk of waiting times, but there is clear evidence that patients also want-perhaps want even more-to know that they are entering an environment in which they are much less likely to acquire an infection. The Government have not offered that guarantee, and, in fact, the number of MRSA infections acquired by people in hospital is now three times higher than it was in 1997.
Where is the Government's guarantee of access to choice in maternity services or in end-of-life care? Where is the guarantee of access to local accident and emergency services to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North referred? If the Government are talking about guarantees and access, why are those kinds of access completely left out? If we then go down the path of making sure patients have such access, and we focus on the degree of quality that needs to be built into decisions on the purchasing of health care, we can concentrate on the outcomes. We can then move beyond the narrow targets that have been the obsession of this Government and that have distorted clinical priorities-and that in places such as Stafford have led, frankly, to the death of many patients who were discharged from accident and emergency departments on to wards to languish and to die. We can then also start to make up the difference between where we are and where we need to be in respect of so many of our key, great public services, including education and health.
There remains a persistent and unacceptable gap between the quality of outcomes achieved in this country and those achieved in some of the leading countries elsewhere in the world. In respect of health, since 1997, despite increasing spending threefold-as the hon. Member for Bolsover said-our ranking among European countries on deaths from disease has slipped from ninth to 10th. More people die in this country from diseases that are amenable to health care than the average for Europe. We have fallen behind other countries in our deaths from cancer rates, too. Deaths from lung disease-such as mesothelioma, which the hon. Gentleman talked about-are 75 per cent. higher in this country than the European average. People in the United Kingdom are twice as likely to die prematurely from a heart attack than in the best performing country in Europe, which is France. That is where we need to be. We must have the ambition to have the best outcomes in Europe-not just to spend as much as other countries in Europe, but to have outcomes that are at least as good as any in Europe.
I want to mention two other important matters. First, the Government have announced this afternoon that they will extend the swine flu vaccination programme to the main carers of those who are very vulnerable and living at home, which I welcome, and to children aged between six months and five years. I welcome that, too; indeed, I have been making it clear to the Secretary of State for some considerable time that, as has been the situation in America, there is a good case for extending the vaccination programme to young people on the grounds of the evidence that is emerging of the much higher likelihood of young people who do not have existing underlying health conditions having complications from swine flu. The debate continues, and the Secretary of State has advised that the Government do not-yet-support a school-based vaccination programme, but I none the less think it is right for us to proceed in this way for very young people and to give positive consideration as to whether in the new year, when the vaccine is available and the existing priority groups have been substantially dealt with, we should move on to offer vaccination to young people up to the age of, let us say, 24 or 25, in recognition of how many of them are hospitalised when they have swine flu and the pressure that there is on paediatric intensive care. I also join the Government in hoping that those who are offered vaccination will take it up, especially those working in the NHS and social care, and pregnant women given what we know about the risk of complications for them. There has been much inappropriate comment about the speed at which this vaccine has been made available, when we know the technology on which it is based is a proven technology that has been used in seasonal flu vaccines over many years and that there is no reason for people to resist it on this basis.
The Queen's Speech proposes a personal care at home Bill. Last July, the Government, after having pursued for a very long time the idea that there should be a long-term consensus on social care-my colleagues and I had often made efforts to join in such a consensus, but the Government ignored that-published their Green Paper; they proceeded without such a consensus in place. What is subsequently astonishing is that, as Lord David Lipsey tellingly described it, they have even fired an Exocet at their own flagship. The Prime Minister has shot right through their own Green Paper by putting a further proposal forward that was not even in the Green Paper, and I understand that David Lipsey's view is that it runs counter to what ought to be the long-term consensus for a more comprehensive social care plan, because it would provide free personal care for a small minority of care users living at home with highest need, abandoning those with lesser care needs, but who, frankly, have seen local authority support to them diminishing. About 600,000 fewer people are now accessing local authority-arranged support in the moderate and lesser care need categories. So everything is being focused on the highest care need, but that does absolutely nothing for people in very high care need who go into long-term residential care.
