House of Commons
Thursday 15 March 2007
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Education and Skills
The Secretary of State was asked—
My colleagues and I have regular meetings with and correspondence from representatives of all sectors, as well as early years providers, including those providing the entitlement to 12.5 hours early education or care for three and four-year-old children for 36 weeks of the year. It is this Government who introduced the entitlement and guaranteed that it is and will remain completely free to all parents who wish to take it up.
Does the Minister share my concern that at a time when we read that one of the leading chains of nurseries is planning to close down 10 of its 13 facilities, this will be repeated across the country? I have had reports of that happening in my constituency, Ilford, North.
If that were the case, yes, I would be concerned. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), who speaks from the Front Bench, have stated that that chain has closed. From our information, I understand that that is not accurate. The chain has changed hands, as such businesses do, but we cannot find any reports of intentions to reduce places. That rumour and a number of other comments from Opposition Members are untrue. In fact, there has been increasing stability in the market over recent years, particularly for private providers. That reflects both the investment that we are making and our commitment to maintaining a diverse sector.
As always, there are two sides to the argument. What representations has my right hon. Friend received from parents about their entitlement to free care? Sometimes parents are asked to top up what should be a free entitlement, and they are unaware of their right to an excellent scheme for helping them and their children.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s contribution. It is in parents’ interests that we ensure that providers and local authorities understand that this is a free entitlement. That is the point of it. We do not want to discriminate between parents who could afford to pay top-up fees and those who could not. From my discussions with local authorities and the broad swathe of providers, I am convinced that the £3 billion a year that the Government are committing to this free offer is sufficient. Provided that it is administered properly by local authorities—we are looking at that—there is no reason at all for any provider to ask for a top-up fee, and we will certainly not allow them to do so.
I am delighted to see the Minister back in her place. We are all agreed that we want to see more child care, rather than less, but the Minister must accept that the free entitlement is not free, that in large measure the local authorities are not passing all the costs on to providers, and that the providers are using the extra half-hour over and above the statutory entitlement to subsidise the cost. To a large extent, the Government have had this child care cheap. Does the right hon. Lady accept that there is a mixed economy in respect of provision? Will she come clean and say what will happen when the code of practice applies to the pilot areas, and clear up any confusion? There is great uncertainty on the part of providers about what will happen from 1 April.
I know that the hon. Lady is keen to develop a campaign on the issue, but the points that she makes here and elsewhere are simply not true. They are causing needless concern for parents. The experience over the vast swathe of the country is that the money going through local authorities is sufficient. In some instances the way in which it is being allocated by local authorities should be examined. I am sure she is aware that that is why on 7 March we launched a consultation document on schools, early years and 14-to-16 funding, including specific proposals which, if they are supported, will ensure better alignment in allocation across the sectors in local authorities where that might not be the case. I am convinced that the £3 billion is sufficient and that the provision must remain, as it is at present, free to parents at the point of access. We will not have the kind of two-tier system that the hon. Lady wants. We do not want vouchers and we will not allow discrimination—
Teacher vacancies in local authority maintained schools went down between January 2005 and January 2006 by 250, to reach 2,230 posts, which is broadly the same percentage as it was 10 years ago. We expect that vacancy figures for January 2007 will be published on 26 April.
Will the Minister accept that the large number of supply teachers in all too many schools, particularly as head teachers, French teachers and maths teachers, is not only very bad for morale in the common room, but harms children’s education? What more is he going to do to make sure that we have more permanent head teachers, French teachers and maths teachers?
We have commissioned a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers on leadership in schools. We are doing a series of things involving the National College for School Leadership in respect of head teachers. Lord Dearing published his report this week on language teaching, and we are addressing some of the recommendations. The statistics on maths teachers are very encouraging, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning launched some new measures for science, technology and maths this week. The overall picture is that we have more than 36,000 more teachers than we did 10 years ago, and we have added 140,000 more support staff so that teachers can concentrate on teaching. The general trend is extremely positive.
My constituency lies right on the boundary with inner London, where there is a significant enhancement for teachers through London weighting. Although the areas and the schools are very similar, my area finds it difficult to attract teachers against that competition. Will my hon. Friend consider the issue to see whether there is any way in which he can make a more level playing field, so that the schools in my area can attract teachers to work in Enfield?
My hon. Friend has been assiduous in raising that concern with the ministerial team. We will continue to look at the success that we have achieved through the chartered London teacher scheme, London Challenge and Teach First. A series of measures is making sure that London schools are getting the leadership that they need and that we are getting the quality of teachers that we need to continue the exceptional improvement in the quality of education in London schools, which is ahead of that in the rest of the country.
We have heard the figures on teacher vacancies. According to the most recent figures, however, 25 per cent. of newly qualified secondary school teachers and 26 per cent. of newly qualified primary school teachers were not in full-time employment six months after they graduated. Does the Minister agree that that is a real concern? What does he plan to do about it? And what implications does it have for the Government’s recruitment campaign for teachers?
We have to get the right balance. I have received a number of letters from hon. Members representing constituents who have trained as teachers and who are struggling to find posts. We have to balance that against the concerns raised by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay). There are particular subjects such as languages, maths and science where we need to improve the supply of teachers. Although the vacancy rate for head teachers is broadly what it was 10 years ago, there is a future challenge in terms of succession planning. We have to strike that balance. The level of supply is broadly in tune with the level of demand, but there will always be some geographical disparities.
Since 1997, education has been this Government’s top priority. We have doubled spending per pupil, and there are now 36,000 more teachers and 150,000 more support staff. We are investing more than £1 billion in personalising learning by 2008. The secondary national strategy is improving the quality of teaching and learning with training and support for teachers. Our 14-to-19 reforms, including the introduction of diplomas, will enhance our focus on functional skills. Attainment has increased at all levels in secondary schools since 1997, and the number of schools with fewer than 25 per cent. of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs is down from 616 in 1997 to 47 this year, and 85,000 more students achieve that standard each year.
Will the Secretary of State explain why in Milton Keynes, where we are having to build new schools, English Partnerships will charge full price to the local authority for a piece of land if a secondary school is being built, but if the same site is used for a primary school, it will transfer the land at zero cost? Why is there an imbalance between the two different types of school? Since the Secretary of State has such commitment to secondary education, will he look at the matter? And will he meet a delegation from Milton Keynes to discuss it?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that some of the figures that are coming out about the success of extended schools are quite remarkable and should be applauded? Will he begin a campaign to get more Members of Parliament to go out and visit more schools? As I go round the country visiting secondary schools, I see improving achievement, whereas many Conservative Members seem only ever to have been to the independent schools that they were raised in.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am getting to the age when as I look around at the new intake, some of them look as though they have just left secondary school. I think that we would all agree that it is a very fulfilling experience to go and visit our local schools—much more so now than it was 10 years ago.
The Secretary of State is no doubt aware of the decline in the study of languages in secondary schools, following the Government’s decision to relax the curriculum. We all want to see the study of languages prosper, and we now have the Dearing proposals to try to address the problem. Does the Secretary of State believe that following those proposals there will be an increase in the number of candidates in our secondary schools for public examinations in languages at GCSE and A-level?
Lord Dearing has done a valuable task, and his report is full of good sense. We have accepted his principal recommendation that we should make languages compulsory in primary schools, and we will do so at the next available opportunity when we review that key stage. As for children in secondary schools, we need to do much more to encourage schools to go for a much higher benchmark. On Saturday, I was at Wakefield city high school, which is in the middle of a council estate and has a large intake of pupils who have free school meals. The number of students taking languages has not changed since we moved from compulsion to entitlement. That is because of inspirational, very good-quality languages teaching and a method of teaching that enthuses youngsters. That represents a large part of Lord Dearing’s recommendations, and we should ensure that it happens in every secondary school.
I thank the Secretary of State for visiting Wakefield city high school with me on Saturday, when its inspirational head teacher, Alan Yellop, told us how he took a school where just 7 per cent. of pupils were getting five good A to C grades at GCSE in 1994 to one that is not only performing above the national average in absolute terms but is in the top 5 per cent. of the country, in value-added terms, for maths. Will my right hon. Friend urgently consider the need for capital financing to rebuild that school? Following our tour, I am sure that he will agree that we urgently need a significant investment in the school to ensure that its high-quality teaching and inspirational leadership continue.
There we have it. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), I can say that MPs are not only visiting schools but doing so on a Saturday. [Interruption.] There were children in attendance. My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is a tremendous school with tremendous leadership, great teaching and improved results. The capital spend needs to go in, because the school is in a poor condition. We understand that. That is why we are refurbishing and rebuilding every single secondary school and have targeted the capital funding available to local authorities to deal with schools such as Wakefield city high. I hope that that school will soon have an infrastructure to match its tremendous teaching.
The Secretary of State will know that one of the measures that the Government have taken to improve secondary schools is to allow them to move to trust status. Ryeish Green school in my constituency is undergoing a consultation on closure. It is a much improved school that wants to be a trust school, and it looks as though it has the strong support of a very good local organisation. The only problem is that the local education authority needs some persuasion. Will the Secretary of State meet people from the school, the local education authority and me to bring all parties together to ensure that this opportunity to raise secondary school standards is taken?
Educational achievement in Hartlepool has doubled in a decade, facilitated largely by a doubling of spend per pupil by the Labour Government. Whereas fewer than 30 per cent. of pupils in 1996 achieved five good GCSEs, 60 per cent. now achieve that. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, following the current comprehensive spending review, which is acknowledged to be tighter than previous rounds, education will continue to be a central focus of the Government’s policy so that pupils in Hartlepool can continue to benefit from rising standards and increasing spending?
The achievement in Hartlepool is truly remarkable. It should be a beacon to other areas of the country, which have similar circumstances but have not managed the same achievement.
I obviously cannot comment on the comprehensive spending review. However, we are locking £66 billion of funding into the Department this year—record amounts are being spent on education and I hope that we will retain that and have a real-terms increase on top.
Despite the record spending on education and the plethora of initiatives that the Secretary of State has described this morning, only 75 per cent. of youngsters this year reached the level expected of them in key stage 2 tests in English, maths and science. Is it not time that the Secretary of State took on the left-wing, liberal establishment, which dominates education, brought an end to all-ability comprehensive schools and mixed teaching classes, and introduced traditional methods of teaching English?
The reference to liberals certainly created a stir on the Liberal Democrat Benches.
The hon. Gentleman talks about 75 per cent. achievement in three subjects at key stage 2. He needs to consider the position in 1997, since when a tremendous amount of progress has been made. That is due not to politicians, educationists or civil servants, but to teachers and head teachers. They do a tremendous job.
Much of changing the culture has to do with building aspiration, especially, as I said yesterday, among working-class boys. That matter is being addressed, but with a teaching profession that is in better shape. There are more teachers and they comprise probably the best cohort of teachers that we have ever had in this country—whether they are left-wing liberals is a matter for them.
My right hon. Friend rightly says that the key to raising standards is good teaching. Yet time and again, the Select Committee in its investigations finds deficiencies in teacher training. Teachers will face far more demands in future with the changing curriculum. When will my right hon. Friend examine the content of teacher training courses for initial training and continuous professional development to ensure that we have a teaching work force that is adequately trained for the demands of the 21st century?
