Schedule 14 — Academies: land

Planning (Grade 1 Agricultural Land Protection) – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 11th May 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendment made: 39, page 112, line 24, at end insert—

‘() in the opening words, for “subsections (4) and” substitute “subsection”;’.—(Mr Gibb .)

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 6:28 pm, 11th May 2011

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As a result of the programme motion and the flow of debate, we have failed to reach the final batch of amendments, which deal with the education work force. About 13,000 workers will have their employee organisations abolished as a result of this legislation and will be insecure in their future employment. Tens of thousands of others will also be affected by the Bill. This batch of amendments was designed to deal with those issues and give those education workers some form of security for the future.

Now that we have failed to reach those amendments, may I through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, ask Mr Speaker to bring together the party leaders to discuss again the preparation of programme motions so that we do not again fail to reach important amendments—I accept that we did under previous Governments—that affect so many of our constituents and members of our communities. It is also critical that the rights of Back Benchers who do not serve on Public Bill Committees are protected, because this is the only opportunity we have to move and debate amendments.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I understand why the hon. Gentleman is frustrated by his inability to participate in debate on the amendments that were not reached, but the timetable motion was agreed by the House, and is completely outside any responsibility of the Chair. However, the hon. Gentleman has put his points on the record, and he may wish to catch my eye briefly during the Third Reading debate—if we reach it.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend John McDonnell is right in saying that we did not reach the last group of amendments, which would have enabled us to discuss the Government’s proposal to allow teachers who are not qualified to teach in taxpayer-funded schools. That was part of a sequence of events over the last few days which did not allow the Opposition sufficient time to table amendments, or even to discuss some of those that had been tabled. The timetable was changed at the last minute on Thursday. Is there anything we can do to ensure that the Opposition are given more notice of the time at which the Government intend to bring a Bill to the House, not least when it changes at the last minute?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I think I understand the gist of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. As he well knows, and as I made clear in response to the point of order raised by his hon. Friend John McDonnell, the House voted on the timetable. As for discussions between the parties, that too is not a matter for the Chair. I feel that we are continuing the debate via points of order rather than embarking on the Third Reading debate, but I am sure that Members will find other ways in which to make their points during that debate.

Third Reading

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 6:31 pm, 11th May 2011

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

Let me begin by thanking all Members on both sides of the House who served on the Bill Committee. As with all the best Bill Committees, it was always good-humoured and good-natured, and it included thorough scrutiny of each of the Bill’s 79 clauses and 17 or 18 schedules. In barely a month we had 22 sittings, even more than the Committee considering the mammoth Bill that became the last Government’s Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which, with 270 clauses, was well over three times the size. We also reached the final clause with time left over to debate new clauses as well, which is rare for any Bill Committee. It is therefore only right and proper for me to pay tribute to the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, as well to officials in the two Departments and officials of the House.

Having spent 13 years in opposition, I know from first-hand experience how demanding a Committee stage can be for Opposition spokesmen, so let me also thank the hon. Members for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for the professional way in which they fulfilled their responsibilities.

The Education Bill has four principal aims: to help schools improve behaviour in the classroom, to remove bureaucratic burdens from schools and, in particular, from teachers by restoring trust in professionals, to ensure that schools are properly accountable to parents and local communities for what they do, and to ensure that the resources that we have are distributed fairly and targeted towards those pupils that need them the most.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

May I ask whether the Secretary of State’s absence is authorised or unauthorised?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I find it upsetting when people complain about my presence in debates. Frankly, I think that the hon. Gentleman has secured a very good deal.

There is no bigger barrier to the recruitment and retention of good teachers than poor pupil behaviour. Figures published last month showed that in nearly one in five secondary schools, behaviour is judged as being no better than satisfactory. In the latest year for which we have figures there were over 363,000 fixed-period exclusions, of which 80,000 were issued for threatening behaviour or verbal abuse against an adult. Recent polls by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that two in five teachers had dealt with physical aggression during that year, and that a quarter had been subjected to a false allegation by a pupil. That underlines the fact that too many teachers have been hindered in doing their jobs because of poor behaviour. I fully understand why teachers have felt that the system, and the Government, have not always been on their side. The Education Bill will ensure that the pendulum swings back in their favour by strengthening teachers’ powers. They will be able to issue same-day detentions, and to search for, and confiscate, items such as mobile phones and video cameras. We considered these measures in detail in Committee. I hope they are used only very rarely, but I would rather teachers were able to decide for themselves whether to use them and I am confident that they will help protect the rights of all children to learn in an environment free from disruption and bullying.

