Education and Health

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 7:03 pm on 2nd June 2010.

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Photo of Charlotte Leslie Charlotte Leslie Conservative, Bristol North West 7:03 pm, 2nd June 2010

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech. I shall keep it short, given that there are so many maidens-in-waiting. I cannot let this opportunity pass without congratulating all the new Members, including my new hon. Friend Duncan Hames, who is just leaving the Chamber, and my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston. My father works in the NHS, so I am delighted that we have her kind of expertise on these Benches, because it is of great benefit to the whole House.

I stand here as a newcomer to the House who is slightly intimidated by the formalities-I beg your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, should I mess up any of these formalities while making this speech-and sometimes the Chamber can seem a very long way from the streets of my constituency, where I have spent the past three years campaigning. My predecessors in Bristol North West have campaigned to ensure that this place is not a distant Chamber, removed from places such as the streets of Bristol North West, but is a Chamber that serves the people of Bristol North West and, indeed, of the entire country. On that note, I should like to pay tribute to my direct predecessor, Dr Doug Naysmith, who will be known to many hon. Members and who brought a tremendous amount of expertise, wisdom and integrity to the House. I am not following formalities when I say that he will be a very hard act to follow.

I should like to focus the majority of my remarks on education, which is the subject of today's debate. Bristol North West is a fantastic and incredibly diverse constituency. It contains areas ranging from the fantastically successful Bristol port, which is undergoing expansion, to the rolling downs in Stoke Bishop. That diversity also means that Bristol North West is a tale of two cities, whereby extreme poverty and deprivation exist side by side with some of the richest wards in the country. Nowhere is that inequality seen more starkly than in education, because in my constituency some of the best-performing schools in the country can be found just hundreds of metres away from some of the most challenged schools in the country, and I am privileged to be able to address the Chamber today on education and to discuss some of the measures in the Gracious Speech.

Breaking down the terrible and invisible barriers that divide the haves from the have-nots will not be easy, but I am delighted that one thing on which the coalition rests is the pupil premium. Quite a long time ago, back in 2005, I was lucky enough to work with my hon. Friend Nick Boles and James O'Shaughnessy on the pupil premium, and little did we know then that it would be a raft for such a friendly and successful coalition. The financial incentive directed to those most in need is just the beginning of eradicating the educational inequality that exists in my community and it will help schools such as Henbury school, Orchard school and the Oasis academy Brightstowe.

However, we all know that it is not only money and direct investment that can make a difference to tackling inequality-and thank goodness, because there is not a lot of it around. Human resources are also massively important. I am therefore incredibly excited about and welcome the measures contained in the Gracious Speech to expand organisations such as Teach First. I tugged the elbows of those in Teach First a couple of years ago, begging them to come to Bristol. They did not say no, but they did not say yes. Given the legislation that we will be considering, I hope that they will be able to come to Bristol North West, as Teach First will make a tangible difference to the lives of the children there. Such measures, which often start out merely as ideas in a report that are then taken to this place, can sometimes seem dislocated from those whom they are supposed to serve. The world outside this Chamber can seem very distant when one has been sitting down inside it for five hours, but it is there. I very much look forward to seeing these ideas make a tangible difference.

I shall cite one example in that regard. St Ursula's school is a private school in my constituency, but it wants to open its doors to take state pupils. It exists in an area of burning parental need and desire for a new school. Parents have asked for this new school, but all along the line the authority has said no-the computer has said no. I shall be delighted if the legislation set out in the Gracious Speech means that parents who want a new school find that the computer can say yes and that the authority can help them to realise their ambitions for their children, giving children from all backgrounds access to new, good schools-to schools that only the well-off can afford at the moment.

In conclusion, I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for indulging me. It has been an honour to address this debate on the single most effective way of closing that gap between the haves and the have-nots, which remains so stark in my constituency. I am talking about education, and I look forward to working within this Chamber, with my honourable colleagues and friends, to ensure that Bristol North West is a tale not of two cities, but of one city. I want it to be a place of opportunity for all, and that is also what I want this country to become.