Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:51 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 3:51 pm, 14th March 2017

I have already complimented the hon. Gentleman on being a good, out-of-the-box thinker, and that is another interesting suggestion to debate.

My second star is for productivity. Actually, it is only half a star, because we cannot really check. The Budget includes additional high-value investment, the national productivity investment fund and world-class infrastructure investment. I like most of that, except I am one of those quirky people who still cannot believe in High Speed 2 and in the fact that all that national treasure is being put into a railway that will be out of date by the time it opens in 2033. I think the money should be spent on the national health service, but I know I am in a minority on that.

The Budget also includes £300 million for the future development of the UK’s research talent and to attract talent from the research powerhouses of China, Brazil and Mexico. I like all that—it is all quite good stuff, so it gets half a star. All the stuff about disruptive technology investment to transform the UK economy, electric vehicles, artificial intelligence and robots is good stuff, but there has not been enough private sector research and development for a number of years. Co-operation between business and universities has not been good enough. We will never get the levels of productivity we want until we have the right kind relationships.

Finally, I come to my wish: for goodness’ sake, where is the evidence that grammar schools and free schools do anything to find the spark in children that we want to release? There is no evidence and no research. Not one reputable research institute or organisation in this country believes that a return to selective education will help anyone—quite the reverse. Look at all the research and the experience in other countries. Just look at Kent, for God’s sake! It is the most selective place in the country and it has the worst performance across all schools in the country. That is selective education. It has no research base and no experience base, and there is no global comparison of which we can say, “Isn’t it wonderful?” They do not have it in Denmark, Sweden or Finland. I doubt it is even the latest fashion in Shanghai.

I like policy that is based on good research and good evaluation, and yes, sometimes we should work across the party divide—that is the way to make policy. This Budget has not delivered it. We want that spark to be found and promoted—we want the country to be rich and successful in the challenging disaster of Brexit—but it is not in this Budget.