I very much agree with that sentiment. If it were in my gift—which it is not—my hon. Friend would be a Minister. She raised an important point, which the Select Committee has made on occasions. Its distinguished Chair is sitting near my hon. Friend—perhaps another ministerial job approaches?
Both my hon. Friends would agree that we have done much to improve teacher training and the work that goes into that from the Training and Development Agency and others. Much work is going into school leadership and getting teachers to aspire to it. The challenge of introducing diplomas and the various other measures that we are taking requires us to redouble our efforts to ensure that our teacher training and our career professional development is of the highest quality that we can make it. We are working towards that and I believe that we share that objective with my hon. Friends.
Further to the Secretary of State’s answer to the previous question, does he agree that the curriculum is critical to raising standards in secondary schools? Given his comments last week about the danger of the new diplomas going horribly wrong and becoming “secondary-modern” qualifications, will he now rethink and implement Tomlinson in full?
No, I will not, although I understand the balance of the arguments over Tomlinson. Tomlinson himself, of course, is now our diploma champion, to use a terrible term, with the education profession and he says that the report provided 90 per cent. of what he was looking for. I actually think it would be wrong—for parents, for pupils, for everyone—just to throw everything up in the air and get rid of the A-level, which has been our gold standard since the early 1950s, when we have this opportunity for children to follow such diverse routes. They can go down the GCSE, the A-level, the international baccalaureate or the diploma route.
Incidentally, while I have the opportunity to say so, I was giving an honest answer to an honest question. I said that diplomas are so difficult and radical that they could go badly wrong. Short of saying that introducing these diplomas will be a breeze, we have to acknowledge that it could go wrong, but we are determined that it will not, which is why we are putting considerable resources and effort into ensuring that this most radical change takes off and becomes the success that we all hope it will be.
The reference to the left-wing liberal establishment by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who I believe is a refugee from teaching, encourages me to my feet. Does the Secretary of State agree that the sort of genuinely comprehensive schools of which I am a governor—Ibstock community college and Ashby school in north-west Leicestershire—provide very high-quality education and a model for all types of local education authority? Does he further agree that it is no surprise that genuinely comprehensive LEAs outscore and outpoint parts of the country, such as Kent, Buckinghamshire and Northern Ireland, in respect of the quality of education supplied?
I agree that all-ability, non-selective schools right across the country are good schools. Some of them are comprehensive, some are academies and some are trust schools, but what we should focus on is not the terminology, but whether or not the schools are good. Where they are good schools, it is not particularly because they are labelled comprehensive or anything else, but because of good leadership, good teaching and a good ethos in the school. I accept that it is the all-ability, non-selective feature that is important, and we need to continue to hammer home the fact that that is the way forward. There are still some people harking back to a golden age, though not the Conservative party nowadays—[Interruption.] No, not the Front Benchers, and perhaps not many behind them. All our experience suggests that the sort of schools of which my hon. Friend is a governor produce astounding results year after year. We want to ensure that every school is in the same situation.
One of the main focuses of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s secondary curriculum review appears to be to encourage schools to move away from discrete academic subjects towards more joint subject teaching and themes. The QCA’s director of curriculum thinks it would be “lovely” if the PE teacher turned up in the history lesson, and Professor John White, an external adviser to the curriculum review, believes:
“The academic, subject-based curriculum is a middle-class creation”
“rationale has long fallen away”.
Will the Secretary of State ensure that quality and rigour are maintained in our curriculum, and can he reassure the House that the revised curriculum is not being used as a pretext to impose a potentially damaging and untested educational fad on our schools?
It is not too difficult for me to give the hon. Gentleman those assurances. The reason why we are so keen to introduce functional skills, for instance, in English, maths and science is to ensure that we make life more difficult for ourselves by having an absolutely staunch benchmark that we can test against. As to the points that the hon. Gentleman raised, I see the views of educational theorists all the time and some of them are very interesting. I would point out that Lord Dearing made an important point in his report this week—that languages can be introduced to other subjects to make them more interesting. He made the point that it could be helpful if sports or history and geography lessons had a languages dimension.
Colleges have benefited from our 48 per cent. real-terms increase in further education funding between 1997 and 2005-06. We have realigned funding to support our priorities and, as I announced today, we have met our interim adult level 2 target, with 1 million more adults with essential employability skills in the work force since 2002. Also, more than 1.6 million learners have achieved skills for life qualifications in literacy, language and numeracy.
I thank the Minister for that response. He will be aware that Cornwall has a low wage economy and very low levels of adult skills. As a result of the funding changes, Cornwall college has had 10,000 fewer applicants for adult courses this year, not only for recreational courses but for technical equipment courses and even for courses for those with learning disabilities. What assessment has the Minister made of the economic impact of the funding changes on deprived areas with low levels of skills, such as Cornwall?
We are continually evaluating the shift in adult provision to ensure that it is having the right beneficial economic effects. The train-to-gain initiative, which offers a radical commitment to ensure that every adult in the work place who does not have the equivalent of five good GCSEs gets a guarantee of that educational training, is a move in the right direction. We are increasing funding, but there is also a shift in priorities away from short courses towards longer provision that will have a more beneficial impact. I announced this morning that we have got 1 million more adults up to level 2 in the past five years. That is a significant achievement that will benefit the whole country, including people in Cornwall.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about more adults coming into employment. Will he also consider increasing key and basic skills training in inner-city areas such as Birmingham, where we need to offer better provision to get more lone parents re-engaged in education and back into employment?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are absolutely right to focus on the level 2 commitment, because that is the minimum platform for sustainable employment in the work force. However, we also need to ensure that the stepping stone provision below level 2 is protected. I think that that is the kind of provision to which my hon. Friend is referring. The introduction of the foundation learning tier, which we have made clear will be guaranteed as resources become available over time, is the kind of commitment that he and his constituents are looking for.
The Minister will know that Macclesfield is fortunate, in that it will shortly have a virtually new college as part of the learning zone, for which the people there are very grateful. Does he accept that there is a growing need for vocational training, particularly for adults, in order to fulfil the needs of local industry and commerce? Will he come to Macclesfield to visit the college when it opens later this year, to discuss adult education with the corporation and me?
I am happy to accept the plaudits about the capital transformation of further education colleges that is taking place up and down the country. We are spending some £500 million this year; 10 years ago, there was not a penny in the mainstream capital funding budget. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point; we need to do more in the area of vocational skills. The train-to-gain initiative, which guarantees training to adults in the work place who have not reached level 2, is an exceedingly important step forward. Diary permitting, I will see what I can do about coming to Macclesfield.
My hon. Friend will be aware that a key recommendation of the taskforce established to deal with the consequences of the collapse of the Longbridge car factory was the creation of at least a 14-to-19 centre on the former MG Rover site, and possibly a full college relocation to boost skills and regenerate the area. A feasibility study of that recommendation should have been completed and available by now. Will my hon. Friend have a word with the local learning and skills council so that we can get on with this project, which will be vital to skills boosting and regeneration in the south-west Birmingham area?
I apologise, Mr. Speaker.
I visited Longbridge about a year ago, met the Rover taskforce and was extraordinarily impressed by the cross-departmental working taking place, which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) has championed strongly. I commit myself to considering the matter and meeting him shortly.
Seventy per cent. of the 2020 work force is over the age of 16 now, so it is vital that we upskill and reskill the adult population. Yet adult education is being savagely cut—it is down 10 per cent. in the past year and below its 1997 level. Not all such courses are on crochet and croquet: many of them lead to further study and work. Given that workplace training is also being cut, and that less than 6 per cent. of employers are involved in “train to gain”, how have the Government managed to spend so much more on FE, but achieved so little and delivered so much less?
Normally, I respect the hon. Gentleman’s views but I will not take lectures about the funding of further education colleges. Under this Government, funding has increased by 48 per cent. in real terms, which compares favourably with the 14 per cent. real-terms cut that took place in the five years up to 1997. According to its evaluation, the “train to gain” initiative, which is still in the first year of its national roll-out, is incredibly highly valued by employers, who are keen on the brokerage element. It is bringing huge numbers of people into adult education and training, and is particularly benefiting the over-45s, who are a key target group. It is in its first year of operation, it is a truly radical initiative, and it is delivering results.
English for speakers of other languages has been a real success, with more than 1.9 million learners since 2001. The current rate of increase, however, is unsustainable. Numbers and funding have tripled, but further increases will adversely impact on other skills for life provision. Therefore, in October I announced changes to ESOL funding involving charging those who can afford to make a contribution and excluding adult asylum seekers from access. Following representations made as part of the race equality impact assessment, however, I have made it clear in the past week that I am minded to consider a range of new measures, compared with the original proposals, to reprioritise funding towards the most vulnerable.
With 29 per cent. of Hackney residents having been born outside the UK, I welcome the Minister’s rethink on the issue. Of the 2,500 ESOL and life skills learners at Hackney community college, an estimated 20 per cent. would be affected by the rules. Will he meet me and representatives of Hackney community college to discuss this matter and its impact on Hackney residents?
I will happily meet my hon. Friend, as I have met many colleagues, to discuss the issue. Let me make it clear that we are not reversing the fundamental thrust of our policy on the issue. The current trajectory is simply not sustainable, and will impact on the budget for other skills for life provision unless we make changes. Under the changes, over 50 per cent.—indeed, over 80 per cent., as I understand it, in the college to which my hon. Friend referred—will continue to get access to free ESOL. As a result of the representations made, we are considering a number of other indicators to ensure that we assess low income properly and that those who genuinely cannot afford to pay continue to get free ESOL.
It may be right to ask for fees from people who can clearly afford to pay, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is most important to make applying for fee remission simple? In particular, we should rely not just on working tax credit as an indicator of low pay, but on other indicators too.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have announced in the past week that I am minded to consider a range of alternative indicators of low pay, at a local level, that would enable a person to access free ESOL. Clearly, the system must be as simple and easy to understand for the individual as possible.
Many people have come into this country from the new European Union states. That has put pressure on courses such as those about which we have been hearing, but also on small primary schools that are being asked to support the children of families who are new to their areas. What action is the Department taking to supply those schools with extra resources?
Additional funding streams are available for schools in those circumstances, but the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to an important issue. It is true that if the challenge of funding ESOL is to be met, we need a significant contribution from the Government—who have tripled funding over the past five years—and it is true that we need contributions from individuals, if they can afford it. However, we also need employers to meet their own responsibilities to train their work forces properly. In the context of the changes that I have announced, we are keen to address that issue, together with the CBI and the trade unions and through the social partnership.
Surely we should focus more on youngsters whose first language is not English. According to a report that I read recently, a young girl was placed with a group of three others who did not speak English as a first language. Everything had to be translated in that science group, and the young girl who spoke English felt that she was being held back because everything had to be translated. When she asked to be moved to another group, she was condemned for doing so. Can the Minister ensure that those who need English language teaching are given the focus they deserve so that their skills can be improved, while those who do speak English are not held back simply because attention must be focused on those who do not?
I respect the intention of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I have learned through long experience that when one starts digging, newspaper stories of the kind that he has related turn out to be far more complicated than they appear. A number of other issues tend to be involved. If the hon. Gentleman gives me the details of the case, I will examine them. However, in primary schools where there is a significant cohort of legitimate migrant communities, it is important for us to ensure through the additional funding stream that all children, regardless of circumstances and background, receive the teaching that they require.
