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Commons Chamber

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 26 July 2007

House of Commons

Thursday 26 July 2007

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Children, Schools and Families

The Secretary of State was asked—

Children in Care

I am very proud to answer the first question on behalf of the new Department for Children, Schools and Families—the “Every Child Matters” Department, including children in care.

The White Paper “Care Matters: Time for Change” proposed a wide range of measures to improve outcomes for children in care, and additional funding of £305 million over four years. We will introduce legislation in the next Session to support implementation; provide a £500 allowance for each child in care falling behind at school; improve stability through parenting support for foster carers and better use of family carers; and improve support for those leaving care.

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his position, and I also welcome that comprehensive answer. Is he aware that for some time Blackpool council has been developing an advocacy service for children in care in the looked-after system, and is currently developing a looked-after children’s council? Will my hon. Friend ensure that as the “Care Matters” agenda is developed, the voice of the child is heard? It is through listening to those young people that appropriate services can be set up, and their outcomes improved.

Yes, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work as president of Blackpool Advocacy, and on all her work down the years on behalf of children in care. It is central to the White Paper and the legislation that the Government will introduce in the new Session that the voice of the child should inform all we do, in local systems as well as individually in their day-to-day experience.

I applaud the Government’s efforts to improve outcomes for children in care, who are badly served by state services at present. Some time ago the Government floated the idea—in fact, I think they intended to introduce it—of sending some of those children to boarding school, either state or private. That idea offers an interesting opportunity. It would give children continuity of care and enable them to make friends, and also offers the prospect for their foster carers in summer to have less time responsibility. Can the Minister update us on the prospects for such placements for some children?

Yes, I can. The principle that will always inform everything we do for children in care is that what is done should be in the best interests of the child. I am sure Members are familiar with that paramount principle. We are piloting some of the ideas to which the hon. Lady referred, and obviously, we shall keep the House informed of progress.

I welcome not only the new team but also the much greater emphasis on children right across the piece. Does my hon. Friend agree that with children in care, as with children throughout the education system, our real problem is that the poorest children have the least spent on their education and care? That is the real challenge that we and his team face over the coming years.

Yes. It is absolutely the mission of the Department to ensure that all children reach their potential, particularly children from the poorest backgrounds. Children in care sometimes do not achieve the outcome that accords with their potential. The principles we shall follow in bringing in the new legislation and implementing the proposals in the White Paper are based on the fact that we have high ambitions for children in care and for the poorest children in the country.

The Government have caused a number of problems by conflating section 31 and section 20, but will they commit to listening to the voices of children who say that they want to leave care and return to their parents? I know of cases where children have run away from care to go back to their parents, only to be returned time and again. Will the Government start listening to the voices of children who want to return to their parents?

It is the principle the Government follow that wherever possible children should remain with their birth family. It is absolutely legitimate to make criticisms and to look into the issues raised by children in care and adoption, but what is not legitimate is—sometimes in pursuit of a headline in a popular newspaper—to accuse the Government, professionals in the social care sector, local authorities, and indeed the courts, of not trying to act in the best interests of children, which is what the system is designed to do.

Local authorities act in loco parentis for children in care. Will the Minister tell me how he is working with the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the local area agreements that local authorities are about to develop will have at their heart services and outcomes for our children in care?

Yes, and as I said earlier, when it becomes the responsibility of the state, particularly at local level, to act in loco parentis or to act as a parent in lieu, we should be aiming to act as a parent to the same standard that we would expect from good parents if a child was able to remain with their birth parents. Naturally it is possible for local authorities, where they believe that they need to stretch their performance, to negotiate local area agreements, and obviously that will be a matter for them to decide.

The Government’s target has been to narrow the gap in achievement between looked-after children and their peers. Is it not therefore a cause for deep concern that just 12 per cent. of looked-after children pass five GCSEs at grade A to C, and that the gap in attainment between children in the care of the state and all other children has widened every year since 2001? The Government have for 10 years failed to get it right for 61,000 looked-after children in this country. With such a record of failure, can the Minister explain why there should be any confidence that he will get it right now, and tackle what has become a deteriorating educational poverty gap for these children?