Just as importantly, the Bill will also extend better protection to teachers from false and malicious allegations. Teachers will now have pre-charge anonymity when faced with an allegation of an offence by a pupil, to prevent false accusations being used to undermine teachers’ authority. Teachers have campaigned for that for years, and it has been delivered by this Government in our first year. Of course, we will continue to listen to those who seek to extend these provisions to other staff in schools and colleges, but we also need to tread carefully in relation to cherished rights of free speech in a free society.

Discipline is just one area in which teachers have not been afforded the trust and respect they deserve. Over the past decade, for every step forward, there have been three steps backwards as yet more targets and diktats were issued to schools from the centre. Understandably, much of the debate in Committee was about whether to retain the legislation that piled up under the previous Government. I do not doubt that much of that was well-intentioned, but it has clearly failed to address the performance gap this country faces, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We are determined to raise the professional status of teachers by giving them the space and flexibility they need. Since the Academies Act 2010 the number of academies has more than trebled, from 203 to 658. All those schools are able to decide what is best to raise standards for their pupils, free from red tape and political interference. That is why it has attracted not only Toby Young, but Peter Hyman, Tony Blair’s former director of strategy and author of the autobiographical book, “1 out of 10: from Downing street vision to classroom reality”. Peter Hyman is setting up a free school in Newham. Newham School 21 will teach children between the ages of four and 18 and aims to be open in September 2012. The Bill provides for two new types of academies: alternative provision academies, and 16-to-19 academies, which will extend the benefits of the programme even further.

The Opposition have complained that the Bill centralises power, yet at the same time they complain when we strip back the layers of instruction and guidance telling schools and colleges how to co-operate, which they put in place. Similarly, they protest when we end the requirement on every local authority to set up forums, irrespective of their actual needs or unique circumstances. The Bill will help us bring an end to the perpetual revolution that has been inflicted upon schools, by allowing professionals—not the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency or the General Teaching Council—to do what is best for them.

Just as we are liberating professionals from bureaucracy, so we are ensuring that there is stronger accountability to parents. The Bill will sharpen school accountability by reducing the number of areas in which Ofsted inspects to just four—pupil achievement, quality of teaching, leadership and management, and behaviour and safety—with outstanding schools and colleges also being freed from routine inspection, so that more focus can be diverted towards those that need it most.

The independent regulator, Ofqual, will ensure that our qualifications stand comparison with the best in the world by measuring our relative performance. Because we are prepared to take action where schools and local authorities fail to give children their one chance of a good education, the Bill strengthens the Government’s power to intervene in poorly performing schools, which often have higher proportions of disadvantaged pupils. The Minister for children, my hon. Friend Sarah Teather, is introducing an entitlement to free early-years provision for 130,000 disadvantaged two-year-olds across the country. The scrutiny in Committee has allowed us to set out clearly that we will maintain the free entitlement for all three and four-year-olds at 15 hours, and that we will ask Ofsted to review the impact of the two-year entitlement.

We are also ensuring that more resources are targeted at the education of the poorest through the pupil premium, which will be worth £2.5 billion every year by 2014-15, and the Bill will ensure that funding for apprenticeship training takes priority when young people have a place, so that we deliver on our ambitions to expand the programme and make it the primary work-based learning route for raising the participation age. Thanks to the vigilance and scrutiny of the Chairman of the Education Committee, we have now removed a reserve power to suspend this offer, which underlines our commitment further. In addition, the scrutiny provided and arguments put forward by my hon. Friends the Members for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) and for Wells (Tessa Munt) on the issue of school governors and the proposals in clause 37 have allowed us to improve our policy in this area. We have retained the principle of governor appointments based primarily on skills, while also meeting their desire to reflect stakeholder groups with an interest in schools, in particular staff and local authorities.

The schools White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, set out a pathway to close the attainment gap between those from the poorest and wealthiest backgrounds, and to reverse this country’s decline in international performance tables, so that all who are educated in our state schools have the opportunity to compete with the school leavers and graduates of countries with the best-performing education systems. This Education Bill will allow us to take important steps on that journey, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator) 6:41 pm, 11th May 2011

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The Secretary of State’s first Bill was rammed through with unseemly haste, under procedures normally reserved for counter-terrorism measures, when the odour in the rose garden was still pleasant and Labour leadership candidates were still on the hustings, so we can at least say that this Bill has had a more thorough airing. I therefore thank the members of the Public Bill Committee for their work on it, and I thank the Officials, Officers and other staff of the House who have enabled the Committee’s work to take place. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), who have done an excellent job.