I know that the Minister shares my view of the importance of a grasp of the English language to both social inclusion and community cohesion. I had many concerns about his original proposals, but I am extremely grateful for the concessions and changes that he announced recently, which will go a long way towards allaying my concerns and those of colleagues. Nevertheless, there remains real concern about people on low incomes. Will the Minister’s door be open to representations from Members in the light of experience of the changes and particularly of their impact on people with low incomes, and will he meet my colleagues from Woolwich college to discuss the issue?
I certainly undertake to do that. In recent weeks I have met a number of colleagues to discuss the matter, because although I genuinely believe that the status quo is not an option, I also believe that we must get the changes right. I agree with my hon. Friend that if there is to be real community cohesion we must ensure that people can understand and communicate in English, and our changes are intended to give everyone that opportunity.
This issue is not just about refugees and asylum seekers. I recently went to Kashmir with members of the Muslim community from Banbury, and as a result I appreciate that many young people who have grown up in this country still expect to enter into what we would call arranged marriages with partners from, in many cases, Kashmir. Brides who come to the United Kingdom may still not have English as a first language, and may well be joining low-income families. Is not the ability of those people—who will live here for the rest of their lives, will have children here and will become part of the community—to speak, learn and acquire English important both to community integration and to good race relations?
I entirely agree. I think it is critical for people to live genuinely as part of communities rather than being hermetically sealed in individual areas. One of the changes that I intend to make, which I have announced in the past week, is the reprioritisation of funds at local level to provide free access to ESOL for spouses who are priority learners in hard-to-reach groups, and unlikely to have access to their own money or family benefit documentation. I believe that that will go a long way towards allaying the hon. Gentleman’s concern.
According to the latest data available, at the end of 2005 there were 78,900 16 and 17-year-olds participating in an apprenticeship in England, compared with 34,100 in 1997. My priority for the current comprehensive spending review is to offer an apprenticeship place to any qualified 16 to18-year-old who wants one.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response. As a former apprentice in the construction industry, I strongly believe in the apprenticeship scheme. One of the ways that we can best encourage youngsters to engage in apprenticeship schemes is to allow them to sample what being an apprentice is like while they are still at school. What progress is the Secretary of State making in involving schools in the scheme that allows pupils a 50-day experience of being an apprentice?
We have made a great deal of progress since 2003 when we introduced work-based learning so that, as part of the 14-to-19 agenda, youngsters start going out to businesses and companies in their constituencies—or, rather, in their area. [Interruption.] Well, MPs are not getting that young. Youngsters therefore experience what work is like, which might give them the opportunity to decide on what their future career should be. That is one of many elements of policy that give choice and diversity to youngsters and ensure that they get a proper grounding before leaving school.
I completely support all that goes on with regard to apprenticeship schemes for those aged 16 and above, but I wish to draw the Secretary of State’s attention to something that is still a big problem in this country: how to tie in young boys aged about 12 and upwards who do not believe that academic routes are the routes for them but who find that schools so specialise in academic subjects that they are left out—so they truant or leave school early. That is one of the major issues that we have found as we go around communities.
I ask the Secretary of State to visit Holland, if he has not already done so. I deeply admire the Dutch for embedding their vocational training in schools, and their truancy levels are much lower than ours. A Dutch educationist said to me that the difference between them and the United Kingdom is that they are just as intelligent, computer-literate and educated, but they also believe that people have to build the houses that they live in, carry out the plumbing work and do the wiring as well, and that they celebrate that rather than make it a second-class occupation.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the problems that we have traditionally had in respect of vocational qualifications. They are particularly to do with the parity of esteem argument, as academic qualifications are seen as infinitely superior to vocational qualifications. That is in large part due to cultural issues, and we can do a lot in schools to address that. Let me say something about the introduction of diplomas, although they come in a bit later—at 14 to 19—and the right hon. Gentleman is right in what he says about youngsters as young as 12, and boys in particular, having to be switched on to learning. That is a general point that applies to both academic and vocational education.
I cannot emphasise enough the significance of the introduction of diplomas. They are not vocational diplomas. There is that mixture of the theoretical and the practical, which is what we have lacked in this country for so long, and those diplomas, along with apprenticeships and work-placed training as accredited training, can provide the kind of choice that our youngsters need. I said a lot yesterday on issues to do with young boys—working-class boys in particular—and trying to close the attainment gap at age 14, especially in English, as in other subjects we do not have that gender gap. All those areas are important and we are looking closely at the lessons that can be learned from what happens in the Netherlands.
Building Schools for the Future
The first local authority projects are due for completion in 2009. I opened the first BSF “quick-win” schools in Solihull in June of last year, and the first BSF school to be procured through a local education partnership is on schedule to be open in Bristol in September 2007.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In Stoke-on-Trent, we have an excellent record in the transformation of primary schools—in rebuilding and refurbishing them. It is essential that we now get on with the transformation and that we put the new capital investment into secondary schools. We want that programme, under building schools for the future, to go ahead as quickly as possible. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would meet me in my constituency and have talks with his noble Friend Lord Adonis, who also has ministerial responsibility for schools, so that we can make sure that each school in my constituency is at the heart of the community, is an extended school, and is able to contribute to the regeneration that is so desperately needed—and which is already under way—in Stoke-on-Trent.
I know that my hon. Friend has taken a keen interest in those matters, and that she has met my noble Friend Lord Adonis and senior officials to make sure that we spend well the £181 million that we have committed to secondary schooling in Stoke. I will, of course, be happy to meet her and to make sure that senior officials are working with her to ensure that we are investing that £181 million on the basis of having quality rather than mediocrity.
Is there not an enormous gap between what the Minister has just told the House and what his Department published in its document “Building Schools for the Future”, which said that in 2007, 100 school buildings would open, and in 2008, 200 school buildings would open? Will he confirm that those figures should be five school buildings in 2007 and 23 in 2008? Will he give the House an explanation for that extraordinary delay, and an authoritative time scale against which we can judge the Government’s performance in the future?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I gave evidence to the Select Committee on that very issue and was extensively questioned on it. We look forward to the Committee’s report. Building schools for the future is a major project on an unprecedented scale and we deliberately started in the most difficult areas, because those are the ones that need the investment the most. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we have to ensure that we get the quality right.
If, as in Stoke-on-Trent, we occasionally need to reassess the initial plans in order to improve them, and therefore it takes a little bit longer to get them right, that is what we will do. However, 25 authorities have joined up or have completed procurement. Most of the wave 1 projects that have not yet signed up are near to financial close, with more than 50 more schools opening in the next two years.
The Solicitor-General was asked—
Although I have not specifically discussed with the Home Secretary the document “Youth Matters”, I am aware of the programme and I meet him regularly at the National Criminal Justice Board meetings, where youth issues and wider issues are often discussed. The last meeting was on 27 February and the next is on 27 March.
Does the Solicitor-General share my concern at the growing antisocial behaviour in market towns such as Thirsk and the fact that few prosecutions are taken, especially in cases of the breach of an order or contract under the new antisocial behaviour regulations? Does he agree that rather than seek to prosecute, it would be better to intervene to take the children off the street earlier? What are the Government doing to stop truancy in schools, which can lead to antisocial behaviour? Why are there no prosecutions for breaches of those contracts, and what value do they have in the circumstances?
The aim is to change behaviour and therefore the approach taken is to prosecute where necessary. Some prosecutions do take place, but not unless they are necessary to change the behaviour. The Government’s approach is to ensure, through “Youth Matters”, the document that set out the youth strategy, that we put £115 million into developing youth activities, and also identify those young people who need to be diverted from what may well be antisocial behaviour. I know that in my own area in the village of Gouldon, the local community has got together to put in place packages of assistance for young people by creating pods and developing youth activities, and ensuring a greater police presence and CCTV cameras. It is possible for local people to put together packages to reduce the level of antisocial behaviour and ensure that young people are diverted away from criminal activity and directed towards more useful activities.
Has my hon. Friend made an assessment of the successes and failures of the intensive supervision and surveillance programme, which is very effectively managed in Staffordshire? If he has, what implications does that have for youth sentencing at the end of court cases?
Intensive supervision has been shown to have considerable merits in dealing with particular individuals who need that level of intervention. We are likely to see increasing use of that measure. The response by the criminal justice system to antisocial behaviour by young people will increasingly be directed to dealing with particular problems that they have. The more that we can tailor the intervention by the criminal justice system to the particular problems that individuals have, to divert them away from activities that cause difficulties, the better will be our opportunities to reduce the amount of antisocial behaviour.
The straight answer is yes. A number of reviews are being carried out of the role of expert witnesses and some have already been published. There have also been several initiatives recently to improve the use of expert witnesses in criminal cases.
Does the Solicitor-General agree that the judicial system, in particular the Crown Prosecution Service, has a duty of care to ensure that expert witnesses are who they say they are? If so, what are his comments in the light of the recent bogus Dr. Morrison case, which has led to the need to review more than 700 cases? Many people may be in prison as a result of his so-called expert evidence, so what new measures will the Government put in place to ensure that expert witnesses have the qualifications they claim to have?
The hon. Gentleman is right. The Gene Morrison case is of serious concern. The police investigation into any miscarriages of justice is under way and my office is being kept informed about it. I think that case was exceptional, but it is one that underlines the importance to all parties of ensuring that they look critically at the evidence of expert opinion. A number of reforms are being made. New criminal justice procedure rules put in place last November are now coming into play; the post of forensic science regulator has been set up; and the Attorney-General’s review of shaken baby syndrome cases is under way and will have important recommendations. In accord with the view of the Court of Appeal—the recommendations of his honour Sir Igor Judge—new CPS guidance on the use of expert evidence will ensure that, whereas expert evidence has been wholly relied on in the past, it should not be in the future, and that corroborative evidence which is independent of the experts should be sought. That new approach will help to deal with some of the problems with expert evidence we have experienced in a number of cases in recent years.
At a time when criminal legal aid costs are under close scrutiny, will my hon. and learned Friend consider looking closely at the joint instruction of experts in criminal cases? Huge expenditure is incurred on expert witnesses and it is increasing at a rapid rate.
My hon. Friend is right; there is considerable expenditure in relation to expert witnesses. We need to ensure that cases are properly decided and experts are able to give their view, but that it is done in a sensible and cost-effective way. Following the recommendations, part of the guidance on expert witnesses is that they should be prepared to have peer review of their findings and that there should be exchanges between experts on either side of the case about the evidence they bring forward. We should attempt to ensure that, where possible, there is as much consensus as possible about the expert evidence that goes before a court and a jury. In that way, it is to be hoped that we will reduce the amount of time needed for expert witness evidence in court cases.
Is the Solicitor-General aware that real concern remains among both judiciary and practitioners about the length of time it frequently takes to obtain authorisation from the legal aid authorities to commission expert reports; about the delays in commissioning that often occur once authorisation has been obtained; about delays in disclosure of reports between the parties; and then about the Crown being able to instruct its own experts? Will the Solicitor-General discuss with the appropriate Departments and agencies what can be done to speed up the process of obtaining expert evidence, which, as he knows, also has an impact on the listing and expedition of trials?
It is the case that we need to ensure that court proceedings are speeded up more generally, not just in relation to experts. When we came into office it was clear that the courts system was struggling and unable to cope with the sheer volume of cases before the courts. Things have improved, but there is still a lot more work to be done. There are issues in relation to legal aid. We have to ensure that expert evidence is really needed before legal aid is granted and that there are proper exchanges and disclosure. The new guidance will enable the sharing of expert evidence, and exchanges between experts to take place, and I hope that that approach will result in less delay in the future.
