HC Deb 15 November 2002 vol 394 cc261-338 9.33 am
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Charles Clarke)

I welcome today's debate, because education, culture, media and sport are critical parts of our national life. I hope that we will have a good debate, and in the spirit of friendship that I hope will characterise our discussions today, I thank the shadow Cabinet for agreeing to combine education with culture, media and sport.

I am delighted to be here with my colleague the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, because the first sentence in a speech that I made after becoming Secretary of State for Education and Skills was that I wanted children to enjoy school. An essential part of enjoying school is found in the relationship that schools need to have with arts, culture and sports organisations. My first bilateral meeting with a fellow Secretary of State after my appointment was with my right hon. Friend, precisely to discuss how we could progress that work.

I am also grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for deciding that the two subject areas should be debated together. My right hon. Friend will deal with the two main measures for which her Department is responsible—the communications Bill and the licensing Bill, which is published today—later in the debate. I hope that all hon. Members understand that that is the most effective way to proceed. I shall focus on education issues.

I begin by putting on the record my tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris). She was not only an outstanding Secretary of State, but an outstanding Education Minister throughout the period since the Labour Government were elected in 1997. I worked closely with her within the Department and I think that her conviction, her power and her passion have made a major contribution to transforming the quality of education in this country. I think that she was too harsh to herself in the judgment that she made in deciding to resign. If I can reach anywhere near her level of achievement, I will consider myself to have done more than well.

The purpose of the Queen's Speech debate is to enable us to discuss the programmes and policies not only of the Government of the day, but of the Opposition parties as well. If, in the course of the debate, I point out some of the inconsistencies and weaknesses in Opposition policies, I hope that I will not be called a bruiser. I am working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to connect with my feminine side. I intend to set out six questions for the Conservatives and four for the Liberal Democrats—questions that I think they need to answer when explaining their thinking and their policies for the country. The numbers are not equal because I do not think that the Liberal Democrats have achieved the status of official Opposition—yet. It will be interesting to see in the coming year whether they succeed in doing so.

Let me give the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) some candid advice: his party does not have a problem of leadership; its problems are those of identity and policy. People simply do not know where the Conservatives stand. I hope that he will be able to help us in that respect when he answers the questions that I will ask him today.

A major theme of the Gracious Speech is the need to affirm rights and responsibilities. Today, I reaffirm the Government's journey of reform based on a strong society, moving away from a one-size-fits-all system to personalised services based on the needs and aspirations of the individual. We aim to achieve that by breaking up sometimes monolithic structures and devolving powers to front-line leaders of the profession. Diversity and choice will, in our opinion, breed creativity. We believe that it is our role as a Government to support the teaching profession and all those working within the education service, and that the key means of doing so are investment in and reform of those services.

The Gracious Speech stated: My Government will introduce a Bill to tackle anti-social behaviour that damages communities. We see the education service as a key player in that respect. We believe in rights for children and responsibilities for parents. In that legislation, we will set out a comprehensive strategy to tackle antisocial behaviour in our communities. We will continue to be tough on truancy and tough on the parents of truants, for the simple reason that truancy damages children's education and their future prospects, and is a major risk factor behind street crime and antisocial behaviour.

We believe that parents have both a legal and a moral responsibility to ensure that their children attend school regularly. It is wholly unacceptable for parents to condone their children's truancy from school. The figures are stark: every day 50,000 children are absent from school without the schools' permission—an enormous number. In the recent truancy sweeps that we organised, half the children stopped were with their parents. Unauthorised absence has remained at a constant 0.7 per cent. of half days missed since the data were first published in 1994.

The Government believe that those figures are simply not good enough, and we must work to improve them. Truancy damages not only children, their hopes and aspirations, but society as whole, because it can lead to crime. We must therefore deal with it, and we are setting out a number of clear steps to do just that. We will establish parenting orders to require parents to attend parenting skills classes, and we will be ready to take legal action to put that into effect. We will establish a co-ordinated programme of truancy sweeps even beyond what we have done so far, especially in areas where there is the highest rate of street crime. We will work to build much stronger relationships between schools and police, including, in some instances, having police located in the toughest schools to help build the team that is necessary to tackle these issues.

We have a number of other specific measures. These are targets for local education authorities and schools, funding for electronic registration systems in high-truancy areas, a publicity campaign to address the responsibilities of parents, extending truancy sweeps, as I have said, increasing powers to magistrates to impose sentences on parents, and a pathfinders scheme to speed up the existing prosecution system.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)

I am not unsupportive of the measures that the Government are proposing on truancy, but has the right hon. Gentleman's Department done any work in analysing why truancy rates are so high in this country? They are significantly higher than those in other continental European countries, especially Switzerland, where the rate is virtually zero.

Mr. Clarke

We have done some work on this, but we need to do more. I was about to say that we need to commission more research. I would initially identify two or three reasons. First, there was a real growth in truancy rates over the 20 years before we came to office. There was the "there is no such thing as society" way of looking at things. In some families in some estates in some parts of the country the ethos of social responsibility has been weakened. We see it as part of our responsibility to try to build that up.

Secondly, there is the serious question whether the curriculum, in some secondary schools in particular, is sufficiently challenging for the children. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is preparing proposals, which I shall come to later, to see whether we can make changes to deal with those aspects as well. We are conducting research, but the hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to make that point.

The first question that I come to is for the Liberal Democrats. I am sure that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) will address the matter when he speaks, and I hope he will. My question is whether they will support our measures to deal with truancy. I say to the hon. Gentleman in all candour that if the Liberal Democrats decide that they will not support our measures, I think that the people of this country will judge them in an adverse light. The people acknowledge that there are real problems.

I now come to my first question for the Conservatives. The question of home-school contracts comes into the area that we are discussing. The hon. Member for Ashford said at the Conservative party conference: We would allow heads to require parents to sign a contract with the school … and we would give those contracts legal backing. That is what the hon. Gentleman is reported as saying. I am sure that he will tell the House whether he stands by that

I believe that that statutory backing proposal could cause chaos. Putting into place legally enforceable contracts covering millions of school children would be not only a massive bureaucratic burden but a massive enforcement burden. Does the hon. Gentleman propose that heads should be expected to take parents to court? If not, who would be? Implementation of his proposal would open up schools to a new range of legal challenges from parents who felt that in the school contract the school might be failing to provide them with adequate information—for example, about their child's progress. That is the sort of issue that I raised when responding to the intervention of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) about the nature of the curriculum as it operates. Parents might feel that they need legal recourse.

I hope that the hon. Member for Ashford will give us more details about his proposals to provide a statutory backing to the home-school contracts and how he intends to deal with the problems that I have described.

Dealing with antisocial behaviour is a core issue for us in the Queen's Speech. We will play our part with our colleagues in the Home Office and other Departments in developing legislation that will take us forward.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Before the Secretary of State moves on to another subject, will he tell us what the Government are going to do about antisocial behaviour within schools? When I talk to sixth formers in schools, they are concerned that they are being denied the right to learn because of the disruptive behaviour of other pupils.

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make that point. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is addressing these matters in great detail. The best short answer to his question is yes. The answer is to give more power to the profession—teachers—to deal with these problems in appropriate ways. There are a number of specific measures, such as investment in pupil referral units, that are important to help deal with the situations that can exist. However, the most important thing is to get a sense of order in the classroom. If we are to do that, the role of the teacher is critical. Our job is to help teachers in that, and that is what we will do. We shall make specific proposals in the near future—before Christmas—to deal with that specific point. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise the matter.

The roots of these issues start earlier, as I have indicated. In our work on early years and pre-school arrangements, we believe that it is critical to intervene in a serious way to stop the long-term cycles of decline that cause some of the problems that we are describing. Our sure start programme has been a critical element in that approach, with its objectives of improving social and emotional development, health and ability to learn, and of strengthening families and communities.

We are working with our colleagues in the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that we can roll out the programme substantially throughout the country. We also wish to ensure that in every area all the professions are working together in the way that has been so well piloted in the sure start areas. For example, we want to see teachers, social workers, police, health visitors and housing officers working as a real team to try to address the needs of children. The truth is that intervening early and effectively in this way is the most effective way of ending some of the cycles of despair that have been present.

We are proud that in terms of our comprehensive spending review targets, in 1998 our target was to Increase provision of nursery places for 3-year-olds from 34 per cent. to 66 per cent. by 2002, focusing on the most deprived areas of the country. We over-achieved on that target, and 70 per cent. of three-year-olds are now able to access a free place. We see this entire approach as central. We believe that in the past not enough attention was given to early years. Similarly, in some ways, not enough attention was given to primary education. We are determined that that will no longer be the case.

I now come to my second question for the hon. Member for Ashford. I have been unclear about the position of the Conservative party on sure start. I read that the Conservatives proposed to establish a small national agency and a national programme delivered by charitable and voluntary organisations that would, in their words, target support for parents with troubled children Their programme is costed at no more than £80 million.

The effect of that approach would be to close 80 sure start programmes. The total average assumed spending for a sure start programme is £1 million. We have a significant extra budget compared with to the budget that the Tories intend to operate. Let us clarify today whether it is Conservative policy to close 80 sure start programmes. Let us clarify also what Conservative proposals are and whether the Opposition see sure start as the priority that I think most people believe it to be.

Primary and secondary reform must be at the heart of any Secretary of State's educational priorities. I shall begin with a reference to the A-level issues, because of the media background and because I gather that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough intends to raise the matter. In my constant spirit of helpfulness, I am keen to answer his question before he asks it, so that he can comment on it directly.

The issues during the summer relating to A-level grading were referred to the former chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, who has been widely respected throughout the education service. On 2 October he wrote to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley, making clear the criteria on which the grading of papers would be reviewed: For those units where the Accountable Officers' … changes to the A/B or E/U grade boundaries recommended by the Chairs of Examiners were larger than the normal pattern for legacy A-levels"— that is the essentially the point that is being made by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, as I understand it— there should be a review of the relevant mark grade boundaries. This review will be completed and any revised results issued to students by Tuesday 15 October. In other words, any grade boundaries that have been adjusted by more than was expected under the previous A-level regime were reviewed. That was a clear benchmark and, moreover, one that was accepted by all the parties involved, including those who made the original complaints.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Mike Tomlinson's final report on the review of gradings was published on 15 October. My predecessor reported the result to Parliament on that day. The Government have full confidence in the Tomlinson inquiry. It was welcomed by the main head teacher bodies and it involved them. I do not believe that there is any basis for reopening the inquiry. That is my response to the hon. Gentleman. Obviously he will say more about he matter if he wishes to do so. The issue raises another question for the Conservatives, and it is my third question to them. The Leader of the Opposition stated in the House: No one even knows whether they are worth the paper that they are written on."—[Official Report, 16 October 2002; Vol. 390, c. 311.] Is that the position of the hon. Member for Ashford? Does he believe that A-levels are not worth the paper they are written on? We certainly do not accept that—A-levels are a vital standard in our education system, and we are determined that that should continue. An overwhelming number of A-level students, parents and teachers will deeply resent the suggestion from the Leader of the Opposition, a senior politician, that A-levels are not worth the paper on which they are written. My question is therefore direct—does the hon. Member for Ashford agree or not agree with the point made by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition?

On primary and secondary education more generally, the Queen said in the Gracious Speech: Raising educational standards remains my Government's main priority for Britain's future prosperity. Secondary school reform will continue to promote opportunity and choice through greater diversity for parents and pupils. Our main focus must be quality and standards in primary and secondary education. Success has already been achieved in primary schools, with the best results ever, established standards and an accountability framework, but we now need to accomplish the transformation of secondary education into a new diverse system that will be specialist in ethos and focus on the individual child's talents. I call that "comprehensive plus"—we need a system that ensures that every child is fulfilled and can achieve their aspirations.

I have a question for the Liberal Democrats. I have read that their policy is to stop support for the specialist schools system.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

There is only one Liberal Democrat in the Chamber.

Mr. Clarke

That is a characteristically unfair Conservative attack on the Liberal Democrats. I am sure that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough will explain that his colleagues make a priority of supporting him in his important party work on education. I am told that it is Liberal Democrat policy to abolish the specialist schools programme. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would confirm that his party are proceeding with that policy.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's interest in Liberal Democrat policy, particularly as the Government constantly include it in their legislation. However, can he quote a single word from any speech or document produced on behalf of the Liberal Democrats to support his comments?

Mr. Clarke

I do not have the full text of speeches at this year's Liberal Democrat conference, but I understand that the document considered by that assembly stated that all decisions would be taken by schools; everything about the running of schools would be dealt with by individual schools, not by any centralized—as the hon. Gentleman would put it—system. The specialist schools programme is a centralised programme to support schools throughout the country. I may be wrong about Liberal Democrat policies. If so, I am happy to be corrected and learn that the Liberal Democrats are supporting our programme—that is why I put a question to the hon. Gentleman. The basis of my remarks, however, is the document that was submitted to the Liberal Democrat assembly earlier this year.

Mr. Willis

It is good to have a debate in the House on Liberal Democrat policy. The right hon. Gentleman will know-indeed, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris), the former Secretary of State, will confirm—that my criticism and that of my party of the specialist school programme is that it creates a two-tier system in our schools. The Government's initial approach was to give a small number of schools specialist status, with £0.5 million extra over a period of five years. Our objection is simple—every single school should be able to bid for those resources provided that they meet the relevant criteria. Moreover, it is not up to the Secretary of State to decide—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to make his points a little later.

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was feeling sensitive and in difficulty about the hon. Gentleman's charges. I hope that he can set out his position clearly later and confirm that he does support our specialist school programme, which, as he says, is open to all schools.

Mr. Willis

The right hon. Gentleman said in The Times that all schools would not get specialised status.

Mr. Clarke

We can have a proper exchange later—I hope that the hon. Gentleman sets out his policy and position clearly. Specialist schools are important and should be substantially expanded. I would welcome support from Liberal Democrat councillors up and down the country and from local education authorities for that programme.

Standards are the key issue and we must focus on them. First, on key stage 2 standards, we can claim a good deal of success. In mathematics, the proportion of children getting level 4 or above—the standard we have set—has gone from 58 per cent. in 1998 to 68 per cent. in 1999, 71 per cent. in 2000, and 70 per cent. in 2001. Early statistics for 2002 indicate that is now 73 per cent. The record in mathematics is largely successful, but about English, in some respects, we can be less optimistic. We did well at the beginning, achieving an improvement from 64 per cent. to 70 per cent., then up to 74 per cent. in 2001, but that has reached a plateau, remaining at 74 per cent. in 2002. Throughout this year, to fulfil the commitment in the Gracious Speech, we shall try to continue to drive up standards in English in particular. It is important that we carry that through.

Mr. Gibb

Having cited those figures, how does the right hon. Gentleman explain the findings of Professor Timms in Durham university's evaluation unit? He says that since 1997 there has been no statistically significant improvement in literacy in year 6.

Mr. Clarke

I very much welcome, and do not dismiss at all, the important contribution of serious academics, of whom Professor Timms is one, to the debate. Different data sets are used for different analyses, and people make judgments on them. At the end of the day, however, I look at Ofsted's conclusions and examination results. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that I have not come to the House saying that everything has been wonderful. I have just said that results have reached a plateau, and we have to deal with that. There will be a lot of academic commentary, including from Durham university, which we will look at with interest. Fundamentally, however, following substantial debate on the issue, we must look at the official figures on results.

Mr. Gibb

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the point made by Professor Timms that children are being taught to take tests, and that there is no underlying improvement in either numeracy or literacy?

Mr. Clarke

I do not accept that. There was initially a lot of controversy about the core literacy and numeracy programmes, which followed the precise line of argument cited by the hon. Gentleman, but most people, including teachers and parents, believe that the literacy and numeracy hour which we initiated has had a major and welcome impact on raising standards in literacy and numeracy in primary schools. That can be derided as simply urging children to pass tests, but those tests are important. The basic tests in literacy and numeracy for key stage 2 equip children to deal variously with similar tests throughout our lives, and it is important to be able to do them easily. I therefore do not accept Professor Timms's point in this specific instance—those tests are important and it is important that we deal with them. It is also worth pointing out that the number of pupils aged five, six or seven in infant classes over 30 fell in accordance with the standards that we have set

The issue of standards is at the core of our programme. My watchword is to support teachers? professionalism—it is our job to support them, enabling them to develop and be effective in their schools—by dealing with issues such as behaviour, which the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) mentioned earlier, and bureaucracy. We must also encourage subject-based professionalism. Developing teamwork both in schools—everyone in a school working together—and between schools and the rest of the community, is also crucial. Most important of all, perhaps, is leadership. We must ensure that we have genuine leadership from every teacher in a school to ensure that children fulfil their aspirations effectively. A central means of achieving that is to extend freedom to schools—freedom to innovate, freedom to work in partnership and freedom from bureaucracy and unnecessary restrictions. I acknowledge that the issue of bureaucracy remains extremely serious and difficult, and I shall make it a personal priority. We must also give schools more freedom from strings attached to funding. I announced the other day that we intend to progress further and shall shortly have a formal consultation on more earned autonomy for schools. Schools of sufficient quality will merit the freedom to tailor the curriculum. In response to an earlier intervention, some schools would value the opportunity to vary their curriculum to make sure that every child in their school is stretched and can develop in the most effective way. Schools may also have freedom to vary terms and conditions for staff and greater financial freedom. In those areas, too, it is important to clarify the Conservatives' position.

The hon. Member for Ashford criticised my proposals when he stated—I quote from The Daily Telegraph to confirm that my source is pukka—that I was retaining the power to pick and choose which freedoms go to which schools The hon. Gentleman has a dilemma in making that point. Is he saying that there should be identical inspection regimes for all schools, from the best to the failing, or does he agree that there should be a light-touch approach, whereby schools that are seen to be doing well have less frequent inspections? Where should that be decided, if not at the centre? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that all schools should have the right to vary the national curriculum, however good, competent and effective they are, or should that right be afforded only to schools that are judged by Ofsted to be at the top level of competence? Should the same apply to financial freedoms? When the hon. Gentleman says that he opposes our proposals for greater earned autonomy and greater freedoms for schools, he has an obligation to set out clearly what he intends to do.

We are helped further still by the Conservative party conference to understand the party's views of some of the issues relating to schools. This forms the subject of my fourth request. The document entitled "Leadership with a Purpose" issued at the Conservative party conference stated: All pupils should be entitled to a State Scholarship which offers them a chance of an excellent education in a school that has independence from government … Our"— that is, the Conservatives?— first priority will be the areas where most children are left behind—our inner cities. That would effectively bring back the assisted places scheme. It suggests that that is the way to deal with the issues in the inner cities.

We, by contrast, have a strong programme for children in our inner cities. Almost 80 per cent. of the excellence in cities areas have improved on their 2001 GCSE results, with spectacular success stories—including Tower Hamlets, up by 7.2 per cent., Wandsworth up by 5.7 per cent., Redcar and Cleveland up by 5.2 per cent., and so on. With our commitment to excellence in cities and the investment and reform that have gone into that—as opposed to the Conservatives' proposal for a renewed assisted places scheme—I believe that as regards policies for the inner cities, we will be in a much stronger position by a long way. However, I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's policies. Perhaps he will be good enough to explain them to us later.

In the area of further education and skills, there is an even greater need for investment and reform than in the other areas that I have mentioned. For too long, further education has been the Cinderella of our education services, and our national lack of competitiveness in skills, compared with many other countries—particularly the United States and important European allies such as France and Germany—has been a major problem. We are focusing strongly on that area.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Would the Secretary of State consider allocating specific funds to universities and further and higher education to target primary and secondary schools where there is no history of pupils going forward into further and higher education?

Mr. Clarke

The short answer is yes. The hon. Gentleman's proposals are constructive. We already have a programme for summer schools for children from secondary, not primary, schools in the areas that he describes, to ensure that children who have the talent to go to university understand what it means and are not inhibited by their fears. If the hon. Gentleman's comment is that we could do more and better in that regard, I accept the challenge and agree with the thrust of his argument. We will be examining that matter.

The journey of reform in further education and skills entails putting teacher training and learning at the heart of what we do; ensuring that we get better employer engagement, which is a serious weakness at present; reducing bureaucracy—I am sorry to say that again, but there are too many programmes and inspection regimes, which we must sort out; and introducing a coherent qualifications framework. We need to achieve a situation that will allow us to make progress.

On universities, the Gracious Speech stated: University reform proposals will be published to improve access and build on excellence. I cannot improve on the admirable quality of the sentiments expressed there. That is exactly what we shall do. An early decision that I took was to delay for five or six weeks over the Christmas break the proposals on which the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education has been working, which were to have been published in the next two to three weeks. They will be published in mid-January. I decided to delay publication for the selfish reason that I wanted to be sure that I would have a chance to read the material thoroughly and understand the issues fully. I wish to express publicly my appreciation to my hon. Friend and to leaders of the university world, who have been very understanding of the delay in the process.

Mr. Willis

Before the Secretary of State moves on, would he correct the comment that was made by the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education on the "Today" programme on Radio 4 this morning about the increased resources going into higher education? Will he confirm that from 1997 to the present, there has, in student per capita figures, been no increase? Indeed, if one takes away the income from tuition fees, there has been a decrease in real terms.

