§ Madam Speaker
Before we commence, I have to tell the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I have had to restrict Back Bench speeches to 10 minutes.
§ Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Address, at the end to add—But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech made no reference to developing a partnership between schools, parents, local education authorities, churches and others in the community to raise educational standards, gave no cast-iron guarantee of nursery places for four-year-olds and set no targets to provide places for three-year-olds, offered no proposals to improve access to training, higher education and work, provided no measures to prevent crime and tackle disorder, failed to encourage partnership between the police and local authorities, offered no legislation for a statutory crime prevention duty to be imposed on local authorities, proposed no measures to deal with criminal anti-social neighbours, set out no strategy for tackling youth crime, announced no plans to tackling delays in the Court system, contained no proposals for regulating the private security industry, outlined no new measures to help the victims of crime and sought to reinforce rather than diminish social division by failing to refer proposals on asylum and immigration to a Special Standing Committee of the House.In moving the amendment on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself, I register my interest as a parent, as a citizen and as an active member of Unison.
Britain faces the greatest peacetime challenge in our history. We have a choice of the kind of nation, the kind of economy and the kind of society that we wish to become. We have the choice which is faced by other nations across the world in developing knowledge-based economies which offer their people the opportunity of being at the cutting edge of economic and industrial change; of taking on the challenge of new technology; of offering their young people the prospect of jobs; of having a high-wage, high-added-value, high-tech economy. Instead of taking on that challenge, the Government, as spelt out in the Queen's Speech, are aiming for a low-wage, low-tech, low-added-value economy. [Interruption.]
§ Madam Speaker
Order. There is a lot of noise in the House, which makes it extremely difficult to be heard, especially for Front-Bench spokesmen. I ask the House to come to order.
§ Mr. Blunkett
Instead of the opportunity that is offered in other parts of the world, our Government, as exemplified by the Queen's Speech, offer the nation a low-wage, low-tech, low-added-value economy, based on the belief that we can attract investment only if we pay our people less than people are paid in other developed countries and offer them a less substantial investment in their public services; and especially in the way that we equip people for taking work and taking on the challenge of enterprise and innovation; in other words, the investment we place in education, training and the prospect of employment.
As a nation, we face enormous divides, which are reflected in the division that exists between our successes and those of the nations that we compete with in Europe and across the world. France, Germany, Japan and many countries of south-east Asia achieve double the number of successes at GCSE and advanced qualification levels that this country achieves.
Lacking opportunities, hope and expectation, many young men and women turn away from the education system and from the community in which they live: 70 per cent. of those under 25 who commit crimes have dropped out of the formal education system. They have no prospect of a job and no hope of contributing to the society around them, so they feel undervalued and disregarded. In those circumstances, it is not surprising that the existing divisions are exemplified all too tragically by what happens on our streets, and by the lack of hope in our schools.
The league tables published this morning show an increasing divide between those succeeding and those failing—a divide which leads one in 10 young men to get no qualification at all at GCSE level, not even a grade G. The number of people who do not get any qualification whatsoever at the age of 16 has risen by 7 per cent. this year. The divide between schools succeeding and schools failing has grown again. There is a twelvefold gap between the top 20 per cent. and the bottom 20 per cent. in our schools. That gap is not seen in the same way anywhere else in the world.
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
Would the hon. Gentleman state unequivocally that he fully supports the decision of the leader of his party not to send his children to Islington schools but to a grant-maintained school—the Oratory school in Kensington—some eight miles away from the terrible Labour-run Islington council's education system?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I shall answer that question, but I think that it is tragic that, when I am trying to spell out the fact that tens of thousands of children got nothing from the education system this year, and talking about lessening the divide for 7 million children in school, the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is interested in scoring a cheap political point at the expense of one child in one school in this capital city. Let me answer his question.
I have no problem whatsoever about any Catholic parents offering their child the chance of going to a Catholic school—a chance that, under the London Government Act 1963, brought in by the Tories, a child could have taken up at any time over the past 32 years. If the hon. Member for Dover wants to make cheap jibes at the expense of a sensible debate about how to lift standards and achievement in this country, let him do so; but it will be at the expense of his party in the general election.
464 I am talking about the major divide that exists in this nation between those succeeding and those failing, which is exemplified by the income that people can earn, and by their prospect of a job. The education that people receive has a direct bearing on their ability to get a job, the amount that they will be paid, and whether they are likely to keep that job.
For every year in post-16 education, there is a definable 14 to 16 per cent. increase in the amount that one is likely to earn. For those who have no qualifications, the prospect of getting a job is sinking like a stone—the number in work who have no qualifications has sunk from 59 per cent. last year to 55 per cent. this year.
Let me spell it out in terms of income. Disregarding housing costs, in the past 16 years the bottom 10 per cent. of earners have seen a 17 per cent. drop in their disposable income, while the top 10 per cent. have seen a 62 per cent. increase in theirs.
The unfairness that exists all around us is exemplified in what is done by the Government and in the emphasis that they are placing in the Queen's Speech on the proposals before us. There is nothing to tackle unemployment, to overcome insecurity or offer people the chance to earn, rather than rely on welfare benefits.
There are none of the type of changes that we need in training and the development of skills for technology. In fact, because of changes that the Government have introduced, in the past year the number of new starts achieved through training and enterprise councils for young people with special needs has dropped—in some TECs by as much as 50 per cent. On average, it is a 10 per cent. drop.
The successful are getting more successful, and the vulnerable and those in need are being disregarded by the Conservative party's measures. It is a tragic explanation of the difference between that party and ours and of the opportunity that we seek to offer, compared with the denial that people face in their everyday lives, day in and day out.
Nothing could better exemplify the difference than the Prime Minister's decision to double the assisted places scheme, so that 60,000 children can "escape"—the word used by the Deputy Prime Minister—from the inadequacy of inner-city schools. In disregarding the interests of 7 million children and being prepared to divert £220 million of public money to 60,000 children, the Government have shown exactly why we were right to say that we would invest in lowering class sizes and ensuring that no child between the age of five and seven is taught in a class of more than 30, so that they can have a chance of learning those basic skills—to read, write and add up—that are the birthright of every child and which offer them the real opportunity of succeeding.
Instead, what do we have before us? The hint of the Prime Minister's promise on 12 September in Birmingham that all schools would have to face being forced into grant-maintained status.
§ Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have listened to his rhetoric with some interest, but will he now say exactly what are his policies and those of the Labour party, and how he intends to fund them?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I have become used to the Conservative party treating us as the Government and itself as the 465 Opposition, but I was under the misapprehension that we were debating the Queen's Speech, which was drawn up by the Cabinet, not the shadow Cabinet.
I should be happy to spell out our policies, and I will do so in a few moments, but first I will talk about the Queen's Speech, which I should have thought Conservative Members would have been proud to debate. If the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), the chairman of the all-party Select Committee on Education and a long-standing Conservative, is anything to go by, however, the policies of the present Secretary of State for Education and Employment do not meet his desire, or that of many other Conservative Members, for a change in education policy.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain, as he is moving the amendment tabled by the Official Opposition on the motion on the Queen's Speech, why such a large number of his own Back-Benchers are so dissatisfied that they have tabled an amendment of their own? An amendment has been tabled by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Why do those Labour Members have to table a separate amendment?
§ Mr. Blunkett
May I seek your guidance, Madam Speaker? Is the term "prat" unparliamentary? [Interruption.]
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I would not recommend it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has a very wide vocabulary, and he can do rather better than that.
§ Mr. Blunkett
Let me answer the question in this way. Anyone who could put that question in the way that the hon. Gentleman did has no intention of debating the Queen's Speech, which his right hon. Friends have put together and moved. If a Government can suggest that the main priority for education, training and employment is to open up divisions that have already damaged the education of so many children by returning to grant-maintained status, by emphasising that the Government want to take away parental rights by denying parents in schools throughout the country the opportunity to vote on the status of their school, it is no wonder that Conservative Members are keen to get off the debate.
§ Mr. Blunkett
No: I shall make a little progress, and then I will happily give way.
Grant-maintained status, what might be described as GM, or "Gillian's misery", has no relevance whatever to the needs of children throughout the country. To suggest, as the Government are doing, that they should take away the right of Church schools to be able to determine, through the normal mechanisms, through the decision of parents, their status and their future is a disgrace.
Let me remind Conservative Members what was said on 19 April last year. I shall quote, as I think it is important:We have constantly emphasised the centrality of parental choice in our education reforms. It is built in to the legislation governing the arrangements for grant-maintained status and there must be no further legislation this Parliament. Parents decide. Governors and parents may initiate. But it is the body of parents who ultimately must decide.466 That was said 18 months ago by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten).
I never thought that I would see the day when the present Secretary of State outstripped her predecessor in right-wing ideology, but here we have a Government who are consulting—well, they use the term "consult"—on the suggestion that 4,000 voluntary aided schools should be forced to become grant-maintained; on whether parents should be denied the right to decide whether they should become grant-maintained or whether rights that they already have should be taken away.
It is no wonder that the Anglican Church has condemned it and that the Catholic Church has described it as discriminatory and divisive, because that is precisely what it is. It discriminates. It divides. It undermines the education service and the partnership we applaud between Churches and local education authorities, among all schools, working together in the interests of their children and their community.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
What would the hon. Gentleman say to my constituents, who are voting with their feet and are applying to Icknield high school, a grant-maintained school in my constituency, in such enormous numbers that its waiting list keeps rising each year? That school has achieved excellent results as a grant-maintained school in the league tables that were published this morning. Would the hon. Gentleman deny them the right, to which he so proudly commits from the Opposition Benches, to go to that particular school?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I am terribly sorry, but the hon. Gentleman must have missed the point. We are not denying anyone rights; it is Conservative Members who propose to deny parents the right to choose, and Churches the right to operate in the system that they already have. As in "Alice in Wonderland", the word "choice" means what the Government say it means. It means "no choice": it means removing rights and diversity.
It is clear from what the Prime Minister said in Birmingham on 12 September that he and his Secretary of State are completely at loggerheads about how to proceed.
§ Mr. Blunkett
If there were as much activity in the hon. Gentleman's brain as there is in his legs, we should make much more progress.
§ Mr. Blunkett
In a moment. I want to make some progress first.
The Queen's Speech contains a proposal to allow grant-maintained schools to borrow against their assets. Well, only against some of their assets: they cannot borrow against core activities, or—according to the Prime Minister—against the playing fields that he has frequently appealed to them not to sell. Nor can they borrow against their major activity in delivering a service: they cannot borrow against more than 5 per cent. of their total assets.
§ Mr. Blunkett
No, not now. I will in a few moments.
467 The proposal appears to be that the breach in the previous definition of the public sector borrowing requirement is to amount to a grant-maintained school's borrowing against the price of the front gates. That is about the measure of it. Let me make it clear, however, that by changing the rules and presenting their new proposals, the Government open up all sorts of possibilities.
I am not talking about the possibility of dividing the education system, so that some schools are given opportunities that are denied to others, and some are given resources to invest in repair and maintenance—to restore a roof and stop leaks, for instance—while others must put up with the inadequacy of the borrowing permission from the Secretary of State. Instead, all schools could be united, with the possibility of a public-private finance initiative that would enable us to overcome the problem of the £4 billion—at a conservative estimate—repair and maintenance bill facing our schools.
I look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State, on Second Reading, how the new rules will apply, and how the Treasury's "finger in the dyke" has been pulled out in terms of the definition of the PSBR.
§ Mr. Cohen
I welcome my hon. Friend's commitment to a reduction in class sizes to a maximum of 30 for five to seven-year-olds, but I for one fear that it may not be sufficient. Many schoolchildren may not have the basic skills defined as necessary by my hon. Friend by the time they are seven. Will my hon. Friend assure me that, if he becomes Secretary of State for Education in a Labour Government, he will not close his mind to the possibility of limiting class sizes to 30 higher up the scale as well?
§ Mr. Blunkett
God forbid that I should have a closed mind on the improvement of standards, and the provision for all children of the opportunities available to those who buy private education for themselves and their children. In last week's report, the chief inspector said, choosing his words carefully, that class size alone—he used the word "alone"—would not determine the quality of education. Who could possibly disagree with that?
However, class size clearly makes an enormous difference to the time that can be allocated to a child with special needs, or with access to particular opportunities; it makes excellence available to each individual in the classroom. We shall do our utmost as part of our commitment to standards and opportunities to offer the many what has previously been available only to the few.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
The hon. Gentleman says that Labour opposes the sale of school playing fields for development. Will he support my strong opposition to Ealing Labour council's strenuous efforts to sell the playing fields of Dormers Wells high school for housing development? Will he support my efforts to stop that council, because my Government are giving me good support?
§ Mr. Blunkett
The hon. Gentleman has the cheek of the devil. His Government have been pressing local authorities to sell their land and property to raise capital 468 receipts. The notes to the Gracious Speech on the issue of grant-maintained schools show that the Government are so keen on grant-maintained schools that they will allow them to keep 100 per cent. of the receipts from the sale of land, property and playing fields, whereas local authorities can use only 50 per cent. of such proceeds.
If the hon. Gentleman is so keen to ensure that the people of Ealing are protected from his Government, he should approach the Secretary of State for the Environment and persuade him to ensure that Ealing gets sufficient allocation under the borrowing permission to ensure that it would not have to sell land and property in the borough.
The centrepiece of the Government's proposals on education, training and employment are the nursery voucher proposals which were floated by the Prime Minister at the Conservative party conference in autumn last year. He said that the delivery of the places through the voucher scheme would be "a cast-iron commitment".
On 2 November this year, when the Department for Education and Employment issued its consultative guidance notes on the delivery of the voucher scheme and the pilot project, it said that it could not give a cast-iron guarantee to provide places under the system for four-year-olds. Therefore, while the Prime Minister guarantees it, the Secretary of State denies it. But that is not surprising, because she is on record as saying that she thinks the scheme would be "unwieldy" and "a dead weight", and that it was not the appropriate way to proceed with the delivery of the promise on nursery places.
Who could have invented such a scheme? Some £545 million of existing local authority resources which are already providing places for four-year-olds are to be recycled at public expense under an expensive administrative procedure. It will be delivered through a piece of paper called a voucher that will provide £1,100 by way of a promissory note for a part-time nursery place, which in a nursery class costs an average of £1,300 to £1,500 and in a nursery school an average of £1,600 to £1,800.
Who could have invented a scheme that spends £11 million on the administration simply of circulating the vouchers, of clawing back the money? Who could possibly have invented a scheme that takes from those who already have, recycles it theoretically to places that do not have provision, provides no capital resources for the provision of facilities, invests no money in training teachers or nursery nurses, and results in recycling the money from those who are providing to those who cannot provide because they do not have the places? That subsidises only those who have the places because they are buying them with their own resources in the private sector.
The only people who could possibly gain from such a scheme are those who can afford to pay for places and are already paying. They will now receive a subsidy of £1,100, while everyone else will pay through the nose for the most convoluted administrative nightmare, which was invented not to deliver places for four-year-olds but to satisfy the right-wing ideologues who dreamed up the scheme in the first place. The whole thing is absolute nonsense.
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)
Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that, in the little villages of 469 Staffordshire, people regard this not as right-wing ideology, but as a practical way of getting nursery school education in small villages? The system that he is advocating could not work in rural areas.
§ Mr. Blunkett
With all due respect, it sounds as though the hon. Gentleman knows as much about the operation of the provision of nursery education as he knows about parliamentary procedure, as exemplified in "The Final Cut".
§ Mr. Fabricant
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The hon. Gentleman calls one hon. Member a prat. He makes an insult to me. Is it not in order that, just occasionally, he should give an answer?
§ Madam Speaker
All hon. Members are responsible for their comments in this House. I cannot put words into their mouths. It might be a good thing if I could sometimes.
§ Mr. Blunkett
Fortunately, the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) does not get three bites of the cherry, as he advises Members can in the television programme.
This is a tawdry little scheme. The pilot project alone will cost £5 million, operating in just four local authorities—£5 million that could have bought 4,000 part-time nursery places. The final scheme will cost £11 million to administer, which could have bought 8,500 part-time nursery places across the country, ensuring that children who are already getting nursery places are not threatened; that three-year-olds who are currently threatened by the scheme can continue to get them; and that special needs children are not denied the support they deserve because they receive no extra funding through the voucher scheme.
I am prepared not simply to criticise an administrative nonsense, not simply to say that the Opposition would provide an entitlement so that we would set targets for all three as well as four-year-olds to have a nursery place, whose parents wished it, but to offer the Secretary of State a way out. I would like to offer her this afternoon the opportunity to sit down with me, with the Pre-School Learning Alliance, with the private sector and with local education authorities up and down the country to work out a way, within the amount of money that the Government have declared they are prepared to allocate, of offering in the next two years a method of delivering a nursery place to every four-year-old.
I offer her the opportunity, without the voucher scheme, without capita management having to take up public expenditure that could go on nursery places, without the problems that she knows exist in the present proposals, to ensure that every child of four gets the opportunity that she and the Prime Minister have offered them and that we are totally committed to providing.
I will guarantee the co-operation of every Labour education authority in this country in planning the delivery of those places and in ensuring that those resources are put directly into nursery schooling, and that every parent is guaranteed that basic entitlement. I ask the Secretary of State this afternoon to take up that opportunity.
§ Mr. Blunkett
All the Secretary of State's Back Benchers can do is shout, "What about rural areas?" The proposal that I have just made, the guarantee that we are giving, and the entitlement that we are offering to all parents, stand for rural areas just as they do for urban areas.
§ Mr. Blunkett
It will, of course, be funded. We will fund it not only with the money that already exists in the system, but with the money that the Government have laid on the table.
We will do so not simply with the £150 million that is directly available but with all the administrative costs— the additional £20 million-plus that is available to operate and supervise the scheme. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire, who is still burbling away, does not believe that that money can deliver the promise to all four-year-olds, how does he think the voucher system, using the same money—in fact, less than I am proposing—would be able to offer that cast-iron guarantee? Either he cannot add up, he is being mischievous or he is just very stupid.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman thinks that private education has a useful role to play. He has just given a commitment on behalf of the Labour party. Will he ensure that, under his new funding proposals, people will be able to cash his form of voucher at private nursery schools?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Nobody will have to cash anything except their entitlement to a free nursery place. It is as simple as that. There is money on the table. We are told that a paper promise will deliver the same pledge. We are told that it can be delivered without the money that will be spent on the administration of the scheme. If we would have £20 million more available through my proposal, presumably it will be accepted that there is £20 million more to ensure that the guarantee can be met.
The entitlement is absolute, but the availability of places can be guaranteed only by planning the facilities and by ensuring that there is a crash programme to train the teachers and nursery nurses. Without that, the paper promise that will be delivered through the door of every family with a four-year-old child just before a potential general election would not be worth the paper it was written on. That is the truth. I am calling the Secretary of State's bluff—either one believes that the scheme can work, in which case the places can be delivered, or one does not. It is as simple as that.
§ Mr. Blunkett
No, I will not give way again.
Let us be clear about it. The entire sorry little package of measures in the Queen's Speech—which includes the off-balance-sheet student loans provision, which does nothing for access or opening up new opportunities and nothing to deal with the crisis that exists for students now with the Student Loans Company Ltd., which we will be debating next Monday—does nothing to address the future needs of our country or our education, training and employment systems.
471 This is a tired, worn-out and washed-up Government. They are a spent force, who ran out of steam a long time ago. They are a rudderless ship drifting starboard. The man in charge is issuing orders from the safe distance of the Admiralty, while the first mate expands his cabin as the decks are awash with the seas of fate. Captain Pugwash, blind-eyed and missing the signals from the port side, sails blissfully on into the rocks of Blair Point.
This time, the clouds will not clear, and the sun will not come out for the Tory party. The Telegraph will not signal victory, because the British people are crying out for a change. They are crying out for social cohesion, social justice and co-operation in our education system. They want to lift standards by offering opportunities for all our people. They want a world worth living in.
A Labour Government would offer everyone in Britain optimism and hope for the future, and that is why we condemn these tawdry little suggestions in the Queen's Speech. That is why the people of Britain will embrace our real promises and pledges for the future.
§ 4.9 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)
I welcome the chance to present to the House the Government's proposals for education legislation in the forthcoming Session. The proposals are consistent with the themes of all our education reforms of the past 16 years— competitiveness, standards, choice, diversity and encouraging aspirations.
I feel that I must comment on the extraordinary contribution from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). He presented an analysis that was steadfast in its ignorance of the facts. This year, the league tables show an overall improvement in all schools' performance, and the hon. Gentleman ignored the fact that 39 per cent. of schools have managed to reduce the number of pupils leaving school with no GCSEs—an important task for all.
The hon. Gentleman managed to ignore the fact of inward investment—90,000 jobs provided over the last year because of our flexible labour market and our well-trained work force. He managed to ignore the continued rise in standards in education and training. I had hoped to be able to say something complimentary about the hon. Gentleman's sense of humour, but I am afraid that he blew that in the last few minutes of his speech: he lurched from ships to Captain Pugwash to other things which, fortunately, there was too much noise for the rest of us to hear.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman's speech demonstrated yet again that the Labour party continues to set its face against diversity, choice and aspiration. It believes in choice, of course, but only for some occupants of the Labour Front Bench.
§ Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)
Given that parents make choices for their children and that it is not always the fault of the children which schools the parents choose, is the Secretary of State aware that, out of 24 members of the shadow Cabinet, 18 were educated in grammar schools, in the private sector or in independent schools? Does she agree that the Labour party wishes to deny that choice to today's children?
§ Mrs. Shephard
I am delighted that their parents were able to exercise the choice that the Labour party wants to remove from other people.
The hon. Member for Brightside should realise that, at this stage, nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out in the context of consultation on the future of voluntary-aided schools. Unlike the Opposition, we are consulting the Churches. I believe that the Opposition did not do so before producing their so-called White Paper in the summer.
We believe in considering seriously how best to extend the benefits of self-government in schools to all children, and we are doing that now. Sadly, in his whole speech, the hon. Gentleman did not answer one question, and he seemed to admit that he has not the merest clue about how to set about providing nursery education. I will help him—that seemed to be the invitation he offered to me— and I am happy to sit down with him any time to explain how a successful nursery vouchers scheme will work.
For the hon. Gentleman's information, much the largest part of the £20 million that he mentioned is for inspection, not administration. We believe in quality, even if the Labour party does not.
§ Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
In view of the statements that the Secretary of State has just made about nursery vouchers and the concern that has been expressed by Conservative Back Benchers, will she advise us how many additional nursery places in Staffordshire the voucher system will create—in particular in Stoke-on-Trent?
§ Mrs. Shephard
The hon. Gentleman should have given me notice of that question, because I do not know how many places exist at the moment. In due course, however, parents in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire will have the right for their four-year-olds to have three terms of good-quality nursery education.
What did we hear from the hon. Member for Brightside? It was not a very good speech, I am afraid. Socialism still clings to him despite the best efforts of his leader to have him hide the fact. As The Sunday Times said, the jury is still out. After today's showing, I fear that that must be so.
Recently, of course, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have announced some new initiatives. I believe that they announced some new initiatives on youth training measures. It seems that there is a split in the shadow Cabinet on the matter—nevertheless, an attempt was made. We have heard something from the Labour party about associate teachers and something about an aim for nursery education—no proposals, just an aim, but never mind. We have heard about tough inspection and technology on every school's curriculum. The only problem is that the Government have done them all. Of course the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would not have noticed. Why? Where were they at the time? They were in the No Lobby, voting against excellence, standards, choice and diversity.
It takes some cheek for Labour Members, in their house magazine the Daily Mirror, to wring their hands about the tiny percentage of failing schools and poor examination results. The Labour party would not even know about those things were it not for the Government's reforms, all of which the Labour party opposed. All the measures to raise standards and promote excellence were opposed by Labour.
§ Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood)
In relation to what the Government have done, will the Secretary of State confirm what I took to be a whiff of retreat in her earlier remarks on the opt-out of voluntary-aided schools? Will she confirm that in fact the Government are retreating on the fast-track route and, if so, why? Will she also tell us why she thought about that in the first place when parents are under-represented now in voluntary-aided schools? Instead of decreasing their representation, why should she consider depriving them of their right even to vote on the future of their schools?
§ Mrs. Shephard
How the Labour party has converted to parental choice; how the Labour party hated it when we introduced grant-maintained schools; and how it loves parental choice now. Is it not wonderful to see so many people converted to our cause?
As for the consultation on voluntary-aided schools, we have suggested seven options for those interested in them and the 4,000 relevant bodies to consider. The consultation is not complete; until it is, nothing is ruled in and nothing ruled out.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
On the question of who has been converted to what, will the Secretary of State explain why Cheshire county council refused to adopt the nursery voucher pilot scheme? Is that not odd for a Conservative-controlled authority? Perhaps the truth is that Cheshire county council was right and the scheme was daft from the outset.
§ Mrs. Shephard
I think that Cheshire county council will come to regret its decision, whichever party controls it. It is depriving parents of four-year-olds in Cheshire of nursery education—the scheme could have been in place by April next year.
I was referring to the attitude of Labour Members. When we discussed the national curriculum, testing and inspection, where were they? In the No Lobby. When we discussed grant-maintained schools, technology colleges and improvements to teacher training, where were they? In the No Lobby. When we discussed the guarantee of training for young people and training programmes for the unemployed, where were they? In the No Lobby.
Where are many of the schools that are failing our children and denying them a decent education? They are in Labour-controlled authorities where years of socialist claptrap have allowed slipshod teaching to deny children the right to a decent education. They are in Hackney, where even a pupil-teacher ratio of 1:8 could not improve Hackney Downs school. They are in Lambeth, where secondary schools are so bad that Ofsted has to inspect every one. They are in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Bradford, the local authorities whose schools have more unauthorised absences than any others in England. They are in Islington, which has just come absolutely bottom in the table of GCSE results—the worst results of any local education authority anywhere in England.
Talking of conversions, no wonder the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is using Conservative policies to send his own child outside that rotten borough. Yet he and it would deny parents without his level of income the right to send their children to schools of their choice. What a shame. That is Labour in office. That is its ambition. Although, of course, we heard nothing about Labour's plans from the hon. Member for Brightside, what Labour wants to do for Britain, it has done for Islington.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Is it not a fact that the Government pledged money for teachers which was not forthcoming? On the assumption that it will be forthcoming next year to pay teachers the increase which is their proper due, will the right hon. Lady assure me that, despite the arcane matters of revenue support grants, area cost adjustments, and so on, she has cleared the way for that money to be paid after adjudication, and that there will be no undue rocks or difficulties in the legislative process?
§ Mrs. Shephard
The hon. Gentleman—it is surprising from him—has forgotten the existence of the independent review body that looks at teachers' salaries. As for the overall financial settlement, he will have to possess his soul in patience until next week like the rest of us
. The contrast between the record of Labour Members and our record of consistent reform could hardly be more marked. As I said, for the past 16 years, four themes have underpinned our reforms: competitiveness, standards, choice and encouraging aspiration. In the Gracious Speech, we announced a number of measures to extend those themes. First, we announced the introduction of vouchers for nursery education, through which we shall deliver our commitment to increase the number of pre-school places for four-year-olds.
Good-quality nursery education benefits children's academic, personal and social development. That is why we are planning for every four-year-old to have access to it.
§ Mr. Blunkett
Why, then, is the Secretary of State on record as saying that the nursery voucher scheme was not "the favoured option", and that she was against it?
§ Mrs. Shephard
Either the hon. Gentleman's memory of what I said or his memory of the press cutting from which he took what I said is faulty. I actually said that any scheme must be easily practicable; it must not be unwieldy. It must deliver the goods. The nursery voucher scheme answers all those points, and we shall be able to demonstrate that as the first phase comes into play.
§ Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)
If the Secretary of State is so concerned to deliver good-quality nursery education to all four-year-olds, why is she not doing the sensible thing and putting additional moneys into training teachers and additional capital into providing facilities so that children can be taught in an appropriate environment?