The prosecutors’ pledge introduced in October 2006 makes a series of commitments about how prosecutors communicate with victims, with the aim of improving performance. At this stage, it is too early to assess the full impact of the pledge. The CPS has implemented management controls to seek to ensure compliance and the witness and victim experience will also provide some feedback on key elements of the pledge.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. He will know that the question was prompted by the experience of a friend of mine whose nephew was assaulted in a street in Slough. The case took more than a year to come to court and the prosecution eventually failed, in part because of a lack of confirmatory identification evidence. That showed me how devastating it is for the families of the victims of violent crime not to know what is going on. Can my hon. and learned Friend assure me that the prosecutors’ pledge will include better information for victims and their families while a case is being pursued and that lessons, such as that about identity parades, are learned and promulgated as a result?
I have had a similar case in my constituency recently. In a manslaughter case the family were not properly informed. There is a need to ensure that the CPS and other agencies deal with victims and families more effectively than they have done. The prosecutors’ pledge has only recently been introduced and it is about changing attitudes and behaviour and improving the way in which the criminal justice system operates by putting victims and witnesses at its heart.
My hon. Friend has let me know of the circumstances of the case that she mentioned. There are lessons to be learned on the identification issues, but the initial charging advice was provided by a Crown prosecutor who advised the police that, given the issues in the case, there was no requirement for a video identification procedure. However, subsequently that advice had to be looked at again. Lessons must be learned when the system has failed victims or their families, and it is necessary that the prosecutors’ pledge be delivered on. It is about changing and improving the whole way in which our criminal justice system operates.
A national strategy to tackle fraud has been published today. We will create a national fraud strategic authority to help co-ordinate efforts to combat fraud. It will include a unit to measure the extent of large-scale and smaller frauds; a working party will develop a costed case for a national fraud reporting centre to take reports from victims and to co-ordinate information and advice on tackling fraud; and it will work closely with the police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
I am grateful for that reply. My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that many businesses and trade organisations are concerned about fraud and, in particular, about the growth of internet fraud. Can he tell the House how those businesses and trade organisations can take part in the review with the organisations that he has just announced?
It is important that the private sector and, indeed, the public sector work much more carefully, and with the police, at not just seeking to catch criminals after they have committed an offence, but seeking to prevent crime and fraud from taking place. The fraud review sets out ways in which we can get the private and public sectors to work together with the police and the other agencies in developing a strategy to tackle fraud. The national fraud strategic authority will raise awareness among the public and seek to promote best practice in fraud detection and prevention. Individual institutions need to design systems that make fraud much more difficult to commit. There is a growing body of good practice in fraud management strategies and we have encouraged the National Audit Office and the Audit Commission to look at the strength of anti-fraud controls in the organisations that they audit.
I welcome the fraud review. I hope very much that issues such as plea bargaining and better management of fraud trials can all be looked at very carefully in the course of it. However, in view of the fact that the review is taking place and that it is likely that by next week the Bill that would remove the right to trial by jury in certain fraud cases will be defeated in the House of Lords, can I urge the Solicitor-General to use the fraud review to reconsider the position of wanting to get rid of the right of trial by jury in certain fraud cases? If this fraud review is properly carried out it will make such a measure even less necessary, despite the Government’s attempts at justifying it.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman to this extent. We need to tackle fraud and we have put in place a programme of three key areas that we need to deal with. We have put in place the fraud review and he has welcomed that. I assure him that we will look with care at issues such as plea bargaining. We have also put in place the new Fraud Act 2006, which he and I took through this House. That Act means that we are in position to have a modern legal framework to deal with fraud, but we also need to ensure that the procedures are right and that we get fraud trials right. That is why the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill is necessary. It is about ensuring that we get the courts into a position in which they can deal most effectively with fraud. This is a package in which we want all three measures—the fraud review, the Fraud Act and the Bill—put in place. His failure to support the Bill is regrettable, because it is part of the package that we need to deal with fraud.
The Liberal Democrats understand why the Law Officers may resist the request to reconsider the strategy on the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill this week, but will the Solicitor-General undertake that the specific proposal in the fraud review to have a financial court with dedicated judges who are experts will be seriously considered? That may be the answer to the question of how we get the right court and maximise the chance of success. Then I hope that he will respond to the request that the Bill be dropped and that the other proposals, which are much more effective and thought-through, be implemented.
The idea of a financial court needs to be looked at. We need to see how the court system as a whole would respond to that sort of proposal. On the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill, we need to have a court system that can more effectively deal with fraud. Our view remains that the Bill is something to which the Government are committed. We need to have a criminal justice system that is not only fit for purpose, but delivers effectively. I regret the hon. Gentleman’s failure to support that position. I understand his arguments, but I believe that the Bill is necessary.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 19 March—Second Reading of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill [Lords]. Followed by a motion to approve a ways and means resolution on the UK Borders Bill.
Tuesday 20 March—A debate on the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Wednesday 21 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.
Thursday 22 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Friday 23 March—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 26 March will be as follows:
Monday 26 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 27 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.
Wednesday 28 March—Motion to approve a statutory instrument on casinos, followed by motions relating to House of Commons business.
Thursday 29 March—Motion on the Easter recess and Adjournment.
The House will want to be reminded that we will rise for the Easter recess at the end of business on Thursday 29 March and return on Monday 16 April.
I draw the House’s attention to a written ministerial statement that I made this morning about a small, but I hope helpful, improvement in the procedures of the House for the benefit of Members. We have agreed and I am proposing that when Ministers have already made reference to the fact that they will make an oral statement on a particular date, that notice will be included in the future business of the House and on the Order Paper itself, for the convenience of the House.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business and his written statement of today on the procedural change, which will definitely be for the convenience of Members of the House.
It has recently been discovered that Ministers have released documents relating to council tax revaluation under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that they had previously refused to release in response to parliamentary questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) has raised the matter with Mr. Speaker, who is responding. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, you have always been clear about Ministers’ duty to Parliament. The duty is set out in the ministerial code, which says:
“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.
Does the Leader of the House agree that Ministers have a duty to be more open with Parliament and the public?
This week, we have seen shocking pictures of the injuries sustained by Morgan Tsvangirai while in Zimbabwean police custody. I am sure that the whole House will be disgusted by his treatment and appalled by the wider crisis in that country, which is the direct result of the policies of President Mugabe. Two weeks ago, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), the Leader of House said that there was a
“need for a debate in Government time.”—[Official Report, 1 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1074.]
May we now have an urgent debate in Government time on Zimbabwe?
At the beginning of their long friendship, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor fought many battles with old Labour to build new Labour. One of those was over nuclear disarmament. In yesterday’s vote to replace Trident, nearly 100 Labour Members rebelled against the Government. Indeed, one of the Chancellor’s close allies, the former Deputy Leader of the House, resigned over the issue. Not for the first time, the Government would not have carried their business without the support of Conservative Members. May we thus have a debate on the dwindling authority of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor?
Back in those good old days, the Prime Minister and Chancellor promised us that they would be “whiter than white”. On 25 April, Sir Alistair Graham’s term as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life comes to an end. It was the Prime Minister who decided not to renew his term, and it is the Prime Minister who has failed to appoint his successor. Sir Alistair says:
“this Government places a low priority on the maintenance of the highest standards of conduct in public life”.
May we have a debate on the future of that committee and on why the Prime Minister sacked Sir Alistair for doing his job?
This week, the Government published the draft Climate Change Bill, and the Prime Minister and Chancellor were playing up their green credentials. However, let us judge them by their record. Before my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) became Leader of the Opposition, the Chancellor had not made any major speeches on the environment. Since then, he has made three. On his watch, green taxes have fallen from 9.4 per cent. to 7.7 per cent. of his total tax take. And then there is his policy to provide home insulation: he announced it in 1995, scrapped it in 1998, and reannounced it last year. May we have a debate on the Chancellor’s environmental record?
With a Brown-Blair legacy like this, is it any surprise that Labour is turning in on itself? The Labour party is rebelling against the Prime Minister, the Cabinet is briefing against the Chancellor, and the people are turning their backs on all of them. Whenever the Prime Minister hands over to the Chancellor, is not the truth that new Labour is an old idea that has simply run its course?
Let me just deal with those points in turn.
The right hon. Lady makes a serious point about whether Ministers answering parliamentary questions should at least meet the standards set by the Freedom of Information Act. I cannot comment on the specific case that she raises because I do not know the circumstances of it. However, it is certainly the case that Ministers all strive to ensure that, at the very minimum, they are at least as forthcoming with the House in respect of the answers that they give as they would be required to be by the Freedom of Information Act. I will ensure that that is maintained. The matter is being discussed by the Procedure Committee, which is examining written questions.
The right hon. Lady asks me about Morgan Tsvangirai. I entirely share the utter horror of all decent people throughout the world at the way in which the thugs of Robert Mugabe have sought to use the truncheon, rather than debate, to determine the future of that once-wonderful country, which has collapsed into the worst situation of almost any African country that one can think of, because of the total mismanagement of Robert Mugabe. What I said two weeks ago is correct; I promise that the only issue is finding a date on which Foreign Office Ministers can be present for the debate, because they have travel plans—I know that it sounds slightly lame, but it happens to be true. I am sorry that we have not been able to find time, but we will continue to work on that.
Thirdly, the right hon. Lady referred to our debate yesterday. I should just say that it was actually my noble Friend Lord Kinnock who resolved the issue of nuclear disarmament for us, and there was much relief that he did so before my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took over. It is true that the issue of nuclear disarmament and nuclear weapons has always been difficult for the Labour party. I take one view on the subject and some of my colleagues take another, but I do not think that a party should be criticised for agonising over what is unquestionably not just a defence and security issue but, in many people’s eyes, an issue of conscience and morality. I draw to the right hon. Lady’s attention the fact that although the numbers involved were slightly smaller, some rather senior people in the Conservative party rebelled against their party Whip, including the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram).
Well, I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that, but the point is that we are talking about a man who, only a few months ago, was shadow Foreign Secretary and deputy leader of the Conservative party, and who has taken a completely different view on the issue. If the right hon. Member for Maidenhead wants to swap stories about divisions inside parties, I suggest that she tries to pull the beam out of her own eye before she examines the mote in the eyes of others; she ought to examine what happened upstairs in Committee with regard to the draft Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. Apparently—
You are right to admonish me, Mr. Speaker, and it means that I can dispatch the next two issues raised by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead very quickly. Alistair Graham served his five years and we are grateful to him. I do not recall hearing similar complaints when Lord Nolan and Patrick Neill moved over to make way for their successors. As for the environment and the draft Climate Change Bill, I had wondered what the Conservatives would say about that terrific Bill. The answer is that they are saying virtually nothing, but are taking an awfully long time to say it.
May I welcome the announcement about the way in which Government statements will be dealt with in future? If the Leader of the House wishes to see evidence of Ministers failing to give answers, I refer him to the answer that the Secretary of State for Health gave to three specific questions that I tabled well in advance of Health questions this week. I did not get a reply to a single one of them; the responses were entirely evasive.