Mr. Clarke

Not only will I not correct my hon. Friend's statement, I will confirm it. The overall figure shows a significant increase—I do not have the percentage figure in front of me—in the total resource that has gone to universities. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that funding per student has gone only slightly ahead of being steady; it has gone relatively flat. That is one of the central issues that must be addressed.

The hon. Gentleman has identified the key point, and I am glad that he has. I am prepared to acknowledge directly that there are serious funding shortages in higher education. The question that we must now debate is how we go about dealing with that situation. There are many issues relating to those who could potentially contribute, ranging from individuals, by various means, to society as a whole, the state in various ways, and a range of organisations. We need, and my hon. Friend's document will offer, a proper discussion of possible approaches to the problem.

We made manifesto commitments to Strengthen research and teaching excellence and to Support world-class research and the development of public-private partnerships. That cannot be done without resource, and there is no doubt that the competitive resource situation of some of our great universities, compared with other universities, is serious. A second goal of our manifesto was that 50 per cent. of young people should enter higher education, and a third was not to introduce top-up fees. Those three are commitments that stand, and that is the context in which we shall publish our proposals.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of us heard with alarm this morning the claim made by the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education, to the effect that graduates earn a great deal more than non-graduates? The comparison should not be between graduates and non-graduates. It should be between graduates and those who could have gone to university and chose not to. That differential is far lower than the graduate/non-graduate differential. I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend is not planning to introduce a graduate tax, which would further disincentivise people from going to university.

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's views. It is clear beyond peradventure that graduates earn more than people who have not graduated. I accept that there is a subset of people who have not gone to university because they did not wish to do so, for whatever reason, and the differential between graduates and that subset may be different. I have not seen research on that, but I understand my hon. Friend's point. However, it is difficult to argue against the general proposition that a graduate gains financially from having gone to university. The question whether graduates should therefore make a contribution is an issue. If they were to make such a contribution, the question how it would be best made—via some kind of graduate tax, fees or whatever—is a further issue that needs to be discussed. Those are the issues that will be addressed in the paper that my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education is preparing. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) was trying to do this, but to suggest that there is no economic benefit to the individual from having gone to university is, in my opinion, a difficult argument to sustain. It is one of the issues that we will explore in the document. We will publish the document, and I am sure that we will have a good debate on that question when we consider it in detail.

Underlying all the reform throughout every part of education is the question of the investment and resources to which we commit ourselves, and we have made a substantial commitment to improved investment and resources. But the Conservative party has not made such a commitment. For example, about a year ago the Leader of the Opposition said: I do recall John Major had a figure in his head of around 35 per cent"— this is of GDP spent on public services— These are aspirations. What you try to say is, every nation that is successful tends to be lower tax. More recently, last July, I think addressing the journalists, the right hon. Gentleman said: you cannot say that I am committed to matching anything. We will match what we require as spending to deliver our reform and change programme. At the Conservative party conference this year, the Tory policy document stated: Conservatives do not support the tax and spending increases the Government has announced. That is clear.

More recently than that, on 7 October, on the BBC's "Breakfast" programme, the hon. Member for Ashford said: I don't criticise the amount of money the government spends on education. Where does the truth lie? Has the hon. Gentleman caved in completely and betrayed the education interests in relation to his shadow Cabinet colleagues who do not want such spending, or will his writ run? If education spending is to be cut, what will be cut? We have already identified one example, sure start, but I could have picked a raft of examples.

In the spirit of sharing different policies, the country needs clarity from the Conservative party about exactly what it intends on the funding issue. I do not put that in any spirit of partisanship. That is not the kind of politician I am. To help the public debate, I simply inquire what the policies are and what the situation is.

The debate on the Queen's Speech is an opportunity to compare and look at the different programmes and policies of the parties so that the country can understand them. I have put six questions today to the Conservatives. First, how will the hon. Gentleman deal with the statutory basis of home-school contracts? Secondly, would he close 80 sure start programmes? Thirdly, does he agree with his leader when he says that A-levels are not worth the paper they are written on? [Interruption.] I am sure that if he did not say it, the hon. Gentleman will tell us in a second. Fourthly, is he in favour of light-touch inspections and different inspection regimes for different schools according to how effective they are? Fifthly, is it true that he wants to bring back the assisted places scheme as a way of dealing with inner-city educational deprivation? Sixthly, will the Opposition invest in education or not? Those are six quite serious questions and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do us the courtesy of responding.

I throw down the same challenge to the Liberal Democrats. First, will the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough oppose the truancy legislation when it comes around? Secondly, will he abandon targets and standards for schools set by a national regime such as Ofsted? What is his position on that? Does he believe that every school should just get on with it, with no national regime? Thirdly, will he end the specialist schools programme? We had a short exchange on that, which threw some light on the matter, but a little more light would be helpful. Fourthly, to return to the resources point, does what he says about devolving all responsibility for schools to local authorities mean that he will end the focus that we have tried to establish on the most deprived areas of Britain, because the big issue with his policy is that it takes away the equity element in what any Government naturally try to do?

Those are my six questions to the Conservatives and my four questions to the Liberal Democrats. For our part, the Government have a coherent and constructive programme that is rigorously focused on raising educational standards at every level. That means focusing on what our education service can do for every individual in our society. The way to go about that is by investing in our service and reforming it, by building partnerships within our education service, and between the education service and our colleagues in other areas, such as those that are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

We are always single minded in our focus on standards. We think that the lack of confidence that arises from a lack of such focus is damaging and dangerous, so whatever happens, we shall focus on standards throughout. It is an approach that I am proud to inherit from my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley, and I commend it to the House.

10.14 am
Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

The House should take this opportunity formally to welcome the new Secretary of State to his position, as this is the first time that we have heard his views on education in his new role. He was appointed just before the last Education questions and I said then that his silence was uncharacteristic. I am glad to see that I was right. I start by expressing my genuine sympathy that the first response of some of the crueller newspapers to his appointment was to dig up pictures of the right hon. Gentleman from when he was president of the National Union of Students in the 1970s, the decade that style forgot. Given the sheer volume of hair on display in some of those pictures, he will be relieved to know that I do not propose to follow the example of his hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) and flourish to the House a picture of a rather impressive silver-backed gorilla. Comparisons in this case would be not just odious but alarming. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. Along with age, wisdom, maturity and seniority, he has clearly developed much greater control over his facial hair in the intervening decades

Like the Secretary of State I shall leave the legislation of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who will be replying to the debate. As someone who for a time ran a think tank devoted to media matters, I think that involves some heroic restraint on my part, as I have strong views on such issues. However, I do not wish to tread on my hon. Friend's toes.

I was interested that in his opening speech the Secretary of State clearly preferred talking about the plans and policies of the Opposition, and even the Liberal Democrats. Those were certainly the parts of his speech where he showed the greatest enthusiasm. He is understandably embarrassed about the policies that he has inherited and has had to take over. Even in a debate on the Queen's Speech where the Government are setting out their programme for the year, he preferred to talk about anything but those things.

The embarrassment that the right hon. Gentleman feels has been revealed in the large number of interviews that he has been giving, which show with commendable honesty that the new Secretary of State is prepared to confront, at least in words, the legacy of failure that he has been left by his predecessors. As he told The Daily Telegraph—I am glad that we read the same newspapers— the central prescription of Labour's first years of office would give way to a new approach. It is rather refreshing if he is to continue in that vein. If those words mean anything in practice, we on the Opposition Benches will welcome that long overdue conversion. I can assure the Secretary of State that he will receive support from me if and when he genuinely takes powers away from himself and gives them to parents, heads, teachers and governors.

The central proposition that informs the policies that the Opposition have laid out so far and which will be the bedrock of the many other policies that will develop in the years ahead is trust—trust in schools to manage their own budgets, trust in heads and governors to set high standards of discipline, and trust in parents to choose the best education for their children. That is in stark contrast to the Government's approach so far, which has been characterised by central control, micro-management, daily, sometimes hourly, interference in the working lives of teachers, and a desire to dictate to parents what type of education their children should receive.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green

I shall give way in a moment.

The Government's idea of choice is to allow parents to choose between a small range of options which Ministers allow them. It is unfortunate that, despite the Secretary of State's words in newspaper interviews, nothing that he has said this morning convinced the House that he is prepared to give up that degree of control, but I am sure that we can live in hope.

It is traditional that the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) makes the first intervention on Opposition speakers and I am always happy to observe parliamentary tradition.

Mr. Gardiner

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Given his remarks about devolving power over local school budgets to local heads, does he commend the fact that, in the past five years, the proportion of local budgets that are devolved and under the control of head teachers has risen from 79 to 87 per cent.? What is his target percentage for devolution of those budgets? Will he also confirm that he would continue with the direct grants to each primary and secondary school that this Government have piloted and which have been so welcomed by head teachers?

Mr. Green

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on making a rather more serious intervention than he usually manages in his jack-in-the-box performances. The problem with the way in which the Government have funded schools relates to the small packets of directed money. Like hon. Members in all parts of the House, he will have talked to head teachers in his constituency and will be aware of their frustration and irritation about the amount of paperwork and the sheer amount of time that is taken in bidding for the grants. I shall deal with the Opposition's proposals later, as I intend to address directly some of the questions asked by the Secretary of State in an attempt to avoid speaking about his own policies.

The hon. Member for Brent, North will know that 79 different funding streams can currently be accessed by schools. That is nonsense and I suspect that the Secretary of State knows that. He says that he wants to reduce that number and, inasmuch as he can do so, I will welcome any steps that he takes. However, if the hon. Gentleman thinks that schools feel that they have more control over the money that comes from the Government than 10 years ago, he is simply mistaken. That is not the day-to-day experience of head teachers in this country.

The Gracious Speech made relatively few mentions of education. The Government promised to bring forward proposals to tackle problems of truancy". The Secretary of State referred to some of those proposals, and the Opposition would heartily support any effective moves to reduce truancy. I am sure that nobody in the House disagrees with the view that truancy not only blights the opportunities of the children who are truanting, but far too often leads to the antisocial behaviour that affects many of our communities. I am also sure that he is aware of the promise made by his Government in 1998 to reduce school truancies by one third. However, he will know that his Department released in September figures showing that the Government had completely failed to make any headway on reducing truancy, despite, according to the Department's website, the issuing of 75 press releases since 1997 announcing measures to tackle truancy. The fact that there have been 75 press releases and no progress is a snapshot of new Labour's attitude to government.

That is what the Government have achieved despite forcing LEAs to write behaviour support plans and establishing a ministerial task force to tackle truancy, and despite everything else that they have been saying for the past six months. They have announced more money and proposed taking child benefit away from parents of persistent truants—a policy that I understand was launched and then dropped, in characteristic fashion. They have called for police in schools, carried out truancy sweeps and announced fast-track prosecution for parents of truants, leading to fines or even imprisonment. Some of those proposals have been announced and implemented, some announced and forgotten and some announced and withdrawn.

I therefore hope that the Secretary of State will forgive those of us who are mildly sceptical about the Government's performance in that regard for saying that we have heard a lot of what he said before. Any proposals that he makes must be seen in the context of his Government's failure to do anything effective about the problem, which is clear on the basis of their own figures, and despite their suffering from a severe case of "initiative-itis", to quote the Secretary of State himself.

Despite all the tough-sounding policies, truancy is as high as ever. The Secretary of State quoted Stephen Clarke of Truancy Call, who estimates that 50,000 children play truant from school every day. When Mike Tomlinson was running Ofsted, he estimated that the system had lost about 10,000 all together. Those 10,000 children are being denied their opportunity in life, and another series of tough-sounding but ultimately hollow gimmicks will do nothing to provide them with the chance in life that they deserve.

The Secretary of State will know that the problem is not only one of education, but of affecting everyone in society. Forty per cent. of street crime, 25 per cent. of burglaries, 20 per cent. of criminal damage and a third of car thefts are carried out by 10 to 16-year-olds at times when they should be in school. Those are genuinely terrible figures. If the Government want to get tough on antisocial behaviour, they must crack down on truancy and not merely dig up new schemes to announce or reannounce.

The final resort of this Government is to attempt to blame the Opposition. Indeed, there has been an interesting development in the past few days in their attempts to blame the Opposition for their own failures. On Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that we proposed to close down sure start all together. The Secretary of State is already retreating hard from that position, however, and was talking about closing down some sure start schemes. I thought that I would elevate the tone of the debate, which the Government have tried to drag down, by quoting from the section on sure start in our document "The Conveyor Belt to Crime". I looked it up after the Prime Minister made that extraordinary—and indeed false—claim on Wednesday. It states: In adopting this approach, we have carefully considered the extent to which any of this programme is being offered through the Government's Sure Start programme. There is no argument between us about the possibilities of sure start. The document continues: It is at present difficult to make an assessment of Sure Start's effectiveness, as no independent evaluation has yet taken place. I hope that the Secretary of State would not disagree that it would be good to have an independent evaluation; if the scheme works, one would want it to continue, like all effective policies. The document goes on to state: But it is clear that the programmes offered are not focused on the reduction of disruptive and delinquent behaviour. There have also been difficulties in Sure Start in the relationship between the programme and existing local schemes; moreover, there has been a perception that programme managers are intruding in an unwelcome way into the work of voluntary organisations.

I hope that the Government will see from that excerpt that we seek to improve and build on sure start. That was the point made in "The Conveyor Belt to Crime". We will happily carry on with the parts that work, but we will not carry on with those that do not. That is an entirely adult and intelligent approach for an Opposition to take to policy making, and we will continue to take it. I hope that the Government can approach the vital social problem of truancy in the same mature way.

We need such programmes to cope with the problem of truancy in the short term, but I hope that the Secretary of State would admit that the long-term solution that needs to be added to the mix is the establishment of a much better vocational system. For too long in the UK—this is not a criticism of the current Government, as the situation has continued for decades and possibly since the second world war—less academic children have not been given the chances that they deserve in our system. Many of them have become disillusioned with education, started to play truant and turned to crime.

Mr. McWalter

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that some parts of the sure start programme do not work and hence that he would withdraw them?

Mr. Green

I do not want to repeat myself, as I am aware that many hon. Members wish to speak. I just quoted from a document that I will happily send to the hon. Gentleman, which made the point that we want more evaluation and that some parts of the scheme seem to be working, while others do not. If he is saying that it is absolutely perfect and should not be changed in any way, that is fine and it is a point of view, but it is not the experience of those who are dealing with the problem on the ground. We know that many less academic children become disillusioned with education, start to play truant and turn to crime. Until we begin to reverse the chronic deficit in skills training that leaves too many children disengaged, truancy will continue to blight our children and their communities.

On secondary school reform, this promise was made in the Gracious Speech: Secondary school reform will continue to promote opportunity and choice through greater diversity for parents and pupils. The Secretary of State made much play of his desire for greater autonomy and freedom to innovate for schools. I am sure that he means it, but in that case, it is a shame for him that the Government's legislative agenda does not contain an education Bill through which he could bring about the necessary reforms that our schools desperately need. Instead, he is forced to work within the boundaries of the restricted and centralising powers that the Education Act 2002 grants him.

The Secretary of State claims that the powers of earned autonomy to which he referred mean that the Department is trusting some of our best head teachers to take decisions in relation to their own schools without our having to sanction them. That is interesting because it highlights the inconsistency at the heart of the idea. It is simply untrue that the Secretary of State will not have to sanction decisions, because to earn autonomy, a school will have to persuade him that it is worthy of it. Freedom sanctioned from the centre for a fixed time with Government ability to remove it is not freedom. That is not the only contradiction, however.

Earned autonomy presumably rests on the assumption that autonomy is a good thing. If autonomy benefits schools, surely those that are failing in the current system need it most, not those that live and thrive despite the restrictions. Earned autonomy is an oxymoron; it is classic new Labour double-speak.

Another phrase that the Government like runs it close: "the power to innovate." The Secretary of State said: The 'Power to Innovate' is one of the most radical and far reaching powers available to Government—it enables me as Secretary of State to exempt education legislation that is standing in the way of common sense and in the way of schools wanting to innovate and to achieve the very best for their children in care. That is an extraordinary admission from a Secretary of State. He admits that the initiatives and controls that the Government have introduced stand in the way of common sense and prevent schools from innovating. All he can do to help schools to innovate is to suspend the Government's legislation.

Sadly, the former Secretary of State is not present to join the debate. I should love to hear her defend the legislation that she introduced and which, according to the Secretary of State, requires suspension in order to help schools. There is severe confusion at the heart of Government about whether their legislation is helpful or harmful. I want to help the Secretary of State: it is generally harmful. If he intends to argue through Cabinet Committees for another Bill to remove many provisions of last year's Act, we would welcome that. The solution is simple: get rid of the controls, not only for some but for all schools.

Whatever the Government say, they simply cannot let go. Why else would they issue a document to schools entitled "Power to Innovate: Guidance for applicants"? It consists of eight pages that tell schools how to have good ideas. Producing documents from Whitehall Departments is not the way in which to promote innovation; allowing schools freedom to innovate sensitively to suit their local conditions is the best method.

Mr. Charles Clarke

The hon. Gentleman provides an absence of clarification. Which controls does he believe should be abolished: the national curriculum, the Ofsted inspection regime, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority?

Mr. Green

The national curriculum has become too wide.

Mr. Clarke

Should it be abolished?

Mr. Green

Not altogether. The Secretary of State and his officials have clearly pored over my party conference speech, for which I am grateful. Attention to the classics is always welcome. He knows that I suggested that the national curriculum has become too wide and that the statutory, compulsory introduction of citizenship was one of the minor idiocies that the Government inflicted on schools in the past year. Again, good schools introduced and promoted citizenship in different ways to relate to local conditions, but the Government used a sledgehammer and insisted that it should form part of the national curriculum.

Other subjects have had to be dropped.

Mr. Clarke

Would the hon. Gentleman abolish it?

Mr. Green

I would abolish the compulsory nature of citizenship classes. [Interruption.] Those who chatter on the Government Front Bench do not realise that when another subject is added to the curriculum, something has to be dropped. I have been to schools where they have discussed what to take out. It could, for example, be a careers lesson. In some cases, it was an information and communications technology lesson. Schools and pupils find such lessons useful and valuable. The Government do not acknowledge that, when they decide to include new compulsory subjects in the curriculum, useful subjects have to be removed.

Schools, not Ministers and officials, know how best to teach citizenship. That is at the heart of the difference between us. We are having an interesting passage of parliamentary exchange, which shows that the Government and the new Secretary of State have not got the point. They continue to believe that they know better than heads, teachers, parents and governors the way in which to run our schools. It appears that there will be no change in our school system.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham)

The hon. Gentleman argues that schools should be free and given total autonomy. Under what circumstances should the Government intervene in a school when problems arise? Secondly, my memory is perhaps weak, but did not a Conservative Government introduce the national curriculum?

Mr. Green

Yes, and it was a good idea. I am glad that the new Government in 1997 did not dispense with the curriculum, Ofsted or tests. The Conservative Government introduced important reforms in the 1980s and 1990s. I am glad that the Government continued with them. However, they have added huge control mechanisms to them, and that has led to demoralisation in the teaching profession.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) because he leads me to my next point. The micro-management that I have described is symptomatic of the Government's approach. In the past year, the Department for Education and Skills issued 275 documents to schools. That is 17 pages of paperwork for each working day. The Secretary of State recently said: Bureaucracy and the seemingly endless flow of documentation from Government agencies … can be a serious barrier to high quality teacher professionalism and I acknowledge that it is my job to put a stop to it and allow you— that is, teachers— to do your job That is another honest admission of the Government's failure, and we welcome it. I regret to tell the right hon. Gentleman that nothing much appears to be improving.

In September, the first month of the school term, the Department issued 27 documents to schools. That is more than one a working day. There is therefore no letup in the flow of unnecessary paperwork from the Department. I hope that the Secretary of State listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) on Wednesday. He went through the Department's solution to paperwork more paperwork, including "Good Practice in Cutting Bureaucracy Volume One"; "Good Practice in Cutting Bureaucracy Volume Two", and the wonderful "Bureaucracy Cutting Toolkit".

If the Secretary of State wants ideas about cutting Whitehall paperwork that ties up 20 per cent. of teachers' time, driving them from the profession, he should begin by reading the "Bureaucracy Cutting Toolkit". Along with thousands of teachers, I have read it. Among the helpful advice in section 4 about the way in which teachers can cut bureaucracy is, "Stop doing things". I am sure that that is tremendously helpful to teachers. Perhaps the Secretary of State could take his own advice. He could also benefit from reading section 2, which suggests, "Get started". I am sure that schools find that helpful, too. They should stop doing unnecessary things and start stopping doing them. I suspect that many teachers had worked that out for themselves, but the Department clearly has not.

Mr. Colin Pickthall West Lancashire)

Most good head teachers and teachers throw all that stuff straight in the bin.

Mr. Green

I cannot improve on that criticism of the Government's approach to policy. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and wish him well when he next sees his Whip.

It is not just our schools that need help; our universities need help too. I am desolate that the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education is no longer in her place, because I have read with fascination and close interest her interview in The Guardian this morning, just to show that I am catholic in my appreciation of the national press; it is not only The Daily Telegraph that I read. She admits that universities are in crisis, so it is a shame that she has left the Chamber, as that prevents her from apologising to the House, and to Britain's universities, for the crisis that her Government have brought about in five years.