The Prime Minister says, as Tony Blair did 13 years ago, that he does not want to live in a country where people have to sell their home to pay for care. Why does he think that happens? It happens because people go into long-term residential care when their home becomes at risk as a consequence of the means test, the cost of care rises dramatically and their homes have to be sold to pay for it. According to the latest estimate, 47,000 people a year still have to sell their homes to pay for care. Frankly, it is outrageous for the Prime Minister to publish an article suggesting that his proposal in the Queen's Speech yesterday will do anything about that; it will do nothing. Those going into long-term residential care will not be supported at all, and as David Lipsey rightly points out, sometimes it is necessary, right and in their own best interests for people to be admitted to long-term residential care.
We do need to establish a long-term consensus on social care. In the light of the speeches that I and my Conservative colleagues have made, not least to the national children and adult services conference in Harrogate, such a consensus is available. However, it is not available on the basis of scrapping attendance allowance and disability living allowance for those over 65, but on the basis of prevention. Yesterday's proposal-the Government followed us in proposing resources for reablement and enablement through prevention-is a step in the right direction. We need to do more on assistive technologies and on home adaptations and prevention.
The second principle is personalisation of care. More than 2 million older people with disabilities and needs are receiving attendance allowance of £60 a week on average, or disability living allowance of £75 a week on average. The Government's Green Paper proposals would take that away in order to pay for their national care service. Frankly, that is not acceptable. If personalisation of care is right, and it is, such people need to maintain access to cash benefits that they can use to support their care needs as they see fit. In particular, that means cash benefits that they can use to support family and informal carers.
We support a national care service, which the Government are proposing; what we oppose is a nationalised care service. Instead of personal care and local authority involvement, the Government want to turn such a service into something driven only by bureaucracy and the state. As my colleagues made clear in their contributions, we have to listen to people; we have to let people make choices. We have to give patients, care users and parents the opportunity to control their public services. So we oppose the Government's nationalisation proposal; instead, we are in favour of creating a national care service through which people can access a common assessment that can be transferred around the country. That way, they will know they have support for keeping them independent at home and the ability to manage budgets on their own behalf, while getting the care they need. They will also know that, through our home protection scheme, they can buy into an insurance policy that means they genuinely will not necessarily face the threat of selling their homes to pay for long-term residential care.
The Government's "dividing lines" are an absurd political gimmick. What we actually have, as the Lord President of the Council and First Secretary of State-and grand panjandrum-describes it, is a choice. We have a choice between, on our part, ambitions for our national health service, or atrophy of reform on the Government's part. We have a choice between radical reform in education to deliver higher standards, or reactionary politicking by the Secretary of State. We have a choice between a future Government who are committed to our public services and to practical and workable solutions, and a Government who have run out of ideas and are using the public services as no more than a political football. We are committed to achieving the quality of public services that people have a right to expect, and not least to achieving the outcomes that will make our public services among the best in the world.
We have heard many important contributions this afternoon and I shall respond to them in a moment. Mr. Lansley spoke very movingly about his constituent in Afghanistan. Speaking for the Government, I wish to share our condolences with him and his constituent's family. The hon. Gentleman talked of moral and political support being important and the best thing we could provide. I share that view wholeheartedly.
At the beginning of my contribution, I wish to set out the broad context for today's debate. Some 10 years ago, our crumbling hospitals and schools were a national embarrassment and were failing patients and parents, but today, after a decade of investment and reform, they are substantially rebuilt and provide a good service to the public; no longer are they the poor relation in Europe and the world; they instead receive accolades on the world stage. The respected US-based The Commonwealth Fund has tracked the progress in our NHS and, two weeks ago, it said that England had one of the best-if not the best-primary health care systems in the world. That is not only a huge tribute to all the staff who work in primary care in our constituencies and a particular tribute to the work of general practitioners-perhaps we do not praise them enough-but it is an endorsement of the Government's reform programme.