While the Leader of the House was away thinking last week, his then deputy, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), fielded my question about the medical training application service. He suggested that my idea that it should be suspended was “absolutely cuckoo”—he then flew the nest. If I am absolutely cuckoo, so is the entire British Medical Association, and so are junior doctors across the country. Will the Leader of the House look again at the issue? A review has been published, but there has been no suspension of the system that is causing so much damage to doctors’ careers.
Last night, a press officer announced that it was the Government’s intention to appeal against the administrative review High Court decision on pensions. That has not been formally reported to the House, but it will have profound consequences for pensioners who are still waiting for recompense. It also has consequences for the conduct of the Pensions Bill and for the way in which amendments are dealt with before Report. May we have statement from the Department for Work and Pensions on how it intends to proceed, so that it can allay the pensioners’ fears that they are again being ignored by the Government?
May we have a statement on the formal rebuke to the Government issued yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on the discontinuation of the investigation into the al-Yamamah arms deal, and on the fact that the OECD is going to send investigators to question the Attorney-General about why the UK outlawed bribes of foreign officials in 1998, yet not a single prosecution has ensued?
Lastly, we anticipate that the Government’s response to the Lyons report on local government spending will be encompassed within the Budget statement and debate. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is not expected to participate in that debate, but the matter is of huge interest to people up and down the country who are worried about council tax bills and seek a fairer replacement, so it would be proper to have a full statement and, in due course, a debate on local government finance.
On the issue of Health questions, I need notice of the questions and sight of the answers. However, Ministers are making every effort to ensure that accurate answers are given within the due notice time. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there has been a huge increase in the volume of questions—they have increased by 40,000 in two or three years—which places an unacceptable burden on everyone involved. It is bound to have an overall effect on the quality of answers, which is something that the Procedure Committee is trying to resolve.
On the medical training application service, the hon. Gentleman will know that it is under review, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health announced about a week ago. We are well aware of the problems that have arisen, and she has said that she will seek to tackle them. On the pension judgment, I can confirm that the Government are appealing that judgment, as we are entitled to do. The issue is not whether we were right or wrong to make the original decision, and of course, we understand the concern of pensioners who have lost part or all of their pension; we all have constituents in that position. However, if we are to try to recompense them fully—we have already achieved partial recompense—that entails a very substantial cost to the public purse, so the issue of fairness arises.
The hon. Gentleman asked about what the OECD said yesterday. He should be very clear that it has not reached any conclusion that the decision was incompatible with the OECD convention, and no other state has come out and said that they thought the decision was incompatible with it or that they would have reached a different decision. I have to say that I thoroughly object to the way in which the Liberal Democrat party seeks to damage the country’s reputation for probity and integrity across the world.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but that reputation is not one that we are protesting: it is confirmed by the rankings of Transparency International, which ranks us sixth in the world, only just behind Canada, Sweden and Switzerland, above Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the United States, and well above France. He should take that into account and cease to damage our reputation.
Earlier, in Education and Skills questions, we spent about two minutes on the building schools for the future programme, which is the most ambitious programme of public sector investment to which any British Government have ever committed themselves—and all credit to the Government for planning it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that since the publication of the Stern review and the draft Climate Change Bill, we should consider seriously the environmental standards to which the new generation of schools will be built? Does he accept, too, that that issue affects every single hon. Member, and—
I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the issue.
I failed to respond to the question that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked about the Lyons report. There will be plenty of opportunities in the Budget debate, if he is correct about the report, to raise the issue of the financing of local taxation.
This morning, I, with many others, attended at short notice the Delegated Legislation Committee debating the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. Does the Leader of the House not accept that there is something wrong with proceedings if, a week after we discussed in the House the pre-eminence of the Commons in debates, such an important matter was dealt with in a Delegated Legislation Committee, which meant it was not possible for us to debate it extensively and vote on it in the Chamber? He will say that it is a matter for Front-Bench teams but, as the champion of Back-Bench issues in the House, does he not accept that we should have an opportunity to debate those issues properly? It is possible to be in favour of the principle, but worry about its impact, and we still do not have an answer to many issues surrounding adoption and education legislation. Will the Leader of the House champion Back-Bench issues and tell his colleagues that it is time to drag this matter back to the Floor of the House and debate it properly?
The right hon. Gentleman was leader of his party for quite a long period. He said that the matter was agreed by the Front-Bench teams, and he will know that it is very difficult to get the quart pot of demand for debates on the Floor of the House into the pint pot of available time. The matter was discussed in Committee with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn). It was a subject of considerable debate, as is demonstrated by the fact that the Conservatives split 3:2 on it. We always do our best to ensure that debates take place in the House, but sometimes that is not possible.
The Leader of the House will know of my enthusiastic support for the introduction of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. I still believe that it is vital to ensuring the availability of effective treatment and value for money in the NHS. Nevertheless, he will be aware of growing disquiet both among Labour Members and throughout the House about delays in the assessment of treatments and about some recent NICE decisions. May I draw his attention to early-day motion 1138?
[That this House notes that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued new draft recommendations for the treatment of osteoporosis; believes that this new draft represents some steps forward but regrets that many women aged under 70 who are at risk of breaking a bone due to osteoporosis still do not qualify for treatment; notes that the development of recommendations by NICE on the use of osteoporosis drugs is now into its fifth year, whereas recommendations for treatments usually take just one to two years; fears that as a consequence of this delay, existing mandatory recommendations are not being implemented while doctors wait for them to be reviewed; notes that there are 10.6 million women aged over 50 in the UK and that almost half of these women will break a bone during their lifetime mainly due to osteoporosis and that one in five men will suffer a fracture after the age of 50; believes that treatment at just 27 pence per day is cost-effective in preventing a broken hip which would cost the health service over £12,000 a year as well as resulting in huge personal and social care costs, and calls on NICE urgently to review its decision and allow preventative treatment to all patients at risk of fracture.]
The cost in hospital and social care of osteoporotic fractures is £1.7 billion a year, yet recent NICE guidance denies effective preventive treatment to people under 70. Will the Leader of the House make provision in Government time for a debate on the workings of NICE?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I shall certainly draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary. On the question of a debate, I very much hope that he can raise the matter in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment. There will be other opportunities, too, including Health questions, to raise it.
The reply from the Leader of the House on the Lyons report was perfunctory to the point of being epigrammatic. The rumour is that the report will be published on Wednesday, to be buried in the Budget. It is of great importance to millions of people, but it has been hugely delayed and, it appears, widely leaked. There is no earthly reason why it should not be published on Monday, when we are debating estate agents, or on Tuesday, so that the House has a chance to see its conclusions and, if it is debated in the Budget, to be informed. In any case, there should be a debate before the local elections, so that the parties can set out their stalls for the electorate.
I was not being perfunctory, but I was brief, because I had been admonished for being prolix. If the report is published with the Budget—I am not confirming that it will be—it will hardly be buried, as the Budget is the most observed moment in the parliamentary calendar. There will be ample opportunity, including a four-day debate on the Budget, for right hon. and hon. Members to express their concerns about or their support for it.
May I ask the Leader of the House to use his imagination to try to find a way of providing an urgent debate on Zimbabwe before the Easter recess and before the Foreign Secretary visits South Africa, as it is important that she give the South African Government a clear statement that the House believes that they are falling down on their responsibilities as the lead power in southern Africa?
I understand the frustration of everyone in the House, but my right hon. Friends in the Foreign Office are as frustrated about their diary problems, as they too want to ensure that the matter is debated. I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the fact that there are Foreign Office questions next Tuesday. May I tell her, as we have known one another for a very long time, that it is not lack of imagination that is the problem but the much more prosaic matter of finding a Minister whose diary fits both the requirements of the House and their overseas duties?
May I take the Leader of the House back to his earlier answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith)? This morning, in Committee Room 11, at least 10 Back Benchers were denied the opportunity to speak on the sexual orientation regulations. That highly contentious piece of legislation is wholly unsuited to the form of a statutory instrument. Next week, we will deal with a statutory instrument on casinos, of all things, on the Floor of the House, yet those sexual orientation regulations will be buried. Will the Leader of the House give us a clear undertaking that they will not be put through on a vote late at night, or on a deferred Division until, at the very least, the Easter Adjournment debate, so that the House can debate them on the Adjournment?
First, if the measure had been debated on the Floor of the House, it might easily have been the case that 10 hon. Members on either or both sides could not get in to speak, as there is great demand to participate in such debates. Secondly, the case for protection on grounds of sexual orientation was made and extensively debated during the passage of the Equality Act 2006, which is the substantive legislation that gave rise to the consequential statutory—[Interruption.] It is true. The debate today was on subordinate legislation, which is based on primary legislation. On the question how a vote is taken on the Floor of the House, my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip is in her place, and we will take into account representations that are made.
May we have a debate on the right to wear the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal? The medal was awarded to all Australian, New Zealand, Fiji and British servicemen, but only the British have been refused permission to wear it. How can I justify that to my constituent Walter Stewart, who is asking for the right to wear the medal?
The honest answer is, with great difficulty. Some of us who have had to deal with similar questions have found the rules in relation to the wearing of overseas decorations quite difficult to comprehend. I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister continues to take a close interest in the matter.
In my constituency is the Coventry road, on which on Saturday and Sunday nights there is racing. It is a road with an ordinary 40 mph limit. May we have a debate on why the Government have laws on antisocial behaviour that are unenforceable?
The hon. Gentleman always comes back for more. Two weeks ago he asked for a debate. I said that we could have a debate about the softness of the Liberal Democrats, who say one thing in their constituencies and do another in the House. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about antisocial behaviour, he should start voting for the effective measures that we have taken against it, and he should stop supporting the criminals, rather than the victims.
May we have a debate before the Easter recess on nurses’ pay? In Scotland nurses are being paid 2.5 per cent., according to the pay review. In England they are being paid 1.9 per cent. and being told that they are being paid 2.5 per cent. They are incensed by that. May we have a debate as a matter of urgency?
This is a devolved matter for the Scottish Parliament. With devolution, it is inevitable that different Administrations will come to different decisions within a financial envelope provided by the United Kingdom Parliament. I note what my hon. Friend says about the concern of nurses in England, and I will pass on his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
Does the Leader of the House accept that there is increasing concern about the proposal by the Lord Chancellor’s Department to gut the interior of Middlesex guildhall, which is one of the finest examples of Edwardian secular architecture in London, and also an important part of London’s historic heritage as the former home of the Middlesex county council, to make way for the venue for the new Supreme Court? Will he undertake that the Lord Chancellor’s Department will not proceed with plans to rip out the interior within two and a half weeks of the court’s closure on 30 March, and will take no action until the Constitutional Affairs Committee has held its proposed inquiry into the matter or there has been a debate in Government time?
The hon. Gentleman is aware that there are very strict rules in respect of listed buildings, for the interior of the buildings as well as the exterior. I am sure the Department for Constitutional Affairs is following those. Having spent many happy hours earning an honest penny or two in Middlesex Sessions across the road when I was a young barrister, I do not quite share the hon. Gentleman’s view about the architectural merit of the building, but that is a matter of choice.
May we have a debate on the definition of Britishness? My right hon. Friend may recall that when British Airways sought to get rid of its British identity, the then Prime Minister expressed her robust but effective views. Will he do likewise, in light of the fact that British Airways is attempting to get rid of its identity again, at a cost of hundreds of jobs at airports throughout the UK, and effectively to rebrand itself as London Airways?