Like other hon. Members, I heard the hon. Lady on the radio this morning, attempting to explain away the crisis, and not a hint of apology emerged. However, I am sure that if she rejoins the debate, she will take the opportunity to apologise. I was fascinated particularly by her question: Do people understand the extent to which universities are in crisis? It does not appear that the Government understand it, because the Gracious Speech says: University reform proposals will be published to improve access and build on excellence. That is not the portrait that the Minister painted in this morning's interview.

The Secretary of State asked me a number of questions; perhaps I may ask him just one. Will he confirm that the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) is acting in his new official capacity of Government kite flyer in chief when he suggests a £3,000 cap on tuition fees? Although the Secretary of State has delayed yet again the publication of the university funding White Paper, the Government have floated the idea that tuition fees might go up to £10,000. We understand from the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North, however, that they will be £3,000. That sounds to me like a debate going on inside the Cabinet. The House would be thrilled if the Secretary of State enlightened us about that, although he appears unwilling to do so.

Mr. Clarke

I did not respond because the hon. Gentleman's allegation is such nonsense. My very good friend who represents Tyneside, North and I have had many conversations over the years, but never once have we discussed university top-up fees. Perhaps we should have, but we have not. My right hon. Friend argues his own policies in his own speeches in his own way and from own his point of view, in what I hope is a national debate in which everyone will get involved. The suggestion that my right hon. Friend is flying a kite for someone is completely and utterly wrong-but I did not want to dignify the hon. Gentleman's remarks with a response until he goaded me perhaps a little too much.

Mr. Green

History will judge, when we see the effects of the White Paper. At least we know that it will be published this Session. One of the things on which I ought to congratulate the Secretary of State is making a commitment on the Floor of the House that the White Paper will be published in January—although, like the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), I seem to remember that the last time the House discussed education we were promised that it would be published in November. I hope that the Secretary of State improves on his predecessor's performance in that regard.

We welcome the fact that the proposals will be introduced, not least because families as well as universities have been waiting far too long to find out when to start their financial planning for the top-up fees—it seems that the Government certainly have planned for them. It is worth reminding ourselves of how they got into this mess, and their manifesto pledge is unambiguous: We will not introduce 'top-up' fees and have legislated to prevent them. Members of the House, and the public outside, have witnessed the Prime Minister failing to rule out top-up fees on two separate occasions.

The Government appear unwilling to accept that the problem is as least partly of their own making. The Secretary of State said how proud he was of the target of 50 per cent. of 18 to 30-year-olds going into higher education, but he knows perfectly well that that is one of the targets that is imposing greater financial pressures on universities, and also that the Government's apparent ruling out of top-up fees has left them with nowhere else to go to raise the money. So, if the Government are to find a solution to the problem, they must sacrifice one of the manifesto pledges that the Secretary of State proudly read out.

Given that the Government misled the public over the original introduction of tuition fees, which they ruled out before the 1997 election and then introduced three months after it, I can understand why the Secretary of State is sensitive about breaking another higher education promise. I suggest to him that one way out of the problem would be to admit that it is wrong to fix an arbitrary target for higher education participation.

I commend two stark figures to the Secretary of State. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rankings for the proportion of people who complete a first degree, Britain is second. By any objective standard, there is no crisis in the number of people who go through first degrees. Indeed, I recently received an answer from the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education to written question 78381 that convinced me even more that the point is entirely valid. I managed to tease out from her what the Department's target on increasing participation in higher education means. It is measured by the number of first time entrants to higher education … as a proportion of the relevant population. The measure is not the number of people who get degrees and benefit from them, but simply the number of people who start degrees.

The Secretary of State knows that the drop-out rate in some universities is getting as high as 40 per cent. Some of his speech at least was serious and reasonable, so, in his serious and reasonable mode, he will surely acknowledge that the measure of higher education's effectiveness is those who complete courses, not simply those who sign up to them. For instance, he will be aware that in continental European countries the entry rate is about 50 per cent., and a huge proportion drop out after the first year. If the Government are to measure their own success by promoting such a system, I suggest that they will not benefit young people. In particular, they will not benefit the young people whom they say they want to benefit—those who come from backgrounds where it is not traditional to go to university.

Mr. Willis

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that crucial issue. Does he agree that not all the students who appear in the figures as dropping out actually do drop out, because some move to another degree course? Under the Government's proposals, however, they would be counted twice. Does he accept that we need a comprehensive and cogent way to track young people, particularly after the age of 18, so that we can produce realistic statistics that we can all use as a starting point for debating the issue?

Mr. Green

An alarming degree of consensus is emerging. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but neither of us should be surprised that an element of double counting is coming into the Government's education statistics. We have seen it everywhere else, so it is no surprise that we are seeing it in the higher education participation ratings.

I have referred to one international comparison, and I want to refer to another, which should be at the heart of the Government's education policy: Britain is bottom of the OECD league for the participation of 16 to 18-year-olds in further education and training. There is a genuine numbers crisis there, yet the Government are chasing the wrong figure. Of course we all want to widen participation and access to education. That is yet another issue on which there is no division between the two sides of the House. I have already acknowledged that the problem is not peculiar to the Government—it did not start in 1997, but goes back many decades—but their solution of shoehorning into university young people who may not benefit from it is not the right one.

We have debated the benefits to young people of becoming graduates in terms of employability, and I commend to the Secretary of State the most recent edition of "Graduate Review", which is produced by VT Careers Management and published jointly with The Guardian—I should be on a retainer from The Guardian this morning. The point, which is counter-intuitive, at least according to the Government's thinking, is this: Recent history has revealed a labour market where many employers have tended to recruit graduates on the level of their degree and their university … this is not what employers are currently saying. In a survey … 40 per cent. of graduate recruiters felt that degrees had become devalued as a means of measuring employability. 44 per cent. thought that graduates did not necessarily make better employees than non-graduates. Only 17 per cent. thought graduates better equipped for the workplace than non-graduates. 70 per cent. claimed that degree results were not the best measure of employability.

I acknowledge that that is just one survey, but quite a lot of anecdotal evidence appears to confirm that what the Government seek to do will con young people into thinking that the historic figures for graduates' increased employability and earning power will continue, whatever the percentage of graduates. The survey shows the first signs of that relationship breaking down, and I urge the Government to think seriously about this issue.

There is a real crisis, which the Government have not yet addressed. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State mentioned the 14–19 Green Paper—I apologise if he did. If he did mention it, he certainly glossed over it quickly, whereas it requires a huge amount of attention and a genuine national debate. Last year the number of level 2 and level 3 qualifications—the sub-degree qualifications—that were awarded in vocational topics dropped by more than 40 per cent., and the Learning and Skills Development Agency estimates that the proportion of poor or unsatisfactory grades in work-based learning has nearly tripled since 1998. Those are genuine crisis figures, which the Government should address.

Although the Queen's Speech touched on some of the problems that the Government face, it missed an opportunity to deal with many other problems faced by our schools and colleges today. We look forward to the publication of Mike Tomlinson's final report on the A-level crisis, but everyone is entitled to ask why the situation was allowed to arise. We have had another flurry today from Mr. Porkess and it is clear that the aftershocks of this summer's A-levels crisis will be with us for some time to come. I hope that we do not hear again from the Government that the crisis surrounding A-levels, which threw the futures of hundreds of thousands of young people into doubt and wrecked confidence in the exam system, would never have happened had we stopped criticising the system. If the Secretary of State goes down that line, he will cheapen the debate on this vital area. Scrutiny is our job in opposition, and we make no apologies for exposing the incompetence perpetrated by the Government.

The Secretary of State is right when he says that he has to ensure that public confidence in the integrity and quality of our public examinations is maintained and strengthened, and we trust that he will keep to his promise to implement the Tomlinson recommendations.

I also hope that the Secretary of State will deal effectively with another crisis that was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech: the discipline crisis. A recent survey by the NASUWT showed that in one school in Wales, a year 10 pupil who had been excluded on five different occasions for violence and vandalism set fire to the school toilets and was permanently excluded by the school. His exclusion was overturned by an independent appeals panel, which held that the arson was not deliberate, despite a police caution given to the pupil. It also showed that a year 8 pupil in a school in the north-east, who had a lengthy record of disruptive behaviour, including bullying and assaulting other pupils, was understandably permanently excluded after hitting a teacher on the head. An independent appeals panel has overturned that exclusion as well. As the Secretary of State knows, there are many such cases.

It is not surprising that those disciplinary problems help to drive teachers out of the profession. The Secretary of State will acknowledge in his honest moments that teacher morale is at an all-time low. Perhaps surprisingly, according to the National Union of Teachers—I shall spread my favours around the teaching unions this morning—pay is not even one of the top three reasons for teachers leaving the profession. The three top reasons are workload, pupil behaviour and Government initiatives—all problems of the

Government's own making. The Secretary of State has told teachers, "It's our job in government to support you and your profession. It is not for us to tell you how to teach." Having said that, he owes it to teachers and their pupils to heed his words, because without teachers there can be no teaching and learning.

The Secretary of State asked about our policy, and I am always pleased to use the opportunity of debates such as this to advance Conservative policy. As he said, at our party conference we announced a series of education proposals with the common theme of trust. The theme of trust informs all of our proposals. That is what distinguishes us from the Government, for whom the language of trust comes easily but who, in reality, are incapable of trusting heads, teachers and parents.

We believe that our proposals for education reform are a radical and much-needed step towards realising our goal that no child be left behind. Unlike the Government, we believe in trusting schools by devolving budgets to them wherever possible and reducing the paperwork that heads and teachers must submit. School funding has become ever more complicated; it needs to become ever more simple. We will give real autonomy to schools. We will reduce the number of unnecessary documents that heads and teachers have to wade through, because we know that when teachers are trusted to teach, free from the dead hand of central interference, schools flourish. Our experience of city technology colleges proved that. While I am in a generous mood, let me say that I am glad that the Government have continued with that raft of Conservative policy.

We want to trust not only schools but parents. Let me discuss our state scholarship scheme, which the Secretary of State mentioned. The scheme will entitle pupils to be educated at a wider range of schools. It is not simply a reinvention of the assisted places scheme; it will create a new sector of schools, as exists in many other countries. In Holland, the USA and Denmark, parents have a right to found and run new schools if they are not happy with what is on offer. Our scheme will mean that parents will no longer be forced to accept places at schools to which they do not want to send their children. Thus we shall break the cycle of under-achievement into which too many young people still fall.

The state scholarship scheme will break the monopoly link between state funding and state provision, allowing charities, parents and other groups to establish new schools, which would then receive the money from the state—the state scholarship. Virtually every other developed country in the world knows that Governments do not have a monopoly of wisdom on good practice and that real innovation comes through genuine diversity—not in eight-page documents sent from Whitehall.

The Government have argued that the non-state sector is somehow not capable of or willing to provide high-quality education. Let me point out to Government Members that LEAs already spend £250 million a year on special educational needs contracts with non-state providers. Those offer the best care and education to some of our most vulnerable children, and we should not deny all children the opportunity of benefiting from such expertise.

Mr. Gardiner

Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House how his proposals would impact on parents' costs? I understand that the state scholarship would give the cost of what would have been a state education towards the cost of a place at the school envisaged, but has he made any calculation of the differential—the actual cost to parents on top of that scholarship—that parents would then have to pay under his system?

Mr. Green

There would be none, because the schools would provide education at the same cost as that provided by the state. That is how the state scholarship would work.

We would also build trust in an independent exam system by making the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority independent of Government, along the lines of the Bank of England. I hope that the Government will adopt a similar proposal. I take this opportunity again to urge them strongly to do so, and to do so quickly. Of all the crises that the Government could face, the prospect of another A-levels crisis next year would be the worst, so measures that can be taken quickly to restore confidence in the examination system are absolutely vital. I hope that if they need to introduce legislation to do that, they will do so, because it is absolutely vital to remove all traces of politics from the exam system. Unless the suspicion that Ministers measure their virtue by the grades is removed, the exam boards, or the QCA, will always be looking over their shoulder at the Secretary of State to see what effect the results will have on the political standing of the Government of the day. Secretaries of State for Education used not to behave in that way, and we need to get back to that position.

We also think that there should be a radical change to the A-level system, which has done more harm than good. The amount of exam time, as opposed to teaching time, has been increased. The Tomlinson inquiry concluded that the Curriculum 2000 A-level reforms, which introduced AS-levels, were an "accident waiting to happen". We all want to broaden the post-16 curriculum, but the current AS-level system is demonstrably not the way to do it.

Finally, and most importantly, we would trust heads to make the right decisions about how to run their schools. We support the Secretary of State's aim of raising standards of leadership in our schools, and he is right to argue that without strong leadership our children will not get the education that they deserve. If he really means what he says about trusting heads, he must allow them to set standards of discipline in their schools. That is why the independent appeals panels should go.

We believe that home-school behaviour contracts are a good idea. The right hon. Gentleman had the honesty to point out that these will be an option for heads. Once again, he asked me to determine what heads should do, and once again I say to him that I would let heads decide. A head knows how best to run discipline in his school, not the Secretary of State—whether that be the right hon. Gentleman, me or anyone else. The fundamental difference between us is that I trust heads, whereas he does not.

Experience shows us that these practical measures will deliver higher standards in our schools. Some schools already operate home-school contracts. I urge the Secretary of State to act on his words, and to grasp the agenda of real reform that we offer. He faces an enormous challenge. Improving our schools, colleges and universities is a central task for any Government. His task has been made more difficult because for five years, under his two predecessors, the doctrine of centralisation has reigned supreme. He says that he wants to do a U-turn and adopt the more decentralised and diverse system that we advocate. I wish him well in attempting to turn his back on five years of new Labour dogma on education. We will judge him on the results. Even more importantly, students, parents, teachers and governors will know whether they have been given the freedoms that will promote excellence and opportunity for all. Our policies would ensure that no child was left behind in our education system. If the Government's policies fail in that regard, they will be judged harshly, and they will deserve it.

11.3 am

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire)

I congratulate the new Secretary of State, with whom I worked when he was a Minister at the Home Office. I know that he will be a first-class Secretary of State, and I hope that he will listen carefully to what I have to say and will act on some of it. I welcome and agree with almost everything that he said. I admire his cheek in writing the speeches of the spokesmen for the two Opposition parties, which takes some doing.

I want to concentrate on the paragraph in the Queen's Speech that includes the statement: Secondary school reform will continue to promote opportunity and choice through greater diversity for parents and pupils. University reform proposals will be published". I shall give an example from my constituency of what is going on in secondary education. I should declare a sort of interest in that my wife is the head teacher of a comprehensive school in Skelmersdale, where I live. It is a town of 42,000 people and has some of the most disadvantaged wards in the country. It has excellent primary schools, all of which have benefited immensely from Government investment and targets over the past four or five years. It has an excellent sure start programme that is working exceedingly well. If the Opposition think that they could propose the removal of any or part of that scheme with electoral impunity, they have another think coming.

Skelmersdale has three excellent comprehensive schools, which have made major advances in the past few years. This year, for the first time, all three schools obtained more than 30 per cent. A to C grades at GCSE. That sounds modest compared with many other schools, even those in much more fortunate areas in my constituency outside Skelmersdale. Those areas have for many years creamed off the children from the most aspiring families in Skelmersdale, so we already have a self-selection system. In the true context of Skelmersdale and its history, the percentages gained by Glenburn, Our Lady Queen of Peace and Lathom high schools are truly remarkable, and they will be improved upon next year. In their continued efforts to compete with schools in the leafier parts of Lancashire, those three schools are applying for sports college status, technology college status and engineering college status respectively.

The entire staff and head teacher of two schools I know of, which are not in my constituency, have spent more than a year working to raise the £50,000 necessary to apply for such status by holding jumble sales, dances and other such activities, because there are no firms in their area that could easily come up with a large part of that sum. One of the schools in Skelmersdale has been pursuing specialist status for almost two years. The head and senior staff have a rock solid case, and they have put in phenomenal amounts of time and effort in pursuit of that goal, but the school requires £50,000. In a town such as Skelmersdale, it is impossible to raise such a sum of money: it cannot be done. There are no large businesses left that have not already been scraped clean of any charity that they could afford through previous begging bowl efforts.

If it is impossible for one school in the area to raise £50,000, it is even more impossible for three schools to do so. All the comprehensive schools in Skelmersdale are thereby disadvantaged. If it so happens that one of them secures specialist status, it will become more attractive, and it follows as night follows day that that will damage the other two schools in the town.

All three schools currently work well together. They are part of an excellence cluster that is doing wonderful things and has been tremendously successful. I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris) for giving us the chance to develop that cluster. Those schools are destined by Government policy, which is styled as greater diversity for parents and pupils, for continuous struggle and disadvantage in a system that does not intend to be, but in practice is, divisive and discriminatory.

Mr. Kevan Jones

I, too, have two schools in my constituency that are struggling to raise £50,000, and there is no lack of commitment from parents or teachers. Does my hon. Friend agree that it makes dedicated and hard-working teachers feel that they are second best, and leads to low morale?

Mr. Pickthall

I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not detect that it has led to low morale in the schools to which I am referring, but the academic leadership of schools in challenging areas have been diverted into activities on which they should not have to spend more than minimal time.

Mr. McWalter

Has my hon. Friend considered the possibility of the three schools making a joint application, as is happening in my constituency? That avoids such divisiveness, and enables the specialist facilities to be available to all, but to be developed in each of the schools.

Mr. Pickthall

That is an interesting suggestion, which we have discussed. The problem is that one school wants sports-college status because of its outstanding sport record, while another is outstanding in technology. If such a scheme could be organised, however, and the three schools between them had to raise £50,000, it would make a significant difference.

Specialist status, of whatever kind, seems to be a matter of sheer chance. If a successful firm or two in the town can spare some cash a school will succeed in its bid, all other things being equal. Even in Lancashire, there are schools in which a single governor could put up the £50,000 without missing it.

When the schools and I protested to the Department, we were given a list of firms throughout the country that might help. When those firms were canvassed it turned out that none of them could help, because they were already giving help elsewhere. We came up with other ideas for finding the cash, but the Department vetoed all of them.

In his speech on the 10th anniversary of Ofsted, the Secretary of State identified the "fourth freedom"—I welcome all four—as more freedom from strings-attached funding". Why not start with the requirement for £50,000? Why not get rid of that? Why not resurrect what is buried in all our education documents of the past couple of years—the promise that all schools would be able to bid for specialist status? Why not fulfil that promise?

Mr. Willis

It is Liberal Democrat policy

Mr. Pickthall

So I could be wrong after all.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) recently published an analysis of the process in our schools, and referred to it in connection with the hospital service in his speech yesterday. I agree with every word. The simple truth presented by my right hon. Friend is that if we identify certain schools, give them a special title to make clear their favoured status and give them more resources, ipso facto we damage those that do not acquire that status. We create a two-tier system which will perpetuate itself, and which will inevitably become more and more stark and polarised. If on top of that we make a school's ability to raise private funds a condition for the securing of special status, we compound the injustice by skewing status and funding towards wealthier catchment areas and away from disadvantaged areas.

I referred to a two-tier system, but there are no longer just two tiers. We are told that we will have 2,000 specialist schools and 33 academies—city academies, I assume—by 2006. We will have 60 more training schools each year, extended schools, and advanced schools. It is as if there had been a brainstorming session in the Department. It is as if a crowd of people had come up with some good ideas and thrown them on the table, and no one had bothered to edit them—as if the ideas had been put out and people had said "We will have some of that, and some of that". There are many good things in each of the proposals I have mentioned, but what is being created is not a two-tier system but a series of levels. It is called diversity. I am all in favour of diversity, but if some schools have the advantage at a certain point while others must wait for years, many will disappear, having been gobbled up by the disadvantages created by the new schools with their special funding.

The only argument that the Government have produced to counter the criticisms is that specialist schools are required to work with non-specialist schools and spread the benefits of their resources to the wider community. That is nonsense: it does not bear a moment's examination. The matter is gone into more thoroughly in the description of the advanced schools, in which it is made plain that such schools will have to help the other schools in the community. It is a strange situation: having acquired an advantage that will suck in pupils who would otherwise have gone to other schools, a school will have to go back to the schools it has disadvantaged in order to re-advantage them a little, on the Department's orders.

The impulse behind what I consider to be a profoundly unfair process is summarised by the Government's declaration of the "post-comprehensive era"—which would make sense if only we had ever had a comprehensive era or a comprehensive system. Somehow, in our wonderful British way, we have managed to avoid creating such a system, although at the crucial time it was the policy of all three major parties.

The thinking is based on myths. We read We need an end to the 'one size fits all' school and the 'off the shelf comprehensive'. Where are these places? I do not know of them. Comprehensives are as varied as their staff, their governing bodies, their head teachers, their local education authorities and, most important, the communities around them. There is no such thing as an off-the-shelf comprehensive.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley told us that comprehensives were "too uniform". If all this stuff is true, why do parents all over the country fight tooth and nail to get their kids into one comprehensive rather than another? If the schools are all exactly the same, it does not matter where Johnny goes. Let him choose a school himself, and wander off there.

We were told "This is not selection", because only 6 per cent. choose to make use of the flexibility to select on the basis of aptitude for the specialism". Well, that is 6 per cent. selection for a start. "There is no selection"? Of course there is selection.

I have read carefully the Department's analysis of what is needed in our secondary system. I agree that many comprehensives have failed, as did many grammar schools and many more secondary moderns in their time; but the vast majority of comprehensives succeeded wonderfully, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley has pointed out vigorously.