§ Mrs. Shephard
That was an authentic Islington voice, I believe. We want to put choice into the hands of parents—the kind of parent I am sure that the hon. Lady is. We do not want the choice to be made by institutions. Training is one of the issues on which we are consulting. We have had a large number of responses and we shall be making an announcement in due course. It is true that training is important—so is the range of qualifications that will equip people who will be delivering that nursery education to four-year-olds.
Every parent of a four-year-old child, regardless of his or her circumstances, will be entitled to a voucher which will be exchanged for three terms of good-quality nursery education at a recognised establishment of his or her own choosing. The purchasing power will be in the hands of parents, and there will be real meaning to the notion of choice. Parents will be able to decide between the state, the private and the voluntary sectors as they judge best 475 and the voucher will give parents the wherewithal to demand the kind of places that will suit their needs. Choice in the hands of parents will also act as a stimulus in the state, the private and the voluntary sectors. However, the initiative is about education and not about child care.
§ Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)
What advice can the Secretary of State give me to pass on to parents in my constituency, some of whom have children who are three and who are in nursery schools because we have a Labour-controlled council that is enlightened and tries to encourage and expand the whole nursery education system in the county? It looks as if those parents will be deprived of this opportunity, especially in areas in which there is social deprivation and in which children really benefit by being in nursery schools at the age of three. What advice should I give those parents?
§ Mrs. Shephard
I do not entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's question. The initiative is starting with four-year-olds. Some £185 million of new money, additional to what local education authorities already provide, will be provided. If local education authorities so wish, that additional money will enable them to enhance the three-year-olds provision that some of them may already have chosen to put in place. Given that, they will have extra resources.
§ Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Given the concern that has already been expressed about nursery school education in Staffordshire, how will the right hon. Lady's proposals ensure that parents throughout Staffordshire get access to the nursery places that they want? We do not have them at the moment on the scale that is needed, either in Stoke-on-Trent or in the rural areas. How does the right hon. Lady propose to have a level playing field and how will there be fairness? She knows, from the delegation of Staffordshire Members of Parliament, that we are at least £300 per child per year worse off than people in the south of the country.
§ Mrs. Shephard
That is another RSG question, part of which will be answered next week. It is a thousand pities that the Staffordshire LEA did not choose to take part in the pilot scheme. If it had, four-year-olds in the hon. Lady's LEA would have had the benefit that my four-year-olds in Norfolk will have as early as next April.
We shall put in place a quality assurance regime to which all establishments wishing to exchange vouchers will be subjected. They will all have to work towards the same learning outcomes and they will all be inspected on the basis of a single inspection framework which will combine rigour with the minimum of bureaucracy.
§ Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the calculation of the standard spending assessments will mean, for example, that Solihull will lose 90 per cent., because the scheme covers only four-year-olds? According to my calculations, there are at least 42 local education authorities that will suffer in the same way but that already provide excellent nursery education.
§ Mrs. Shephard
Indeed, Solihull is providing good nursery education, some of which I have seen, as my hon. Friend knows. I know that he understands that the scheme is a new way in which to provide nursery education. It puts the consumer and the parent, rather than the 476 institution, at the heart of the system. No LEA will be worse off if it continues to attract the same number of children of nursery age. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that we should put the interests of children and their parents—their choice—before institutional interests.
The guiding principle of the initiative will be good-quality education and value for money. Rightly, it will be for the Government to ensure quality and standards; for the providers, maintained, voluntary or private, to respond; and for the parents to choose.
§ Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)
The Secretary of State said in reply to a question that all parents of four-year-olds would be able to have three terms of good nursery education. How, for £1,100, could someone purchase or a local authority provide three terms of good nursery education? Clearly, it costs £2,500 to £3,500 to provide proper nursery education at the moment.
§ Mrs. Shephard
The figure has been calculated according to the average of costs across local education authorities, so I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on that matter. [Interruption.] I shall now make some progress. I shall now talk about grant-maintained schools, because choice is valued by parents. We know, of course, that the hon. Member for Brightside does not take that view, because a year ago to the day he said:I am having no truck with middle class left-wing parents who preach one thing and send their children to another school outside the area".I cannot imagine whom he could have had in mind.
Of course the hon. Gentleman's strictures have been disregarded—by his right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), and by his hon. Friends the Members for Peckham (Ms Harman), for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), for Neath (Mr. Hain), for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) and for Barking (Ms Hodge), to name but a few. But that is the hon. Gentleman's problem, not ours.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I ask the Secretary of State to say now why she named my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). What heinous crime has he committed in sending his child to the local school?
§ Mrs. Shephard
I understand that the hon. Member for Walton exercised a choice in favour of a school with elements of selection, and selection has been condemned by Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. If that is wrong, of course I am happy to withdraw my remarks.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
I hope that the Secretary of State will withdraw her remarks, because, as has been made clear to no less a person than the Prime Minister, all my children have gone to local authority schools within the city of Liverpool. I exercised a choice so far as one was available within the confines of the system for selecting a secondary school for my son, who goes to a local authority comprehensive.
§ Mrs. Shephard
Those are two things that the hon. Gentleman and I have in common: we both believe in choice and we both sent our children to local education authority schools. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I have already said that I would certainly withdraw any accusation that made the hon. Gentleman feel uncomfortable.
477 We believe in new measures to help the development of grant-maintained schools, because we think that self-government puts power into the hands of those directly involved with the school—heads, governors and parents—and releases energy, enthusiasm and commitment. The control and management of resources, including a school's land and buildings, are crucial aspects of self-government.
That is why we are introducing legislation to allow grant-maintained schools to borrow commercially. That will give them a greater say in their own development and more opportunities for managing their capital assets. The proposals are practical and the required legislation is straightforward, so grant-maintained schools may be able to borrow on the open market as early as summer 1996. They have already demonstrated their ability to manage their budgets effectively and it is right that they should have the option to borrow, as do other self-governing institutions such as colleges and universities.
The borrowing will mean that more capital projects can be funded in more grant-maintained schools, and enable work to start promptly on projects that might have had to wait for traditional grant. It will also make it easier for schools to finance deals under the private finance initiative.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Will the Secretary of State ensure that her colleagues who run other Departments, such as the Department of Health, contribute the necessary funding for special schools—for speech therapists, for example? For eight weeks the special unit in my constituency has been a speech therapist short for four-year-old children with receptive hearing difficulties. Such a loss is detrimental for a child, especially as the educational cover is for three years only. Co-operation between Government Departments is needed to ensure the efficient use of educational facilities, especially where children are already statemented.
§ Mrs. Shephard
I agree that there should be the correct co-operation at ground level, and I am sorry to hear that that is not happening in the hon. Gentleman's area. I shall take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health—but obviously encouragement needs to be applied at local level. I know that the hon. Gentleman will understand that.
The same theme of choice underlies our proposals for student loans. The student loans Bill will widen choice; we want to bring in the benefits of private finance and expertise. Adding choice, diversity and competition to the system cannot but benefit its users.
§ Mr. Michael Lord (Central Suffolk)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way before she moves off the subject of higher education. She recently said that it costs no more to teach a bad lesson than it does to teach a good lesson, and many people would agree with that. Although many Departments want more money, what matters in education is how the money is spent and how teachers perform in front of classes. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will never remove the A-level and that the standard of that examination will be kept as high as possible?
§ Mrs. Shephard
I began by explaining that our overwhelming concern has been with standards, from 478 nursery education—hence the £20 million devoted to inspection of the system—through to the excellence of A-levels, which we certainly have no intention of getting rid of. We are giving close attention to quality in both the further and the higher education sectors, and my hon. Friend has raised a very important point in that context.
Students will be able to choose between a private sector loan and one from the Student Loans Company, and also between the various institutions involved. The private sector will provide a convenient and comprehensive service through the lenders' branch networks, and students will get a product tailored to their needs. The private sector, of course, will be part of a twin-track system. The Student Loans Company will still be there as a publicly funded body providing public loans for those who want or need them.
The company will be part of a twin-track, and not a two-tier, system. Similar preferential loan terms will continue to be funded on both tracks by the taxpayer. Interest rates will be limited to no more than the retail prices index, and students will still be able to defer repayments if their income is less than 85 per cent. of average earnings. Student loans are here to stay. One in three of our young people now gets a university education, compared with only one in eight in 1979. But the loans system has a cost which the taxpayer cannot meet alone, and it is right that students—who, after all, will benefit the most in their future lives—should pay their share through loans. It is also right that personal lending at this level is best done largely by private sector firms. It is, after all, their business.
I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion. The reforms proposed in the Gracious Speech build on what has been achieved. We have a national curriculum, against which the achievements of pupils can be assessed. We publish examination results, and inspection reports are now available to parents. Of course, these reports identify failures as well as successes—that is what they are for. But we can raise standards only if we know what is happening and we can identify which schools and which teachers are succeeding and which are failing.
We set up the Teacher Training Agency to ensure that teachers get even better. Only yesterday we were commended by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for the measures that we have put in place to improve failing schools and to identify poor teachers. We have promoted excellence by allowing schools to develop specialisms, and by the introduction of technology colleges and language colleges.
The hon. Member for Brightside has tried to make something of what sees as deficiencies in the training systems; but the greatest benefit that any of us can give to our young people is to raise standards across the board in education and in training. Standards are rising now in what used to be Britain's Achilles' heel—craft training. Youth training delivers good-quality training and is meeting the needs of industry. Eighty per cent. of YT trainees go straight into jobs or further learning, while 73 per cent. get a qualification or a credit towards one. Four thousand young people are investing in their own future through modern apprenticeships. The prime purpose of education and training is to equip people for the workplace. We have invested heavily in education and training, and the dividend from that investment is being paid out in terms of jobs.
§ Mr. Connarty
The Secretary of State has not mentioned special needs training, a subject to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) referred. The problem with special needs training is that, because its funding method is output-based, children and young people who have difficulty in achieving that first output are seen as a burden because there is not enough money put in at the beginning of their training. In Scotland, many people are pulling out of their training course because they cannot make it wash its face. Are there any plans to improve the funding method so that special needs training is delivered to young people?
§ Mrs. Shephard
I hear cries from my left from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), who deals with these matters in Scotland, that that is not true. I cannot comment on what is going on in Scotland. However, I accept that there have been some problems with the new method of funding in training and enterprise councils in England. We are dealing with that because it is an important matter.The most competitive country in Europe today is the UK".Those are not my words but the words of Jan Timmer, the president of Philips, the Dutch multinational. That has not come about through accident. For 16 years, the Government have pursued sound macro-economic policies and delivered a supply-side revolution. Above all, we have deregulated the labour market. That is why unemployment in the United Kingdom today is below that in Germany. In France unemployment is 11 per cent. and in Spain, 22 per cent. That is no accident because those two countries have both the social chapter and a statutory national minimum wage, as the Labour party proposes we should have.
In Britain, 68 per cent. of working age people have a job. That is more than in Germany, France, Italy or Spain and well above the European average of 60 per cent. More jobs are coming on stream. More than 230,000 new vacancies were notified to jobcentres last month alone, the highest number for six years.
Some of those jobs have been created by long-established UK firms such as Tesco, which has just announced 700 new jobs at nine recycling centres throughout the country. Others have been created by major inward investors who do not seem to share the view of the hon. Member for Brightside. Siemens is bringing 1,800 jobs from Germany to north Tyneside. Fujitsu is bringing 500 jobs from Japan to County Durham. Chung Hwa is bringing 3,000 jobs from Taiwan to Lanarkshire. Those firms are free to locate anywhere in Europe, but they have chosen Britain because, in the words of the chairman of BMW's executive board,structural change has made Britain by far the most attractive place to invest in Europe.While the Government have been putting into place these reforms and pursuing our aims of choice, diversity, excellence and standards, where have the Opposition been? They have been slouching through the No Lobby, where no doubt they will be again tomorrow night, opposing yet again the choice, diversity and excellence which enhance opportunities for individuals and the competitiveness of our nation and which the Government will continue to pursue.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, may I remind the House that there will now be a 10-minute limit on speeches.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
This debate combines education and Home Office affairs. While I intend to concentrate my remarks on Home Office matters, may I say initially that we all recognise from our postbags that a serious education crisis is facing this country. Parents, teachers, governors and pupils are showing their deep dissatisfaction with the education system. I very much regret that the Secretary of State again chose to denigrate Bradford. Is it any surprise that many of the young people in our district who face long-term unemployment, who come from families in which no one has been employed for years and who face serious urban deprivation get little satisfaction or reward from our education system?
I would have been grateful if the Secretary of State had given a clear assurance today that the next teachers' pay award will be fully funded by central Government. In Bradford, the fact that this year's pay award was not funded has resulted in our losing a substantial number of teachers. The failure of the Government year on year to give us enough capital allocation has meant that we have not been able to renovate the many old and crumbling schools in Bradford or replace the hundreds of temporary classrooms, many of which the Secretary of State saw when she visited Bradford some time ago.
I will be willing to heed the siren voices who tell us that large class sizes are not linked to education standards when schools such as Eton and Harrow tolerate for their pupils classes of more than 30. When they do that, other parents will be willing to accept large class sizes.
I am glad that the Home Secretary is in his place this afternoon. Will he tell us in his reply to the debate when he intends to take decisions on the transfer of Patrick Kelly and Michael O'Brien to prisons in Northern Ireland? He is well aware of the compelling case for their urgent transfer on compassionate and humanitarian grounds. I hope very much that he will be able to say, either later this evening or very soon, when he will take a decision on their case.
The House is well aware that the prisoner issue is of great concern to both nationalist and loyalist communities in Ireland. Sadly, the Home Secretary seems to regard movement on such matters as a reward rather than something which could play a key and central part in building confidence and support for the Irish peace process. Therefore, I hope that he will take early decisions not only on the transfer of prisoners to prisons in Northern Ireland but on the repatriation of Irish prisoners to the Republic of Ireland now that the convention has been ratified and implemented.
It is clear that, in being asked to accept the proposals on asylum and immigration, we are being asked to approve a definite move towards building a fortress Europe and a situation in which not only do we maintain frontier controls but we build more and more repressive and suppressive internal controls.
The Home Secretary yesterday rightly said that we should adhere to the 1951 convention on refugees and that we should be concerned about those who seek asylum 481 because they fear persecution if they are returned to their home countries. We must also be concerned about economic migration, which is an enormous challenge, and will be for the world well into the next century. I was interested to see that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned all of us in her recent report:We live in a sophisticated world, but we are responding in a patchy and short-sighted way to problems of conflict and displacement".She warned that at present UNHCR was looking after some 27 million refugees around the world.
I should have dearly liked the proposed legislation to reform what is widely recognised as an extremely restrictive immigration regime in Britain. For instance, I should have liked the primary purpose rule to be abolished. I should have liked to see the definition of public funds, the receipt of which would prohibit certain people from entering this country. I certainly should have liked to see family credit removed from the list of such public funds. Lastly, I should have liked to see the abolition of the so-called probationary year, which requires those who are allowed to enter this country legally to live with their spouse for at least a year before they become entitled to permanent settlement here.
I shall now deal with the benefit regulations that are being considered by the Secretary of State for Social Security. The Home Secretary yesterday told us that Nigeria was not going to be on the white list; we were all glad to know that. He was told by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the shadow Home Secretary, that only one Nigerian had been granted asylum here this year. I was told yesterday in an answer to a parliamentary question by the Under-Secretary of State, Home Office that that figure had doubled, and that two Nigerians were given asylum in this country in the first 10 months of this year and that a further three have been granted exceptional leave to remain.
I am extremely concerned to be told in another reply from the same Minister that—even though Nigeria has been suspended from the Commonwealth and is widely regarded as having committed serious and gross human rights violations—any Nigerian national who comes to Britain, applies for asylum, has an application refused and appeals to a special adjudicator will not be able to seek benefit during the period between the refusal of the application and the outcome of the appeal. That will also apply, if the regulations are approved and come into force in January, to a large number of other asylum seekers and their children.
I am told that some 4,000 to 5,000 children who are dependants of asylum seekers could, early next year, be left with no income at all. Is the Home Secretary asking the House to approve regulations that will mean that those people have no income at all for what could be a year or more, given the slow pace at which appeals are arranged and heard?
I move to the proposals that will affect employers who may be found guilty of employing an illegal entrant. As I spent considerable time today talking to the head of the immigration policy unit that is concerned with such matters, I have great reservations about the impact of the regulations. It seems that they will place substantial burdens on reputable employers.
482 The regulations will not be much of a problem for firms that have established personnel procedures and armies of personnel officers but for small businesses, they will impose a considerable burden and will certainly create a lot of big loopholes for the disreputable and unscrupulous to exploit. For instance, there is no need for anyone who is being paid less than £57 a week, or £247—
§ Mr. John Patten (Oxford, West and Abingdon)
I warmly support the contents of the Queen's Speech in every respect but one. I warmly support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment in the excellent programme that she has outlined this afternoon.
I give equally warm support to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. I believe that his tenacity will reap its rewards—and the country will reap its rewards—in future years in more peaceful and secure streets and communities.
The one piece of the Queen's Speech that I cannot support is the proposals that it contains for divorce law reform, which are currently before another place. They are not party political in their nature. Indeed, it is unusual for any Government to legislate on divorce. In this case, it has been apparently done in response to the Law Commission's recommendations.
I regard divorce as very sad for everyone involved— for husbands and wives, and for their children, too, if they have families. I am sure that no one goes up the aisle or up the steps of the registry office with anything other than a lilt in their heart and a conviction that it is for life. Sometimes, alas, people subsequently divorce and children suffer from the after-effects. For all those people, one can feel only compassion and an urge to try to help.
We cannot hide the fact that divorce is one of the major social problems for the United Kingdom. We are the divorce capital of western Europe. I recognise, of course, that divorce is simply part of how we live now. Whatever my personal feelings, I do not seek to make divorce any more difficult than it now is. Indeed, I cannot recall one constituent in the 16 years that I have been in this place writing to me to seek a change in the divorce laws or coming to see me to suggest that divorce should be made easier.
I am fearful of the effects that any further legislation will have on the number of divorces and thus on the families, children and social fabric of our nation. I note that others are fearful of other things. Some commentators have said that the proposals are an essay in political correctness driven by the Law Commission and put matters of legal process above anything else.
Other commentators have remarked on the oddness of this Government, of all Governments, having come forward with legislation for which there is no popular demand of any sort. There is no demand for it from the ranks of the Government's supporters in the Conservative party and in the country, and it may thus alienate some of our supporters, while cheering only those who will never vote for us.
483 Yet further commentators believe that it is pretty eccentric that a Tory Government should make such legislation the centrepiece of the Queen's Speech in the last Session of Parliament before a general election, because it may well lead us to expend unnecessary ammunition up and down the Tory Benches which should be spent in proper and reasonable parliamentary battle with the Opposition. Friendly fire along the Conservative Benches is always to be decried.
I am most fearful of the practical effects, on which I rest my case, of the proposed legislation. I do not intend on this or on any other occasion to address the moral implications of stripping the marital contract of all meaning and making it a provisional or probationary contract, save to remind myself of what Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote in his wartime "Letter to a Hostage". He wrote:Politics are meaningless unless they serve a spiritual truth".I think that he was right.
The simple, practical fact, which is undeniable, is that every time since the second world war that the House has legislated on divorce, there has been an immediate surge in the number of divorces. This is apparently because the message sent out by the new laws has been perceived to be that divorce is meant to be easier and that the state backs marriage less and less. That fact has been brilliantly demonstrated by the principal of St. Anne's college, Oxford, Mrs. Ruth Deech, in a series of masterly surveys of post-war legislative experience. It is an empirical certainty that, if we legislate again, there will be another surge in the number of divorces.
That certainty will be compounded by the introduction for the first time of true no-fault divorce on demand, which is what the legislation is apparently designed to bring about. In the United States, where no-fault divorce was introduced in 16 states between 1965 and 1985, the number of divorces in those states went up, on average, by 20 per cent. Australia had exactly the same experience when it changed the law to introduce no-fault divorce in 1975, as did New Zealand when similar measures were introduced there in 1980.
To borrow and adapt a phrase from my right hon. Friend the Governor of Hong Kong, that is the double divorce whammy that I most fear. As far as I can find, there is no stated Government policy to reduce the number of divorces, yet the national interest would certainly be served by that policy, since all the available evidence from social analysts from left to right and back again right across the political spectrum is that in this country children who are brought up in unbroken homes do better at school, commit less crime, enjoy better health and get jobs more easily.
Among those who carry out the research there is a clear consensus. These are uncomfortable and even harsh-sounding things to say, but they are facts. Uncomfortable they may be, but undeniable facts they are. In these times, however, they are too often judged to be too politically incorrect to be mentioned in polite society. Given that divorce is so easy, those are the real issues against which any divorce reform procedures should be judged.
It is always wrong to proceed with changes in the legal process, be it in on divorce or anything else, in a social and economic vacuum. Without being set in such a context, the proposals will, alas, help turn us from the 484 divorce capital of Europe, which we are now, to the divorce capital of the world. They will also prime a terrible social and moral time bomb, which in my judgment, and without claiming the benefit of hindsight or the ability to foresee the future, will explode somewhere between 2010 and 2020.
History will judge the proposals to be two things: first, relativism writ large and, secondly, the last and already deeply dated manifestation of the social thinking of the 1960s consensus, as embodied in the Law Commission. By the first decade of the third millennium, there will have to be a new consensus designed to pick up the pieces, which will stress that lifelong marriage is a proper policy for people and Governments of all colours to strive to promote.
The married family is of central importance to the life of our nation. Just as no hon. Member in this Chamber should ever claim to represent the patriotic party, so it is foolish and wrong for any of us on either side to claim to represent the only party of the family. There are those who hold the married family dear on both sides of the House.
Our boast as Conservatives that we are a party that is strongly supportive of the family is firmly grounded. I still believe it to be true, but we must judge the legislation on divorce contained in the Queen's Speech against that acid test.
§ 5.1 pm
§ Mr. Don Foster (Bath)
Following the Nolan report, the House may wish to know that, until we have clarified our rules, I have suspended my relationship with the two teacher associations with which I was involved.
The Queen's Speech has been an enormous disappointment for many of us. Undoubtedly, it has shown a Government who are not only out of control but out of ideas. The parts of the speech that deal with education show that they are also out of touch. I should have thought that everyone would accept that action to improve the education system is urgently needed. It can be no coincidence that the last of the publications of the national commission on education was entitled "Success Against the Odds".
I hoped that in the Queen's Speech the Government would find the mechanisms to reduce the odds for all schools. Earlier, the Secretary of State was fond of quoting the chairman of Philips. She would have done better to quote the recent world competitiveness report, which showed that our education system is 35th out of 48. Indeed, she mentioned recent league tables, but she will be aware from the analysis of such tables that we are even a very long way from the targets that the Government set themselves.
What has been the Government's response? What is in the Queen's Speech? There was certainly not a commitment to boost significantly investment in education and training, which there should have been and to which the Liberal Democrats are committed. Instead, we have a series of gimmicks and, amazingly, their sole purpose seems to be to draw attention to the areas in which the Government have been least successful in their education policies.
The three Bills proposed in the Queen's Speech fail to tackle the real issues. In one way or another, each is significantly flawed and will disappoint not only parents, teachers and governors, but everyone who wants our 485 country to succeed in the increasingly global market and who believes that, if we are to do so, it will be only by investing in the skills, training and education of the people.
It is also clear that the Government are rushing in all three Bills. For example, they are proposing legislation on student loans while they are still in the early stages of consultation about their proposals. What is more, in their consultation document, they suggest a number of different propositions. They are not even clear about the direction in which they intend to go. It is fairly clear that they have not thought through their proposals.
The House may wish to know that the consultation on the proposals for allowing grant-maintained schools to borrow money against their assets ended only yesterday. Clearly, the Government are rushing in again. So often, in recent years, they have rushed in with legislation and have had to make significant changes even while it is going through its various stages.
The third proposed Bill concerns nursery vouchers. When the Secretary of State made her statement, we were promised that the proposals that would eventually come before the House would be based on the outcome of extensive trials. As the House is well aware, only four local education authorities throughout the entire land have sufficient confidence in the proposals even to be prepared to be involved in the trials. Yet again, there is a real possibility that failed, ill-thought-out legislation will come before the House.
The three education proposals in the Queen's Speech are rushed and gimmicky legislation, which will fail to address the real issues that face the nation and every education service. As the House is well aware, the former Prime Minister, now Baroness Thatcher, advocated the introduction of nursery education for all three and four-year-olds more than 22 years ago. Yet 22 years later, we are getting nursery voucher proposals from the Government. I happen to agree with Baroness Thatcher that nursery education for all three and four-year-olds is what this country needs—especially parents who want that for their children. I also agree with her that it makes not only sound educational but sound economic sense.
To fulfil the dream that Baroness Thatcher and the Liberal Democrats have, we need a properly funded system that will truly provide high-quality early-years education for all three and four-year-olds. The Government are offering a scheme that is both bureaucratic and cumbersome and will do absolutely nothing for three-year-olds. Indeed, it could harm the existing provision for them. The scheme will not in any way expand provision, as no extra money is being made available within it for the development of much-needed new premises or to train the necessary additional teachers and ancillary staff.
In effect, the scheme is a total con trick. Amazingly, just before the next general election, people might receive through their letter boxes a voucher with a large sum of money—£1,100—written on it, but immediately after the election, they will find that in many parts of the country there is nowhere to cash it in. It is a con trick.
The Government are drawing attention to a policy that has failed. The opportunity for schools to opt for grant-maintained status was introduced in 1988. Since then, only one in 24 of our state schools have chosen to opt for 486 grant-maintained status, despite the bribes that have been on offer by the Government and the various inducements and pressures that have been put on the governing bodies of our schools.
The Government are now consulting on yet another set of proposals, including a fast-track idea for Church schools to opt out without parents even being involved in a ballot. So fast track is it that the Government did not even take their own advice on the length of time that they should consult on the issue. They wanted the consultation to take place in a matter of just a few weeks, against their own Department's advice. They have already had to rescind that and agree to extend the period. It was hardly worth doing so, because I suspect that nearly all the responses that the Government received, even from senior officials in Church organisations, have been against that proposal.
I was interested to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten). He told us that there was only one aspect of the Queen's Speech with which he disagreed. I hope that, if it is proposed to have a fast track with no parental ballot on whether Church schools should be grant-maintained, he will vote against that idea, because he has spoken eloquently in the past about the vital importance of parental choice and involvement in making such decisions.
In the legislation for grant-maintained schools, even if that idea is not added, will be a set of proposals to allow those schools to borrow money against their assets—the buildings, land and so on. What does not seem to have become apparent to the Government is that borrowing money is easy, but paying it back is difficult. I hope that some thought has been given to what will happen to a school that defaults on repayments. Will we see the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State present at the very first repossession of school buildings by a mortgage company? If so, what will be done to ensure the continued education of the pupils in that school?
I question the set of proposals in relation to the Student Loans Company. The Government propose to transfer the risk partially into the private sector, removing some of it from the public sector borrowing requirement. I have no objection to that in principle, but the problem is that they are transferring a cock-eyed system that does not provide adequate support for students. They are not transferring a system that is equitable and fair. It will not provide secure recovery to the lenders.
The Government, in their own consultation, describe a default rate of more than 20 per cent. as "catastrophic", yet the default rate on their own scheme is well in excess of that. I cannot see why anybody in the private sector would be interested in taking on the proposal that the Government have on offer. We shall have to wait to see the outcome of the consultation, as we do not yet know the details of the proposal. Sadly, neither do the Government.
There is no doubt that the Queen's Speech fails to address the real concerns of the nation about education. It fails to offer the desperately needed commitment of increased investment in the education service. It fails, as have the Government's education policies to date, to make any attempt to address the underlying problems that we have in this country; it fails to improve investment in the education service in the way that I have described and to which my party is committed. Because the Queen's Speech fails in so many ways, it does not deserve our support.