I understand the concern of my hon. Friend and others, and I recognise the anxiety about job losses or unacceptable transfers. British Airways is of course a commercial organisation, but I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s remarks are drawn to the attention of those running the company.
Over the past three years in Northern Ireland, there has been an increase in health spending of about 15 per cent., yet despite that, only last week in the House an answer was given that waiting lists for hip operations have gone up by 100 per cent. The same is true for eye operations, and in my constituency ambulance services and local hospitals are being closed. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate in the House so that it can be explained how more money is being spent on the health service, yet service delivery is going down?
I do not accept that service delivery overall is going down. I accept that there are some changes year on year, but if the hon. Gentleman goes back to 1997, he will see that there has been a dramatic improvement in health delivery in Northern Ireland, as in other parts of the Union.
May we have a debate on the draft Climate Change Bill—a radical piece of proposed legislation and the first of its kind in the world? Would it not be interesting to have the debate around the time when the energy and planning White Papers are produced? That is particularly important, given the comments of the shadow Leader of the House about green taxes. They are made up mainly of the fuel duty escalator, so if she is proposing to re-establish that, the public should be told.
May I reiterate to the Leader of the House the pleas of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale)? As one of the Members of the House who has consistently argued that the Government’s sexual orientation regulations will be a liberating force for millions of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in this country, I implore the Leader of the House, even at this late stage, to arrange for a debate on the Floor of the House on the matter next week, both because it is right that alternative points of view should be aired, and because those of us who believe in the regulations know in our heart of hearts that we will be strengthened as a result of hearing and rebutting the arguments against them.
May we have a debate on the future of football? My right hon. Friend may have read recent newspaper reports claiming that the Football League is considering resolving drawn matches by penalty shoot-outs. Does he think that there are merits in that system and, if so, what lessons can he learn for resolving the future composition of the House of Lords?
There may be merits, but I am not sure what they are. I would be delighted to have a debate on the future of football, although I happen to think the much more important issue is to make sure that clubs, particularly premier league clubs, do not price themselves out of the market. I am glad that Blackburn Rovers is leading the way in that respect.
May I bring the Leader of the House back to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the successor to Sir Alistair Graham? In his efforts to be brief, he did not answer the question about whether a successor has been chosen and when the announcement will be made.
In view of the negotiations that are taking place in Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a Northern Ireland Minister to come to the House and give us an update on how those negotiations are proceeding? Would such a Minister be able to confirm that the date of 26 March for setting up a devolved Administration will not be varied in any way by the Government?
I can confirm that. Any change to the 26 March date would require emergency legislation, and the Government have made it clear that there is no possibility of further emergency legislation in relation to the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland to extend the deadline.
On the sexual orientation regulations, I associate myself with the question asked by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) and the way in which he asked it. In urging the Leader of the House to think again about a debate on the Floor of the House, I assure him that the detail of the regulations was not debated in the proceedings on the Equality Act, because there was just a regulation-making power. There was no thought about issues such as exemptions for adoption. I urge him to recognise that a debate on the Floor of the House would expose the divisions in some parties in this place and, broadly speaking, the unity among Government Members and Liberal Democrat Members in seeking to have those freedoms for lesbian and gay people.
I note the strength of feeling on the issue by people who hold different positions on the merits of the regulations. With respect, I cannot add to what I have already said about the problems of programming business on the Floor of the House given the demands. However, I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, it gives me the greatest pleasure to make a statement on progress towards the Olympic games and the Paralympics in 2012.
This will be the world’s greatest sporting event here in our country, but it will also act as a catalyst for the most ambitious regeneration programme in recent memory. That will include the largest new urban park in Europe for more than 150 years. There will be five new permanent sports venues and a number of temporary venues, which will be used around the UK after the games. The 1 million sq ft media centre for the games will provide in legacy a state-of-the-art business space. Four thousand homes will be converted from the village, and a further 5,000 will be provided elsewhere in the redevelopment. And there will be one of the largest shopping centres in Europe, which will involve an estimated £7 billion private sector investment. That money has been invested because we won the Olympic games.
Across the country, the games will inspire a whole generation of young people to play sport, volunteer in their communities and be proud of what their country has achieved. We chose to host the games at a site where the need was greatest and where the benefits would be most keenly felt. We chose east London, because of the challenge to regenerate one of the most deprived areas not only in the UK, but in the whole of Europe. The site of the Olympic park needs remediation before construction work can even begin. That work is well under way. Essential utilities for the area need to be installed. That work is also well under way.
Developing the Olympic village requires the largest number of homes ever to be built in one place, at one time, in this country. The planning for that work is on schedule. As the National Audit Office report in January set out, when we bid for the games, we estimated the cost of the Olympic park, infrastructure and an element for community and elite sport at around £3 billion, plus an additional £1 billion as part of the wider lower Lea valley Olympic regeneration. This made the total cost of preparing for the games and Olympic regeneration just over £4 billion. Those costs were net of tax and of wider security costs.
I made it clear to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 15 May 2005, which was before we won, that if we were successful, I would institute a detailed review of costs. That review began in early autumn 2005, after we had won the bid. The budget for every venue, every bridge and every facility on the park has been scrutinised. The Olympic Delivery Authority’s private sector delivery partner, CLM, has unrivalled expertise in advising five Olympic cities on their plans. CLM has made a detailed study of the site and all the attendant risks inherent in a project of this magnitude and tight time scale. The site master plan has been amended to avoid potential costs in the region of £600 million. However, other costs have been judged to have increased, as I set out for the Select Committee in November, resulting in a net increase of £900 million.
We will now set a budget for the ODA, the body established to manage the delivery of all the structural and regeneration elements of the games, and I can today confirm what the budget will be. The ODA will be given a budget to cover the construction costs as a whole of up to £5.3 billion up to 2012. That comprises £3.1 billion for building the Olympic park and venues—the core Olympic costs—£1.7 billion for Olympic infrastructure and regeneration linking the park to the rest of the lower Lea valley and a £500 million allowance for programme contingency, which represents 12 per cent. of the total programme contingency that has been allowed. I am placing a summary of the ODA 2007-08 business plan in the Library today as well as details of this investment.
Those costs, as in the 2004 bid, are net of tax. The ODA will pay tax, but the cost at around £840 million will be covered in full by the Government contribution. I can assure the House that the tax treatment of the ODA will have no impact on other funders. The Government have also decided that as the funder of last resort, it is prudent that a programme contingency should be held within Government under very tight conditions. This will be drawn on should the need be demonstrated, so as to ensure that the timetable is met and that quality is maintained. The level of contingency is £2.7 billion, of which, as I have said, £500 million will form part of the base budget of the ODA. Within that overall budget, we have also allocated a figure of £600 million for wider security, which is on top of the ODA budget for site security. This £600 million figure has fluctuated as assessments have changed and will obviously be subject to continued oversight and scrutiny in the coming months and years by the relevant Cabinet Committee, the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan police.
Lastly, as we announced at the time of the bid, around £390 million will be invested in non-ODA provision, including in sport—for example, community coaches—and in the Paralympics. That figure was included in the public sector funding package, but it is not part of the ODA budget.
Let me turn now to how the budget will be funded. At the time of our Olympic bid, the lottery and the London contribution was estimated at £2.4 billion, and as I told the House on 2 February 2006, the Government will contribute a further £1 billion as part of our commitment to Olympic regeneration.
I can announce today that central Government provision will be £6 billion. This comprises the £1 billion already committed for Olympic regeneration, the funding of the tax bill, broader regeneration, infrastructure within the park, wider security and programme contingency. Without any further increase for London council tax payers beyond that already committed, or any increase in transport fares to fund the Olympics, the Mayor will over the lifetime of the Olympic programme be making a further £300 million available to help meet Olympic costs.
The lottery will make a further contribution of £675 million. This will mean a total contribution of £2.2 billion from the lottery, which is 20 per cent. of lottery income for good causes from 2005, when the Olympic lottery started, to 2012-13. In addition to the £410 million already confirmed, which will be shared according to the normal lottery shares, I propose to transfer after 2009 £425 million from the Big Lottery Fund and £250 million from the other good causes. No transfer will be made from UK Sport, which is responsible for preparing our sportsmen and women for the Beijing Olympics and the London Olympics in 2012. The decision to take a further share from the lottery has been taken only after very careful consideration, and implementation will take place only after full consultation about the implications with the lottery distributors and the other stakeholders.
The original memorandum of understanding made it clear that should we win the games, we would call on the lottery to help fund them. I believe that that principle is widely accepted. However, I am determined to ensure that this temporary diversion from the existing good causes to the Olympic good cause is done with the least possible disruption. I will continue to consult the lottery distributors about how best this can be done, but I assure the House that it is the Government’s intention that no existing lottery projects need be affected. We have also agreed with the Big Lottery Fund that resources for the voluntary sector will be protected and will, as it expects, continue to receive the £2 billion from the Big Lottery Fund between now and 2012. The decision on the lottery will be subject to an affirmative resolution in both Houses in due course.
London 2012 will bring financial gain to London and, indeed, across the country. For example, land values in the Olympic park are expected to increase considerably as a result of the investment that we are making. In my view, it is only fair that the lottery good causes, having contributed to the Olympics, should share in any such windfall. The Mayor of London and I have agreed that we will rewrite our memorandum of understanding and put in place profit-sharing arrangements to enable the lottery and future regeneration needs of the local area to benefit from the returns on the investment that we are making in the Olympic park.
As I told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the NAO has agreed to work closely with us in scrutinising the budget from now on, and the team overseeing the project in the ODA has a world-class reputation. This makes generous funding provision for the project as a whole, of which £3.1 billion is the core Olympic cost, net of tax and contingency.
Only a fortnight ago, the International Olympic Committee said that it was “assured and impressed” by the work under way after its visit to London. The announcement that we make today means that it is full steam ahead for 2012. The London Olympics will change Britain for the better for ever. The fact of hosting the Olympic games is already changing lives and communities and building ambition. I commend that, and this statement, to the House.
I start by thanking the Secretary of State for her statement and for honouring her commitment to warn us last night that it was coming. Let me also place on the record my party’s congratulations to the organising committee, which announced Lloyds TSB as its first top sponsor yesterday.
I only saw the statement 20 minutes ago, but three indisputable facts stand out. First, if one adds together all the separate parts, the budget for which the Government are responsible has nearly trebled since the London Olympics Bill left Parliament under a year ago—[Interruption.]
Secondly, as a consequence, in raiding the lottery for a further £675 million to make up the shortfall, the Government will penalise precisely the clubs and small organisations throughout the country that were supposed to benefit from the Olympics.
Thirdly, as the Secretary of State has given us only the main column headings, we do not yet have the full, open and transparent budget that was necessary to restore confidence in the financing of London 2012.
As time is short, I should like to ask the Secretary of State five questions. The first concerns disclosure. As a result of information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, we now know that KPMG identified serious risks to the Olympic budget as early as October 2005, yet a month later the Secretary of State was still assuring the House:
“we believe that our budget is sound.”—[Official Report, 21 November 2005; Vol. 439, c. 1224.]
The Minister for Sport assured the House—Members will enjoy this—
“I shall never forget the person who said, ‘Do not underestimate the budget. If you have to go higher, it will be seen as a failure so make sure your calculations are realistic.’”—[Official Report, 21 July 2005; Vol. 436, c. 1505.]
