I can see why we may want to reduce the number of branded items, but I guess that has to be done for name tags—for my son, Charlie Hollinrake, I remember my wife sewing them into jumpers, T-shirts and stuff—even in non-branded items, as well as in branded items.
I, too, was a school governor—for six years at our local school. In fact, it was the school I attended myself as a young child, which is a great place to be a governor. There is no doubt that most people can see that having a sensible uniform policy instils pride and identity in young people at their school. It can enhance productivity and create a greater focus, and it is less of a distraction if everybody is dressed in a similar way, they are dressed well, a uniform policy is properly implemented and properly imposed, and standards are high. However, schools can clearly do that without saying that children have to have a particular pair of black trousers. If they let people choose the more generic items—those that do not need to be branded—the greater choice for the consumer will drive down the cost of the uniform.
Interestingly, the Government’s own figures show that the average cost to parents of a uniform, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in 2007. It is right that we look at this policy, and that we take forward the guidance and make it statutory, but we should not think that lots of profiteering is going on in this sector. Generally, the costs are fair. On the costs mentioned earlier, the research from the Children’s Society says it is £340 a year, but that includes lots of other things. The research from the Schoolwear Association shows that, for branded elements, it is about £100 for a typical suite of items, which would typically last two years, so the annual cost of branded items is more like £50, which would be a fairer cost. That is not of course to say that some people will not still struggle: for a lot of people, £50 a year is a significant cost, so it is right that we should seek to minimise it. It is right that there should be measures in place to help people on low incomes afford the uniform.
Just outside my constituency, there is a business called NextGen Clothing, which is a member of the Schoolwear Association. I have spoken to those there, and they absolutely support this legislation. They talked about how they provide branded uniform items for schools, and they also provide a lot of the generic items. They compete on those generic items with Tesco and Marks & Spencer. For example, a pair of black trousers costs £15.40 from that provider, whereas from Marks & Spencer it is about £13. They know they are in a competitive market, and it is absolutely right that they are in a competitive market. It is not just about cost; as several Members have said, it is also about quality.
An interesting point was made by my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope about VAT. VAT does apply to children’s clothes for children above the age of 14. After we have left the European Union, we may perhaps look at that. It has been the historical position for some time, but clearly people leave school at a later age than when that VAT policy was implemented, and perhaps we should look at it again. He is quite right that it would reduce by 20% the cost of uniforms for parents and young people.
I am very pleased to be able to support the Bill, and pleased that the Government are supporting it. I encourage all Members to do so, so that this Bill makes a smooth passage through the House.