§ Sir Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)
Before I turn my thoughts to the Queen's Speech, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) on his contribution to the debate? Many of the things that he had to say will receive a great deal of support, not only across the Benches but throughout the country. It was courageous of him to say what he did. I thank him for it.
In a very confident and assertive speech, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State clearly set out her vision of the way in which education should be going. I agreed totally with her comments about the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), the shadow education spokesman—platitudes, no answers. Where on earth, as my right hon. Friend said, have the Opposition been for the past 15 years?
Perhaps one of the most notable achievements of the Conservative party in government since 1979 has been to bring the Opposition over into the common ground of education that we have sought to establish. That does not mean, of course, that there do not remain differences, but standards, inspection, quality, choice and diversity have been anathema in the past to a large element of the Labour party, at both local and national level.
Those of us who go back—
§ Sir Malcolm Thornton
No, I shall not give way.
Those of us who go back 30 years in local and national government can find many such examples. If any hon. Member wishes to see them, please write to me. I should be only too pleased.
I shall address my remarks to two elements of the Gracious Speech. The first is nursery vouchers. There is a remarkable consensus on nursery education: on the need for high-quality, universal nursery education wherever possible. Successive reports have been there for all to see. The Select Committee, in two reports—one in 1988, and another that we briefly revisited earlier this year to fit in with the consultation procedure—stated clearly the all-party view that nursery education is a good thing in itself, and that it has education and social benefits that far outweigh the investment required at that stage. It gives tremendous value for money. There is widespread support for it.
No one, least of all me, would turn his back on new money for nursery education, but as I have said to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, if new money is to be provided—I accept that it is limited—would it not perhaps be better to think of widening existing provision than to bring in a new scheme against the background of limited money?
All members of the Select Committee who were privileged to see some of the nursery provision, which we visited during our inquiry, were impressed by its high quality. That in turn impressed on us the need for it to be central in any future provision. We have cast doubts, rightly, on the current system's ability to expand, without reflecting deeply on the need for good quality teaching and premises.
I say to my right hon. Friend and her colleagues that this is essentially a pilot to see whether the scheme can work, whether it can provide what we all want: an 488 extension of nursery education. I ask her to look at it with an open mind; if it does not work, she should have the courage to say so and say that it should not be extended. If it does work, by all means let us have the extra resources to let it expand and develop. A pilot scheme must mean just that, not a commitment to introduce the idea in a blanket form in future regardless of the results that it may show.
My second point concerns grant-maintained schools. We could debate the merits and constitutional, institutional and education implications of grant-maintained status until the wee small hours, but I want to concentrate on a specific aspect.
The Secretary of State spoke of self-government for schools. I have yet to meet a head teacher or governor who would wish to return to the old days when the local education authority reigned supreme. The 85 per cent. delegation that we have today gives massive self-governance to schools, which are using it to expand provision, and enjoying more freedom and a greater say in their own affairs. Parents and other co-opted members of governing bodies are becoming involved in a way that was not possible before the introduction of local management of schools. The urge to go further is there, but I counsel caution for a number of reasons.
At present, an average of 12 per cent. of core services is retained by the LEAs; there is a minimum delegation of 85 per cent. I call this the "15 per cent. issue". What would happen if we created a system tomorrow under which all schools were grant-maintained and all the money was dished out? What freedom would that confer? Let me give some rather interesting figures relating to 1995–96. They apply specifically to primary schools, because I believe that we should be thinking particularly of them.
Primary school spending amounts to approximately £7,000 million. Local authorities' essential costs are approximately £850 million. Expenditure required by the Department for Education and Employment for such purposes as dealing with special needs, advisory inspections and delivery of the national curriculum—many of those requirements are statutory—is estimated at £350 million. The amount that might theoretically be transferred to schools is approximately £500 million.
Additional costs, however, would fall on the Funding Agency for Schools. In the case of primary schools, that would amount to about £100 million. The net amount would be some £400 million. If we divide that among 21,000 primary schools, we arrive at a figure of between £15,000 and £20,000 per school. That will not cover the employment costs of one teacher. Each school would also have to find, from its budget, the money for all the essential services that are currently provided by local education authorities.
If we are to provide freedom, let it be a genuine freedom; but I detect no enthusiasm for the idea of going much beyond where we are now. The debate has moved on since 1988. We have achieved most of what we set out to achieve. As we speak, LEAs are adapting to the new arrangements and trying to find a better way of working with schools to provide the quality of education that the country needs. Let us leave aside the other implications. Do we really wish to deprive parents of their right to choose? They are showing, in the way in which they are now conducting ballots—
§ Mr. Jamie Cann (Ipswich)
My choice of subject may well clear the Chamber; if it does, I apologise. I want to talk about housing benefit, and the connection between it and homelessness. I intend to use the example of Ipswich—which I consider fairly representative of middle England—to illustrate the problem caused by those two factors, which I am sure other hon. Members experience in their constituencies.
Of the 42,000 households in Ipswich, 17,000 are tenancies—private, housing association or local authority. Currently, 11,000 of those 17,000 households are receiving housing benefit at one level or another. Ipswich is not a "loose" authority; the Government have recognised its good showing in housing management and the management of benefit. It is also a fairly normal area, and I therefore believe that the figures I shall give are representative of the general position, and give us all cause for concern.
From the time of the first world war until 1979, local authorities—and, increasingly, housing associations— were empowered to provide ordinary people with reasonably priced housing for rent, with the help of Government subsidies. In 1979, however, the Government decided that the subsidy should not finance the provision of buildings, but should be used to the benefit of those living in them—hence the term "housing benefit". The thinking behind that decision was that local authorities were warping the housing market, and that, if the housing market was freed by subsidies for ordinary people, the private sector would move in and build more properties for rent.
Fifteen years on—given all the disquiet that has been expressed by the Department of Social Security, and by many of us, about the mounting level of housing benefit payments—I feel that it is time to look at the matter again. That seems appropriate, as the Queen's Speech contains a proposal to deal with homelessness, and we can expect more from the Secretary of State for Social Security on the subject of housing benefit.
Between 1980 and 1993, the average earnings of a male manual worker in Ipswich have risen 2.47 times in cash terms. Council rents have risen 4.35 times, housing benefit to cover those rents has risen 6.91 times, and rent allowances for the private sector have risen 11.04 times. In other words, rent allowances have risen by five times as much as earnings under the present Government. Rents in Ipswich—a relatively low-paid area—are now £34 a week, on average, for a council house, £55 for a housing association property and at least £60 in the private sector. The burden of rental charges for all properties has risen much more than the average manual wage.
The Government have incurred a cost as well, however. Between 1989–90 and 1995–96, housing benefit payments in Ipswich have risen from £9.9 million to £23 million: they are now 2.3 times as high. The number of people receiving housing benefit has risen from 7,500 to 11,250. Because of rent levels, the popularity of housing association properties among people on the housing waiting list has plummeted. A council house costs £34 a week, while a housing association property costs £55 a week.
When I entered local government a long time ago in 1973, housing association properties were much more popular than council properties, but the reverse is now 490 the case. Housing departments are finding it increasingly difficult to get people to accept housing association properties because of the rents. That must cause concern, because it ties in with the issue of homelessness. People who become homeless and draw income support are the only people who can afford to rent housing association properties.
We are building new ghettoes of people who depend on benefit, and that is the second element of the problem. People who can afford to live in housing association properties find it increasingly difficult to get a job and pay their own rent. I shall give an example.
I know a man—when hon. Members hear about him, they may not like him—who lives in private rented accommodation. He is not in a housing association property, but the figures are near enough. He has worked out that, to come off income support and lose all his housing benefit, council tax benefit, prescription charges and so on, he would have to earn £260 a week. But no one could get a job in his trade in Ipswich that would pay that amount. That man is forced to stay in that property, and the Government are forced to pay out a fortune to fund the family.
That man should be able to earn his own living, and that is precisely what he would do if he were given the opportunity. His situation is a direct result of the Government's policy of producing benefit for people rather than producing houses at reasonable rents so that people can move around and move in and out of the benefits system.
The policy was designed to produce more private sector rented homes, but it has not done that. Of course a few more privately owned homes are available for rent, but essentially, they are being provided by people who cannot sell their homes because of negative equity, have moved to find jobs elsewhere and are renting out their properties. The explosion that was expected 15 years ago in the provision of privately owned property at reasonable rents has not happened.
There is pressure on Government budgets. Housing benefit amounted to £7.9 billion last year, and it is climbing. There is also pressure on allocations, because fewer and fewer family houses are becoming available for rent, as a result of the right-to-buy scheme. People say, as I am afraid some Conservative Members are starting to say, that it is all the fault of 16-year-old girls who get themselves pregnant so that they can get a council house or a housing association property. That is the stereotype—weak authorities giving in to little girls who get themselves pregnant for a home—but it is not true.
In Ipswich, 973 people presented themselves as homeless last year, and 89 of them were housed by the local authority, 92 were housed by housing associations and 102 are in temporary accommodation. That means that 690 people were not housed. Approximately a quarter of those people were housed, and three quarters were turned away. They were not little girls turning up at the council offices with a baby; they were people whose homes have been repossessed, or women who have been let down by men who have moved away and about whom the CSA has been completely unable to do anything, because they have no income and they are divorced and float about.
There is such pressure on the allocation of properties that the Government must be careful in talking through their proposals on housing, because they are in danger of 491 pointing the finger at a hell of a lot of decent people that the system and Government housing policy are letting down. Let us not make scapegoats of homeless people. Let us re-evaluate housing and do a proper job.
§ Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)
I am concerned about aspects of the education Bill, and I may not have time to refer to other topics that have been mentioned in the debate.
Grant-maintained schools are good, provided we follow through what the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said to me earlier and on other occasions about parental choice. There is a balloting procedure for that. I am not against the parts of the Bill that will allow grant-maintained schools to borrow money, but to consider going further—the Church schools in my constituency are concerned that we are considering doing that—and forcing parents and others to move to grant-maintained status would be a denial of their freedom of choice.
We have gone far enough with grant-maintained or grant-aided schools. The local management system has been brilliant. In Solihull, of which I represent half, while the urban half is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), it has worked extremely well. To force schools into grant-maintained status would be wrong. I have one grant-maintained school in my constituency. Every other major school has held a ballot and has decided not to go grant-maintained. How can I justify to my constituents any measure that would force them to move further in that direction?
I hope that there will be a definitive answer about Church schools, because my constituency contains several Church of England and Catholic schools, which provide excellent education. Metaphorically speaking, there are queues for places outside some of them. It is difficult to see why any demand management or market management should require any change in status for schools that are doing extremely well and are working hard, not only to be efficient but to develop sources of income apart from the LEA. They are doing that very well. I always present the prizes at the raffles. Perhaps raffles do not raise that much money, but they show the ability and willingness of the schools to raise money for themselves.
In the context of market demand, I should now like to deal with nursery education in Solihull. The Secretary of State agreed with me when I said in an intervention that Solihull provides excellent nursery education. She has seen it for herself, and I assure her that what she saw is an example of the nursery education that is provided throughout Solihull. I have had many letters and petitions, and I have been overwhelmed by the number of chairmen of governors, governors and parents who have come to my advice bureaux over the past couple of months. Other people with burning questions and problems have almost had to wait while I dealt with those delegations.
Bluntly, they were all concerned about why we should have a socialist, bureaucratic, central system of nursery vouchers dictated by the state, when individual local education authorities already have a good system. Why should a Conservative Government force a system upon LEAs? Why can there not be an opt-out, a "those who are not doing the right job" type of system?
492 Ministers shake their heads in disagreement. I shall read out a few concerns that are being expressed by my local education authority, which is one of the few Conservative-controlled authorities in the west Midlands.
We are not talking about a Labour authority, just to please my colleagues on the Opposition Benches. These are Conservatives, and I share their views and have been convinced. Their concern is that an increasing number of parents are being affected by the funding method, as it isprincipally by a deduction of existing Under 5's SSA using a methodology whereby only the current providers of education for 4 year olds"—including Solihull—lose resources.I hope that the Minister will take the trouble to respond to that. I repeat: the deduction of the under-five SSA and the methodology mean the current providers of education for four-year-olds lose resources. The letter continues:in Solihull, the deduction rate proportionally far exceeds the amount of SSA allocated for the Service. The effect of the methodology is that current low providers of Under 5's education actually retain their SSA, whilst their area receives a second injection of Under 5's funding, because the parents in their area also receive the £1,100 vouchers. Many LEAs retain 50–76% of Under 5's SSA while Solihull loses 90%.We have run a computer programme that shows that about 42 local education authorities and boroughs have a similar problem. I have talked to Ministers. I have two letters from the Under-Secretary of State for Schools. I have spoken to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who tells me I am wrong. My own people, including the chairman of the education committee, who is here today, have told me that they are not wrong. Yet again, Solihull is suffering.
There is an additional problem. Earlier this year, I questioned the Secretary of State for the Environment about the settlement of council tax SSAs. He admitted that the calculation of SSAs on education for Solihull was unfair, so I reiterate that it is a blunt tool to use a national scheme on a local education authority that is providing good education.
Why are a Conservative Government forcing an excellent Conservative-controlled local authority, which is doing a good job, which parents, teachers and governors want, to accept such a scheme? I cannot support the education legislation. I will do everything possible to oppose it, both in the House and outside. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I can see that colleagues like that thought.
Unless there is real explanation and some form of dispensation for councils such as Solihull, I cannot accept—unless the Government give me a complete answer—that such a scheme should apply, even if they say, as the Under-Secretary of State for Schools said to me earlier today, that it depends on one parent opting out of a four-year-old scheme and on all the arguments that I have in great detail on paper. Why on earth have we introduced a scheme that affects councils that are already doing a good job? Why not leave them to continue to do the job that they have been doing?
As a colleague, probably from the Opposition, said, the difficulties created by the Child Support Agency do not decrease. I put a marker down that I shall be writing again to the Secretary of State for Social Security to say that I will not accept the operation of the system and the blunt nature of this centrist, socialist doctrine.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills)—not in a political sense, I hasten to add, but in the sense that he has at least listened to his constituents and to his local authority. I agree with his comments about the Child Support Agency, which is a nightmare for many hon. Members. Many surgeries are full of cases where, clearly, the amounts charged are excessive and exorbitant. When one tries to engage in correspondence with the CSA, one is lucky if one receives a reply. If one does receive one, it misses the point. The agency is obstructive and rude, and does not manage in the interests of the children involved.
Often, there are children in the second marriage too, and the CSA forgets all about those. Of course it is not meant to take the new wife's income into account, but it does. Every rule we create in this House gets broken. Many Conservative Members would agree that the time has come for the whole system to be overhauled. It is a classic example of legislating in haste and repenting at length. Many people suffer as a result of our mistakes in the House, and I blame myself among everyone else when I say that.
I hope that the example of the hon. Member for Meriden will be taken on board by the Home Secretary when he deals with the various Bills in the Queen's Speech. I intend briefly to deal with them. Disclosure is of considerable importance. I declare an interest at this stage as a practising barrister who has both prosecuted and defended, and therefore it is a subject that is well known to me.
The problem with disclosure is that, sadly, there has been a wish to hide and to secrete away matters that could be of great value sometimes even to the prosecution, if they landed in the hands of the prosecuting lawyers, as well as often to the defence. Whether one is prosecuting or defending, there is nothing worse than having a long and detailed trial that collapses because something is suddenly disclosed. In such cases, there is such a great waste of money. When the legislation is introduced on this subject, I hope that we will consider it with great care.
The Court of Appeal rulings in ward and others were a guideline to the direction in which we should go, but they were not the definitive answer. I do not want a paper chase developing, with masses of unnecessary paper being copied. There are ways of dealing sensibly with this matter.
I hope that the House will take time—I make no criticism of any person when I say this—to debate the matters that arose in the Ordtech case and that will arise again in the Scott inquiry. Men went on trial—I do not know who is to blame, or point the finger on anyone at this stage—when documents that could clear them were clearly hidden for reasons of one sort or another.
I do not lay any blame, because one wonders what the prosecuting counsel and the judge were doing in the Ordtech trial, whether the judge ever saw the documentation, or whether prosecution counsel ever realised its value. Those matters need to be considered. We will have the matter of public interest immunity before the House when Lord justice Scott reports eventually.
I am extremely worried about the way in which the asylum and immigration legislation has been reported today. Not a single hon. Member wants the illegal immigrant, the guy who breaks the rules, to get in—I do 494 not think anyone wants that. That is not and should not be a party political matter, but we must always remember that, from time to time, there are places where events occur, regimes come into power, decisions are made, and people are persecuted because of their ethnic origin, their colour or their creed.
There has always been persecution. In the early part of this century, the Jewish community in eastern Europe suffered enormous persecution and, before the second world war, this country took in 30,000 to 40,000 of those people. We took in some of the best brains and most skilled people that we have ever required because, often, with the immigrant come skills, brains and investment. We should never lose sight of that.
In persecuting the few, and I say "persecuting" because some of our procedures involve, on occasions, persecution, not prosecution or investigation—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)
§ Mr. Bermingham
The Home Secretary shakes his head. With respect, he has not the experience that I have of this legal sector and of cases that I have attended. Cases involving persecution are a minority, but we must have provisions for dealing with them.
To sweep a broad brush across all those matters, saying, "We will do this," is not always the right way to do things. That is why I ask the Home Secretary, before he rushes into legislation, to listen to the people who know, because hurried legislation is often bad legislation and bad legislation leads to injustice.
We have a place for and a history of protection, and of taking in the persecuted and oppressed from all over the world. I say that as someone who came into this country at the age of seven. I was not born and bred here: I was born in the Republic of Ireland. I am probably one of the few surviving hon. Members who were born there, but, even in my community, I have seen the division and discrimination. There seem to be some people in this land who do not appreciate the fact that all human beings are equal in the eyes of God—whichever God one follows—and I ask the Home Secretary to look carefully at the proposals.
I hope that the Home Secretary has had time to read The Times today, particularly the comments of the Lord Chancellor on page 4 about the problems of fixing minimum sentences. I have listened to the arguments in favour of the long brush. The Home Secretary knows my views only too well in respect of mandatory life sentencing and so on.
There comes a time when we must stand back and look at the division of functions within our society. I make no secret of the fact that my view has always been that Parliament legislates, bureaucracy administers and the courts adjudicate, and there is a clear distinction between the three. Therefore, when we look at these matters later in the year, we should look carefully to ensure that one area does not stray into another—that politicians do not stray into the land of the courts, that judges are left to sentence and review sentences, and that the various agencies such as the Parole Board and others are allowed to fulfil their function in full.
We must not go for the popular gimmick, the quick decision, because something has happened. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is a classic example. It is a disaster, but regrettably it is not be reformed at the moment. If one legislates in a hurry, one repents at length.
495 I hope that I have kept within my time as usual. I raised those points because there comes a time when Parliaments must stand back and think. I hope that this will be one Parliament which, in one Session, will think about the matters that I have raised.
I must make a final cri de coeur from my constituency. The north-west needs investment. We are entitled to European money, and we need Government or other moneys to match it. Would it not be a nice idea if we began to use all the grants and moneys that are available to us to invest in this country and to get Britain working again? We would then solve many of our ills.
§ Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)
I wish to mention education, asylum and the construction industry. Some of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich(Mr. Cann), have been locked in Committee on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill for some 60 days, so our presence has not been very noticeable in the Chamber. I am taking this opportunity while the Committee is not sitting to say a few words before returning to deal with that Bill.
I want to talk about direct grant schools. I am worried by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) who was critical of the push for direct grant schools in his area.
§ Sir Anthony Durant
All right, grant-maintained schools.
I have experience of Prospect school in Reading, which I have supported. It was in a humble area, mainly council estates, rather than a smart area. That school has now become a city technology college and it is doing extremely well. It has a dynamic head. The Labour party fought the project all the way and behaved extremely badly at all the parents' meetings. My opponent fought the proposals all the way and I am glad that the parents threw my opponent out of the meeting because he behaved so badly.
Consequently, there is now an excellent school in which the attitude is remarkable. The children are enthusiastic and want it to succeed. They believe in it. The head has raised £500,000 from local businesses and has got them involved in buying equipment, and so on. It is becoming a dynamic school in an area that is not reputed to have high standards in education. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden is over-nervous about grant-maintained schools. I believe that they are excellent and I want to see more of them. I support the Government's developments.
I support vouchers for nursery schools. I have always strongly supported nursery education. It assists the child, it helps single parents and mothers who have to go out to work and it prepares children for full schooling. I have only two nursery schools in my constituency and, therefore, I welcome the idea of vouchers that can be used in private sector schools. There are some good private sector nursery schools where people could put their children if the vouchers existed.
Berkshire has refused to be part of the experiment and I regret that because, until now, it has been go-ahead on education. I condemn the county for that action— 496 [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) may laugh at Berkshire refusing to take part in the experiment. The Liberal Democrats have powerful influence on Berkshire county council. It is no wonder that he is laughing.
I want to deal now with the asylum Bill. As a Member of Parliament dealing with individual constituents I am concerned about the time the process takes. If people come into this country and stay here for two or three years while their case is considered, that makes it much more difficult to ask them to leave. They will have set themselves up and become established; they will have found work or be claiming social security; they will have created a home. That means that it is much more difficult to take them away and send them back to their original place. That is why we must speed up the process.
I am chairman of the all-party construction group, which, funnily enough, meets tomorrow. I am worried about the state of the construction industry, because it is very flat. There is very little growth, particularly in the housing sector where there is very little movement. There are some areas of good news around the country where there is a stimulus, but it is very patchy. The industry needs a stimulus. I am saying this now in the hope that Ministers will tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I asked for a stimulus. Although they cannot commit themselves here, they can pass on my information to the Chancellor before the Budget and we might get some help for the construction industry.
The National Federation of Building Trades Employers said that, unless something happens soon, a further 100,000 people could be laid off in the construction industry. A total of 500,000 have already lost their jobs in the industry and I am concerned about that. I believe that there needs to be a concentration on private sector investment in construction work for the Government. It does not seem to have got going. It is a good idea and it is popular, but nothing seems to be happening. We should press for that.
I welcome the housing legislation, but I am concerned about some of the homeless aspects. Homelessness is on the increase. There were 1,157 homeless people in Reading last year but that has increased by a further 280 this year. I believe that one of the reasons for that increase is the break-up of marriages, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten). I have looked at the reasons for the sudden increase in homelessness and it is a fact that violence in the home and the parting of husbands and wives are creating more homeless people; therefore, I listened with great care to my right hon. Friend. Some homelessness is caused by loss of tenancy or perhaps inability to keep up with the mortgage payments, but mainly the cause is the break-up of marriages.
There is mention of the Latham report in the Queen's Speech. It is a valuable report and I am pleased that parts of it have been introduced. Michael Latham was a colleague in the House. He produced a useful report on the construction industry. We have started by looking at debt and the payment of subcontractors. I welcome that, because subcontractors suffer from the long delay in obtaining payment from the main contractor. It is a move in the right direction and it will be interesting to see the wording in that Bill.
497 I am concerned also about the landfill tax. I hope that it will not be too punitive, because we want recycling. We will not get recycling if there is a punitive landfill tax, because people will dump their stuff anywhere they can. We will go back to cowboys driving around in lorries and dumping rubbish in the streets, and so on. The landfill tax should not be exorbitant.
In general, I support all the proposals in the Queen's Speech. I shall vote for all of them, but I have reservations on the housing Bill—I would like to see what it actually contains. I hope that Ministers will remind the Chancellor that the construction industry is a big employer of people and it needs some stimulus.
§ Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)
Those of us of a certain age will remember an old popular song called "Three Wheels on my Wagon". I apologise to the House if that is banausic, but nothing is too banausic for the Government. In the song, cowboys are driving their covered wagons and being pursued by Cherokees. They lose wheel after wheel from their wagons and just keep rolling along. That is a good description of the Government, and nowhere is it more apposite than in those sections of the Queen's Speech that deal with education.
The proposal for the semi-commercialisation of student loans is a cheap conjuring trick—two feats of prestidigitation for the price of one. It would remove a large sum from the public sector borrowing requirement at a stroke, and would give the illusion of commercial success; finance houses, which previously would not have touched the scheme, will buy selectively into it because the interest rates will be subsidised. The important word is "selectively", because commercial organisations would not consider bad risks. It would be like the social fund—students most in need of loans would be ruled out by such commercial organisations.
The proposals are beside the point and have nothing to do with what is wrong with the student loan scheme, which is already inequitable and the cause of much student hardship. The proposals will not improve the situation.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Education. After the student loan scheme had been in operation for a year, we looked at a mass of evidence and at the allegations of hardship caused by the scheme. Unusually, the Committee split down the middle. I pay tribute to the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton)—we usually manage to produce an agreed report. We could not do that on student loans because Conservative Members thought that the evidence of hardship was merely anecdotal. The Opposition issued a minority statement because, in their view, there was ample evidence of hardship.
The Government might have taken an interest in the emerging picture of hardship and corrected the shortcomings of the scheme. Instead, they pressed ahead at a dislocational rate with implementation. The scheme does not only cause student hardship; it causes student drop-out and some students do not even embark on higher education, including many from my constituency—for financial reasons and not on educational grounds. The scheme is a denial of opportunity; an impediment to social mobility 498 through education; a rationing of higher education opportunity at a time of retrenchment; and a waste of the latent pool of national talent. If the Gracious Speech had promised a thorough review—and an eradication of the shortcomings—of the present operation of the student loan scheme, it would have been more appropriate.
Grant-maintained schools will be given the ability to borrow against their assets in the commercial market. That is a recipe for asset stripping, and for further inequalities and divisions in education. Those schools that are best endowed with property, in extent or in value, will be able to buy further advantage over those with less. That will widen the divisions of opportunity between schools in areas where property values differ. Even within Knowsley, a relatively poor area, there are vast differences between schools with constricted sites in areas where land values are low and those with relatively large tracts of land with a high value for residential development or retail shopping.
Schools may choose to sell off land as well as risk it as collateral against loans in the commercial market. What right have they to do that? The schools are only the current trustees of public assets which have been handed over to grant-maintained schools by a stroke of Government legislation. The schools do not have the right to put their assets at risk or out of reach of their successors. There are ample, joint-financing arrangements that can bring private money into education without putting valuable assets at risk, as the proposals suggest.
The big, unspoken issue concerning grant-maintained schools is the idea floated several times by the Prime Minister—the so-called fast-track route into grant-maintained status for schools in the voluntary sector. That is the most desperate proposal yet to try to breathe life into the failed grant-maintained idea, and it would be a betrayal of both diversity and choice. That proposal would, at a stroke of the pen, eliminate a valued educational option. In my constituency, certain areas have more voluntary schools than county schools.
The proposal would also artificially inflate one favoured option. It would be a betrayal of choice because parents would be denied any choice in the matter. On the vast majority of occasions when parents have been given a say, they have given a clear thumbs down to the grant-maintained option. The Churches oppose that option. A Roman Catholic bishop in my constituency, when there was an opt-out ballot, went so far as to publish a letter to parents which said that a proposal to try to beggar one's neighbour by obtaining grant-maintained status was contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
The proposal on nursery vouchers is the most cynical exercise in prestidigitation even by this Government of illusionists. "Never mind the quality, feel the width" might be a good description, but the situation is more serious than that. The Government know it. The scheme will stuff £1,100 promissory notes into the back pockets of recalcitrant Conservative voters in the shire counties, and shamefully, those £1,100 promissory notes will be taken from the budgets of local education authorities such as Knowsley, South.
Will the scheme provide choice? Will the scheme provide equal opportunities? Will it improve standards? Is the scheme being introduced for the sake of diversity? The answers to those questions are no, no, no and yes. The scheme will not provide choice for parents already exercising the choice of private pre-school provision, 499 probably because their LEA does not provide nursery education. The only difference is that those parents will be given £1,100 to pay bills that they are already paying out of their own pockets.