I rejoice in the vastly improved funding introduced by the Government, the introduction of learning mentors, the increase in the number of classroom assistants—which is destined to continue—and, in particular, the greater flexibility and freedom to tailor the curriculum that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced in recent weeks. I commend the creation of excellence clusters, and I hope that during the year the Government will find the energy and the resources to expand the system—and to deal with some anomalies in it.

I detected substantial changes in emphasis in my right hon. Friend's speech on the Ofsted anniversary. I hope he will be robust in resisting some of the weird agendas devised by etiolated wonks in the back of No. 10, or wherever. Above all, I hope that he will think carefully about the steady drive towards a two or three-tier secondary system, which I think will be more unfair than the old 11-plus, rightly rejected by most of our areas 30 years ago. At least in the 1950s and 1960s people had equal chances of getting into grammar school.

I look forward to the proposals on higher education, and hope that during the year the idea of top-up fees will be knocked on the head. It is another of the divisive set of ideas that seem to be growing up—although Cambridge seems to have turned against it, which is good. I could never support top-up fees, and I do not believe that most of the parliamentary Labour party could either.

I hope that the proposals that will come out during the year will carefully examine many of the Mickey Mouse degree courses that have sprung up throughout the country to accommodate the wide range of students being packed into universities to reach the ambitious and arbitrary target on the percentage of young people entering higher education. It is instructive to look at the admissions list of any provincial university five years ago, 10 years ago and today to see how many of the old core subjects have shrunk to tiny numbers and been replaced, as one of my colleagues said, by degrees in carpet fitting. Well, I have not quite come across one of those but it would not surprise me if one did emerge.

Mr. McWalter

At least it would be useful.

Mr. Pickthall

Better than philosophy.

Mr. McWalter


Mr. Pickthall


I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will continue the wonderful work in enabling free access to many national and regional museums. There has been an important turnaround in my area. I visit museums throughout Merseyside and the north-west fairly regularly and see the massive increase in the number of people going there, particularly kids, who are going regularly. It is as serious a part of their education as anything else in the education sector. The Queen's Speech announces a Bill to reform our totally outmoded licensing laws. I particularly commend the provisions that will allow police to shut down any licensed premises for 24 hours without notice. When I was the Private Parliamentary Secretary to the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), I participated in many discussions under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), in which we sought to balance the freedoms of much more flexible licensing hours and the benefits that brings, with effective protection for neighbourhoods that may experience destruction, noise or disorderly behaviour. I speak as someone who lives within staggering distance of a large pub; it is on the opposite side of the road. I have never had any problems with it but one never knows—if there are problems I have not noticed them.

I am pleased that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has continued to work intelligently along those lines. I think that it will be a popular and successful Bill and change in the law if we get some of the little bits right. My one worry is about the new licensing authority being placed totally on the shoulders of local councils. I understand why it is being done and I think that I agree—there have been some pretty dodgy goings-on in the present system—but many people involved in the system, including licensees, have expressed concern that it may result in local political considerations, resulting in unfairness.

I hope that the Secretary of State, during the passage of the Bill, will consider placing the same restrictions on licensing committees that exist for planning committees on local councils in order to prevent caucusing, undue influence or whatever. Perhaps she may consider the virtues of licensing committees composed of councillors and local magistrates with an independent chairman. We discussed that and it was rejected but I cannot for the life of me remember what the reasons for its rejection were.

I am pleased with almost everything in the Queen's Speech, especially the crime and justice legislation. I am delighted that the ending of hunting with dogs is nigh and that we are to have significant legislation on the water industry, water supply, waste and emissions and sexual crime. Perhaps most of all, I look forward to campaigning in the near future on an elected regional assembly for the north-west.

11.24 am
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall). I now understand why he has not been offered a place on the Front Bench, but his comments are always apposite and to the point. I welcome that.

I welcome the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to the Dispatch Box and congratulate him on his appointment. It is the first time that we have met across the Dispatch Box since his appointment.

I would not wish to let the departure of the previous Secretary of State go without some mention. I, too, thought that she was less than generous about her own achievements as Secretary of State. I have been involved with Secretaries of State, I suppose, ever since I entered primary school at the age of five. She certainly was able to talk the language of teachers. She was able to restore a significant amount of confidence in our schools and for that I and my colleagues pay tribute to her. We were delighted that she was able to introduce good sound Liberal Democrat policy to the education service. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) row back from proposals to get rid of sure start. It was in the 1997 manifesto of the Liberal Democrats but not in that of the Government. We were delighted when that issue was picked up and the policy put into operation.

We are delighted too that the previous Secretary of State was able to carry forward the pledge of early years places for all three and four-year-olds. That was an important achievement that has not been given the status that it deserved. Without a good early start for young people, many problems result later.

I suspect that the previous Secretary of State's greatest contribution was achieving the comprehensive spending review settlement for the Department. Many felt that her lack of bruising skills would result in the Department not getting those resources. Liberal Democrats welcome the significant resources that have gone into the education budget through the CSR. What we are arguing about now is how those resources should be spent. There will be a healthy debate rather than one in which we say that we are going to outbid each other for the resources. We recognise that and pay tribute to her.

One area of contention that remains-the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Ashford made it clear-is higher education funding. To address one of the challenges that the Secretary of State threw out, I do not think any of the political parties has an answer to how to fill the £9.7 billion black hole that the universities have identified. If higher education is to be expanded and, despite the fiddling of the figures, the ambition of 50 per cent. of students or more going into higher education is to be realised, one cannot project the 1960s post-Robins model of higher education into the 21st century and say, "We can afford that." My challenge to the Secretary of State, if we are in the business of talking across the Dispatch Box, is to look not simply at the funding issue but at the re-engineering of the higher education product.

I find it offensive to hear hon. Members call degrees Mickey Mouse degrees- I criticise the hon. Member for West Lancashire for doing so. If the Secretary of State, the Government and indeed our party are serious about a vocational route into higher education, we have to incorporate some of those vocational elements that traditionally were not part of higher education in the product, rather than simply deriding them. Media studies, which is often one of those Mickey Mouse courses that people deride, has a higher take-up in employment than virtually any other subject, so let us not get into that puerile debate. Let us look at how we re-engineer higher education to ensure that all of us can meet our aspirations and in particular that we offer to every student who goes into higher education one simple guarantee: the guarantee of quality. At the moment I do not believe that we offer quality in higher education and that must be addressed. I wish the Secretary of State well in his post.

Let me say something else about honesty. The reference by the hon. Member for Ashford to his past hairy self and the one to silver-backed gorillas in the sketch in The Times yesterday are quite unfair. Liberal Democrats want the Secretary of State to stand up for education and skills against the No. 10 policy unit. We want the Department to introduce its own policies, argue in its own right and have rows with the policy advisers in No. 10 who seem to dictate and dominate everything that happens. I wish the Secretary of State well in that too.

I suspect, knowing a little of the right hon. Gentleman, that he was not involved directly in this year's Gracious Speech. Indeed, it was clearly missing a public services trade descriptions Bill. What the right hon. Gentleman and other Secretaries of State have said so far in the debate on the Queen's Speech bears no reality to what is happening on the ground. Despite his rhetoric this morning about greater freedoms for our public services, it was clear today, just as it was clear from the speech by the Secretary of State for Health yesterday, that the dead hand of Government will continue to be at the centre of what is happening in public services.

I now turn to the issues that the Secretary of State addressed at the Dispatch Box. It was an interesting departure, in that because he has absolutely nothing to say and no Government policy initiatives to announce, he now engages the Opposition parties on their policies. He issued a number of challenges. The first one related to specialist schools. I could not answer better than the hon. Member for West Lancashire. In many ways his excellent speech encapsulated what is wrong at the heart of the specialist schools movement. Let me say to the Secretary of State, as I said to his predecessor, that I do not object to the Government's intention that all schools should have a specific ethos. That is absolutely right. Nor do the Liberal Democrats object to supporting the special ethos with additional resources.

We have exactly the same objection as the hon. Member for West Lancashire: this is a divisive system. It is impossible to create diversity in schools when, for example, the arts specialist school in my constituency is a Roman Catholic school that is significantly oversubscribed by Roman Catholics. We cannot create diversity within the community in that place. We cannot create diversity if Lady Lumley school in Pickering, which is the only rural school in a massive hinterland, becomes a physical education college, because all the children in Pickering and the surrounding rural areas go to that school.

The Secretary of State was absolutely clear about that in his speech, which was reported in The Times. As I said in an earlier intervention, he said that he did not expect all schools to become specialist schools. That disappoints me. The Secretary of State seems surprised; perhaps his speech was badly reported, but that is exactly what it says in the article.

Mr. Charles Clarke

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to clarify the matter. I specifically said in my speech to Ofsted—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) that it was an excellent speech—that I believed that every school should have the ambition to be a specialist school and that the Government will seek to promote that, so I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman's description of what I said.

Mr. Willis

I am delighted that the Secretary of State intervened, because that is not how his speech was reported. If he is saying that the 60 per cent. cap on specialist status has now been lifted and that all schools can have it tomorrow, I am delighted. I have just conducted a survey of 250 schools that were unsuccessful in their application for specialist status. In most cases, the criteria on which they were turned down were spurious. The Secretary of State must know that around the country there is a real sense that schools are bidding for specialist status not because they want to be an arts college, a science college or whatever, but because they want £500,000. If the Secretary of State is saying that that will make no difference to communities over the next few years, I am sorry but I have to disagree with him, as the money would be badly spent otherwise.

The Secretary of State referred to targets and testing. I would include league tables in that. I am delighted that he has read the document that was presented at the Liberal Democrat party conference. We believe that Britain has a testing system instead of an education system. Children now face 105 external tests between starting primary school and leaving school at 19. That cannot be right. Particularly at key stage 1, where it is an abomination to have SATs for seven-year-olds, we would prefer diagnostic tests that would allow a teacher to help individual children to improve by concentrating on particular deficiencies. At the moment, the tests are for the benefit of the Secretary of State as they are used to check on what schools are doing as a generic group of institutions. We need to concentrate on individual children. If the Secretary of State wants to pillory me for that, I shall stand up and be pilloried, as I think that defending the rights of individual children to a high-quality education rather than taking a systematic approach is desperately needed in our primary schools.

Mr. Kevan Jones

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many teachers use SATs to identify pupils' weaknesses and establish individual performance improvement plans for them? In that way they are being used in primary schools to drive up standards across the board and for individual pupils.

Mr. Willis

I agree significantly with the hon. Gentleman. However, if he is saying that the way in which SATs are externally imposed on schools encourages their use as a diagnostic tool, I disagree with him. In my opinion, teachers make the very best use of everything within their purview. We are saying that at key stage 2 our aim is that 80 per cent. of children should achieve level 4 in literacy. If this means that we are teaching children about adjectival clauses, even though some of them can barely read because they are still working at level 1, there is something wrong with the system. We need a system that is more tailored to individuals; that does not mean that it has to be rigorous.

I fell out with the previous Secretary of State when she said that unless we keep the testing in place, teachers will slip back from the standards that we have achieved. I disagree fundamentally with that approach. We cannot hope to develop professionalism and good leadership in schools if we then say to teachers, "Unless we keep checking up on you, we know that you will fall back."

On funding, our policy is quite clear: from birth through to the age of 14—what is now key stage 3—we would expect the greater level of funding to be raised through local income tax. That should come as no surprise to the Secretary of State; it has been Liberal Democrat policy for a long time. He may disagree, but that is our policy.

The Secretary of State fell into the trap of saying, "That means we will not be able to put in central initiatives". That is exactly what we are trying to avoid. We do not want every initiative to come from the centre.

Since the Government came to power, they have raised the amount of money that they spend themselves—the money that is not spent through the traditional standard spending assessment route—from £500 million to just over £4.5 billion. I am delighted that that money is coming into education; I am not complaining about it. However, if one speaks to head teachers around the country, one finds that most of them want an increase in their baseline funding. They are not interested in the endless bidding for pots of money. They want to be able to plan for the longer term. Our attitude to the issue marks the fundamental difference between the centralising tendency of a Labour Government and the devolutionary approach of the Liberal Democrats.

I have not forgotten the issue of truancy and shall come to it later. However, before I move on from my discussion of schools, I wish to point out that we have innovation if the Secretary of State says so; schools can have autonomy if he says so; they can have specialist status if he says so; they can have advance specialist status if he says so; and they can become an academy if he says so. They cannot do anything anywhere unless he says so. If that is devolution and giving local schools the power to be able to get on with their lives, it is very different from the type of devolution that I envisage.

To return to the manifesto—[Interruption.] I am sorry—I meant the Gracious Speech. It was a Freudian slip. I am suffering today, and there is another hour of this. The 42 words on the Government's top priority did not refer to legislation, but we are not too bothered about that. There has been a lot of legislation in recent years. However, those words were a set of meaningless platitudes, and the Secretary of State did himself a disservice today by making a speech that was endlessly self-congratulatory. There were promises of reform—reform is the catchword—and yet more reviews, but where are the policy proposals?

Yesterday's Financial Times contained the headline, "Clarke in fresh drive to boost workers' skills" and the article said that the Secretary of State was aiming to stimulate debate and highlight areas of low demand. It was acknowledged five years ago that the skills deficit was a problem. Every householder in Britain knows that one cannot get a plumber, carpenter or electrician. Businesses are desperate to get technicians and manufacturers are desperate for key skilled workers. Since 1997, we have had the Moser report, four national skills taskforce reports and skill sector reports. Units in the Secretary of State's Department and in the Prime Minister's office have been dealing with the issue. The learning and skills councils have been set up and the training and enterprise councils have been ended, but what has been the result? After six years of recognising the problem, the Secretary of State announced yesterday that the Government would publish a skills strategy in the spring of 2003 for discussion. There will also be an announcement that Dolly Parton will back the drive to boost skills. That is it: a further review and policy statement, and Dolly Parton will appeal to today's teenagers just as much as the Secretary of State and I might fail to do.

Today, we read of a £2.5 billion investment in adult skills, and that sounds like big bucks. However, it is exactly the same money that has been announced on four previous occasions. If the Secretary of State is saying that new money is going into the sector for new initiatives that will back the skills strategy or, indeed, support Dolly Parton—pardon the expression—let us hear that today. I do not believe that he is saying that.

Why in the Secretary of State's speech and in the Gracious Speech did we not hear about a raft of proposals to follow up the ones on vocational and educational skills for 14 to 19-year-olds that were announced in the Green Paper? There was common agreement on both sides of the House that the Green Paper was a worthwhile document that provided a platform for moving forward. Despite that consensus, there is stony silence from the Government.

Why was there no mention of the further education sector in the Gracious Speech? Why is the concentration on universities and not on the further education sector, which is the engine room for post-16 education? I was delighted that the Secretary of State referred to it today.

Last year, 808,500 16 to 19-year-olds attended FE colleges in the UK compared with 533,000 in schools. More students took A-levels in FE colleges than in schools and more students went to university from FE colleges than from schools. FE provided more work-related training than all the private sector providers put together and the vast majority of private employers. However, the impression remains that the FE sector belongs in the Nationwide league and not the premier league of education and training providers. It is as though "DFES Digital" has pulled the plug on colleges and their lecturers, who are left fighting for scraps as they look enviously at the premier schools division.

There was nothing in the Secretary of State's speech to resolve the massive dispute that is going on in FE between staff and lecturers and the Association of Colleges and its colleges. How can we value this vital sector if we simply say, "It is nothing to do with us, guv. Let them fight it out."? However, I understand that the Secretary of State will make a major announcement on FE next week, and perhaps the problem will be addressed at that point.

The challenge for the Government is to create a seamless service from 14 onwards, with a simple goal of keeping all young people in education or training at least until the age of 19. That is an ambitious target. Some 79.4 per cent. of young people stay on after 16, but half that number have left by the age of 19. They have dropped out. Nearly 500,000 16 to 18-year-olds do not participate in any education or training, and one in 10 of them is not involved in education, training or employment. That is why we are bottom of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development league table for level 3 skills. We are not attracting or retaining students in education and training.

Perhaps the most depressing statistic of all is that the majority of people who reach 19 without formal qualifications—even at level 2—do not get them by the time that they finish their working life. That stigma not only remains with them, but creates an economic and social barrier that stays with them. I compliment the Secretary of State and assure him that Liberal Democrats will do everything to support his efforts to deal with that problem. However, he must run up the flagpole a statement that makes it clear that the Government's current attitude that education is for the best and skills are for the rest will change. Every speech that he makes must make it clear that education and skills are for all.

We must not introduce a vocational programme that is seen as second to academic programmes. If the Secretary of State goes ahead with the proposals of the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education that we should have stand-alone colleges for 16 to 19- year-olds and that the FE sector should be the dumping ground for those who cannot get into academic institutions, he will do an immense disservice to education and skills training.

The Secretary of State challenged me on the issue of truancy and exclusions. I say to him in all sincerity that, if his attitude is to encourage Daily Mail headlines saying that we shall remove benefits from, or fine, the parents of truanting pupils and that we shall put single mothers into prison, the Labour Government will fail. There is absolutely no evidence that such policies will work. I take a "longitudinal" view of these matters: if we cannot re-engage young people with education and training and create a curriculum in our schools that turns young people on, not off, such draconian proposals will do little other than penalise families who are already under great strain.

Who will police the powers? Who will pick up the truants? The Secretary of State knows and the Department has published what the short, sharp truancy sweeps cost. If they are to be made permanent and continual, we will have to have an army of people on the streets to pick up kids. How can one tell whether someone is truanting? Even during the Department's experiments, huge opposition was encountered from the parents of students who were picked up when going to the doctor, looking after a sick mother, or engaged in other legitimate activities. One of the ludicrous proposals made by one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues was to give the milkman or the postman a set of vouchers to find truants. We need to do more than that.

The Liberal Democrats will support proposals that are tough on truants and tough about exclusions, but we will do so only if there is a balance between carrot and stick. We want more of the carrot from the Department for Education and Skills. Earlier this week, many of the Department's officials attended a reception that I organised with Inaura, a charity working in the area of exclusions. There are some splendid examples of boroughs and local education authorities that have tackled exclusions in a positive and supportive manner. Exclusion-free zones, managed transfers and the principle that a child who is kicked out of a school is not kicked out of society should all be fundamental to the Government's thinking. I hope that they will pick up those ideas and use them.

I am dismayed that no mention is made in the Gracious Speech of the appalling debacle of this summer's A-levels. It now appears that there was no crisis: Sir William Stubbs should not have been sacked, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley should not have resigned, and thousands of parents, teachers and students have simply been experiencing paranoia. We are told that it was a storm in a teacup and we should no longer discuss it—but if the Secretary of State believes that the issue will go away, he is burying his head in the sand. Had it not been for the dogged determination of the media that the right hon. Gentleman derides, especially The Observer, the Government would have been allowed to bury that bad-news story a long time ago.

Thousands of students, teachers and parents are angry. They believe that the system let them down this year, and they are right. Furthermore, faith in our examinations system will not be restored while so many questions remain unanswered. Evidence given to me and to the Tomlinson inquiry suggests that tens of thousands of grades awarded this summer could still be wrong. Having met Mike Tomlinson this week, it is clear to me that he knows that this year's grades are no guide to the relative performance of many students and schools. In respect of the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA board's English literature examination, Mr. Tomlinson went further, saying: It was difficult to know if any students got their just desserts. That one subject affected 9,000 students. A similar problem, affecting 6,000 students, arose with the psychology examination. If the Secretary of State can sit on the Treasury Bench saying, "This has nothing to do with me, guy—those students can go to hell," we are in a very bad state of affairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] At last, some animation.

Everywhere I go, I hear evidence that justice has not been done. Most MPs—including the few currently in the Chamber—know of cases in which A-grade coursework reappeared as unclassified. We now know of cases in which students who were native speakers of Russian, French or German failed to obtain more than the minimum grade in their oral examination. That is like telling an Olympic swimmer that he can just about get his 25-metre certificate. That was the extent of the discrepancy between students' work and the grades they were given. It is no good saying everything is fine because we have had a short inquiry; plainly, everything is not fine.

Mr. Charles Clarke

I referred to some of those issues in my speech. I do not suggest that the issues do not have to be dealt with—of course they do. However, Mike Tomlinson is an independent figure, and we should read his report and draw our conclusions from it. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Mike Tomlinson is an independent figure and an appropriate person to carry out the investigation? Does he have any criticisms—and if so, will he state them in the House—of the methodology used by Mr. Tomlinson when reaching his conclusions?

Mr. Willis

I place absolutely no blame on Mike Tomlinson. I have complete faith in his integrity and have heard no one question it. It is the Government in whom I have no faith, because it was the Government who decided the terms of the inquiry. Mike Tomlinson could do only what he was asked to do by the then Secretary of State and her Ministers. Ultimately, the inquiry was flawed, as I shall explain.

The inquiry's terms of reference had more to do with saving the face of Ministers than with getting to the truth. It now emerges that chief executives of the boards had enormous power to control the outcome of the inquiry, even though they were the jointly accused in the dock. They were asked to provide historical evidence about unusually large movements of grade boundaries in the closing stages of the awarding process. In respect of OCR, that evidence ensured that, in almost all cases, the Tomlinson review looked only at changes of six marks or more. The inquiry was not given a breakdown by year or by subject on which to make its judgments— nor did it ask for that evidence. In fact, the way in which the inquiry was set up ensured that it did not have the power to demand such details.