The Bill did not leave Parliament until March 2006—a clear six months after KPMG had first raised concerns. My first question for the Secretary of State is therefore this: when were she and the Treasury first aware of concerns that the original budget was not deliverable, and why did not she share those concerns with Parliament?
Secondly, on contingency, the requirement to add whole project contingency to the individual project contingency already built into the bid has added, as the Secretary of State told us, £2.7 billion to the Olympic budget. Why did the Treasury and the Chancellor fail to identify that cost when they signed off the original budget?
Thirdly, on tax, given that we lifted our structures directly from Sydney, where no VAT was payable, and that VAT was not payable for the Manchester Commonwealth games, why did the Treasury and the Chancellor sign off the bid budget, without VAT, before adding, as the Secretary of State announced, a further £840 million to the budget? Can she assure the House that this is, indeed, simply a case of transferring balances and that no tax money will actually be collected?
Fourthly, on the private sector contribution, the NAO report highlighted the fact that £738 million was to come from the private sector in order to reduce the need for public funds—and is, presumably, still part of the new budget announced today. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has so far refused to answer any parliamentary written questions on this issue, always merely saying that it will let me have a reply in due course. Can the Secretary of State therefore explain to the House how that figure was reached, and will she confirm that it is still robust? If it is not, further public money will clearly be required to fill that additional shortfall.
Finally, on the lottery, the Secretary of State has announced that she will raid the national lottery for a further £675 million to pay for the Olympics. Despite the fact that
“enabling young people through sport”
was one of the key elements of the bid, the element of funding for sport that comes through the lottery has now been cut from the 25 per cent. that was originally proposed when the lottery was set up to about half under today’s proposals—a point consistently made by the Central Council of Physical Recreation. Can she confirm exactly what percentage sport—and, indeed, heritage, the arts and the Big Lottery Fund—will get under these new proposals, and, crucially, what assessment she has made of the financial impact of this in each and every constituency throughout the country?
Many Members in this House supported the Olympics and support them still. My party is among them. However, this statement confirms that the cost has almost trebled in the year since the Bill left Parliament and that the lottery will bear an extra £675 million shortfall. One of the key drivers for that is that the Treasury and the Chancellor signed off the original budget but failed to allow for VAT, at £840 million, or for contingency, at £2.7 billion, which they have now added to the bill.
The key thing now is for the Government to put a full, open and transparent budget in the public domain so that everybody knows who is paying for what, and when, and then to stick to it. That will do more than anything else to restore public confidence in the London 2012 Olympics. If they do not do that, I fear that the Secretary of State, or her successor, will be standing in front of us a year from now to admit that costs have risen further.
The hon. Gentleman must work harder to persuade not only the House but the country that the Opposition are behind the Olympics instead of taking every opportunity to undermine the excellent work that is being undertaken not only in London but throughout the country to support the games.
Let me deal with the specific questions. As I took care to set out in my statement, I have referred at every stage—before and after we won the bid—to the cost review that is under way. The hon. Gentleman must understand the scale and complexity of reviewing not only the time scales but the contractual expectations and other management aspects of every single project. That is why we have a world-class delivery partner, which has undertaken that work for us. Similarly, I signalled that the cost review, which was begun almost immediately after we won the bid, would be necessary before we became the host city.
On the prudence of a programme contingency, VAT and other provision that the Government are making, I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands the clear distinction between the budget for the ODA, which I set out today—the money we expect it to spend—and the funding provision to safeguard the project against any as yet unforeseen risks. That is a clear distinction.
There is a specific reason for Manchester’s exemption from VAT. The Commonwealth games operated on a host city basis and local authorities are exempt from paying VAT.
We have now allowed for private sector contribution in the budget, but on a pessimistic basis against the full expectation of what might be raised from that sector. Negotiations are under way all the time with different private sector partners, so it is possible, but not certain, that that may change. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know about private sector investment in the Olympic park, I refer him to the confidence that Westfield has shown in investing in the largest retail park at Stratford city and residential development because of the Olympic games.
Let me deal with the point about raiding the lottery. Such criticism is hard to take from an Opposition who made a manifesto commitment to wind up the Big Lottery Fund, which they are now defending, and conduct some sort of moral audit of grants that it made. Nothing has done more to galvanise sport and ambition among young people in this country than the prospect of London hosting the Olympic games. We are guardians of that ambition. Despite the knocks from the Opposition, we shall continue to be so.
We remain delighted that London won the right to host the 2012 games. The involvement of Lloyds TSB is clearly great news. Properly managed, the 2012 games will bring huge and lasting benefits to all parts of the country. Sadly, today’s statement and the chaos that has surrounded the past 12 months and more calls into question the Government’s ability to provide that proper management. Why has it taken so long to resolve some of the most basic issues?
Was not the Select Committee right to express surprise that the VAT position was not established from the start? Why has it taken so long to resolve the overall contingency? Were not the Treasury Green Book requirements known all along? How will the Secretary of State square the contingency figure with the comments of the Mayor of London? When asked about a contingency of 60 per cent., he said:
“There are no circumstances on earth under which I will agree… to a contingency of that size.”
What confidence can anyone have when the management costs of building the Olympic structure have leaped from approximately £16 million to nearly £400 million? Surely the Select Committee was right to say that cost control procedures were not fully thought through when the bid was submitted.
How can the Secretary of State have miscalculated by nearly £700 million the contribution from the private sector towards the building costs? How are the public to react when different members of the Olympic board, which is meant to be in charge of the enterprise, say different things? For example, when, in November last year, the Secretary of State told the Select Committee that costs had risen by £900 million, why did the Mayor—another member of the board—say that the original figure was still the right one?
In the Secretary of State’s statement to the Select Committee that referred to £900 million, she also said,
“let me be absolutely specific about that: we are not talking about regeneration; we are only talking about the Olympic Park”.
A day later, the Mayor stated:
“The big extra costs we’re talking about are not to do with the Olympic games; they’re to do with what we do with the land around afterwards.”
Who are we to believe?
The Chancellor must rue the day when he said:
“Britain works best when Britain works together and there is no better example than our preparations for the Olympic games.”
Far from working together, the past 12 months have been characterised by chaos, confusion and in-fighting of epic proportions.
Now we have a new set of figures. The Secretary of State says that the Government are working closely with the National Audit Office. Will she confirm that the NAO has verified the new budget? Will she agree to present regular reports to Parliament for debate in Government time so that we have a regular opportunity to scrutinise the progress of the Olympics?
Will the Secretary of State reconsider her plans to make a further raid on national lottery good causes? Surely she realises that the benefits of hosting the 2012 games rely on legacy. A new hit on the lottery of the extent that she proposes represents a cut of £1 million to every constituency in the land. The very projects that would help secure lasting benefits in those constituencies are now under threat, as will be the good will that currently exists towards the games.
Today’s statement is a sad indictment of the Government’s ability to deliver the best ever games on time and, above all, on budget. The confusion, in-fighting and, above all, writing of blank cheques must end.
That is a rant worthy of Victor Meldrew that does not take us any further on. If one believes everything that is written in the papers—the work of our dear friends the journalists who watch our work—rather than working through the solutions to difficult problems, I suppose one feels that one can justify such a rant. I have always invited the Opposition parties to be part of the plans to develop the games and to champion them and young people’s ambitions. Yet they default at every turn to a position of point scoring, party political advantage, allegation and slur. The Olympics will be legacy games. One can build temporary structures in any part of any city and host Olympic games. The games that we host will create a legacy in one of the poorest parts of our country. My Labour colleagues and I celebrate that as an expression of why we are in politics.
May I caution the Secretary of State not to treat every question that raises an important issue as meaning that people oppose the Olympic games?
Will she give a commitment that not one single grass-roots sports project in constituencies will be cut as a result of the move from lottery money at the grass-roots? What will happen if the public suddenly change their minds and stop buying or buy fewer lottery tickets?
I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution and I welcome her support for the Olympic games. It is absolutely right that the decisions, costs and every aspect of the Olympics should be subject to scrutiny. I have set out today as best I can both the consequences of a further take from the lottery and the safeguards that we are extending. I have made it absolutely clear that it is not the Government’s expectation that any current lottery-funded project should see its funding either cut or withdrawn as a result of the Olympics. The problem, of course, lies with giving an absolute blanket assurance in respect of hundreds of thousands of lottery projects throughout the country, as some may close for reasons quite unrelated to the Olympic games. My assurances about lottery-funded projects have been put on the record in the House today and I am absolutely sure that all hon. Members will come back if they find the consequences in their constituencies to be any different.
Is the Secretary of State aware that today’s announcement that another £675 million has been taken from the lottery on top of the existing £1.5 billion will be greeted with dismay by arts and heritage organisations, charities and grass-roots sports? Will she accept that that makes it all the more imperative that those causes should not suffer a double hit with an announcement of a cut in direct grant funding as a result of the comprehensive spending review? Can she give the House an absolute guarantee that this is the final figure for the call on the lottery, and that if there are any further increases in costs beyond the figures announced today, they will not be taken from the lottery but met by the Treasury through central Government expenditure?
I will make two points in response to the hon. Gentleman. First, this is intended to be the final lottery contribution to the costs of the Olympic games between now and 2012. Secondly, we should not forget that a major part of the Olympics and Paralympics will be the cultural Olympiad, which starts next year when London becomes the host city and Liverpool becomes the capital of culture. There is not a single aspect of our heritage, our culture, our community sport or our national life that cannot be enriched by our hosting of the Olympic games. Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the comprehensive spending review, but without wishing to be coy, I am sure he will accept that that is an announcement for the Chancellor, not for me.
I welcome this pinning down of the finances—[Interruption]—particularly the money that is already being spent in my constituency. I also welcome the commitment to fund the broadcast centre—a proper legacy for jobs and business in Hackney. Will my right hon. Friend tell me and the House what work she and other agencies are doing to ensure that the money that she has unveiled and discussed today is recycled so that local and UK businesses are in a good bid position—ready to bid for the contracts that will come up? That will help to ensure that the money is invested in jobs and businesses in the UK, east London and London as a whole.
I thank my hon. Friend for her work to support the Olympics in her own constituency, which will ensure that her constituents benefit from the job and training opportunities as well as the sporting opportunities that will arise from hosting the games. It is well known that 12,000 or so new jobs will be made available and the commitment to pre-volunteering is also important, because some socially excluded people in the Olympic boroughs will have the opportunity to get into work and to acquire the skills that will keep them in work. That will stem from their volunteering in the run-up to the games.
My hon. Friend has made a very important point, because part of the legacy of the games will be world-class facilities and a new urban park in one of the poorest parts of the country. Another legacy is just as important to my hon. Friend’s constituents and those of other colleagues with east London constituencies—the prospect of new jobs and new skills in a part of London where unemployment is significantly higher than in the rest of the country.
May I gently say to the Secretary of State that it is possible for an east London MP to be in favour of the Olympics and also utterly astonished at the change in the budget figures announced today, which will so affect my constituents? May I, without any ranting, simply ask her to answer the following questions? First, will she now guarantee, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) requested, that there will be no further increases in demands on the lottery fund? Secondly, will she also guarantee—the Secretary of State will forgive me for not trusting the Mayor, as she may do—that no further demands will be placed on council tax payers in my constituency?