The scheme will not provide choice for parents in LEAs such as mine with a good record of nursery provision. Their choice of a place in an LEA nursery class will be taken away in many areas. Will the scheme provide equal opportunity? No, again. The £1,100 will not fully fund a nursery place. Some parents will be able to top it up, others who cannot will have to settle for second best and for what £1,100 will buy, especially if the LEA is not able to find funding to top up vouchers.
Will the scheme mean improved standards? No, again. When the Secretary of State for Education and Employment announced the scheme, to give the right hon. Lady credit, the words must have stuck in her throat. She talked of "revisiting standards" and having a "light touch" on inspection. In other words, the nursery vouchers scheme is a cowboys charter. It will produce diversity only of quality, just like all the diversity that the Government have introduced to education in schools in recent years. The truth about the diversity that the nursery voucher scheme will produce is that it will be patchy and divisive.
Today's news sums up the sad facts about the internal dynamic of the market system that the Government have sedulously introduced into education in recent years. In the league tables published today, the gap between high and low achievers in education is shown to be widening. That will be socially divisive. I look forward to the day when we can finally say that we once had a Conservative Government but the wheel fell off.
§ 6.9 pm
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
The hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) made an intelligent and incisive speech; my pair always makes intelligent and incisive speeches.
This debate takes place against a background of historic events in the past few days—events that will, in one way or another, affect every citizen of the United Kingdom. I am speaking of yesterday's announcement by the Chinese President that he is moving his country decisively towards integration in world trade. It is notable that that announcement was not to be found in any British newspaper yesterday other than the Financial Times, which placed the story on the front page and printed an analysis and an editorial.
We, of course, were engaged in more important events—our palace intrigues. The Chinese also used to have palace intrigues, with public humiliations and public confessions and all that goes with them, but they decided to put them aside because they were part of a backward phase in their history. In the future, the Chinese will export to us the video equipment on which we shall follow our palace intrigues.
On education, and as I was talking about backward countries, it is extraordinary—the blame belongs to Conservative and Opposition Members—that we are arguing about a rather spatchcocked scheme to provide a little more partial nursery education to a few more people at the age of four. Although we are supposed to be a pragmatic people, it seems to take an awful long time for us to understand a simple fact about education: that it begins at the beginning.
500 A brief on the subject has kindly been provided for me. I was immediately struck by the figures. I understand that nursery education costs money. There were two sets of figures: the first shows that the Liberal Democrats were promising nursery education for all three and four-year-olds at a cost of £900 million, which is a large sum, and the second shows that our scheme will cost £750 million, of which £550 million has already been spent.
The difference between providing nursery education for all three and four-year-olds and the rather spatchcocked scheme that we have is amazingly slight. If the difference is only £150 million, let us cough up the money by taxing child benefit, for example, to provide nursery education for all three and four-year-olds. If we do so, perhaps we will not import quite so many Chinese videos as we seem destined to do.
One point that concerns me about nursery education as it will be practised in the United Kingdom is that the Conservative party seems to fail to understand the basic philosophical point—it is a dreadful expression to use, but it is the only one that actually fits—that one can have market forces with telephones but that one cannot blindly apply those forces in the cultural sphere, whether it be in broadcasting or education. Culture is a fundamentally different domain, a mistake of category—again, I am sorry for the philosophical phrase. The effects on the ground, however, are not philosophical but they are very simple.
When there are vouchers in this educationally backward society, people will use them to get out of the state system. They will do so for the very good reason that the state system is often very mediocre and is dominated by the wrong sort of egalitarian thinking. What I fear will happen with nursery vouchers is that the people who are hovering just below the level at which they can afford good-quality, structured private nursery education will spend that money in order to get out of the state system, or to get into a better system—which, by and large, I am sorry to say, tends to be the private sector.
In the end, there will be a bit more nursery education, but there will also be a growing gap, which characterises this country uniquely in Europe, between the quality of private provision, which, by and large, is pretty good, and the quality of the state provision, which, by and large, is pretty mediocre. We now risk building that split into our education system right at the bottom, and thereby—the hon. Member for Knowsley, South mentioned this point—perhaps even widening it further up. That seems a pretty bleak educational future when other countries are moving geometrically ahead of us, not least in the far east. As the House knows, examination results in Hong Kong are already better than ours.
As for grant-maintained schools, it seems a little distasteful that we should even be thinking of having education on tick, which is what the borrowing facility in fact means. I can just about accommodate it in my mind because I am very much in favour of grant-maintained schools, but let us not forget that those schools will have to pay back that money. Pace my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, these schools, unlike universities, do not have incomes from which they can legitimately get more funds.
I am also afraid that some grant-maintained schools will go a little haywire with facilities. They get very excited about facilities—staff showers or anything else—but tend to get a little less excited about whether they are teaching grammar to the required standard.
501 Finally, and most important, what worries me most about the Government's education policy is the extension of the assisted places scheme, for which I shall not vote. It is presented to us as a bridge between the state and private sectors. In fact, it will widen the gap between the two. I am amazed that there has been no discussion and, apparently, no rudiments of any thinking about it. It is a one-way bridge.
People will leave the state sector—many will be middle-class parents, and that is in itself a scandal—to go to the private sector. The scheme is a massive, and now doubled, subsidy to the private sector, which will maintain and even widen the gap, which is unique to this country, between the state and private sectors. It is the driving factor in the overall mediocrity that characterises our system. We shall never have high-quality state education in Britain while the richest and sometimes the brainiest 7 per cent. at the top of society have nothing to do with it and do not give a damn what happens there. Everyone knows that.
What I should like—I am sure that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition would agree if they were free from party pressure—is for the £200 million to be put on one side and reserved for private schools that will open their doors to everyone on the basis of selective examination. We might then start to wear down the difference. One of the tragedies of this country is that members of both Front Benches would agree with what I am suggesting but cannot do so, and we all know why—the problem for Labour Front Benchers is selection and, let us face it, for us the problem is self-interest. The notion is, "Those private schools are our schools. That is where we send our children; they are not for you."
§ Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)
I must declare an interest as a consultant to the National Union of Teachers and to the Association of Educational Psychologists.
I shall concentrate solely on nursery vouchers, the most deplorable proposal to come before the House in recent times. What I dislike about the system so much is the fact that the Government have never before had any commitment to nursery provision. For years, they ridiculed Labour Members who tried to persuade them that nursery education was important for the development of young children and constantly refused to acknowledge its benefits. In fact, some Ministers—especially ex-Ministers—were hostile to the very concept. Even now, I suspect that some are sceptical about it.
In 1989, the Select Committee on Education produced a report on education provision for the under-fives. The Government's response was anything but enthusiastic; in fact, it was decidedly lukewarm. The report stated that it should be the objective of central and local government to ensure the steady expansion of nursery education until it is available to all three and four-year-old children whose parents desire it for them.
Far from taking that advice, the Government merely took the credit for the amount of provision created—credit that should have gone to Labour local education authorities, which had increased provision for nursery 502 education. The Government have done nothing to improve provision since; they have depended solely on LEAs to do it—especially Labour LEAs.
The Prime Minister's conversion on nursery education has nothing to do with the benefits to children: it is due to the fact that he now sees it as an important issue in the attempt to get the Tories re-elected. The benefits of nursery education were clear to everybody in education— especially to parents—and the Prime Minister's party was out on a limb as usual. Now that the Conservatives are looking for votes at the next election, he has capitulated on nursery provision.
If the Tories had believed that nursery education was important to the needs of children, they would not have introduced this con trick of nursery vouchers. They would have acted sensibly, providing capital expenditure for local authorities to build nursery schools and provide nursery classes, and revenue to run those classes and schools. They have not done so because they are not committed to nursery provision.
Further evidence of the Conservatives' hostility to nursery education can be seen by looking at where nurseries have been provided over the years. Figures clearly show that children aged three and four are three times more likely to have a placement in a nursery school or class in a Labour-controlled authority than they are in an authority under Conservative control.
I shall quickly look at what is on offer in this appalling vouchers scheme. For every four-year-old in each local education authority, £1,100 will be top-sliced from the standard spending assessment and handed over to a new quango—surprise, surprise, another new quango. Vouchers worth £1,100 will be sent through the post to parents by using information from child benefit records. Parents may use the voucher for a half-day nursery education or school place or for education provided by a voluntary group.
An inspection team—not the Office for Standards in Education—has to prove the eligibility of the organisation providing nursery education, but qualified teachers are not necessary. I wonder why. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it is a cheap method of providing nursery education. I leave hon. Members to think about that.
Some new money will be given by the Government—about £165 million. The scheme will not involve three-year-olds but will involve all four-year-olds, including those at school until the term after their fifth birthday.
Local education authorities will be reimbursed by an agency—again, surprise, surprise, another agency—which will send the vouchers to parents who will then return them to the LEA. What an absolute mess that will be. At best, it will be cost-neutral to LEAs currently providing nursery education.
It may be in the short-term interest of LEAs providing little nursery education to volunteer to obtain some new money, but most LEAs will not benefit in the slightest. The scheme is not only flawed but is morally wrong. It can only ruin nursery education in this country.
The Secretary of State has claimed in the House that provision in the state sector will remain free, but parents will have to top up the value of the voucher should they wish to buy provision in the private or voluntary sector where the cost exceeds £1,100. It remains—to me anyway—unclear who will foot the bill for a child who 503 continues in a maintained nursery class or school, or in a reception class in a primary school. What is clear, however, is that £1,100 for each four-year-old will be top-sliced from the local authority's SSA and handed over to a new quango.
The scheme is nothing but a pre-election bribe. The Tories are banking on people believing that they have been given £1,100 to spend. They hope that, when the voucher arrives through the letter box in the run up to the next election, people will believe that they have won the lottery. It is a con intended to trick parents into thinking that their children have been given a new nursery place when, in many parts of the country, no new places will be created—in fact, existing provision will be threatened.
Pre-school provision ranges from catering for around 22 per cent. of children in some parts of England and Wales to 97 per cent. in other areas, and there are more than 200 black spots in England where there is little or no nursery education and no provision available. Government plans skate over that. The reality is that local authorities that have invested in good provision will lose out under the scheme, whereas those that have not done so are unlikely to see any change in their provision.
No capital is being provided to enable the building of nursery schools, and therefore areas that do not have LEA-provided nursery schools will not be able to build any. What good will vouchers be in those areas? I cannot see where places will come from, other than, of course, from the private sector.
Nursery vouchers will provide a massive handout of public money—to parents who can already afford to send their children to private nurseries, to owners of those private nurseries and to the private company that will run the scheme.
That company stands to get £20 million of taxpayers' money for administration and—of course—profit. That money could have been used to provide proper nursery education. There is no money in the scheme to allow local authorities to build new nurseries where they are needed, and there is no cash to train new staff or to meet start-up costs.
This scheme could even result in the reduction of nursery provision in areas such as my local authority, Durham, which has a very good record of provision of nursery places, because every time a voucher is used for a private place the money given to the LEA will be cut by its value. A nursery place costs more than the value of the voucher. If a local authority's funding for nursery education is reduced to the value of the voucher, it will be forced to reduce provision. That is an obvious mathematical conclusion.
Parents should also remember that the scheme applies only to four-year-olds; there is nothing for three-year-olds, among whom there is some of the greatest need. We must remember that 95 per cent. of children who attend nursery school started going when they were three years old. So there is a real danger that the withdrawal of funding from local government will result in a squeeze in the provision already being made for three-year-olds by many local authorities.
We are told that £545 million is to be clawed back from local authorities and recycled through vouchers. The Secretary of State has pledged that no four-year-old will lose an existing place. She has not explained how local authorities will top up the cost of each place—
§ Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)
I should like to touch on two matters in the limited time available—the first and foremost being the responsibility of parents for the criminal acts of their children. At a time of rapidly increasing juvenile crime—despite misleading official statistics that tend to suggest that the incidence of such crime is reducing, when all our constituents know very well from personal experience that the contrary is the case—and when, for instance, in my Greater Manchester constituency there are only 10 police officers on duty of a night time to cover a population of more than 100,000, it has become urgent to invoke parent power in the battle against juvenile crime.
In recent years, the Government have introduced a series of measures designed to extend the use of financial penalties against the parents of young offenders. In 1993, for example, parents were required to pay 6 per cent. of fines and 14 per cent. of compensation orders made against juveniles. It has now become urgent to extend that practice far more widely, to make it clear, especially to that irresponsible element of parents who do not match up to their parental responsibilities, that they will be held legally and financially responsible for the acts of vandalism and the criminal activities of their children who are under 18 years of age.
Only where parents or guardians can demonstrate that they have done their best to exercise such parental control should they be relieved of financial responsibility. In cases where the family in question is on benefit, the time has come for up to 20 per cent. of that benefit to be docked to pay fines and compensation. Only in that way can parent power be invoked in the fight against juvenile crime. Only in that way will parents ensure that they know where little Jimmy is tonight, what he is getting up to and with which friends he may be consorting. Parent power is the last but best hope of deflecting many youngsters from a lifetime of crime.
A key element must be the removal of the present absurd and outdated concept, which is central to existing legislation relating to juveniles, that children under 14 are presumed incapable of committing a crime unless the contrary is proved. In the face of the steep rise in the number of juveniles responsible for dozens or even hundreds of acts of burglary and theft, and in the face of the horrifying increase in the number of juveniles responsible even for crimes such as rape, that concept must be held to be untenable. The law must be changed, and I trust that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will take urgent steps to change it.
The second matter I address tonight is the immigration and asylum Bill proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, which I broadly welcome in the terms he outlined in the House yesterday. However, there is a central and deeply disturbing point. Given that the cold war ended more than five years ago, it might be thought that, in recent years, the Security Service, for which the Home Secretary has a special responsibility, would have had some spare capacity to deal with the emerging areas of threat, specifically the terrorist threat to Britain's neighbours, allies and fellow democracies.
505 How has it come about that a Conservative Government have allowed our immigration and asylum procedures to be so abused that the United Kingdom has now become the acknowledged safe haven for a wide range of terrorist groups from different countries—groups bent on acts of terrorism against our partners, allies and friends? I ask that question because in recent months—
§ Mr. Churchill
My right hon. and learned Friend shakes his head. I hope that, before our debate concludes tonight, he will explain how representatives of the Kurdish terrorist movement against our NATO ally, Turkey, have been admitted to the United Kingdom and are allowed to remain in this country despite their known involvement with acts of terrorism against Turkey. How is it that the radical—
§ Mr. Howard
I assure my hon. Friend that, where we have evidence of terrorist complicity, we exclude people before they enter the country on the ground that their presence is not conducive to the public good. Where we have information, on which we can act in relation to people in this country, about any complicity in terrorist action, we can take action to remove them from this country. The difficulty with the group of people to whom my hon. Friend has referred and whom he has in mind is that there may be many who sympathise with the overseas activities of terrorists, but who do not themselves engage in terrorist action. There is a clear distinction to be drawn between the two groups. Where no information links those people to terrorist activity, we do not act, and I invite my hon. Friend to consider the possibility that it is right that we should not act.
§ Mr. Churchill
My right hon. and learned Friend is sufficiently well versed in these matters to know the distinction between those who directly commit acts of terrorism and those who are active sympathisers, fund raisers and godfathers. I suspect that it is, above all, the latter roles that are the problem in this country. I refer not only to those involved on the Kurdish side against our Turkish allies, but to those involved with the radical Palestinian group Hamas, which is violently opposed to the recent moves to normalise relations between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and its Arab neighbours.
Only this Sunday, The Sunday Telegraph reported:Israeli officials say they have accumulated evidence which proves that orders for terrorist operations are being issued from London by military commanders of Hamas, the group responsible for the recent spate of suicide bombings in Israel and the Gaza Strip.The Israelis also claim that Hamas leaders are using London as a base to publish Islamic propaganda and raise funds to support terrorist operations.Furthermore, there is evidence that Algerian extremists who have been involved as godfathers in recent terrorist outrages in France are based in this country. That is all deeply disturbing. I must ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary what MI5 and the Home Office have been up to in allowing those who engage or strongly support such activities to be based in this country.
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend makes some serious allegations. He says that there is evidence. If there is evidence, he should supply it to the authorities. I must tell my hon. Friend, for whom, as he knows, I have great 506 respect, that where there is evidence, we act. We recently deported from this country to France someone in respect of whom we had evidence of activity. We have taken action in relation to various Kurds present in this country in respect of whom we had evidence. Where we have evidence, we act. If my hon. Friend or anybody else with whom he is in touch has evidence in respect of people in this country, it should be drawn to the attention of the authorities and action will then be taken.
§ Mr. Churchill
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that assurance. As he is well aware, it is obviously difficult to come up with clear-cut evidence in this area. All I ask is that he reinforces the resources available to him closely to scrutinise—
§ Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)
It takes some doing to outflank the current Home Secretary on the ground of illiberality, but the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) has done so. In so doing, he has raised the issue that I wish to pursue—the role of MI5.
I refer to the part of the Gracious Speech from which will flow a proposal to let loose MI5 on to the streets of this country as a kind of British FBI. That proposal has created a frisson, if not of fear, of definite nervousness throughout the land—from members of all parties in the other place earlier this week, through the nation's chief constables, through the upper reaches of Scotland Yard, through the civil liberties lobby, through the trade union movement and through many sections of the media, by no means confined to the liberal left.
There are two main reasons for that shiver along the national spine. The first is that the proposal has not been the subject of national debate. It has not been thought through properly and it is driven not by policing priorities, but by the need to find work for the newly idle hands in MI5 in the wake of the collapse of communism and in the wake of the Irish ceasefire.
The idea is driven, too, by the need to find something to do in the enormous white elephant, the spooks' palace at No. 11 Millbank, with its lavish furnishings, its squash courts, marble staircases and chandeliers, its £25,000 rock face in the trophy room and all the other amenities, none of which are enjoyed by humble police stations all over the country, including that in Davyhulme in which, as we have just been told, there are only 10 policemen available of an evening to police an area with a population of 100,000. Those facilities are not for our undermanned and under-resourced police stations.
The idle hands of MI5 are one of the reasons for the turn in Government policy, which has not been thought through. There has been no proper definition of the terms "organised crime" and "serious crime", which we are told that the "MI5/British FBI" will fight. No definitions have been laid, either, of the areas in which MI5 will be unleashed, and no structure has been agreed for the "new FBI". No relationship has been charted out between it and, for example, the national criminal intelligence service or the regional crime squads.
507 No wonder the chief constables are so uneasy about the development. Indeed, in the newspaper this morning we can read the following in a letter from the respected former chief constable of Devon and Cornwall, Mr. John Alderson:the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, informed us that our secret political police (MI5) would also now be diverted to police duties.The writer says that to put such a building block of the police state into positionin one week must be a record, outside war.That is a serious charge.
§ Mr. Howard
Does the hon. Gentleman know the difference between a chief constable and a former chief constable?
§ Mr. Galloway
Yes I do, and I also know that the Home Secretary is aware of the anxieties about the proposals not only among serving chief constables but in Scotland Yard itself.
§ Mr. Galloway
The Home Secretary can shake his head as vigorously as he likes, but he knows that in Scotland Yard and in the offices of chief constables all over the country, there is anxiety about the introduction of the political policemen, unaccountable and untransparent, who will be injected into the policing system of this country.
The second reason for the anxiety is the nature of MI5. It is quite an achievement to have changed the police in the 41 years of my lifetime from a force based on "Dixon of Dock Green" community policing, with public support and familiar faces down on the beat, with officers seeing where the crime was and being where the people were, to a system in which the buggers and burglars of Peter Wright's MI5 will take Dixon of Dock Green's place. Perhaps only the present Home Secretary could achieve that with the degree of arrogance that he is displaying this evening.
MI5 and dirty tricks have become synonymous in the public mind. MI5 is unaccountable and of dubious loyalty to the democratic process at certain times and in certain sections, with a dubious relationship to the law. In yesterday evening's mesmerising television performance, which struck at the heart of the British establishment, Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales made clear allegations. She said that the tape recording of her conversation with Mr. James Gilbey had definitely been deliberately recorded and released into the public domain with a view to discrediting her.
Who, anywhere, believes that Britain's security services were not involved in the commissioning and execution of that crime, either directly or by using what they call their "alongsiders", in an attempt to change public opinion about the Princess of Wales? Her Royal Highness also said that the telephone was tapped at the home of Mr. Oliver Hoare, her former friend. She said that that was done by the local police station, but that cannot be true, because local police stations do not tap telephones, do they, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
508 Does anyone out there believe that MI5 was not involved in the tapping of that telephone, or in commissioning the Royal Marine who on "Kilroy" this morning said that he was deployed to spy on the Princess of Wales's relationship with Mr. James Hewitt?
Does anyone believe any longer that MI5 was not involved in acts of subversion against the elected Labour Government of the late Harold Wilson? Certainly the subsequent head of MI5 conceded to Harold Wilson in 1975 that sections of MI5 connected with Peter Wright had indeed burgled the offices and homes of the elected Prime Minister of this country, and bugged his telephone conversations and those of his associates.
Is there anyone out there who still believes that MI5 staff, including its present head, Stella Rimington, were not involved up to their necks in the subversion of the great miners' strike of 1984–85—a legal industrial action taken by hundreds of thousands of workers to defend their jobs? The strike was subverted by provocations and by the placing of agents in the miners union, all of which has been outlined in the brilliant work, "The Enemy Within: MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill affair", by Seumas Milne, the labour editor of The Guardian. [Interruption.] I commend that work to Conservative Members, who should read it before they pour scorn on what I am saying.
Is there anyone out there who does not believe that MI5 and its present head, Stella Rimington, were involved in trying to break the miners' strike, or that MI5 was not involved with Mr. David Hart, who is now ensconced as an unpaid civil servant in the Ministry of Defence, whence he is subverting British defence and manufacturing interests? Does anyone believe that in those days that adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence was not involved, in his role as a conduit for both American and British intelligence, in the subversion of democratic legal trade union activity in this country?
I put it to the House that such people—unaccountable and of dubious democratic loyalties—who were at large in MI5 then and, I believe, still are, are not the sort of people who should be introduced into the policing of this country.
If there is organised crime, and there is, it should be dealt with by the police—
§ Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)
Thank you for inviting me to speak on the Loyal Address, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I can say at the outset that I welcome all the contents of the Queen's Speech and shall vote for it. Incidentally, my support is not conditional on the results of an election on Thursday.
I have fully supported the assisted places scheme both as a Minister and as a Back-Bench Member. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) and I both served on the Committee on the legislation that enacted all its provisions. I believe that it is now time to see whether the application of the scheme should be specialised a little further.
We should consider whether the benefits of the scheme could be extended to children who suffer from disabilities related to hearing or sight, or from other handicaps. Could such children, through the agency of their parents, gain 509 access to private schools and foundations dealing with those disabilities in particular, and supplying more specialised and focused education? That would be welcomed by many parents, who would see it as a real opportunity to extend choice at a time when some local authorities are politically hostile to the idea of funding places for local children in schools, and others do not have the necessary resources.
We have heard a great deal today about training, jobs and education, and I wish to refer to nursery education and the voucher system. But I wish to speak for a moment about the implications for the House and for the country of the social chapter. Many thousands, if not millions, of people outside the House do not really understand what the social chapter is. They see it as something benign that is maligned by the Government, who do not support it.
It is worth placing it on record that the Government decided in 1992 not to sign up to the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty. The reasons why they did not do so were very simple and straightforward. The Government believed that the social chapter would impose heavy labour costs on industry and business, and would therefore contribute to the destruction of jobs for our young people who were leaving school or higher education. But what is the social chapter? I feel that all of us—both Ministers and Back-Bench Members—have a duty to spell out the implications of the social chapter to people who may not understand the practicalities of its proposals.
First, the social chapter would compel companies to establish works councils. Secondly, it would lift the ban on the closed shop. Thirdly, it would lift the ban on "union labour only" contracts. Fourthly, it would abolish the legal requirement for trade unions to publish their accounts to their members. When it is spelt out in graphic and stark detail, we can see why the Labour party is prepared to sign up to the social chapter.
Across the European Union, Britain's opt-out is envied. The socialist and former President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, said that, by opting out, Britain had become a "paradise for investment". Recent evidence has supported the Delors claim. Toyota, Xerox and Mazda from Japan have invested here. Two multinational companies from America have relocated jobs in Britain. In Europe itself, Rockwell, the print machinery producers, has moved jobs from Nantes to Preston. Black and Decker, the United States company, closed its plant in Germany in February 1994 and moved to County Durham. Hoover switched production from Dijon to Cambuslang.
Unlike Labour, the Conservative party opposes a national minimum wage on the ground that it will destroy jobs.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This is all very interesting, but I cannot find anything in the Queen's Speech that deals with the social chapter. The hon. Gentleman should bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Dunn
I was speaking about nursery vouchers, and trying to link this subject with the education system. My point is that there is no point at all in having an education system that turns out bright, well-equipped and talented young people if there is a national minimum wage that 510 destroys their job opportunities. There is no point at all in having a well-motivated and well-educated unemployed young work force.
In European countries that have a minimum wage, the rates of unemployment are much higher. In France, one in four of all young people are unemployed as a direct result of that country's minimum wage law. In Spain, unemployment affects nearly a quarter of the entire population, with one in three young people unable to find work because of Spain's minimum wage law. The Labour party would embrace everything that comes from Brussels, including the minimum wage and the social chapter.
Education has been a special interest of mine for some years, and I should like to emphasise my support for the choice and diversity of opportunity in our communities, and particularly in my constituency. Dartford's grammar schools have once again shown themselves to be committed to excellence, with an outstanding set of A-level and GCSE results. Those schools provide an academic education for pupils, regardless of income and background. Most local authorities are envious of Dartford's range of quality schools, and there is no reason to suppose that we shall not have equally good nursery schools under the voucher system as outlined in the Queen's Speech.
The Labour party wants to destroy the very qualities that make a good grammar school. If a grammar school cannot choose its pupils by identifying whether they would gain from a highly academic education and if it has its right to interview prospective pupils taken away, that grammar school will become a comprehensive school. Under a Labour Government, Dartford would lose what must be its most precious asset—the grammar schools.
We heard talk today—from Members on both sides of the House, surprisingly—about grant-maintained schools. Grant-maintained schools have many qualities, and I have nine such schools in Dartford—four grammar schools and five secondary schools. All the schools benefit from their financial and institutional independence, which is why I welcome the opportunity for grant-maintained schools to borrow against their non-core activities for future capital developments.
Grant-maintained schools also receive their funding directly from the funding agency, which allows them to control 100 per cent. of their resources. With those resources, they can and do employ more teachers and increase spending on books, equipment and resources. In grant-maintained schools, there is no wasteful bureaucracy and no political decision making, which provides better value for money and better education all round. Because of that, I shall be supporting the vote on the Queen's Speech, and I shall continue to support grammar schools in Dartford.
§ Mr. Greg Pope (Hyndburn)
The education proposals in the Gracious Speech were a disappointment to many people. They disappointed Opposition Members, and they appear to have disappointed many Conservative Members. The hon. Members for Meriden (Mr. Mills), for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) and for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) made measured speeches that expressed their disappointment at the education proposals. I am sure that we shall hear from the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), who will probably be disappointed because the proposals 511 are not right-wing enough. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) ignored most of the proposals, but he was perhaps speaking to a wider electorate rather than to Opposition Members.
One of the disappointments of the Queen's Speech for many people was the lack of any proposals to limit class sizes. In my county of Lancashire, about 40 per cent. of primary-age children are being educated in classes of more than 31 pupils. If the Government believe that class sizes do not matter, why do so many Conservative Members choose to educate their children not in the state sector, but in the private sector, where the ratio of pupils to teacher is much lower?
John Coe, of the National Association for Primary Education, commented on the fact that the existing protection for children contained in the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1981 could be removed if, as is widely believed, the Government repeal the regulations later this month. Mr. Coe said that it isembarrassing for Government to have a standard and a deadline which many primary schools are unable to meet.The only logical conclusion is that, far from responding to parental concerns about class sizes, the Government are paving the way towards allowing class sizes to increase. There is no doubt that the underlying causes behind the rise in the past year have been the cuts in the education budget that were agreed a year ago and the Government's refusal to fund the teachers' pay rise in full.