I thank the hon. Lady—although I was hoping that we might be able to develop a relationship based on consensus around trying to help children in care. Perhaps it is unfortunate that she started off talking about a record of failure, when in fact there has been significant improvement in the educational performance of children in care. For example, between 2000 and 2006 the percentage of children in care obtaining a GCSE has increased from 49 per cent. to 63 per cent., the percentage of those children obtaining five A to Gs has increased from 35 per cent. to 41 per cent. and the percentage obtaining five A to Cs from 7 per cent. to 12 per cent. [Hon. Members: “Twelve per cent.!”] That is not good enough, but it is a significant improvement on the previous position. With the Every Child Matters agenda, with the White Paper and with the legislation that is being introduced, which will include additional financial help for children who are in danger of falling behind in school and who are in care, we are determined to make that better.

Secondary Schools

I start by welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), to the Front Bench for his first Question Time, and also by welcoming the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) to the Opposition Front Bench for his first questions on this subject.

Standards in secondary schools have risen dramatically over the past decade, with more than 86,000 more pupils now achieving five good GCSEs last year compared with 1997, and 62,000 more achieving five good GCSEs including maths and English. This is as a result of rising investment, a relentless focus on standards, support for teachers and improved discipline, and targeted intervention to tackle poor performance.

In welcoming the Secretary of State to his very important new role, may I urge him to be more flexible in pushing up standards? Surely that means both setting and streaming in every subject in secondary school. When is that going to happen?

I agree that we need to be flexible, and that means giving teachers and head teachers the flexibility to do the right thing for their children in their schools. I have said that I believe that setting is the right way to go, and setting is rising in our schools, but I have also said that I do not think that selection, either through grammar schools or through grammar streams, would be the right way to go. I think that grammar streams would be divisive. That would be the wrong way to go. I do not think that the Conservative party is right on this subject, but I do think that setting is the right way to go.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware of the year-on-year improvement in GCSE pass rates and grades from pupils across Dudley. What further progress does he envisage for the pupils of Stourbridge, with the recent announcement of an extra £25 million for the black country learning challenge?

The standards have been rising in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but they have not risen fast enough and we want to do more, and in particular to do more for every child in her constituency. That is why, learning from the London model, we have established a black country challenge to help her and her colleagues to drive up standards in every school in her constituency.

There is a growing movement within the education establishment to try to reduce the amount of testing in our secondary, and indeed primary schools. Testing has been an extremely valuable tool in raising standards. Can the Secretary of State give me a categorical assurance that there will be no retreat from testing in our schools?

I think that it is the Conservative party that has advocated a reduction in testing; that was certainly the previous shadow Minister’s view. In my view, testing is essential for parents, for head teachers and for pupils themselves, to be able to track progress. We want to ensure that we test more through the curriculum, but do it in a personalised way that enables us to drive up standards for every child, and to give teachers the information they need to ensure that we drag up poor performance as well as promote excellence. So I can tell the hon. Gentleman from this party that there will be no retreat from the testing agenda.

May I too welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position? I am delighted with the way in which standards are being driven up in our secondary schools, but will he place particular emphasis, especially in secondary schools, on encouraging young people to go into the crafts? I am talking about engineering, carpentry, plumbing, electrics and whatever. We are really getting short of such skills, and secondary schools have a big role to play in encouraging people to go into them.

My hon. Friend is completely right, and we need to make sure that our programme for diplomas for 14 to 19-year-olds both promotes academic excellence and gives people the skills that they need for life—whether for university, for college or for work. Two days ago I visited South Bank university to launch the first engineering diploma, and with the other four diplomas that we are launching in the next couple of weeks, I think that he will see that in the areas he described—related to the built environment—we will both promote learning and give people skills for life. I assure him that this Department will drive forward that vocational agenda in a way that promotes academic excellence.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his first question session. In his first statement to the House as Secretary of State, he said that he would make standards rather than structures the priority. In almost his last speech on education, Tony Blair, the previous Prime Minister—if I am still allowed to mention him—said:

“over time I shifted from saying ‘it’s standards not structures’ to realising that schools structures…affect standards.”