The UK and England were ranked first of the 11 countries surveyed, which included Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the US, on the following criteria: low waiting times for specialist care; the use of multidisciplinary teams; the use of financial incentives to reward patient experience; the quality of clinical care; the management of chronic diseases; the use of data on patient experience; the reviewing of doctors' clinical performance; and the benchmarking of clinical performance. We were given that outstanding record of achievement in Washington.
The evidence for that transformation in primary health care can be found in my constituency; we had a world of too few GPs working out of terraced houses, but we now have modern premises with more GPs providing a wide range of services to the public. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families would agree when I say that primary education has undergone a similar transformation to that of primary health care services. Our schools are now a joy to visit and are unrecognisable from the shabby and depressing buildings of 15 years ago. The primary heads in Leigh tell me that they have resources that they could once have only dreamed of. Through investment and reform, our public services have gone from poor to good-now the challenge is to make them even better.
Does the Secretary of State regard as a triumph for new Labour the fact that 12 years on 4 million children are living in poverty?
I consider it one of the finest achievements of this Government that we have taken 600,000 children out of poverty. That is what this party and this Government set out to do. Many of those children live in my constituency and the constituencies of hon. Members sitting on the Labour Benches today. Although it is one of our finest achievements, we will go further.
I shall make some progress. I said that we wish to move services from being good to being great. That means building on the foundations we have laid in the past decade to create more personalised and more preventive services that are more responsive and are of higher quality. So we want to lock in the achievements of the past 10 years and to hand power to people-to patients, pupils and parents. To do that, we are turning targets into rights and entitlements in order to guarantee the services and the standards that people expect and deserve.
The Children, Schools and Families Bill provides a range of guarantees to pupils and parents. It aims to help everyone reach their full potential, to make everyone aware of their entitlements and to allow everyone to seek redress if their expectations are not met. I particularly welcome the entitlements that will improve children's health. We propose that every five to 16-year-old should have access to five hours of high quality physical education and sport every week, in and out of the school day, and that every 16 to 19-year-old should have access to three hours of that. I also welcome our proposal that every pupil should have access to regular competitive sport, to coaching, to a choice of different sports and to help to lead and volunteer in sport. Furthermore, we propose that every pupil should go to a "Healthy School" that promotes healthy eating, an active lifestyle and emotional health and well-being. Those are genuine steps forward and I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for introducing them.
In essence, the Bill is about the right to a rounded education. As someone who was unlucky enough to spend his entire secondary school career in a northern comprehensive under Mrs. Thatcher, I have always felt passionate about this. I saw the after-school activities-music, culture and sport-dry up in the teachers' dispute of the mid-1980s, never to return. These new guarantees would prevent that from ever happening again.
In the NHS, there will be a similar shift in power to the public from professionals. In the next period of reform, as we move towards a service that is more preventive and people-centred, empowered patients and staff will lead change. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire mentioned the reform journey and the ideas. I was the one who promised to remove practice boundaries and to give patients more choice in primary care. He mentioned payment by results, and we are introducing a further reform to the tariff to link payment to the quality of services provided. Where is he in these debates? I am putting forward these proposals, and he comes to the House today and asks where the changes are.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the commitment to making the NHS the preferred provider. As we will have more reform, not less, in the coming period we will have to take more work out of the hospital setting and we will have to ask NHS staff to work in different settings. That is precisely why we must give the NHS the chance, the space and the time to rise to the challenge, and to make those changes and to improve health care as a result.
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman can make such an argument. The Government have introduced the cancer plan and invested in cancer services, and if he is genuinely saying that there has been no improvement in cancer services, I am afraid that I disagree with him profoundly.