Last year, I went to see the then Minister for Schools—now the Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment—and he was commendably frank. He simply said that the Treasury agreed a cut and passed the cut on to the Department for Education. The Department passed it on to the local education authorities and it was up to the LEAs to pass it on to schools. That must be a real comfort to governors throughout the country who are finding that the books do not balance in their schools. Not only in my constituency but everywhere else in the United Kingdom, many schools are having to fund teachers' salaries out of their reserves. That is obviously not what the reserves are for, and there is a limit to how long the practice can continue.
Only yesterday, I went into St. Anne's and St. Joseph's school in my constituency, an excellent primary school. I spoke to the head, Mr. Keegan. He gave me a petition of 700 names, which I sent on to the Secretary of State. It objected to the cuts that the school has had to face in the past year. He also gave me a letter that he had sent to the Secretary of State, in which he said:we are extremely concerned about the prospect of not being able to afford the teaching staff our children need.Over the past two years, the Governors of the school have been using reserves to maintain the provision established at the school. This action cannot be repeated as the reserves have been used up.I realise that there will be many schools facing far greater difficulties than us and I appeal to you, on their behalf and ours, to do everything in your power to ensure that our children's futures are not adversely affected because of inadequate funding".If that was an isolated incident, it could perhaps be dismissed. The blame could perhaps be laid at the door of the local education authority. Yet Conservative Members and Ministers must know from their experience in their constituencies that it is not an isolated experience. It is being repeated in every local education authority and every constituency in the country.
512 The words that I have quoted are not the words of some extremist or even a Labour party activist. They are the words of someone who has dedicated his adult life to teaching; someone who cares about what goes on in his school and now finds that he no longer has the tools to do the job to which he has dedicated himself. Even if Ministers ignore what we have to say, I implore them to take notice of what people in the teaching profession are saying.
I notice that proposals to allow grant-maintained schools to retain all the proceeds from property disposals are included in the Queen's Speech, even though 50 per cent. of those assets are currently returned to the local education authorities for debt redemption. I always thought that the Tories were fairly keen on debt redemption, but obviously they are not that bothered when it comes to doing a favour for their friends in the grant-maintained sector.
Perhaps more interesting is what is not included in the Queen's Speech, such as the proposal to fast-track voluntary-aided schools to grant-maintained status. The proposal is out for what passes for a consultation process under this Government. Although the consultation period is not yet over, it must be clear even to the set of Ministers on the Front Bench how determinedly hostile the Churches are to such a measure. The proposal is a sign of abject failure. Voluntary-aided schools have had plenty of opportunity in the past few years to opt out. Overwhelmingly, they have chosen not to do so.
Last year, only 15 voluntary-aided schools even went to a ballot. Of those 15, more than half chose to remain in partnership with their local education authority. In the light of that hostility from the Churches and from schools, the Government are considering the simultaneous opting out of all 4,000 voluntary-aided schools unless the governors operate a veto. Another idea in the consultation paper is to scrap parental ballots.
Whatever happened to parental choice? I sat through the Committee stage of proceedings on the Education Act 1993, in which Ministers parroted on about parental choice and diversity. We are entitled to ask: where is the choice and diversity in the proposals currently out for consultation? It appears that, if the proposals go ahead, parents of children in voluntary-aided schools will end up with no choice. If the Minister has his way, there will be precious little diversity either.
Hundreds of thousands of parents like myself have their children educated in voluntary-aided schools. On behalf of those parents, I should like to make an objection. How dare the Government consider altering the status of our children's schools without even bothering to consult us? There is an historical partnership between Church schools and local education authorities. Most Church schools value that partnership and have chosen to keep it. That is what rankles with the Government. They have given parents choice. Parents have exercised it and overwhelmingly rejected grant-maintained status. That is obviously not good enough for the Prime Minister. He wants to make parents do his bidding. I warn the Minister on the Front Bench that, if he forces voluntary-aided schools to opt out without consulting parents, he does so at his peril.
We now learn that the Government propose to allow grant-maintained schools to sell off surplus school premises. Given the dilapidated nature of most school 513 premises, we shall be interested to see how that works. I do not think that there is a huge queue of investors out there eager to snap up the leaky schoolrooms that are the one lasting testament of the Government. The same daft proposals extend to selling off school playing fields. It was once said that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. It is obviously clear that any future battles will not be won on the playing fields of grant-maintained schools, because the fields will have been sold off and turned into Tesco car parks.
What is astonishing about all this is the sheer poverty of aspiration of the Government when it comes to education. Where is the programme that will give young people the skills that they will need in the next century? It is certainly nowhere to be seen in the Queen's Speech. Instead we have a student loans Bill which aims not to provide proper support for students but to bail out the fiasco of the student loans scheme. We have a nursery vouchers scheme that will not create a single new nursery place, but will create a huge bureaucracy of a kind which the Government have always said that they oppose.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Robin Squire)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
§ 7.6 pm
§ Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, through the Queen's Speech, has set out three priority areas: to make Britain the enterprise centre of Europe, to step up the fight against crime, and to increase choice in education still further. I strongly support all three of those objectives. I suggest that the success of the first is essential to providing funds for the second and third. Our success in creating an enterprise culture is amply demonstrated by the fall in unemployment and the increase in the number of those in employment.
The subject of the debate tonight is education and home affairs. Although education will not be the main thrust of my speech, I welcome the proposal to increase the borrowing powers of grant-maintained schools. That is right. I support the nationwide scheme for pre-school nursery vouchers, which has been much criticised by Opposition Members. The scheme will be welcomed in Leicestershire. I know that, in my constituency, schools will be looking to expand under the new system.
I support the proposal to double the assisted places scheme. I was at the Dixie grammar school on Friday, which to date has been excluded from the old scheme. I appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to consider that school and other excellent private schools in my constituency which are anxious to broaden the base of their intake. I shall be writing on their behalf to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I wish to focus on law and order, and in particular the Criminal Procedures Bill and the Asylum and Immigration Bill. I shall suggest some measures that 514 should have been included. The Conservative party has been accused of playing the race card by introducing the Asylum and Immigration Bill. I spent some time at Oxford university looking at policing and public order in a multiracial Britain.
I wish to refer to that a little later on. First, I want to look back at two landmarks in policing in the past 20 years. The first is the Edmund-Davies report. I remind the House that, under the last Labour Government, through bad pay and neglect, 9,000 men left the police service. That is a stark contrast with what is happening now, with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister committing the Conservative Government to creating another 5,000 police.
It was, of course, the Conservative Government that came into office in 1979 that implemented the Edmund-Davies pay recommendations in full, and stopped the haemorrhaging of the police. Since then, there have been 200 more police officers in Leicestershire.
My second point concerns the defining moment of the Brixton riots and the Scarman report. It was on the basis of the riots and the report that the Police and Criminal Evidence Bills of 1983 and 1984, which subsequently became the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, were introduced. PACE responded to Scarman's fears about the police becoming detached from the public. Section 106 of that Act provided for the community consultative groups. The huge increase in neighbourhood watch schemes flows directly from that Act. There are 2,500 in Leicestershire, which I welcome.
In Earl Shilton, for example, in my constituency, the village self-appraisals and village profiling that have taken place as a part of the move towards community policing are both popular and successful. The appointment of a new beat officer in such a village, and its access to a sergeant and six officers from neighbouring Hinckley, and the appointment of an officer specifically responsible for strategy, show that community policing is working well.
One measure that I hope that Hinckley will benefit from is closed-circuit television. The town is on Watling street, and has Nuneaton across the way and Coventry not far away. I hope that Hinckley will become part of the new closed-circuit television camera scheme, and that that will be extended to Earl Shilton. I am amazed that the Labour group there opposes that proposal. Surveys across the country show the benefits of such a scheme: indeed, it is supported by the local police.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, in a memorable speech at Blackpool in October 1993, set out 27 points on law and order that he intended to implement. He deserves to be congratulated as he comes to the Dispatch Box this evening, able to tell the House that he has completed action on those 27 points. I have no time to consider them—unless I had 27 minutes—but I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that soundings among my constituents show that there is a strong feeling, first, that criminals should always be forced to compensate their victims.
Secondly, prisoners should be made to pay for their keep in prison, where possible. Thirdly—I refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill)—we need much greater parental involvement if we are to stop crime. That is all tied up with the breakdown of the family, but parents have to be made liable for the crimes of their children.
515 Fourthly, I want identity cards to be brought in. I have no doubt that an identity card with a fingerprint or DNA sample on it would be of huge benefit in identifying criminals, detecting fraud, eliminating under-age drinking and identifying accident victims. It could also contain medical information. In a society that is worried about law and order, we have to bite the bullet and take that measure. I would not object to the Department of Social Security implementing the scheme.
The Criminal Procedures Bill will assist with the rapid conviction of criminals. I welcome that, and anything that will speed up the justice system, which is a considerable concern. There is a feeling that justice is too slow. It is right that there should be retrials when jury nobbling occurs.
I referred to research that I did at Oxford in the 1970s into race relations. I am surprised at the stance taken by the Labour party on the asylum and immigration Bill. I have always believed that it is essential that the majority of the population, excluding the ethnic community, understands clearly what is and is not allowed. At the moment, the law is ragged.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is in the interests of the ethnic community that the majority communities do not perceive them as made of up of a great flow of immigration—in fact, that is no longer taking place, but that is the perception—and being topped up by illegal immigration, bogus asylum seekers and people on the fiddle. That does not help race relations. The Bill, in the long term, will go a long way towards reassuring all sections of the population.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) made his speech on MI5.I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale), who is not in his place, one of whose constituents has just died from taking ecstasy, would dispute the arguments of the hon. Member for Hillhead. I see no sense in officers of a security agency being unable to act against international drug traffickers. I welcome the moves that have been taken, but—and it is a big "but"—officers must be accountable to the normal process of law. Otherwise, the agency will be discredited and we will not be able to use it for the purpose for which it was created.
There is one other matter. My constituency will be affected by the housing construction regeneration Bill. Much of the council housing there has been made over to a housing association. That has meant that the capital receipts flowing to the council from housing associations have kept the rents down. Under a proposal of the Conservative administration that has just left office—
§ Mr. Tredinnick
Sadly, it has left office, but only temporarily.
The new administration has stopped what we call the trickle transfer scheme. I predict that rent rises will occur in Hinckley next year; they have to. I am worried that the housing associations will be able to sell properties in small villages. The threshold has to be lifted.
§ Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
I intend to speak about drugs, which were mentioned in the Queen's 516 Speech. First, I must say that there is no way that any politician or anyone else could ever say that drugs should be legalised. That is for people other than politicians to say. Let me state clearly that there is no way that I would say that any drugs should be legalised.
There could be a debate about decriminalising certain light drugs. I heard last week that the Durham constabulary had agreed only to caution teenagers who were found with class A drugs on their persons, provided that they sought help. The problem is trying to find help, because there not many drug centres in the north-east for them to go to. It will be interesting to see how that policy develops under the Durham police force.
The question of drugs is one of supply. The Queen's Speech gave the Government's position on the supply of drugs. Of course, I welcome anything that will stop such drugs hitting the British mainland.
Drugs often come from war-torn areas. We have many accounts of drugs being sold to pay for guns, arms and munitions. In the conflict in war-torn Lebanon, there was evidence that arms sales were connected with the drug trade. Even in Bosnia, people sold drugs to get arms. In the case of Turkey and Kurdistan, there was evidence that the Kurdish rebels were selling drugs to get arms. The Colombian drug cartels are now, it is said, linking up with people in Russia. That market is seeping into northern Europe and through to Britain. Even the Italian mafia are into drugs and that is for sure, as everyone will be aware. China is beginning to push drugs hard, and is looking for partners in Europe—criminal partners I might add—to supply drugs. It is a big organisation, and I wish the Government well in trying to stop the supply. There are evil forces about and a lot of money to be made out of drugs, especially in regions of conflict.
We have to try to stop the flow and to hit demand, if possible. We have to take positive action, even if that means educating kids in schools and the medical profession. There is much that we can do locally to stop the spread of home-grown drugs.
We have a needle exchange in my area. The idea is that one takes a needle in and brings a needle out. I have this story on good authority—the best authority of the lot because it is from the police, and the Northumberland police get my praise for the way in which they have handled the drug situation. They have done a marvellous job with the resources they have. Two or three weeks ago, they raided a house on a council estate and found heroin, methadone, other drugs and one or two other things, and caught the culprits red-handed. It was a great capture, because it was a supply house.
Under interrogation—perhaps I should say questioning—the culprit was asked where they had got the 200 new needles that had been found in the house. The reply was, "From the needle exchange." He had gone in with 200 dud, used needles and was given 200 new ones. I suppose that that is new for old, but I cannot for the life of me see why a needle exchange should give someone that many needles. He was under questioning and is a criminal. He might be lying to the police, but that was the information that they gave me.
The police also told me that methadone is being used in the community, which is more interesting. The police could not understand why there were two dozen bottles of methadone in that house. Under questioning, they found that it is being sold to kids for a pound or two, which is used to buy heroin.
517 How are people getting it? It is simple. They put a urine sample in a little bottle and give it to a young lad to take to the local doctors, where he says that he is on heroin and there is the urine sample to prove it. The doctors test it and find heroin in his urine, so they give him methadone. They were also registering with four or five doctors in and around the community. They went to each doctor with a different name to get methadone. At the moment, it is all over the place. A chemist told me that addicts come in all the time.
I cannot understand what the health authorities are doing. There is an easy answer. The Home Secretary should demand that, when methadone has to be prescribed to heroin addicts, the daily dose is taken there and then in the clinic or on the premises—somewhere where they can take it without being seen, such as a pharmacy or a drugs centre, but it should only be the dose for the day. If they want another dose, they must come back the next day.
We must stop giving people the whole bottle. That creates a knock-on effect. They are giving it to kids, who take a swallow and that is their introduction to drugs. Cannabis does not even come into the picture any more. It is methadone. I am pleased that we have stopped people buying tablets across the counter, but we must certainly do something about the methadone problem.
There are also local drugs, which could be anything. We have lost 11 teenagers—young girls and boys—in my area. They died after taking a cocktail of drugs. With the help of local press and television, I have cried out for help but, sadly, the problem is on the increase. In the north-east, the drug problem is getting worse—perhaps because there is no work. Perhaps we need some employment to keep idle hands working. I do not know: it is for others to say, I suppose.
Before I came here today, I found 17 drugs in my medicine cabinet, which belong to me and my family. All I need to do is to go to Woolworth's and buy one of the little books that I have here, which tells us what drugs are, what they are for and what is in them. All I need is the book, the drugs from the medicine cabinet, a little bit of nous and some knowledge of chemistry.
All the school kids do chemistry, and nowadays they do not just get the Bunsen burners that we got; it is the real I am today. Any drugs can be crushed up, mixed together with a little bit of rat poison to make people a bit higher, and there we are with a home-made drug. We found that people are making drugs with ordinary tablets that one might find in the medicine chest.
That has got to be a warning. We often have amnesties, but I hope that the Home Secretary will note the problems, and especially that of methadone, and do something about it.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
The whole House will have deeply appreciated the thoughtful speech by the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell), which has lifted the tone of the debate. We much appreciate what he had to say about his constituency, much of which is reflected in our constituencies.
This evening, I must make three constituency points. I crave your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the first is not related to the Queen's Speech. There was to 518 be a by-election in the Ridgeway ward in my constituency on Thursday, following the resignation of a Liberal councillor. Tragically, this morning, the Liberal candidate, Mr. Norman Simmons, died, so it will not take place. I must inform the House and, through it, my constituents, that we are deeply shocked in the constituency and the Conservative party at the death of Mr. Simmons. We pay tribute to his work for the community. The party, our candidate in the by-election, Major Gerry Harsant, and I will of course be doing no campaigning for a period as a mark of respect for Mr. Simmons.
The second matter relates to the asylum Bill. Because of the by-election, I have been doing a lot of canvassing in that ward, which, like the rest of the constituency, is blessed with a rich racial mix. Many of my constituents have either family or first-hand experience of persecution and have come to this country as asylum seekers. Many—particularly those from Sri Lanka or Somalia—are worried sick about the fate of their families and friends in those countries. That is especially true of Tamils from Sri Lanka, who are worried sick about their relatives in Jaffna and about what I would regard as the campaign of genocide by the Sri Lankan Government against the Tamil people.
What comes through to me when I speak to people from all sorts of communities in my constituency is that they want a fair asylum system where bogus asylum seekers do not get in the way and clog up the system, stopping the genuine people coming. I absolutely support the measure proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, because I genuinely think that it will help genuine asylum seekers. I am certain that it will be widely welcomed in my constituency.
My last point relates to the proposed broadcasting Bill and in particular our intention to amend media ownership rules to allow greater cross-holdings among newspapers, television and radio. The question that I wish to pose to the House is: what happens when the press distorts reality, intrudes into private lives or just plain makes up what is happening? I should tell the House that I am not interested in anything that the press has had to say about me; I have never made a complaint and I do not make one now. What confidence can we have in the Press Complaints Commission? If we are to look at cross-media ownership and allow more ownership of television and radio stations by newspapers, can we really rely on the PCC?
I wish to talk about the experience of a constituent of mine, Mr. David Rudnick, who lives in Harrow on the Hill. He is a freelance journalist and wrote an article for the September 1994 edition of the magazine Euromoney, which is part of the Associated Newspapers group, which includes the Daily Mail. His article, about St. Petersburg, was badly mangled by the sub-editor and was subsequently published with serious errors in it. No one disputes that fact or that anyone reading the article as printed would have to conclude that Mr. Rudnick simply did not know what he was talking about. The original article was factual and correct, but as printed it made him look incompetent.
Mr. Rudnick asked for an apology to be printed, but Euromoney refused. On 25 October 1994, he sent a detailed letter to the PCC. He explained in his letter that Euromoney, a financial magazine, had seriously mis-edited material that he had written. The changes included, for instance, a geographical area that wrote off as non-existent Russia's sea ports, which made his article 519 look a bit silly. The PCC agreed to accept the complaint under article 1 of its code, outlawing inaccuracy by the press. Two months later, it said that it would send the publishers a copy of the complaint to let the editor have the opportunity to settle the matter straight away. The PCC accepted that changes had been made to the copy, resulting in distortions, but rejected Mr. Rudnick's demands for a published apology in the monthly magazine, claiming that the distortions werenot significant as to require correction under code"—the PCC's code.
The PCC's spokesman, Mr. Christopher Hayes, told my constituent:The commission does not have a general duty to mediate in disputes between freelance journalists and editors.Yet in an article published by the UK Press Gazette, the PCC director, Mr. Mark Bolland, said:I hope freelancers will be in touch with us if they think their copy has been seriously distorted.Mr. Rudnick then suggested that it would be fairer to make the magazine issue corrections, which resulted in the PCC agreeing to reconsider the case. However, in April of this year, the PCC shifted its ground and pronounced that his complaint was a contractual dispute, which was beyond its competence.
In a letter to Mr. Rudnick, dated 19 April 1995, Mr. Bolland informed my constituent that the PCC sawno special reason for it to adjudicate in this case.Yet the commission noted that the magazine accepts that the changes made to the copy resulted in some distortion, although it did not accept them as significant as to require correction.
The PCC plainly has no clarity of understanding of its role. The membership of the PCC makes it a very suspect body indeed. As the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) once said, there can never really be an independent ombudsman while members of the PCC's jury have a vested interest in "not guilty" verdicts. Rogue editors know that and laugh at it. I absolutely agree.
While the decision was being made by the PCC, Sir David English, whose company owned Euromoney magazine, was present at the meeting. I accept the word of my right hon. Friend Lord Wakeham when he says that Sir David English took no part in the discussion, but the fact is that he was allowed to be there. How can anyone have any confidence in a decision that is made like that? The commission reconsidered the decision without Sir David English at the meeting, but, surprisingly, reached the same conclusion.
I think that the PCC needs to be judged on the way in which it treats cases involving ordinary people. The case of my constituent is that of an ordinary person who has been wronged by a magazine. That magazine refused to do anything and the PCC was completely unable or unwilling to do anything to help him. It should be judged on how it treats ordinary people, not necessarily on how it treats the reporting of an heir to the throne. Although I do not dismiss that, I remind the House that, even in the case of His Royal Highness Prince William, the judgment of the PCC did not last beyond the first good photo opportunity that presented itself to the press.
Here we have a body that is muddled, toothless, self-interested and, worst of all—
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
I have a lot of sympathy with the views of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) on the Press Complaints Commission, but my comments today are about my disappointment that the Queen's Speech did not contain any significant policy on families and parenting. I shall come back to the proposed family law Bill in a moment.
For the past 16 years, to the best of my knowledge, the Conservative party has often made critical remarks about parents: it has accused them of not being capable of looking after their children when they get into trouble, are truanting or whatever. It also complains about the break-up of the family. Whatever one thinks of the Government's policies—in my view, they have hastened some of the collapses in the family—the reality is that there is no family policy in this country.
The previous Secretary of State for Health took it on herself to be the Government's spokesman for the family. When I took a delegation to see her, from the all-party parenting group, which I chair, we discussed the problem of the lack of co-ordination between Government Departments on family policy. I checked the Government's list of Ministers today, and no Minister is listed as having responsibility for the family. I hope to take another delegation from the all-party group and we shall again discuss that issue. One of the problems is that the Government seem to think that they co-ordinate policy on the family between Departments. Virtually every organisation that works with the family or deals with family matters does not think that the Government co-ordinate policy on the family.
The biggest single point that came up in the hearings that I organised in the House last year was that there was no co-ordination between Government Departments. I shall give a simple example. It is not in the interests of families when people with children are in short-term accommodation, be it bed-and-breakfast or temporary leasing, yet literally hundreds of children are in that position.
If we want to improve family relationships and ensure that families do not break down so easily, one issue that must be addressed is housing. We must address the issue of how children are brought up in temporary accommodation. One of the problems is that families who are just coping can be tipped over into disaster if they suddenly face long-term unemployment, loss of earnings or bad housing. If we really want to help families and promote good parenting, we should—among other things—take on the issues of poverty, poor housing and the prospect of unemployment. Those factors can tip a family that is carrying out what could be described as "just about good enough" parenting into bad parenting.
The Government thought that they had a nice simple answer to the problem of crime. They believed, rather naively, that increasing punishment would cut crime, but of course it does not work that way. Similarly, the Government believed that there was no connection between crime and unemployment. There is—although it has never been the direct connection suggested by some, and many of us have never argued that such a connection exists. It is not true that an unemployed person is more likely to commit crimes; what is true is that members of a family that was just about coping but has been tipped over into crisis by unemployment, low income and all that 521 follows from it are more likely to become criminals. The most likely family members are children, which is why no direct link between crime and unemployment shows up in the unemployment figures.
If the Government are not prepared to adopt the economic policies that I consider necessary, they could at least consider the need for parenting and family education in schools. The issue really relates to "social relationship" skills. The Government are making a fundamental mistake; indeed, I would argue that the Conservative party as a whole is making a fundamental mistake—and a very strange one, in a sense. It assumes that marriage equals family and good parenting, but there is no such connection. The fact that a person is married does not necessarily mean that that person's family is a good, happy family, and it certainly does not mean that he or she is a good parent.
Common sense tells us that. A child whose parents are married but are deeply unhappy—perhaps fighting over the father's drinking—will experience bad parenting. The couple next door may not be married, but may get on very well together. I know that every hon. Member would choose to live with that couple.
I emphasise that that does not mean that marriage is unimportant. Marriage is a contract entered into by two people to whom it is important, and if it is important to them it must be important to everyone else. That is why I am happy to support the divorce law Bill, to which I shall return shortly. Marriage is not, however, the answer to the problem of bad parenting and unhappy families.
This is a strange mistake for the Conservative party to make, given that it claims to object to both social engineering and politically correct thinking. From time to time, the left has gone in for politically correct thinking and social engineering, but I must say that the right wing of the political spectrum does it far better: I have never seen such efficient social engineering and politically correct thinking.
Apparently, the policy is now to drive people into marriage. Incidentally, no Government should be involved in such matters: the state should not take a view on the way in which people choose to lead their personal lives. If we are to embark on that dangerous road, however, social engineering suddenly becomes involved. If people can be persuaded to marry and—according to the far right of the Tory party—stay married longer, the problem will automatically be solved. I must tell Conservative Members that that is not the case. It may be politically correct for them to say that people should marry and stay married longer, but that will do far more harm than good if it results in children living in consistently unhappy circumstances, especially when abuse or violence is involved.
If the Government really want to turn the clock back and return to the old days when marriages tended to last, they should change economic policy in a way that would put women back in the home and send men to work. Most of us would object to that, and the Conservative party would not be able to deliver such a change. The woman's role used to be clearly defined; she was locked into that role, and kept subservient to the man. That did not make the children any happier. When families were unhappy and breaking down, everyone—including the children—was trapped.
522 Let us stop thinking in terms of political correctness or social engineering, and recognise that people have a right to decide about the relationships in which they want to live. The role of the Government—any Government—is to do everything possible to support good parenting and happy families: if they get that right, we shall make a great deal of progress.
It is time that the Government put over a strong message that they have been reluctant to send in recent years—a message that applies particularly to fathers. They should make it clear that violence towards children in the home—and I do not just mean extreme forms of violence—is counter-productive. Violence begets violence. One of the commonest factors in a child who grows up to be violent is violence towards that child by a parent. Inconsistency and lack of love are two of the most damaging influences on children; if violence is introduced as well, the parents are well on the road to creating a psychopathic personality.
No parent is so good that he or she never hits a child—most of us have done it at one time or another—but the good parent knows that, when everything has broken down, it is better to apologise to the child and explain what has happened than to justify violence. That does not work.
I am in favour of the reform in divorce law. There are many issues for us to debate, but I ask the Government not to assume that dealing with the question of marriage will produce a family and parenting policy. The country desperately needs such a policy. It does not need moral lectures, particularly from a party that found itself in such a difficult position in regard to its "back to basics" policy when it was no longer acceptable for the Conservative party to lecture people on how to bring up their children and how to behave in society. We know what the priorities are; let us go for them.
§ Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
The speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) struck me as one of the poorest Opposition speeches that we have heard. It was short on content, and dealt with none of the policy matters that we sought to raise with the hon. Gentleman. In fact, all that it majored on was fairly cheap abuse. I do not think that it did the hon. Gentleman's case any good at all.
It is significant that the name of the shadow Chancellor is missing from the list of names attached to amendments on the Order Paper. I am not surprised. When I asked the hon. Member for Brightside how he intended to raise his funds, there was no answer. The shadow Chancellor clearly seeks to disassociate himself from the amendment that was moved today.
I have more reason than most to welcome the Queen's Speech, which refers to two Bills dealing with subjects that are of particular interest to me. I chair the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration—
§ Mr. Pawsey
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his support.
I also chair the Conservative Back-Bench education committee. The Queen's Speech referred to both subjects.
523 I applaud the fact that the Government have accepted the challenge of pre-school education. I also welcome the introduction of a voucher scheme, which will provide parents with additional choice. The scheme is imaginative, and will cost some £730 million. Parents will be given vouchers worth £1,100, entitling four-year-olds to three terms of good-quality pre-school education. There will be £180 million of new money; the balance of £550 million will come from the funds currently spent by local authorities on pre-schooling. That money will become immediately available to parents in the form of vouchers.
The new measures build on previous education reforms introduced by the Conservative party—reforms that have deliberately sought to provide parents with additional choice. In this instance, parents will be able to decide whether to use state, private or voluntary providers. The principle of the voucher is being introduced for the first time in Britain; if it is successful, it will doubtless be extended. I welcome the introduction of a pilot scheme that will commence in April 1996, with the main scheme coming on stream in April 1997. The voucher can be exchanged for a pre-school place for all children, beginning with the term after their fourth birthdays.