The Schools Minister has been assiduous in his replies, and I thank him for that, but his courtesy has not extended to the production of the essential documents, such as the draft admissions code, that are needed to give this Bill the fullest possible scrutiny. That is highly regrettable—it is insulting, even, to Members of this House—and I trust that the same discourtesies will not be repeated towards Members of another place. Talking of discourtesies, it is a shame that the Secretary of State could not dignify us with his presence this evening. He made a cameo appearance earlier, but he obviously has something more important to do than be here to see his own Bill through. I do not know whether he has a good reason—perhaps he does—but we should have been able to expect him to be here.

Like the Health and Social Care Bill, the Education Bill threatens a free-for-all in our public services. It is a reckless gamble with standards and with the life chances of our children, with no evidence to support it. That is why we will vote against it tonight. Our principal objection to it is based on the fact that it takes power away from parents and pupils and hands it back to providers and to the centre, in the form of the Secretary of State. That is the flaw at the heart of the Government’s vision for public service reform. If they give more freedom and autonomy to providers, be they general practitioners or hospitals in the health sector or head teachers and schools in the education sector, they have to balance that with a corresponding empowerment of the public—parent and patient guarantees—and more ability for service users to hold providers to account. That is what is completely absent from the Government’s vision: this is a provider-led reform with an accountability deficit.

The health reforms have been paused, partly because of fears that the system being created lacks moderating checks and balances. Many people working in education, who will be watching these proceedings, have exactly the same fears about these schools reforms, but sadly the House, in its votes this evening, has failed to respond to them. This is a right-wing reform of our education system, a ripping up of the fabric and frameworks that have stood our services and our children in good stead for years.

Tory Cabinet Ministers are now boasting about this radical right-wing agenda. Iain Duncan Smith has said:

“We’ve got a lot—my welfare reforms, the education reforms…all of these are big, big Conservative-driven themes.”

I believe he said that today. William Hague went as far as admitting that the Lib Dems were crucial—

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator)

You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker, and I apologise.

The right hon. Member—I am struggling to remember his constituency now—[Hon. Members: “Richmond.”] That is it; I was going to say for North Yorkshire. The right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) said:

“A Conservative government with a very small majority or in a minority would have been massively constrained in what we could take through parliament.”

There we have it: this is a right-wing agenda propped up by the Liberal Democrats.

We heard today a bid from Mr Brady, supported by 35 colleagues on his side of the House, to extend selection to our state education system. We know that the Secretary of State, although he could not be here this evening, attended a reception in Parliament—I think it was just before Christmas—where the hon. Gentleman asked him whether he would extend selection through his free school movement. The Secretary of State said:

“My foot is hovering over the pedal; I’ll have to see what my co-driver Nick Clegg has to say”.

Those of us who read Mrs Gove’s entertaining columns in the newspaper know what happens when the Secretary of State puts his foot on the pedal: utter chaos and disruption ensues for anybody in his vicinity. In this case, I think the co-pilot would be better off getting out of the car before the Secretary of State puts his foot down on the pedal—but as we know, the co-pilot is still unfortunately locked in the boot.

We were expecting a bit of muscular Liberalism today—indeed, we were promised it—but sadly there was none. It was just as we suspected. Parents watching this debate want to know that their child has a fair chance of getting into the school that they choose, that they will have good teachers, and will be able to get good careers advice to support them in their choices. Instead, they are getting a free-for-all with no guarantees, a weakening of the admissions system, unqualified teachers in state schools and a withering away of face-to-face careers advice.

I am sorry that we did not get the chance tonight to move an amendment, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West was going to take on, about the need to have qualified teachers in our state schools. I hope that Members of the other place will return to that issue to stop this risky gamble with standards in our schools.

The Bill exposes a curious contradiction in this Secretary of State’s approach to school reform. He has not decided yet whether he truly believes in freedom and really wants local people to get on and do the job that they want—as the Minister just said he did—or whether he wants to dictate to them what they must do and how they must do their jobs. We have an Education Secretary who preaches freedom, but then wants to dictate the books that children read in primary school. He says that teachers know best, but then demands that they use synthetic phonics to teach reading. He lauds professional autonomy, but makes it clear which subjects he approves of in his English baccalaureate and which are second best. That is not good enough: he needs to decide. If he wants teachers to get on with their job, he should let them do it. We should not have this contradiction at the heart of policy that is causing people across the country to lose patience with him.

