§ The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris)
I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your re-election. I apologise to you and to all Members for not being able to attend the end of the debate. I hope that the House will accept my apologies, and I shall enjoy reading the comments of new and not so new Members in Hansard.
I shall begin on a point of unanimity. I am pleased that the Opposition have chosen public services for today's debate on the Queen s Speech, because, from wherever we come, we now know that the delivery of public services is, as ever, of prime importance. In this Parliament, there will be an improvement in the delivery of those services. What makes that so important, especially to my Department, is that without good delivery of public services, so much else does not happen. They are the key to individual fulfilment and to people's life chances, and they make a real difference to the quality of life of individuals, communities and the nation.
I am conscious of the fact that we are all users of public services, but many people work in that sector and serve us well. I want to put on the record my thanks to the many hundreds of thousands, of people who spend their working lives in public service and do an excellent job. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I particularly want to thank those in education from classroom assistants and nursery nurses to teachers, others who work in schools and those who work in further or higher education. What they do is much appreciated, and the quality of their work can determine whether as individuals we flourish and whether as a nation we succeed.
The Department for Education and Skills is a new Department that will play a crucial role in delivering change and improvement in a key public service. Our job is to ensure that people, at whatever age or stage in their lives, have access to learning and education of the highest quality. For politicians and certainly for a Government, there can be few more important challenges than to get education right. Our obligation to get it right starts with the very young and continues throughout their lives.
In the next few years, the Department will deal with and improve certain areas. We will start by providing good-quality early-years education and child care, and will go on to ensure that we teach the basics well in 189 school, that we introduce children to a broad curriculum, that we celebrate the diversity in schools, and that we achieve a system that tailors schools to the needs of children and not the other way about. Beyond those compulsory years of schooling, there must be routes into learning that motivate people, that keep them going and that give them the chance to continue learning through further and higher education and in the workplace.
In all that, we must not forget that learning is sometimes for fulfilment and enjoyment as much as it is for employment. That is what our Department is about. If that does not seem a large enough task, on top of that we have the job of guiding education at a time when the system has to respond to a rapidly changing skills base in a world where information and communication technology has transformed the way in which we access information and learning. We have never before had such a challenge.
If we return to our own schooldays, we remember being given text books at the beginning of term. When we put our names in those books, we found that they had been used not just by students in the previous year but by students over the past 10, 15 or even 20 years. Now, day in, day out, the increasing number of information web pages provides a brilliant example of advances in the transmission of knowledge and in access to learning.
Ours must be an education service that does not forget the basics—that never forgets our obligation to reading, writing and number and to nursery education, while also being adaptable and flexible enough to meet challenges that have not faced earlier education services. Education is a key public service, which is why the Government are absolutely right to give it priority. The Queen's Speech made that clear.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)
Can the Secretary of State assure us that children with special needs will not be forgotten in the ambitious programmes that are being proposed?
§ Estelle Morris
I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this. He has been a keen attender of education debates and education questions, which is much appreciated.
I can give the hon. Gentleman such an assurance, but I am well aware that what is easy to say is more difficult to do. The pledge that I can give is that as we develop our range of policies covering all stages of education we will at all times consider the requirements of children with special educational needs, especially during the early years. All too often, tackling those requirements in secondary schools is tackling them too late. I believe that we will get it right if we build good-quality early-years identification into the system, follow ed by support for the children and parents involved. I am nappy to undertake to do that, and to make progress in the current Parliament as we did in the last.
There is a great deal to do, and I am conscious that in this second Parliament there is much on which to build. Four years of Labour government has brought a real improvement in education, and in life chances. Next September, those who visit schools anywhere in the country—in villages, towns or cities;—will not find five, six and seven-year-olds in classes of over 30. Four years ago, they would have found half a million in classes of 190 that size. In every age range—key stage 1, key stage 2 and secondary—they will see better class sizes and better pupil-teacher ratios. Moreover, we are building on the best batch of literacy and numeracy results that 11-year-olds have ever achieved.
I know the difficulty that schools are experiencing with teacher recruitment. Nothing that I say diminishes it, or fails to acknowledge that a task confronts us. But there are more teachers in schools than there were four years ago, and the quality of those now leaving training is better than it has ever been. One million adults have individual learning accounts, and, thanks to the learning and skills councils, training opportunities and education are for the first time being brought together throughout the sector. After four years of Labour government, 88 per cent. of schools are connected to the internet.
Whatever those statistics tell us, however, I think that the real difference that we have begun to make to the education service is this. Over the past four years, we have started to make people believe that education success is not rationed: it is not limited to certain parts of the country and certain sections of society. That aspiration for all, that belief that we must not turn our back on failure, and that confidence that we have a nation whose members and groups all have talent, ambition and skills—regardless of the postcode into which they are born, of the ethnic minority into which they may have been born and of their gender—represent a cultural change that has begun over those four years. Above all, the progress that we have made has been in embedding that high aspiration and expectation in the system.
§ Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)
I congratulate the right hon. Lady, and welcome her to her post.
Is the right hon. Lady aware of the great concern expressed on the doorsteps by pupils, parents and teachers about the way in which AS-levels were introduced, and about their long-term consequences? Is she satisfied that it was right to introduce them without any parliamentary debate, and will she instigate an inquiry into the mishandling of the process and its long-term consequences and bring the results to the House?
§ Estelle Morris
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those comments and for his congratulations. He is right: there is concern about AS-level examinations at the end of the first year six. That is why, well within a week of taking up the post, I asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to conduct an inquiry. My instinct is that we should not go back from supporting a broader curriculum for sixth form students. Indeed, that was the common starting point for us all. It is all right having parliamentary debate, but no one in this House or outside wanted us to keep the narrow range of A-level specialisms. Indeed, compared with our competitor nations, we fall behind by making children specialise too early.
Therefore, I want to keep that breadth, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right. My instinct is this. Children are doing two years' study in first year six and second year six. They are interrupted too much by having to prepare for exams at the end of the first year six. It disrupts that continuity and gets in the way of their learning.
191 I do not think that that huge change was got entirely right. That is why it is right to ask the QCA to take the matter forward. Although I understand why the right hon. Gentleman makes the point—I accept that people will score points on the issue—it is important not to confuse young people. I give this assurance to sixth formers who are taking those examinations now. They have not wasted their time. Their exams and results will be recognised by universities and employers and they will be praised for having studied a greater breadth of curriculum than they might otherwise have done.
For decades, a fatalism has been embedded into the system: a belief that some schools, some people and some neighbourhoods could not improve. That is beginning to change, too. Whatever the global figures are—I could reel them off until the end of the week almost—this is what is important about the statistics and raw data from the past four years: literacy and numeracy levels have gone up across the nation, but they have gone up more in areas of greatest deprivation.
I was in Tower Hamlets this morning. The greatest thing about Tower Hamlets is that the literacy and numeracy of its 11-year-olds has improved more than in any other borough in the country. If it can be done in Tower Hamlets, it can be done anywhere. It is about embedding high aspiration. GCSE results have improved. That is great, but they have improved the most in education action zones and excellence in cities areas. The excellence challenge, which supports children from deprived backgrounds going into education, is on course too and that will make a difference.
Education action zones and excellence in cities areas serve some of the most difficult communities. For too long, we have said that they have done well, given where they come from. Now we see better attendance rates, lower exclusions and higher achievement rates. If we learn anything from those figures, it is that we should never give up on any school, any child or any local education authority. The evidence of the past four years is that, if we get the strategies right, we can make a difference throughout the nation in every sector of our community.
§ Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)
In properly commending improvements in schools, will the right hon. Lady recognise what every teacher knows in schools, there are good cohorts and bad cohorts, and some years can be pretty dreadful and others better? Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect schools year on year to record improvements in things such as SATs —standard assessment tasks. Will she judge schools according to the trend over a reasonable period and remove the pressure on head teachers? Every year, irrespective of the cohort, schools are supposed to be better than the previous year.
§ Estelle Morris
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. I was a teacher and I remember only too well that cohorts tended to differ. What I do not accept—I do not think that there is any evidence for it—is that the whole nation's year-group cohort will differ that much. Therefore, I would expect improvements year on year in the nation's results as a whole. I do not think that we would find too much difference.
192 We must keep the focus on the results, but we want to move to value added as soon as we can for two reasons. First, as the right hon Gentleman said, it may appear that a cohort has attained less because of the starting point. Secondly, we must also address the complacency issue, as some schools take in relatively good cohorts but do not improve them to the necessary level.
Therefore, we have not only to avoid complacency but to recognise achievement where it exists. The sooner that we can achieve value-added results, the better it will be. It is about getting the key indices in place, which I reckon we will be able to do in 2002.
§ Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)
As the Secretary of State knows, I have much sympathy with her comments on value-added league tables. However, the Government were elected in 1997 promising value-added league tables. They have not delivered that promise. Will she give a target date for the implementation of value-added league tables?
§ Estelle Morris
Had the previous Tory Government done some of the leg work and ground work, we might have been able more quickly to achieve the results that we now hope to achieve in two years. In 1997, when I took up my previous post in the then Department for Education and Employment, I did not find research and plans on value-added results. However, I think—I shall correct myself if I am wrong—that the first value-added results will be made available in 2002.
We have already introduced improvement indices. Although they are not the same as a value-added index, they show schools' annual improvement. I am glad that hon. Members on boll sides of the House want both the raw data to measure results nationally and the value-added results.
§ Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend or her recent appointment. She will probably know that the improvements in the New Addington education action zone, which she has visited, have been achieved more quickly than those that have been made across the board in Croydon. Does she agree that such improvements are not only about investment but about lifting children's self-esteem? Many children are told by their fathers, if they have a father at home, that they will not be good at school because their fathers themselves were never good at school. We must work both with families and with schools to instil in children the confidence to believe that they can succeed in school. Such action, with investment in education, can deliver previously unimagined results in areas of deprivation.
§ Estelle Morris
I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. I had the privilege of visiting with him the New Addington education action zone, of which he has been a strong advocate. I pay tribute to the teachers and others who have worked there. Their message to children of self-esteem and self- North has probably done more than anything else to achieve the results that my hon. Friend has described.
There is a strain of pessimism that seems to hold that we cannot do anything about some schools and some local education authorities, but that pessimism has been questioned in the past four years. The statistics say it all.
193 In the past four years, 740 schools have come out of special measures, and 18 local education authorities have been subject to intervention measures.
Although we had headlines for decades about poor LEAs, previous Governments did absolutely nothing about them. If LEAs really are worth something and have an important role to play, it is very important that we move in and take action when they are failing. In the years to come, we shall continue to use those powers to allow schools and LEAs to get on with it when they have shown that they can do so, but intervene when necessary to prevent failure. Nevertheless, for all the improvement and progress that have been made in areas such as that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) where there has been a culture of low expectations, there is still a whole lot more to do.
It is a cruel irony that, at the very point in the development of this nation when education is more important than ever before both for economic prosperity and for social justice, the gap between different sections of our community is still too wide. The gap between the performance of schools in similar circumstances is still too wide. In almost all parts of the education service, the gap between the relative performance of boys and girls and of different ethnic groups is still too wide. The gap in performance between people from different economic backgrounds is still too great.
Although we can celebrate this week's report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that we have the OECD's highest level of bachelor-level graduations, the fact is that an estimated 7 million adults in the United Kingdom have not got the basics right in reading, writing and arithmetic.
I welcome the expansion in higher education, and acknowledge that some of it happened under the previous Government, but only 17 per cent. of young people from the lower socio-economic groups go on to higher education as opposed to 45 per cent. from the more affluent groups. That is part of the challenge that we face. We will not close the gap unless we invest in education and training. Spending on all sectors in education increased in the previous Parliament and will continue to do so in this one.
As the Prime Minister said yesterday, spending will continue to increase by an average of 5.4 per cent. in real terms over the next three years, meaning that we can build on the investment that we have already made and continue to invest in people and their life chances. It will mean that, by 2004, we will be spending £500 million on sure start, reaching a third of all poor children aged four and under.
We will be able to fund 1.6 million child care places by 2004, and we will have mote and better trained teachers and assistants. More child care places have been provided in the past two years than in the previous 20. That is the mark of progress, but the mark of how much more we have to do is that we still cannot satisfy the demand of every parent.
I said that there were 7 million adults without basic skills. Our investment will mean that 750,000 fewer will lack those skills, and we will set a target of 50 per cent. of under–30s going on to higher education by 2010. We will be able to build on our programme for gifted and talented children. We will work with universities and colleges to ensure that we expand that sector, but this time 194 we will do something about broadening access as well. Expansion alone is not enough. We do not want the figures about the balance of socio-economic backgrounds to remain the same in 2010.
The Queen's Speech makes it clear that our priority in this Parliament will be to deliver on our commitments and make real changes to secondary schools.
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
In considering access, will the Secretary of State also take into account cross-departmental issues as well as those that are entirely within her own remit? For example, children with special educational needs have been mentioned. For children with speech and language development problems in north Somerset, it is almost impossible to get a speech therapist. Will she and the Secretary of State for Health set targets so that we can see what progress is being made in recruiting speech therapists for some of our most vulnerable children?
§ Estelle Morris
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman talk about setting targets. In my previous existence on the Front Bench, I often heard the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), argue that targets are a bad thing—but we always welcome a conversion.
I acknowledge that there is a need to work across Departments. and that the question of speech and language therapists is key. Not enough were trained in the past, and there is a real problem of access. It is intolerable if the problem is caused by an argument about who employs them, who funds them, and who is responsible for getting the relevant part of the statement right. Sure start is a good example of cross-departmental working. It has not been easy, but we will continue to make our best endeavours.
§ Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)
On access, will the Secretary of State give some thought to the effect of the perception of likely student debt, especially on people from poorer backgrounds? The Government-commissioned Callender report, published on Christmas eve, showed clearly that the people most affected by increased debt are those from poorer backgrounds. As the Select Committee also suggested, that could be the cause of the disappointing figures for poorer students going on to higher education. Will she consider the Scottish example, and draw the conclusions that I believe are out there?
§ Estelle Morris
We have never pretended that this is not a difficult issue. We have acknowledged that if we want an expansion in higher education we must think seriously about how we fund it. Life has changed in those respects. When Lord Dearing considered how we could get the balance right about how much comes from students, how much from families and how much from the nation, it became clear that these were tough decisions. I think that we made the right decision; the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) is not correct to say that the evidence shows that there has been a downturn in people applying to enter higher education. I believe that the figures show that there was a 1.8 per cent. increase in people applying for higher education places last year. We await the results of the review to which he 195 referred, but no doubt we shall return to the issue in the coming months. Like him, we shall continue to monitor the evidence.
With reference to particular items in the Queen's Speech, we made it clear that our priority for this Parliament will be secondary schools. May I say as loudly and clearly as possible that we have many fine secondary schools and as many excellent secondary schoolteachers as primary schoolteachers? However, if one looks at the evidence, no one—no teacher, politician or parent—can possibly think that we are good enough or as good as we can be at secondary level. We must look at what is happening at key stage 3 to 11 to 14-year-olds. When tested at the end of year 7, their first year of secondary school, about a third of our students perform less well in the basic subjects than at the end of year 6. Not only have they not made the progress that we expect; they have gone backwards.
Key stage 3 results over the past few years are flat, to say the least. Ofsted comments on the quality of teaching at key stage 3 show that it is not as good as it is for all other age ranges. That cannot be right; we cannot accept that position, and must improve it. It is not a criticism of the profession to say that anybody who teaches years 7, 8 and 9 has not got it right and has failed; it is a fault of the system. Schools and previous Governments have not given enough attention to what happens in the transition from primary to secondary school or what happens in those early years. All the levers that have been applied have been about performing well at key stage 2 and at GCSE level. Too often, years 7, 8 and 9 have been left to coast, and the emphasis in secondary schools has been on year 10 and 11 students. The statistics show that the best predictor of GCSE performance is how students perform at key stage 3. We have got to get that right.
We will do that in partnership; we have to be rigorous and demanding, but we will also be supportive. This September, all our secondary schools will start to extend the literacy and numeracy strategy into the early years of secondary education. The most literate and numerate bunch of 11-year-olds that we have ever had are about to go into secondary schools this September. Not only are they the most literate and numerate 11-year-olds that we have ever had, they are better at science, are more competent in information and communication technology and have confidence in themselves. We cannot let them down or put them into a key stage 3 system that has always allowed children to go backwards, rather than push them forward.
Key stage 3 is therefore important and we shall invest in teachers' professional development so that, over the next few years, all our secondary teachers are up to date in best practice, have learned what works and have learned from their colleagues who are performing at the highest level. That will be funded; teachers will be supported and helped to manage that change. I want to make it clear that the key stage 3 strategy was not dreamed up by me, my colleagues, or civil servants. It was developed by our finest secondary schoolteachers; we are learning from what works best and what has been successful in schools.
Our focus will remain clearly on teaching and learning because they make a difference. To improve them, we must build more levers into the system, which is why we 196 are embarking on an ambitious agenda to create a diverse school system. All schools need to be good at the basics and teach the national curriculum well. However, they need to do more than that; they must be good at the basics and good at something special. We already have the beginnings of a diversity agenda in our school system. We have specialist schools, beacon schools, training schools, church schools and schools with a generous spirit that are supporting schools in other parts of the local education authority. Today, we announced a further 79 specialist schools and a further 425 beacon schools, exceeding the target that we set ourselves. Let us be absolutely straight that on offer will not tie a two-tier system, but a guarantee to every parent and child that our schools are well funded, teach the national curriculum and are good at the basics. Every parent knows from visits to secondary schools that much is the same in every school—they all teach the national curriculum and go through the same testing regime, and they even look vaguely similar—but that something is different about every one. There is something special about every single secondary school in this country. We intend to allow schools to build on that specialness and to allow ourselves, as a nation, to celebrate that diversity and to install the levers for school improvement.
§ Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)
The Secretary of State referred in her comments to this country and this nation. It might aid my understanding as a new Member if she clarified exactly which nation she means. When she introduces any new provisions for education in England and Wales, will she undertake to respect the judgment of the Labour Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in the National Assembly for Wales that specialist schools are neither attractive nor practical in terms of Welsh educational need or values?
§ Estelle Morris
The hon. Gentleman knows full well where my responsibilities lie. Devolving power means that nations make their choices and exercise their preferences about how they guide their systems, and I have regular contact with my colleague and shall continue to do so. We exchange ideas, but she will develop her own system. Our White Paper will also refer to that issue.
§ Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on her new post, which is a well deserved promotion. She smiled when she said that the new system would not be a two-tier one, because she knows full well that there is a two-tier system. Some 40 per cent. of schools will be specialist schools and they will get £500,000 more over four years, so it is a two-tier system in terms of funding. The extra 100 faith schools will also be able to select on the basis of faith. Increasingly, under this Government, we see not diversity, but schools being able to choose students. What will the Secretary of State do for the 60 per cent. of schools classified as "bog standard" and will she distance herself from that awful comment? How will she ensure that those schools that are not beacon schools, church schools or specialist schools will not be disadvantaged by receiving fewer resources to meet the aspirations of their children?
§ Estelle Morris
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of congratulation. Sameness is not what parents want, and sameness does not raise standards. Schools have their 197 own characters and missions—they ale not all the same, as I have said—and we want a secondary school system that allows schools to build on those differences. Our aspirations do not stop at 40 per cent. of our secondary schools being specialist schools. We are into transformation and radical change, and that will take time.
The hon. Gentleman will agree that when we came into power in 1997 the specialist school movement was an exclusive club. The progress that we have made has meant that some of the schools in our inner cities that serve the most disadvantaged areas—such as Golden Hillock school near my constituency in Birmingham—have received specialist school status, and they would not have come anywhere near it under the Conservative Government. I have every aspiration for schools to reach that standard. and he should listen to us when we say that that is our target. In the medium and long term we want to be able to respond to every school that wants to be a specialist school and is ready to take on that role. That is the message. We want diversity for every school—not diversity for a few or rationed diversity—to enable them to play to their strengths.
The diversity in schools that I do not like is that between the good and the bad, which has caused us difficulty for generation after generation. Although we have a record of success in turning failing schools around, some schools still have not made it. Some schools, often in neighbourhoods where no child has ever gone to university and nothing more has been expected from the school than what it has been able to give historically, have not made it, and we must conquer that problem. We have tried a number of methods over the past four years, with considerable success, but we have not yet got it completely right. I promise the House, parents and schools that we will not turn our back on a school where underachievement is almost institutionalised. We will work with it to ensure improvement, but we need to find more ways to achieve that.
That is why the Queen's Speech made it clear, as will the Bill that eventually comes before, Parliament, that we want to make partnerships with the voluntary and private sectors to find innovative ways to turn around failing schools. Our diverse school system contains a group of schools at the cutting edge that do very well and are the innovators for the next generation of school improvement. I want to free them up to he innovators, and they too may want to seek relationships and partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors. I want them to be able to do so.
This is not about privatisation. As has been the case with local education authorities, we will be rigorous when it comes to spending public sector money on contracts with the private sector. There is no question of money being handed over with no targets being set, and without accountability, measurement or a clear vision of where that money will go. The Queen's Speech makes it clear that the challenge of education in the public service is so important, and so much to be cherished, that we are not prepared to forbid the use of private sector expertise where that may be of help. The aim is to find ways in which the private and voluntary sectors can support the better delivery of public service.
198 I have no doubt about the responsibility that we have with regard to those who use and work in the public service. We have the highest of aspirations. We know that it will not be easy over the next few years. We have a good education service, but it could be better.
As Secretary of State, I am lucky to work with the finest generation of teachers that any Secretary of State has had the privilege to work with. Our pledge to teachers is that we will offer true partnership when it comes to raising standards. Our pledge to parents and pupils is that we will not rest until our education service is the best in the world. It must offer pupils the opportunity to aspire and succeed, and it must be able to realise the dreams and aspirations of all parents and students. That is what they want, and what we want. That is what we will deliver.
§ 2.8 pm
§ Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)
I congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment and welcome her to her new, more senior position in the Department. I was also going to congratulate the Minister for Universities on her promotion, but I see that she has just left the Chamber. However, I should like to welcome the other members of the Department's team. The Minister for Schools is a former Treasury Minister, so I am sure that he will be able to give us new insights into how to get around the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I also welcome to the departmental team the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), and am pleased to welcome back to the education arena the hon. Member for Wentworth (John Healey), with whom I served on the Select Committee on Education and Employment.
I am pleased to start by noting two points of agreement with the Secretary of State: I agree that the quality of public services affects the quality of people's lives, and I am also happy to join her in paying tribute to those who work tirelessly to deliver good public services to users. However, she does not need me to tell her that she comes to her job with a full in-tray. There is much to be done to improve the education system in this country if, as she proposes, it is to be the best in the world. There is also much to be done to put right the problems caused by the Labour Government's first term in office.
The clear message from the general election for all politicians is that we must address the everyday problems that people—both workers and users—identify in the public services. Sadly missing from the Gracious Speech and from the opening speech made by the Secretary of State today is any sign that the Government really understand the problems faced by people working in the public services, and especially by those working in education and the health service. It is those problems that affect the quality of service provided. If the Government believe that they can reform public services without solving the problems faced by those working in the public services, they are gravely mistaken. We desperately need to raise the morale of the teaching profession and of health service professionals and give them greater scope to use their skills and professionalism in the interests of pupils and patients. We have a real crisis of teacher shortages and problems of shortages of nurses and doctors.