Could the Secretary of State explain why he has changed the Government’s position on that issue since coming to his new post?

I made it very clear that standards for all children would drive this new Department and I said that it is all about what happens in the classroom, and about backing teachers, but also about backing leadership change in schools when that is needed. That is what our academy programme does. In the end, the test is standards rather than simply structural change for its own sake, so I am clear that standards are the ultimate test of our policy. I say to the hon. Gentleman and to all Members of the House that when shadow Ministers say:

“Academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it”,

they are making the case for why we reject structural change through grammar schools in favour of an agenda of standards for all in our country.

Is not a major factor in success in secondary schools excellence in leadership? Will my right hon. Friend give his commitment to the support and training for head teachers and senior management teams? Does he agree that we must never overlook the very valuable contribution made to good leadership in our schools by the massive army of unpaid school governors?

My hon. Friend is completely right. The voluntary work done by governors contributes hugely to the leadership agenda that I have spoken about. It is also about teachers, head teachers and the support staff who play a valuable role in the classroom every day in our schools. Backing leadership in every classroom by recognising the professionalism of every teacher and every support worker is essential so that head teachers and governors can do their job and deliver for all the pupils in their area.

May I welcome the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to their places for their first Question Time? And may I say how much I look forward to working with him, with his team—and, indeed, with the Liberal Democrats—to advance the cause of pragmatic reform wherever possible?

In his first statement to the House, the Secretary of State said that his priority would be core subjects such as maths and science. That is a priority that Conservative Members share—but can he tell me how many students are now taking A-level maths and physics compared with 10 years ago?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am concerned by the fact that the number of A-level pupils doing physics has gone down—although I am pleased to see that the number of pupils doing physics GCSE has gone up. Since 1997 the number of pupils doing one science GCSE has risen from 87 per cent. to 92 per cent. and the number of students doing the single science GCSE has gone from 9 per cent. to 11 per cent. We are laying the foundations in the GCSE curriculum to promote more science. We are delivering, but there is more to be done in order to deliver more A-level students, and I am happy to work with the hon. Gentleman to make that happen.

The answer was a simple sum; we did not need an extended essay. There are now 15 per cent. fewer students taking physics A-level and 7 per cent. fewer taking maths—something that the Secretary of State ignored. A quarter of state secondary schools have no physics teacher, and fewer than half our maths teachers have maths degrees. As Winston Churchill might have said, if he was still in the curriculum, “Never in the field of maths and physics have so many been taught so little by so few.” How does the Minister explain that failure?

I have just said that our performance in science GCSEs has been going up, not down. I have also said that I am happy to work with the hon. Gentleman to make sure that we do more. In my statement to the House a couple of weeks ago, I said that I wanted a national consensus on driving standards up for all children. I have also said that there are things that we have to do to make that happen. We should raise the level of state school spending to the private school level. We should raise the education-leaving age to 18. We should promote excellence for all students, not just some in a grammar stream. We should roll out our extended schools programme and our Sure Start programme to every area in the country. I want a consensus with the hon. Gentleman on these matters. I know that this is difficult for him—there are difficulties on these issues; I understand that. As he said himself:

“in their reluctance to endorse any of these schemes the Conservatives are left embarrassingly mute”—

Sex and Relationship Education

3. If he will remove the right of schools and parents to absent children from sex and relationship education within personal, health and social education; and if he will make a statement. (152580)

We want to see an improvement in sex and relationship education in schools, particularly following the Youth Parliament’s helpful report on this subject. We have no plans to remove the right of parents to withdraw their children from all or part of the sex and relationship education that is delivered within the personal, social and health education curriculum. We believe that that right is essential to accommodate different beliefs on what can, for some parents, be a very sensitive issue.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I wonder whether he is aware that according to the FPA, Marie Stopes and other organisations that work with young people on sexual health, education and services, it is the young people—especially girls—who need this information most who are the most likely to be withdrawn.