To make the NHS even more preventive, I propose that the reform should go further still and that we have a right to an NHS health check every five years for every person aged between 40 and 74 to assess their risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. We must go further towards a more people-centred service. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire asked where the choice was in end-of-life care. I will tell him where the choice in end-of-life care is. I asked for consultation on a right for the public to choose to die at home. I think that that is a sensible choice to offer the public. I am consulting on it right now, so if the hon. Gentleman would care to read the odd thing that the Department puts out, he will see that we are ahead of the game and ahead of him on these issues.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, and I know precisely what he is consulting on. He is consulting on a right to die at home, but people need the ability to exercise choice in end-of-life care, including the right to choose to die in a hospice or, for some people, to die in hospital. The right to die at home is not the only choice. There are a range of choices, so why does the Secretary of State not give people choice?
A few minutes ago, the hon. Gentleman asked where the choice was in end-of-life care. I have launched a consultation on extending to people the right to die at home. Where was he before I proposed that right? I did not hear him calling for it. I have opened that consultation-if people want to make that argument I will listen to it, but it is the Government who are making the proposals. We are also saying that people should have the right to access a personal health budget and to have more control and power over their health care.
The NHS constitution, which was recognised in law just last week, sets out the rights of patients to guaranteed waiting times. Again, we are consulting on this. Waiting lists should be 18 weeks for elective treatment and two weeks to see a specialist for suspected cancers. Let me get a few things straight today. The Leader of the Opposition said yesterday from the Dispatch Box that the Conservative party first proposed the NHS constitution, but the first mention of it in any Tory document was in June 2007-a full nine months after I proposed the creation of an NHS constitution in a pamphlet in September 2006. Check the facts.
There have been complaints today that there is no NHS legislation. Only last week, the Health Act 2009 received Royal Assent. Let us take that further immediately, by taking patient rights further-the consultation I mentioned a moment ago.
Let us get to the main point: the complete and utter confusion on the Opposition Benches about our proposed patient rights. The shadow Health Secretary has constantly said that he opposes the targets that form the basis of our proposed rights-the 18-week target and the two-week cancer target-and has said that he prefers outcome targets. Right or wrong? He has consistently opposed those targets?
I shall take that as a yes.
Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition stood at the Dispatch Box and said that our proposals to turn targets into rights were things that "everyone wants". We are told that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire is one of the favoured few who is guaranteed his job if the Tories win, but it does not look good for his boss to stand at the Dispatch Box, as he did yesterday, and rip up the hon. Gentleman's policies on the Floor of the House. It was staggering to watch.
Now I can see the point that the Secretary of State was making. He suggests that our being in favour of maximum waiting times is the same thing as agreeing with his targets. It is not. We are in favour of patients having access to quality services. If a patient is admitted to hospital with a fractured neck or femur, 18 weeks is an irrelevance-they should be treated within 24 hours. If an acute stroke patient arrives at a hospital, they should have a CT scan within 24 hours maximum. Then there are patients with a cardiovascular condition, such as Mr. Skinner. I have no doubt that there was a point when the hon. Gentleman needed treatment in much less than 18 weeks. Maximum waiting times make sense, but a single 18-week target does not.
I have never heard such rubbish in my entire life. The hon. Gentleman's thinking on the issue is completely and utterly confused. The patients he describes would be covered by the four-hour target. People with such conditions would get straight into hospital- [ Interruption. ]
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State, but there seems to be constant interchange of a secondary nature during the debate. It is now becoming distracting.
The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire says that he opposes the four-hour target, too. He says that he supports guaranteed waiting times, so let us get this straight today. Does he support the new proposed right to care within 18 weeks, and two weeks to see a specialist for patients with suspected cancer? Does he support those patient rights, on which we are consulting now?
What the Secretary of State is consulting on is the inclusion in the national constitution of a right phrased as follows:
"You have the right to access services within maximum waiting times, or for the NHS to take all reasonable steps to offer you a range of alternative providers if this is not possible. The waiting times are described in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution."
We support that.