I am told—the Secretary of State can disagree if he likes—that in the past, movements of more than two marks were unusual, and movements of five marks were exceptionally rare, yet the cut-off for the inquiry was six marks or more. Roger Porkess, a distinguished mathematician who is responsible for one of the largest mathematics A-level syllabuses, has done the work. He has shown—the evidence was given to Mike Tomlinson, despite what the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education said this morning—that movements of grade boundaries of five marks could have had a devastating effect, resulting in more than 20,000 wrong grades being given.

Roger Porkess offered his evidence to the inquiry, but we now know that Tomlinson did not have the power to summon evidence from anyone who was not a board employee. In the case of OCR, he took no evidence from those who set the original grade boundaries, the chief examiners, despite the fact that they could have supplied key evidence to his inquiry. I ask the Secretary of State why that was the case.

Even more surprising, at the end of the inquiry chief executives had the power to veto any change to grade boundaries, and some did exactly that. It is crucial that we know which chief executives vetoed changes and which subjects were affected. Indeed, could this be one of the reasons why so few changes materialised? This explains how Ron McLone—the chief executive of OCR, which was found to be the main board responsible—was able to tell the Select Committee with some pride last week that as a result of the Tomlinson review, changes had been made in only 18 out of 1,012 sets of results. Does that demonstrate the rightness of OCR's original decisions, or does it show the extent to which the review was prevented from correcting OCR's mistakes?

I hope that the Secretary of State will not do as he said earlier this morning, and do nothing. Instead, I hope that he will ask Mike Tomlinson to reopen his review of this year's A-level results to determine the answers to these questions. I hope that he will give him the time and the power to do the job properly. Mike Tomlinson must have the power to demand information from the boards and stop their ability to override and use their veto. Crucially, Ministers must cancel publication of performance tables based on this year's A-level results until the grades have been reviewed again. Finally, the Secretary of State must ensure that no scripts are destroyed until all the lessons have been learned from this year's debacle.

Next Friday, OCR will torch all the papers in its control. How can that be right when after next Friday anybody who, for instance, went to a judicial inquiry, or who wished to go through the courts, would only be able to say, "There is no evidence, guy, it has all been burned"? Our plea to the Secretary of State is that he should start his term of office by putting right one of the great wrongs of this summer.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I must tell the House that the debate has been going on for two and a half hours, and so far there have been only four speakers. Many Members wish to catch my eye. Unless speeches are considerably shorter, very many Members will be disappointed.

I call Mr. McWalter.

12 pm

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

I shall speak from the perspective of a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, and also a Member representing a Hertfordshire constituency. From that background, I have to say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that I think that in many ways the system is a mess. Although I enjoyed his speech, I think that the focus on what the Opposition might say rather takes one's eye off the ball. The main job of the Government is to identify what is wrong, and seek to address it and put it right. From that perspective I found my right hon. Friend's speech slightly disappointing.

Before I make my main remarks I shall inform the House, and through the House others, of a matter that is only distantly related to education. Yesterday I visited a school in my constituency, and during the day I had given an interview on the firemen's dispute. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will be somewhat surprised when I say that I took an entirely Blairite approach to the dispute. That included saying that Andy Gilchrist was a latter-day Arthur Scargill. The House will be able to imagine my dismay last night at half-past nine when I found that my constituency office was on fire.

It was quite a serious fire. The green goddesses were called out with ancillary vehicles and police support. I am pleased to report that the fire was entirely an accident. It started on the floor of the shop beneath my constituency office. Some people were preparing for the shop to be occupied, and I believe that someone had dropped a cigarette end, or possibly put it out with his foot. It had gone through the floorboard, under which there was inflammable material. After some hours, the shop was full of smoke.

I mention this partly because the Fire Brigades Union, in the form of the local commander, Jim Smith, came along to offer support. I was pleased by the response of the interim fire services, but later I returned to the fire station, where members of the FBU were outside with their brazier. I said, "It's all right, it wasn't malevolent, it was an accident." I think that they were worried that perhaps one of their enthusiasts had set the fire. We then had an interesting discussion about how FBU members might help with education. I said, "Perhaps we should get you into schools, not only to tell people to have fire alarms, but to talk, for instance, about the chemistry of combustible materials and the precise cutting equipment needed to cut through various modern metals in motor cars."

We had an enjoyable discussion about whether senior officers in the fire service might be able to contribute something to science education in schools. I will not say that they welcomed me with open arms, but at least there was a meeting of minds on some matters. To put the record straight, no police action was taken.

When I said that science and technology in the education system were in a mess, I was not thinking of primary and secondary education, on which the Secretary of State focused, or further education, which was dealt with in the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), but of the university system itself. I disagree profoundly with the hon. Gentleman about so-called Mickey Mouse degrees. As a member of the Science and Technology Committee, I have seen consistent evidence that if students are offered one course that involves a significant mathematics component and another involving very little mathematics indeed, they opt for the latter. There is also considerable evidence that students offered one course that entails considerable training in a foreign language and another that has no foreign language component at all opt for the latter. I was approached to give advice on a political economy degree that was to be structured in such a way that there would be no mathematical requirements for the undergraduates.

When I was studying, I tried to avoid mathematical logic—an integral part of my studies—particularly in courses that were assessed by examination. I ended up, however, after various wheezes, spending many years teaching it; there are several ways of skinning a cat. Formidable courses may be on offer, but if a market system is in operation and people can get a qualification by doing courses that are not formidable, most of them, myself included, tend to go for the less formidable ones. As a result, the number of people leaving university who are equipped to teach subjects such as physics, mathematics and chemistry in school is diminishing all the time. Courses with titles like "Tourism studies (no foreign language requirement)" are much more popular than courses with titles like "Tourism studies (two languages required)".

It is no good the Government saying that they want 50 per cent. of young people to enter university if what awaits them are courses that do not challenge them. Such courses do not provide the opportunity for personal growth that real education allows its participants. There is consistent evidence that the system is failing in that respect. As a result, physics and chemistry courses in secondary schools are increasingly bereft of the expertise of people who may otherwise have pursued extremely challenging studies. I therefore urge the Secretary of State to consider whether we really need a market system in education—students think only in terms of what most suits them—or whether we need greater Government input into which courses people should take for the greater benefit of our economy, our country and, indeed, themselves. People who meet and overcome difficult challenges feel better about themselves and are of greater use to the country.

Mr. Gardiner

I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. Does he agree that there is a real danger in what he proposes? It is similar to the danger that both he and I, as former academic philosophers, lived through in the 1980s, when, because of Government intervention at the time, the rate of decline in philosophy was so marked that if it had continued, by the turn of the century there would have been 19 academic philosophers still practising in this country.

Mr. McWalter

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I admire his expertise. What he says is true. I have mentioned a couple of examples of challenging courses that create problems for students. In the subject that both my hon. Friend and I love with a great passion—philosophy—students are regularly expected to read material written, say, in the 18th century, or to understand the variations in translation of a text written in Greek. Such requirements make students wonder whether they have the ability to cope. School studies equip people less and less effectively for that. It is vital that whatever subject people study, whether it is English literature or physics, philosophy or chemistry, it presents the challenges—the peaks—to which people need to aspire.

To show how little that is part of our culture, I shall add that I am speaking on the day when the leading obituary in The Times is that of Rene Thom, who was a great mathematician, the author of catastrophe theory, a great philosopher of science and the holder of the Fields prize. Most people in our society would not have a clue what the Fields prize is. It is, as even The Times had to explain today, the equivalent of the Nobel prize in mathematics. Most people do not have that basic understanding of what the summit of a scientific career might mean.

Why am I raising those points? Of course, some subjects are harder than others. As David Hume said, there is a disposition towards laziness in the human spirit that the Almighty might have sought to correct. There is a further issue involving the kind of courses and the brief around which universities might orientate themselves. Science courses, particularly in engineering, are often very high capital courses. They are extremely expensive to offer. Although there is a differential in the amount given to universities to teach science students and students taking subjects that are, shall I say, somewhat easier—such as tourism studies without the touring—a university that wants to be financially effective would be well advised not to lay on courses in heavy engineering or physics.

University after university is closing such courses—for example, chemistry at Salford. In my own little university of Hertfordshire, I have had a desperate battle to protect physics and astronomy, despite the fact that it has a nationally recognised research rating, because astronomy requires an observatory, which is difficult to maintain. The chemistry department at my little university has just shut. Civil engineering has just shut. That is under a Labour Government, who have failed to realise that there is a crisis in the core sciences.

When two Ministers gave evidence to the Science and Technology Committee recently, neither was remotely on the pace. One of them said that more students were doing science degrees than ever. He obviously did not look very closely at what they are doing. Yes, the word "science" occurs in more people's graduate certificates than ever, but it is sports science, computer science and so on—all sorts of science, but not the core stuff. Those skills, that intelligence and that understanding are vital to our country, and it is the Government's job to protect them.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)

To what extent does the hon. Gentleman think that the low numbers taking science degrees reflect not only the perceived intellectual difficulty of such courses but, especially with engineering, the collapse in manufacturing and the low level of remuneration for scientists?

Mr. McWalter

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. The reason for the 18-week wait for a cervical smear at Hemel Hempstead general hospital—a scandal—is that the hospital laboratory pays people £12,000 a year for doing an extremely skilled job under difficult and pressured conditions, when one mistake can often make the headlines, but if one does the job capably for years and years there is no recognition or proper reward. We must ensure that those with scientific skills are properly honoured.

That applies throughout the system. One question that emerged from my discussions with fire brigades officers yesterday was the extent to which those who drafted the Bain report had any scientific expertise. At all levels, either people with the required expertise are unavailable, or those managing the systems do not understand that there are people around who have the understanding that would have made their deliberations more effective.

That applies to subjects such as statistics, too. In an earlier intervention I pointed out that to compare the average earnings of graduates with those of the rest is crazy. We should compare the average earnings of graduates with those of people who could have been graduates but chose not to be. I do not accept that there is necessarily any financial benefit at all from being a graduate. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did not pose the question in quite those terms. He said that there was a benefit for graduates. As a passionate advocate of university education, I agree wholeheartedly: there is enormous benefit and personal enrichment to be gained from a university course, particularly those that make great demands on one. But that is a different matter from whether there is any financial benefit, and I shall look carefully at the research that underlies any Government attempt to impose a graduate tax on the basis that graduates earn more.

It is a cultural issue that gives rise to low earnings for those with engineering and science qualifications. There is little willingness now for people to regard education as nearly as vital to the quality of life as it should be. I was talking to the Secretary of State earlier about what I call the Welsh valley culture—the sense that education is marvellous and life enriching, and that everybody should get as much of it as they can—compared with the dominant culture in our society, whereby to be educated or to be particularly a good at something is to be a nerd or a "boll'. There is almost a culture that it is acceptable to be learned only if one has made no effort. Making an effort is not regarded as de rigueur—but making an effort is vital to the process of becoming educated. It is vital that we try to rebalance the system, so it becomes

part of the culture that it is acceptable to think, to be learned and to understand—that it is acceptable to display an understanding that others might not have.

To return to the firefighters' dispute, when I talked to my fire officers six weeks ago and used the word hyper-inflation, as far as I could see none knew what it meant. Yet the Opposition talk about how otiose courses in citizenship are. They are not otiose at all. It is fundamental to the conduct of our society that people understand the consequences of their actions, including such economic learning as might make them aware that their actions have consequences, and that those consequences have consequences as well.

I have said most of what I wanted to say as a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and I would like to conclude with some thoughts as a Member representing a Hertfordshire seat. A dagger is pointing at the education system in our county. The office in my constituency to which I referred—which luckily was not burnt down last night in the end—is rented for £9,000 a year. The rates cost another £3,500, so the total cost is £12,500. Hon. Members will be aware that we receive slightly more than £18,000 for running our offices. They may ask why that is relevant. The fact is that in Hertfordshire, not much is left for running the photocopier, the telephones and all the rest of it, because the costs there are far greater than those in many other places. Indeed, a colleague from Glasgow told me that he provides exactly the same service as me, close to the town centre but not inside it, for £4,000. His disposable income for his office is £14,000 and mine is £6,000. How awful. However, let us bear in mind that that burden is taken on by Hertfordshire county council, too, when it tries to provide social services, education and other functions, so its disposable income is far less than that of many other authorities.

We currently have a very crude system called standard spending assessment to deal with how much it costs to provide a standard level of service to the people of a community. How much does it cost? That is a good question. It leads us to what, in the light of a recent parliamentary answer, I might call the Swindon answer—a £500 gap between the cost of laying on the services in Hertfordshire and the cost of the same services in Swindon. The local government Bill announced in the Queen's Speech implies that we are going to scrap standard spending assessment. That is well and good, as long as the system that will replace it is numerate and informed enough to be properly responsive to the needs of the people in my constituency for services that are more expensive to deliver than services in Glasgow. As it is currently drafted, that Bill is a big threat to the unit of resource that can be made available to schools in my area.

I have been critical throughout my speech. Of course, the picture that I have painted is dark, because it is the job of Members of Parliament and Back Benchers to point to what needs to be done rather than pat themselves on the back about what they have done. I know that the Government will take on board the points that have been made. When we made such points about primary schools, they took them on board and there has been a sea change in the quality of experience of primary school pupils in my constituency. I thank the Secretary of State and his predecessors for the tremendous work that they have done. I know that they can respond to arguments, and that they will respond to this one.

12.23 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

In the Queen's Speech, certain words keep reappearing. The word "modernised" appears four times and "reform" appears 12 times. I hope that it is not lèse-majestè to suggest that the phrase that I missed most was "My Ministers, in the process of modernising the procedures of Parliament, will set a good example by curtailing the length of their speeches from the Front Bench." I looked in vain for the word "sport", almost as for most of this morning I have looked in vain for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, whom I now see in the Chamber, but who did a runner from it for most of the proceedings. However, she is back and I welcome her, because she has to wind up the debate and it will be a good thing for her to listen to some of the speeches.

I want simply to address the importance for the country and for London of a bid for the 2012 Olympic games. I believe that they should be located at Stratford in east London and that such a bid should have the full support of Her Majesty's Government. The games would greatly regenerate a part of our capital that urgently needs more jobs and an improved infrastructure. In spite of those temporary disadvantages, Stratford has key features that would make it the ideal location.

A stakeholders group has been under way for some time. It comprises representatives of the British Olympic Association, the Greater London Authority and the Government. The BOA has the sole right to suggest a city for the United Kingdom's bid. Clearly, it must do so with national Government and local government support.

To his credit, the Mayor of London—I trust that he will not be Mayor for much longer—has made it plain that, in his judgment, Stratford is the right location. The Government said that they are continuing to deliberate on the matter. They must reach a conclusion by next January. They also said that they hope to hold a debate in Parliament. This is a thoroughly healthy proposal, which I welcome. I trust that the debate will take place before Christmas.

The Arup report, which was compiled by the ill-named "stakeholder group"—I suppose that we know what it means—of the BOA, GLA and the Government, is worth perusing. There is a copy of this admirable document in the Library. Its analysis is thorough and its argument cogent and compelling.

First, the report deals with the questions, "Why London?" and "Why the United Kingdom?" Europe will host the games in Athens in 2004; they then go to Beijing. It would be good if a capital which represents freedom and liberty in another continent should succeed Beijing.

However, we would delude ourselves if we imagined that a later bid, for xample, for 2016, would succeed. After Asia, Europe will probably have a good chance of hosting the games in 2012, and Paris is bidding hard. If we do not get 2012 for London, we may miss the opportunity for a generation. We would also miss an opportunity to regenerate a key part of our city.

There was talk of a west London site, perhaps around Northolt near my constituency, but the controversy about the third runway for Heathrow airport has shown the extent to which that area is congested. The hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) nods. I do not believe that it would be the right location.

Stratford is a nodal point on the railway system, which will be served by crossrail by then. It is close to the airports of Luton, Stansted, the City and Southend, and will not be too far from the expanded Heathrow, with terminal 5 in operation. It will therefore have good transport links. Providing a village for the athletes, a stadium and a warm-up track would create many jobs for the region and a permanent infrastructure which would be useful to the area and the capital for many years after 2012.

After all, 11,000 athletes would attend 300 events over 16 days. In addition, there would be 5,000 to 6,000 coaches and officials, 4,000 members of the Olympic family and 7,000 sponsors to accommodate, as well as 4,000 athletes for the Paralympics and the 2,500 officials who attend them. The Paralympics are an important feature of the Olympic games.

We must not forget the 20,000 journalists who would need not only accommodation, but the pubs and entertainment which are traditional for them. Furthermore, 9 million tickets would be sold—some 500,000 a day—and 63,000 operational personnel such as stewards, drivers, marshals and so on would need to be recruited. The enterprise would be immense, but if we consider the benefit that Sydney has obtained, we can recognise that it could be a big commercial winner for London too.

Section S8 of the Arup report on the quantified costs and benefits contains an analysis which concludes that the surplus over the whole enterprise should be about £82 million while the downside would be minus £145 million. However, the inward investment, tourism and publicity gained by London would, I am sure, be measurably and demonstrably positive for a long time to come. There would also be a cultural benefit and the project would be an example to our young people of the merits of healthy competition and vigorous participation at the highest level of athletics.

I hope that the Government take a lead. I know that the Secretary of State is undertaking a programme of visits to cities which have either recently held the games and benefited or that could perhaps be competing, so I trust that all of us who believe in our country and in London as the right location and who want to build on the Manchester Commonwealth games, which were an achievement of which we can be proud, will get involved. In the international context, however, a capital city must be the venue, and I think that it should be London in 2012. We should all get behind London—the Government, the GLA and Parliament.

12.31 pm
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

I begin by offering my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, who has left the Chamber for a moment or two, my congratulations on his appointment. I also congratulate the teachers in my constituency of Brent, North: I believe that I have some of the finest in the country—and some of the finest head teachers to boot. I know that simply because I see what they have achieved in their schools over the past five years.

The figures for key stage 2 English SATs were 65.2 per cent., but they are now up at 74.6 per cent. The maths results have improved from 61 per cent. to 75.8 per cent. The science results, which were 68.7 per cent., are 85.2 per cent.—a 16.5 per cent. increase in five years. I pay tribute to the work done by those teachers and by head teachers, parents and pupils. A-level grades show a similar rise. In 2001, the figure for grades A to C was 54 per cent. This year, it is 62 per cent., which is an 8 per cent. rise in just one year. That shows the commitment put in by teachers and by students. I welcome it and congratulate all concerned.

I must also highlight the Government's work in investing in those children and those schools. In particular, I want the House to consider the fact that, over the past year, £2.7 million has been going into Wembley high school in my constituency, achieving specialist technology status for it. Also, £2.7 million is going into Kingsbury Green primary school in my constituency, which has created 13 new classrooms, a new hall and six special educational needs rooms for the deaf children who learn there. That sort of investment has achieved the results that I mentioned.

Let me also discuss how the private finance initiative has worked in education. In the past year, one of the oldest schools in the world and one of the most academically excellent schools in the country has come to my constituency. I refer, of course, to the Jews' Free school, which was previously located in Camden. It has moved to Kenton in my constituency, into a new school that was built under the PFI scheme, on time and to budget, costing £47 million. It is a staggering investment in the future of those children and in excellence. The "small" sports hall is bigger than the entire Chamber of the House of Commons, and one needs a pair of binoculars to see across the large sports hall. We need such facilities and resources in all our schools, and they have been delivered, under the PFI model, in that school for the benefit of the children there.

I wish to utter a word of caution to my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education about the problems that PFI can bring. A consortium of schools in my constituency, including two primary schools, Preston Park primary and Wembley junior and infants, put in for the first round of bidding for PFI funding. Putting the bid together took a tremendous amount of human resources, hours and commitment. The schools were not successful—it was a highly commended bid—and were encouraged to re-submit, only to find that the criteria were to be changed for the re-submission. Obviously, all the time and commitment that went into the preparation of the initial bid have been lost and the schools must start again from the beginning. The Minister will appreciate that head teachers and local education authority officials spend tremendous amounts of time putting forward such bids and they find such things extremely depressing.

Some of the schools in my constituency need extra support. My part of north-west London has an extremely varied population. One of the great strengths of the borough of Brent is that it is more diverse than any other borough, not just in the country but I believe in Europe. More than 120 different languages are spoken as mother tongue in our schools and an enormous number of asylum seekers locate in Brent, North. Although that brings great cultural diversity and other benefits to the area, it puts a tremendous strain on resources in local schools. Two years ago, in a reception class of 29 children, 21 different mother tongue languages were spoken. In the same school, there has been a 40 per cent. turnover of pupils in a single year. That has a destabilising effect on schools and they should command extra resources.

I understand what the Government are doing in looking at the funding formula, and I understand all the policies surrounding asylum issues and the dispersal of asylum seekers. However, those schools need that assistance. I do not contend that ethnicity is a perfect indicator or criterion. Research reports have shown that different ethnic groups do well or poorly in varying degrees. It is not a necessary consequence of a large ethnicity that groups will pose extra burdens on a school. However, when the funding formula is assessed, and when the local education criteria are established, in areas where there is multiple ethnicity, especially multiple language that goes with a transient school population, those needs must be reflected in the educational standard spending assessment criteria. I hope that the Minister will pass my comments on to her colleagues in the relevant Department, because such action is vital for the educational achievement of children in my constituency.