Certainly we need to pay close attention not only to what the FPA says, but to what my hon. Friend says. She has been a long-standing tireless campaigner in this area and her remarks carry considerable weight. We do need to do better in this area. We want to build on the 6,000 nurses and teachers who have undertaken the training programme for PSHE. We will monitor how the new flexibility in the secondary curriculum is used and we will monitor the new PSHE curriculum. We will also watch how the requirement for all schools to become healthy schools—including by following on guidance on sex and relationships education—improves outcomes for young people. If all those measures do not work, we will certainly have to review the decision on the statutory status and the matters that my hon. Friend has raised.

Given the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, especially among teenagers, is the Minister confident that the current teaching in schools is adequate, especially given the scarce resources in primary care trusts and hospital trusts, which obviously have to pick up the bill for STDs?

We share the concern about sexually transmitted diseases and we take very seriously the improvements needed in teaching. That is why it is important that 6,000 teachers and nurses have been through the continuous professional development programme, and why that number is growing. It is also why it is important that, as part of healthy school status, we should include as one of the four pillars personal, social and health education—and sex and relationship education within that. As I just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty), if the measures do not work on a voluntary basis, we will have to go back and revisit the decision on statutory education.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty). Does the Minister realise that if those girls, in particular, are withdrawn from the classes, it will be yet another layer of discrimination against them, on top of, say, the fact that many of them start school with no English? There was a programme produced by “File on 4”, I think last week, which claimed that in 2005, 250 girls aged 13 to 15 were removed from schools in the Bradford district, which includes my constituency.

My hon. Friend has been assiduous in raising concerns on behalf of her constituents about outcomes in Keighley and Bradford in general, particularly for girls. We need to ensure that schools work closely with parents and the community. Schools need to be sensitive to the beliefs of people in their constituencies, but they also need to ensure that they are getting the right outcomes for everybody. That is what we expect from all schools, regardless of their circumstances, but there is a balance to be struck by head teachers and governors on the ground.

Sure Start (York)

4. How many children and families have been supported by Sure Start in York since the programme’s inception. (152581)

City of York had one Sure Start local programme, which opened in November 2002, covering a catchment area in which there were 598 children under four. The latest figures, from March 2006, indicate that on average the programme saw 20 per cent. of those children each month. In July, the programme was designated as a Sure Start children’s centre, providing services for 750 under-fives.

There are 9,000 children in York under the age of five. By April next year, the programme will have provided eight children’s centres, offering support for 6,200 children. Is the Government’s plan to roll out the scheme so that all children can receive the services of children’s centres, and if so, what is the timetable for delivering that?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that he is a strong champion of the Sure Start programme in his area. Under phase 2, York is set to receive £1.7 million of revenue and £3.2 million of capital in total to support the development of the seven other centres. The Government’s target is for every community to have a Sure Start children’s centre by 2010, and as he rightly says, they make an important difference, initially to the most disadvantaged children, and ultimately to all children.

I believe that the programme’s first children’s centre recently opened in New Earswick, which is in the city of York part of the Vale of York. Does the right hon. Lady accept that that centre shows that children’s centres can work very effectively with the private sector, which offers nursery places independently? I understand that York will pilot the next stage of the free entitlement to nursery places. Will she use it as a role model, and accept that there should be a free economy as far as the free entitlement to nursery places is concerned, in York and the rest of the country?

I am glad that in her question, the hon. Lady recognises, as she has not done before, that the private sector plays an important and substantial role in the development of children’s centres. The scheme is far from being about state provision: the child care offered by 58 per cent. of children’s centres is provided not by the state but by the private sector. As she says, that is the case in the New Earswick centre, which is to be designated this autumn. That applies, too, to the free entitlement for three and four-year-olds. We want to retain that mixed economy; overall, we think that it is a great strength. We want local authorities to support private and voluntary providers and to sustain their provision.