I hope that the Government will disregard the usual ill-informed and ritualistic Opposition attacks to which we have grown accustomed. We should remember that they opposed all the education reforms introduced by the current Administration. They opposed the national curriculum and testing, grant-maintained schools, Ofsted, improved teacher training and league tables. All those reforms had one thing in common—they were introduced in the teeth of opposition from the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.
The Gracious Speech refers to raising education and skill levels, and to do so it is necessary to have a well-motivated and—dare I say it?—a well-paid teacher force. That is why I am particularly anxious that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment should ensure adequate funding for the forthcoming teachers' pay award. Hon. Members will recall that last year the award was 2.7 per cent., and that it had to be funded by efficiency savings within LEAs. I say without equivocation that there can be no second bite at that cherry. Funding must be found: otherwise, there will be teacher redundancies, and as a result class sizes will increase.
I now turn to legislation designed to extend the health service commissioner's jurisdiction. It would enable him to consider complaints from the public about two major areas of his activities that are currently excluded from his jurisdiction. The Bill proposes to enable him to examine complaints about family health service practitioners such as GPs, dentists, pharmacists and those who provide NHS optical services. Under the terms of the new legislation, he would also be able to consider complaints about matters relating to the clinical judgment of doctors, nurses and other clinical professionals.
The Select Committee of which I am Chairman welcomes the new measures and believes that they will materially help patients. I am delighted to see in his place a distinguished member of the Committee, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), who plays a valuable part in our deliberations. In the past, GPs and dentists have been outside the jurisdiction of the commissioner. All that will change, ensuring, I trust, that patients receive an even better service from the NHS.
524 I sound a warning note. If the commissioner's work load increases by the amount that I foresee, it will be necessary to ensure that adequate funds are made available. If the commissioner is to discharge his responsibilities properly he cannot operate on the cheap, and it would be a great mistake if the Treasury did not make the necessary funds available.
I said earlier that I welcomed the contents of the Gracious Speech, but I was disappointed to note that it did not refer to aircraft noise legislation. Coventry airport is in my constituency, and it is an increasing source of night flights, which are a growing nuisance. I welcome the presence in the Chamber of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham).
§ Mr. Pawsey
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not. I am pressed for time.
Noise pollution is substantial and growing, and I should have thought that time could be found to introduce a relatively small Bill based on the Department of Transport document, the main part of which proposes to encourage the preparation of noise amelioration schemes and to review the existing ones. The Department would also have an enabling power over airfields to establish and enforce noise control arrangements, including ground noise. Those and other measures would do a great deal to reduce the inconvenience and nuisance of aircraft noise.
I receive an increasing number of complaints from my constituents about aircraft noise. It seems that airports operate outside the normal constraints which affect—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hesitate to intervene on a short speech, but I do so to remind the hon. Gentleman that we are debating the Queen's Speech and that it does not refer to Coventry airport or airport noise.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I am confining my speech to environmental considerations. The environment of my constituents will deteriorate substantially, as will that of the constituents of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East, unless we are able to persuade the Government to provide time for a debate on this important subject. I am disappointed that it is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. As the hon. Gentleman says, it is not in the Gracious Speech, which is what we are debating.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I shall conclude by saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith), the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East and I met the Minister for Aviation and Shipping but, sadly, we were not able to persuade him that aircraft are noisy. I am anxious to see some proper control exercised in this area.
§ Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)
The Government's programme for the coming year completely fails to address the momentous challenges that face our country. Unlike the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), I believe that the failure is greatest in the sphere of education. The proposals in the Gracious Speech 525 are at best petty and irrelevant and at worst wasteful and divisive. In the short time that is available to me, I shall focus on the proposed nursery voucher scheme.
It is a sobering fact that we devote a mere 2 per cent. of education spending to children in their early years. In Germany, the figure is 7 per cent., France spends 12 per cent. and Sweden devotes 17 per cent. to such children. We have our priorities wrong.
Let us remind ourselves why early learning is important. Investing public money in the early years not only enhances educational and life opportunities for children but saves public spending later. There is plenty of evidence to support that. Perhaps the most convincing is the American research on the High Scope programme for disadvantaged children, which found that, for every dollar invested in children in their early years, $7 is returned to the taxpayer in savings on the cost of such matters as remedial education, juvenile delinquency, income support and unemployment.
A year ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) asked me to chair a Labour party inquiry team into early years education. I visited dozens of nurseries, playgroups and other centres around the country, in rural and urban areas, in areas of great poverty and in areas of relative prosperity, in the public, private and voluntary sectors. I met all the different experts, from nursery nurses to teachers to academics and campaigners and from employers to the most important stakeholders—the parents. What struck me above all was the remarkable consensus about the way forward for early years services in this country.
The Britain of today needs high-quality early years experience for young children. If the quality is not good, the investment is wasted. Of course we should be expanding nursery education for four-year-olds and, indeed, for three-year-olds, but even that is no longer enough. We have to recognise that people's lives have changed. More than half the women with children under the age of five now work, and it is the duty of good government to facilitate and support the family as it changes. It is also the duty of good government to ensure the best possible start for our young children.
We should start to integrate care and education to provide a comprehensive, high-quality seamless service that meets the needs of children and their parents. That makes sense to the 3.8 million children who are under five. The children of today will become the community of tomorrow, and on them our future depends. The consensus for such a service is matched by an equally firm consensus that the proposal for a voucher scheme is at best a distracting diversion and at worst damaging dogma. It is no secret that the proposals were forced on an unconvinced Secretary of State for Education and Employment by the Prime Minister as part of his lurch to the right.
The proposal owes less to investing in the long-term hopes of a generation of four-year-olds than to investing in the very short-term hopes of a desperate and divided Tory party. Dogma has been allowed to triumph over common sense and it is our nation's young children and their futures who will suffer as a result.
When vouchers were floated a year ago, I thought that they were essentially an irrelevance. Now that the details are emerging, I realise that they will be deeply damaging. 526 Most of the resources to fund the voucher scheme will be taken out of existing grant moneys that go to local education authorities to spend on under-fives. The way in which the funds will be withdrawn from local authorities is not widely understood, but it is utterly outrageous in its effect.
Each local authority receives an allocation for spending on the under-fives, but it is free to decide locally whether to spend it on the under-fives. Good authorities do so. The best spend more than the Government's allocation, but others use the money for other purposes: to subsidise other services or to cut council tax.
What on earth are the Government proposing? Authorities will lose £1,100 for each four-year-old in a maintained school, so the more places currently provided, the more money will be taken away from the council. What nonsense: punish the good performers and reward those who have failed. Ministers tell me that it is cash-neutral. Financial fiddle would be more accurate—a fiddle to benefit the rump of Tory councils that have failed to provide good nursery education for young children. The Government will penalise Labour Tower Hamlets, which has places for 84 per cent. of its three and four-year-olds,-to benefit Tory Bromley, which provides for only 33 per cent.
The biggest losers of the scheme will be thousands of three-year-old children and their parents. Local authorities whose resources are slashed will have no option but to give preference to four-year-olds who attract a voucher, over three-year-olds who do not. Public funds that currently secure places for three-year-olds will be diverted to pay for years of neglect by Tory councils that have not invested in early years education.
To make matters even worse, whatever the Secretary of State says, there could be a decline in the quality of education offered to young children. The sum of £1,100 buys barely two and a half hours a day of an appropriate quality service, but most parents want their four-year-olds in full-time nursery education. The only way in which schools can deliver that is to change the ratio of children to adults. Instead of one adult to 13 four-year-olds, there will be one teacher to 30 children. That is not quality nursery education, but cheap child care.
What about raising standards? The Government propose the daft new concept of the "light touch inspection". That raises serious concerns about how rigorously standards will be upheld. I have seen some marvellous quality in all sectors. I have also witnessed poor standards of teaching and care, but parents have a right to expect decent services and a thorough system of inspection is a crucial means of delivering such services.
What about children with special needs? Last week, I visited Bective lower school, a primary school in Northampton, which had a nursery class and special unit providing full-time education for autistic three and four-year-olds. Its work with those autistic children was extremely impressive. Their opportunities were enormously enhanced by working with them early, but the cost of a place in that unit is £8,000 per child. What on earth are the parents going to do with a voucher worth a mere £1,100?
The only positive feature of the Government's proposals is that an extra £185 million will be injected into the system. What a shame that such a precious resource will go to fund such an ill-conceived scheme. We need more places for young children. That means 527 training more nursery teachers, providing good premises in which children can learn, play and develop, and working to break down the divide between care and education.
The Government have abandoned the pledge given nearly 25 years ago by none other than the Tory Secretary of State for Education at the time, Baroness Thatcher, to provide nursery places for all three and four-year-olds. I am proud to say that the Labour party remains absolutely committed to achieving that, and to doing more, as we know and understand that it makes sense, not only for our children, but for our economy, our community and all our futures.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. David Faber (Westbury)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), I am somewhat spoilt for choice this evening, having served under his excellent chairmanship of our Back-Bench education committee and having spoken, I think, in most of the education debates in the House since I came here. I should, however, like to dwell on one aspect of the Gracious Speech as it refers to nursery vouchers.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), the Under-Secretary of State responsible for schools, has temporarily left the Chamber. A few months ago, I took a deputation from a small primary school in the village of Edington in my constituency to see him. Those people were fighting to overturn the local education authority's decision to close their school. Sadly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment confirmed the closure, ironically on the same day that the Government White Paper came out extolling the benefits of small, local and village schools.
I should like to mention one point that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) made earlier in an intervention. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider how nursery vouchers can help some of the smaller village primary schools. Those of us who represent rural constituencies are keen that they should be safeguarded and helped. There must be ways in which vouchers can be targeted to help children in villages to start a little earlier at school, and to ensure continuity in their primary education.
I want to speak principally on the Government's further welcome measures to fight crime as contained in the Gracious Speech. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on his success to date and, in particular, on the fall of recorded crime in the past two years. I recently carried out a poll in my constituency through a newsletter, to which more than 500 people, I am happy to say, replied, and it showed overwhelming support for the majority of his policies.
Chronologically, the first duty of Government is, of course, to try to do all that they can to install crime prevention measures in villages and towns. I welcome the continuing commitment to crime prevention as contained in the partners against crime initiative. Some measures are obvious. The neighbourhood watch scheme is now part of the national psyche. Some 6 million homes play a role in that scheme.
Representing a rural constituency, I welcome the proposed introduction of neighbourhood constables. This country's specials have a long and proud tradition, and 528 they will no doubt welcome the extra £4 million that is being made available to them. Why then not have them serve locally, in their communities and villages and on the streets that they know? I am delighted that, as an example of the benefit of neighbourhood constables, the rural White Paper mentioned a village in Wiltshire, where a neighbourhood constable is already in place.
I also warmly welcome the Government's policy on closed circuit television and, in particular, the £5 million that has been made available this year through the closed circuit television challenge scheme. I am happy that West Wiltshire council was successful in its bid and I pay tribute to all those who were involved.
Of the 1,000 new cameras that will be installed around the country this year, six will be in West Wiltshire. They will be mobile cameras that can be moved around the region. Dummy cameras will be left in sites where real cameras are not installed, and that should be a real deterrent to crime. I ask my hon. Friends to remember, however, that CCTV can be every bit as valuable in rural areas as in towns. I hope that they will consider that.
In the recent survey that I conducted, a staggering 94 per cent. of people who replied supported the Government's policy on installing closed circuit television. I hope that my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick), who spoke earlier, will benefit from the 10,000 new cameras to be introduced over the next three years, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
I am pleased that the Government's policy for tackling drugs and drug abuse is again in the Queen's Speech. As many hon. Members know, I am closely involved in the war against drugs. I am proud to serve as a trustee of several drug charities and I warmly welcome the high profile that has been given to the fight against drugs in the White Paper, "Tackling Drugs Together". I have no doubt that the policy contained in the Gracious Speech of enabling the security service to assist the police in fighting organised crime will help greatly to tackle the drug pushers.
I see my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office on the Front Bench. She is responsible for prisons. My hon. Friend may know that I am a trustee of a charity, the Addictive Diseases Trust, which is involved in the treatment of drug abuse in prisons. Her predecessor was kind enough to visit Downview prison where ADT has a pilot project up and running. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to visit in the near future to see the excellent work that is being done.
However good crime prevention is, there will always be some who slip through the net and commit crimes. The public have a right to expect that they will be caught, convicted and subsequently punished. The Government have a proud record of support for the police and I am especially pleased that, over the years, Wiltshire has seen the benefit of increased police funding and officers on the beat. Since 1979 Wiltshire has seen a staggering real-terms spending increase of 154 per cent., the highest of any force in the country, which was translated into an increase in police numbers of 26 per cent.
As my hon. Friends on the Front Bench know, this year the new funding formula was not kind to us in Wiltshire, producing a budget increase of just 2.5 per cent. I have already expressed my concerns about that matter in an Adjournment debate, but I remind my hon. Friends that 529 this year, once again, the funding formula does not take into account any rural sparsity factor and I urge them to look at that once again to see whether there is any way in which that can be included in future years.
As in many other parts of the country, the total of reported crime in Wiltshire fell last year by 5 per cent. Crimes of violence against people fell by 16 per cent. and burglary, vehicle crime and theft fell by 5 per cent. I should like to take this opportunity of paying a warm tribute to the chief constable and to all the officers in Wiltshire who serve the people of the county so courageously and effectively.
The public have a right to know that, once caught, the criminal will be convicted if guilty. Nothing demoralises the police more than seeing the guilty walk free. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 has already reformed the right to silence rule and the criminal procedures and investigations Bill will play a vital role in helping to ensure that criminals are convicted when that is the right thing to do.
The public will want to know that they will be protected from a criminal once he is caught and sentenced. Clearly, different offences merit different degrees of punishment. Prison provides that punishment and, undoubtedly, serves to cut crime. The chief constable of Wiltshire said:The majority of crime is committed by a known small percentage of offenders, and custodial sentences take them out of the game and are a significant factor in the decrease [in the crime figures].That is the chief constable acknowledging that prison does work.
Being locked up is punishment in itself. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has pointed out, prison must be decent but austere. There is no place nowadays for slopping out, but nor is there any place for in-cell television.
Last year, a local prison, Erlestoke, just outside my constituency achieved some notoriety. A convicted rapist was allowed out on day release to cycle unattended to attend a course at Trowbridge college in my constituency. He cycled through some of the most rural areas of the constituency. The tabloids nicknamed him the bicycling rapist. I was grateful for the speed with which my right hon. and learned Friend and the Prison Service acted to have the visits stopped and, subsequently, to announce a new system of temporary release on licence.
Since the introduction of that new system in March this year, the number of grants for temporary release has fallen by 50 per cent. and, more importantly, the number of temporary release failures has fallen by an overwhelming 80 per cent. I know that my constituents are extremely grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that.
Parliament, at the instigation of the Government, has traditionally over the years significantly increased the sentences available to the courts. A life sentence is now available for rape, drug trafficking or going to a crime with a firearm. However, those sentences are pointless if the judges do not make any use of them. Did you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the maximum sentence available for burglary is 14 years, yet the average sentence handed down by a crown court to a burglar with 10 convictions is 18 months? That is a staggering statistic, which causes great concern to my constituents and throughout the country. There must be greater certainty in sentencing.
530 Given the reluctance to impose the sentences available, we have seen a growth in recent years of the resort to judicial review. I am not a lawyer, but I recognise the importance of judicial review and the role that it plays. A couple of weeks ago, we heard of the case of a man who had shot both his parents with a shotgun, having reloaded it once. My constituents and I felt that it was entirely appropriate for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to act within his powers to increase that man's sentence.
I shall quote the views of Lord Irvine of Lairg, the shadow Lord Chancellor. In a speech to the Administrative Law Bar Association he said last month:the danger with any extra-judicial claim of right to review the validity of any Act of Parliament is that to many it smacks of judicial supremacism.
§ Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)
I should like to mention a couple of things which are not in the Queen's Speech, but I shall not mention them at length. There is no Bill to give sub-contractors rights in the event of the bankruptcy of the major contractor. That has been subject to debate over many years. There is no specific proposal to pay interest on business debt although there is some comment about the need to introduce regulations.
I join my colleague, the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and say that it is about time that the role of the health service ombudsman, who reports to the PCA Committee, was extended to look at clinical matters and actions in primary care. I wish to compliment the present PCA, William Reid, and his staff, who work very hard, probably with fewer resources than they deserve. As the Chairman of the PCA Committee said, they need to be well resourced if they are to take on the new role.
It is an important role, because we have seen that, in the United States of America, litigation is the way to deal with questions of clinical failure. It would be a great pity if we went the way of the United States and people were waiting outside hospitals with their lawyers ready to take on cases for profit. Hopefully, this will help to stem what could be an explosion of clinical litigation in this country.
What is also missing—it is something that we have been looking at—is a freedom of information Bill and a privacy Bill. We have not just a tired old Government, but we live in a tired old state. It is flawed and out of date, it is secretive and is held in deep suspicion, not in high regard, by most of its citizens. Perhaps in the future another Government will introduce the freedom of information Bill that we require.
There is also a proposal to give housing association tenants the right to buy. It is worth underlining that it is only proposed to give the right to buy to tenants in new stock. That is the proposal in the press briefing that I received following the Queen's Speech. I wonder why not all housing association tenants are included.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), who is sitting beside me, will confirm that the principle of a voluntary purchase grant plus full market value paid back to the housing association which 531 must be spent on new housing is the proposal in the housing policy document that she and I drew up for public housing for the Labour party in Scotland in the 1980s.
If those principles are good enough for housing associations, are they not good enough for all public housing? Obviously, it is not in the Government's interest. It is their prejudice against public housing that will not allow them to give the same amount of capital back to the local authority with the clear instruction that it must be spent on building houses to prevent the depletion of housing stock.
The proposals are half-baked. The market demand for such use may deplete the stock available to rent in any specific area. As we know from contact with housing associations, certainly in my 13 years in local government, the type of houses they build is often driven by what is trendy at the time and by special needs of one kind or another. They may not be willing to use the money to rebuild houses in the same area. There could be shifting populations because of housing association trends and because the forward plans of the associations do not respond to filling the gaps where houses have been taken into the private sector.
There is no assurance in the Queen's Speech that special needs housing for people with disabilities will be ring-fenced. Will it be sold off, only to be replaced by local associations providing houses for single people or people emerging from mental hospitals or prisons, as seems to be the trend? The Queen's Speech is silent on that point.
The Queen's Speech mentions protection for small communities with fewer than 3,000 homes. It is ironic that the Government should propose such a measure, having presided over the decimation of rural communities in Scotland, England and Wales, where public housing has been sold off and then second-time buyers—possibly not indigenous, possibly big-city commuters or people looking for a holiday home—buy them up. That is the result of the Conservatives' sale of council housing, so promising to ring-fence a few housing association houses is just bolting the stable door once the horse is off and running.
The problem is how to revitalise rural areas and small communities. I suggest giving housing associations money and instructions to build homes for rent, and then purchase, or using staircasing arrangements for part-purchase, part-rent. That would be an improvement on proposals to ring-fence communities of 3,000 homes.
At the weekend, I addressed what was supposed to be a youth forum but turned out to be a front for the Scottish National party, whose policy is now to abolish council house sales altogether. That is rather hypocritical, given that thousands of SNP voters and hundreds of their representatives on councils have used the legislation to buy houses at a discount. Thank goodness I do not have to oppose them in government. It is a case of, "Do as I say, not as I do." The message from the SNP seems to be: "If you want the same rights as SNP representatives of the past, don't vote SNP in future."
§ Mr. Connarty
There will not even necessarily be a Queen if the SNP gets its Parliament. I am just issuing a warning about a party that sits here under another guise.
532 The proposal to deal with anti-social neighbours is for a probationary tenancy period. Based on my experience, I would say that we must act throughout the United Kingdom before vigilante law erupts in our communities. A village in my constituency, which I shall call only the village of fear, was once a most desirable place for council tenants to live, with beautiful views and a rural aspect. Now four houses have been demolished leaving a gap site, five have been boarded up and two blocks of flats are empty. The eight flats have also been vandalised and everything worth selling has been ripped out.
Five families who went to live in the village and tried to make something of it found that they could not and were driven out—they have all been to see me. Twelve complaints have been made to me in secret, all from villagers who did not want their names given to the police or the local authority, or to the families responsible for problem. One older lady told me that two or three families who arrived in the village more than a decade ago are responsible. They were in the street at 2 o'clock in the morning shouting and fighting among themselves. When someone looked out of a window and they saw the chink in the curtain they shouted, "We'll be the last family in this village; we'll drive you all out."
I have written to the police; I have a complaints file more than an inch thick; I have written to the local authority. I am told that if no one is willing to come forward, to stand up and endure the vandalism, personal attacks and damage to property that go with standing up to these people, they cannot be taken to court. Clearly we need something more than a probationary tenancy period. The problem has existed for a decade and a half already.
Everyone in the village knows who the three or four families and their offspring are. The police tell me that these people know how to use the law. If anyone tries to take them on, they first cause a confrontation and then one of them slips away to the house and phones the police. When the police arrive, they have to charge the people confronting these families. The poor proposal in the Queen's Speech clearly does not go far enough.
Again and again, the Government have parroted their claim that class sizes do not matter. For many years, I taught in a school for children with special educational needs. Our classes were of 12 children, a number that was then reduced to 10. It is strange that high fee-paying schools have small classes as well. Are the Government telling us that only people with special educational needs and the rich need small classes?
On a level playing field, if there is one left after all schools' assets have been sold off, people should realise that smaller classes make a difference to every child. There is an Achilles' heel in the Government's argument. Professor Achilles, who conducted the Tennessee study, has clearly shown, based on a survey of England and Wales with particular reference to Castlechurch school, that class sizes make a big difference and are the right way forward.
How a nation performs clearly depends on how much it puts into education. That is what is needed—not just economic development but better education and skills. We do not have grant-maintained schools in Scotland, but we do have two equivalents. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), said that GM schools stood for "Gillian's misery"—
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
Most of my remarks will refer to the proposals in the-Queen's Speech concerning home affairs; but first I give a warm welcome to the contents of the forthcoming education Bill, particularly the further encouragement for schools to become grant-maintained. I have visited all the GM schools in my constituency; the universal message is that freedom from local authority control, greater flexibility and more funding have resulted in better schools and better results for pupils. That is acknowledged by all concerned: governors, parents and teachers alike.
It is a tragedy that so few schools have taken advantage of such an opportunity—especially primary schools— often because of the campaigns of misinformation and scare tactics used by local authorities to preserve their own bureaucracy. Only one primary school has gone GM in my constituency—a voluntary-aided school whose headmaster told me that it was the best thing he had ever done.
Hence I welcome the prospect of a fast track to GM status for voluntary-aided schools. Church schools already enjoy a degree of independence. That is why they are in such great demand from parents. I hope that more Churches will allow them the full benefit of freedom in their own affairs, without the need for parental ballots. I hope that more primary schools will want to follow their success.
I also welcome the voucher scheme for nursery education. It is a shame that my Liberal Democrat-controlled LEA refused to take part in a pilot scheme that would have enabled our four-year-olds to enjoy the benefits of an extra year of education. The introduction of vouchers will enhance parental choice, and the resulting competition will raise teaching standards. I hope that vouchers will in due course be extended to higher education and eventually to all education, state and private.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on being the first Home Secretary in living memory to preside over two successive years of falling crime, against a background of a seemingly relentless and irreversible rise in crime. I am sure that the measures in the Queen's Speech will further encourage that downward trend. I welcome the legislation to enable the security services to support the police in combating organised crime, which is becoming ever more international. The trade in drugs is well known; less well known is the growing threat from crime organised by the Russian mafiosi.
To reverse these new and dangerous trends requires the utmost co-operation between the police and security services, nationally and internationally. Should Russia accede to the Council of Europe next year, as I expect it will, we must insist on its early ratification of the 1990 convention which outlaws money laundering and allows its proceeds to be seized.
Although I welcome the Asylum and Immigration Bill, to stem the flow of asylum seekers from countries where there is no serious risk of persecution, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will consult widely on the designated list of countries—the so-called white list. Christian human rights organisations are concerned at reports that Pakistan will be on the list—yet there is much evidence that Christians in Pakistan are at risk of persecution by Islamic fundamentalists, the most public 534 example of that being their use of the blasphemy laws. Christians are falsely accused of blasphemy and the resulting trial is used by extremists as a focal point for whipping up religious fervour and hatred.
The recent cases of Gul and Rehmat Masih and Salamat Masih—a 12-year-old boy—all of whom have now found asylum in Germany, and the murders of Naimat Ahmer and Manzoor Masih, all of whom are Christians, testify to that. I met the families of those people last year when I visited Pakistan. Many of them are in hiding in fear for their lives. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will agree to meet the representatives of the human rights organisations that I have mentioned before laying his designated list before the House.
I shall confine the rest of my remarks to the concerns of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) who attended the public meeting on crime in our borough last Friday. The simple justification for that meeting was that, whereas crime is falling nationally, it continues to rise locally—by 6 per cent. the previous year and by 4 per cent. to June this year. Against this background, there was understandable anger that police manpower in Dorset has been reduced by 34 officers because of this year's settlement, which was £2.8 million less than last year's.
Of course, there was a welcome for the Prime Minister's recent announcement of 5,000 more policemen, 10,000 more closed circuit television cameras over the next three years and the current review of the area cost adjustment. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will ensure that Dorset receives its fair share of the extra police and cameras, and reverse the decline in our funding.
Incidentally, my right hon. and learned Friend will be pleased to know that the CCT cameras that he switched on last month in the Boscombe shopping precinct have already proved a success by leading to six arrests, rendering that precinct safer for shoppers, shop workers and residents alike. We thank him for his personal interest.
Concern was expressed at the meeting about the continuing inability of the courts to pass sentences that match the crime, especially when dealing with persistent 14-year-old offenders, and about the premature release of prisoners long before they have served their sentence. My constituents will thus welcome the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Bill, which will provide for prosecution and defence disclosure and other measures to encourage justice, and the introduction of the secure training order for 12 to 14-year-olds who repeatedly offend. They will also welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's determination to ensure sensible parole for prisoners.
Finally, we in Bournemouth are looking to the Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), to respond more positively to our continued appeals for help in funding the cost of conference security, which represents 5 per cent. of our police budget, especially now that the Conservative party comes to Bournemouth every two years rather than every four years for its annual conference.
The cost of protecting our national leaders should be borne nationally by the Exchequer and no longer by council tax payers who also suffer a loss of police protection while the conference is on. My Dorset 535 colleagues were encouraged by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State's response when they raised the matter with him last week. We look forward to a positive outcome to his present review of conference security.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I am glad that the Home Secretary has returned to the Chamber, because I want to address some comments and questions to him about his statement yesterday. In that statement, he said that the entire Asylum and Immigration Bill should be non-controversial because it was solely about ensuring that genuine asylum seekers were assisted in their aim and helped to reach and stay in this country and that bogus asylum seekers would be deterred.
If that is the case, I wonder how seriously he has considered the proposals recently published by the Law Society. I shall not take up the House's time by examining them in detail, but it seems that there are many in that document, although it runs to only two pages, which would probably win the support of the whole House. They are non-controversial proposals for people who genuinely hope to help real asylum seekers. I wonder whether the Home Secretary has any plans to integrate any of them in the Bill.
A particular proposal that appeals to me is that the Government should consider measures such as the Australian model of licensing immigration advisers, to curb the problem of bogus and unscrupulous advisers who are preying on genuine asylum seekers. They state that that problem is widespread.
I also heard the Secretary of State say that the reason why the Prime Minister had rejected Labour's proposal that a Special Standing Committee be set up was that Special Standing Committees were for non-controversial Bills. That seems to contradict the Secretary of State's claim to the effect that the Immigration and Asylum Bill was a non-controversial Bill. He said specifically that the Special Standing Committee procedure was for Bills that were largely non-controversial. I see him shaking his head, but that appeared in Hansard only yesterday.