In education there are real problems involving rising secondary class sizes. I listened with interest to the Secretary of State's comments on class sizes. She omitted to mention that secondary class sizes are now at their 199 highest level for more than 20 years, that we have more than 100,000 more children in secondary schools in classes of more than 30 than we had four years ago, and that we have more than 5,000 more children in nursery classes of more than 30 than four years ago. There is also chaos in our post-16 exam system, yet none of those problems is addressed in the Government's programme.
We have been promised more structural reform in health and education. In education we have been promised more sponsorship of schools, which has been interpreted as more private sector involvement, and more freedom for successful schools. If that means a damascene conversion of the Labour party to the cause of setting schools free, letting teachers teach and allowing the private sector to run schools that are funded by the taxpayer, I welcome it.
I certainly welcome the Government's conversion to the policy that all schools should be able to establish their own ethos and distinctive educational offer for local children. Over the past four years, I have heard the Government talk about restricting specialist schools and the ability of schools to have the freedom to set their own ethos, so I welcome their sudden conversion to offering that to all schools.
Anyone who talks to teachers can be in no doubt about the burden of their work load, the problems of red tape and their disillusionment. Anyone who speaks to heads can be in no doubt that they want more money without strings attached. If the Government intend to give schools genuine freedom, I welcome it. We on these Benches may be forgiven a certain sense of deja vu. Four years ago the Labour Government told us that the private sector would be able to run schools, but they failed to deliver. Four years ago they told us that they would cut bureaucracy in schools and let teachers get on with their job, but they failed to deliver. The same Government who tell us today that they will give more freedom to successful schools, three years ago abolished that freedom when they abolished grant-maintained status. Their conversion today will come as little comfort to schools that have seen budgets cut, courses closed and staff made redundant as a result of that abolition. Nevertheless, I repeat that I hope that schools will get genuine freedom.
I also hope that the Secretary of State's appointment will mean a move away from eye-catching headlines, initiatives, spin and gimmickry, although the first signs are not promising. Yesterday morning we heard in the Gracious Speech that reform of education wouldpromote diversity … provide new opportunities for school sponsorship … and greater freedom for successful headteachers and governors.That was spun to the press as greater private sector involvement in schools—the private sector being brought in to run schools. Yet barely had we returned from another place when we saw in the Department's press release, explaining that the education Bill was being published, that promoting diversity meant city academies, more faith schools and introducing advanced specialist schools—the very same advanced specialist schools to which the Government referred in their Green Paper last February. We are told that these schools could volunteer to take on a number of innovative ideas from a menu developed centrally—so much for freedom and diversity.
Far from the private sector coming in to run schools, it will be able, we are told, to introduce fixed-term standards contracts to enable private organisations and others to 200 support the management of schools. In other words, the private sector can help out so long as it helps out as the Government prescribe. Who, I wonder, will determine the nature of the standards contracts?
If the Government are serious about genuine freedom for schools, they need to take a leap of faith. They must trust teachers again in the provision of the curriculum, get more money direct to schools and start trusting heads and teachers to make the right funding decisions for their schools. They must accept that heads and teachers must be allowed to enforce discipline, free from constraints from central Government. Will the Government show their faith in heads by removing the fines imposed on schools for excluding pupils? Will they ensure that the authority of head teachers is not undermined by local education authorities overturning decisions on exclusions on appeal? Will the Government show faith with heads and teachers by accepting that schools need to be set free from the burden of central Government bureaucracy?
The Secretary of State can make no better start in her office than by tearing up vast numbers of directives and circulars that will otherwise be issued by her Department to schools and teachers. So far we have seen little sign of that. I hope that over the next few weeks she will be willing to take that leap of faith, and trust heads and teachers. Certainly, all schools must be given the opportunity to manage their own affairs and develop their distinctive ethos. will she show faith in heads and teachers by offering the new freedoms of which she speaks to all schools, not just to a chosen few flagship examples?
Will the new legislation include measures to amend the law to give private companies the ability to incentivise staff, as in other sectors and as called for by David Hart of the National Association of Head Teachers and by the chairman and chief executive of Nord Anglia Education? Will the Government enable private companies to make a profit out of their involvement in schools? The answers to those questions will show the extent to which the Government are serious about providing genuine private sector involvement in and genuine freedom for schools.
§ Mr. Willis
Clearly, Tory party policy is to move towards private sector involvement in the delivery of front-line services in schools. Will the hon. Lady explain how a company such as Nord Anglia, which is a for-profit company, actually makes a profit from that? Where does the profit come from, if not from employing fewer or different teachers, as 80 per cent. of a school's budget is spent on the personnel who deliver the programmes of study?
§ Mrs. May
The hon. Gentleman has omitted to notice that the policy of bringing the private sector into schools is now Government policy. I am saying that I support that policy, but I want to know whether the Secretary of State is genuinely willing to do that and to give freedom to schools.
What matters to parents and pupils is the quality of education that children receive. What matters to them is getting an education that can fulfil the needs and develop the full potential of every individual child. That is why I 201 want freedom for schools. That is why I want schools to be able to use whatever services are necessary to ensure that they can provide that quality of education.
§ Mrs. May
I will make a little more freedom—[Laughter.] I mean, progress. That shows I genuinely believe in freedom.
We will support freedom for schools, but we will not hesitate to point out where the Government circumscribe that freedom by red tape and bureaucracy.
Two weeks ago the electorate gave Labour the benefit of the doubt—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State may laugh but she knows that she will be judged not on her rhetoric, but on whether she delivers. She needs not only to deliver on her proposals in the Gracious Speech, but to resolve the serious problems facing education that were not referred to in the Government's programme.
The single biggest challenge facing the Government is the crisis in the teaching profession as seen in teacher recruitment and retention. The Government claim to have increased the number of teachers by 11,000 over the past four years, yet that figure includes unqualified teachers and some supply staff. The Government now have a target of recruiting 10,000 extra teachers by 2006. What does that figure mean? I hope that Minister s will today explain whether that means 10,000 more than the total number today, 10,000 more than current targets, a net gain of 10,000 more teachers or just increasing the numbers coming in without doing anything to stem the flow of teachers from the profession in droves.
The Government are a Government of targets, yet they refuse to set a target for reducing the number of teacher vacancies. That would show their commitment to solving the problems facing our schools, but perhaps their refusal is not surprising.
§ Estelle Morris
The way we count teachers and arrive at the conclusion that there are 11,000 more than in 1997 is exactly the way in which the previous Government did the teacher count—nothing has charged. We all have a responsibility for the message that we send about the work of the profession. Opposition parties, that say that there has not been an increase in the number of teachers in the classroom let down teachers and parents.
Will the hon. Lady comment on her target for increasing teacher recruitment? The Conservative party made it clear that it would not devote one penny to that, so we can be thankful that we have the resources. There will be 10,000 more teachers. Will she also acknowledge that the number of people leaving the profession is not sky high, as she said, and that the net gain over the past four years is indeed 11,000?
§ Mrs. May
The only people who are letting down parents, pupils and teachers are the Government, who consistently refuse to accept the extent of the crisis in teacher shortages. During the general election campaign, at the conference of the National Association of Head Teachers, I heard the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), the Chairman of the Select Committee, tell head teachers that there was no problem of teacher shortages and no crisis. He received the expected reaction from head teachers, who would not believe him because 202 they knew the reality. Once again, the Government are setting their face against the reality of what is happening in our schools.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
The hon. Lady had selective hearing that day, as she obviously has today. I have a witness sitting on the Liberal Benches who will attest to this. I acknowledged that there were problems, but I do not accept her constant theme of crisis, crisis, crisis. That is not true. and that is the case that I made.
§ Mrs. May
There is a crisis, as is evident from The Times Educational Supplement, which advertises 9,000 jobs in a week. The sum of £7 million has been taken out of our schools' expenditure, and head teachers must search desperately to find teachers to fill their vacancies. It is time that the Government accepted that there is a crisis in schools, and realised that the bureaucracy and red tape that they have loaded on to teachers over the past four years is causing teachers to leave the profession. That is happening in other public services as well. People cannot deliver the quality of public service that they want to deliver to pupils, patients and others who use our public services.
§ Mrs. May
I must make some progress. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.
Perhaps the Government's reluctance to face the issue of teacher vacancies is not surprising, given that The Times Educational Supplement and the Secondary Heads Association estimate that the current number of vacancies in secondary schools alone is 10,000. The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers estimates that there are some 30,000 vacancies in total. Against that background, a policy of recruiting an extra 10,000 teachers, be they full-time equivalents or not, over five years will make no real difference.
While the Government, during the election campaign, were denying that there was a crisis in teacher vacancies, Anwell Jones, the deputy head teacher of Ashford high school in Surrey, was warning:The quality of supply staff is so uneven that it has an effect on pupil behaviour. It might be better to give them four good days and send them home for one day, rather than a full diet that proves counter-productive.One of the first priorities of the Secretary of State must surely be to ensure that standards in our schools do not suffer as a result of the crisis of teacher vacancies, yet there is nothing in the Gracious Speech to address the issue; nor is there any sign of the urgent action that needs to be taken to restore the morale of the teaching profession.
We await the findings of the study commissioned by the Government into teachers' work load, but that has kicked the problem into the long grass, and action is needed today. Notwithstanding the findings of that report, the Government must quickly find a way to ensure that teachers are trusted again, feel valued and receive the support that they need from Government, not constant interference. That is today's problem, which needs action 203 now. All the Secretary of State's promised reforms will be worthless if there are not enough teachers to put them into practice.
The House will be aware that, as has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), there has been a major problem with the new AS-level system. It is clearly important that students are provided with a breadth of studies. The Secretary of State mentioned the need for a breadth of curriculum, but what is worrying about the AS system. combined with requirements for key skills, is not only the work load that it imposes on students, but the way in which other activities, such as sports, voluntary work and the arts, are being crowded out.
At a time when young people should be given opportunities to develop not just study skills in individual subjects but wider interests and involvements, there is simply no time. In the Daily Telegraph yesterday there was a report on As-levels.
§ Mrs. May
We hear laughter from those on the Labour Benches, but I shall quote students and teachers. I know that the Government have difficulty with that, but they are people who have been through the AS-level experience and speak about its impact. For example, Amy Jackson, a 17-year old who has just finished sitting the old style A-levels, said:This year, the lower sixth has had no time to look beyond a limited syllabus. The choir is working at less than half strength, the plays have been noticeably under-rehearsed, sports fixtures have been dramatically scaled down, and the school newspaper has been suspended because the editorial staff are all sitting exams.Far from broadening the experience of those young people, their experience has been narrowed.
The deputy head of Mill Hill, Julian Johnson-Mundy, said:There's time only to spoon feed as much as we can into the pupils before the exams. Breadth of approach has disappeared. What's left is a narrower and weaker academic syllabus and a poorer extra-curricular programme.The principal of Cardiff Academy spoke of the reason for these problems:lack of planning, lack of consultation, speed of implementation and an over-prescriptive syllabus.The consequence ischildren taught at top speed in larger classes for a shorter period than ever before.We welcome the fact that the Government have set up a review to examine what has happened. Although change needs to be carefully thought through and introduced to prevent further problems, it is clear that action needs to be taken to resolve problems before next year. However, we need a wider debate. We need to ask whether the new AS exams were exams too far. Has not the time come for a national debate on our qualifications system post-16? We owe it to our young people to get that right. Mere tinkering at the edges risks further change and further problems down the road.
Much focus has been placed on schools, and the Secretary of State noted that the Government's programme is focused entirely on secondary schools. However, another 204 part of our education system has been experiencing difficulties. The further education sector finds that it is losing lecturers to secondary schools. There is an industrial dispute in further education and all too often, in looking at the problems in FE, the Government forget that as many as 50 per cent. of FE colleges' staff may be support staff, not lecturers. Those are the immediate issues facing the Secretary of State, but they are not addressed in the Gracious Speech. We want action on those problems, not just on the structural reforms that the Government mention in their legislative programme.
The Government will be judged on whether they take action on such problems, not on whether they can introduce another education Bill in the House of Commons. We want an education system that delivers the type of schools that parents want for their children—schools where teachers can spend more time working with the children to make sure that they are properly motivated and get the best education possible, schools that give children a start in life that equips them to go on and realise their ambition and full potential, and schools with a sense of discipline where pupils can get on and learn without disruption from other pupils and where teachers are teachers, not policemen.
§ Mr. Rendel
The hon. Lady has said repeatedly that she wants to free up schools. What would she say to the head teacher of a small rural primary school in my constituency, who called me in during the election and said that teachers and head teachers were already doing far too much administration, and that she was worried about the possibility of a new Conservative Government because in her view freeing up schools would mean that more administration was passed from the local authority to the teachers and head teachers?
§ Mrs. May
I am grateful to that head teacher for her confidence in the election turning out somewhat differently than it did She was identifying the strain that she was already feeling as a result of the bureaucracy imposed by this Labour Government.
This Labour Government will be judged over the next four or five years on whether they free up teachers to get on with the job of teaching and remove administrative burdens from head teachers—whether they give head teachers the freedom to make the decisions that they want to make for their schools and do not tie them up in red tape, circumscribing them constantly by telling them what to do and interfering. This Labour Government will be judged on whether, at the end of this Parliament, schools face fewer than 58 funding streams. All those different streams have different rules and are differently administrated—taking up more time and resources just to get money from the Government.
§ Mrs. May
No, I will not give way any further.
The Government are doing nothing about the problem of bureaucracy and red tape facing head teachers today. The Government have been told for four years that they should be doing something about it, but they have failed to deliver. We have seen no evidence today or in the Gracious Speech that the Government have learned from 205 teachers and head teachers about the problems that they face and are willing to address those problems. It is on whether they deliver on those problems and not simply deliver yet another education Bill that the Government will be judged.
We want quality of standards, choice and discipline to be the objective of the Government's reform programme. I seek an assurance from the Secretary of State that the detail of her programme is as ambitious and far-reaching as we expect and the children of this country deserve. We now need to raise aspirations in too many schools, and one does not do so by burdening schools with red tape and constant Government interference: one does so by setting schools free, letting teachers get on with their jobs, widening diversity and increasing parental choice. We shall support measures that achieve such ends, but we will give the Government no quarter if their reforms do not live up to the expectations and ambitions of parents, pupils, heads and teachers.
The Government were given the benefit of the doubt at the election, but they will soon find that they have run out of excuses for failing to deliver. There is no more time for spin, gimmicks or initiative overload; now is the time for action.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris) to her post as the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. There could be no better exponent of our education policies than her, and I am delighted that she is where she is.
The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) would not want to accept advice from me, but if one has recently failed an examination—the Conservative party failed the exam badly—it is better to look at what one has got wrong rather than try to lecture those who have passed the examination on what they got wrong. We must have done something right to be returned with such a thumping great majority for the second time. I am delighted at that.
I have waited for many years— the recent general election was my sixth—for the Labour party to be returned for a second full term in government. It was vital that we achieved that, and it is vital that we deliver. In the past I have seen our party make the mistake of trying to solve all public sector and other problems quickly, and then lose because it has not struck the right balance in the economy. I am pleased to say that the roles of the Labour and Conservative parties seem to have been reversed and that it is now the Conservative party that is making such mistakes, which I welcome. It is vital that we get things right in this Parliament, just as it was in the previous one.
Three delightful incidents during the election campaign stand out in my mind. One was when I walked across an estate where many youngsters had been unemployed and a couple of young black kids gave me the thumbs up. I asked them what the Labour Government had done for them and they replied without any prompting, "It's that welfare to work; we've got jobs now and they're permanent." That made me feel good.
The second incident involved a pensioner who had previously received about £65 a week in income support—about 500,000 pensioners did not receive any pension at all because for one reason or other they had not paid into systems—but who now receives £92 a week. 206 Again, I felt positive. The third incident was of a woman saying to me that she had benefited not only from the welfare to work scheme but from the working families tax credit, and that that had made her more than £20 a week better off. That is why I am in politics, why I was so pleased that we won a second term and why I have no problem saying that we delivered during our first term.
We still have a lot more to do. For the best part of a century, this country has under-invested in its public services, for which we have paid an awful price. That is why I find it difficult to take all the Conservative party's criticisms of public services. Everything that it did during the 18 years in which I sat in opposition was designed not only to undermine the morale and confidence of the public sector but to cut investment in it.
There are a number of areas in which delivery will take a long time. The most notable one is probably transport. It will be extremely difficult to get transport right quickly. The recent high-speed rail link between Calais and Marseilles took the French 12 years to build. When one thinks that we have not even delivered a high-speed rail link to the channel tunnel yet, one realises how much further we must go before we can compare our public services with the more advanced services in many other European nations.
Similarly, I have no doubt that we have much further to go in the national health service, because that is about not just money but management. That brings me to the first of the problem areas of delivery about which I want to speak. I have no problem with bringing in the private sector—subject to certain conditions. It can be very useful in a range of public services. We should not approach the matter from the position that public is good and private is bad, or private is good and public is bad. We should simply ask which can deliver best and in what way. At the end of the day, it is the quality of services received by the people whom we represent that matters. That is what we are after improving.
There was one particularly important matter that we did not get quite right in the previous Parliament, and I am pleased that it is clearly in our manifesto this time. To deliver good public services, we need a well-paid work force whose morale is good. I emphasise that the work force comprises not only teachers, doctors and nurses but employees throughout the public sector.
Trade unionists and other public sector workers fear that private sector involvement will in some way lower standards of employment contracts, particularly salaries, hours, holidays, safeguards and so on, and that therefore they will lose out. That has happened in the past. Indeed, it was a major failing of the Conservative party when it was in government. It simply used privatisation or the introduction of private services to undercut the work force. It is not surprising, therefore, that the public sector work force was demoralised and run down over many years.
We must turn that around. That must be a priority for us, whether in the public or the private sectors, for employees at all levels in the health service, education, transport or housing. There is much room for improvement in housing, such as in the willingness of tenants to transfer to housing associations or other companies. All that must be predicated on an improved outcome for those who receive the service and a proper standard of employment and payment for the work force.
207 That brings me to the second area that I want to mention, which is by far the biggest problem facing us in the public sector: the long-term problem of the work of local government.
I think that all Labour Members—and, I hope, other hon. Members—realise the importance not only of the structure of local government but of councillors. We would do well to keep in mind one of the lessons that I learned in the 1980s when the Conservative party began to lose its councillors in droves. I remember that a group of about 18 Conservative councillors in west Oxfordshire stood down because of the then Government's policies on local authorities. That is an awful warning with regard to ensuring that our councillors have the ability to do the job and deliver the services that they want to provide for their people. Above all, recognition must be given to the jobs that they do and they must have a structure that enables them to provide funding themselves and to answer to the electorate.
Significant issues are involved in giving local councils more control, with the acceptance that that involves the responsibility to answer for the use of the money. If we get that right, we can revitalise local government in this country. Local government has always been one of the bedrocks of our democracy. Indeed, it was local government that led the industrial and public sector revolutions in the 19th century. It was local council members and mayors in cities who delivered the structure that made the industrial revolution work and that improved cleanliness, public health and a range of other concerns. We must return to that basis. I have long been a convert to the idea of regional government, on which I want us to proceed as fast as possible, but I also want us to revitalise and improve local government by giving more powers to local councillors and ensuring that they have the ability to raise the funding that is necessary for them to deliver.
I can think of few better examples of where we have still not got that right than housing benefit. When the Conservatives introduced the housing benefit system, it seemed almost designed to fail. I acknowledge, however, that it is also incredibly difficult to reform. If the housing benefit system throughout the country were to undergo a reform that worked in London, it would cost an arm and a leg. On the other hand, if a system were introduced in London that was predicated on what was done elsewhere, nobody would be able to afford to live in London. We have enough problems already in the London area in respect of lack of affordable housing, whether it be for teachers, nurses or other essential workers. I acknowledge that those difficulties are enormous in terms of the reform of local government. local government finance and housing benefit, but I point out that the way in which they knit together is profoundly important for the future of this country.
I should like to say a quick word about crime, as I have always felt that we still need to do more to support victims. I am thinking not so much about money as about the support that we give the victims of violence. I could not help but notice, as I think all of us have, the dreadful agony suffered by the Bulger family and how they coped with it. In a recent case in Norway, the family dealt with their experience very differently and did not have the same desire for vengeance. When one considers the way 208 in which the family were treated, one appreciates that they were dealt with much more sympathetically and were given much more help.
As is fairly typical of the treatment of the families of victims of extreme violence in this country, the Bulger family were given little help in coping with their feelings. How on earth a person ever would cope with such feelings is beyond me, but practice in other European countries is ahead of what happens here. For example, I do not think that, in those countries, there would be any of the dreadful newspaper-driven attempts that have been made to expose the two children who committed the murder in the belief that pursuing them throughout their lives will improve the quality of life for them, society or the Bulger family. More help for victims, other than of a financial type, would be very useful.
I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary speak about the need to deal with the asylum issue, partly by recognising that the core of the problem is that this country does not have a proper immigration policy. One of the reasons why the problem has been so difficult to deal with is that, as we know in areas such as mine, many people who claim asylum are immigrants who wanted to emigrate to Britain for work. In a part of Ealing that is situated in my constituency, it is almost impossible to argue otherwise, as about the third biggest group of asylum seekers is from Poland. It is difficult to argue that people from that country are fleeing in fear of their lives; they migrate to get work. The problem is that we do not have a proper immigration system that would enable us to separate the people who are fleeing extreme violence and to give them the help and support that they need. I hope that we can make progress on that.
I do not wish to delay the House much longer. I know that it is not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to ensure that a foxhunting Bill is reintroduced, for which she is probably grateful, but we must ensure that that happens. It is a matter of trust. As long as there is a free vote on the various options in such a Bill, people will be satisfied, but it would be a serious mistake not to introduce a similar Bill to that which was considered before the election.
Finally, I want to speak about the reform of Parliament. I listened with great care to the comments made yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition. For the first time, I heard him make some very positive remarks. He will not be in his job for very much longer, but if those remarks were a genuine reflection of Tory party thinking, they are very welcome. We introduced a lot of reforms in the previous Parliament under my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), who is sitting to my left, and her successor, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. One of the biggest changes was the attempt to programme legislation so that it could receive proper, in-depth and detailed consideration, instead of being the subject of time-wasting speeches. The reform fell down largely, but not entirely, because the Opposition wanted to use programme motion debating time as another way of wasting time and keeping us here late into the night. That will stop in the next week or two because of the way in which we will address these issues in the near future.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke yesterday about the need to reform Parliament. Let me make an appeal to the Conservative party: ultimately, all major parties go into opposition and into government, and it is in nobody's 209 interests to work in a system in which we score points off each other but do not give legislation the detailed examination that it deserves. One of the factors that produced voter apathy in the election was the feeling that the House had not reformed itself enough. That was not the biggest factor, but it was important. As we often call for other reforms of the public sector, we should sometimes pay a little more attention to ourselves. That is why I believe that we must take the matter forward.
§ David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)
The hon. Gentleman said that we should not try to score points off each other, but I should like to give a single example in relation to which his remarks about the guillotine or timetable system being driven by timewasting are incorrect. During consideration of the Bill that became the Football (Disorder) Act 2000, a serious human rights issue arose: the circumstances in which passports should be taken away on the basis of suspicion. Timetabling meant that it was impossible to amend the Bill in that crucial respect. Many of the hon. Members who were present, including a former Attorney-general, wanted to introduce a constructive amendment, but it was impossible for them to do so. The way in which timetabling is currently run prevents the House from exercising its proper right and duty as a defender of civil liberties.