On the first question, I have said clearly that there will be no further call on the lottery between now and the Olympic games in 2012. On the second, the Mayor has also made it absolutely clear that he does not expect to levy further council tax increases on Londoners.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement, and I would like to say how important it is to keep stressing the part of the Olympics that money cannot buy—not just the legacy, but the hopes, aspirations and dreams of many young people, especially in my constituency of Brent, South. I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the opening of the Willesden sports centre. We hope that at least five to 10 of those young people will be able to compete and win medals in the games. It is also important to stress that some of the Olympic games will come to Wembley stadium—[Interruption]—and I would like to tell the House that that will be opened on Saturday. As I said at the outset, it is so important to stress the aspects that money cannot buy.
I thank and congratulate my hon. Friend. The ambition of the young people now training at the Willesden sports centre to win medals at the London Olympics is unequivocal. All power to their success. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say, despite all the cynical barracking from Opposition Members, that Wembley stadium will be one of the finest in the world. It will host the football events in the 2012 Olympics.
We all regret that the Secretary of State has had to come back to the House as she has. In all honesty, I suspect that on 5 July 2005 she did not expect us to win the Olympic bid; hence the budget was much slacker than it otherwise might have been. She rightly points that there has to be legacy, and that providing a catalyst for regeneration is the raison d’être of the Olympic games. We all know that it will be a spectacle and a great sporting success in 2012, but without that legacy it will have been a wasted opportunity. My fear is that with the budget now set at £6 billion—much higher than the original budget—it is the regeneration that will be lost if costs continue to spiral as they have. Will the Secretary of State—
I think that we should ask for a declaration of interest from Conservative Members before every contribution, if what they really mean is that it would have been better if we had not won the Olympic games bid. [Interruption.] To deal with the hon. Gentleman’s point, yes, legacy is absolutely—[Interruption.]
The hon. Gentleman’s question is specifically about legacy. The investment in regeneration and Olympic infrastructure in and around the Olympic park is precisely about legacy, because the sporting venues that will be built will be used for decades to come—long after the 60 days of the Olympics and Paralympics. That is one of the reasons why we should look at this not just as a cost but as an investment in the quality of life of those communities for decades to come.
A key aspect of the legacy is that it will bring into beneficial use a huge area of land in east London that is very close to the City, but hitherto could not be used because of its highly contaminated nature. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State mention profit sharing in relation to the added value of the site. Does she intend to return to the House with more details of those profit-sharing arrangements? If not, will she ensure that there is another opportunity to examine how the profit will be shared between regeneration projects and returns to the lottery fund?
Will the Secretary of State, as a fellow London MP, concede that additional money will now have to come from London taxpayers, despite the agreement that there should be no increase in the Olympics tax? The £300 million that needs to be found by the Mayor will have to come either from a reprioritisation of his budget or from an increase in that other element of council tax, the main council tax itself. Will not additional money also have to come from London taxpayers through the so-called profit sharing, bearing in mind that the London assembly had previously been assured that all the money coming from the increased value of the land would be secured by the London Development Agency? Now that extra money is to be taken away from Londoners.
As a number of Members have already pointed out, what is unique about these Olympics is the legacy and regeneration benefits. Regeneration is critical to the area, which is one of the most deprived parts of the country. It will involve 9,000 homes, a shopping centre and a media centre—and I could go through all the benefits and additional jobs that have been mentioned. I understand that the infrastructure costs have risen from £1 billion to £1.7 billion. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how much of that increase is due to inflated construction costs, and how much will be additional regeneration benefits that will link not only the five boroughs but the rest of London and the rest of the country to all the benefits that the Olympics will bring?
In relation to construction costs, when I appeared before the Select Committee on 21 November I made it clear that we had revised the estimate of construction inflation from 5 to 6 per cent. and that we had allowed for the cost resulting from that. My hon. Friend has been an incredible champion of the Lea Valley athletics centre, which is a state-of-the-art world-class training facility just up the road from Stratford. That is a good example of how regeneration can be brought to a deprived community through world-class investment in sport.
Will the Secretary of State accept that many people in London will regard the suggestion that Manchester is a different kind of host city from London as the biggest load of baloney yet to come from her Department on this subject? Given her announcement that the memorandum of understanding between herself and the Mayor is to be rewritten, will she undertake that it will spell out specifically that there will be a binding cap on council tax increases for Londoners, and that it will give a specific indication of how much money will be given away by the London Development Agency to the rest of the country through the percentage of the profit to be transferred out of the LDA—
That’s a vote for Paris.
That is right: that was a vote for Paris.
I want to deal with the matter of VAT status. The city of Manchester ran the Commonwealth games, and it was therefore exempt from VAT. London is constituted on a different basis, as it is making a contribution to the cost of the games. I, too, am a London Member of Parliament, and I do not think that those of us who represent London constituencies need a binding cap on the take from the council tax, because we know precisely—and are sensitive to—the views of our constituents. I am quite sure that the rewriting of the memorandum of understanding between the Mayor and me will reflect that.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her assurances about the position of London council tax payers. However, there is a concomitant concern that a loss of other resources might occur. We shall have to return to that issue over time. Will she give me an assurance that in the search for private sector partners—especially sponsors—to fund the games, regard will be given to those whose commercial activities conflict with Government health priorities, particularly those in the fast food and food processing industries?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I would like to remind him of the scale of private sector investment that has already come into London as a direct result of the games, and of the potential tourism dividend, which has been estimated at between £1.4 billion and £2 billion, 40 per cent. of which is expected to be enjoyed not by London but by the rest of the country. I understand what my hon. Friend’s question about private sector partners is getting at, but a number of the sponsors are nominated and contracted by the International Olympic Committee rather than directly by the host city.
The Secretary of State should be aware that people in my constituency in west London will be profoundly sceptical about her statement that the Mayor does not expect to increase the council tax for London beyond current commitments. I want to ask her a simple question: can she guarantee that my constituents’ council tax will not rise beyond current commitments?
The decision about council tax is a decision for the Mayor. It is not a decision for me as Secretary of State and Olympics Minister. I have set out for the House this morning the budget for the Olympic Delivery Authority and I have indicated the scale of the wider funding provision. There is a memorandum of understanding, and the Mayor has made his position very clear. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue this point—which, again, I take as a vote for Paris—he should take it up with the Mayor.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that some members of the Public Accounts Committee, on which I sit, will be devastated by the fact that she has set this budget today, because it takes away the one weapon that they had with which to attack the 2012 Olympic games? Does she share my frustration that some of the wider benefits of the games—the regeneration, the improved transport infrastructure, the housing—have been included in the public perception of the costs of the Olympics, which takes away from the perception of the huge benefits that we will see in London?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The message not only for London Members of Parliament but for those representing constituencies up and down the country is that there will be opportunities for all their constituents, and they can help them to achieve them. So the responsibility also lies with them. My hon. Friend referred to the Public Accounts Committee, and I would remind him that we welcome the National Audit Office report on the Olympic games. In presenting the budget and the wider funding provision today, we have addressed the outstanding risk about which the NAO expressed concern, in what was overall an extremely positive report.
Yes, it is good to have a non-London Member asking a question about the cost of the Olympic games. The cost will be borne equally by my constituents, who receive as much national lottery funding as anyone else. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what assessment she has made of the impact on the sporting bodies, especially those outside London, that will now lose their budgets because of this extra raid on the national lottery of £675 million? Who will be the losers? The Government will get a gold medal for the biggest increase in the cost of an Olympic games ever. The Olympic rings are hanging like a noose over future generations, who will have to pay the huge debt that the Government have created. They have completely lost control of the financing of the Olympic games.
Order. I do not want non-London Members to suppose that they must speak for longer than London Members. I am trying to allow every Member who wants to speak to do so. Another important statement and then a debate on higher education are to follow, however, so I would appreciate short questions and concise answers.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I fear for the health of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) when he rants as he does. Briefly, the answer to his question is that the lottery is not the only source of money for sport in this country. That is why so many more young people have been taking part in sport and so much more has been achieved. Sport has been enjoying an unprecedented level of investment, and we need that to continue.
Dick Pound, who was on the International Olympic Committee for 20 years, said that the bid books were the best piece of creative accounting he had ever seen. Given the legacy of Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, we should not be surprised to know that, by and large, the figures double. I ask my right hon. Friend to step back from the lottery £625 million. I sit on the South East England Development Agency and Kent county council Olympic groups, and we need a challenge fund to bid for elements of the Olympics in 2012. Therefore, if she is going to take some of the lottery money away, will she reconsider the 12p in the pound that the lottery takes in tax and use that 12p, not cuts in the lottery, to resolve the dilemma?
During those heady, euphoric, nonsensical days when London was first awarded the Olympic games, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru were alone in warning of the spiralling costs and highlighting the threat to our national lottery, while the other Opposition parties were compliantly silent. Surely it is not credible or realistic to suggest that further raids on the lottery will not result in real pain. Why should grass-roots sports and good causes in my constituency lose out to pay for the regeneration of east London, when the London taxpayer will not pay a penny more?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman supported the idea of the Olympic games in London or in Paris—but perhaps he does support the prospect of holding the Commonwealth games in Glasgow. I welcome the support in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the London Olympics. Young people in those countries will also be beneficiaries of the unprecedented investment in sport.
It is the duty of every Member of the House to scrutinise budgets and make sure that we get value for money, particularly with expensive schemes such as the Olympics. What the Opposition have shown, however, is that they know the cost of everything and the value of absolutely nothing. Over the past two generations, the affected part of east London has seen factories, docks and, south of the river, the Woolwich arsenal close. Is not two thirds of the budget announced by my right hon. Friend for infrastructure and regeneration? If what we have heard in the Chamber is the sort of publicity that the Olympics is going to get, it is important for the Olympic movement to make every community a part of the games, to overcome the penny-pinching and negativity of Opposition Members.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To sound a note of warning to the Opposition, I remind them that public support is with the Olympics. In every school in this country, young people are counting the years and the months until the Olympics. The Olympics have lifted prospects, ambitions and aspirations, as more young people take part in sport. The approach of the Conservative party is to say that it is a great supporter of the Olympics, but then to seek to destabilise, carp and criticise at every turn.
It is possible to be in favour and yet express concern. Is the Secretary of State aware that all those who are concerned about arts and heritage matters, for which she has national responsibility, fear a destructive distortion in her budget over the next five years? They fear that she will go down in history as the most expensive lady since Helen of Troy, whose face launched a thousand ships—and those, at least, were operational.
The hon. Gentleman, who has a proud and distinguished reputation for representing the heritage in this House and beyond, is being a touch apocalyptic. The Government welcome scrutiny of everything that we and our associated partners are doing in relation to the Olympics. We deplore, however, the cynicism that undermines the optimism felt by young people up and down the country.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Will she ensure real engagement with local communities through the nations and regions group, so that all communities outside London can see the benefits of the games, especially in increased participation in sports, which I believe will be one of the strongest legacies of the games?
My hon. Friend has set an example in her constituency for how enthusiasm for the Olympics can be brought together through local organisations, sports clubs and local sponsorship. I hope that Members from both sides of the House will rise to that challenge. She is absolutely right that sustaining public confidence and support for the Olympics means making clear the benefits that will come to towns, cities and communities across the United Kingdom. That is what we want to achieve.