§ Mr. Howard
The answer is perfectly simple. The Bill ought to be non-controversial, but the shadow Home Secretary has made it clear that it will be controversial. He has twice gone on record saying that he will oppose the Bill.
§ Mrs. Fyfe
That is an interesting answer. The most recent occasion on which the House used the Special Standing Committee procedure was for legislation that I do not expect the Home Secretary to have known much about—the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. Many of the proposals in that Bill were accepted by all parties, but there was genuine controversy and divisions on matters of principle in the Chamber and in Committee. The Home Secretary is making a distinction without a difference. Both sides are claiming that they want to deter bogus asylum seekers and help the real ones, but there will be divisions on specific issues. Precisely the same happened with the 1995 Act.
The real reason why the Government do not want a Special Standing Committee is not the bogus reason that they are offering, but that such a Committee is allowed to hear witnesses. If the Committee heard independent, well-informed, knowledgeable witnesses from 536 organisations involved in immigration and asylum affairs, what the Government were doing would be clearly revealed.
The letter sent by the Home Secretary to hon. Members on 20 November begins:We have a proud tradition of giving refuge to those fleeing persecution.It is true that this country has a long history in that respect, but I draw attention to a recent case in my constituency involving an Iraqi Kurd who had managed to obtain asylum in this country. He came to me about the problem with his mother, who had also fled from Iraq to Iran.
The British embassy there was telling her that it could not supply a visa to the sick woman and her daughter, and that she would have to apply for a visa either to Amman in Jordan, Karachi in Pakistan, Istanbul in Turkey or Nicosia in Cyprus. When I protested that it was unreasonable for a sick woman to have to travel such distances when there was an embassy in Teheran, the embassy would not listen at first. However, I give those people the credit for listening eventually when I, the Red Cross and the United Nations appealed. The embassy eventually acceded to the woman's request, and she is now safely in this country.
Is that the Home Secretary's idea of helping people with a genuine case for seeking asylum? I certainly hope that he will tidy up the current procedures, as it was unacceptable to put that sick woman through such a trauma to get into this country. I must say that other cases have gone more smoothly, but it is cases such as that which I have outlined that give the lie to claims that we are going out of our way to help genuine asylum seekers.
In the few moments that I have left, I shall deal with the nursery voucher scheme. I have recently spoken to people involved in private sector nursery education in and around Glasgow. They tell me that they are unhappy with the voucher scheme because it does nothing to provide them with the capital required to set up a new nursery, especially in the highlands and islands and other rural areas. In other words, parents could have a voucher but have nowhere to spend it.
I also listened carefully to what was said about the cash being provided for the voucher scheme. A few months ago, the Scottish Office said that special needs would be considered because it was more expensive to provide pre-fives education for children with special needs. Yet yesterday and today I have not heard a further commitment to provide the cash for such provision. The money provided will obviously not be enough. Indeed, private sector providers themselves are worried that children with special needs could be pushed out and will not have access to pre-fives education unless the voucher scheme takes account of the extra cash needed to cater for their requirements.
I should also point out that the claim is being made that all the changes are in response to parents' wishes. Again, I cannot expect Conservative Members present to know about the matter. Someone from the Scottish Office should be on the Front Bench when we are discussing those matters.
None the less, there is an important point to be made. The parents of children who attend pre-fives education in all sectors in Scotland were surveyed by the Scottish Parent-Teacher Association, and a large majority of them said that their first preference was for local authority 537 nursery education. Instead of wasting money on an unwanted voucher scheme, why is not the Secretary of State for Scotland making that money available in the area where parents want it to be spent and giving it to the local authorities, which parents trust to do an excellent job for children?
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)
I want to concentrate on education, but seeing my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in his place, I cannot resist thanking him for his initiative on the provision of closed circuit television in Lichfield. We are to have a £250,000 system thanks to the remarks that he made—and the initiatives that he subsequently took—in the Queen's Speech, albeit last year.
I welcome the education initiatives announced in the Gracious Speech. In particular, I welcome the expansion of nursery education for four-year-olds. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) said, it will have tremendous importance in rural areas, not only in his constituency, but also in Staffordshire.
I should have liked to see some reform of university entrance qualifications. In the three and a half years that I have been in the House, I have argued in favour of the Scottish system of highers—like the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), I should have liked to see a Scottish Minister on the Front Bench—or any other broad curriculum that does not require students hoping for an academic career at university to be forced to start specialising in just a few subjects at the age of 15 or 16. That is one of the reasons why we have so many innumerate civil servants and so many inarticulate scientists.
Someone may well ask why I might be interested in education and concentrate on it this evening. Before going up to university, I took a year out and taught physics and chemistry to 11 and 13-year-olds. Having then spent some seven years at university—not constantly retaking the same examination—I later formed a company that employed many arts and science graduates in the United Kingdom and in the United States. So for those reasons, I have a deep interest in education.
I recognise the need for reform, so I welcome the announcement in the Queen's Speech concerning grant-maintained schools. There can be little doubt that the 1,000 or so schools that enjoy grant-maintained status have benefited by the change in their status. Direct and indirect pressure from local education authorities, such as that exercised by the Labour-controlled Staffordshire county council, and a very real fear of the unknown, have deterred many schools from opting to become grant-maintained.
The present system of funding education via local authorities is becoming unsustainable in most parts of the country. In Staffordshire, schools are strapped for cash. That is partly a result of the application of the area cost adjustment, which unfairly favours the south-east, and is also a direct consequence of funding education through county councils.
How can the area cost adjustment be fair when a typical primary school of 300 children in Hertfordshire will receive £61,500 more than a similar Staffordshire school, and while 538 a typical secondary school of 900 students in Staffordshire will receive in excess of £250,000 less than a Surrey school? There are no surcharges for employing teachers in Surrey or Hertfordshire. While Labour-controlled Staffordshire blames the Government for a shortfall in funding, the Government rightly blame Staffordshire for hoarding huge amounts of unused financial reserves— some of the largest of any county in the country.
For the sake of our nation's children and our nation's future, we need to rethink education funding as a matter of priority. We need to introduce greater transparency. The political buck-passing between local and national Government must stop. That can be done only by funding schools centrally and directly from the Department for Education and Employment.
By suggesting the central funding of schools, I am not advocating central control of schools. On the contrary, I want to see far greater local control than at present, by stripping away all the local government powers over education and empowering schools themselves through their head teachers and governors.
Education reforms over the past few years, so bitterly opposed by the Labour party, and now so accepted by teachers and parents alike, such as local management of schools, the introduction of the national curriculum, regular testing by the Office of Standards in Education and the publication of league tables, soon to include value-added data, mean that Britain is ready for central funding.
That does not mean that the grant-maintenance model as it stands at present is suitable were all schools to be funded centrally. Having spoken to many teachers, head teachers and parents, I believe that several questions arise. I should like to suggest a possible solution.
Schools have genuine fears about going it alone and their fears fall under two main headings: operational and financial. Operationally, they ask who will provide advice and support services to schools if local education authorities are abolished. What will happen if a teacher or even a head teacher is taken ill and a supply teacher is needed urgently? Who will act as arbiters when complaints are made against head teachers or school governors? Who will deal with applications for discretionary grants?
Financially, other questions arise. Who will decide how money is disbursed within a county or region? What happens in a financial emergency if the boiler needs replacing or the roof springs a major leak? One answer might be the provision of two parallel tiers assisting at county or regional level. The first tier, whose main concern would be the application of central funds among schools, could be a college of head teachers and chairmen of governors.
That college would not be a regulator, but could have discretion over, say, 5 per cent. of funding, with the remaining 95 per cent. being awarded to schools according to a per capita formula based on a three-year rolling average of student numbers to even out financial peaks and troughs, which are the constant bane on the lives of head teachers and governors.
That college of head teachers and chairmen of governors would be able to make key decisions on the special financial needs of individual schools in their area. 539 Who better can there be to decide local priorities? Both schools and the college should also have access to capital funding on the financial markets.
But what about the provision of operational services? Many of those can be provided by groups of local professionals—probably many of them now working directly for LEAs—offering their services directly to schools once the LEAs become redundant. The success of Ofsted, despite all the fears expressed at the time, provides a useful model for that.
In outlining one possible solution, I do not prescribe the course of action that the Department should take. I merely call on the Secretary of State to use her not inconsiderable talent in resolving those issues. In the coming months, there needs to be greater debate on the methodology of the funding of schools. If the political hallmark of the 1980s was privatisation and industrial relations reform, the theme for the 1990s must be local empowerment. We have already seen that model operate with the formation of local hospital trusts.
Labour's perennial call—we have heard it this evening—of, "Make no change; everything must be set in concrete; Beveridge was right in 1944, so his credo must remain in place some 50 years later," is no answer. It is Luddite. It is unimaginative. It is Labour.
I call on the Secretary of State to embark on the funding and operational changes that will be necessary over the next few years. We owe it to the professionals who run our schools. We owe it to concerned parents. We owe it to schoolchildren. Perhaps most importantly, as stewards of our nation's future, we owe it to the country.
§ Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I am amazed by the comments of the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). He seems to argue that there should be more central control, but that there needs to be local control. He must know that one of the reasons why the areas that he represents do not have the same level of nursery provision as the areas I represent is that historically, the areas I represent have had a Labour administration that has provided nursery education. The Conservative administrations in the parts of Staffordshire about which the hon. Gentleman talks have failed to provide that education. It is astonishing that, as a result of Conservative failure, the hon. Gentleman attacks Labour administrations and policies. It is incredible.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Although the hon. Gentleman was involved in buses before he became a Member of the European Parliament and then a Member of Parliament here, he is surely aware that my area is a rural area; that is why there are no nursery schools in the tiny villages. That is the whole point. The hon. Gentleman's constituency is an urban area.
§ Mr. Stevenson
That comment seems to be an abject condemnation of the Conservative administrations that have ruled those areas for some time. The point that the hon. Gentleman made the basis of his speech was that the awful Labour administrations in Staffordshire had failed to provide education facilities, whereas the good Conservative administrations would do so. His argument defeats the point that he is trying to make. It is the Conservative administrations in Staffordshire that have 540 not provided nursery education and it is the Labour administrations that have. In my area, 97 per cent. of four-year-olds receive nursery education.
In the Gracious Speech, the Government suggest that we should have a voucher system, yet it will provide no extra places. In an intervention in the speech by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, I asked how many additional places in Staffordshire and in my constituency would be provided by nursery vouchers. I received no answer, because the Secretary of State does not know. She does not know, because no additional nursery places will result from the voucher system. That is the reality.
The Gracious Speech also contained proposals on grant-maintained schools. There is one grant-maintained school in my constituency. It is amazing that, of the 40-odd schools in my constituency, only one is grant-maintained. Is it because the Government have failed to put their policy across? Is it because parents do not know what they are talking about or because they do not understand the advantages of grant-maintained schools? Is it because the Government do not understand what they are saying? I doubt it. The reality is that parents, governors and teachers know full well that this is not the way in which to proceed.
In the first year, the one grant-maintained school in my constituency had a capital grant to develop a science block. That grant amounted to a significant proportion of the total capital available in Staffordshire. In the second year, the school got nothing, of course, because the second phase of the grant for the science block was refused by the Government. The school was disappointed, so the Government had to do something. They advertised the technology college proposal and, lo and behold, the one school in my constituency that became a technology college was the one grant-maintained school.
According to the Government, this year, the school will receive £60 per pupil because of its new designation. The school will receive £100,000 because it is a technology college. That is all well and good. However, that one school could receive about £250,000 over a period. Why are all the other schools in my constituency suffering cuts? Is not that robbing Peter to pay Paul? Why is the Government's attitude such that one school in my constituency gets many extra resources while the rest of them suffer cuts? That is a fair question, which the Government have signally failed to address.
I am interested in the Asylum and Immigration Bill because, from the reports I read that came out before the Queen's Speech, it seemed that Nigeria, for example, would be on the white list.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Ann Widdecombe)
It has never been.
§ Mr. Howard
The only suggestion that Nigeria was on the designated list was in a singularly ill-informed article in The Guardian. That suggestion has never been countenanced by the Government, and Nigeria has never been considered as a candidate for the designated list.
§ Mr. Stevenson
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should remember "ill-informed" articles in The Guardian which proved to be correct and which meant that he had to suffer humiliation in the High Court. He must be careful.
541 My point—never mind the white list—is that, out of the tremendous number of applications from Nigeria, only one has been accepted. Will that position change? The political situation has forced the Home Secretary to react, and that is the danger. The Government are desperate and are attempting to play a card from which they will suffer.
§ Mr. Stevenson
Yes. I have not yet mentioned the terrible R-word that the Government are worried about. The Government will suffer from the legislation because they will have to define the countries whose asylum seekers they are willing to accept. That will be an extremely difficult and dangerous process. We all know what the Government are about and we all know what the Home Secretary is about. The country at large knows what they are about. The Bill is a dangerous step.
§ Sir Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I wish to declare the fact that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales, in accordance with the Police Act 1964 as amended by the Police Act 1972. I hope that hon. Members will bear with me as I make my speech, which is one of the first such speeches to be made since the resolution of the House was passed on 6 November. I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all Members of the House, that I intend to have close regard to the letter from the Leader of the House, addressed to all of us, about our conduct in the Chamber.
I wanted to speak in the debate so that I could welcome the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Bill. For some time, there has been widespread concern about prosecution and defence disclosure in criminal cases, and about the responsibility of the law enforcement authorities concerning material for the purposes of prosecution disclosure and related matters.
There is, I think, a general feeling that the law needs to be reformed, and evidence has been given to a royal commission on the subject. As hon. Members will know, I am a London Member, and I am told that last year in London alone, about 230 cases had to be abandoned by the prosecution on the advice of the law enforcement agencies, because the defence's demand for disclosure was likely to lead to the identification of an informant, usually an officer of the forces of law and order. I believe that in some cases informants' lives would have been put at risk; we must recognise that ruthless criminals think nothing of silencing witnesses, even if that means resorting to murder.
Other cases have been stopped because the blanket demand for disclosure would have required thousands of documents to be made available, to enable the defence to hunt for something—perhaps almost anything at all—that might be contained in them. It seems to me, as to many people who are taking an increasing interest in such matters, that the real objective of such demands, especially in complicated commercial fraud cases, is to persuade the prosecution that the costs involved and the huge time delays are so great as to make its case untenable.
Some hon. Members may say that the procedures outlined in the Bill are complex, but surely the important point for us as Members of Parliament is that the basic 542 principle of disclosure is protected. If something is known that would be of assistance to an accused person, he or she and his or her legal representatives are entitled to be told about it. Surely there can be no argument about that. But there is no reason why the British people should tolerate the right to disclosure being abused so that it becomes a criminals charter.
I believe that the Bill preserves a proper balance between the interests of justice and the rights of the suspect. If the proposals are objected to, one might assume that that is because the Bill is likely to lead to the conviction of the guilty.
I also welcome the reference in the Queen's Speech to the priority attached to the fight against crime, drug misuse, drug trafficking and terrorism. I welcome the proposed legislation to enable the Security Service to assist the law enforcement agencies in their work. I understand that those agencies have had some reservations about the proposals, but it has always been understood that where the security and safety of the state is at stake, the operations of the security services cannot be open to public scrutiny, or as accountable as those of the law enforcement agencies.
However, I feel sure that the law enforcement agencies will welcome the contribution that the Security Service can make, especially through enhanced intelligence. That will work well if the primacy of the forces of law and order, which are responsible for the prevention of crime, is understood and continued. Experience in other countries, including America and France, has shown that inter-service rivalries can hinder the fight against crime. It is therefore important that the arrangements to enable the Security Service to assist the law enforcement agencies are such as to avoid any such rivalry.
I hope that the Security Service will recognise the importance of agreement being reached on the extent of their participation in the work of the established law enforcement agencies. It may be important to have parliamentary supervision of the Security Service, so that all concerned—particularly the British people—can have confidence in and give their full support to the new arrangements.
I wish to refer briefly to the Asylum and Immigration Bill, about which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made a statement in the House yesterday. He has given powerful reasons why action needs to be taken, and I should simply like to add a constituency reason for dealing with the matter. My constituency is situated in the London borough of Hillingdon, which is spending about £1.3 million a year on caring for unaccompanied child refugees who come to this country, many of them illegally. It is expected that that figure will increase to nearly £2 million by the end of the year.
Three years ago, I was grateful when my right hon. and learned Friend, in his previous capacity as Secretary of State for the Environment, was instrumental in assisting Hillingdon with a unique problem, as Heathrow airport is situated within its boundaries. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for the Environment will look at that, and assist a local authority that has a unique problem of caring for young people, which it does with considerable distinction. We must consider that aspect of the Bill on Second Reading, and perhaps in Committee.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)
Like the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), I declare an interest as shown in the Register of Members' Interests. I commend what the hon. Gentleman had to say, particularly on disclosure.
The right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), in the first speech in the debate today from the Conservative Back Benches, made some thoughtful and provocative remarks on divorce, and then criticised the Government by saying that "friendly fire" from Conservative Members is always to be decried. Well, decried or not, we witnessed friendly fire from at least five Conservative Members who spoke allegedly in support of the Gracious Speech.
There came immediately a double-barrelled attack from the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, who blasted into the proposals for grant-maintained schools and the proposals for nursery vouchers. He said that, if new money was to be provided for nursery education, it would be better to widen existing provision than to bring in a new scheme. That was exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) had said in his speech. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that he saw no enthusiasm for the further extension of grant-maintained schools, and asked whether we were to deprive parents the right too choose by the way in which—as he suggested—the Conservatives were about to fiddle votes for grant-maintained schools.
No sooner had the hon. Gentleman sat down than the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) stood up. So opposed is he to the proposals for nursery vouchers and grant-maintained schools that he announced to the House that, unless they were changed, he would not support the education measures in the Gracious Speech. He described the proposals for nursery vouchers as "socialist, centralised and bureaucratic". He is right about two of those—they are indeed centralised and bureaucratic, but those descriptions have now become the hallmark of the Conservative Administration.
The hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) can normally be relied on to be a loyal supporter of the Government in every conceivable circumstance, and he paid a customary tribute to the Gracious Speech. He then launched into a rip-roaring attack on the Government's housing policy, and told the House that unemployment among housing workers has risen by 500,000—we are grateful to him for that fact—and added that the figure was due to rise by another 100,000 if the Government did not do something about the state of the housing industry.
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) announced that he did not support the assisted places scheme, while the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) criticised the possible inclusion of Pakistan on the white list. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) made a kind of supportive speech. His speech was mixed, rather like the advice he gave to the makers of "The Final Cut", with such extraordinary results. Then he said that there were a number of questions about grant-maintained schools that he had to raise. They were only fairly minor. They were operational and financial. He went on to construct—
§ Mr. Fabricant
If the hon. Gentleman had been here while I was speaking, he would know that I did not say what he has just quoted me as saying. The questions that I posed were those that would arise if all schools were forced to be grant-maintained. That is not the present policy. Grant-maintained status has not been forced on any school. The questions that I raised were about enforced, not voluntary, membership of the grant-maintained system. If the hon. Gentleman had been here, he would not have made the point that he has just made.
§ Mr. Straw
It is no wonder that the hon. Gentleman is confused about whether he supports the Government's policy. He obviously does not know what it is. It is the Government's policy to try to secure the opt-out of all schools. The hon. Gentleman suggested a way through, with what he described as two tiers for administering education. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) has said, it sounded like the North Korean solution.
Of the three home affairs measures in the Gracious Speech, the one that is potentially the most divisive is the Asylum and Immigration Bill. In opening his statement on the Bill yesterday, the Secretary of State claimed that his Government had always attached the greatest priority to preserving good race relations in Britain. He did not seem properly to appreciate that the nature of immigration control pursued and the motives perceived to be behind it can have a direct impact on those good race relations.
If the controls operate fairly, if they strengthen families rather than fracture them, if changes are made for sound reasons, racial harmony will be sustained. But if the changes introduced are hasty, ill-considered or disproportionate to the problem or appear to have some extraneous object behind them, their consequence may be to stir up racial prejudice and tension. If, for example, emotive and exaggerated language is used, people may start to believe again the old saw that the immigrant flow is out of control. When such sentiment takes hold, people feel resentful about the presence of those in this country of a different race or colour.
People forget why many of those of a different race or colour came here in the first place. They forget that the original immigrants to my constituency came in answer to advertisements placed in Indian newspapers by British mill owners desperate for textile workers. They forget that the original influx of people from the West Indies came to solve a British labour shortage on the London buses. They even forget that Enoch Powell, when Conservative Minister of Health, advertised for nurses in the West Indies to work in London hospitals.
545 If we do not acknowledge the contribution that so many immigrants have made to this country, race relations will be damaged. When the last such Bill was introduced in the House, the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill, the then Home Secretary spoke of people who came to this country wantingto improve their quality of life."—[Official Report, 11 January 1993; Vol. 216, c. 731.]That is true, as a great many in the House can certify. I can, as a great-grandson of an immigrant. So can the Secretary of State for Defence and the Home Secretary. Those of us who come from immigrant families have a special responsibility in how we act and what we say in respect of those who follow in our parents' footsteps.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes
I intervene because I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. The use of language is very important. Does the hon. Gentleman now regret saying to the Labour party conference that his party would vote against the Asylum and Immigration Bill? Is not the more sensible line that he is now adopting a result of the fact that his leader has insisted on his taking a different view from his original view?
§ Mr. Straw
Of course I do not regret saying that to the Labour party conference. If the Bill is as anticipated, we shall certainly vote against it. What we want, as I shall describe, is the issue to be taken out of party politics. There is no reason why it should not be. If Conservative Members want it taken out of party politics, they should repudiate, as they have not yet done, what Mr. Andrew Lansley had to say about playing the race card.
Last Wednesday, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), one of the most distinguished men in the House and himself a former Home Secretary, made a powerful plea about the worries of thoughtful people about what he called the empty noise and phoney warfare of our adversarial politics. In our view, the Special Standing Committee procedure offers a way out of that empty noise and phoney warfare.
The day after my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made his proposal for a Special Standing Committee, the Prime Minister was plainly warming to it. In an interview in The Independent, he said:I do not want to deal with the problem in a way … which may unsettle people who do not deserve to be unsettled".The two reporters from The Independent who interviewed him on Thursday commented that he was "leaning towards a yes" to that proposal.
That, of course, was before the Home Secretary got back from his trip to America. When he did, he simply overruled this decent but weak Prime Minister. Instead, the Home Secretary sought to assert to an incredulous House yesterday that his proposals can be properly scrutinised in Standing Committee. The truth, which the whole House knows, is that Standing Committee scrutiny does not work. The Government's record of one bad and defective Bill after another shows that to be the case.
When, in February 1986, the House debated the extension of the Special Standing Committee process, the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the right hon. 546 Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), launched a compelling attack on the old ways of scrutinising Bills. He said:I hope that that procedure will be used much more than it has been."—[Official Report, 27 February 1986; Vol. 92, c. 1096.]
§ Mr. Howard
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, has written to the Leader of the Opposition today referring him not to a finding of the Procedure Committee in 1986 but to a finding of the Procedure Committee in the 1989–90 Session, which clearly demonstrates that that procedure would not be appropriate for this Bill?
§ Mr. Straw
I am afraid that the right hon. Member for Honiton cannot take away the words that he used in the House in February 1986 in plain support of a proposition that the Special Standing Committee procedure should be used more than it has been. The Procedure Committee went on to say, as did the right hon. Member for Honiton, that every Minister who gave evidence to the Procedure Committee suggested that it had greatly helped his or her handling of Bills.
One such Minister was the then Solicitor-General, who is now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Home Secretary should talk more to him about this as about other issues. In his evidence, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told how his 1981 Criminal Attempts Bill had been recast as a result of evidence before a Special Standing Committee. He said:I had the very salutary experience of cross-examining two of the leading authorities on criminal law … as to the likely effect of a Bill about whose provisions I was already experiencing a sinking feeling".With characteristic honesty, he added:At the end of the final sitting of the Special Standing Committee, the draftsman informed me that not only did the Bill not do what it was supposed to do but that it could not be made to do it.The Special Standing Committee procedure was designed exactly for this sort of Bill, a point reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) in her excellent contribution about the way in which the Children (Scotland) Bill was greatly improved as a result of the use of the procedure.
§ Mr. Spearing
Did my hon. Friend not hear the Home Secretary say yesterday that the procedure that he is describing is a diversion? Is he aware that 42 per cent. of the Newham population are of overseas background and that, on hearing of the possibility of such a Committee, the police community consultative committee wrote to the Prime Minister saying that it wished to give evidence? Surely a diversion is diverting such committees from the practical contribution that they could make to our proceedings in this place and not the opposite, as the Home Secretary is saying.
§ Mr. Straw
My hon. Friend emphasises that there is very widespread support outside the House, as inside, for that procedure. Most members of the public and organisations with an interest in the issue simply cannot understand why Ministers have refused to use it.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State told the House that he wanted to take this issue out of party politics, but we then learnt of his approach to consensus. Instead of agreeing to the proper scrutiny of his plans, he effectively told the 547 House, "These are my proposals—like them or lump them." That is not a recipe for consensus; it is the road to conflict, and he knows it.
This Bill needs far better scrutiny than a Standing Committee can provide precisely because so many in the ethnic communities and beyond are, in the Prime Minister's words, "unsettled by the proposals". Nothing that the Secretary of State has said so far has even attempted to deal with that concern.
The Conservative candidate for Cheltenham, for example, Mr. John Taylor, recently complained of the Tory party:They alienate ethnic minorities by pandering to xenophobic voters with promises of crackdowns on immigration".
§ Mr. Straw
If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I will not do so, as I gave up part of this speech to allow his hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge to speak.
I shall tell the Secretary of State some of the issues on which that scrutiny should take place. They are: on the reasons for delays when the point of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 was to reduce them; on the need for better regulation of advisers, which was an important point that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Maryhill also mentioned today; on the failure promptly to remove those who are here illegally; on the failure of the system proposed by which applicants will be forced to conduct appeals from abroad; on how employer checks can work in a non-discriminatory way; and on the whole principle behind the so-called white list. On top of that, there is the greatest anxiety about the fairness with which the present rules operate, even when a country is not and will not be on the white list.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State made light of the fact that, of the 1,495 asylum seekers from the brutal, inhumane regime in Nigeria, just one had been accepted for asylum last year. He said:Those decisions are not made by Ministers … Every applicant has to establish a well founded fear of persecution."—[Official Report, 20 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 340.]He must know more than anyone that officials base their judgments partly on so-called Home Office country assessments. I have Nigeria's assessment here. In September this year—three months after the then Foreign Secretary spoke of its "growing cruelty" and "summary justice" and while Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others were awaiting trial for their lives—the Home Office was advising its staff:there is no evidence to suggest that Ogonis … face persecution from the Nigerian authoritiesfor membership of MOSOP—the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. Yet that was the very organisation to which Ken Saro-Wiwa belonged before he was brutally and judicially murdered. That country assessment is not a white list; it is a whitewash.
Do not people have a right to feel unsettled when they know of such stunning complacency in the face of the facts? If Britain is to be persuaded that the purpose behind the proposals is not to play the race card, let us have the case for them and let us have that case properly examined.
The Prime Minister told the House last Wednesday that he has always believed strongly in racial tolerance in Britain. No one doubts that, but the problem is that the 548 Conservative party has long been split on the issue of race. We may and do trust the Prime Minister on race, but bitter experience has taught us that we often cannot trust those in control of his party. There was Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech in 1968 and Margaret Thatcher's claim in 1978 that the country would be "swamped" by immigrants. More recently, there were the 1992 and 1994 Euro-elections.