§ Mr. Soley
I am not arguing that we got everything right. The circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman describes arose partly because of other things that had been happening at about that time. I say to him that we attempted to allow control of time by the Opposition and Back Benchers in general. I acknowledge that we have not yet got that right, but that is what can be achieved. It will happen only if the Opposition are fully involved. The quid pro quo for the Government getting their legislation on time—that has always been achieved through use of the guillotine, whether by the previous or current Governments—is that Opposition parties and Back Benchers have control of the timing of debates and can prevent Governments from kicking the difficult bits into the early hours of the morning, or whatever else.
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
The hon. Gentleman suggests that we have not had enough modernisation. Have not there been four years of modernisation followed by a very low turnout in a general election? How does he explain the fact that 20 years ago, when by present standards the House was thoroughly unmodernised and had all-night sittings and all the features that he has described, voter turnouts in general elections and, arguably, interest in politics and this place were much higher?
§ Mr. Soley
I could give the hon. Gentleman a range of answers. I have said for some years that the House was most successful in the 19th century and early 20th century. After that, it did not change. We did not change the constitution or the practices of the House. For many reasons, those practices became increasingly out of kilter with normal thinking and behaviour. If he believes that the public like the idea of his sitting up all night debating nothing in particular when most legislation is passed without scrutiny, he is not listening to them. I am considering not other aspects of hon. Members' work, but our effectiveness in examining Bills.
210 If we are to improve our effectiveness, we must do much more to modernise. There is an opportunity for the parties to come together. If the Government got anything wrong about the modernisation process, it was our attempt to work with other parties and get them on board. The phrase "got wrong" is perhaps inappropriate, because we should not have done otherwise. However, the process was consequently much slower than I would have liked and some aspects did not work. If Conservative Members will not come on board, we must modernise the House without their co-operation. That is undesirable.
We can consider a range of issues together, such as the operation of Select Committees and the Chamber. We could produce many more draft Bills. The media also have a role to play. The draft Bill procedure was described in The Guardian yesterday as a way of putting matters on hold, whereas it is an opportunity for people inside and outside the House, and those who are affected by legislation, to consider and comment on it in draft so that it can be put into better shape.
A range of achievements is possible, but the House must have the will to make them. It is not a matter for us, but the House of Lords desperately needs to reform itself. We can help to reform the way in which people reach the other place, but one or two incidents that people witnessed there yesterday may make them wish to reconsider structures in the House of Lords.
On several occasions, I have said that we need to reconsider the oath. There are many republicans here. I remember the late Willie Hamilton, who swore allegiance to the Queen but then denounced her and all her works. An oath to Parliament and democracy might be a better way forward. Hon. Members would be free to take the oath to the Queen and Parliament if they wished.
§ David Davis
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for intervening on him twice. There is a genuine problem at the core of the timetabling system. The hon. Gentleman talks about the involvement of Opposition Front Benchers and Back Benchers in the process, but timetabling is a deal between Front Benchers. Independent Back Benchers are often the strongest defenders of liberties in the House. They do not have sufficient influence over decisions about crucial individual clauses that they want to debate at length.
§ Mr. Soley
I do not believe that we have got everything right. There is room for movement and we have to reconsider some matters. However, everyone loses patience with the approach of, "Let's keep discussing the programme motion for another three quarters of an hour because we can do that" for the fun of it. If that is the name of the game, we must simply plough ahead with modernisation.
I have spoken primarily about public services. It would be easier to convince the public of the need to reform public services if we reformed ourselves.
§ Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)
I congratulate the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on a well deserved promotion. Plenty of such elevations are neither promotions nor well deserved, but that is not true of her. I also congratulate the Minister of State, Department of Health on her well deserved promotion.
211 Both Ministers are in important "delivery" Departments, and I expect that they may find the Parliament hard going. Again, the Government will be unable to meet the electorate's expectations. They will find themselves defending the indefensible, supporting the unsupportable and trying to justify the unjustifiable. Some contributions from Labour Members today have displayed a little of that.
I want to focus on four main themes. First, I want to examine the evidence on which Government policy on public services will or will not be based. Secondly, I want to consider whether the policies are planned or haphazard. Do they constitute arrival at a destination by a series of initiatives and gimmicks rather than by a clear plan? Thirdly, I wish to discuss whether the Government's approach is honest from the outset, not only towards the electorate and the staff who work in the public services, but towards Labour Back Benchers, who will ask questions about the Government's direction. Staff, the electorate and hon. Members—even Labour Members—deserve an honest account of their aims. Fourthly, I want to examine whether their proposed policies are well considered in the wider context of society.
I shall not detain the House for too long on those themes because many hon. Members wish to speak, including new Members. I hope that my hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) will catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. They bring a wealth of experience to the Liberal Democrat Benches and to the House.
On the issue of evidence, what evaluation have the Government made of the virtues of more private sector involvement in public services? What academic evaluations can the Government cite to show that the private finance initiative in the health service has been a success in providing value for money and in achieving their objectives? Such academic work has been undertaken in a series of articles in the British Medical Journal by the professor of public policy and her department at the university of London. She presents clear evidence and conclusions to show that the Government's implementation of the private finance initiative has been and will be a disaster. Instead of commissioning or citing more research, the Government have responded by attacking the researchers' credentials.
Perhaps Private Eye is the Government's journal of record since they do not respect the British Medical Journal. Private Eye states that, when the Secretary of State for Health appeared on "Channel Four News" during the election campaign, andJon Snow dared to suggest that building hospitals and schools by PFI was 'mortgaging our children's future', Milburn exploded in fury, denouncing Snow for accepting at face value the view of `third-rate, leftish academics'.I suspect that all three of those words were meant as an insult. Instead of trying to abuse and denigrate researchers, the Government should commission or cite research that shows that PFI works.
The Government should take account of good, pee-reviewed research papers. Their idea of peer review is getting Lord Falconer and Baroness Jay to cast their eye over a press release.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there was a gap in the speech of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills? She did not explain what the private sector would get out of PFI or privatised health And education services. At least Conservative Front-Bench Members are plain about the matter; their answer is profit. What is the advantage of the Government's policies to the private sector? Is not it also profit from the public purse?
§ Dr. Harris
The Government must not only show evidence that the proposal can work, but explain clearly what the price will be. If it means public sector funds going to shareholders in well padded companies, or another Railtrack—this time for the NHS—the Government should make it clear that that is the case or explain what lessons are going to be learned from previous privatisations. I fear that those lessons will not have been learned.
In higher education, there is good evidence of the effect of the Government's policies.
§ Dr. Harris
I shall give way in a moment.
The then Department for Education and Employment funded South Bank university to carry out research into higher education, which found thatmost full-time students, however, did think that their friends might have decided against university because of the changes in student funding and finances. 61 per cent. of full-time students agreed with the statement that 'Changes to student funding have deterred some of my friends from coming to university'. The proportion of students agreeing with the statement was highest among students from social classes IV and V…black students …and women aged 25"—who are—the very focus of widening participation strategies.There has not yet been a Government response to their own commissioned research in that area.
The then Select Committee on Education and Employment, with its majority of able but loyal Labour Back Benchers, joined in, too. It stated:We recommend that the Government should tackle the consequences of student poverty for retention by improving access to financial support for less well-off students, raising very substantially the income threshold at which graduates have to begin repayment and addressing concerns about debt escalation.Nothing in the Government response sought to tackle those concerns. We have academic evidence and a review from a Select Committee, but the Government still do nothing.
§ Dr. Fox
May I take the hon. Gentleman back to private finance initiatives? Is it not simplistic either to reject PFI out of hand or to pretend that PFI is in itself a generic solution? Surely the success or otherwise of any PFI project will be determined by the quality of the contract that has been negotiated. Is not the real worry over recent PFI contracts, particularly in the health service, the rate of return being given to get projects off the ground quickly to suit political timetables?
§ Dr. Harris
If one accepts PFI, clearly the quality of the contract will be important. The Deputy Prime Minister 213 was asked about that on Radio 4 yesterday and I have to say that, even having read the transcript, I do not know what he was trying to say. Even with a translation it was unclear.
I remember that, during the passage of the National Health Service (Private Finance) Act 1997, there was huge competition between the new Labour Front Bench and the then Conservative Front Bench as to who had invented the idea of PH, amid claims that whoever had done so must be right. If the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) considers those debates, he will regret the enthusiasm with which his party. as well as the Government, decided that PFI was the only way.
§ Dr. Harris
No, I want to make progress on schools. If the right hon. Gentleman seeks to intervene at another time, it might be appropriate.
On the proposals in the Green Paper on schools, will the Minister tell us what empirical evidence there is to back up the idea that they constitute improvements? A study by Professor Gorard from the Cardiff university school of social sciences was published recently—perhaps even today. I hope that my quoting his academic research in aid of my argument will not lead to his being disparaged by the Government. He says in his abstract:The specialist schools programme is seen as a key way of transforming the 'bog standard' comprehensive education system. This has been portrayed as meeting the local needs of parents. However, there is little evidence that such a programme can make such an impact …In particular, it is shown, schools that have control of their own admission arrangements will benefit the most and lead to the creation of a two-tier education system".He goes on:Our study has suggested that schools that are selective, or are their own admissions authorities, or are specialist tend to increase the socio-economic segregation of school intakes … When schools have two or more of these characteristics together—foundation specialist or selective specialist for example—this tendency is far stronger…Simply allowing more schools to become specialist. and perhaps allocate a proportion of their places to students on the basis of that specialism, cannot bring such changes about.By that, he means improvements. He continues:Rather. specialisation could lead to several clear disadvantages without any obvious compensation for most families.Will the Minister and her colleagues examine the available research and accept that their policy should be evidence-based, rather than simply put out for political reasons?
In terms of ensuring that the Government make plans, parents and their children want to know where this is all going to end. They want to know whether the gimmick-based, initiative-led reforms to our school system are going to mean the end of the comprehensive school. They also want to know how a selection system that could increase at any time beyond the Government's control, although only 7 per cent. of schools choose to select at the moment, is going to lead to more choice for parents.
When schools select, it is parents and their children who are selected against. If specialist schools select on the basis of ability, as they are effectively being invited to do, and if faith schools select on the basis of the faith—or the presumed or alleged faith—of the child's parents, a pool of students will be selected against. If more 214 resources are given to schools that have the freedom to select, the children who most need additional teachers will be left in schools without the resources and without the kudos to be able to select and recruit the teachers who are needed. That will not benefit the students who most need help.
On the Government's proposed reforms of the health care system, they seem to have decided that health authorities are going to be abolished without any planning or forethought as to where the public health function is going to rest. It is critical that public health is thought about at a local level, and that it does not all come out by diktat from the Department of Health.
There is no way in which the broad range of public health specialisms—for example, in environmental health, partnership building with local authorities, communicable disease control, health promotion and advice to commissioners—most of which are carried out by separate specialist public health consultants at health authority level, can possibly be delivered by a single public health consultant or trainee at primary care trust level. According to the Public Health Alliance, it is not yet clear what is going to happen to the public health function, which is possibly the most important function of health authorities—in value-added terms—in relation to health and quality of life.
In higher education, there has been an underfunded over-expansion of places, to the extent that when the clawback occurs for the universities that cannot fill their places, departments and campuses are closing. In NHS recruitment, the Government staged the nurses pay award in their first year in office in 1997, then fretted and wondered why so many nurses were leaving the health service.
The Government failed to plan early, in that they waited three years before expanding the number of places in medical schools—training places that were desperately needed and should have been filled at least three years earlier. The Conservatives were certainly complacent about our work force planning needs when they were in power. However, to delay for three years before starting to train the new doctors and nurses that we need for the future was a disaster of planning that will come back to haunt the Government.
Why do the Government claim that for schools to be diverse, they need to have different titles? We do not need a new structure for schools to offer different things. They do not need a specialism to be special. It is wrong that schools can buy higher quality with extra funding given to them only if they opt for one of these initiative-driven proposals.
A further question is, are the Government being honest? The Secretary of State's predecessor said clearly before the 1997 general election:Watch my lips. No selection by interview or examination under a Labour Government.We have had no clear renunciation of that from the Labour party in words, only in actions. That is why there is great suspicion about the Government's real intentions with regard to the private sector. They do the opposite of what they say that they will do, they do not deliver what they say that they will deliver, and they develop policies that, before an election, they deny that they are going to develop—selection is one example.
215 If the Government cannot be honest with the electorate and with the House, at least they could be honest with their own party. However, nowhere in the education section of the briefing to Labour Members alluded to in yesterday's debate on the Queen's Speech does it mention the extent to which there will be freedom to engage the private sector in the delivery of services. There are five main bullet points and it simply is not referred to. Yes, the Secretary of State developed the point today, but she would not take interventions, so we are left dangling to consider the idea, which is tantalising for some, perhaps, that there might be extensive freedom for the private sector to be involved.
On free schools, I wonder whether the Conservatives won the election. They did not deserve to win it and the electorate did not give them that victory, but it appears to me that the drive to free schools, an admissions free-for-all and freedom to employ the private sector, despite there being no evidential backing for that, show that Ministers are delivering to the Conservatives an election victory on education that is most undeserved, unplanned and lacking in an evidential base.
The Government talk, semi-honestly, of there being more teachers. Of course there are more teachers, but there are more children. If we are to examine the figures sensibly, it is the ratio that counts. Simply saying that there are more teachers does not address whether quality is improving if class sizes are rising.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
The hon. Gentleman takes a profoundly parochial and complacent view of this country's educational attainments. In that respect, he is similar to Ministers. What does he think that we in Britain can learn from the educational practice of Germany, France, Japan and New Zealand?
§ Dr. Harris
If there are lessons to learn, they are the ones that I am talking about: education policy should be evidence-based and planned for the long term; the electorate and Members of the legislature should know what they are entering into when proposals are first flagged; and the wider context should be considered when education policy is being delivered.
All hon. Members are concerned about what is happening in Oldham and what happened there in the run-up to the general election. I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong, but I understand that Oldham, which is a diverse community, has two Church of England secondary schools and that not one Muslim child attends either of them. The development of too great a freedom for individual schools over admissions policy, based on the religion or purported religion of parents, can lead to social segregation. I would like to know what the Minister will do to avoid such a situation as the freedom of schools to select on such lines expands.
On the NHS, we must consider policy in terms of the context. Regardless of who is to blame for staff shortages, although I would blame both Conservative and Labour Governments, it cannot be right or sensible to give NHS funding to private sector organisations in a blasé fashion to enable them to carry out work when that will lead to them recruiting from the NHS, which is the only source of staff. The Minister will accept that there are no pools 216 of unemployed nurses and doctors out there waiting to work, and providing such funding to the private sector will cause a greater reduction in capacity in the NHS and so more reliance on the private sector. A vicious circle will be created.
In the context of staff shortages in almost every health profession, have the Government, in their short-term desperation to meet false and counter-productive targets, given any thought to the effect on the NHS of giving taxpayers' money to the private sector to cream off staff in whose training it has not invested? There is no level playing field. The NHS, our universities and the public sector invest in training staff, but those staff might work in the private sector thanks to taxpayers' money—sometimes for the NHS, but, in the main, for people who can afford to go private rather than the poor with the greatest health needs, who are most reliant on the NHS. That requires the Government to explain whether they are thinking about the issue.
The Government entered the general election campaign making incompatible pledges: dramatically to improve public services, but not to increase fair taxation on those who can afford to pay for the investment in public services. Indeed. we know that the Government will raise tax, but they will do so stealthily, indirectly and unfairly. It is so sad that the only tax that they have ruled out increasing is the fair tax on those who are better off. I do not believe that the Government, without significantly increased investment, will be able to deliver what is needed to improve our public services.
The Government can no longer hide behind the Conservatives. In the previous Parliament, the Labour party spent a long time presenting the legacy of the previous Government as an excuse for every failure. Certainly, the Conservatives had an appalling record, but for the past two weeks the Government will have found that blaming "the legacy of the previous Government" has been truer than they can believe. On the delivery of public services, the Government can run for dishonest and unplanned options that have no evidential base, but they will not be able to hide.
§ Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
First, I offer my congratulations to the new Secretary of State and, indeed, to all her team. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who made a number of interesting points. Some I agree with; others, I dispute.
I want to consider the Gracious Speech through the experiences of my constituency and the changes that have affected it and Barnsley as a whole since 1997. I also want to make a point about Labour's victory, which should be put to Opposition Members: the electorate rejected the individualism of the Thatcher years, and one can see that individuality has replaced individualism. That individuality, which is a far cry from individualism, became embedded over the second half of the previous century.
In the four years that Labour has been in power, it has done much to pronounce that value of individuality. Individuality, as opposed to individualism, is the way to ensure that we create the conditions to enable everyone to fulfil their potential. Individualism has held that aim back. Labour's election victory was built around the idea of individuality—creating the conditions in which people are able to fulfil their aspirations—and the Secretary of State made her points creatively when she addressed the House.
217 It is right to emphasise education, as well as health and crime, in the Queen's Speech. Education in my constituency has improved dramatically over the past four years. For example, before 1997 and in the last year in which the Tory party was in power, some schools in my constituency had bucket monitors. When it started to rain, named children fetched a bucket and put it under the leak in the roof. However, within a few months of Labour being elected, we had our first new school for 20 years and major refurbishments, which have altered the situation dramatically, were carried out across my constituency and across Barnsley.
We should consider the national figures. In 1996–97, which was the last year of the Tory Government, about £670 million was spent on refurbishing school buildings. Over the past year, this Government have spent more than £2 billion on refurbishing school buildings, and my constituency has benefited from that.
When a building is pleasing to children, it encourages and is conducive to their learning, and some of the results in primary schools in my constituency and across Barnsley show that the refurbishment programme and the hard work of teachers carried out within local education authority guidance have achieved increased standards. For example, in the last year of the Tory Government, only 55 per cent. of children aged 11 were reaching the required standard in reading and writing. In the past four years, there has been a 25 per cent. increase in that figure. Last year, almost 70 per cent. of children aged 11 were reaching the required standard in reading, writing and mathematics. Those standards have been achieved because this Government have put the necessary resources into schools and supported the hard work of teachers.
I visit the primary schools in my constituency regularly. Only last Friday, at the request of the pupils of St. John's junior school in Penistone, I opened their new computer suite. I saw the excitement on the faces of the children using the new computers under the guidance of a well-trained teacher. On some visits to my schools, I have found that eight-year-old children using the computer systems have been answering a question that was on the GCSE paper only two years ago. Thus my primary schools have benefited handsomely from a Labour Government being in power.
In 1997, my local authority collected statistics demonstrating Barnsley's deprived position. They showed that we needed to create 19,000 jobs by 2001 just to lift us up to the national employment average. The same survey showed that the average income on council estates across Barnsley was between only £5,000 and £6,000 a year, which gives hon. Members an idea of how deprived the area was.
That deprivation, caused largely by the economic dislocation imposed on the area by an indifferent Tory Government, left us with a legacy that had to be picked up. The challenge has been accepted by the Government and we are now seeing the improvements in education to which I have referred. Those improvements are important for Barnsley's regeneration. It is realised that if we are to attract industry into Barnsley, we must have a much better education system and be able to provide industry with the skills that are required.
It would appear that, within the regeneration programme, industry is responding. We have already created between 8,000 and 9,000 jobs. Although we still 218 have a long way to go before achieving the 19,000 jobs that are required, it is fair to say that, as a result of the Government's economic programme, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel—although it is a long tunnel.
We have been discussing how the education culture is changing, and I referred to the way in which the changed values in society impacted during the election. Clearly, the perceived value of the education system relates to individuality. In that regard, I share the view of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon when he spoke about the change to faith schools and selection.
There is much to be gained from creating the conditions necessary to pursue individuality. Much of the gain could be lost if we were to revert to selection and specialisation in some of our schools. If we did that, we would risk creating a two-tier system, so we must be very cautious. I urge the Secretary of State to look carefully at the matter before making those changes, because all that we have gained in creating the conditions for individuality could be lost if we were to make the wrong move in developing the secondary sector.
The issue of health is also enormously important to my constituency and to Barnsley generally. The 1997 survey to which I referred also looked at the health problems across Barnsley and my constituency. It identified the fact that 30 per cent. of households—nearly a third—have a disabled person. Much of that disability results from Barnsley's heavy industrial base in coal mining and steel, and many of those being cared for suffer from respiratory diseases as a result of coal mining.
I thank the Government for much of the work that they have done, particularly in setting up a system of payment for former miners suffering from respiratory diseases and a scheme that pays compensation to miners suffering from vibration white finger. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is also helping to rebuild our communities. In the days of economic dislocation, Barnsley's communities started to unravel and they needed to be rebuilt. That is beginning to happen with the help of the coalfield regeneration fund.
Given Barnsley's high rate of heart disease and strokes, much can be gained from having a health service that can provide for the community's needs. South Yorkshire's health action zone works with the local health authority. However, because the health authority started from a very low base, the percentage increases have not been sufficient to provide the resources needed to tackle Barnsley's health problems. That needs to be looked at. Although a lot of work has been done within the health action zone, in health as in education there are dangers in involving the private sector. It all comes down to a question of ethics: the ethic of individuality as opposed to that of individualism; providing a service for need as opposed to one for profit. We must look carefully before extending the private sector into health service provision.
I have referred to the crime scene and I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to a new police Bill, particularly the setting up of a criminal assets recovery unit. I chair Barnsley's community safety partnership which, as some Members will recall, was set up under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Barnsley ran a community safety project from 1995. As a result of much of the work that we did in the town, it was taken as a template for many of the projects introduced via the 1998 Act. It has 219 worked, bringing the police together with the local authority and with voluntary bodies. It has enabled us to assess our problems and target help on them.
However, Barnsley has a drugs problem. The drugs action team reports that every 41st person in Barnsley regularly takes heroin. We have a population of some 237,000 people, which means that 6,000 people regularly take heroin. That is the source of crime in my area: 70 per cent. of crime in my constituency and across Barnsley is drugs-driven.
We must reconsider the strategy. The drugs tsar set out the three planks of his strategy: education, treatment and stifling supply on the streets. We have had some success, but stifling supply on the streets is enormously difficult. The decision of the police in London to concentrate their resources on hard rather than on soft drugs is a step forward. The problem in Barnsley is heroin, which is becoming a drug of first use. We must concentrate our resources to ensure that we tackle the problem of hard drugs.
I want to refer to the health and safety aspect of the Queen's Speech. The Cullen report will be taken forward in new legislation. It is important that that is done. The railway industry has a poor health and safety record, and it needs to be bettered. In the press today, it is reported that last month 50 trains went through red lights, so there is still an enormous problem, which must be dealt with via legislation.
Railtrack has failed, so I should like the Government to consider whether to bring the track back into public ownership. I think that there is a case for that. An opinion poll during the general election showed that 90 per cent. of the public are in favour of Railtrack being brought back into public ownership. I urge the Government to sit down with the unions in the rail industry—especially the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—and talk about the issues to work out a strategy for the future. It may be possible for a non-profit-making organisation to run Railtrack. I believe that, given the pronounced problem, strong health and safety legislation is required.
The Gracious Speech referred to NATO. I sit on the NATO parliamentary assembly and I am concerned about some of the plans for expansion. We must be extremely careful about expanding NATO, and should ensure that it is expanded into some of the former Soviet Union republics only if there is consent and understanding. In March, the civil dimensions of security committee met at the Duma in Moscow to discuss some of Russia's fears regarding the expansion of NATO, which were well founded. Anyone who has followed the son of star wars debate will have read in the press this week about Mr. Putin's meeting with President Bush. The Russians have made it clear that if the anti-ballistic missile treaty were ditched, it would push the world into another arms race. Britain has an important part to play. We should make it clear that there should be a European strategy on son of star wars, rather than different countries taking their own separate initiatives.