If that is the case, it is a major U-turn by the hon. Gentleman-a major U-turn-and it has been forced on him because yesterday his leader ripped up his policies in front of the entire House and the whole country. For the past two years, in every speech, the hon. Gentleman has said, "We oppose the 18-week target. We oppose the two-week target. We oppose four-hour A and E targets." Those targets are in the handbook he has just mentioned, so I am afraid that his utter isolation and confusion are plain for all to see. It is quite absurd.
The confusion does not end there. Today, in response to a point made by Mr. Goodman, I heard the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire say-I wrote it down-that clinicians should make decisions about where services are best provided, yet he goes round the country posing with Tory candidates promising to reverse every clinically led reconfiguration of recent times.
Let us take an example: a "Pendle Matters" leaflet said, "Tory health chief backs call for A&E to return to Burnley". I am sure that that suited the shadow Health Secretary's electioneering purposes, but what does he say to the clinician who had a public meeting in Burnley a couple of weeks ago? My hon. Friend Kitty Ussher said that at that meeting, the clinician presented independent evidence that about 200 lives had been saved by the A and E reconfiguration in the area. What does the shadow Secretary of State say to that clinician, when he has just told the House that clinicians should be able to decide where services go?
I went to Burnley and met the chief executive of the local NHS trust. I also talked to the chief executive of the ambulance trust. They agreed that it was right to put the medical directors of the ambulance trust and the hospital trust together, to see whether there could be protocols that meant that someone in an ambulance could be taken to Blackburn for blue-light purposes if necessary, and that an A and E department could still be established at Burnley. That is precisely why, shortly after I went to Burnley and made the perfectly reasonable point that the A and E department could be returned, the Secretary of State had a meeting with Mr. Prentice and instituted an independent review of the decision to close the A and E department at Burnley. [Interruption.]
The hon. Gentleman has been found out. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend Mr. Prentice, but I am not proposing what the shadow Health Secretary suggests. I can stand making a tough decision. I can say, "This is saving lives; I will stand by it," but the hon. Gentleman wanders round constituencies with candidates wearing rosettes, promising the earth. He does that not just in Burnley, but in my patch, Greater Manchester, where we have had a difficult review of maternity services. He goes round Greater Manchester promising to reopen everything. Does he remember the leader in the Manchester Evening News that promised that babies' lives would be saved? Does he remember the review? Has he looked at the clinical evidence? Has he heard the views of clinicians about that reconfiguration?
The hon. Gentleman today claimed in the House that clinicians should decide where services are placed, yet he wanders round the country with Conservative candidates, opposing every clinically led decision in the land. That is not a credible position to take. He says that he wants patient choice, but would allow general practitioners to reverse extended opening hours. To cap it all, the Conservatives say that they want a bonfire of the quangos, but then pledge to have an independent board for the NHS; that would turn it into the biggest quango in the world. It is dangerous for a Labour Minister to quote "The Thick of It", but under the hon. Gentleman, Tory health policy really is turning into an omnishambles.
The big question in my constituency is why the East Riding of Yorkshire, which has an older-than-average population and a higher burden of disease than average, receives one of the lowest health funding settlements in the country. Will the Secretary of State explain why that is, or give my constituents cause to believe that fairer funding would be provided by a future Labour Government, if, improbably, Labour was re-elected?
I have heard more than one plea for more funding from Tory Members today. The funding formula follows health need, and we believe that it is right for funding to be targeted in that way. If the hon. Gentleman proposes changes, he will have to justify taking money away from areas where the health need is greater.
We have heard some good contributions and important points in this debate; let me pick up on some of the points made. Colleagues have mentioned reconfiguration decisions. Mr. Evennett talked of the temporary closure of A and E at Queen Mary's hospital, Sidcup. There is an extension of service provision in the urgent care centre; its opening times have been extended to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The majority of patients will continue to have access to urgent care on the Queen Mary's hospital site.
Mr. Scott, raised issues to do with the potential reconfiguration of services in north-east London. Those issues are currently the subject of analysis by NHS London. Obviously, there would have to be a robust option appraisal process before any proposals were sent out to consultation, but I am sure that NHS London will have heard the views expressed today.