Language Units

5. What assessment he has made of the impact of the closure of language units attached to mainstream schools; and if he will ensure that full consultation with affected parties is required before such closures may be implemented. (152582)

Improving provision of speech and language therapy is a key priority for my new Department. When a maintained mainstream school has a set number of places in a unit reserved for children with language difficulties, statutory procedures have to be followed before units making such provision can be closed. The process involves preliminary consultation, and then, depending on the outcome, the publication of notices, allowing six weeks for objection or comment. Final decisions may then be reached locally, taking account of consultation responses and objections.

I thank the Secretary of State for that helpful reply, and I declare an interest, both as a vice-president of the charity Afasic, and as the parent of a child who is in a language unit—which, I am pleased to say, is not threatened with closure, and is doing an excellent job. Given that parents in Oxfordshire, Surrey and East Sussex have expressed concern about their local language units facing the threat of summary closure, without provision of comparable quality having been made elsewhere, will the Secretary of State accept that the Government need urgently and publicly to remind local education authorities of their responsibilities, and parents of their rights? Will he simply undertake to monitor the number, size and location of language units across the country, in the interests of some of our most vulnerable children?

I am happy to make that commitment and to make clear to local authorities their responsibilities, as I have set out. I know that the hon. Gentleman has personal experience, and also a campaigning track record, in this field. I met him and the chief executive of Afasic a few months ago. I am happy to look into the issues that he raises and for my officials to work with him and Afasic to look at the particular cases that he raises. It is important that a proper consultation should occur. I will make sure that that happens, and monitor what is happening across the rest of the country as well. More generally, if we are to address the needs of these children to make sure that they have opportunities and to prevent problems in later life, it is essential that effective speech and language therapy is provided in the early years and through school. I will commit to doing everything I can to make that happen.

Innovation, Universities and Skills

The Secretary of State was asked—

Science and Innovation

14. If he will make a statement on the progress made on the Government’s 10-year strategy on science and innovation published in 2004. (152563)

16. If he will make a statement on the progress made on the Government’s 10-year strategy on science and innovation published in 2004. (152565)

It is a pleasure to open the first Question Time on the work of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The Government published their third annual report on the science and innovation investment framework on Monday. The report shows that over the past year there has been continued good progress in implementing the Government’s challenging vision for science and innovation.

I, too, welcome the appointment of the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to the new Department and to its first Question Time. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to ensure that the expertise in British universities, such as the excellent Durham university in my constituency, is applied by industries so that jobs can be created in Durham and elsewhere? Does he accept that the proposed energy technologies institute provides a good model for that, and that the institute should come to the north-east?

There has been a massive change in the links between our universities and the business community over the past decade. As a Government, we have more than doubled the science budget and we have invested heavily in encouraging university-business links. I applaud Durham university for the work that it does. The energy technologies institute is important for the future of the United Kingdom. If we are to tackle climate change successfully, we need to invest in low carbon technologies for the future. The decisions about its location will be taken in due course by the board. My hon. Friend will know that five shortlisted consortiums have been bidding to host the hub of the energy technologies institute. We expect that decisions on its location will be taken in September.

I welcome the new ministerial team to their positions. My hon. Friend is aware that when the science and innovation paper was published in 2004, the objective was to increase investment in research and development over 10 years, from 1.9 per cent. of gross domestic product to 2.5 per cent. so that we would be second only to America in the world. From what he said, it sounds as if we are on track, but can he confirm that we will reach that point by 2014, and can he say whether the private sector is fulfilling its commitment to match the investment by the public sector? If we are to compete in the global economy, we need a substantial science-based economy.

My hon. Friend raises an important point about targets. The 2.5 per cent. R and D target remains. It is very much an input measure, and I am at least as interested in the quality of R and D as I am in its quantity. The figures are improving. Business R and D was £13.5 billion in 2005. It has been increasing in real terms, but as our GDP has been increasing as well, the situation has become quite stationary. It is important that we continue to invest in the science base. The Government can rightly be proud of the investment that we have put into science and scientific research over the past 10 years. Making sure that we maximise the benefits of that for the economy and for society is a key priority for us and will remain so over the next months and years.