220 The Queen's Speech offers a great deal. It clearly shows our plans for revitalising public services, which I believe will be achieved in the programme for this Session and for the next three years. I am confident that we can accomplish what we set out in our manifesto.
§ Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham). The House was pleased to hear of the improvement in the quality of life of his constituents. At the beginning of his speech, he expressed his philosophy on why his party won the general election. I think that the reason was quite simple. I believe that some time ago the country decided to give the Labour party a second term. and there was little that either side could have done about it once that decision was taken.
I shall make a brief contribution. because I am conscious that many other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall say a word about health, a word about education, and then I shall pick up on the comments made by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) about Parliament.
If health and education are to be two of the themes for this Session, it is odd that the Bill banning tobacco advertising is out and the Bill banning hunting is in. The hunting Bill is hardly central to the delivery of better public services, and it is totally irrelevant to the needs of rural areas, which are trying to recover from the worst crisis in 50 years. Some of my colleagues may have had reservations about the tobacco advertising and promotion Bill, but I agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Health, who said on the "Today" programme this morning that it was the single most effective public health measure. Advertising validates and reinforces an activity that kills more than 100,000 people a year, and I hope that it will not be too long before time is found for that Bill.
Turning to other health issues with a political flavour, what happened in Wyre Forest is a lesson to all of us—the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) may catch your eye later on, Mr. Speaker. It showed the high price paid if an MP fails to get on top of a sensitive local issue and ceases to be the buckle between Parliament and people. It also shows the anti-politician mood that is out there, which has led to an appetite for voting for the non-politician who is campaigning on a single issue. I predict that there will be a lot more of that next time round, and we all need to be on our toes.
On the Government's wish to confront vested interests in health and education, they seem to have got off to a bad start. They have driven to the verge of industrial action the least militant group of public servants in the country: the general practitioners. I hope that Health Ministers will urgently build bridges with GPs, who run the most cost-effective and most popular part of the NHS.
There are a number of reasons why GPs' patience is running out: the increase in paperwork; the ever-expanding work load; shorter consultation times; endless reform; and more litigation. It is a sobering thought that the cost of outstanding legal claims against the NHS is a third of its annual budget. There is a more general point to be made on a separate occasion about our becoming a more litigious society and the injury that does to our fellow citizens, who, in effect, have to pay for it.
221 Failure to get on top of the waiting list problem has also created difficulties for GPs, who have to manage patients who are not getting the service that they expect.
Yesterday, I received a letter from a constituent who underwent breast cancer surgery in February. In fairness to the NHS, she said:I cannot speak too highly about the care I have been given thus far.In May, she was told by her oncologist that she would need radiotherapy, and that it would probably start in July. More recently, because of the waiting list, the approaching holiday period and the shortage of staff to work the machinery, she was told that she will still be waiting to hear about her appointment in August. That shows the challenge on delivery that the Government face.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
Which of the professions to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred have a training period that is shorter than the length of the last Administration?
§ Sir George Young
My point was made in a spirit of amiable consensus. The Government must confront this challenge because they have raised expectations. My constituent's expectations were raised, and she is disappointed that, having had the surgery, she is having to wait an indefinite period for the radiotherapy.
That leads me to the issue of resources, which I have previously raised with Ministers. They regard Hampshire as a county so healthy that we get just. over £80 per capita for every £100 that the rest of the country receives. The Government's own independent assessors say that they can find no justification for that figure, and until we get realistic resources to deliver the services that people expect, the Government will struggle to convince my constituents that the NHS is improving. In Andover, we have a popular local hospital. Substantial investment is needed to bring it up to date, and to cope with the requirements of an expanding town; yet a document published recently by the health authority suggested the making of economies, rather than investment in the building. That is another good example of the challenge that confronts the Government on delivery.
The issue of resources leads me to my next point, which concerns social services. It does not make sense to pump money into the national health service and then starve social services; that leads to blocked beds and to extra admissions to hospital, because care in the community breaks down. The Government recognised that last year, when they found some welcome emergency funds in the winter to deal with bed-blocking, but. such moves are not a lasting solution in Hampshire. We are spending over standard spending assessment on social services, but the county cannot pay enough to nursing and residential care homes, so they are closing. That simply is not joined-up government.
On health, the question arises of partnership with the private sector. If the Government want to pick a fight with the public sector trade unions, so be it, but an easier way of re-engaging the private sector would be to revisit the role of independent health insurance. The withdrawal of tax relief caused some people to cancel health insurance policies when they retired. That placed an additional burden on the NHS, and reduced the total spent on health.
222 I think that the Government should explore with employers and unions the idea of expanding private health insurance—providing it not just for directors and senior staff, but for the entire work force of companies and, indeed, their families. That would help to change the perception of the private sector, and I think the Government would find that the unions were on their side rather than against them.
Let me say a word about schools, prompted by discussion at the school gate during the election campaign. There is a real problem with recruitment. One school in my constituency is recruiting maths teachers from Bulgaria, and awaiting the issue of work permits. A head teacher in another school has solved the problem by advertising for new teachers before any of his existing teachers have handed in their notice, on the basis that some will leave and he wants first pick—preferring the risk of having too many teachers to that of having too few.
We need a much better regime for disruptive pupils, who seem to be getting younger and younger. Simply excluding them is not the answer. I suspect that I am not alone in finding that more and more of my constituency case load is devoted to finding an appropriate regime for excluded children.
Let me respond to the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush by saying a word about Parliament. Low voter turnout and the marginalisation of Parliament are two sides of the same coin. Last week I heard the word "humility"—from, I think, the Prime Minister. Nowhere is humility needed more than in the Government's dealings with Parliament, but I have to say that very little was visible in the last Parliament.
We have seen the Liaison Committee's report "Shifting the Balance", and the Norton commission's report on strengthening Parliament. This week, the Hansard Society published a report on the same theme. I want to make three brief suggestions. The first relates to Prime Minister's Question Time, which I think should be restructured to allow a sustained line of questioning on a particular theme. Of 179 Members, 128 believe that it is not currently an effective means of securing information or explanation from the Government—and I believe that the present cabaret is partly responsible for the fact that people feel remote and disengaged from Parliament.
Secondly, I think it wrong for the Leader of the House to chair the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. The Leader of the House is the Government's business manager: it is his or her job to get the legislative programme through the House. The Select Committee is a Committee of the House of Commons, making recommendations on how the House can hold the Government to account. There could not be a clearer conflict of interests than that caused by making the Leader of the House head of that Committee. The illogicality is demonstrated by the fact that the one Select Committee that never receives a response from the Government is the Modernisation Committee: that shows how close the relationship is.
The job of the House of Commons is to put a sleeping policeman in front of the legislative juggernaut. If I may pursue the analogy, our job is to get the driver out of the cab, and to ask him where he is going and what he has on board. The risk is that owing to pressure of time we will simply wave him through, sometimes without even slowing him down—hoping that he will be caught speeding in the other place.
223 Finally, I hope that we can dispense with the automatic timetabling of every single Bill. That approach is inflexible: the timetable is fixed before we even know how many Government amendments there will be. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree to informal, flexible arrangements, which I believe could work far better.
The new Leader of the House was described by the Chancellor, on Monday's "Today" programme, as a reforming one. Having listened to him at business questions, I have my doubts. In any event, in the longer term, whether he is or is not a reforming Leader of the House may be more important than any of the Bills mentioned in the Queen's Speech
§ Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)
I, too, congratulate the new members of the Cabinet.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, and I am delighted to be part of a Labour Government who have been returned for a second term. I am also delighted that the Queen's Speech referred to public services. In the few minutes for which I intend to detain the House, I want to refer especially to public services in my constituency, and to some of the problems that we experience in ensuring that they are delivered properly.
Like many other Labour Members, I campaigned on health, education and law and order, and the response in my constituency was positive. Unfortunately the turnout was low, but 70 per cent. of those who voted voted Labour. That compares with the result in earlier elections. The only way in which public services can be delivered—and were delivered during the last Parliament—is through a strong and stable economy, and I am pleased that the Queen's Speech referred to a continuation of the Government's economic policies.
The turnout in my constituency was as low as 46 per cent. That is lower than the national average, and caused me considerable concern. In fact, it should concern us all that such a large proportion of my constituents were disengaged from the political process. We have heard one or two reasons for the existence of such voter apathy in today's debate.
As I have said, 70 per cent. of my constituents who voted voted Labour. I could therefore say that there was considerable contentment with the results of the first four years of Labour government, and that I need not worry, because my constituents are happy with what the Labour Government have done. So low was the turnout, however, that I have no idea what the 55 per cent. or so who did not vote were thinking. They may have been thinking the opposite.
§ Mr. Illsley
I was thrown for a minute then. I was trying to work out the difference between individuality and individualism. However, I fully endorse all that my hon. Friend said, although I did not understand a word of it.
224 Although, as I say, it could be said that voters in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend were contented with Labour, the low turnout was a worry. It could well be that a large proportion of my constituents did not vote because they saw no difference between our Government and the last, or did not think that services were being delivered in the way that they wanted. There may have been dissatisfaction with some aspects of our public services, notably in local government. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) about the need to re-engage with local government, particularly councillors, and ensuring that councillors are accountable and are given the tools and the money with which to fulfil their function.
Public services do not involve just health and education. They involve law and order, street cleansing and social services; they involve the provision of home helps and warden services and, in particular, council housing. All those services are issues in my constituency. Considerable concern was expressed about those issues even among people who supported Labour, who raised that point on the doorstep during our canvassing. There are problems of law and order on certain estates in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) mentioned drug dealers and nuisance neighbours. Only a couple of days ago, a case was reported to me involving drug dealers. They have put cameras all around houses to alert them to when the police arrive to try to make an arrest following deliberate disturbances: people are moving in and out of properties all hours of the day and night buying and selling drugs.
Those people use unlicensed, unregistered, untaxed vehicles. They cause problems for the other people on the street, or on the estate, to the point where those people are frightened to leave their homes, to complain or to do anything—the dealers fire guns and all the rest of it. When approached by the police, they simply say, "You cannot do anything to me. You cannot touch me—I am beyond the law." In effect, they are because the police have considerable difficulty in obtaining prosecutions for that type of nuisance neighbour. Very little can be done about the problem unless some extra resource is given to our police to deal with it.
In my local authority, we have a new cabinet system of government with area forums. We engaged on a community plan whereby we asked members of the public to state their priorities—to state what they wanted from local and national Government. Instead of the priority being things such as education and employment, it was the environment, particularly cleaning the environment: cleaning up the rubbish, graffiti and environmental damage that have accumulated over the past few years because the "other services" block grant within the local government financial settlement has been squeezed as money has been given to education, social services and other front-line services. The money available for environmental cleaning has been reduced year on year. The public have now said that they would like their priorities to be recognised.
My local authority has recently had to propose charges on home helps and the warden service. Again, that has not gone down well with elderly constituents in particular, who feel that they contributed throughout their lifetime to national insurance and tax so that such services would be in place.
225 My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone referred to the level of serious illness in the Barnsley area. Only a few days ago, a local newspaper reported that one in three ex-miners suffer from some form of disabling disease. Coupled with the rate of local income that he mentioned, that is a cause of acute concern. Basically, local government services have been cut, while the council tax has increased to cover the shortfall in the local government settlements.
My constituency has many problems with council housing, which is a major public service, This morning, I had a telephone call from a Minister to tell me that she was visiting Barnsley this afternoon. It is unfortunate that I could not be there to show her some of our problems. Surprisingly, parts of estates are unlettable, which results in houses being boarded up. Therefore, some tenants have the problem of living in between empty, boarded-up houses, which are a magnet for vandalism, criminal damage and all the rest of it.
The local authority has been left with only one solution to try to deal with that problem: to demolish the council houses. It seems crazy that, in a constituency where up to 3,000 people are waiting for council houses, we are demolishing them. However, it appears to be the only way out. The Government options to deal with that problem are arm's-length companies, stock transfer or the status quo. At present, we are simply subsidising the Treasury by collecting rents, because they are deducted from housing benefit and the minimum repairs allowance, so the money goes back to the Treasury. That means that we cannot afford repairs and capital investment in the housing stock.
Stock transfer has already been rejected in a vote by tenants of the council estates, so we cannot progress that idea. The Government have said that the use of arm's-length companies will be on offer only to local authorities that are classed as excellent in the management of their housing stock. My local authority is extremely good at managing its housing stock, but it will be precluded from forming an arm's-length company. Therefore, we face a huge problem with council housing.
Again, that came across loud and clear throughout the election campaign. Basically, council tenants are saying that they would like the council to remain their landlord. The Government should look at the idea of allowing the council to continue in that role. As I said, our council taxes have increased in exchange for poorer and poorer services. That could be one of the reasons for the particularly low turnout in my constituency.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health knows, on a number of occasions I have raised the fact that my health authority is one of the most poorly funded in the Trent region and in the country as a whole. I have mentioned that, although there is a great desire to improve things, we are simply not getting the money at the speed that we would like. At the end of this financial year, my health authority went into the red by a considerable amount. Health authorities are not allowed to show a deficit, so the local health authority had to borrow to balance its books, yet the area has among the highest rates of heart disease, stroke and, in particular, cancer. I say again to my right hon. Friend that we are the lowest funded authority in the Trent region. We hope that he will address that matter, together with some of the other issues that I have raised with him.
226 The local authority runs a civic theatre that is being refurbished and, to assist with that, the authority submitted an application for lottery funding. Such applications are decided by the Arts Council. The theatre has been closed for about three years, which means that local operatic and dramatic societies no longer have a base from which to operate. Yet again, because we are Barnsley, our application for lottery money has been turned down.
It sticks in the craw of Barnsley people, who contribute more than the average to national lottery funding, that we seem to get nothing out of it. It sticks in the craw of Barnsley people when huge amounts of money go to theatres in London, yet our theatre will remain closed until the local authority can find the £3 million funding to refurbish it. I wish that the Government would look again at lottery distribution, so that that funding is distributed more fairly.
I welcome most of what is in the Queen's Speech, particularly the measures on education. I shall not repeat what has been said about that. The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) mentioned the importance of further education. Barnsley college will release 120 lecturers on voluntary redundancy at the end of this month as part of cuts that have been forced upon it as a consequence of the shortfall in funding that will occur at the end of July.
The college has lost income as a result of having to stop franchising courses. The idea of franchising came in under the previous Government with the incorporation of colleges. For some colleges, it was an invitation to go down the wrong route. It has resulted in my college having to repay £5.9 million to the Further Education Funding Council, now the Learning and Skills Council, and having a £2 million shortfall in its annual budget.
Consequently, as I said, there will be 120 redundancies at Barnsley college at the end of this month, and there will be further compulsory redundancies. The sad fact is that those lecturers will be losing their jobs for reasons such as bad management and franchising that are not their fault. I ask Ministers to consider providing assistance to the college to mitigate the effect of the drastic redundancies that will be made in the next few weeks.
As I said, a sound economy has been the key to Labour's success. I hope that continued economic success will enable us to continue providing its fruits in the form of better public services to our electorates. I also hope that Ministers will bear in mind my comments when it comes to the debate on the Labour heartlands—areas such as mine—particularly in relation to local government services, and will try to give us a better deal.
§ 4.1 pm
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Loyal Address. One of the most gracious acts that I have heard about recently was the posthumous award of the George medal to Eliza Ward, who gave her life trying to protect her boss. Her family, who received the award at Buckingham palace and would not usually be associated with loyalty in some people's eyes, were thrilled with Her Majesty's graciousness, which was reflected in the Gracious Speech.
I sometimes wonder, however, how much Her Majesty thinks about the meaning of the Queen's Speech. Although I believe that some parts of yesterday's Speech 227 are helpful for the country at large, I question other parts of it. As for a Bill to ban tobacco advertising, something seems to be wrong when we are spending money to help people quit nicotine but will not spend similar sums on people with mental health problems. I believe that the Chancellor has been wrong in the way in which he has taxed tobacco, to the detriment of our economy and work force. Nevertheless, recognising the number of people who die from an over-indulgence in tobacco, I am amazed that a tobacco advertising Bill was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
As the Secretary of State for Health will remember, I have previously raised the issue of general practitioner numbers and the reasons why so many of them are leaving the profession. Although Ministers have been talking about increasing GP numbers, I have learned that only about 100 people are in training to become GPs, whereas the Government's own targets show that 400 new GPs are needed across the United Kingdom. I therefore urge Ministers to reconsider the overall issue of GP practice.
Reform of the health service's management may be needed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, none of us should make the mistake of thinking that current health service managers will not continue to manage the health service if they sidestep into other positions. For years, that fact has been the secret behind all the reforms of the health service's management. It would be helpful if the Government, who have been urged to commission independent researchers to investigate the issue, were given some straight answers. Managers are practitioners of the art of presenting figures to suit themselves, and it is sometimes difficult for Ministers to learn what is really happening.
I was fascinated by some of the speeches in yesterday's debate, particularly by the comments on Northern Ireland by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). I do not know whether it was a confession or a slip of the tongue, but he said:please do not let your principles get in the way of your interests."—[Official Report, 20 June 2001; Vol. 370, c. 79.]I believe that there are some principles for which we have to stand.
I pay tribute to the professionals in our public services. As in this place or in any other community of people, there are those who do their work better than others, whereas others will try to avoid work, which is about the only four-letter word that is still taboo. Nevertheless, most people in the professions do a magnificent job in difficult circumstances. Many of them work longer hours than some hon. Members seem to want to work. We should not presume upon those professionals, but provide them with the best back-up possible. They are the ones who teach our children and deal with patients. They are also the ones who do the social work that we leave them with while we criticise them. I pay tribute to them.
Nevertheless, one has to ask certain questions. I ask some of them now because, as I understand it, responsibility for law and order and security in Northern Ireland still rests with this place. For many years, there have been questions about secure accommodation for young people who need care and protection. At the beginning of this week, we had a conference that was attended by one of the magistrates who has regularly 228 returned young people to family care as no secure accommodation was available. Social workers have done their best to care for those young people. and some of the families themselves have requested that those young people be placed in secure accommodation for their own protection, but magistrates have had to return some of those young people to their families.
Just a week ago, in north Belfast, one of those young people, a young man, fell from a block of flats and died. No one was prepared to understand that he needed special help. From all accounts, another young man, whose grandmother and other family members asked to be taken into protection, is now working for a gentleman who uses him as a rent boy. It is time that our authorities got their act together to provide protection for younger people.
I should like to address many other issues, but shall finish with a few remarks on regrettable recent events in Northern Ireland, where there were more riots yesterday evening. I wonder whether the British Government and other Governments around the world have begun to understand the message that they are sending to those who no longer want to use the parliamentary process but are prepared to riot, whether it is against capitalism or as happened in Oldham. What messages have we sent to those people by the way we have dealt with law and order in Northern Ireland? In a sense, we have crucified the protectors of the people. Yesterday evening, those protectors were again caught between two groups. As certain groups are not prepared to back the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Government have continued to go down the wrong road in dealing with the situation.
I have received a letter from Mr. Michael Sing, from Londonderry, in which he asks me to ask the Prime Minister a certain question on the Floor of the House. Although, as hon. Members know, it is difficult to ask the Prime Minister a question in such circumstances, Mr. Sing's question is fascinating—especially considering how difficult it was for some of us to discover what was happening in the discussions on the framework document. During those discussions, Ulster Unionist Members were not allowed to have any information from our then Conservative Government about the likely course of events. We went to see the then Minister, now the Conservative party chairman, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), and we were supposed to be told was happening. He was prepared to discuss only the heads of agreement, but was amazed to discover that we knew more about what was in the document than he had realised. We were getting the information from Dublin newspapers. The Dublin Government regularly communicated with Sinn Fein and the SDLP, whereas we in the House were not told, because the agreement was between two sovereign Governments.
The Belfast agreement is known for purposes of spin as the Good Friday agreement. If it had been signed on 1 April, we would have been quick to call it the April Fools or All Fools agreement. It was signed by two Governments, and I query whether Sinn Fein ever signed it, despite what people say about all the signatories.
The letter says:As a person who voted in favour and in support of the (Good Friday Agreement). I am considering as to the merits of voting at all!229 I thought that rather apt in the light of the comment made by the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley). The letter raises the question whetherWashington, London, and Dublin will embark on a sustained and 'Joint' programme at home and abroad to create a situation that will bring aboutthe abandonment of Ireland's neutrality and its accession to NATO, with the price being the separation of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom.
I put it to the House that we are responsible for the whole of the Kingdom, be it the Welsh Principality, the Scots nation, the Province of Northern Ireland or the regions of England. The Government must pledge themselves in negotiations with the United States not to listen only to those who are not happy with President Bush's views on defence. It is important to learn from the past. If rogue states have bombed our territory by providing Semtex for terrorism here, the United States must be prepared, if it wants to use our country as a base for its activities, to provide the same protection for our people as for its own. Such protection must be in the legislation dealing with our international relationships, and I hope that the House will take cognisance of that.
§ Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)
It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in the Session. I am conscious of the honour bestowed on me by my constituents, and I thank them for electing me.
I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Malcolm Chisholm. He was first elected to the House as the Member of Parliament for Leith in 1992 and was re-elected in 1997 for the enlarged constituency of Edinburgh, North and Leith. He served as a Minister in the Scottish Office in 1997. In 1999, he was elected to the Scottish Parliament as a Member for the same constituency, and he quickly gained the respect of people there for his integrity and honesty. I am delighted to say that he was appointed last year as a Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care in the Scottish Executive. In addition to his commitment to the Scottish Parliament and Government, he continues to be an assiduous and hard-working constituency Member. He has given and continues to give me much support as a candidate and, since my election, as a Member of Parliament. He is held in high regard throughout the constituency and I will be well satisfied if I can earn a similar respect there.
The two parts of my constituency have been represented by a long line of right hon. and hon. Members who made their mark in public life in a variety of ways. In 1992, Malcolm Chisholm took the seat from Ron Brown, who, as some may recall, played from time to time what might be called a colourful role in the House. Before him, Leith's Labour Member was Ronald King Murray, who left the House in 1979 to serve as a judge in the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary, from which appointment he has recently retired, having fulfilled his judicial duties most ably.
The Edinburgh, North part of my constituency was for some years represented by the late Sir Alex Fletcher, who I know was held in high esteem across the political spectrum.
I note that I appear to be the first Leith Member to be not just a Labour Member but a Labour and Co-operative Member. I am proud to be the first to carry the Co-operative as well as the Labour banner.
230 As its name indicates, my constituency brings together the port of Leith with part of Edinburgh proper. Indeed, notwithstanding the name "Edinburgh, North", it takes in much of the city centre, starting from Princes street and the New Town and running down to the Firth of Forth. It encompasses many distinctive local communities. Leith and Edinburgh both have a strong sense of community and civic identity, with proud histories.
Indeed, Edinburgh is one of those places of which it can truly be said that its origins are lost in the mists of time. In my researches for this speech, I was intrigued to discover that one historian in the 16th century suggested that Edinburgh had been founded in 889 BC. I am disappointed to say that modern historians consider that date a millennium or two premature. Nevertheless, Edinburgh has a long history, as does the port of Leith.
As is often the case with two neighbouring communities, the history of Leith has often been defined in terms of its uneasy relationship with its larger neighbour. For almost 90 years, up to 1920, Leith was independent of Edinburgh. Some of the port's older residents still speak with some resentment of its incorporation into Edinburgh by Parliament in the face of a 5:1 vote against in a referendum of the people of Leith in 1919. Controversy over local government boundaries is not a new phenomenon.