I greatly respect Mr. Evans on health service matters. I know that he speaks with sincerity, and he raised the question about the decision on liver cancer treatments by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. As the shadow Health Secretary rightly said, that decision is provisional and subject to appeal, and, although I am sure that the comments of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley will have been heard today, I encourage him to make his views known to NICE, following its decision.
Peter Bottomley talked about public involvement in the NHS and complained about the abolition of community health councils. However, local involvement networks-LINks-are beginning to work well throughout the country, and he should speak to Dr. Taylor, who takes a keen interest in those matters. There is growing evidence that LINks are beginning to provide a strong voice locally for patients, but I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Worthing, West that they could do better, and in some parts of the country we need to do more to lift their profile. I am working with the hon. Gentleman on that issue, but I heard what he said to the House today.
My hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman raised questions about obesity in the context of product placement. I was Culture Secretary, so my views are well known and, perhaps, would not help me if I were to rehearse them today. I do have concerns about product placement- [Interruption.] They were very well publicised, I can tell Michael Gove. I was not the strongest proponent of product placement, and I was not in the majority on that question. However, I will keep a close eye on the issue to ensure that placement does not allow, through the back door, any products that may damage health, and in particular children's health. I give my hon. Friend that promise.
The Government have done a huge amount to tackle teenage pregnancy. It is a responsibility that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and I take very seriously, and we need to work on it jointly. The legislative proposals on the statutory basis for personal, social and health education guidance will make a significant contribution, but I take the point that we cannot be at all complacent about that issue.
I am not trying to make a party point about the three organisations with acronyms, given that LINks did not follow CHCs, because something else came in between. However, the LINks decision has not worked. We recognise that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest has done very well, but in most places one cannot get ordinary people to make the LINks system work as well as the CHCs did. Will the Secretary of State explain how we can avoid the process errors that led both to the chaos of the MMC programme and the MTAS, and to the lack of benefit from the cost of the NHS IT system? Those are genuine points; I am not trying to knock the Secretary of State.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point on LINks-that we probably have more to do to give them a higher profile, and that we have to work harder to make them more effective. However, I urge him to work through the all-party group that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest chairs to see whether we can make progress in that regard.
There is growing evidence that NHS IT is making a genuine difference to patient safety, with more responsive services throughout the country. Again, I am not complacent, because I am sure that we can make further improvements, but the Opposition use an easy stick when they say that it is all a waste. In fact, it is not: it is producing real patient benefit, and I am pleased with the progress that we are making.
Annette Brooke raised the question of maternity services, as did Mr. Syms. I shall look at the matter, and I acknowledge the strength of feeling about it. The matter was voiced by two hon. Members in the area, so I shall consider it. If I am not mistaken, however, the hon. Lady recognised the improvements that have been made in the NHS in the past 10 years, and I am grateful for that.
Bob Russell made many points about Building Schools for the Future and his frustrations with the process, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners heard them. The hon. Gentleman also questioned the funding of school sixth forms and complained that they are not the same, so I should tell him that my brother is a vice-principal of a sixth-form college and regularly lobbies me on the matter. I should probably say no more than that.
Several hon. Members mentioned home education, including the hon. Members for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) and for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart). I agree with the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness in saying that home education is a well-established and important part of our education system. He asked us to recognise the contribution of people who give lots of their time and effort in raising the standards of home education. A constituent who recently came to see me-Caroline Shevalan-made the same point, and I am happy to endorse it. It is important that there is certainty, with good processes and standards in place. Registration and monitoring of home education will not be onerous-home educators are doing a good job-but it will give local authorities the tools that they need to tackle the small number of cases where the education provider is not good enough. I hope that we can get the balance right, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Children's Secretary is working to ensure that that is the case.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath asked about NEETs and the September guarantee. I am told that through the September guarantee we are offering a suitable place in education and training to all 16 and 17-year-olds. In Budget 2009, we announced an additional £655 million over the next two years to secure additional learning places to help to meet the guarantee. I hope that that gives him some reassurance.
