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Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:20 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 11:20 am, 13th March 2020

Yes. That is another superb point. I hope this is a useful debate for the Minister in thrashing out in advance some of the points we will need to consider in the consultation. One of the great successes of this Government and their predecessor Governments over the last 10 years has been the creation of freedom and choice for schools, which has led to the outstanding educational results we have had, and I would not want any of that to be reversed. I am very aware of that.

I would like more competition in the provision of school uniforms. Generally—again, this is fairly uncontroversial Conservative thought—I believe that more competition will generally lead to a better product and lower prices, and I would like that to be the case here. That said, I am aware of my hon. Friend’s point that that might be hard to achieve in rural areas, and I certainly would not wish schools to be penalised for transgressing a rule that it has no choice but to contravene.

As a general principle, I would like the Government to stay out of people’s professional affairs and lives wherever possible. I would like outstanding teachers to do the job of teaching and to concentrate on their passionate desire to make people’s lives better, without worrying about being taken to court or excessive regulation coming from Whitehall. I am, therefore, very aware that there is an important balance to be struck here, but that is a question for the consultation and the statutory guidance that will come after that.

My final point is about quality as opposed to sheer cost. Some excellent points have been made about quality items that could be handed down through the generations. We have heard great examples of that on both sides of the House. Sheer unit cost ought not to be the overriding point, if quality is being lost in the process.

Overall, however, while at first glance some aspects of the Bill seem counterintuitive for this Government, it is a judicious use of small-scale intervention to do our best for something that matters to us all—the welfare of families in our constituencies and the children and students who go to our schools—and therefore I support it.