Notwithstanding their long and varied histories, it is probably the past decade, or even the past five years, that has witnessed the most dramatic changes in Edinburgh and Leith. Leith was traditionally the port of Edinburgh, making much of its living from the sea or from industries indirectly associated with it. Such activity has now declined considerably as a source of employment, although the port is still a major feature of central Leith. A massive redevelopment of the waterfront area is under way and will accelerate over the next few years.
Edinburgh as a whole is now a city of dynamism and confidence, a state of affairs to which the most significant recent contribution has been the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, helping to make it once again a true European capital city. Moreover, thanks in no small part to the Government's economic policies and the progressive leadership of the city's council, of which I have been privileged to be a member for many years, Edinburgh has a vibrant economy, and over the past four years unemployment has fallen by more than 60 per cent.
However, as in many cities in which the general picture is one of economic prosperity, there are areas in my constituency, and sectors of society, that suffer severe deprivation and social exclusion. I believe that the Government's tax and welfare policies give us for the first time ever the possibility of lifting such areas and the people who live in them out of poverty once and for all.
My constituency is a fascinating place, with a rich variety of people, communities and cultures. I am proud to represent it in Parliament, especially as I am not a native of the city, although I have lived there for more than 25 years and have grown to love it very much. The constituency is very mixed, but the benefits of Labour policies over the past four years and the improvements in public services can be seen everywhere.
231 Much of our debate has concentrated on education. That is of course a devolved matter, but my constituents are pleased that the £83 million public-private partnership investment will bring to the constituency four new or totally refurbished schools.
My constituents also know that, in some cases, public services are not of the quality that they should be, and they want further improvements in them. Above all, they are interested in results and they want pragmatic solutions that will work, which is why. I heartily welcome the Government's decision to place investment and reform in the public services at the centre of their agenda for a second term. Exactly how that reform will be achieved will doubtless be debated further today and will be debated in the House and elsewhere in future.
In closing, as a Labour and Co-operative Member, may I express the hope that the Government will bear in mind the special features and advantages that the co-operative and mutual model can bring to the provision of public services? I note with interest the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) on the rail industry; his idea on that issue is worthy of consideration.
§ Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) and hear his maiden speech. I am not sure which clan the Lazarowiczs are affiliated to, but he wove his own tartan this afternoon, and I am sure that we all look forward to him elaborating his themes and talking about his constituency. He paid proper tribute to his predecessor, who was well respected in the House; the hon. Gentleman's commitment to his constituency, his understanding of its needs and his intention to enjoy it, which is important for a Member a Parliament, came through clearly from his speech. He is certainly a welcome colleague and a worthy opponent.
I wish to ask for the indulgence of the House as I want to talk about something that is extremely important for my constituency but is not the main theme for today—the foot and mouth outbreak, which is of such imminent and urgent importance that I believe that the House will understand why I wish to raise it. Since the general election was called, there have been 80 confirmed cases and one slaughter on suspicion in my constituency and the neighbouring part of Lancashire. In addition, 326 premises have been culled out; nearly 250,000 animals will have been slaughtered in the few weeks since the Prime Minister announced that he intended to dissolve Parliament.
My constituency had already been at a standstill for weeks before that because of the impact of foot and mouth in Wensleydale, Cumbria, Lancashire and Bradford. When the rest of the country believed that things were over—indeed, the Government were telling us that the disease was under control and all the graphs happily pointed to it petering out on or about 7 June—we had a virulent, violent and destructive outbreak that consumed all other activity. For many of my constituents, the general election was a surreal event taking place on a distant planet.
232 First, we had a long silence. For two weeks after the outbreak, we did not hear a word from any Minister of any description to acknowledge that it even existed. The sense of rising anger was palpable; people felt that they were being left to cope with the outbreak by themselves. Not merely did the world not know about the outbreak, it did not want to know about it. Then, we felt a sense of claustrophobic embattlement. Anybody who has driven down certain roads and seen fields where there used to be animals, but where there is now nothing, or witnessed the absolute silence and people not coming out of their houses, will have picked up a palpable sense of paranoia that is almost intimidating.
Anger followed, because nobody understood what was happening and did not want to know about the unfolding drama. We had no information and nobody explained what was happening, so we had myths, which will always take the place of information when it is lacking. We now have myths that are so virulent that they have almost become gospel. There is the myth that in 1998 the Government agreed with the European Union simply to remove the livestock industry from the United Kingdom. Some people believe that passionately. There is also the belief that on 8 June there would be a super-cull of all the remaining animals; that was part of the same process. We even had the myth—it sounds comic, but one has to live in this atmosphere to understand how it was born—that Saddam Hussein was flying across the constituency in a helicopter, chucking out infected meat. That sounds comic, and people laugh at it instinctively, but one has to have experienced the sense of living on a nervous edge to understand why those myths took root.
It is vital that the Government deal, first, with the rumours and say simply that those things are not true. That may be self-evident, but sometimes what is self-evident has to be expressed. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs came to the House today to make a statement. That was a good start, but she should also explain what is happening. The former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was booking hotel rooms around the country, reserving lorry parks and putting logistics in place. It was perfectly sensible do so because its epidemiologists were trying to forecast where there might be another problem and be ahead of it, not behind it. People are mature enough to understand that that is a sensible activity; they should not pick it up from rumour and assume that it indicates that a plot or conspiracy is afoot and that the Government know something that they do not.
A consequence of that is that officials of the Ministry, whom I commend, were exposed to all sorts of media interrogations on public platforms. Frankly, that is the job of Ministers, and we should not ask officials to undertake it. If, in addition, there is evidence that the disease has been spread because of improper observation of the rules and negligence, it is important that that is spelt out and that prosecutions follow. Once again, we have rumours, we have hints of a cause, but substance has not been given to those hints. In a landscape of shifting sentiment, it is important that as many anchors as possible should be put in place.
The efficiency of the operation has been generally acknowledged. I know that there have been incidences of blunders, wrong decisions and cases in which things have gone wrong but, on the whole, farmers in my constituency 233 accept that the cull was carried out efficiently and with sensitivity. The problem is what has happened since. There is an enormous bottleneck in the people available to advise on cleansing operations. Farmers whose premises were culled out a month ago are still waiting to get an indication of what will take place and a timetable for rehabilitation and reoccupation. We need a bible of what happens. The real problem is not a shortage of vets; it is a myth that that is a problem. Quite frankly, vets are doing jobs that less-qualified people could do, but there is a terrible shortage of animal health officers. There are 11 animal health officers available to deal with the outbreak in my area, when usually we have five. As a result, only some 50-odd premises out of the 500 infected in Yorkshire are on the way to being cleansed and eventually brought back into use.
Of course, farmers whose animals have been culled receive compensation. If we are honest, the valuations have been relatively generous. Some of my greatest concern is reserved for farmers in my constituency whose animals have not had foot and mouth; frankly, it is in their every economic interest for their animals to get it as soon as possible. The Secretary of State announced some relaxation of movement controls, but those farmers are utterly imprisoned and have no prospect of compensation. They are simply waiting to see whether the disease will eventually advance and strike their holdings, whereas the farmers whose animals have caught the disease will ultimately receive compensation.
I have a great fear of the possibility of conflict in the countryside. Thousands of businesses have been brought to a halt by the outbreak and have been offered paltry assistance. I accept that the Government will not give collateral aid or direct compensation to businesses that have lost out as a result of foot and mouth. I do not think that any Government would do that and it is not realistic to ask for it, but the relatively small measures for such businesses pale into insignificance in comparison with some of the cheques that will go to farmers.
I do not dispute the trauma of the slaughter and the impact on families who have spent generations building herds. I am not suggesting that compensation is a pay-off for the trauma that a family suffers, but it will enable some to get out and some to go on.
Many businesses now face a summer that is already shot as far as they are concerned. Many parts of the country are now talking about getting back to business, but we face the prospect of no business, because there is no realistic prospect of the countryside being freed up this side of the summer. That will lead to a winter, for some at least, of bankruptcy. It is important to realise how much businesses depend on each other in the countryside. Farmers must be sensitive to the needs of other businesses, just as other businesses must understand the susceptibility and nervousness of farmers when it comes to opening up the countryside and footpaths being brought back into use.
I hope that the Government will not funk having a proper inquiry. It will certainly find that some responsibility must be carried by the previous Government in terms of manpower and staffing, so there is no reason for the present Government to assume that it would be one long indictment of them. If we have to get used to the disease being endemic in the United Kingdom—if it has been in the sheep flock for a long time, that is a possibility, but I hope that blood tests will 234 demonstrate that it is containable—we shall have to think about how we deal with future outbreaks. My own view is that it is inconceivable that our response to another outbreak on the same scale would be the slaughter policy that we have just seen, because it would not be tolerated. A public inquiry into what went right and what went wrong, and to explore the practical alternatives, would do everyone a service.
I ask the Government for four rapid decisions concerning business. The business rate relief scheme ends this month. That means that many businesses that still have no business, no cash and no customers still need help. Government aid for the affected regions was all decided before the outbreak hit the so-called Settle-Clitheroe triangle. That means that the £2.5 million available is wholly out of proportion to the scale of the disease in our area, because it started late when decisions had already been taken. The Government aid that is given to match voluntary funding through the Countryside Agency also runs out in June, and that needs renewing. We also need some assistance with tourism, because 90 per cent. of tourists in the Yorkshire dales are from the UK. Some 80 per cent. of that 90 per cent. are regional tourists, not international tourists. I would be happy to try to reassure some of the more paranoiac American visitors that it is safe to come to the UK, but I would much rather get them in from Bradford, Barnsley—we had a sort of Barnsley chop earlier, when we heard from both halves of Barnsley—Leeds and Liverpool, because that will achieve the immediate spend that we need.
I wish to address two other issues briefly. There is a hidden industry in the countryside in Britain—the care of the elderly. We have recently discussed the issue of residential care homes and North Yorkshire has suffered particularly, because the grant system was changed and the new formula penalised us. However, a significant number of the people in care homes in North Yorkshire put themselves into care and were able to pay for it but have now run out of funding. They thus fall as a charge on the local authority but the Government do not count them in the calculation under which the local authority is funded, which is a significant problem. Proper fees must be paid if care homes are to remain in business. If they do not remain in business, all the reconfiguration of health and social services—itself the subject of controversy in my constituency—will be handicapped, because the care in the community aspect will be very vulnerable. I hope that the Government will consider that point.
I also belong to the group of Members of Parliament concerned about the future of the House, and I ask the Government to take three issues into account, the first of which is a change in style. In the previous Session, we experienced what can be described only as a Stalinist approach to managing Government business. I hope that we will see much more flexibility in the timetabling. Secondly, I hope that the Government will act rapidly so that the Select Committees can reflect the new geometry of Whitehall to enable us to start our work as quickly as possible. I do not share the view that the sole problem with Select Committees is that their members are nominated by the Whips, because attendance is also a problem. We need to move more towards the congressional end of the congressional-parliamentary scale if Select Committees are to be effective. Finally, I agree that the Modernisation Committee should be in the hands of the House and chaired by a Back Bencher. 235 Having the Leader of the House chairing the Committee is tantamount to making the camp commandant the chairman of the escape committee. That does not work and I hope that all hon. Members—especially those who are new to the House—will realise that we must all seek to amplify the role of the House if we are to change voters' reactions to us. Otherwise, we will fall in with a system that will end by eroding the worth of all of us.
§ Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)
I am grateful for being called in this debate on an historic Gracious Speech. It is historic for Labour Members because it marks the first time that we have been elected for a second full term with the majority necessary to carry out our policies. I congratulate my new hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) on his maiden speech. It was excellent and I am sure that he will make a fine parliamentarian.
This speech is like another maiden speech for me, because I spent the past four years on the Treasury Bench as a Government Whip. It feels odd up here on the Back Benches and it is certainly much higher than I remember it when I sat in a similar position on the other side of the Chamber. Instead of being restricted to moving formal motions on behalf of the Government, I am looking forward to making some less restricted interventions. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for giving me the opportunity to be part of his first Government—the first Labour Government after 18 years of the Tories—but I must admit that it was more than a tad disappointing when he broke the news to me that he did not want me in his second Administration. I guess that he was suggesting that I should spend more time with my golf clubs. However, it is no good crying about such things and there is plenty of work for Back Benchers to do.
While that lot over on the Tory Benches are busy examining their collective political navel, and no doubt disappearing into political oblivion, we have been elected to deliver better public services and to improve the lives of our people. In our first term, we undoubtedly laid sound foundations from which to go forward. We have a sound and stable economy that is unprecedented in recent times. We have made a good start on improving our health and education systems, on fighting crime and on reducing unemployment. After 18 years of the Tories, constituencies such as Doncaster, North had suffered more than most. The Tories said then that unemployment was a price worth paying. The problem was that it was not the Tories or their supporters who did the paying but people in constituencies such as mine, where thousands were thrown on to the scrap heap and left to rot on state handouts with little future and even less hope. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Order. That is the second time that I have heard a mobile phone go off in the Chamber this afternoon. I do not know whose phone is ringing now, but I remind everyone that the Chair takes a serious view of such incidents. Members must either leave their phones outside or make sure that they are switched off.
§ Mr. Hughes
If it is the Prime Minister for me, can someone tell him to hold on for a moment? When I have finished he might not want me to phone him back.
236 When we were elected in 1997, people had great expectations, many of which were unrealistic. It was never going to be easy or possible to roll back the devastation caused by the Tories in only four or five years, but we made a good start. However, anyone who read our increasingly cynical press would think that nothing had changed—except for the worse: even the bad weather that we had last year, and the foot and mouth outbreak, were entirely the Government's fault.
I am pleased to welcome the programme set out in the Gracious Speech. I am especially pleased that there will be legislation to help more people back into work. In my constituency, unemployment has already been reduced by more than 40 per cent. by the Government, but, at almost 5 per cent., it is still far too high. We can do more.
A proposed development in Doncaster would be very helpful in getting people back to work—and into real jobs, not schemes. Just weeks before the general election, the Government decided to hold a public inquiry into the proposed development of an international airport at the former Royal Air Force base at Finningley. It is imperative for the future of employment in Doncaster and the south Yorkshire area that this development go ahead, and sooner rather than later.
There is no reason why the development should not go ahead. It does not represent a basic change of use, and the base is not a greenfield site. The project meets the Government's desire to redevelop brownfield sites and to transfer air traffic away from the south and south-east. It meets the Government's desire to regenerate coalfield areas, and to reduce road traffic. It has the support of local people and local business.
How many hon. Members know of a proposed airport about which a petition has been compiled that is in favour of it? About 80 or 90 per cent. of the population of Doncaster is in favour of the development—even in the village of Finningley, where the people who started the petition live. If the project goes ahead, it will create as many as 7,000 jobs in 15 years. They will be real jobs: mainly unskilled or semi-skilled, but probably fairly well paid. We suffered al the hands of the Tories, and the project represents a real chance for the Labour Government to step forward and start to rebuild in Doncaster and south Yorkshire.
The only real objections have come from other airports, on purely commercial grounds. Manchester airport has objected, as has Humberside airport—which is now owned by Manchester airport. East Midlands airport has also objected, although I understand that it is near to closing a deal with Manchester airport. Those airports must not be allowed to rob us of this job-creating opportunity out of pure commercial greed. Indeed, it may be time for the Competition Commission to start an inquiry into that growing consortium of northern airports, which thinks that it can dictate who can share in the wealth created by the ever-growing air traffic industry.
On education, I was pleased that the Government plan to improve standards further. We need to develop more vocational provision. All too often, youngsters who may not be able to make it in academia are left on the touchline. even though they may have superb natural skills in practical matters. We must exploit every talent, whether it is academic or vocational.
237 I am pleased that the Government will continue to modernise the national health service, but there must be real change on the front line. The Tories starved the NHS, and would have gone for full-scale privatization—
§ Mr. Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Tory goal was full-scale, American-type privatisation. They still hanker after that.
Although we have made reforms and poured a great deal of extra cash into the NHS, I still have constituents who are waiting far too long for treatment, and not just for operations. Why is it that constituents have to wait more than a week—sometimes nearly two—just to get an appointment to see the general practitioner? What has happened to all the extra cash, and where is it being spent?
Local health professionals—such as the chief executives of the health authority, the healthcare trusts and the Doncaster royal infirmary trust—tell me that they are delighted with the amounts of extra cash that have been made available, but, on the front line, my constituents appear not to be able to notice the improvements.
When I was younger, my local GP practice had only two GPs, yet anyone who went to the surgery before 10 am could, after a wait of an hour or an hour and a half, see one of the GPs. Out of hours, it was possible to ring up and a GP would make a home visit. At the time, thousands of people in the area worked in heavy industry or coal mining. Many more people than now suffered injuries and the health problems inherent in working in those industries.
Today that practice has four GPs—and sometimes six. There are triage nurses, physiotherapy nurses, chiropody nurses and district nurses. There are practice managers with computers coming out of their ears. There is a contract for out-of-hours service, yet my constituents have to wait more than a week for an appointment to see a GP. That beggars belief. Why does it happen, when we have more doctors and nurses, no out-of-hours visits and better facilities and support?
I am therefore pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), is on the Front Bench to hear the debate. I hope that she will be able to answer some questions. Who is spending the money that has been made available? What are they spending it on? We must know those answers before we pour any more money into the NHS.
I am pleased that we are to continue with reform of the other place, despite media speculation that we would not. I am pleased that the intention is to remove the remaining hereditary peers, but I should not be happy about any proposal to elect even part of a new second Chamber. I believe that that would lead to even more conflict between them and us. There can be and should be, only one democratically elected Chamber, and that is the House of Commons. If we give Members of the House of Lords a constituency, we give them a licence to oppose anything and everything that we de. We will end up in deadlock. We need a second Chamber that will act as a check and balance, not another delay mechanism in what is already a lengthy legislative process.
238 I am pleased, as I know that my constituents will be, that a Bill will be brought in to help the police fight crime. It is important to have in place a good and effective complaints system, and some of the Bill will be devoted to that, but it is not more complaints that we want. What we want is more police. More police mean less crime and fewer complaints. The main complaint from my constituents is about the police not responding when they need help. It is true that in some cases the police do not respond, but they cannot because there are not enough of them. My constituents do not want to hear, "Well, what can we do?"; they want to see the police around. They want the police to prevent crime, not turn up to look at an empty space where a television or video player used to be. if the police are to fulfil what we want of them, they need resources. I welcome any moves to achieve that.
It is good to see the hunting with dogs Bill in the programme. It is time to end that barbaric pursuit. Terrorising and killing animals is disgusting. People who think that it is fun are disgusting. People who think that it is a sport need psychiatric help. However, it could have waited for the next Session. It is important but, I have to say, it was not top priority on the doorsteps of my patch when I was campaigning. People want jobs, better health care, better housing, improvements in education and less crime.
I am not a big drinker, but I am disappointed that we are missing the opportunity to liberalise our archaic drinking laws. I understand that it is not an immediate priority. That said, I would rather that it were in front of the hunting Bill. Liberalisation would create more jobs. Pubs, clubs and associated industry in my area employ a considerable number of people. If we extended opening hours, it would lead to further welcome part-time employment for many people. It is ridiculous in 2001 still to be shackled to our archaic laws. People who go abroad on holiday experience more liberal laws and see their benefits. It seems silly that we are locked into archaic opening hours. We all know that extended opening would boost income, particularly in our tourist areas. Publicans in whatever area would soon find a timetable to suit their particular business. If I am lucky in the private Member's ballot, I might seek to introduce such a Bill.
I should have liked there to have been something on devolution to the English regions. The Government remain committed to devolution in Scotland and Wales, and that is fine, but let us get decision making closer to the people of the English regions, too.
There is much more in the Gracious Speech to be pleased with. I only hope that we are not again taking on more than it is feasible to get through the system with proper democratic scrutiny. The legislation that we passed in the second half of the last Parliament is not yet being felt on the ground. The message on the doorsteps of Doncaster. North was abundantly clear: yes, we have done well in only four years; yes, we have laid decent foundations; but go back and show what can be done with the full second term.
I do not want to see battles with public sector workers for the sake of making us look tough. If there is to be private sector involvement in our public services, it must be only where appropriate and where it can bring added value. The idea that everything that the private sector does is good and everything that the public sector does is bad is stupid. The balance must be absolutely right because if it is not, our supporters will not forgive us. We do not 239 want any Railtracks in education or in our health service. There must be no imposition along those lines. Ministers must talk to those who work in our public services, and seek their knowledge on how the services should be run and how to improve them. Ministers must carry public servants with them and then they will carry the public with them, too. Ignore public servants at our peril; carry them and we will end up with much improved public services.
§ Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate.
First, I thank the people of the Mid-Dorset and North Poole constituency for electing me as their Member of Parliament. It is a great honour to represent them and I promise to do my best in serving them.
Mid-Dorset and North Poole was a new constituency, created in 1997. Hence, my predecessor, Christopher Fraser, was its first Member of Parliament. I pay tribute to his diligent and conscientious work for his constituents. Here, his parliamentary career progressed within a relatively short time. He was appointed Private Parliamentary Secretary to Lord Strathclyde. I recall it being reported in our local press that Christopher was voted the best dressed MP. I fear that I cannot aspire to his never-failing extremely smart appearance.
It is traditional to spend a little time describing one's constituency. That will give me particular pleasure, as mine has one minor defect: its name, which presents problems to media commentators and local residents, and certainly does not give a real sense of place. It is located in a beautiful part of the country and I am proud to live in such a special area, which is made up of many different individual communities, both urban and rural. The constituency was created from parts of four other Dorset constituencies and local services are provided by four principal councils.
About two thirds of the electorate live in the borough of Poole. This part of Poole includes more recent development, but there is great pride among local residents in belonging to the ancient borough of Poole. Four years ago, I had the great honour of being the 749th mayor of Poole. I am sad to say that I was only the 10th lady mayor in that long history.
In North Poole, we have a great source of employment, which includes the head office of Dorset chamber of commerce and industry. We have many important small and large businesses covering engineering, electronics and computer-based industries, and recently the manufacture of Poole pottery has been relocated into the constituency.
We have internationally significant heath land and outstanding recreational facilities. As we move across to the west of the constituency, and from many parts of North Poole, we have many glimpses of the famous Poole harbour, and as we go into the rural part of the constituency, which is the largest part in area, there is also a beautiful forest. We pass through villages, and when we get to the far west we reach Bere Regis and Wareham. Wareham is a beautiful Saxon walled market town and it, like Poole, was very important in trading. Perhaps some 240 hon. Members have experienced a very pleasant boat trip from Poole quay to Wareham, where one can get excellent fish and chips.
I have deliberately referred to Poole harbour because my constituents would not forgive me if I did not mention the need for a second Poole bridge. I am sure that I will co-operate with the lion. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) in making sure that that is firmly on the Government's agenda.
As I have described, my constituency is made up of many diverse communities, but their interdependence and complementary nature underline many of the challenges facing the Government in terms of urban and rural policy making. The whole of my constituency is indeed greater than its parts. I wish to put Mid-Dorset and North Poole firmly in decision makers' minds.
Across the diverse communities in my constituency there is a common issue: the need for better public services. I welcome the priority given to these in the Queen's Speech. My concern is whether the detailed proposals will deliver improvements, as clearly demanded and deserved by the public.
I shall speak on one public service today—education—as it is an area in which I have direct experience as a former chair of education. Yesterday, I was aware of comments floating in the direction of the Liberal Democrat Benches that it is not simply a matter of money. Most of us would agree that we cannot improve public services just by throwing money at the problems. I would like to stop today to think about the consequences of a lack of money.