I gather that the Secretary of State is downstairs at a function or party this evening. I find it hard to believe that he is not here to speak up for his own Bill, to defend it and to tell us why I am wrong and why he has the right vision for our schools. The fact that he is not here means that he cannot face this House to ask for the 50 powers that he is taking in the Bill. We might have thought—might we not?—that he would have the courtesy to come and ask the House for those powers. It is a sorry state of affairs, and shows something of the arrogance that increasingly characterises the Government.

I believe that the Secretary of State is failing to take the education profession with him. They need stability and he is providing chaos. He is losing the confidence of head teachers and teachers. The Education Bill will now move to the other place and I know that their lordships will seek to moderate it, protecting fairness and promoting high standards in every school for every child. I urge them to do so and to give the Bill the fullest possible scrutiny, because this House of Commons, as it has shown today, is in danger of sleepwalking towards an elitist two-tier education system that will be good for some children and some schools, but not all children and all schools.

Several hon. Members:

rose —

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. There are 11 minutes to go and several Members who wish to participate. Extreme brevity would facilitate the maximum number of Back-Bench contributions.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Conservative, Stevenage 6:49 pm, 11th May 2011

I will be very brief, Mr Speaker—two minutes or less, I promise. I was a member of the Public Bill Committee, which was my first such Committee, and I was pleased by how robust its scrutiny of the Bill was, and by the good humour shown by Opposition and Government Front Benchers throughout its mammoth 22 sessions. There was certainly cross-party consensus that we wanted our children to have access to the best education system in the world. That is why I believe the Bill is important—because it promises to raise educational attainment for the poorest children in my constituency. The gap in educational attainment between poorer pupils and their peers simply is not acceptable. We know that by the age of seven the highest early achievers from deprived backgrounds are overtaken by lower-achieving children from advantaged backgrounds, and that that gap gets wider as they get older. That traps children in a cycle of poverty. We cannot measure poverty solely in monetary terms; there is real poverty of education in many parts of the country, which leads to a lack of opportunity and aspiration.

The Government’s commitment to expanding early years learning for disadvantaged children is a welcome step in reducing that poverty of education, and that commitment is firmly reinforced by the pupil premium, which means an investment of more than £815,000 this year in the most disadvantaged children in my constituency. That money can be used by schools to provide additional support such as one-to-one tuition, which I know from my wife’s experience as a primary school teacher makes a dramatic difference to young children. I support the Bill because I believe it will deliver a massive boost to the education of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children in my constituency.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West 6:51 pm, 11th May 2011

Given the time, I shall speak very briefly about the Bill, which is bad in so many ways. The Government talk about giving power to parents and teachers, but at every turn they remove powers from parents and communities and give them to the Secretary of State. The Bill does not build, but destroys. It encourages schools to be islands rather than resources in the community that can bring agencies together for the benefit of children and young people. The Bill also misses opportunities. It is good that it provides for the anonymity of teachers, but why does it not extend that anonymity to other school staff, who are often more vulnerable than teachers to accusations?

There are three other areas in which the Bill misses opportunities. First, by getting rid of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body it does a real disservice to 500,000 generally low-paid workers. That body has been working on job descriptions and job gradings for 100 strands of work within schools, from the work of classroom assistants to that of school bursars and caretakers. Its work was stopped last year when the Government pre-empted the Bill by saying that the body was going to be removed. I seriously hope that they will reconsider their decision and allow the body at least to complete its work, and support it in doing so.

Secondly, my hon. Friend Stella Creasy and I tabled an amendment that would have given schools a duty to facilitate positive activities for young people. There have been some fantastic examples of youth work in schools, usually in partnership with youth services and other agencies, but cuts in youth services and central funding streams have made that work difficult. I hope that the Government will consider how they can support youth work, either through the Bill or elsewhere.

Finally, the Government have missed a real opportunity to save lives. It is not often that any Government get the opportunity to do something simply, easily, cheaply and immediately that would save lives, but this Government have that opportunity. If they introduced emergency life skills into the national curriculum they could make a real difference. ELS is a set of actions that save lives, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation and dealing with choking and bleeding. Every year 150,000 people die in situations in which first aid could have made a difference. Each year in the UK 30,000 people have a cardiac arrest outside the hospital environment, of whom fewer than 10% survive. Children are often present at accidents and emergencies, and by learning emergency life skills they can be as effective as any adult in saving lives. If someone has a cardiac arrest in Seattle they have a great chance of surviving, because children there are taught ELS as part of their national curriculum. Indeed, people cannot graduate from school or pass their driving test unless they learn ELS. If any Member is going to have a cardiac arrest they should have it in Seattle, because they would rarely be more than 12 feet away from someone who could save their life. Why can we not have that situation in the UK? If we did, we could save lives. I hope that the Government will reconsider that and put ELS into the national curriculum.