My central argument relates not only to education but to the role of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. More sport must be played in our schools. I want to set out how that can be achieved. In particular, I would argue that sport in secondary schools should be increased from the current aspiration of two hours per week to a timetabled allocation of two hours per day. Physical education lessons should remain part of the core curriculum, and would be in addition to the two hours of sport a day. The school day should be increased to run from 8.30 am to 6 pm to account for that.

The benefits of sport are enormous. I shall outline and document the benefits for health, social inclusion, reduced youth crime and academic standards in our schools. Sport has always played a large part in the curriculum, but in recent years the importance of sport in schools has declined markedly owing to pressure on school timetables coupled with 18 years of Conservative Administration in which playing fields were sold off.

The Government's policy is that all pupils aged five to 16 should be offered two hours of sport per week either in school time or after school. That was announced in January 2001 as an intention, since when Ministers have referred to it as an aspiration or, more recently, as an expectation.

Sport in the United Kingdom is in a state of decline. Lack of investment over the past 25 years has left us with a decaying infrastructure and no clear direction. Sport has been pushed aside as a budget priority, and with constant pressure on funding for the poor public services the case has to be made that sport is integral to the delivery of every aspect of the Government's policy, including health, reduction in youth crime and academic achievement.

Some sources have commented that the best way to encourage and foster the take-up of sport is to stress the importance of sport in schools. Despite Government attempts to safeguard the amount of time that is devoted to sport in schools, timetabled PE and sports lessons are at their lowest for many years. Pressures on the school timetable make it unlikely that that will change in the current climate. A wide variety of benefits would accrue from an increased take-up of sports by secondary school pupils. In the short term, benefits would include a reduction in youth crime, improved academic achievement and social cohesion. In the longer term, there would be associated benefits to public health, as today's schoolchildren grow older.

Members will know of the National Audit Office report that came before the Select Committee on Public Accounts, which looked into obesity. One of its key findings was that the present generation of children are more obese and that by the time they get to middle age they will be the first generation who are likely regularly to pre-decease their parents, because of the diseases associated with obesity such as diabetes and blindness. Those common problems are predicted by every health authority, and by the recent convention in Copenhagen that looked into this issue. We in the United Kingdom face a great threat.

Encouraging the take-up of sport among the young is widely recognised as the most successful way of increasing participation. Moreover, young people who are involved in sport are more likely to be physically active throughout the rest of their lives. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport put it this way: School is where most children are first introduced to sport and where they either develop a lifelong passion for it … or are turned off it for life.

If take-up is to increase, investment is required. Some investment has already been made, but it should go further. My proposal to the Government would give existing funding a firm policy direction. A radical reform of sporting provision would cement the good work already being done in the Department, and would provide a framework within which future investment could be made more effectively.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows, I have introduced a pilot scheme in my constituency involving four or five schools, but I think it vital for us in government to make the case for school sport. British children engage in less sport than those in most other European countries; worse than that, they engage in sport of a lower quality than those in most other European countries. Twenty-eight per cent. of children engage in sport regularly or intensively in the United Kingdom; in Finland 28 per cent. do so occasionally or rarely, while 39 per cent. do so intensively and 33 per cent. do so regularly.

We must reverse the situation. We must aspire to what countries such as Finland and Sweden have already achieved if we are to produce a healthier, fitter nation that is more successful. That will be reflected in more economic benefit and fewer absences from the workplace. The annual cost to the British economy of obesity-related diseases is £2 billion, £0.5 billion of which is incurred by the national health service.

We spend £750 per head on health care, and £1 per head on sport. That is nonsensical. It is a scandal that we, a Government who believe in preventive action in terms of health and are examining the primary care delivery service, do not see that by taking a few pounds out of that £750 and spending it on sport we could transform the health and well-being of our population.

The best way of easing the pressure on the NHS is to improve the general standard of public health. Sport England's national survey found that in 1999 only 33 per cent. of six to 16-year-olds spent two or more hours a week at school in physical education. In 1994, the figure was 46 per cent. We have gone backwards. The Public Accounts Committee found that Achievement of children's entitlement to two hours of physical exercise each week requires an adequate and equitable distribution of facilities. There is, however, a considerable disparity in the opportunities for sport currently being offered to children by different schools". A significant amount of research has concluded that obesity is on the increase because less sport is being played. The national diet and nutrition survey found that schoolchildren are becoming less active as less sport is being played in school. The relevance of the correlation between children becoming less active and obesity becoming more prevalent is stressed not only in the NAO report. We cannot ignore it.

By setting in place a definitive time for school sports and placing that in the middle of the school day, we will ensure that sport is played and therefore improve the health of the nation. We will reduce the costs to the NHS and the wider economy and ensure that demand for sporting provision is kept constant and high.

The revised timetable would facilitate the introduction of breakfast clubs at the start of the school day. Research by the National Policy Institute has shown that breakfast clubs have a large beneficial impact not only on the health but on the concentration of students, on punctuality and on secondary school pupils' attendance.

One of the central recommendations for reducing obesity contained in the NAO report was: The Department for Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should consider the adoption of joint performance targets for increasing the number of people engaged in sport and physically active leisure activities". Other sources have identified sport as crucial to improving the nation's health. The Wanless report stated: proactive policies which promote reductions in key risk factors and improved health information will help people engage with their own health". Social exclusion, the breakdown of community and the need for regeneration have been much discussed in the Chamber. Significant positive results can be achieved from encouraging sport in the community, particularly among schoolchildren. A report by the Cabinet Office's policy action team on the effects of sport and the arts on social inclusion noted: Arts and sport are not just an 'add-on' to regeneration work. They are fundamental to community involvement and ownership of any regeneration initiative when they offer means of positive engagement in tune with local interests.". The Denham report, which looked at the causes and effects of the Bradford riots from 6 to 9 July 2001, recognised the importance of sport for young people in avoiding the breakdown in community that caused the riots, noting that Sporting and cultural opportunities can play an important part in re-engaging disaffected sections of the community, building shared social capital and grass roots leadership through improved cross-cultural interaction. The report goes on to stress the importance of those opportunities for young people in particular. It notes that the first efforts to rebuild community relations in the area following the riots involved setting up sports schemes for children to get involved with during the remainder of their summer holidays, using sport not just for its benefits to health but for its ability to draw people together. Those benefits of sport could be exploited more efficiently in the school context.

While crime has been steadily falling since 1997, certain forms of crime—street robberies in particular—have been rising. Indeed, many of the crimes that have been on the increase are seen as youth crime and the criminals that commit those acts are often children of secondary school age. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills talked earlier about the problems of truancy and street crime and the relation between the two.

Sport has been identified as a key method in reducing youth crime. The positive futures schemes, run by Sport England, the Football Foundation, the Youth Justice Board and the Home Office drugs unit, aim to get young people off the streets by encouraging them to play sport.

An increase in school sports and an extension to the school day would have the effect of reducing youth crime. Two of the Home Office-defined risk factors show that youth crime is on the rise when children are hanging around after school and when they are unsupervised by their parents; when parents do not know where they are. The youth lifestyle survey said: Boys who hung around in public places were also more likely to be offenders: the odds of offending were nearly four times greater for boys who had hung around in public places compared with those who had not". By extending the school day and making space for sport we would reduce the possibility of children hanging around in public places and the chance of their committing crimes. Children would move from school supervision to home without the three-hour gap between the end of the school day and supper at home. By extending the school day we would remove the fact that parents do not know where their children are and children hang around with nothing to do.

The contribution that sport can make when incorporated into our schools in quite incalculable. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is working closely across Government with the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills and I commend that work. However, we should be moving faster and further. Two hours of sport per week is a commendable aspiration, but it is not enough. One of the barriers to providing more sport in schools is the lack of facilities and resources. I have already referred to the sell-off of sports fields under the previous Government.

I also urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to review provision within our schools so that more than half a year group can have changing facilities at any one time; so that the whole school can engage in sport; and so that facilities are available to enable children to participate in a way that will improve the long-term health of our nation, reduce the juvenile crime statistics, reduce the amount of truancy in our schools and improve academic standards. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look carefully at the results of the pilot scheme in my constituency over the next three years. As she knows it will not start until next September, but I believe that if we can show them the results that I confidently believe can be achieved, the scheme should be a model for the Government to follow.

12.57 pm
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

The hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) spoke for about 25 minutes on school sport, but he did not emphasise the key benefits of school sport, which are self-discipline, teamwork and self-esteem and the importance of working within an environment where there are rules.

Mr. Gardiner

That was the point of my speech.

Mr. Chope

If the hon. Gentleman intended to make that point, it is a pity that he did not also pay tribute to organisations such as the Rugby Football Union and all the parents and volunteers who work to provide sport for young people outside the school curriculum.

This is the 15th Queen's Speech to have been delivered since I have been a Member of Parliament and I think that it is the worst that I have heard. It may be written on vellum, but much of its language is an insult to the Queen's English. Whatever happened to plain speaking? I illustrate my point by quoting from one paragraph: My Government will make a decision on whether to recommend entry into the single currency on the basis of the assessment of the Five Economic Tests to be completed by next June. I think that means that the Government will decide whether to recommend to keep or scrap the pound and that the outcome of that will depend not on the "Five Economic Tests", which have now been given capital letters, but on whether the Government think that they can pull the wool over the eyes of the British electorate and win a referendum. It is a pity that they did not spell that out more clearly in the Queen's Speech.

Many of the legislative proposals owed more to the Government's need to be seen to be doing something than to the substance of the legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) made a telling point when he described the measures in the Queen's Speech as tough-sounding but hollow gimmicks.

The speech also contains an odd set of priorities. The Government identify the need to introduce a Bill to allow for the retrial of those acquitted of serious offences, but that is a specialised matter that might involve only one or two cases. When we consider the Bill in detail, we will realise that hard cases make bad law. We need to bring more offenders to trial in the first place. We are not dealing with double jeopardy because so few offenders and criminals are subject even to single jeopardy. Bringing them to trial should be our priority. We know that only nine out of every 100 recorded crimes result in a conviction. We need not more legislation to sort out that problem, but more determination by the Government to allow the police to operate effectively.

Last Sunday, the Prime Minister announced the Queen's Speech to readers of The Observer under the rather grandiose title, "My vision for Britain". Probably much of the language in the speech results from the fact that it had to fit in with his rather odd use of language in the article. He said: Crime and anti-social behaviour is a Labour issue. In many of the poorest parts of Britain, in many traditional Labour areas, it is the issue … If people walk out of their doors and are confronted by abuse, vandalism and anti-social behaviour, they will never feel secure. I have news for the Prime Minister. The issue is not only an issue in Labour areas, it affects places up and down the country. Criminal damage, threatening and insulting behaviour and vandalism erode communities everywhere and they destroy the quality of life and undermine people's self-confidence in their ability to go where they wish to go. It is the issue in Christchurch, which is not a traditional Labour area. However, it is very traditional area and, possibly, a traditional Conservative area, but it has just as much need of policemen as Sedgefield or any other Labour constituency.

I am worried by the implication in the Prime Minister's article that he is preoccupied with Labour areas and that he is intent on engaging in more pork-barrel politics by reducing the police grant in counties such as Dorset and forcing up the council tax burden on residents who already pay more for the costs of the police than those who live anywhere else in the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) will realise, even the ordinary citizens of London are not required to contribute as much towards the cost of the police as the people of Christchurch.

In the article, the Prime Minister recognised that the problem with the system is that the police are not freed up and given the flexibility to focus on the crime and antisocial behaviour". If that is the problem—I agree that it is—the Government can solve it without the need for yet more specific legislation. Why will they not let the police get on with their job? The police are bombarded with performance indicators and, as a retired senior police officer told me earlier this week, that is at the expense of performance. The Government are not interested in the overall performance and effectiveness of the police, but only in particular indicators.

Why should the police have to identify the race, colour and creed of the people they stop and search? Surely they should be given the responsibility to stop and search the people they believe to be suspects. Street crime should be tackled everywhere, not just in a few specified target areas. The street crime initiative has resulted in the relocation of crime rather than in its elimination.

Yesterday evening, I was at a function that was addressed by a Minister who is a Member of the other place. I sat next to a gentleman who had that very day been robbed in Leicester square. The robber got away and the victim had to queue for three hours at the local police station to report the crime. Two points arise out of that. First, there is an enormous amount of street crime. That is why people have to queue for three hours at a police station—so many other people are reporting a crime. Secondly, the system contains a built-in inconvenience factor that discourages victims of crime from reporting it. I have encountered that: my car was vandalized—the window was broken—and I tried to report the incident by telephone, but it was impossible to do so. I had the repair done under my insurance policy. The only way I could have reported the incident so that it appeared in the statistics was if a police officer came to my house, or I queued up at the local police station. If the Government are as keen to safeguard the interests of victims as the Queen's Speech says they are, they should allow victims to report crimes by e-mail, fax or telephone, 24 hours a day.

The Queen's Speech makes extensive reference to truancy, although as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, the Government have manifestly failed to meet their own targets in that respect. I was worried when the Secretary of State said this morning that there is to be a Government advertising campaign against truancy. Who will be the target of that campaign? Will it be the same target as for most Government campaigns—the middle classes, to make them feel confident that the Government are doing something?

I hope that the Government's campaign will provide better value for money than was got for the £49 million spent in one month—March—last year, just before the general election. That spending was a wholly ineffectual and improper use of taxpayers' money on Government propaganda, mainly relating to benefit fraud. If the Government have money to spend on an anti-truancy advertising campaign, why do they not instead give the money to local schools to spend as they see fit? If the schools want to spend it on advertising in local papers, they can do so. In any event, I doubt that the advertising will be targeted on truants; it will be targeted on the middle classes, who are worried about the Government's failure to deliver.

I was extremely disappointed by the Secretary of State's woolly response to my intervention about the right to learn. In September 2001—more than a year ago—figures provided by the National Union of Teachers showed that four out of every five teachers believed that behaviour in schools was getting worse. The number of assaults on teachers rose fourfold in the three years from 1998, yet the right hon. Gentleman made it appear that he was still thinking about what to do to give pupils in classrooms the right to learn without disruption from other pupils who are not interested in learning. I think that that is a much more important issue than truancy: I am more concerned about those who choose to attend school but then have their education disrupted by the badly behaved element than about those who wilfully do not go to school at all.

The Queen's Speech states: Legislation will be brought forward to reform the broadcasting and telecommunications industry by promoting competition and investment and giving powers to the Office of Communications. I submit that that legislation should abolish both the BBC as we know it and the television tax. In that way, we will secure proper, fair and equal competition. The BBC has abused the privileges given to it by Parliament and it should be brought to book. I am horrified that the Government will not even impose the burden of the regulator on the BBC.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Chope

No, because I am about to sit down and many others want to participate in the debate.

To conclude, this was an extremely disappointing Queen's Speech.

1.8 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby)

More than 80 years ago, Lloyd George proclaimed to the House of Commons that the country was facing three great enemies: the Hun, the Austrians and the drink, and the greatest of these was the drink. It was according to such sentiments that the liquor licensing laws that have lasted us almost a century were designed. It is a matter of quiet celebration that, today, the Government are to publish the alcohol and entertainment Bill, which will finally call time—last orders—on Lloyd George's liquor licensing laws. To the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who has just left the Chamber, I say that one of the many benefits of reforming the liquor licensing laws will be that it will be much easier to attract big international events such as the Olympics to our capital city.

My first fact-finding trip on being elected to Parliament in 1997 was made to Scotland with a group of English Members of Parliament. We went to Edinburgh with one mission: to compare and contrast the liquor licensing laws. It was a hard business. One Scottish licensee looked pityingly at us and remarked, "Even Cinderella was allowed to stay up until midnight." The Bill will give the House the first opportunity that it has had since the 1970s radically to reform our liquor licensing laws. In the 1970s, Scotland, following the Claydon report, diverged from the practice in England and Wales. Lord Erroll's report—sadly, he died last year—which promised flexibility and liberalisation, was rejected by the House.

I have been asked, "Why will it be different this time? Why will the Government reform the liquor licensing laws during this decade?" Cynical observers of the House would say that during the 1970s the largest all-party group was the all-party temperance group; today it is the all-party beer group. However, that is not the main reason why the Bill will take its place on the statute book. I think that it will be enacted because of the attitude of the police. There are very few chief constables who do not support reform, and for good reasons. About 50 per cent. of all violent person-to-person crime in most of our towns and cities occurs at closing time, at 11 o'clock, and at 2 o'clock. In some instances, thousands of people spill out on to the streets looking for fast food, kebabs, taxis and buses all at the same time. That is when a great deal of trouble occurs.

We do not have to look to exotic places to find the evidence that reform and more flexibility can help. For example, it would stop people drinking against the clock during the last half an hour before closing time. The Isle of Man does not necessarily have the most liberal of reputations in the world, but in 2001 it reformed its liquor licensing laws, largely on the grounds that the Government are proposing. There was a 40 per cent. reduction in violent crime immediately during the hours of darkness. That is an example that we could well follow.

Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will remember that during the run-up to the last election, our younger supporters—the sort of people who appeared in "The Project" last week—received text messages on their mobile phones, saying, "If you don't give a 4X for the liquor licensing laws, vote Labour on Thursday." That approach clearly failed, in the sense that young people did not rush to the polls. However, it was a mistake for another reason. It gave the impression that reform of the liquor licensing laws was solely in the interests of the young. If that were the only benefit, it would be wasted on the young. The young will always find ways to party and to have a good time, whatever the hour of the day.

There are three reasons why, for the comfortably middle aged and the old codgers—I look round the Chamber and quite a few of us fit into that category—liquor licensing reform is a good thing. The first reason—I have already referred to it—is public order. It is noticeable that there is much greater flexibility in the new arrangements to deal with problem pubs. In the past, the only way to deal with them was to close them down. That was the only action that magistrates could take. There will be much more flexibility and many more sanctions in the new Bill. Many people will appreciate that. People will find it easier to complain to councils rather than to magistrates.

The second benefit is that a much more family friendly atmosphere will be promoted by the Bill. Children will have greater access to pubs, with proper controls and restrictions. The previous Government introduced children's certificates, which for the first time allowed children into many sections of pubs. However, it was an over-bureaucratic although well-intentioned system. I think that the new Bill will try to change our culture in England and Wales. I hope that it will lead to a much more family friendly atmosphere. That would encourage a more sensible attitude to alcohol.

The third advantage to the whole community is that, I hope, many more different sorts of licensed premises will stay open after 11 o'clock, and perhaps open at other times of the day. There is a pub in my constituency that wants to open to serve breakfasts to those on the night shift, for example. At present, if a pub wishes to stay open after 11 o'clock, it is necessary to make more noise than before 11 o'clock. It is necessary to have a dance floor and entertainment. That is clearly ridiculous. The traditional village pub has much to gain from liberalisation. It will be able to stay open for an hour or perhaps a couple of hours longer, if it is a well run pub, especially at weekends.

All councils and all local police forces need to manage the night-time economy more. It is interesting that of the crime and disorder partnerships, only about a third have a strategy towards alcohol and alcohol-related crime. Home Office guidance should insist that that they all do. The debate about magistrates will rumble on, but it is important to remember that they have a role in the new system. Appeals on liquor licensing, on points of fact as well as points of law, will be made to them. To clarify the position, councils are responsible and, after all, were responsible for much of the public entertainment licence system under the old regime.

Moving swiftly to the communications Bill, by far the most interesting thing I have done in Parliament was to serve on Lord Puttnam's Committee. I can truly say that, unlike in many Committees that the Whips put me on, I listened to virtually every word, partly because I was sitting next to Marmaduke Hussey, who is a good Conservative supporter of the BBC, by contrast with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), whose speech I enjoyed. Whenever Lord Hussey had a point to make, he would prod me with his stick to test it out on me before making it to the Committee. That kept my attention—I learned a lot from him and other members of the Committee. The Government have accepted about 120 of our recommendations.

I agree with two aspects of the Bill but, to keep life interesting, I disagree with another. I agree with the Government's stance on the BBC; it is right that the BBC is under Ofcom for tier 1—consideration of taste and decency—and that when it makes mistakes it should pay fines for the first time, as Lord Puttnam's Committee recommended. It is right that it is subject to quotas on regional production and production by independent producers under tier 2 of regulation. However, the backstop powers in tier 3, which deals with whether the BBC is fulfilling its public service remit, should ultimately be up to the governors and the Secretary of State. Otherwise, if the BBC did not fulfil that remit, the new regulator Ofcom, which is designed to provide a light-touch regulation for commercial public service broadcasters, would be trying to deal with the problem. Every commercial broadcaster around would protest to Ofcom about every schedule change and argue that the BBC was departing from its remit.

If we value the BBC—I still think that the majority of Members do—we must accept that the Government's proposed arrangements are right. The Government would do well to look again at Lord Puttnam's proposals on the importance of ensuring the regional nature of ITV. It is generally accepted that we will get one ITV again—a new merged ITV will be able to compete much better, which I welcome. However, we must maintain the regional character of ITV, which has served it well over the decades. We suggested to the Committee that instead of Ofcom requiring a "suitable amount" of regional production by ITV companies, such production should be "substantial". The Government would do well to look at that and consider whether ITV's programme remit should include a regional element, as that is not specified at the moment.