The local education authorities in my constituency—Dorset and Poole—receive considerably less funding than those in other parts of the country. In fact, for this financial year, it works out that they have together received 10 per cent. Less than the average standard spending assessment in England. Nobody would expect identical allocations across the country, but we have a right to expect to understand the differentials, so that we have a fair, open and transparent system.
Parents and teachers in my constituency find it difficult to understand why schools in Poole receive on average £274 per pupil less than those in other constituencies. That seems largely to come down to the problem of the area cost adjustment. I am aware that that has been raised many, many times. It was never addressed properly by the Conservative Government and the deferring of the day of sorting out such problems seems to go on and on. Meanwhile, our children are losing out, and for all time.
On the face of it, the consequences of that lack of money in my constituency are not apparent because we achieve excellent results. However, that is due to the commitment and excellence of our teachers and the commitment of our parents. In many parts of the constituency, there have been financial improvements in schools owing to parents' commitment to providing extra funds.
However, I described my constituency as diverse, and it is. There are parts where there is extreme poverty. It is very difficult to be sure that children are receiving the education that they deserve when it is not possible for parents to put in extra money or secure sponsorship from firms and local industry. I am concerned about every child in my constituency and I would like to think that every child matters. I really want to know when those issues will be addressed.
241 In 1997, Dorset returned eight male Conservative Members of Parliament. In 2001, there are six Conservative Members, one Labour Member and one Liberal Democrat—seven male and one female. Over the next few years, I hope that I will be able to demonstrate that that is an improvement in representation in more ways than one.
§ 5.2 pm
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) on her maiden speech. She mentioned that her predecessor was voted the best dressed MP—I appreciate that that is not something to which I could ever aspire—but when she first came into the Chamber her vivid red clothes reminded me terribly of the Blair babes, as they were known. Perhaps my eyes are going. I am sure that she is immensely proud to represent a beautiful part of Thomas Hardy country. Her constituency is an excellent part of our national heritage.
I am very sad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is not in the House so that I could press her further on the proposals that she may or may not have for privatising parts of our education service. I hope that her colleagues on the Government Front Bench will relay my felicitations and congratulations not only on her very good speech but on her well deserved promotion to the sunny uplands of the Cabinet. I say without fear of contradiction that she is one person who very much deserved her promotion. Long may she be in that role and successful at it.
The Gracious Speech began with the assertion that economic stability and reform in public services will lead toa more prosperous and inclusive society.I am afraid that I must beg to differ slightly with that. Those two areas of government are very important to achieving such objectives, but many other matters must be addressed if, in the name of social justice, all our citizens are to be included and are to share in the desired prosperity.
Many of the measures set out in the Gracious Speech are certainly to be welcomed. It would be churlish not to mention them, but they relate to a particular view of government. I remember when the flavour of the month in my party was communitarianism. I did not take a great deal of notice of the half-baked ideas of Amitai Etzioni when such views were fashionable. When the third way came on to the scene, I did not lend my name to it. Indeed, I did not lend my name to the third way. the fourth way or the fifth way. Nobody could ever explain the third way to me and I never understood what they were going on about anyway. It seemed, in part at least, to represent a more technocratic and managerial view of what government can achieve—a view that is very well reflected in the Gracious Speech.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, the Gracious Speech did not contain the sum total of measures that will be considered by the House during the Session. Many other items might arise that were not set out in the Gracious Speech; indeed, I hope that that happens. The Speech contained a list of the Government's priorities. Presumably, they were set out at least in part to reconnect with the many millions of people who turned their backs on electoral politics last month.
242 That is one theory behind the delivery argument that has repeatedly been advanced in recent weeks. I think that we must at some point explain what exactly we mean by delivery. There is certainly a high expectation of all forms of delivery in education, health, crime reduction and transport. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham): our yardstick must be what happens in our constituencies. Many good things have happened during the Government's period in office. For example, with regard to education in my constituency, I cannot cavil at the amount of capital investment that has gone into our schools, although there is still a long way to go and many have missed out. That is partly due to the ineptitude of a local Lib Dem council that cannot get its act together. but many problems have also arisen because of a basic shortage of available funding. Although plenty is available, it is not enough to meet the huge backlog that built up over the years.
On health, the circumstances are similar. Investments have been made in our local health provision, but horror stories are still coming out of local hospitals in particular. We still need to address the problem that was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes), who pointed out that, despite increased resources, the service outcome often seems to get worse. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will want to consider the matter in terms of delegation or devolution of powers to a regional level. Who knows? Improvements might be made even lower down the supply chain and at the coal face, where it really counts.
The achievement of the promises that have been made on delivery in those many areas will rest on the Government's actions during the next 18 months or so. I refer to 18 months because of the long lead-in time of so many of our commitments. For example, we have a commitment to increase the number of teachers, but we need to recognize—we did not seem to do so before—that it will take a long time for the required number of teachers to train and qualify. Do we have the capacity to meet demand within the period in which people expect it to be met? It is no use talking to the electorate about a 10-year plan. They will think about what happens between now and the next election.
The commitment to produce another 10,000 or so doctors is similar. Does not it take six or seven years to train a doctor? People will expect a positive service outcome way before the first cohorts have completed their training. I accept that many have already started, but do we have the capacity to train the numbers? There is often a mismatch between presentation and the expectation that is out there.
It may seem ridiculous at such an early stage to look four years ahead, but people know how quickly the electoral cycle ends. People also understand that events in the early days of a Parliament determine what happens at its end. I like to look ahead. At the next general election, there is no way that we, the governing party, can offer excuses to the electorate, given our firm commitments on delivery. It is therefore essential to move quickly to effect the necessary changes to meet expectations.
It is not impossible to achieve that, but it does not require a technocratic view of government; it demands a political vision. I hope that we shall see signs of that shortly. When Clem Attlee became Prime Minister of a bankrupt country, he was able to effect his vision of the 243 British polity in one Parliament. It did not take him four years to put in building blocks; he implemented his vision in times of great adversity. We face such urgency, at least in electoral terms, today.
I am worried about the omissions from the Gracious Speech and the expectations of people who have hitherto been Labour voters. We must all take note of what happened in the last general election. Much nonsense has been talked about it. Once the academics get into the number crunching, they will confirm what sensible observers have already divined. There was great apathy and some complacency. Some people also took the attitude of, "A plague on all your houses; you do not relate to my life." That should worry everyone in politics; several hon. Members have already said that. We must take the matter seriously because people's attitudes are linked to what the Government provide. In that context, the omissions from the Gracious Speech are especially stark.
Some of my hon. Friends have spoken about local government, which remains an important delivery mechanism, not only for central Government services but for those that directly affect the quality of life. Housing remains a major issue for people. However, the proposed changes to housing legislation deal only with those who buy and sell houses, and not with the rented sector. They should, because the rented sector is a matter of grave concern.
Like many constituencies, mine has a mix of owner-occupied, privately rented, council rented and housing association properties. Often, meaningful planning is obstructed when attempts are made to tackle serious housing problems. There is a matrix, one part of which tends to act against the other when we try to achieve something meaningful. The Gracious Speech does not tackle that.
Local councils cover poorly lit streets and potholes in the street, which are obvious manifestations of poor government in many people's eyes. Many of the more esoteric subjects with which we get carried away do not matter an iota to someone who has a leaking roof, a huge pothole in the road outside that no one will fix, or goes home down a street with broken lighting. Local authorities can and should provide the services that matter most.
However, local authorities of all political hues are over a barrel because of our terrible centralising tendency. That has happened under a Labour Government and under previous Governments. It has been growing for a long time; it is almost as if we do not trust people to get on with their lives. We have not done so for the best part of 20 or 25 years. That detracts from the democratic process and people's involvement. It also constitutes a failure to deliver what we claim we are here to provide: a tangible improvement in people's everyday lives. We simply do not do it. For me, that accounts for a major part of the disaffection felt by a large part of the electorate towards politicians of all parties at the election.
To go back to the idea of delivering on our public services, I wonder about the time frame in which expectations are set, as opposed to the time frame in which delivery can take place; for example, in the training of personnel. I also wonder what will happen to the financial settlement after 2003. It seems as though we 244 shall come to a great unknown at that point. How are we going to finance the public services in a meaningful way after that date? The Government will need to be able to convince us that they can continue what appears to be a very ambitious programme for public services, and we shall need to know, quite frankly, where the money will come from.
Other issues that I would have liked to be included in the Gracious Speech have been ignored. There is nothing about the review that is needed of the financial settlement between the countries and regions of the United Kingdom. I shall not repeat what my hon. Friends have said about the unequal funding of the different parts of the United Kingdom.
In the north, we feel disadvantaged by the Barnett formula, which certainly favours Scotland and Wales. We also feel disadvantaged by an area cost adjustment that, for years, has taken money away from local government and put it into the south-east. That is all done for very sensible reasons, but the net result has been a disparity in funding between some regions of the United Kingdom and others, which cannot be justified. It seems as though the time is right to review that situation. There might be a case to be made for some of those disparities, but I cannot recollect when the last review took place.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas
May I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's comments about the need for a review of the Barnett formula? The last review took place when the formula was established in 1979 as a pro tem measure, but it has continued for more than 20 years. Does he agree, however, that if we are to review the formula, we should do so using a needs-based analysis of all the regions of England, Wales and Scotland? That might undermine his case that Wales is over-funded, but it could do a lot of good for the regions of England as well.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I do not claim to be an expert on finance in Wales, or, indeed, in England, Scotland or anywhere else. However, I know that different amounts of money go to different parts of the country. I accept that any resolution of that inequity must be carried out on the basis of need. As I understand it, the Barnett formula was originally introduced to dampen down the cries for devolution. It was, in a sense, a way of trying to buy people off. That does not strike me as a sensible way of achieving a financial settlement that pays due attention to the needs of all the people in the whole of the United Kingdom.
There are deeper issues to be considered at some point by the Government. Perhaps they are not issues on which we can legislate, but some concerns could certainly be addressed either administratively or in the extra legislation that might magically appear, to which the Prime Minister alluded in the House yesterday. One such issue is the widening economic gap between still depressed parts of the country and other parts which—fair play to them—seem to be doing rather well.
We experience on a day-to-day basis—I am sure that other hon. Members will have had similar experiences—businesses uprooting and moving to a different part of the country. They do not even go abroad, just to another part of this country, and they are using grants provided by the Government. The problem is therefore rotated from place to place. Jobs are created in one area at the expense of 245 jobs in another. That cannot be right. Furthermore, it cannot be right that more and more Members of this House, and other commentators, are talking about how to cater for the shortage of labour in the south-east while there are still problematic areas in the north-west and other similar regions.
At a recent meeting, I pointed out that in the north Liverpool poverty cluster—that is not my definition; it is from the London school of economics—there are 269,000 people. There is a crux area of six wards—my constituency. Four of those are among the poorest 12 wards in the United Kingdom. There is a concentration of poverty there that needs to be addressed, but, to be absolutely frank, the local council cannot and will not handle it. That is true not only of the Lib Dems, who are in now, but of the previous council, which could not get to grips with the enormity and complexity of the problems. That concentration of poverty needs to be addressed by significant Government intervention, which is as true of poverty clusters in Manchester, Leeds and central London as of those anywhere else. I look forward to that action.
I also feel strongly about an issue that might seem a little contentious: the idea that we can do nothing to address the widening gap between the individual rich and the individual poor is anathema to me. Some people say, "Well, that's the enterprise society." I see nothing enterprising in people getting a bigger and bigger share of the economic cake at the expense—there is no way to cloak this—of those at the bottom of the heap.
I also looked for a proposal that might enable me to feel more comfortable about the way in which employees in this country, in a variety of ways, still do not have the same conditions affecting their working life as employees in our partner countries in Europe. I still hope that, somewhere along the way, we will be able to consider those issues during this Parliament.
I referred to jobs that move within the country, and we all know that an announcement was made recently about consultation. That is one issue, and I understand that the Government have resolved it in respect of firms consulting with their employees before they up and move somewhere else. Many firms up and move to Europe and it remains a fact that it is easier to get rid of an employee in this country than in Europe.
When push comes to shove, global corporations undertake global reviews—for example, that announced by Glaxo last week, under which 700 jobs in Liverpool went. Jobs go because companies say that they have undertaken a global review, but that hides a multitude of sins. There may be sound economic reasons within that company to rationalise in such a way, but it is undeniable that one consideration in such a rationalisation is that it is far, far easier for it to get rid of employees in the UK than elsewhere in Europe.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and, as ever, I am following his penetrating analysis. Does he accept that there might just be a relationship between the happily low unemployment enjoyed by this country, which is comparable to that in the United States, and the Government's boast that inward investment is at a sustained level and that capitalists are voting with their money and coming here? Compare that with the situation 246 in continental Europe, which receives very little of the flow of inward investment and where unemployment is much higher.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
I accept that there is a relationship and I give the Government credit for the way in which they have sustained that inward investment, but there is always a cost. My priority has to be the constituency that I represent. We are on the outer rim, where people are the last to feel the benefit and the first to feel the pain. That is my point.
I am sure that the Government are inventive enough to address the issue, but unless we can find ways to equalise the playing field for companies that have taken the plunge and put the investment in—many do, let us be fair—people in the peripheral parts of the United Kingdom will always be the first to lose out. I hope that the Government will address those matters.
I want the Government to succeed and I look forward to them being returned at the next election, which is four years off. I would love Labour to get an equally huge majority—I make no bones about that. I do not worry about the democratic arguments in the way that Opposition Members may do. As far as I am concerned, if a party is given a mandate by the people, it should take it and do whatever needs to be done.
However, I do not believe that it will be quite so straightforward, as we approach the next election, to argue the case on delivery of public services unless we take the necessary and appropriate action now. I echo what my hon. Friends have said about this: it is not a case of simply having a knee-jerk reaction against public ownership or control and privatising everything. I take a pragmatic view and believe that some things need to be privatised. However, the idea that privatisation is always better is palpable nonsense. If we look to privatisation to cure one ill, it mystifies me why the logical corollary is not that we should take into public ownership something on which the private sector has failed, such as Railtrack. I cannot see how one possibility can be excluded while we embrace the other side of the argument. It does not make the pragmatic economic sense to which the Government aspire.
My biggest concern is that we re-engage as many people as possible in our political life. To do that, we must keep faith with them and deliver on our promises. I am sure that the Government will make every effort to do so, but the harsh reality is that they do not have a great deal of time. What is done over these first 18 months or so will determine the outcome down the line. I worry that if we are to get reciprocity from those who have lent their support hitherto, albeit in diminishing numbers out of the overall electorate, we must be able to deliver at the next election. That requires a more than technocratic approach to government in the coming months.
§ David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), who is an old friend and always forthright in his comments. I was glad to hear that he rejects the third way; he will appreciate that I have more trouble with the fourth way in my normal practices.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) on her gracious maiden speech. Winston Churchill once stood up 247 in this House after a maiden speech and said that it was no maiden; it was a brazen hussy of a speech. That was not true of the hon. Lady's speech, which was delicate, well put and generous. She gave great credit to her predecessor, which reflects well on her.
Before I comment on the main thrust of the Queen's Speech, I should like to make a couple of comments. First, I congratulate the new Secretary of State for Education and Skills. She was a stellar performer as a junior Minister and she deserves her appointment to the Cabinet. Secondly, I thank the Secretary of State for Health for including in the Queen's Speech the Adoption and Children Bill. It started in the last Parliament with a lot of all-party support and the right hon. Gentleman knows my interest in it. It has some way to go in this Parliament.
May I make a plea to the right hon. Gentleman? We are undertaking a complex piece of social legislation. One of the great problems with bipartisan legislation is that it rarely gets the scrutiny that it deserves and it then goes wrong. We have a piece of legislation that could dramatically affect the lives of more than 50,000 children. I urge the Government to give the Bill all the time that it needs to receive proper scrutiny, perhaps continuing the Special Committee stage that was started in the last Parliament. That is the only way to ensure that that eminently sensible and worthwhile Bill gets on to the statute book in proper form and does the duty that it sets out to do.
I shall now adopt a slightly less conciliatory tone. The Government are without doubt the most powerful in half a century. That is not a compliment. During the last Parliament, they used their power to undermine the rights of Parliament and to diminish their own accountability. Those points have been raised by others already today. Nothing in the Queen's Speech, nor in what the Leader of the House or the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) said earlier today, indicates that anything will be different in this Parliament.
Like my right hon. Friends the Members for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who have spoken already, I am a member of Parliament First, a group founded by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and consisting of Members of all parties of the House, and I am dedicated to reinstating the power of the House. Most particularly, I am committed to implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee on Liaison to enforce the effectiveness of this Chamber and the Select Committee system. We shall use every opportunity throughout this Parliament to advance that cause.
The fact that the Government are very powerful has another implication, which was touched on by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton. Throughout the previous Parliament, the Government blamed their predecessors for everything that went wrong, and claimed the credit for everything that went right. That is about to come to an end because those days are over. The Government have the power and the money, and they have already had plenty of time to deliver on their promises. They are running out of excuses. Indeed, they will be going into an excuse-free zone for the next four years. From now on, they will have to account for their failures—and there will be failures.
248 Although I believe that the Government have heard the expressions of irritation, anger and disappointment from constituents up and down the country, they do not understand how to respond. They have taxed more, spent more and interfered more. They still believe that by spending more, services will automatically improve and that bigger government is better government.
The increases in spending that were introduced in the Budget that preceded the general election will be unaffordable unless taxes rise substantially in the latter half of this Parliament. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton identified that problem in his usual forthright way.
§ Mr. Gareth R Thomas
The right hon. Gentleman referred to spending increases. May I take him back to the election campaign and ask him whether the brief contribution of the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), before he went into hiding, was helpful or unhelpful to his party's campaign?
§ David Davis
I shall pick up on that point in a few moments because I want to explain to the House what I think about the relationship between expenditure and taxation. Before that intervention, I was making the point that the Government may be concerned about these tax changes only if they have an electoral cost. The real cost to Britain is more important than that.
A rising burden of taxation will ultimately undermine our ability to invest in public services. Low taxes and high-quality public services are not mutually exclusive; they are essential partners. The logic is straightforward enough, and has been proven in this country before. Low tax rates lead to higher economic growth rates. High growth rates lead to higher tax takes—any Treasury Minister knows that. Higher tax takes give the opportunity of public service increases and subsequent tax cuts. That was the story and the lesson of the 1980s, and it is a lesson that we should understand today.
I predict trouble ahead for the Government. Judging by the new-found tone of humility, I think that they also fear trouble. Simply pouring resources into public services will not, in itself, deliver real improvement, any more than it did in the last Parliament. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton also touched on that point effectively, although not so explicitly.
The problem with our public services is not just under-investment, although that is a major issue in many areas. Their structures and organisations are incapable of delivering the quality of service that an increasingly demanding society requires—the very point about GPs not being able to meet the demands put on them.
When the Secretary of State for Education and Skills opened the debate, she talked about the transformation of public services. The so-called transformation proposed in the Queen's Speech has little chance of doing the job. In no area is that so true as it is in health. We should consider just a few of the country's problems. Every year, 5,000 patients die from infections that they did not have when they went into hospital. That costs the health service £1 billion a year. It is not a question of increases in expenditure: that swallows expenditure.
Comparisons with our European neighbours show that tens of thousands of people in this country die unnecessarily of cancer, strokes or cardiac disease. Tens of thousands more die of medical mistakes, which is an 249 issue that the Secretary of State and I have discussed. More than 2 million bed days are lost each year because of delays in the discharging of older people to carers. More than 1,000 operations a week are cancelled on the day of admission. Despite massive interventions—through targets that distort clinical priorities and reduce the quality of service—nearly 1.5 million people remain on waiting lists, and the new suspended lists have grown.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire cited the case of a cancer patient who had been in touch with him and who was on a waiting list for radiotherapy. Only four or five weeks ago I encountered a similar case, although this person was suffering from throat cancer rather than breast cancer. It had taken a year for him to be diagnosed, owing to a combination of mistakes and delays in being able to see a specialist—a story that we have heard time and again. As a result, after the operation it was found that the cancer had spread, and the patient needed radiotherapy. Like my right hon. Friend's constituent, he had to wait three months for that. I do not know how other Members feel, but I would find that a terrifying experience.
There cannot be a Member who has been here for the past four years who has not encountered such a case. That person was by no means the first of my constituents to describe circumstances in which terrifying waits or problems had been experienced or, alternatively, life savings had been spent on escaping a life of pain by opting for private treatment—sometimes in other countries.
The truth is that Britain, the world's fourth largest economy, is delivering health care whose quality is lower than that provided by most of our European partners. It is far lower than that in the United States, and it is lower than that in many countries that are much less wealthy than ours. The Government's solution is to increase public spending at a rate that will require higher taxes in future. Their increases in health spending cannot match those of our partners, or keep pace with rising demand; nor can an NHS structure designed more than half a century ago make the best use of the additional resources that both political parties have promised the health service for two decades.
This is the reality of the national health service. It is failing patients, and its centralised bureaucracy is delivering worse care than most of its equivalents abroad. The national health service reform Bill appears to recognise the problem of centralisation and bureaucracy—I will give the Secretary of State that—but its solutions are inadequate. They will create yet more futile reorganisation, which NHS workers must view with little enthusiasm.
We must think again. The NHS needs radical surgery. Advances in technology will undoubtedly make much more individually tailored health care available, but the worst possible organisation to deliver individually tailored health care is a centralised state bureaucracy. We should be making the state the guarantor of the free availability and quality of health care, rather than its primary provider. That is the key issue in this debate. We should be looking at the possibility of giving each patient an explicit choice of health care, as well as harnessing the effectiveness of the private sector in a more transparent way. Radical solutions do not necessarily mean privatising the NHS; what they mean is that we should personalise the service, 250 making it responsive to patients and their GPs rather than to the central bureaucracy and the central plan of the Secretary of State. There is a similar story in our schools.
§ Geraint Davies
Many of the statistics that the right hon. Gentleman has rightly quoted come from the Public Accounts Committee. Does he accept that many of the Committee's recommendations have already been embraced by the Government in their national health plan? Does he also accept that his final suggestion that we should lift responsibility from the state in some way was never one of the PAC's recommendations, and that he was making a political point?
§ David Davis
Of course, that is correct. That is the first time that I have ever been criticised for making a political point in the House of Commons, but let me answer the hon. Gentleman's question in the spirit in which it was asked. He is right. Indeed, as The Guardian rather tediously reminded people yesterday, the Government have carried out some 950 of the Committee's recommendations, but let me give one example of the sort of problem that arises from the centralised approach.
We criticised the cancellation of operations on the day of admission; the hon. Gentleman will remember the case. I commend the Secretary of State for Health for including in his NHS plan a requirement—a target—for the health authorities: there were to be no more than a certain number of cancellations on the day of admission. What did we see barely a month or two ago? The first health authority moved cancellations to the day before admission. That is not the way to run the health service. Regional organisations are distorting the intent in order to meet the new rules. That is the problem. As I have said throughout, the mechanism used was well intentioned—I have no argument whatever with the intention of the ministerial team—but the problem of running the service centrally is that we always run into difficulties, with regional organisations trying to meet the rules to the disadvantage sometimes of patients. We had a clear-cut example of that.
If we believe the Department for Education and Skills, everything is getting better in our schools. The truth is a little different. The currency of the qualifications is being debased. A-level standards have fallen by a full grade since the Government came to power. That point was raised by Durham university when the A-level results were published last August.
Let us look outside the Department for a more empirical and reliable external measure. International surveys show that standards in mathematics and science have not moved in the past five years when measured against those of our international competitors, so standards are stagnating rather than rising, and in any case are far too low. The worst standards—I come back to a point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton—are in the areas of highest deprivation.