We know that, for many in the Conservative party, the temptation to prey on people's worst prejudices is often too great to resist. What else are we to think of those chilling words from Mr. Andrew Lansley, who said that immigration has more potential to hurt? Is that the language of a party dedicated to good race relations and to the examination of important but sensitive issues? Or is it the language of a party ready to stir up prejudice in a desperate attempt to garner votes? I hope that, when the Secretary of State replies to the debate in a few minutes' time, we will hear from him, at long last, a complete repudiation of Mr. Lansley's views and of his candidacy.
The Gracious Speech contains two other home affairs measures on disclosure and better national co-ordination in respect of the fight against crime. We shall support the principle of both measures, while, of course, examining their detail with care. The rules on the disclosure of prosecution and defence evidence have to be changed. Justice is not served if the innocent are convicted or if the plainly guilty walk free.
We shall support, too, the new proposals on the nobbling of juries and witnesses. None of us wishes to see a national police service, but organised crime is no respecter of boundaries, and national arrangements must reflect that reality. As for the new role for the Security Service, provided that there are proper safeguards for its necessarily secret work, it is plainly sensible, given the reduction in its other tasks, for its skills and resources to be used.
Neither of the two Bills realistically measures up to the scale of the crisis that now engulfs the criminal justice system. What is significant about the Queen's Speech is not what is in it but what is not. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech to tackle crime or the fear of crime, nothing to deal with criminal anti-social neighbours, nothing to cut court delays and nothing to stop our communities being torn apart by disorder and division.
The Secretary of State will no doubt refer to the fall in crime over the past two years, and that is welcome, but he fails to understand that the public judge the Government's record not on two years but on 16, and in 16 years crime has doubled. Violent crime has risen even faster. Yet fewer people are being cautioned or convicted than in 1979. Under the Conservative Government, not only is there more crime but many more people are getting away with it—just one in 50 of the crimes committed result in a conviction.
The consequence is that crime and the fear of crime now dominate people's lives in a way unheard of two decades ago: elderly people are trapped in their homes, women drive in fear and parents believe that their own neighbourhoods are unsafe. In a single decade, the number of children allowed to walk to school unaccompanied has more than halved. The Secretary of State knows that everyone is now affected by crime. When people call for more police on the beat, they do so 549 because they want to be safe on the streets, safe from crime, safe from disorder, safe from loutish behaviour and safe from racial harassment.
Nowhere is the failure of the criminal justice system greater than in dealing with the problems of local disorder. We all know about decent law-abiding citizens whose lives have been ruined by criminal, anti-social neighbours who refuse mediation, intimidate witnesses into silence and ignore the law with impunity. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) a harrowing story about how one village in his constituency has been run to ruin as a result of such criminal, anti-social neighbours. But where is there anything on that in the Gracious Speech? Everyone knows that it is a major issue to be tackled—everyone, that is, except the Government.
§ Mr. Howard
We did indeed hear a powerful speech from the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), in which he said that the cause of the difficulties faced by his constituents was that no one was prepared to come forward to give evidence of those difficulties. How can anything that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) suggests have any effect in the absence of evidence? What is he suggesting? Is he suggesting some magical new change in the law that will enable people to be convicted without any evidence?
§ Mr. Straw
I will answer.
The Home Secretary sought to condemn our proposals for dealing with the problem before reading a single word of those proposals. Of course persuading witnesses to give evidence is a major problem; that is why we have built on the way in which Labour-controlled Coventry city council handled that problem. Rather than relying on individual neighbours who have suffered or been intimidated in silence, we make use of professional witnesses employed by the local authority.[Interruption.]
The Home Secretary clearly considers this a laughing matter. The whole country will be delighted to learn that he believes that the problem of criminal, anti-social neighbours is a laughing matter. People do not consider it so in Coventry, Falkirk and Blackburn—and I bet that they do not in Folkestone, either. What they recognise is that the Home Secretary simply does not appreciate the scale of the problem that is affecting the country.
We have proposed a new community safety order with tough penalties for a breach of that order. We have proposed more effective witness protection, and special measures to deal with racial harassment. Labour's plans have been welcomed by local authorities, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Police Superintendents Association and many others, and a consensus could easily be reached on them. However, we have heard not a word of support or even comprehension from the Government; we have heard only complacent claims that existing law is adequate. That merely shows how detached from the reality of daily life the Government are.
Then there is the crisis in the court process. More and more is being spent on achieving less and less. The costs of criminal aid have rocketed; fewer cases are going to 550 court; the proportion of cases that are discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service has almost doubled; the number of prisoners awaiting trial accounts for a quarter of the prison population—there has been a 22 per cent. increase since 1992. Everyone knows that there is a problem, but the Gracious Speech is deafening in its silence about what is to be done.
The Government's record on crime and disorder is appalling. It is the worst among the 16 western countries on which the Home Office provides comparable crime statistics. The record is there for all to see: a doubling of recorded crime; a greater risk of being a victim of crime; parents frightened to let their children go out to play; old people trapped in their homes. That is the reality of crime in Conservative Britain, and it is the reality that the Government have so comprehensively failed to address in the Queen's Speech.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)
We have heard yet another preposterous, disgraceful speech from the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). It was disgraceful because of the racism that it introduced into discussion of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, and because of the way in which it sought to mislead people in regard to the real and certain problem of anti-social conduct, to which the hon. Gentleman and his party have no solution whatever.
The most significant feature of this debate is that it tells the nation loud and clear just how little prominence Labour gives to law and order. Three Home Office Bills are included in the Gracious Speech. They are at the forefront of our programme. We know how important the issues are to the everyday life of our citizens, but the Opposition have tried to hide them and have put them at the end of the debate. They have shown the country what they do not want to talk about. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Howard
The last thing that the Opposition want to talk about is the success of the police in the fight against crime. We congratulate the police on that success. The past two years have seen the biggest fall in recorded crime since records began in the middle of the last century. There have been 500,000 fewer crimes, fewer victims and less suffering. That is what is happening in the country, and it is the measure of the success of the police. We are determined to help them build on that success.
The measures in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 are beginning to bite. The new provisions on bail, which the hon. Gentleman impliedly opposed in his speech, are helping to protect the public.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman says, "Not at all." He complained about the number of people awaiting trial, so he cannot be in favour of measures that would tighten bail to ensure that more and more people are not released on bail to reoffend and terrorise the public. If people are refused bail, there will be more people in prison awaiting trial. Perhaps even the hon. Gentleman can grasp that elementary fact.
§ Mr. Straw
The Secretary of State shows how misinformed he is about the problem in the Prison 551 Service. Numbers have risen so fast because the statutory time limits that were set by his Government to ensure that there are not too many delays in bringing cases to trial have been broken. The proportion of cases meeting the statutory time limit has gone from 15 to 25 per cent. The truth is that delays are getting longer.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, if bail is tightened and if it is refused to stop people reoffending, the number of people in prison awaiting trial is bound to increase.
The spread of closed circuit television is preventing crime, as we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) and for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). The extension of partnership across the country, which is mentioned in the Opposition amendment but which was not mentioned by the hon. Member for Blackburn, is creating an environment that is increasingly hostile to the criminal. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) for piloting through Parliament what is now the Proceeds of Crime Act 1995. It was strongly supported by the Government and it will enable the courts to confiscate the assets of persistent criminals—the professional burglars, the bank robbers and the pornographers.
Last month my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced important new backing for the police. We have recruited 16,000 more police officers since 1979–500 more in the current year alone. My right hon. Friend has promised to provide the money for another 5,000 over the next three years. In addition, he promised that resources would be made available to help to pay for 10,000 more closed circuit television cameras to help those police officers to prevent crime and bring more criminals to justice.
Those are the matters that Labour wants to keep hidden and to ignore. Labour Members do not want to talk about them, so they relegate the hon. Member for Blackburn to the tail end of the debate—out of sight, out of mind.
§ Mr. Howard
I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who made a notable and compelling speech on the drug problem in his constituency.
§ Mr. Campbell
It is on that matter that I want to put a question to the Home Secretary. As I said in my speech, the biggest problem in my area is the supply of legal methadone to young children who are reaching the age of the criminal element. What does the right hon. and learned Gentleman intend to do about that?
§ Mr. Howard
As I have said, the hon. Gentleman made a compelling speech, in which he described in vivid terms the drug problem in his constituency. He will know that, in pursuance of the strategy that we announced in our White Paper earlier this year, we are setting up across the country 100 drug action teams that are designed to ensure that all local agencies work together to deal with the problem. As his speech clearly showed, it cannot be dealt with by any one agency or one measure alone. Everyone must co-operate and work together. That is precisely the purpose of the drug action teams that we are setting up. I hope that they will contribute to the solution in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but so will the part played by the Security Service in the fight against serious and organised crime.
552 The three Home Office Bills in the Gracious Speech are of utmost importance. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill was introduced in another place last week. It proposes a statutory scheme for prosecution and defence disclosure in criminal cases. It will help to even up the scales of justice and redress the current imbalance that requires too much of the prosecution and too little of the defence. I have lost count of the times police officers have said to me that the current rules are being exploited by hardened criminals and enable guilty men to walk free from court. I welcomed the informed support that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby), with the wealth of his experience in the police service, gave to that measure.
That Bill will reduce the unnecessary burdens of the present arrangements, without denying defendants access to the material that they need. It will narrow the issues in dispute before the trial and protect sensitive material more effectively. In short, it will help to make trials more a search for the truth and less a game of cat and mouse played out by lawyers.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
No one wants the guilty to go free, but does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the failure of the police and, sometimes, of the prosecution authorities to produce evidence that is inconvenient to their case has led to some extremely serious miscarriages of justice? Will such miscarriages be avoided under the legislation that he is proposing?
§ Mr. Howard
The proposals that I make will not, in any way, increase the risk of miscarriages of justice. I was delighted to hear from the hon. Member for Blackburn— although there had been a certain amount of confusion up to his speech this evening—that the Labour party apparently intended to support these proposals. [Interruption.] I will explain to him exactly why there was confusion. There was confusion because, in his speech last week, the Leader of the Opposition said that he supported the scheme proposed by the Royal Commission on criminal justice on this matter.
I agreed with the principle behind the royal commission's proposal, but it did not adequately deal with the problem that it identified. The Bill's proposals, therefore—let there be no misunderstanding about this— go substantially further than those made by the royal commission. It was therefore utterly ridiculous—I am glad to see the hon. Member for Blackburn nodding his head—for the Leader of the Opposition to respond to our proposals by saying that he supported the royal commission's recommendations when they were two different things.
Trying to find out where the Opposition stand on such matters is normally a futile affair. The Leader of the Opposition has elevated indecision to the level of a constitutional principle. He will do anything and go anywhere rather make up his mind on any of these matters. His attitude to decision making is to run away from it as fast as he can.
The amendment to the Gracious Speech complains that there is nothing to help victims in our proposals. That is not true. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill will give judges a new power to prevent the reporting of unsubstantiated allegations by the defence, which would blacken the good name of victims, to get lighter sentences for their clients. That should significantly reduce the 553 distress experienced by victims, but, as usual, the right hon. Gentleman did not bother to check' his facts before drafting his amendment.
The Bill will allow retrials where a jury has been nobbled or a witness intimidated. That measure will do most to deal with the problem that was raised by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), whose problems were caused by the fact that people were not prepared to come forward to give evidence. One cannot convict people in the absence of evidence. The Bill will encourage people to come forward and to give evidence, and it implements the last of the 27 pledges that I made at the Conservative party conference in 1993. It was one of the many royal commission recommendations that I have been happy to accept.
§ Mr. Howard
I made it perfectly clear yesterday that I had never discussed the matter with Mr. Lansley. The Bill that I am proposing is a clear response to an identified problem. We need to hear whether Opposition Members agree that there is a problem and, if not, why not, and what they intend to do about it. Do they agree with our proposals? If they have some other way of dealing with the problem, let us hear from them about it. Let us have no more diversionary tactics. Let us talk about the issues and debate them on their merits.
§ Mr. Straw
This is the fourth time of asking over two days and the Home Secretary must now answer the question. The entire country wants to know the answer— [Laughter.] It is hardly a laughing matter. Mr. Andrew Lansley made it clear that his advice to the Tory party was to play the race card, that immigration was an issue that played particularly well in the tabloids and that it had the potential to hurt. We want to know not whether the Home Secretary has discussed the matter with Mr. Lansley, which is his pat answer, but whether he will now repudiate the views of Mr. Lansley.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman slightly exaggerates the extent to which he has been able to excite the country about this matter. I have told him clearly that I have made clear proposals to deal with a clear problem and it is about time that we heard from the Labour party about its attitude to the proposals.
Our second Bill will enable the Security Service to help to fight organised crime. Organised crime is big business on an international scale. The people involved are highly calculating, highly ruthless and highly organised. To deal with them we have to be just as calculating, just as ruthless and just as organised.
§ Mr. Howard
I have already given way about five times as often as the hon. Member for Blackburn. I want to deal with this important measure.
The Security Service has considerable expertise in collecting, collating and analysing intelligence. That expertise should be used to help the police, Customs and Excise and the National Criminal Intelligence Service to 554 fight crime. It is doubtful whether current legislation permits this, so we shall legislate to put beyond doubt its ability to do so.
In addition, we intend to build on the success of the regional crime squads and the National Criminal Intelligence Service so that we can establish a more focused and better co-ordinated policing response, at national level, against organised crime. The police will, of course, continue to lead on this. They fully support the proposals.
§ Mr. Howard
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman waits until I have completed this passage; then I may give way to him.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) made a speech about that aspect of the matter. It was characteristically mistaken. He was the only Opposition Member to mention it. Perhaps we will hear whether he speaks for his party on this matter. His speech was in direct contrast to that of the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) who made a compelling speech about the drug problem in his constituency. I hope that, in addition to the measures that I identified when I gave way to him, the involvement of the Security Service in helping to intercept the flow of drugs to this country will help to deal with the problem with which his constituents are afflicted.
§ Mr. Howard
I want to finish this section of my speech. If I have not already answered his question, I will then give way to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).
Concerns have been expressed about the accountability of the Security Service. Of course, it will not be acting independently; it will be working in conjunction with the police and Customs and Excise. The Director General of the Security Service will be accountable to me in relation to these additional functions just as she is now for the present work of the service. The existing safeguards—the role of the Security Service commissioner and the tribunal in investigating complaints about the service—will apply to its additional functions as they do to its existing ones. This will be a valuable reinforcement of our armoury in the fight against crime, and I hope that the Bill will receive a warm welcome.
§ Mr. Howard
No, because the arrangements that we have made—agreed by the Security Service and the police and Customs and Excise—make it clear that the work done by the Security Service on organised crime will be in support of the law enforcement agencies: the police and Customs and Excise.
§ Mr. Howard
My third Bill is the Asylum and Immigration Bill. Yesterday I set out the genuine problems that we face and the actions that we intend to 555 take to deal with them. Asylum applications are rising sharply. In January last year we received 2,000 claims; last month there were 4,500, so the number has more than doubled.
§ Mr. Howard
The trend here is in marked contrast to what is happening in Europe, where other countries have taken action, not against genuine refugees but against bogus asylum seekers. Asylum claims fell by more than 40 per cent. last year in the rest of western Europe but rose by 45 per cent. here.
Most of the claims that we receive are bogus; only 4 per cent. are initially granted asylum, and only 4 per cent. of appeals are upheld by independent adjudicators.
§ Mr. Howard
There are now 700 staff working on asylum claims, compared with fewer than 100 in 1988. In the 12 months to last June, they took 25,000 decisions, 10,000 more than in the preceding 12 months. In February I announced a £37 million increase in spending on more case workers and adjudicators over the next three years. These improvements will enable us to deal with 37,000 claims a year. But this year alone we look set to receive 40,000 asylum applications, and the latest month's figures suggest an annual rate of more than 50,000.
§ Mr. Howard
Without firm action to deter bogus applicants, we risk getting caught in a vicious circle— ever-increasing delays attracting more abusive applications, making it more difficult to deal quickly with the claims of genuine refugees. The Asylum and Immigration Bill will enable me, with parliamentary approval, to designate certain countries where there is no serious risk of persecution. Claimants from those countries would face a rebuttable presumption against their claim, as they already do in Germany and the Netherlands.
It has been asserted, quite wrongly, that such provisions breach the United Nations convention. They do not. Every application will continue to be decided on its merits, as international law dictates. I repeat what I said yesterday and earlier today: the list of designated countries will be laid before Parliament in due course, but Nigeria has never been considered for it.
§ Mr. Howard
I am happy to give my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East the assurance that he sought. I am happy to meet the organisations that he identified before the list is finalised.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) must have realised by now that she is not likely to be allowed to intervene—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If the hon. Lady wants to talk to me afterwards I shall be happy to have a conversation with her, but not across the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Bermingham
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Why do you find it necessary to pick on just one hon. Member, when many are rising?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not need to hear comments like that. I am merely pointing out that if an 556 hon. Member keeps trying to intervene—on my count, 11 times—but is not allowed to intervene by the Member who has the Floor, it becomes a little tedious.
§ Mr. Howard
I have already given way half a dozen times more than the Opposition spokesman.
I must deal with the entirely bogus point raised in relation to the Special Standing Committee. The hon. Member for Blackburn referred yesterday and again today to a recommendation by the Procedure Committee going back to 1986. However, the Committee has considered the matter since then. In its second report in the 1989–90 Session, the Committee said clearly that the procedure was appropriate for Bills that were not controversial in party political terms. My right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, has written to the Leader of the Opposition making precisely that point. Anyone who considers the matter objectively will recognise how inappropriate the suggestion of a Special Standing Committee is.
We have debated six Bills relating to immigration since the procedure was introduced. It was not used for any of them. Like its predecessors, this Bill will receive detailed scrutiny in the usual way. If Opposition Members want to take the politics out of the issue, they should support the Bill.
The Opposition's amendment to the motion refers to access to work, but the Labour party has shown yet again that it has no understanding of how jobs are created or how they are destroyed.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) should save his energy.
§ Mr. Howard
Labour's proposalsߞ[Interruption.] I can see that Labour Members do not want to hear about the statutory minimum wage. That is the last thing that they want to hear about, but I shall remind them of it. Labour's amendment refers to access to jobs, but there can be no access to jobs if one destroys those jobs with a minimum wage. That is what the Labour party intends to do. The minimum wage and the social chapter— [Interruption.] Labour Members do not want to hear about how they will destroy Jobs. They would guarantee to give strikers back their jobs. That is how they would destroy utterly the prospect of a pathway to jobs and the access to jobs to which their amendment refers.
I deal now with the position of the hon. Member for Blackburn.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)
Does he have a position?
§ Mr. Howard
I want to express my sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. During the previous debate on prison policy, the Leader of the Opposition humiliated him. He told him when to make interventions and which to make; he told him when to take interventions and when not to. Finally, when he could constrain himself no longer, he shoved the hon. Gentleman aside and took to the Dispatch Box himself.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are the Home Secretary's comments in order?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The contributions of all hon. Members should refer to what is in the Queen's Speech. So far, the contributions of all hon. Members have been in order.
§ Mr. Howard
Unfortunately for the hon. Member for Blackburn, that was not the end of his humiliation. Last month he made what appeared to be a definitive statement about his party's—
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is the Home Secretary referring to something in the Queen's Speech?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
In so far as I could hear the Home Secretary, he made some reference to a speech by the Leader of the Opposition. I have not yet heard the content of it and I do not know whether the Leader of the Opposition was referring to the Queen's Speech. If he was, the Home Secretary's remarks are in order; if he was not, I doubt that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be going further down that route.
§ Mr. Howard
The context is the Asylum and Immigration Bill, which is in the Queen's Speech. The hon. Member for Blackburn said, "We should oppose the Bill." He said it again last month. He has constantly said that he would oppose the Bill. But along came the Leader of the Opposition and said, "No, no. We are going to wait. We are going to consider it on its merits."
The Leader of the Opposition has humiliated the hon. Member for Blackburn again. I think that he should back the hon. Gentleman or sack him. He should make up his mind about the hon. Gentleman. We on the Conservative Benches will continue to propose measures that deal with the problems facing this country—
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 268, Noes 297.561
|Division No. 1]||[10.00 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Betts, Clive|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Blair, Rt Hon Tony|
|Ainger, Nick||Blunkett, David|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Boateng, Paul|
|Allen, Graham||Bradley, Keith|
|Alton, David||Bray, Dr Jeremy|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)|
|Austin-Walker, John||Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Burden, Richard|
|Barnes, Harry||Byers, Stephen|
|Barron, Kevin||Caborn, Richard|
|Battle, John||Callaghan, Jim|
|Bayley, Hugh||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Beggs, Roy||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Campbell-Savours, D N|
|Bell, Stuart||Canavan, Dennis|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Cann, Jamie|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Chidgey, David|
|Berry, Roger||Chisholm, Malcolm|
|Church, Judith||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Clapham, Michael||Hutton, John|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Illsley, Eric|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)|
|Clelland, David||Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Jamieson, David|
|Coffey, Ann||Janner, Greville|
|Cohen, Harry||Johnston, Sir Russell|
|Connarty, Michael||Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)|
|Corbett, Robin||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)|
|Corston, Jean||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)|
|Cousins, Jim||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Cox, Tom||Jowell, Tessa|
|Cummings, John||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)||Keen, Alan|
|Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John||Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S)|
|Cunningham, Roseanna||Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)|
|Dafis, Cynog||Khabra, Piara S|
|Dalyell, Tam||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Darling, Alistair||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worlh)||Lewis, Terry|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Liddell, Mrs Helen|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Livingstone, Ken|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Dewar, Donald||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Dixon, Don||Loyden, Eddie|
|Dobson, Frank||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Donohoe, Brian H||McAllion, John|
|Dowd, Jim||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McCartney, Ian|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||McCartney, Robert|
|Eastham, Ken||Macdonald, Calum|
|Etherington, Bill||McFall, John|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||McKelvey, William|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Fisher, Mark||McLeish, Henry|
|Flynn, Paul||McMaster, Gordon|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||McNamara, Kevin|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||MacShane, Denis|
|Foulkes, George||Madden, Max|
|Fyfe, Maria||Maddock, Diana|
|Galloway, George||Maginnis, Ken|
|Garrett, John||Mahon, Alice|
|Gerrard, Neil||Mandelson, Peter|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Marek, Dr John|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Martin, Michael J (Springburn)|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Martlew, Eric|
|Gordon, Mildred||Maxton, John|
|Graham, Thomas||Meacher, Michael|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Meale, Alan|
|Griffths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Michael, Alun|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Gunnell, John||Milburn, Alan|
|Hain, Peter||Miller, Andrew|
|Hall, Mike||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Hanson, David||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Hardy, Peter||Morley, Elliot|
|Harvey, Nick||Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)|
|Henderson, Doug||Mudie, George|
|Heppell, John||Mullin, Chris|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)||Murphy, Paul|
|Hinchliffe, David||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Hodge, Margaret||O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)|
|Hood, Jimmy||O'Brien, William (Normanton)|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||O'Hara, Edward|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)||Olner, Bill|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley North)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Hoyle, Doug||Parry, Robert|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Pearson, Ian|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Pendry, Tom|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Pike, Peter L||Spellar, John|
|Pope, Greg||Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Stevenson, George|
|Prescott, Rt Hon John||Stott, Roger|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Strang, Dr. Gavin|
|Purchase, Ken||Straw, Jack|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Radice, Giles||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Randall, Stuart||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Raynsford, Nick||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Redmond, Martin||Timms, Stephen|
|Reid, Dr John||Tipping, Paddy|
|Rendel, David||Touhig, Don|
|Robertson, George (Hamilton)||Trimble, David|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)||Turner, Dennis|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Tyler, Paul|
|Rogers, Allan||Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|Rooker, Jeff||Wallace, James|
|Rooney, Terry||Walley, Joan|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Ross, William (E Londonderry)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Rowlands, Ted||Welsh, Andrew|
|Ruddock, Joan||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Salmond, Alex||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Williams, Rt Hon Alan (SW'n W)|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Sheerman, Barry||Winnick, David|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Wise, Audrey|
|Skinner, Dennis||Worthington, Tony|
|Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)||Wright, Dr Tony|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Smyth, The Reverend Martin|
|Snape, Peter||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Soley, Clive||Mr. Joe Benton and Mr. Eric Clarke.|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)|
|Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan||Browning, Mrs Angela|
|Alexander, Richard||Bruce, Ian (Dorset)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Budgen, Nicholas|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Burns, Simon|
|Amess, David||Burt, Alistair|
|Arbuthnot, James||Butcher, John|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Butler, Peter|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Butterfill, John|
|Ashby, David||Carlisle, John (Luton North)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Robert||Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Carrington, Matthew|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Carttiss, Michael|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Cash, William|
|Baldry, Tony||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Chapman, Sir Sydney|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Churchill, Mr|
|Bates, Michael||Clappison, James|
|Batiste, Spencer||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Coe, Sebastian|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Congdon, David|
|Body, Sir Richard||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Booth, Hartley||Cormack, Sir Patrick|
|Boswell, Tim||Couchman, James|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Cran, James|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)|
|Bowden, Sir Andrew||Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)|
|Bowis, John||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Devlin, Tim|
|Brazier, Julian||Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen|
|Bright, Sir Graham||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Dover, Den|
|Duncan, Alan||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Duncan-Smith, lain||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Dunn, Bob||Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Dykes, Hugh||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Eggar, Rt Hon Tim||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Elletson, Harold||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Knapman, Roger|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)||Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)|
|Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)||Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)|
|Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)||Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)|
|Evans, Roger (Monmouth)||Knox, Sir David|
|Evennett David||Kynoch, George (Kincardine)|
|Faber, David||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Fabricant, Michael||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Lang, Rt Hon Ian|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Lawrence, Sir Ivan|
|Fishburn, Dudley||Legg, Barry|
|Forman, Nigel||Leigh, Edward|
|Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)||Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark|
|Forth, Eric||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Lidington, David|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||Lightbown, Sir David|
|Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|French, Douglas||Lord, Michael|
|Fry, Sir Peter||Luff, Peter|
|Gale, Roger||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Gallie, Phil||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan||MacKay, Andrew|
|Garnier, Edward||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Gill, Christopher||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Gillan, Cheryl||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Madel, Sir David|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Gorst, Sir John||Malone, Gerald|
|Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)||Mans, Keith|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Marland, Paul|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Marlow, Tony|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Grylls, Sir Michael||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Mates, Michael|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian|
|Hamilton, Sir Archibald||Merchant, Piers|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Mills, lain|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy||Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)|
|Hannam, Sir John||Moate, Sir Roger|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector|
|Harris, David||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Haselhurst, Sir Alan||Needham, Rt Hon Richard|
|Hawkins, Nick||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Hawksley, Warren||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hayes, Jerry||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Heald, Oliver||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Norris, Steve|
|Hendry, Charies||Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley|
|Hicks, Robert||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Page, Richard|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)||Paice, James|
|Horam, John||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Pawsey, James|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Pickles, Eric|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensboume)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hunter, Andrew||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Jack, Michael||Richards, Rod|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Riddick, Graham|
|Jessel, Toby||Robathan, Andrew|
|Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)||Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)|
|Robinson, Mark (Somerton)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Roe, Mrs Marion (Braxbourne)||Thomason, Roy|
|Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)||Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)|
|Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Ryder, Rt Hon Richard||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Sackville, Tom||Thurnham, Peter|
|Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Tredinnick, David|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian||Trend, Michael|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Shersby, Sir Michael||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Sims, Roger||Walden, George|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Waller, Gary|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Ward, John|
|Soames, Nicholas||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Speed, Sir Keith||Waterson, Nigel|
|Spencer, Sir Derek||Watts, John|
|Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)||Whitney, Ray|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Whittingdale, John|
|Spink, Dr Robert||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Spring, Richard||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Sproat, Iain||Wilkinson, John|
|Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)||Willetts, David|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John||Wilshire, David|
|Steen, Anthony||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Stephen, Michael||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)|
|Stern, Michael||Wolfson, Mark|
|Stewart, Allan||Yeo, Tim|
|Streeter, Gary||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Sykes, John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Mr. Timothy Wood and Mr. Derek Conway.|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ It being after Ten o 'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.