Finally, the Government have introduced radical proposals to allow for the first time non-European Union ownership of our media companies, and permit Rupert Murdoch and anyone else with a substantial interest in our national media to own a terrestrial station, Channel 5. I looked hard to see where those ideas came from. In the Government's consultation on media ownership few organisations advocated such changes in ownership regimes. The only two that I could find were News International and Andersen's, which said that the prevention of foreign ownership is an irrelevant anachronism. Well, Andersen's has become the irrelevant anachronism in the intervening period

There was not a great deal of support for the Government's proposals. The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), the Opposition spokesman, produced a pamphlet in the mid 1990s advocating such changes, but I discovered few other sources backing the changes. I believe that Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB have done a great deal for British television, but putting more power in the hands of one person so that he can run The Sun, The Sunday Times, The Times, BSkyB and Channel 5 under a single ownership—a move that previous Governments have rejected—will create unease and disquiet among Labour Back Benchers. The good news is that he does not even want it. Rupert Murdoch said last week, after the BSkyB annual general meeting, that he had no interest in acquiring a terrestrial TV station, so even if the move goes ahead, it is not at all certain that he wants Channel 5. If the idea is to get him onside for the euro referendum, it is clearly a price that he is not demanding. I urge the Government to consider the matter further.

One of the most problematic effects of allowing changes in ownership regimes and allowing American ownership of our media companies may be in the radio sector. The Clear channel in the United States has benefited from deregulation there. It now owns half of the radio stations in the US and is poised to move into Britain. It has destroyed local radio in the US. There is no more local news and no more local presentation; that is all done centrally. That is the agenda of some of the big American media companies. One does not have to be anti-American to point that out. I hope that at the very least, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State promised yesterday, she will strengthen some of the content regulations that govern local radio.

Finally, I shall say a word about higher education. Students are avid consumers of television, radio and alcohol in pubs, so they link all the remarks that I have made. Labour Members await with great interest the higher education paper. I share some of the reservations expressed today about the introduction of top-up fees. I fear that if a university such as Oxford brought in top-up fees, some poorer students would still go there because they would be able to get bursaries, if they could understand the bursary system—presumably, each university would have a different one; richer students would still go there, if they could afford the fees and were indifferent to them; but a great many people in the middle would be deterred, and the fees would affect their choices.

The introduction of top-up fees would be extremely divisive and would do little to increase participation. If there must be a greater contribution from students, there would be greater support from Labour Members for a deferred payment system, as there is in Scotland. I noted on 3 November that The Independent on Sunday stated that the idea originated from Lord Jenkins, which does not increase enthusiasm for the idea. The Sunday Telegraph on the same day noted that the current Chancellor, the current Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and the current Home Secretary had reservations. Many Labour Members—

Mr. Rendel

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grogan

I am about to conclude my remarks.

Many Labour Members hope that the current Chancellor, the current Education Secretary and the current Home Secretary, rather than our Chancellor from the 1960s, will prevail in the argument.

1.22 pm
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)

I am usually a pessimist as regards the British state education system. Having been at various state schools for all but two years in my education, I saw at first hand some of the best that the state sector has to offer, and over the years, some of the less good. I have listened to speeches by successive Education Secretaries with increasing gloom, both since and before 1997, but the appointment of the current Secretary of State has filled me with optimism. He was quoted in The Sunday Times last week as saying that the reason for the lack of Oxbridge places for students from comprehensive schools was the inverted snobbery of many comprehensives, rather than real snobbery at Oxford and Cambridge.

That is encouraging, because I am sure that it is true. More than that, it is the first hint from any Secretary of State that I have heard that the root of the problem with our state education system is the ethos of many of our schools, rather than the structure of the education system. It is an ethos that has been handed down in teacher training colleges since the mid-1960s and probably even before that, and as a result, the education establishment has come to be dominated by people with a specific outlook on the world. It is an outlook that believes in concepts such as teaching children how to learn, instead of actually teaching them. It is an outlook that eschews competition between children, decries tough discipline, rejects streaming by ability in favour of mixed-ability teaching, and ridicules the public school ethos. It is an outlook that is failing children.

The measures in the Gracious Speech to increase the penalties for parents of truants are welcome, but they deal only with the symptoms of the problem rather than the root cause. A study by Professor O'Keeffe in 1993 asked pupils why they stayed away from school, and the most frequent answer was to avoid subjects that they found too hard or teachers whom they did not like. A recent OECD report "Education at a Glance: Indicators 2002" concludes that one in four British 15-year-olds said that their lessons were blighted by noise and disruption, and more than half the pupils surveyed said that they were bored by their lessons.

In a fascinating study carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research last year, three local education authority inspectors specialising in English and a chief inspector visited 20 different literacy classes across the age range in the Zurich, St Gallen and Aargau cantons in Switzerland. The report concluded that fluency in reading, oral discussion and writing were all significantly higher for the majority of Swiss youngsters at the end of compulsory schooling than for their counterparts in England. Even more dramatic were the differences at the lower end of the attainment scale.

The report concluded that Swiss lower-attainment pupils at age 14 are close to our average pupils at that age in their literacy attainment. Revealingly, it found that there was no truancy, not even in the lowest ability group … while the corresponding low-attaining class in England would suffer … high absence rates", as it is not unusual for one third to be absent.

I support the Government's measures to increase the penalties for parents of truants, but they do not deal with the causes of truancy. They are being tough on truancy, but they do nothing about the causes of truancy.

The truth is that many youngsters are simply let down by the education system, to such an extent that they feel humiliated in class when they cannot keep up. A quarter of 11-year-olds cannot read properly by the time they leave primary school, that has a knock-on effect at secondary level and they fall further and further behind. No wonder such children become disruptive, are bored and ultimately stay away from school.

What we should be asking ourselves is not how nasty we can be to parents, but what is going on in our primary and secondary schools that is resulting in such poor achievement. At this point I expect the Minister for School Standards to leap up and ask whether I have read the OECD programme for the international student assessment survey—PISA—which shows that of 32 countries, the UK ranks seventh in reading, eighth in maths and fourth in science. That is an incredible result given the widespread concern about education in Britain. Surely, he will say, that proves that all is well with our education system.

I have read that report in great detail and it is incredible. It is particularly incredible because in the previous year a far more authoritative study—the third international maths and science study, conducted by the respected International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement—put the UK 20th out of 41 countries, just two places ahead of Lithuania. The IAEEA has been conducting such surveys since 1970.

According to Professor Prais of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, the TIMSS survey shows the UK to be some 40 points on average behind Switzerland, France, the Czech Republic and Hungary, whereas PISA puts the UK 20 points ahead of those same countries, and all that achievement occurred in just one year.

We must therefore somehow take account of the 60-point discrepancy between the two surveys. Why did the two surveys, one carried out in 1999 and the other in 2000, come to such radically different conclusions? The answer is not that there was some miraculous alchemic improvement in education, but that there were significant errors in the way in which the PISA study was carried out.

The international surveys test a sample of youngsters in each of the different countries involved. Over the years the TIMSS survey has come up with tried and tested criteria that PISA, the new study, did not follow. The most significant criterion relates to the type of question asked. The TIMSS study consisted of questions common to the school curriculum in each country, but the PISA survey directly states: PISA assessed young people's capacity to use their knowledge and skills in order to meet real life challenges, rather than merely looking at how well they had mastered a specific school curriculum.

In other words, the PISA test is more one of common sense or IQ, so it is not surprising that British school pupils did so much better in it than in the test that measured the actual effects of the education system. No one is saying that British school children are any less bright than those in other countries, nor do they have any less common sense, but a survey that measures only what the PISA test measured is pointless in terms of assessing the education system.

There are a number of other differences between the two surveys. TIMSS tested 13 and 14-year-olds, whereas PISA tested 15 and 16-year-olds. The fact that many pupils at the latter age will be leaving school creates disparities, especially on the continent. PISA also tested the age groups rather than the classes. As children in most of Europe are held back a year if they do not achieve certain standards, a bias against continental countries is again created.

UK Participation in the test was very low in comparison with that in other countries. From the original sample selected, only 61 per cent. of UK schools agreed to participate, in comparison with 95 per cent. in France, Germany and Switzerland. The proportion of pupils who agreed to take part in the test once their school had agreed to participate was, at 81 per cent., the lowest in any of the countries. Taking those two types of non-response rates together, the UK had a response rate of only 48 per cent. of the original sample, compared with 90 per cent. in France, Germany and Switzerland. Common sense would suggest that it is the weaker schools and pupils who would refuse to participate.

The Minister for School Standards needs to be careful when he cites the PISA report with such a flourish, as he has done on several occasions. One of the things that the public dislike about politicians is our constant use of statistics to try to prove our party political point. They do not believe us when we use them, especially when they run counter to people's daily experience or common sense. I know that the Secretary of State is sincere in his desire to change the way in which we conduct politics in this country. I admire him for that, so I urge him to look carefully at the PISA report before continuing the habit of his colleagues and previous Ministers of citing figures that are misleading and truly incredible.

Even without Professor Prais's painstaking analysis of the PISA survey, it is clear that it is flawed. Why else would the public be so concerned about the condition of state education? Why else are people so desperate to move into the catchment areas of the dwindling numbers of good state schools?

The Minister should also exercise caution when making, as he often does, claims such as this: Primary schools have made outstanding progress in raising standards over the last five years … 75 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieve the expected level in English".—[Official Report, 24 October 2002; Vol. 391, c. 400.] Those statistics appear absolutely remarkable, especially in the context of 1995, when only 48 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved the expected level in English. They appear so remarkable that Professor Tymms of Durham university's curriculum, evaluation and management centre was forced to ponder how they had arisen. He said: At face value, the improvement in the SATS is an amazing rise in standards. It would be better than any rise which has been seen through any policy in the world which has been properly evaluated. When you see something like that, you have to pause for a minute and say is it real or not. Unfortunately, the reality is that, as Professor Tymms puts it, the children are getting no better. It's just that our staff are better at teaching to the test". Professor Tymms knows that that is the case—it is not merely conjecture on his part—because his curriculum, evaluation and management centre has conducted its own tests, taken by 5,000 year 6 children in the same 122 primary schools every year since 1997. Unlike the SATS tests, those so-called PIPS tests are the same each year and teachers do not prepare their children for them. Those tests reveal no statistically significant improvement in children's literacy since 1997.

The Times Educational Supplement suggested cognitive ability tests, which are a form of IQ test that some secondary schools administer to their year 7 intake as a basis for assessing the school's value-added performance. However much educational standards rise, in theory, the CAT scores should stay roughly the same. No one claims that British pupils are becoming innately cleverer; the Minister for School Standards and others simply say that they are improving in English and maths.

However, according to The Times Educational Supplement: What has actually happened is that CAT scores have risen in recent years alongside national test results". Professor Tymms is therefore right to say that children are getting better and better at taking tests", but that their overall literacy and numeracy is not improving.

I cite that damning evidence neither to run down our education system in party political fashion so that I can conclude that if only the Tories were in power, everything would be great, nor to criticise teachers, who work enormously hard and conscientiously. My anxiety stems from the fact that our state education system has been in decline for the best part of 40 years. We shall not begin to remedy it until we consider the facts honestly and objectively.

We must eschew all the interest groups: the education establishment, the trade unions, right-wingers, left-wingers, Ministers and Opposition. Let us not try to hide what is going on with newly devised and flawed international comparisons or by trying to downgrade hallmark standards that inconveniently highlight inadequacies in our education system.

Once we have an honest understanding of the state of our education system, we can consider what happens in our schools and determine what needs to change. Are the teaching methods at fault? Are the low expectations that the Secretary of State emphasised in his speech on the 10th anniversary of Ofsted to blame? Are there too many mixed-ability classes? Are we using the right methods to teach children to read? Is the configuration of primary school classrooms right? Is there enough discipline? Should we exclude more pupils? If so, where should they go?

What do the best performing countries, such as Switzerland, do? Why is there no truancy in Switzerland but massive truancy in Britain? Why do some schools do so much better than others with similar socio-economic intakes? Why does one primary school in a specific area do well in SATs in English but poorly in maths, while only a mile away, a similar school does well in maths and poorly in English?

Most importantly, is there something in the ethos of the top 50 state schools that the rest can adopt? Is there something in the operation of the top private schools that the state sector can emulate?

The PISA report reaches some interesting conclusions about teaching methods and ethos. It states that among the factors that have a positive and statistically significant association with student performance are the disciplinary climate of the classroom; and the extent to which teachers emphasise academic performance and place high demands on students". I commend the documentary "Second Chance", by Trevor Philips, to hon. Members. It involved Ryan Williams, a black 15-year-old boy who was described as "rude, disruptive and unmanageable" in a report by his inner-city comprehensive in Putney. In the programme, he was moved to Downside boarding school in Somerset. Channel Four paid the fees. Ryan is currently studying for 10 GCSEs at his new school. He came top of his class in Latin and biology and is a leading member of the school rugby team. His report card puts him in the top third of pupils at the school.

Labour Members could argue that the improvement in Ryan's behaviour was due to the resources and smaller classes at the private school. Clearly, those aspects help. However, Ryan puts it down to the ethos of his adopted school with its stress on staff-student interaction and mutual respect. As Trevor Philips says: New Labour should concentrate less on 'dissing' public schools and ask how they can give excluded children an experience that is currently only available to the wealthy". Our education system is Britain's biggest problem today. High truancy, ill disciplined classes and poor literacy have major repercussions in increasing yobbish behaviour. A skills survey by Business in the Community published in October reports business as saying that school leavers turn up late to interviews and are improperly dressed, incapable of holding a conversation and poorly informed about business and world affairs. Businesses express concern over the lack of basic skills among school leavers, while universities

complain that students starting a maths degree with a good A-level maths grade need remedial teaching before they can start the course.

Those concerns will have a long-term impact on the economic well-being both of Britain and of the individuals whom the state has let down. If we do not tackle the ethos in our state schools, we shall let down millions of youngsters, particularly those from the low socio-economic groups. It is time, I believe, to stop arguing about structures such as the role and responsibility of local education authorities, grammar schools versus comprehensives, specialist schools and city technology colleges. We have been arguing over them and changing those structures for decades, with few beneficial results.

We need absolute concentration by everyone on standards, not on trying to prove that standards are improving when the public know that they are not. That is old politics and people are fed up with it, whichever party is involved. We need a serious commitment to improving standards. It is easy for Ministers to confine their activities to changing structures, but we need a serious examination of what is being taught, and how. That is what parents want, and it is what all of us in the House who are genuinely concerned about our education system should want as well.

1.41 pm
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham)

I welcome the inclusion of licensing law reform in the Queen's Speech. I am a former chair of public health and development in Newcastle who was responsible for administering our shambolic system, so I think that the proposals are sensible ones that will bring our licensing laws into modern settings, which we all welcome.

My hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) mentioned the history of our licensing laws, but I went a little further back to find that the first law, which covered the supply of alcohol and its purity, was introduced in the 13th century. Then, there was a gap for a few hundred years in which little legislation was passed. Over the summer, I read a very good biography of Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire. Clearly, the election of Charles James Fox to this place suggests that there was little control over the supply of alcohol in the City of London.

The basis of the current legislation was introduced in the 19th century. Since then, the law has been built up piecemeal, which has been the problem. There has never been a comprehensive reform of licensing laws in this country, which is why the Bill will make history when it reaches the statute book. The law that provides that people must be 18 to drink in public houses was introduced in 1923, but we still have anachronisms such as the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds can drink cider with a meal in a public house.

When I was a councillor, I welcomed the publication of the 2000 White Paper, "Time for Reform". Indeed, it has been welcomed overall by those who administer licensing and by the trade, and I think that the Bill will receive a similar welcome from the general public.

We must not underestimate the entertainment industry's importance to this country's economy, as about 90 per cent. of the population drink alcohol regularly and 175,000 public houses, clubs, bars and other outlets serve alcohol. Also, we should not forget that the industry employs about 1 million people. Our tourism industry, which is also based largely on entertainment, contributes about £75 billion a year to the economy.

In Newcastle, I saw the advantages of the entertainment industry in terms of regeneration. Hon. Members might care to visit Newcastle's new quayside to see the vibrancy of that area, much of which is due to the inclusion of bars, cafes and restaurants in the redevelopment. So, what is wrong with the law as it stands? A lot, I would say: it is complex and inconsistent, as more than 40 licences and permissions may be involved in serving alcohol or holding entertainment in licensed premises.

A well-known example is the two-in-the-bar rule, which is connected with public entertainment licences. If a pub wishes to put on public entertainment, it first needs a liquor licence under the Licensing Act 1964, which is dispensed by the local magistrate; it then needs a public entertainment licence under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, which is provided by the local authority. However, there is a caveat in section 182 of the 1964 Act, which provides that pubs do not need a public entertainment licence for live performances by two or fewer musicians. Thus a licence is required for a string quartet, but not for two individuals with loud amplifiers. That shows the nonsense of that law.

There are other examples that show why licensing needs to be reformed. First, it is illegal for a police officer who is off duty and on his way home, but still in uniform, to buy a bottle of wine in an off-licence. Secondly, it is illegal for two friends to engage in quarrelsome behaviour in licensed premises. Thirdly and more remarkably, if a bottle of homemade wine is given as a tombola prize at a village fete, a liquor licence is required. More remarkable still is the fact that it is illegal, the House will be pleased to know, for two prostitutes to drink together in a public house, whereas one can drink there alone.

When people discuss the sale and control of alcohol, they usually concentrate on the protection of children. The present laws do not protect children at all. An adult can go out and buy an alcoholic drink in a pub, return to the beer garden and give it to a child as young as five. Furthermore, booze sold on boats is covered by no legislation, so if a group of 14-year-olds wants to go on a booze cruise down the Thames, they can do so quite legally. I am not having a go at Cambridge university, but it is apparently legal for it and an honourable company of vintners to sell wine without a licence.

The final anomaly that concerns many of my constituents is that there is no provision whatever for local people to have a say in the granting of licences. A magistrate can dispense a licence without taking local people's views into account.

My hon. Friend the Member for Selby mentioned the issues surrounding the 11 o'clock and 2 o'clock closing times, which create more public order problems in major cities than they solve. They also restrict tourism. Our licensing laws bemuse visitors to this country. In a few weeks' time in Newcastle, the annual Scandinavian Viking invasion will take place and will lead up to Christmas. It is difficult to explain to Scandinavians wandering around Newcastle at 11 pm why they cannot get a drink.

I welcome the idea of having one licence for licensed premises. It makes sense because it cuts down on red tape and makes it much easier to manage the system. I also welcome the provision of the personal licence, so that someone in control of a liquor licence will now have to be licensed. That will make matters much easier.

I support the retention of a legal drinking age of 18, but the Minister must be a little wary because under present law 16 and 17-year-olds can drink with meals with their families in licensed premises. That must be taken into account when we consider the Bill in detail.

The issue of flexible opening hours has already been raised. Sadly, the Bill has been portrayed in the press as somehow meaning 24-hour drinking. That is not what will happen. When I was chair of public health in Newcastle, there were two experiments in which we had no licensing hours: we had special licences for the Euro 96 football tournament in the city and for millennium eve. The amount of public disorder on those two occasions was far less than on a normal Friday or Saturday night. In practice, pubs did not open all night; they closed when people went home. Licensed premises will not be open all night without any customers. I do not think that they will be open 24 hours a day in many places.

The transfer of responsibility for liquor licensing to local authorities is controversial. I have already received letters from licensees in my constituency and from J.D. Wetherspoons arguing that that is a retrograde step. I am sorry, but I do not agree. The present system does not work, and we need a system whereby the people that take the decisions are publicly accountable. Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), I was initially in favour of a licensing board made up of councillors, police officers and magistrates, but that would create problems of public accountability. The way forward to deal with people's concerns about local authority responsibility is to lay down clear conditions. We should get the regulations right that give the conditions on which a liquor license may be refused or granted.

I would also make it compulsory for any councillor who serves on a licensing committee to have training, as is the practice in many councils for those on planning committees. Training should be a nationally recognised criterion. I would also ensure that there was an insistence on a political balance on licensing committees.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will resist the idea that liquor licenses could be refused on sufficiency—that is the numbers in a geographical area. My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is pushing for that. According to the licensed trade journal, the Morning Advertiser, he is concerned about the number of licences in an area, and believes that power should be granted to local authorities to restrict the numbers. That does not work. It was tried in Newcastle for quite a few years, and licensing magistrates in the city centre would not grant new licences. All that happens is a downgrading of what is on offer, and a proliferation of places that serve large volumes of alcohol and what are locally referred to as vertical drinking establishments—after some time, many of the customers are horizontal. It does not lead to the diversity that my hon. Friend the Member for Selby said these changes would introduce. I would strongly resist any such move. The way to manage numbers is to make the enforcement of the operation of those premises as tough as possible.

An omission that we should seriously consider is whether to make it compulsory for certain large establishments to have registered door supervisors. That scheme was pioneered in Newcastle, and it worked well in many other council areas.

I would ban the happy hour, which I believe leads to binge drinking. People are forced to drink large amounts of alcohol at a cheap price during a certain period. That leads to problems, and action in the Bill to ban or control that would be welcome.

This reform is long overdue. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Selby, I think that it is centuries overdue. It will bring this country into line with liquor licensing in Europe and elsewhere. It will also bring about responsible drinking. The binge drinking culture in this country does nothing for health and generates public disorder. I welcome the proposals, and I look forward to the Bill making swift progress through the House. I hope that it will help local residents and, more importantly, help an industry that is vital to this country.