It is a tragedy that this country—it is an issue not just for this Government, but for Governments in the next half a century at least—has let down the weakest pupils in education for as long as I can remember. I have forgotten which hon. Member on the Government Benches mentioned the failure of the secondary modern system, part of the system whereby we had grammar schools and secondary moderns. They failed because they did not 251 carry through the social experiment drawn up during the second world war. We have never done a good job for the weakest pupils in Britain, and it is about time that we set about that properly.
The starting point for a fundamental reassessment of schools policy—in this area, I have some overlap with the Government—must be more robust use of testing, something that we fought for in government against opposition from Labour, although Labour has now adopted it. That is fine; I am always happy to welcome a prodigal son. If more parental choice in education is to be meaningful, it must be accompanied by clear information about the performance of schools. We need a proper standardisation of exams and new measurement of children's abilities on entering and leaving school. Crude league tables are no longer enough—they were a start; they raised the public's attention; and they raised interest in and focused political attention on school performance, but now they are no longer good enough. Our method of assessing relative school performance needs to be far more sophisticated.
The Secretary of State promised value-added measures by 2002. I welcome that. I hope that that means a complete set of measures being published by 2002, rather than the start of a five or seven-year programme to get them five or seven years thereafter. Nevertheless, the devil is in the detail. Standardised measures must be formulated properly and not biased by social or economic adjustments or by the judgments of local education authority officials. They must be formulated on the basis of an absolute standard.
The Secretary of State made a very good point about the problem of education in weaker schools. Expectations in weak schools are too low. One way of galvanising expectations would be to test and compare schools in a manner that is fair to all schools. I would be demoralised if I worked in a school in a poor area where new pupils had not been given a very good education and we were being compared with schools in middle-class or better areas. However, if I worked in such a school and knew that I would be compared fairly, I would be motivated to deliver the best possible outcome for those youngsters. Therefore, value-added testing is important not only as a means of measuring schools but as a means of motivating teachers.
We need more choice and a more diverse system, and we are being promised such a system, but it is ironic that it was this Government who declared war on grant-maintained schools, assisted places and grammar schools. As I said, however, we welcome the prodigal's return. Nevertheless, such changes alone will not be sufficient, and good schools should be allowed to expand freely. Still, we must worry about what happens at the other end of the scale.
We have to worry about how to rescue children from the worst schools when those schools are declining. Schools are not like shops, and children cannot simply move from one school to another, but tend to sign up to a school for five to seven years. We have to find a way of dealing robustly with failure. It is not a matter simply of sending in a few high-profile hit squads, accompanied by television cameras, or of martyring a few harassed superheads, let alone of posturing at a few National Union of Teachers conferences. The Government will have to 252 confront one of the toughest issues of all—whether to allow the very worst schools to continue at all in their current form, or to take much more direct action than they are currently planning.
Policing is another social service. However, the Government have not been tough either on crime or on the causes of crime. They have simply been tough on individual freedoms and on our police forces. Between 1997 and the end of last year, police numbers had decreased by almost 3,000. Between March 1999 and 2000, crime increased for the first time in seven years. Our police are now too overworked to fight today's crime.
Compared with the situation of 30 years ago, a typical police officer now has annually to deal with double the number of crimes. Simply to return to the police officer to crime ratio that prevailed in the 1980s, we would need more than 30,000 more police officers and probably twice the number of special constables. Such an increase would be affordable over time, and the practical effects of such an increase would be rapid. Regrettably, however—as the previous Home Secretary knows only too well—funding for more police has not been one of the Chancellor's priorities.
The police reform Bill will bring some improvements in police complaints procedures and some helpful changes in how forces are run. However, the measure will do very little to make inroads into rising crime levels. It will not deal with the problems that prevent police from meeting the wishes of their local populations.
There is a resource issue to be addressed. The most important measure to deliver real crime reduction would be a dramatic increase in police numbers. That has been the experience of New York, which is now a safer city than London and has about one and a half times as many police. The Government, however, have taken a different course. They have cheap-skated our police forces and tried to make up for that with increasingly draconian changes to the law. An auction of our liberties has been accompanied by decreasing police numbers.
In the previous Parliament, the Government took the right to remove passports on suspicion and attempted to end some people's right to trial by jury. That attempt was defeated in the Lords last time and we hope that the new attempt will suffer a similar fate.
We all want to catch and punish the guilty, but we will not do that by eroding the rights of the innocent. This police state without the police undermines the fundamental British principles of liberty and justice and is wholly ineffective as a means of stopping crime. It is simply the wrong approach.
It is time to break the back of the idea that things will always get better if only we spend a little more. That is worse than just an illusion: it is a dogma that has beset Britain for too long and is directly responsible for the growing disillusionment with our entire political process referred to by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton.
People know that things are not getting better. Every day, patients endure unnecessary suffering, indignity and death because of the failure of our health service. Every day, children have their prospects and ambitions destroyed because their Government have not been resolute in tackling failure in schools. Every day, everyone pays the cost of record levels of crime, because we have not faced up to the need to police our streets.
253 Those whom we are letting down now are not the strong or the able: they are the weakest and the poorest, those without choice and without opportunity. They are part of the lost generation of voters for all parties. They are the people whom our political system, and the House, no longer offers any credible hope. We have all been imprisoned by a system that drives serious debate out of politics. It is time we were brave enough to be radical.
§ Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffer)
I want to reflect on the comments of my hon Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes I about how strange it is to make a speech again after four years of enforced silence in the Whips Office. This is my first speech from this side of the Chamber. Four years is a quite a long time. Perhaps after the next 10 or 15 minutes, cries of "Four more years!" will ring round the Chamber. I spent a happy four years in the Whips Office, if the idea of a happy Whip is not too hard a concept for hon. Members to contemplate.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the improvements in our public services—the issue that ordinary electors raised with me on the doorstep during the general election campaign. They were concerned about health, education, crime and transport, among other issues.
Without a strong economy, the debate about improving public services would be irrelevant. The fact that we created 1 million more jobs, with more people paying tax and fewer on benefit, has brought about sound public finances. We know what to do with those sound public finances: we will use them to improve our public services, which is what the public voted for. That contrasts with the official Opposition, who would have frittered away the benefits of that strong economy on tax cuts, which the electorate rejected, and with the Liberal Democrats, who would have frittered away the strong economy with a splurge of public expenditure increases that neither they nor anyone else has any idea how to fund. They called for more nurses, doctors and teachers; more for pensioners and for farmers; the abolition of student fees; and free long-term care for the elderly. A penny on income tax would never have funded all that, and in the end the electorate were not fooled.
§ Dr. Evan Harris
I am delighted to respond to the hon. Gentleman's litany of our excellent pledges. He must recognise that not all of them were to be funded by the 1p on income tax, which was for education. He is clearly against our proposal of 10p on the top rate of income tax for those earning more than £ 100.000—it is too redistributive for him—which was the, fair way of funding our promises on pensions and the health service.
§ Mr. Betts
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but I still do not think that his sums add up, and he failed to mention the fact that the Liberal Democrats supported the new deal but voted against the tax increases to fund it. That is another hole in their finances.
Education has rightly been given great priority; I, too, accord it and specialist schools importance. I am in favour of such schools, which have been of great benefit to the children who attend them. Indeed, I am bound to say so 254 because the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has written to me today, announcing not one but two new specialist schools in my constituency: Birley community college and Hansworth Grange school. I welcome those measures; both schools deserve those awards.
There is concern, however, not about the creation of specialist schools or the fact that they disadvantage other schools, but about parents' perception: parents considering sending their children to other schools may think that they are somehow inferior. That is certainly not true in the case of adjacent schools in my constituency, but parents' perception may be a danger. Ministers ought to consider how they will tackle that, along with other schools. The school adjacent to Birley community college in my constituency is Westfield school, which is in no way inferior but, unfortunately, has inferior school buildings.
I therefore support strongly the Government's building programme in education. In Sheffield, there has been an increase from the 1996 allocation of between £1 million and £2 million a year for capital programmes in education to more than £100 million, which is currently being spent on building works in schools throughout the city. In my constituency, schools have been built through the private finance initiative; some have been built through the new deal and some through mainstream funding. Pupils, school governors and staff are not worried how schools are built or how financing is secured; they are just grateful that they have new schools, which would not have been provided by the Opposition. My plea is certainly for more school building programmes; we should carry on the good work. I hope that Westfield school is near the top of Ministers' priorities, as its buildings are poor and have been deteriorating for many years. A working party has been set up between the Department for Education and Skills and Sheffield city council officials to look at school assets, so I hope that a new asset plan will bring help to that area.
I wish to sound a cautionary note about pre-school education. One of the best things that we did in the previous Parliament was to provide universal pre-school education for four-year-olds. Getting to children early, particularly those from disadvantaged homes, is very important indeed. I welcome the commitment to get universal provision down to the age of three.
Passing legislation in this place does guarantee delivery outside. I have a particular problem in my constituency, as it took me several months to get recognition of the fact that a local authority was not delivering universal provision for four-year-olds. In the Charnock area of my constituency, not every four-year-old has the right to a nursery place because the local authority plan remains defective. Eventually, after badgering and support from the Minister who then had responsibility for pre-school education, the authority recognised the issue and started to address it by getting in a private sector provider. I am all in favour of that, as is the local primary school. There is no dissension at all about private enterprise coming in to fill a gap in public service provision.
The problem is that, after months of wrangling between education officials and local planners—and now the local authority's property services people are trying to take their share by charging an extortionate amount for the land in question, which is in the green belt—we are still no further forward with nursery provision. Passing 255 legislation in Parliament does not guarantee provision on the ground. I urge Ministers to be more rigorous in following through in future when such gaps arise, and making sure that local authorities deliver in an extremely important service area.
I support the proposals on crime in the Queen's Speech and give full backing to the tougher measures outlined to deal with it. I certainly welcome the commitment to additional police officers, for which my constituents regularly ask. Again, I shall raise one issue that, I hope, the Home Secretary will address. One of the most common problems that people raise in my surgery and at public meetings is anti-social behaviour on our estates, which is a genuine problem for many whose lives are blighted by the activities of a minority who have no idea what they are doing to the rest of the community—or perhaps they do and just do not care. The idea of the anti-social behaviour orders was a good one. It is right in principle and I am pleased that housing and local authority officials and the police are now working more closely together. The idea of giving responsibility for community safety to local authorities was a good one. Initially, there was much criticism that the orders were not being used—I was equally critical—but the more I hear from local authority officials and the police the more I realise that what was a good idea is difficult to put into practice, because of the way in which the orders were established. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has the same problems in his constituency, because it is next door to mine, and I ask him to reconsider that good idea. The principle does not need changing, but perhaps we should review the use of the orders, so that the police can use them more constructively and energetically than they have been able so far to do. Those are the sentiments of my local police officers, which they have expressed to me.
Transport does not figure largely in the Queen's Speech, but it is mentioned to me regularly. The train service to Sheffield is not a first class service, even if the trains have first class carriages. Trains to Sheffield are much slower than those to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North, which take half an hour less to do the same distance. That is a real problem that has been created and worsened by privatisation and the fragmentation of rail services. We could get a quicker train service to Sheffield by either making track improvements to the midland main line or by having tilting trains that could go faster on the existing track. The problem is that one demands action by the operating company and the other demands action by Railtrack. The two never seem to come together, and no one has decided which is the best way forward. I hope that with the creation of the Strategic Rail Authority we will start to address that issue.
I hope that we will also address the issue of whether the midland main line is the best line to take people to Sheffield. Perhaps the east coast line should be improved and given extra capacity, which would allow a quick line to Sheffield. The franchise for the east coast line is a completely different issue from the franchise for the midland line, but one or the other is the solution to Sheffield's problem. The problem with rail privatisation is the fragmentation of the industry and the lack of a strategic overview, and I hope that the SRA will begin to address those issues.
256 On the doorstep, my constituents raise the issue of buses even more frequently than that of rail, because buses are the day-to-day transport for most people in Sheffield. We have made many improvements to our public services in the past four years, and my constituents recognise that, but we have seen little improvement with buses. Indeed, it is questionable whether we are providing a public service at all in many cases. A duopoly has been created between Stagecoach and First Bus—or, as it is laughingly referred to in Sheffield, Secondhand Bus, because the quality of buses provided has deteriorated recently—-and if constituents complain about a bus service being removed, I can do nothing but say that it is purely a private decision with no real influence from the public sector.
The Transport Act 2000 has not had time to have an effect. It will promote quality partnerships as the best way forward, but I am not convinced of that. I hope that Ministers will consider franchising, which is seen as a long-stop option in the Act, as the best approach. Unlimited public resources are not available for bus services, but franchising could be a solution. An operator would tender for an area and as well as receiving the right to provide services on profitable routes it would also have the obligation to provide services on less profitable or uneconomic routes. We could have a strategic view from the public sector, with the private sector delivering and having responsibilities as well as rights. I hope that we will come back to that idea in future.
In South Yorkshire—and Sheffield is part of South Yorkshire—
§ Mr. Betts
We are part of South Yorkshire for objective I funding purposes, and we receive that funding as one of the poorest areas of the country with one of the highest levels of unemployment. It is therefore an absolute nonsense, when the standard spending assessments are decided and the grants given out, that our per capita grant should be below what is given to many more affluent parts of the country. That is not acceptable, and I am sure that all hon. Members with South Yorkshire constituencies are committed to fighting, for a change in the system. We respect and recognise what the Government did in their first term to improve the situation, but the system is still not fair. We will continue to fight for that fairness.
The care of the elderly by local authorities still gives cause for concern. II has to be accepted that funding for that care is still too low. Under the caring Liberal Democrats, Sheffield city council has told those of my elderly constituents who cannot get in and out of the bath but who could use a shower if they had one that they cannot have money for the necessary alterations if they are able to have a strip wash. That is official council policy. I do not think that that is anything like first-class public service provision. It is a denial of people's basic human rights. That is something else that I want to challenge.
I do not regard as anathema the proposal to bring the private sector into the provision of public services. In some cases, it is right to do so, but the public oppose 257 threats to privatise those tasks where public sector workers do a first-class job. That is what is happening with Sheffield's refuse collectors. Not only does such a move put a good public service at risk, but it says to public service workers that no account will be taken of how well they do their jobs when it comes to deciding whether they should continue to provide the service. That is worrying, and my colleagues in Sheffield and I will continue to speak out about it.
§ Mr. Betts
It is controlled by the Liberal Democrats. They opposed privatisation when the y came into power.
I have always been concerned about housing. Like me, other hon. Members will have found, during the election campaign, that people understand that the Government have established the minimum wage and the working families tax credit, and that they have increased child benefit and created more jobs. On some estates, however, people live in homes and an environment that has not changed much.
It is not that the Government have not made improvements: in the past four years, for example, Sheffield's housing capital budget has doubled, rising from £20 million to £40 million. The problem is that the repair backlog is so long that the work that is being done hardly scratches the surface.
In my constituency—where the housing is by no means the worst in Sheffield—people still live in homes where the windows are warped, where water comes in through the roof and where there is no central heating. The Government's commitment to put all rented properties into a proper state of repair by 2010 is right, but it must not be assumed that, to achieve that, millions of people will automatically vote to transfer their homes to alternative landlords.
In Sheffield, the reality is that people want to remain with the council, regardless of its failings and inadequacies. They believe, however, that remaining with the council should not prejudice their chances of having their homes put into a decent state of repair. That is a challenge for the Government to overcome.
I favour the option of establishing companies wholly owned by local authorities. in whose management tenants could be involved. That is an exciting and attractive way forward, but the Government may have to be more flexible about how they allow private investment in such homes, as is the case with housing association properties. Tenants in Sheffield want a level playing field.
There will be some very real challenges over the next four years. We have made an excellent start in many areas, and that is why we have been re-elected, but the electorate have made it clear that they want more to be done, as standards are not high enough yet. The Labour party's campaign theme was that much had been done, and much more remained to be done. There is much more to do to raise standards in our public services. That will be the challenge for the Government over the four or five years of this Parliament.
§ 6.9 pm
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), freed now from the constraints of Trappist silence on the Front Bench, 258 reminds us, as have others, of the importance of delivering higher quality public services to the people whom we represent. Our constituents challenge us about the democratic process and ask how we represent them. When we tell them that we will make representations and fight for better services, for their road to be mended and all the other things that matter to them, but then fail to deliver, they switch off and say that the process is incapable of responding to their individual needs. That represents a major challenge for us as democrats. We must address the low turnout at the general election.
As a member of the last Conservative Administration, it is important to put on record that the Conservative party was never against public services. [Laughter.] Labour Members laugh, but I will pick from what we introduced one example from which the Secretary of State for Health has benefited: the private finance initiative or public-private partnership. If it had not been for problems introducing one Bill, we too could have boasted achievements in that area in new hospital building. I wish that we had achieved that, but I congratulate him on taking a good idea forward and delivering what we all want for our constituents, which is improved public capital, whether for health, education, transport or other services. That idea was invented on our side of the House, not the other.
It was the Conservative party that introduced local management for schools. In the Gracious Speech there are proposals further to devolve moneys back to schools. We pioneered that idea because we realised the importance of improving the delivery of education locally and that the way to achieve that was to give more responsibility financially to individual schools.
It was the Conservative Government who put 16,000 more police officers into service to improve community safety. Sadly, we had some good ideas in the general election, but we may have talked a little too much about tax cuts and not enough about our good ideas for improving health and education. The Conservative party has some lessons to learn.
In the House yesterday the Prime Minister talked about the extra teachers, doctors and others who, he claims, will deliver enhanced public services. I want to address whether that is possible by putting some of the numbers into perspective. We are told that the Government intend over the lifetime of this Parliament—not next year or the year after, but over the lifetime of this Parliament—to introduce 10,000 more teachers. The Library tells me that there are 204 education authorities. Over five years that represents on average just 10 extra teachers per authority. To apply the same logic to the 20,000 classroom assistants who are required, that works out at just 20 extra classroom assistants per year, per authority. [Interruption.].
The Secretary of State for Health is mouthing something from a sedentary position, so I will move on to doctors. If two thirds of our 10,000 doctors go into the hospital sector, that represents 6,000 doctors. If that number is divided between our 500 health trusts, there will be two and a half new doctors per year per trust. When the same logic is applied to nurses, there will be just eight per year per health trust. That puts in perspective the Government's rhetoric. They are fond of throwing large numbers around in an attempt to convince the public that that alone is the solution to better quality 259 public services. I question where these people are to come from and whether they will be delivered in time. I suspect that we shall be disappointed.
The Secretary of State for Health avoided the difficulties that he ran into on waiting lists. He said that waiting lists were out and waiting times were in. I noticed that he did not talk about outpatient waiting times—the time it takes to see a consultant.
I looked at the figures year on year for the Blackpool Victoria hospital trust, our major acute trust, and I found that in 16 of the 20 specialties, there had been a dramatic increase in the number of weeks that patients had to wait to see a consultant. For example, in paediatrics there was a 69 per cent. increase in the number of weeks to see a consultant, in neurology 54 per cent., in cardiology 62 per cent., in care of the elderly 58 per cent. and in gynaecology 67 per cent.
Have there been any improvements? Yes—remarkably, in orthopaedics there has been an improvement of 31 per cent. and in ophthalmology of 27 per cent. Why? Because those were the only two specialties affected by the clinical priority-distorting waiting list initiative. Those were the only two areas to benefit from extra resources, and some of those resources have now gone.
People will want to see some improvement, but I doubt whether the Secretary of State will be able to deliver to the Blackpool Victoria hospital trust in the next four years the number of additional consultants necessary to meet those requirements. I hear staff at that hospital trust speaking about the differences between the hospital's financial situation and that of the local health authority, to the extent that the hospital is £1 million down on its budget.
I hope that the Secretary of State and his colleague, the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), will devise some way of avoiding brush wars between hospital trusts and health authorities when each side has a different view of funding. It is not a question of extra provision, but of providing the money to deliver even basic services, notwithstanding any improvements that might result—though I doubt it—from the Secretary of State's proposed Bill.
On education, I had meetings with primary school heads before the election. I welcome the fact that the Government are committed to a report on red tape, but I see nothing in the Queen's Speech to deal with the shopping list according to which head teachers will judge whether there has been an improvement in public services. They agree that they have had more money than ever before, but they have had more work as well—too many assessments, no value-added tables, too much concentration on preparing children for tests, and not enough on education in the round, too much demand for planning, too many initiatives and too much prescriptiveness from the centre. Unless those problems are remedied, those teachers and the parents who speak to them will not perceive that there has been any improvement in education.
What about the issue of popular schools? The Government have not tackled that. Many parents recognise quality and want to send their children to such schools, but there is nothing in the Gracious Speech to suggest how that trick is to be pulled. On secondary 260 education, I smiled wryly when I learned that the Government want more specialist schools. I already have one—the Lytham St. Anne's high technology college.
I spoke to the head teacher, who is waiting to find out whether he will ever get a dining room big enough to accommodate more than one sixth of the children at any one time. He is worried because he does not have the funding to deliver the new AS curriculum. Because of the problems of his budget, he struggles to deal with educationally disturbed pupils. There has not been investment in the infrastructure of his school commensurate with the number of extra pupils going into that establishment. For him, the Bill announced in the Queen's Speech will be irrelevant. For the parents of children at that school, the Government's proposed measures will be irrelevant unless the issues on the shopping list are addressed.
The problems fared by Lytham St. Anne's high technology college are faced by many other schools. The Gracious Speech offered no comfort as regards the future of that school's sixth form. The best that Labour could do in its manifesto was to promise that in real terms, funding would be maintained for sixth forms. There was no commitment to maintain sixth forms. When I wrote to the local learning and skills council to ask whether it had a policy on sixth forms, it could offer no policy and no guarantees.
I shall deal finally with community safety. Many people judge the quality of our public services by the safety of the communities in which they live. We have spoken about police numbers. The increase in Lancashire will barely keep up with the number of officers retiring, and the number who are sick or on light duties means that the Lancashire force is 10 per cent. down on the numbers that it should have. In one ward in my constituency, Ingot, it is a struggle to provide one community beat officer, and when local people ark that officer to take action to deal with people who ought to be the subject of anti-social behaviour orders, the officer is hard pushed to keep up with the challenge. That story can be replicated over a large part of this gantry. I see little in the Queen's Speech to address the issue.
There are three words about public services that we need to take into account: quality, responsiveness and customers. There are issues of quality. Some have talked about old people. I have seen many cases of run-down social services failing to serve the needs of the elderly. We need to improve quality in that respect.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, we must learn to be more responsive if we are to understand how our public services can be improved. Above all, we must recognise that the people whom we represent are the customers of those services. We are not here to do them a favour; we are here to fight for the best public services for them. I shall certainly support measures to achieve that objective, but I see little real progress on that score in this Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Greg Pope (Hyndburn)
Like some other contributors to this debate, I have had a lengthy period of enforced silence. It is nice to find my voice again in this House. My last speech in this House was so long ago that I made it from the Opposition Benches. It was in a different era—so long ago that John Major was Prime Minister, 261 Blackburn Rovers played in Europe and the now right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) was a right winger.
It gives me great pleasure to give a broad welcome to the Queen's Speech. It is right that the Government. as they begin their second term, should concentrate on the issues on which they won the general election: improving public services, getting extra investment into schools, hospitals and the police, and, crucially, reforming those services.