The shadow Health Secretary raised several points about swine flu. Today there has been the significant announcement that the Government intend to extend the vaccination programme beyond the priority groups that were initially recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. As he said, we are proposing to extend the offer of vaccination to parents of children aged between six months and five years. That particular group of young people has been chosen because there is evidence of higher levels of hospitalisation among them. There are reports today of further deaths from swine flu, which is of course sad news, but there has been a drop in cases.
In extending the programme in this managed and phased way, we want to ensure that we keep a sense of order and discipline about the vaccination process. I was recently in Washington-I think that the shadow Health Secretary was too-and there were chaotic scenes in relation to swine flu vaccine. I think that he would agree-we have had a good measure of agreement on these matters-that we do not want to see such scenes in this country. We want the vaccine to be made available through GPs in an orderly way, and that is what we will continue to do. He asked whether we would take the campaign even further. We will keep all these matters under review, as he requested.
Obviously, it is too early to say whether this week's drop in cases does in fact amount to an end of the second wave or whether it is the effect of half-term holidays. We must be vigilant about that; we do not know how the virus will develop over the coming months. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to involve and consult him at all stages and that we will keep open the question of further vaccination for further groups as well as carers, to whom, as we indicated today, we would want to offer the vaccine. We will keep that under review.
Having had a few partisan exchanges with the hon. Gentleman, his comments about the take-up of vaccine, particularly among pregnant women, were very welcome. He was correct to say that this is a proven technology. The clear advice from the chief medical officer is that pregnant women are at risk of greater complications, and the best way that they can protect themselves is to have the vaccine.
My hon. Friend Mr. Skinner made some powerful points about cancer services under this Government which are a much better answer to the question asked by Mr. Baron than the one that I gave a few moments ago. My hon. Friend also raised the important issue of pleural plaques. His constituency and mine share many similarities in that many people worked in industries exposed to asbestos. There is a legacy of people suffering from mesothelioma in certain parts of the north, as well as other parts of the country. In summer, the Justice Secretary announced the elements of a package involving an industry-funded tracing office to help to identify insurance companies and an exploration of ways of speeding up the process of compensation for people with mesothelioma, with more funding for asbestos-related diseases; that aspect is led by my Department. He said that we were taking forward those planks of a package and that a further announcement would be made in due course. In addition, we have agreed to the CMO's recommendation that we should commission more information on pleural plaques for patients, and we are working on that with the British Thoracic Society and the British Lung Foundation. I know of his great interest in the subject. Of course we will do justice to the people concerned by taking forward proposals, and I am grateful to him for raising the matter today.
I shall conclude by speaking for a few moments about our Bill to provide support for people with the highest needs in our society and the provision of free care to help them. We have done a great deal to improve the NHS, but as I have said quite clearly, we must now tackle reform of our social care system. If we fail to do so, we will let down a generation of older people. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire is right that we should work to find a national consensus.
However, again on the theme of confusing and conflicting statements, the hon. Gentleman said today that he supports a national care service, but I think I could furnish him with a quote from the day that the Green Paper was launched-we made an oral statement in the House-when he said precisely the opposite. He shakes his head, but I think the record will show that I am right. I think we will leave it there.
The Bill will help to provide help in people's own homes to those most in need. It will guarantee free personal care for the 280,000 people with the highest needs, including those with serious dementia or Parkinson's disease, and help an additional 130,000 people who need home care for the first time to regain their independence. It is the first significant step towards addressing one of the great remaining unfairnesses of modern times, which is that people with the greatest care needs can still face the highest cost, and that those who suffer the most can pay out the most.