1.54 pm
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

I have asked to speak about the licensing Bill, because I represent a brewing constituency. Shepherd Neame, which is the oldest family owned brewery in Britain, is based in Faversham. It is a sizeable local employer, and an enormously generous benefactor to many worthy local causes. However, I represent a large rural constituency and my patch contains many country pubs on the north downs and the east Weald. They are desperately concerned about their profitability and any increase in bureaucracy, or costs, would undoubtedly hit them very hard. Many of those pubs are more than simply pubs: they are the focus of village life. If any had to close, a severe blow would be dealt to the rural economy—and once closed, pubs almost never reopen. The Bill is therefore hugely important to a great many of my constituents.

I welcome many of the proposals enormously. The liberalisation of the laws to permit 24-hour opening is long overdue. It is ridiculous that, for many people in London, a night out stops at 11 pm. A night out with the Swale police during the summer recess convinced me of the foolishness of the present arrangement. It is, however, important for appropriate safeguards to be introduced for residents.

I also welcome the extra powers that will enable the police to deal with disorderly premises. This is clearly a public-order issue, which should have been tackled before.

It is also sensible to end many of the anachronisms that exist in the current Act, but I am worried about the transfer of licensing powers from the magistrates courts to local authorities. When it was trailed in the White Paper, we held a forum at the brewery in Faversham.

We invited many local authority representatives from all over Kent. They generally favoured the proposal, but an overwhelming majority of publicans and representatives of the brewery industry were firmly set against it. As the Secretary of State will know, 70,000 licensees were asked about the proposal in a poll conducted in September by a licensing magazine. A staggering 94 per cent. supported the retention of control by magistrates.

While I recognise that the current system is not perfect, it enjoys the support and confidence of the country's licensees. They also have a number of specific anxieties, with which I hope the Secretary of State will deal. The first concerns independence. Magistrates are independent of local politics and constituency pressures. Like many other Members throughout the House, I write regularly to local authorities to try and influence decisions; I would not dream of writing in the same way to magistrates.

Local authorities also have a valid role in objecting to licences or their conditions. They cannot be both judge and jury. The loss of a licence often leads to loss of livelihood. I am not a lawyer, but a lawyer told me that the granting of this power to local authorities would have important indications for human rights.

There is also the question of local knowledge. Good licensing requires knowledge of local criminals and their haunts. Magistrates have such knowledge, but I am afraid that council officials do not. Then there is the question of respect. Licensees have great respect for the courts, to which they are ultimately answerable. If the contents of my mailbag are anything to go by, I must say that, sadly, that is not true of local authorities.

Speed is essential in the event of sudden changes caused by the death of a licensee or by the licensee's taking up a new occupation, or by unpredictable occasions such as celebrations, sporting replays or rescheduling. Magistrates can make decisions quickly—it is, after all, their job—but local authorities generally do not, at least according to my experience of the planning system.

Bureaucracy is another issue. The White Paper has given each pub the task of producing an operating plan. Apart from the expense, the extra form filling will be detested by publicans. Good pubs, which we do not want to penalise, will of course comply; bad pubs, almost inevitably, will not, and it will take a huge amount of extra time and effort to track them down.

There is the question of music, as is demonstrated by early-day motion 1182, signed by 233 Members during the last Session. And, of course, there is the question of costs. Magistrates currently administer the licensing system for a fee of £10 a year. The new fee has yet to be announced, but I cannot imagine that it will match that amount.

I welcome much of the Bill, but I have serious reservations about the proposal to transfer licensing from magistrates to local authorities. Magistrates are quick, generally consistent, cost-effective, independent and impartial; they understand crime and local criminals; and, critically, they have the huge respect of licensees.

I go back to the survey: 94 per cent. of licensees want to keep the current system of magistrates licensing. It is a powerful endorsement. I urge the Government to take notice of it when formulating the proposals.

2 pm

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford)

We have had a wide-ranging and well-informed debate. A number of the contributions have been on education, the first subject on the Order Paper. Perhaps that is unsurprising given the crisis that now afflicts our education system, yet all the Queen's Speech has to offer to improve the education system is a promise to bring forward proposals for reform of universities, a commitment that most people seem to believe will turn out to be the introduction of top-up fees

I shall not repeat the many excellent points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green). My hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) also made an extremely well informed and thoughtful speech. While it is not for me to comment, I hope that the Secretary of State and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford will study carefully the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, because his arguments were persuasive.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) was right to express some disappointment that the Secretary of State did not spend more time talking about the Government's policies and less time asking questions of the Opposition parties, but that perhaps is an indication of the dearth of thinking on the Government side on the subject of education.

The hon. Gentleman told us of the unfortunate fire that took place in his constituency office last night. We are glad that it was brought under control. We noted that the Fire Brigades Union chief officer went to see him to offer his moral support. It might have been better if the hon. Gentleman had rung up the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for his constituency, Mike Penning, who has eight years' experience as a firefighter and may have helped him to put the fire out.

During this debate, no Liberal Democrat Member has mentioned any of the issues covered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That shows the priority that the Liberal Democrats attach to those important issues.

I want to concentrate on the measures in the Queen's Speech that are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Unlike the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, she cannot be accused of doing nothing: she has two substantial Bills, although each is a little late in coming. It was clear that there would need to be further legislation dealing with the ownership rules and regulation of the media almost before the last Broadcasting Bill passed on to the statute book in 1996.

I once wrote a pamphlet on media ownership laws and I was extremely flattered that the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) appears to have read it. He is a member of a rather small but well informed group and I congratulate him on having managed to get hold of the pamphlet. It is something of an embarrassment to discover that the liberalisation of the rules that I argued for strongly at that time is finally being enacted by the Government. I have no hesitation in welcoming the broad thrust of the new Bill. We strongly support its provisions to allow greater cross-media ownership, consolidation and foreign investment and to move towards a regime where the media industries are treated under the same competition rules as other industries.

I was particularly pleased and surprised when the Government reversed their declared policy of retaining the bar on non-European ownership of our broadcasting companies. I was even more heartened when the Government stuck to their guns and resisted the calls of the Joint Scrutiny Committee that considered the Communications Bill to reverse their position. I have no doubt that the issue of foreign ownership will be much debated in the coming months, but we will support the Government in their robustly pro-market position.

The Government have shown an encouraging willingness to move still further in the direction of a competitive market in broadcasting. We welcome yesterday's announcement by the Secretary of State that the Government intend to allow an even greater relaxation of the local ownership rules. We will support the right hon. Lady in that. Indeed, we might even press her to go a little further. We also hope that her open-minded approach to the Bill will continue and that she will perhaps consider other areas for greater liberalisation, such as the rules governing the ownership of ITN, the restrictions on cross-media ownership and the disqualification of religious broadcasters. However, lest I give the impression that we can all agree on the Bill and that therefore it will complete its passage through the Standing Committee in just a few hours, let me say that it requires close and detailed scrutiny.

There is one area in which we strongly disagree with the Government's approach. Whatever consolidations and takeovers take place in the media sectors following the passage of the Bill, for the foreseeable future there will remain one broadcaster whose dominant position is likely to remain unchallenged—that is, of course, the BBC. That is because of its dominance, because it is owned by the state and because it is financed by a compulsory poll tax, which is enforced by criminal law. It has obligations and duties which do not apply to any other broadcaster. It has a public service remit and it is subject to strict controls on its commercial activities, yet unlike other broadcasters, responsibility for ensuring that it meets the requirements upon it and for adjudicating on complaints about its activities rests not with the new regulator, but with its own board of governors. Yet the BBC is most in need of external accountability and independent adjudication. That need has become more serious as in recent months the BBC has become increasingly powerful and aggressive. At a time when the commercial broadcasting companies are struggling because of the advertising downturn, the BBC is enjoying steadily increasing revenue and is adopting an increasingly aggressive commercial approach. It is competing in the market to buy rights; it is scheduling its most popular programmes with an eye to winning a ratings battle and it is launching new channels and services which in some cases are almost carbon copies of those that are already available commercially.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) said at the end of his speech, in the past few weeks the debate about the role and financing of the BBC has grown louder and there is an increasing level of discontent among people who do not see why they should be forced to pay for services that they do not necessarily want when they are already paying for services that they do want. The Government first tried to argue that now was not the time for this debate and then appeared to dismiss the alternatives before the debate had even started. The Bill offers an opportunity to begin the debate about the role of public service broadcasting in general and the BBC in particular, and we intend to take that opportunity.

Mr. Rendel

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me and with the Public Accounts Committee that it is high time the BBC was part of the audit conducted by the National Audit Office and therefore open to inspection by the PAC?

Mr. Whittingdale

I am in favour of the BBC being subject to as much external examination as possible and that is certainly worth considering.

I now turn to the second Bill for which the right hon. Lady is responsible: the alcohol and entertainment licensing Bill, about which there have been a number of contributions today. Having been promised to thousands of first-time voters through text messages in the run-up to the general election, it is good to see that the Bill has finally arrived. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) and the hon. Members for North Durham (Mr. Jones) and for Selby, I broadly welcome the overall thrust of the Bill: to liberalise the existing laws on the licensing and sale of alcohol. However, the Government appear to be trying to have it both ways. They are trying to portray the Bill as a liberalising measure that will be welcomed by young people and at the same time they say that it is part of their strategy for tackling antisocial behaviour. We are willing to accept the Government's claim that allowing flexible opening hours will result in less thuggish behaviour from drunken louts, but we shall want to examine the evidence. We shall also be looking for safeguards for local residents, particularly in areas where there is already a high concentration of late-night drinking establishments.

Mr. Kevan Jones

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Whittingdale

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have very little time.

We do not believe that the case has been properly made for the decision to transfer the responsibility for issuing licences from magistrates to local authorities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent said, many licensees are fearful that the new regime may turn out to be slower, inconsistent, more expensive and more bureaucratic. I was interested in the contribution of the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), which was based on his experience in the Home Office. He talked about a mixed licensing board, and I hope that we will debate that suggestion in the coming months.

The Government have clearly made up their mind on the issue. We shall therefore seek to ensure that a Bill that is supposed to be deregulatory does not end up imposing even more regulation. In particular, the sensible principle of splitting the licensing of premises from the issue of a licence to a person is severely undermined by requiring the personal licensee to be named on the premises licence. That will mean that, instead of simplifying the existing procedure when a manager changes, it will be just as, if not more, complicated. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent was absolutely right. We will want to be assured that, rather than saving money for the licensee, the new system will not result in a significant increase in costs just when many small public houses are struggling to survive.

We are also concerned that, with the proposal for entertainments licensing, the Government may end up with a more restrictive system than we have now. The hon. Member for North Durham was right to say that the two-in-a-bar rule is widely accepted to be outdated and anomalous, and it has been the subject of a campaign by musicians that has been widely supported in the House. However, the Government are now proposing that an entertainments licence, as part of the premises licence, will be required even for one performer, and the exclusion of the current exemption from the transitional arrangements has raised fears that the Bill will lead to more bureaucracy for those pubs that currently do not need to apply for a licence. Finally, it is clear that the guidance that is to be issued to local authorities will be crucial in assessing the effects of the Bill. I hope therefore that the Secretary of State can assure us that this guidance will be published at the same time as the Bill so that it can be properly scrutinised.

One Bill that had been expected but that is not in the Queen's Speech is the gambling Bill. Following the report of the gambling review body, it has been clear that there is widespread support for reform of the existing laws, many of which are arcane and anomalous. Indeed, the Minister for Sport described them as woefully out of date, hard to understand, inflexible and difficult to amend. He rightly added: Businesses are saying that they are being held back".—[Official Report, 5 July 2002; Vol. 388, c. 514.] Yet measures to put that right are absent from the legislative programme. At the very least, the Government should set up a shadow gambling commission, as we have been calling for. It would give the industry confidence and greater certainty about the future.

Once again, there is no mention of perhaps the biggest and most important industry for which the Secretary of State's Department is responsible: the tourism industry. A fortnight ago, she effectively announced the abolition of the English Tourism Council, which has been swallowed up by the British Tourist Authority. It will be interesting to know whether, in due course, that will require legislation, as the ETC was created by statute. Such legislation would allow us to raise our concern that, unlike Scotland and Wales, England now has no national voice. Instead, it appears that these reforms are once again being driven by the Government's regional agenda.

To turn to another failure by the Government to deliver on their promises, where is the Bill to amend the law on charitable purposes to make sport a charitable purpose in its own right? The Government made a clear promise in the 2001 Budget that community and amateur sports clubs would be given mandatory rate relief. Instead, the Government have tried to wriggle out of that promise by suggesting that clubs should apply for charitable status if they could demonstrate that they were promoting community participation in healthy recreation. Yet many clubs do not want to be answerable to the charity commissioners in their internal running, or to take on the extra administrative burden that it entails. The result is that just 334 out of well over 100,000 community and amateur sports clubs have actually applied. The Government should deliver on their promise to deliver mandatory rate relief as part of the Treasury's tax package.

While I am discussing sport, I should congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). He made a powerful case in support of a 2012 Olympic bid for London. I am also grateful to him for advocating the case of Stratford, which is close to my constituency in Essex, and not the alternative on the other side of London. We share his enthusiasm for the bid. It will need to be credible, with plans for the necessary infrastructure and a well established legacy. We believe that there is a strong case for London to bid for the games, and we hope that the Government will come forward soon with proposals.

I also agree with the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner), who made a powerful case for more sport in schools. I spent most of my school days trying to avoid playing sport, but I share his wish to have more sport in schools. We agree with him about the importance of that matter.

There is a lot more going on in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that I would have liked to raise, but I am conscious that, because of the number of contributions to the debate—all of which were well worth listening to—there is no time to do so now. I close by saying merely that the two Bills that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has managed to get into the Queen's Speech are welcome, although we shall of course want to examine them closely. It is the absence from the Gracious Speech of any measures to tackle the issues that I have mentioned that is the real mark of the right hon. Lady's and the Government's failure.

2.15 pm
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)

The debate has been both wide ranging and thoughtful and I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed. I mention in particular the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), who emphasised the tremendous success of the Government's policy on free access to museums—a flagship policy that is a direct expression of the Government's commitment to access to excellence for everyone.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) spoke about the Olympics. I note that his complete acceptance of the figures in the Arup report has resulted in his making, on behalf of his party, a £2 billion spending commitment. The Government are considering extremely carefully that report and the case for bidding for the 2012 Olympics. A decision will be made against criteria of affordability, deliverability and legacy. The hon. Gentleman is right about those issues. In the spirit of openness and transparency that we think should characterise that important discussion, there will be a parliamentary debate, if not before Christmas, then certainly before the Government make a decision.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) made an excellent speech in which he set out proposals on how to increase the amount of sport played in schools. I will say more about that later.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) on his speech and thank him for his contribution to his work on the Joint Committee. I note his point about the strength of the obligation in the communications Bill in respect of regional broadcasting. No doubt, that will be debated as the Bill passes through its parliamentary stages.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), who has long experience of licensing matters. In connection with the concerns that have been raised, let me underline the fact that the control of the density of licensed premises is a responsibility of both the licensing regime and the planning system.

Like the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) for his extremely thoughtful speech.

I shall concentrate on the points that arise from my Department's responsibility. Several speeches by Opposition Members reminded me of GK Chesterton's words: Since Dickens no one in England has cared for the people's pleasure—the Tories hate the people and the Liberals hate pleasure. As he turns in his grave, Chesterton must be saying, "Thank goodness for a new Labour Government." That point is underlined by the absence of their spokesmen from the Liberal Democrats' Front Bench.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills made much of the close working relationship between our Departments. That relationship is important if we are to instil in this country's children and young people a sense of pride and purpose. That sense of talent and creativity being unlocked that sport and the arts can, almost uniquely, bring provides a good example of the way in which participation in sport and creativity is both a means to an end and an end in itself. In the coming year, in 16 of the most deprived parts of the country, creative partnerships will bring the expertise of creative people—sculptors, actors, poets and musicians—into schools to support the curriculum, to improve creativity and to raise standards, as well as to grow the audiences for great cultural events of tomorrow.

I shall say a few words about the importance that we attach to investment in sport in schools. In many of the areas that we inherited as a Government, we inherited degradation and decay. The state of school sport after 18 years of Conservative Government is an example of degradation and decay. We are committed to rebuilding the opportunity to play sport and to compete in sport as part of every child's life.

We are already investing in 2,000 professional and dedicated sports staff to drive up the quality of school sport. We are investing also more than £1 billion in rebuilding the infrastructure that makes playing high-quality sport possible. We are impatient for sport and we are impatient for progress. We shall bring better quality teaching of sport and more after-school activity. That is already being shown in the school sport partnership areas. There are more competitive inter-school fixtures. Again, that is a break with the past, when the Conservative Government devastated the opportunity of state schools to take part in competitive sport. Links are being made between schools and local sports clubs so that children who are talented and gifted in sport face no obstacle to their ambition other than the extent of their talent and ambition.

Mr. Damian Green

The right hon. Lady has talked a lot about school sport. Will she give a commitment to stop selling off school playing fields?

Tessa Jowell

The hon. Gentleman is a spokesperson of the party that sold off about 5,000 school playing fields. We are investing in new playing fields. The only playing fields that will be sold off are those that have no use or are being replaced as a result of the new investment. I hope that we shall hear no more from the Conservative party on this issue. We have their crocodile tears only now for the sale of school playing fields during the 18 years when Conservative Governments were in power.

Sport is important for individuals, and a good sports policy is a health policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, who I know gave notice that he had to leave the Chamber before the end of the debate, described the impact of obesity. Sport is also a good education policy and a good anti-crime policy. During the summer, in areas of particularly high street crime where summer splash schemes operated, street crime fell by 22 per cent. In areas that did not have these summer camps with a heavy sports focus, street crime fell by only 5 per cent.

In a changing world, our institutions and regulations must also change to reflect the new ways in which we work and the new services that we consume. They must protect our interests as citizens and as consumers in a way that responds to the world as it is and as it is becoming, and not be frozen in the past. It is in this spirit of modernisation, reform and focus on individuals that we bring forward the Communications Bill and the Alcohol and Entertainment Licensing Bill.

The Communications Bill was considered in draft by a Joint Committee of both Houses during the previous Session. It will be the focus for our determination to create the most dynamic and competitive communications industry in the world. Change is perhaps nowhere faster and greater in scale than in the world of communications. It took thirty years to go from one to four television stations, from three to four radio stations, but now we have over 200 TV channels and over 100 national and local radio stations. The Alcohol and Entertainment Licensing Bill will encourage a more civilised culture in pubs, bars and restaurants and increase choice for consumers. It will be based on clear objectives—preventing crime; reducing disorder and public nuisance; ensuring public safety; and protecting children from harm. Existing laws have neither encouraged the emergence of a civilised cafè society nor prevented the growth of drink-related antisocial behaviour. It is time to fulfil our commitment to change the rules.

Both measures confirm our commitment to deregulate wherever possible. Being in favour of deregulation does not mean being in favour of a free-for-all. I shall outline briefly the principles of the regulatory regimes that we are creating in the two Bills. They aim to secure the protection of citizens and consumers, make room for businesses to invest, innovate and compete, and be responsive to the changing demands of consumers. Regulations must be justified, and will be removed if they are not. They must be proportionate, targeted, clear and predictable, providing a sound basis for investment decisions. They must not be burdensome to carry out and are to be as light-touch as possible, but that does not mean light for those who breach the rules, for whom regulatory action should be swift, effective, and as painful as necessary to ensure that public and commercial interests are protected.

The licensing Bill, as the House will be aware, was published this morning. I greatly welcome the broad consensus on the need for reform, which is tackled in a Bill that recognises that our licensing laws are outdated. Problems arising from alcohol consumption include noise, disorder, nuisance and drink-related crime, so the Bill clamps down on the antisocial behaviour perpetrated by the minority. It is a major plank of the Government's drive in the Queen's Speech to tackle antisocial behaviour. It gets rid of six existing licensing regimes, a simplification has been widely welcomed by the industry. Other measures include new police powers to close licensed premises without notice for up to 24 hours where disorder is occurring. Most widely trailed, there will be potential for 24-hour opening seven days a week to help minimise, not increase, the public disorder which results from artificially early closing.

The desire to deregulate also extends to the Communications Bill, which will give powers to a single regulator, Ofcom. It will reform the rules on media ownership but will not let broadcasting standards or quality slip. It will give Ofcom concurrent powers with the Office of Fair Trading to enforce general competition law in the communications sector for the benefit of business and consumers alike. Importantly, it implements European Commission directives on electronic networks and services.

Sport is facing change, and in the few minutes that I have left I should like to reaffirm unequivocally the Government's commitment to maintain funding for its elite sports men and women as they prepare for the 2004 Olympics. Whatever slur the Opposition try to inflict, however they distort the position to create anxiety among our athletes, what they assert is simply not the case.

The Queen's Speech introduces two Bills of a deregulatory nature that are the responsibility of my Department. They build on wide consultation with the industry and represent consensus. Most important of all, they are about the people's pleasure—they are about enriching and improving quality of life for people up and down the country, and I commend them to the House.

Debate adjourned.—[Dan Norris.]

Debate to be resumed on Monday 18 November