One thing that surprised me when I was out campaigning in my constituency and in others last month was the sheer anger at the way in which some people are treated by those working in our public services. As someone who has always been a strong supporter of the police, I was particularly surprised at the anger among victims of crime over the way in which they are treated by the police force in Lancashire. Many constituents told me that, having been burgled, they had rung the police but the police did not seem to care and took a long time to visit them—sometimes not even on the same day. That is unacceptable. I therefore welcome the police Bill in the Queen's Speech.
Of course we all want extra police officers. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) said that police numbers in Lancashire have been falling but that now they are going up again. That is good, but the matter is not just one of police numbers and money. We need to reform the culture of the service, consider greater civilianisation of the police and ask whether we have struck the right balance between the numbers of traffic police and those tackling burglaries, because I am not sure that we have in Lancashire.
I am also pleased that there will be a Bill on House of Lords reform. That early pledge appeared in Labour's first manifesto 101 years ago, and we are just getting round to addressing it. I am not sure whether old Labour was very good at delivering on its early pledges.
To a certain extent, the Government have done the politically easy part—from Labour's point of view—by proceeding with abolishing hereditary peers, and hurrah for that. What an anachronism they are in the 21st century. However, I issue a friendly warning to Government Front Benchers. Getting rid of hereditaries is one thing, but it is much harder to build a consensus on what should replace the House of Lords in the second stage of reform. I am not terribly convinced by the proposals on offer.
I have always preferred a unicameral Parliament, which would have a couple of immediate good effects. The first would be to enhance at a stroke the status of this House, about which hon. Members have been complaining for years. Secondly, it would stop the Government—I do not mean my Government but any Government—introducing badly drafted legislation. There is a temptation for Governments to do so—I was a bit of an expert on this about a year ago—when they know that they have the backstop of the House of Lords to change the Bill.
How many times have hon. Members served on Standing Committees, scruitinised legislation for weeks or even months, seen the Bill go off to the other place to return unrecognisable and be given only one day on the Floor of the House to discuss Lords amendments? That is not a sensible way of scrutinising legislation in a modern democracy and we should change it.
262 The other reason why I am worried about House of Lords reform is that I do not want people to be appointed to my Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) said that he opposed an elected second Chamber, but I take a different view. I am completely in favour of a wholly elected second Chamber with prescribed powers. Such a Chamber might operate like a small senate. It does our democracy no good if Parliament has Members who are not accountable to the people, so we should consider the alternatives.
On Europe, I welcome the announcement of a Bill to ratify the treaty of Nice. I am very keen for the European Union to be enlarged. I also want the British Government to have a greater say in the Council of Ministers, which will be achieved through the re-weighting of votes. As a friendly criticism, I point out to my Government that those of us who want the single currency to succeed have been disappointed by how timorous they have been about promoting the concepts of Europe and the single currency. We are not winning the political argument; indeed, we have not even engaged in such an argument on the single currency. We are in a strong position only because of the utter uselessness of the Conservatives in adopting their ridiculous "Only 12 days to save the pound" campaign two weeks before polling day. That was nonsense and people knew it, but the issue is nevertheless going by default. I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said yesterday, but I want the Government to adopt a much stronger tone in making the case for Europe as a whole and the single currency in particular.
On education, we have made some great steps forward in the primary sector. Standards are going up, class sizes are falling and investment is going in throughout my constituency. There is a welcome building programme, which is a tangible sign of our investment in public services. However, surely the time has come to make such a step change in the secondary sector.
I have a couple of particular worries about education, the first of which concerns specialist schools. I have no problem with such schools and am proud that a school with technology college status, the Hollins, is situated in my constituency, but I am worried about the idea of capping their number. As they are a good idea and there are objective criteria, why cannot every school aspire to be a specialist school? My second concern relates to admissions. Admissions policy is in an absolute mess throughout my constituency, and I am sure that the same applies throughout Lancashire and many other local education authority areas. In my constituency, children who live cheek by jowl with their local schools are being offered places at schools that are situated eight miles away, which is completely unacceptable. I am sure that the education Bill will deal with admissions, on which I hope that the Government will get a grip.
I am pleased that we will have a free vote on foxhunting, about which hundreds of people have written to me to express their dismay. I could not explain to them how a Government with a majority of 178 did not manage to ban foxhunting, and they will be even more dismayed if a Government with a similar majority fail to ban it in a second term. I say to the Government that a free vote is one thing, but once such a vote has occurred, a Bill must be introduced at an early opportunity. They must have the political will and courage to use the Parliament Acts to force through the will of the House of Commons on foxhunting.
263 I want briefly to make a couple of further points, the first of which returns me to the speech that I made nine years ago when I entered the House. The speech dealt with housing in my constituency. The truth is that many of my constituents have been failed by us and by the previous Administration. I met a woman who lives in a house that is practically falling down. There are thousands—if not tens of thousands—of such people in my constituency. She told me that she was not going to vote and felt that she had been let down 10 years ago by a Tory Government and a Labour council, and now, when there is a Labour Government and a Tory council. Her house is a disgrace in the modern age, and we must not walk away from such people. I am pleased to be a voice for her in demanding that Lord Falconer visit my constituency in the near future.
My final point may be surprising, given that I spent the past four years as a Government Whip and the preceding two as an Opposition Whip. I believe that the House of Commons matters greatly. I do not want the Chamber to be sidelined; it should be at the heart of national political debate. I welcome the Hansard Society report that was published earlier this week. It contained some interesting ideas and made a welcome contribution to the debate, although I did not agree with all the conclusions. However, it is important to reinvigorate the House if we are to stand any chance of re-engaging with the electorate before the next general election. I look forward to participating in that process.
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
I welcome Ministers with new responsibilities to the Front Bench and congratulate those who have been promoted. I welcome back the Secretary of State for Health. I do not entirely envy him the task ahead, although I cannot say the same about the salary.
We were treated to two maiden speeches this afternoon. The first was made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz), who spoke confidently. He intimated in the Tea Room that he was nervous; he did not show it. His predecessor was never afraid of holding the Executive to account, and I am sure that he wants to maintain the independent stance of both his immediate predecessors, although I hope that he never runs up the repair bills of Ron Brown. He told us that he had been a resident in Edinburgh for 25 years. As someone who comes from the west of Scotland but did general practitioner training outside Edinburgh. I can tell him that it will be another 25 years before he can apply for native status.
We also heard the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Mid—Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who paid tribute to her predecessor, Christopher Fraser. He quickly established a reputation in the House for good humour and authority. Many Conservative Members will miss him as a friend as well as a colleague. I hope that the hon. Lady enjoys the same success and popularity. However, she will understand that it would be disingenuous of me to wish her a longer tenure than her predecessor.
The hon. Lady made an important point that is relevant to many areas, especially in the west and south-west of England, about the area cost adjustment and the amount 264 of local government finance that is made available. I am sure that a strong cross-party alliance will press for a review of the method of allocating money, especially to rural areas in those parts of the country.
Many good contributions were made from both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) gave one of the best speeches of the day. He spoke graphically about the human cost of the foot and mouth outbreak. He reminded us that when media attention had moved elsewhere and the general election campaign was in full swing, the suffering continued and still goes on. His explanation brought that home to the whole House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) talked about the importance of choice in public services and the need to give parents, patients and professionals greater freedom to decide what is best, free from the dead hand of Whitehall.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) criticised omissions from the Gracious Speech at length. He said that, in the next election campaign, the Government could make no excuses for failing to deliver and that prompt action should be taken. I noticed that the Government Whip avidly took notes during that speech.
The hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) showed us that old Labour had not disappeared, but was merely asleep in the Whips Office for four years. He said, "We must find out where the money is being spent before we pour in any more." That statement alone would almost qualify him as a contender for the Tory leadership.
I welcome my friend, the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope), to a speaking role. We now have a chance in the House to savour his humour, which we have appreciated in the watering holes of the Palace of Westminster in recent years. His disarming honesty about our methods of legislating and running our affairs was refreshing. We look forward to much more of the same.
Almost all hon. Members who spoke agreed that the Parliament will be about delivery in public services. The Government must provide world class public services by the next election. That does not simply mean better or good public services, but services that can compete with the best in the world.
On health, we must get our targets right above all else. We cannot provide effective services if we cannot decide what we are trying to achieve. Since the inception of the national health service, we have concentrated on input and throughput, and the political argument has been about that. We need to base our targets on outcome. I ask the Secretary of State to consider the need to standardise the methodology of determining outcome in the NHS before we can ensure that our funding is correctly invested. If we do not know what is coming out of the service, and if we cannot measure it properly, we shall largely be working in the dark, irrespective of how much funding we are going to put into the system.
I turn to the proposals in the Gracious Speech. It contains measures that we shall, of course, welcome—not least those on adoption. We are keen to see the envisaged provisions on adoption brought to fruition as quickly as possible, but I stress that all the measures will need proper scrutiny. The Bill will raise many important issues, not least those relating to social services, which will be asked to do much more than they do now. It will be essential to match the tasks being asked of them with the funding 265 being guaranteed to them. Nothing could be worse than this House deciding what needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable—in the consensual way that we shall, on this subject—and the money not being available to bring the measures into effect. The House must consider that very carefully. Indeed, the issue of social services provision in general will need to be assessed.
The No. 1 crisis facing the health service at present is that of the number of beds being lost in the care home sector and the consequent number of beds being blocked in the acute sector. Up and down the country, between 10 and 15 per cent. of acute beds are being blocked. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon pointed out, it would be pointless to pour money into the acute sector if there were no beds available in the community to which patients could be discharged. If that were to happen, any increase in money and activity in the acute sector would, paradoxically, block more beds and exacerbate the problems of patients who were waiting.
The Government could, now that they are free from the yah-boo politics of the immediate pre-election period, stand back and consider whether the balance is correct between the level of acute funding and the level of community funding envisaged in the increases set out in the Red Book. That would be a useful initial exercise for them to undertake, and I would say that it is their most urgent task of all.
We were delighted that, immediately after the election, the Secretary of State for Health broke the record for any Government implementing one of the main planks of the Opposition's manifesto by abolishing the waiting list criteria. He did this immediately after the election and just after the announcement of the increase in the number of patients waiting. Those points were raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who spoke of the difficulty of reconciling the Government's stated aims with their actions, which results in increased anger among professionals and patients. General practitioners and consultants are up in arms and threatening to leave the NHS. They say that there is too much red tape, that consultation times have gone down and that they have too little clinical freedom. Those themes were also taken up by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth).
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) also took this view into the field of education, when he spoke of the gap between the Government's rhetoric on education and the reality in the schools in his constituency. The Government will have to address the fact that the huge level of expectation raised during the election has made their job more difficult.
We shall have to look closely at the Government's proposals on two health issues in the Gracious Speech. They want to increase patient representation. In an Orwellian doublespeak way, that means the abolition of the community health councils. I have to say to the Secretary of State that that proposal is no more palatable in this Parliament than it was in the previous one. We might as well look out our notes on that issue, because we are going to have to rehearse all the same arguments all over again. I urge him to think again on that issue.
When the Secretary of State talked about decentralisation, he was moving into the Government's realm of earned autonomy. Earned autonomy means, "You can do what you like, as long as you have agreed 266 in advance with the Government what it is going to be." That does not strike me as the sort of decentralisation that those at the sharp end of the services want.
It is also interesting to note what is not in the Gracious Speech. The absence of a ban on tobacco advertising has been mentioned throughout the debate by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Conservative Members never agreed that that was as important as the Government said it was, but if the Government were as sincere as they said they were, it is odd that the provision was not in the Queen's Speech.
The real scandal of omission in the Gracious Speech is that there is no mention of mental health legislation. At the 1997 election, the Labour party said that that was a matter of great urgency, yet nothing was done in its first term and there is nothing in the Gracious Speech. That means that the Government will be at least seven and a half years into their term of office before any changes are made to one of the most important aspects of our legislation. I say to the Secretary of State that that is far too long to wait for a review. We have been promised one year after year and, if the Government can still find time, the Opposition will be as co-operative as possible in dealing with issues that are extremely difficult, but which none the less need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
I would also be interested to hear the Secretary of State's view on the omission of the moratorium on genetic testing, which the Government talked about during the election and before. For them, however, the defining issue in terms of delivery of public services will perhaps be the involvement of the private sector. We need to move from the simple concept of public services to the concept of services provided to the public, and we must use whatever skills, expertise and capacity are available to improve services.
We have all read in the papers that there is a difference of opinion between No. 10 and the Department of Health about the speed at which those matters should move forward. No doubt the instant memoirs industry will tell us which version is correct, but it is important to improve the delivery of public services by using the private sector wherever possible. We have discussed the private finance initiative, and the quality of PFI contracts is determined by how well they are negotiated, but it is also extremely important that the Government are honest about their intentions.
I was with the former Minister of State for Health at the Royal College of Nursing conference when he again said that the Government's concordat is about NHS doctors and NHS nurses treating NHS patients in private facilities where there is excess capacity. That is an extraordinarily disingenuous view of what the concordat says. It refers toPrimary care groups or Primary Care Trusts commissioning directly from a private and voluntary health care provider.In other words, it is possible entirely to bypass clinical provision in the NHS.
The Government should at least be honest about what they propose, because nothing could be worse in such a debate than them pretending to their own Back Benchers that they have agreed one thing when here we have, in black and white, something quite different. If they do not have the truth told, we will never be able to have an honest debate.
267 I would like to hear the Secretary of State's view on a matter that is, perhaps, more important than any other. Over recent days, many of us will have read with alarm newspaper reports such as that in The Sunday Times money section entitled, "Labour scraps free nursing care pledge". What the Government proposed was explicit in the national plan and in their contributions to Committee debates, which the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) will remember. Section 15:18 of the national plan says:From October 2001 … nursing care provided in nursing homes will be fully funded by the NHS. People should not be asked to contribute towards the cost of their nursing care".Now we realise that all sorts of caveats will be placed on that and that people will be asked, according to some means test, to provide a part—greater or lesser, depending on where or in which part of the country they live—of their nursing care.
The report in The Sunday Times added:The Department of Health said yesterday that no formal decision had yet been made.There can be no room for confusion, however, and the Government's pledge was absolutely, totally, 100 per cent. clear. We supported them in Committee and in the House of Lords on the understanding that all nursing care would be fully funded and any backtracking on that will be regarded as the most brazen betrayal of elderly voters ever undertaken by any Government in a general election.
The Government won a clear victory in the general election, and there would be no point in going over in the coming months the arguments that we had before the election. They have a large parliamentary majority and a parliamentary programme, and what we legislate on is entirely in their hands for the next four years, but they have raised both expectations and questions about their intentions.
It is time for Ministers to give straight answers to the questions raised from both sides of the House during the debate, if we are to be able to believe that spin is out and delivery is in. For the meantime, the jury is most definitely out.
§ The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn)
This has been an extremely constructive and positive debate about the future of public services.
First and most importantly of all, let me pay tribute to the two hon. Members who made their maiden speeches today, not just for the quality of their contributions but for their bravery in making them so early in their parliamentary careers. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) paid an extremely handsome and fulsome tribute to her predecessor. Perhaps her only omission was her refusal to mention the one person whom many people regard as being responsible for getting her elected: a certain Mr. Billy Bragg.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) also made an important contribution. He has had a long and successful career in local government and I have no doubt whatever that he will make a long and successful contribution to the proceedings of the House. In highlighting Labour's 268 achievements in its first term, he reminded us of how far we have to go in both reforming and investing in our key public services.
This debate has been overwhelmingly about health and education—necessarily. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) said in a rather philosophical speech—I shall read the details of it later and hopefully understand it more than I did the first time round—the priority for the Government in this second term is to reform all our key public services, not just health and education but transport, the police and welfare services.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) and for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) rightly said, strong public services are the foundation for a strong society, in which there are opportunities not just for some people but for all our citizens and all our communities.
I suspect that, for many of my hon. Friends, it is a delicious irony that the official Opposition chose for this first full day's debate on the Queen's Speech the very subject that they spent virtually the whole of the general election campaign ignoring, namely health and education. That point was made by the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). I can only conclude that, during the election campaign, their minds were more concentrated on the forthcoming election campaign than on the outcome of the general election.
At one point, I became worried about the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) because he seemed to have disappeared from view. He disappeared from the television studios and I searched up and down the country for him. Indeed, I went to his constituency and took with me a 10 ft wooden trojan horse as a reminder of his policy on health: private health insurance rather than investment in the national health service. However, I could not find him there either.
The hon. Gentleman brags that his majority went up, but the majority in the country went one way. We know that we have a job of work to do, but he should know—I hope that he draws this important lesson from the general election campaign—that the Conservatives were not trusted in 1997 on public services and they were not trusted in 2001 either. I hope that he survives the trials and tribulations of the forthcoming leadership election campaign. That would be good news for him; it would be rather better news for us because he and his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench—and, I suspect from some of the contributions that we heard today, on the Opposition Back Benches too—are responsible for the parlous state in which today's Conservative party finds itself. That is because of the paucity of their policies on public services.
The issue of public services is what concerns people the most. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) talks about delivery. I agree that people are concerned about delivery and we know that we have a job of work to do. However, what was interesting about this afternoon's debate is that we heard so much, including from the hon. Member for Woodspring, about problems in the national health service and so little about how to make progress in the NHS.
The right hon. Member for Fylde made a good speech. He talked down the number of doctors and of nursing posts that we shall create over the next few years. There 269 will be 10,000 more doctors and 20,000 more nurses, as well as lots more teachers and police officers. I hope that he has had the opportunity to read his manifesto and to draw some conclusions from it. Whereas our manifesto promises extra doctors and nurses, his promises not a single extra nurse or doctor. As I understand it, it did not promise a single extra police officer or teacher either. That is because the Conservatives made a different choice. We chose to put the public's priorities first—to put investment in, and reform of, the national health service, the education system, transport and the police service first. As he fairly concluded in his speech, the Conservatives put something else first: they put unaffordable tax cuts first, and they got the result that they deserved.
§ Mr. Milburn
Extra means on top of the position in 2000. We have not done the count for 2001 yet—we carry out an annual census in September, and we shall publish the results of that. I am extremely confident that we shall continue to make progress in recruiting and retaining extra doctors and extra nurses.
§ Mr. Milburn
There will a net increase of 10,000 doctors and 20,000 nurses. Conservative Front-Bench Members have no right to complain about the lack of ambition—as the right hon. Member for Fylde called it—of our targets in our manifesto, given that they promised not a single extra doctor or a single extra nurse.
§ Mr. Jack
Does the Secretary of State agree that he is now responsible for delivering those extra public servants? Does he also agree with me that if the numbers of extra staff are spread out across the nation, there will be few per health unit, per police station or per school? He will have to make any progress that he makes very clear if the public are to believe the rhetoric. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said, there is a gulf between the Secretary of State's rhetoric and what we believe will be the reality.
§ Mr. Milburn
The public will see further expansion in staff numbers. There must be an increase in the number of staff working at the front line in the national health service. We need more doctors and nurses, clinical scientists and physiotherapists, and we need more backroom staff, who provide essential services in order that front-line staff can do their job and improve services for patients. We can do that only if we make the right choices as a country and as political parties. The choice that we made was to provide investment. The choice that the Conservative party made was completely different. I was pleased to see the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) present earlier. He will be a constant reminder of the Conservative party's real agenda on public services, which is not extra investment, but cuts.
I know how far we have to go. I am a great supporter of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). I do not know whether that is a help or a 270 hindrance to him—it is another lost vote. He made important points about the progress that we need to make on clinical negligence, infections in hospitals and expansion in services. Importantly, he made a crucial point about what we need to do about the culture of the NHS and other public services. They must be attuned to the needs of the public. The only vested interest that should count in the national health service is that of the patient. The only vested interest that should count in schools is that of the pupil and the parent. That is where we need to get to.
There is a long way to go. I have acknowledged on many occasions that there are problems in the health service and that NHS staff are working under real pressure, but it paints a false picture always to allow the problems to obscure the progress that has been made during the past four years. We now have 17,000 more nurses and 6,500 more doctors. We have a hospital building programme that is delivering hospitals rather than just extra cash for accountants and lawyers. We have put more investment into primary care and community services. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) asked about the expansion in GP numbers, as did the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). During the next few years, we expect to have at least 2,000 extra GPs working in surgeries up and down the country. By 2005, we will have increased the number of medical students by 57 per cent., which is the biggest rise on record and a guarantee of expansion in doctor numbers not just for a few years but for a decade or more. All that is underpinned by the extra resources demanded by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), not just for health but for social services.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) reminded us, there is much progress still to be made, especially in the poorer parts of the country, where we know that health needs are greatest and resources have not always matched those needs. It is because of that knowledge that I can tell him and, indeed, Members on both sides of the House who have made the point about distribution of resources that we will conduct an urgent review to ensure that resources are better for, and more fairly distributed to, the parts of the country that need them most. I trust that that will be helpful, at least at this stage. I do not know whether the outcome of the review will be helpful, following its publication, but it will at least be helpful in assessing where health needs are greatest and trying to direct resources in that direction.
§ Dr. Evan Harris
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of NHS staff, will he clarify one point? Previously, he has given assurances that under private finance initiative schemes clinical staff would still be employed by the NHS. Can he assure us again that, under PFI schemes and other privatisations, clinical staff delivering services to NHS patients will still be employed by the NHS?
§ Mr. Milburn
Yes. What is more—as the hon. Gentleman may be aware from our manifesto—we want to find ways of ensuring that better and fairer protection is given to staff who provide an important service and are, in many ways, part of the clinical team. I refer to the porters on the wards, the cleaners on the wards, the cooks, and those who provide laundry services. A few days ago, 271 alongside my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I was able to announce ways in which I hope we can secure the continued involvement of those staff members, as NHS employees, in PFI deals. We will trial that. We will try to make it work. I think it important to emphasise the importance of team working in the NHS.
Over the next few years, we will focus our activity on four key areas. The first covers services for conditions with the greatest clinical priority. That includes services for cancer and heart disease, services for the elderly, and services for those with mental health problems. They were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) and by the hon. Member for Woodspring. The second covers primary care, the point of contact that most patients have with the NHS. The third covers emergency care, the point of contact that patients most need to know is there for them when they require it. The fourth relates to cutting waiting times. Those will be our priorities: those services will receive the most investment and the most reform.
More money is now going into the NHS, but, as Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged today, not just investment but reform is required to secure the best from those extra resources. We have a mandate for investment following the general election, but we also have a mandate for reform. There can be no veto on either investment or reform.
I say in all candour to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who is now the Liberal Democrat health spokesman—I welcome him to his position—that the Liberal Democrats will make a fatal mistake if they close their minds to change. Our services need not just extra cash, but some big changes. We must 272 change the culture of public services. We must ensure that those at the front end have the resources, power and influence that will enable them to deliver care to patients and education to pupils. That is what we have sought to do in the Queen's Speech, and what we will seek to do in the Bill that will follow.
In our first term, we established new national standards and new institutions to realise them. In our second term, with that framework in place, our priority is to devolve power to the NHS front line—to give the people who do the caring the cash and control that they need to improve services for patients For all the talk that we hear from those on the Opposition Front Bench, it is worth remembering that when the Conservatives left office GPs working in primary care controlled just 15 per cent. of the NHS budget—just 15 per cent. of the total NHS resource. This year, GPs and others in primary care groups and primary care trusts control 50 per cent. of the NHS budget. As a consequence of the measures in the Queen's Speech, by 2004 they will control 75 per cent.
The national health service relies on the commitment and expertise of those in the front line—its doctors, nurses, scientists and therapists, and its cooks and cleaners too. Our job in government is to give them the resources and support that they need, so that they can get on with their job of improving care for patients. That is what this Queen's Speech—
§ It being Seven o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.