I heard the attack today by Members of another place, but they are missing the very important point that the Bill will deal directly with 400,000 of the most vulnerable people in our society, many of whom will already have paid out of their own pockets large amounts for a number of years to fund the cost of their care. Take the example of somebody who needs 17 hours of personal care a week, which is about average for someone who requires intimate personal care. For the essential care that they need, which could include all aspects of their daily lives-eating, drinking, washing, toileting, dressing and so on-they would currently pay around £13,000. Under the Bill, that care will be free.
I am not saying that the Bill is the whole answer, but I am saying that it is a bridge to a national care service. By taking this step, we are making the social care system of this country fairer, right now, for the most vulnerable. They will benefit in the long term from the measures that we are proposing.
It must be right that we make this new system as preventive as possible, and that people are assisted at home and able to regain their independence. That is exactly what we should do. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire is right that some people will always need care in a care home setting-I agree with him on that-but it must be our intention to help people to stop them deteriorating and going downhill, and to invest early so that they can regain confidence and independence. That is the whole thrust of our policy.
I must say that the hon. Gentleman's claims today at his press conference were the stuff of the gutter. To say that we are proposing to cut benefits for the most vulnerable people in our society, and to raise anxiety in the way that he has among those people, is scaremongering-nothing more, nothing less. We have said quite clearly that people will be guaranteed an equivalent level of support, so to go out there and say that they would lose thousands of pounds every year is low politics, and it crosses a line over which people should not go. It puts misleading thoughts in people's minds, and he knows that that is not the Government's intention.
Will the Secretary of State therefore explain why page 15 of his Green Paper says that most of the Government's options, apart from the pay-it-all-yourself option, involve "integrating disability benefits" into his proposed national care service? The effect of that is to take away cash benefits that people could have spent how they wished and put it into a service where they get what they are given.
The whole aim of the reform is to improve the level of care and support for the most vulnerable people in our society. The hon. Gentleman called a press conference today and said that I wanted to cut benefits and support for vulnerable and older people. [ Interruption. ] He is saying that again and, although I generally do not take offence at much, I do take offence at that.
We have said explicitly that people will be guaranteed an equivalent level of support. We have also said that the proposed national care service would have to be a fundamental reform of the system, and that aspects of the benefits system, including attendance allowance, would need to be considered alongside the support that the Government put into social care through grants to local councils. However, it is quite a different thing to say that that is about cutting support to vulnerable people.
I have not said that-indeed, I have said quite the opposite. The Opposition are indulging in low politics, which should have no place in our national debate. They appear to be getting very desperate in the way that they are campaigning.
Opposition Members are having difficulty in believing the Secretary of State because exactly the same argument was made when the 10p tax proposal was first brought to the House. The Government were letting down the most vulnerable people then, and I fear that he is doing precisely the same today.
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to read the Green Paper, which is about providing more support to vulnerable people. It is this Labour Government who proposed direct payments to older people in need of care so that they had the cash in their hands that would enable them to buy the services and support that they need. He suggests that reforming a benefit equals a cut, but I think that he is more intelligent than that. I find that the Opposition are taking part in gutter politics.
The proposals that we published yesterday have received widespread support. The president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services called the Bill
"an important and valued first step", while Imelda Redmond, the chief executive of Carers UK, welcomed it as
"a stepping stone towards the longer term goal of a national care service."
She also expressed her hope that all parties would come together to make it a reality in the next Parliament.
As I said, the creation of a national care service sets out to end the same unfairness that the NHS set out to end. This Queen's Speech lays out the direction of travel for further reform in our NHS, building on a decade of reform. When people question this Government's ability to deliver on this proposal, to make our good NHS great and to raise standards in our schools still further, I would ask them to look at our record on the NHS and primary education. They will find evidence there that this is a Government who do what we say we will do. We will deliver these improvements, and improve lives as a result.
The people of this country have always looked to the Labour party to find the right and fair solutions to the big challenges that this country faces. In this Queen's Speech, we are coming back with the ideas, the courage and the confidence to do so again.
I commend the Queen's Speech to the House.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned .-[Steve McCabe.]
Debate to be resumed on