Photo of Stephen Phillips Stephen Phillips Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 6:54 pm, 11th May 2011

I shall keep my contribution extremely brief. I speak as a former chair of governors at a special school for the deaf—one of the only remaining sign bilingual schools in the country. The issue that I particularly want to address is school discipline. That is so central to the learning environment and to outcomes that it is a great shame that it has not been dealt with by previous Administrations. It is for that reason, if for no other, that the Bill will receive my full support.

As anyone who chaired a governing body under the previous law knows, the difficulty with the regime that existed was that when a head teacher excluded a pupil the exclusion was often overturned by the governing body, because it knew that if it did not overturn it, the exclusion would subsequently be overturned by the extensive appeal mechanisms that are amended by the Bill. It is for that reason that I welcome the amendments that the Government are introducing in that respect.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 6:56 pm, 11th May 2011

The Bill abolishes a number of bodies—the General Teaching Council for England, the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and the Young People’s Learning Agency.

In the past the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations were applied when bodies were abolished and staff were transferred from the public sector to the private sector. They would be protected, together with their conditions of work, the recognition of their trade union and their basic employment rights. Because that does not apply to transfers of staff within the public sector, the Cabinet Office introduced the Cabinet Office statement of practice—COSOP—which in the past has been included in legislation so that TUPE principles applied to staff as if they were being transferred out of the public sector. The previous Government stated on the face of the Bill that that was the situation when the Learning and Skills Council was abolished. The present Government have done the same thing in the Localism Bill, but not in the Education Bill. As a result, the staff are feeling insecure about their future. That affects morale and recruitment and retention—

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

We are committed to applying the principles of the Cabinet Office statement of practice, which has been agreed with the trade unions. I hope that helps the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

It is incredibly helpful to have that on the record. It would be valuable if the Minister could see whether it could be put on the face of the Bill when it goes to another place.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Conservative, South Swindon 6:57 pm, 11th May 2011

In supporting the Bill on Third Reading, I want to put particular emphasis on clause 13 and the restrictions that will be imposed on the reporting of the identity of teachers between arrest and charge. I welcome those provisions and I read with interest the debate in the Public Bill Committee, where the Government rightly pointed out the lack of evidence to support an extension to other classes of person who work within the school environment.

However, I urge the Government to keep that position under review. I remember a debate that we had in the House some months ago on a private Member’s Bill about the wider application of reporting restrictions for people arrested but not charged, with particular reference to teaching assistants and other people who come into the school environment. It is important that we bear that mind.

Finally, I ask the Government to bear in mind the problem that arises when a pupil who has left the school, perhaps only very recently, makes a complaint against a teacher. I urge my colleagues on the Front Bench to work with other Ministers, particularly the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Mr Blunt, in reviewing the application of the law of contempt of court to sensitive issues relating to press freedom and the interests of professionals and all those who work in school and college environments.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour, Sheffield, Heeley 6:58 pm, 11th May 2011

This is a disappointing Bill. It will not do what an Education Bill should do—put children and their education first. That means every child. The mantra, “We must trust the professionals,” is not balanced by respect for children and parents. The powers of search are at best misguided and at worst dangerous. No-notice detention is a potential nightmare for hundreds of young carers throughout the country, and it is unnecessary.

The approach to exclusions is unbalanced, putting at risk the education of many children with special educational needs. No attention has been given to child protection issues in the Ofsted framework that is out for consultation. While Ministers are publishing the welcome Munro review on child protection and looking to strengthen that, the Bill makes matters worse.

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 8 February).

The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House divided:

Ayes 305, Noes 204.

Division number 271

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have noted that the Secretary of State was not present for the Third Reading of the Education Bill. I wonder whether you can give any advice as to whether, when a Secretary of State does not turn up for the Third Reading of their own Bill, which I think is quite unusual, any information should be given to the House, or possibly as a courtesy to the shadow Secretary of State or Opposition Front Benchers, as to why they are not here. We understand that the Secretary of State, who is apparently now standing somewhere nearby at the Bar of the House, was available to come here. Are there any procedures by which it would be normal for the Secretary of State to give notice that he is not going to participate on Third Reading?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is no. Any Minister can provide a rationale or an explanation for presence or absence if he or she so chooses, but there is no formal procedure for so doing. The question of who appears on behalf of those on the Treasury Bench is purely a matter for them, not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman has nevertheless registered his point.