Although it is encouraging to see the science and innovation portfolio in such competent hands, does the Minister understand my concern as Chairman of the Trade and Industry Committee—that is still its name for a few more weeks—that changes to the machinery of Government risk breaking some of the important links between science and innovation and business, owing to the portfolio being moved away from the business-facing Department? What reassurance can he give me that those links will be maintained?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He knows me well, and he knows that I will never forget the importance of the links between universities, science and business. I categorically assure him that the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will work closely with the new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to ensure that we have a successful economy in the future. Competitive advantage is, in part, down to our ability to translate our world-class research into new products and processes and to achieve the maximum commercial advantage from that. It is vital that we work closely with industry, and we will do exactly that.

May I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to his new post, as I did when I saw him in the Select Committee? Have the Government had any further thoughts about how to encourage for the science and innovation framework the promotion of careers in science for young people, especially given the relatively poor salary progression that afflicts researchers and the problems faced by indebted graduates, especially women, seeking to make their way in science careers?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question and for his comments; he has highlighted an important issue. The Government are keen to promote the message that there is a valuable career in research. Over the past 10 years, the number of researchers has increased significantly. Applications for science, technology, engineering and mathematics at undergraduate level have recently increased by more than 10 per cent., which is an encouraging sign that more people are applying to study those subjects at university. Making sure that people continue with and progress in careers in research and science is also important, if we are going to make sure that we have a research community that supports our business community and that achieves high growth for the future, which we all want to see.

What actions have the Government taken to improve and generate new business links with my local university, the university of the West of England, and my neighbouring university, the university of Bristol?

Both the university of the West of England and Bristol university have benefited from the higher education innovation fund, which is one of the initiatives that the Government have introduced to promote innovation and university business links. There has been a massive change in our universities from 10 years ago in terms of technology transfer, the number of people working in the area and the number of academics who are working closely with business. That is one of our key strengths, and I believe that the Government can do more to encourage university business links not only in universities in my hon. Friend’s area, but more broadly. That must be part of our mission as a new Department.

I welcome the Minister to his new role. I understand the urge for Ministers to focus only on Government successes by quoting figures selectively, but we have faith, and we hope that the new Minister will resist that urge in his reply. The Government consistently tell us how well they are doing in achieving their goals on science and innovation in society, but equally consistently, despite the many targets, schemes, reviews, reports, initiatives and interventions over their long period in office, the evidence shows a continued decline in the number of STEM graduates—why?

We always have to select statistics, because we cannot use all of them. The hon. Gentleman might want me to read out a few pages of statistics, virtually all of which point in the right direction—that of progress and improvements as regards links between universities and business, research and development, numbers of citations, spin-out companies, and licensing of intellectual property. That is all good news. Yes, he is right that we want more people to do science subjects at A-level and in our universities. That is something on which we will continue to work closely with the new Department, DCSF, and it will be a priority for us for the future. I apologise for the use of acronyms, Mr. Speaker, but I had forgotten exactly what the Department was called.

National Qualifications Record System

Ministers have regular conversations with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and sometimes those conversations relate to the qualifications infrastructure.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his first Question Time, and I welcome the new Department, which I am sure that many will see as a DIUS ex machina. I fully support the moves towards a national qualification records system, but I urge him to consider the alternative, whereby instead of having a central Government database, we have a user-centred approach in which each person keeps their own qualifications on a secure site where they can be authenticated by a third party such as an employer and can include not only school and university qualifications but professional and private qualifications from this country and abroad. That has wide support in the industry. Surely it is better for each individual to have ownership of their own qualifications than just to set up a central Government database.

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of individual ownership of qualifications. That is why we are shortly to trial the unique identification number. He has taken a big interest in this issue, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education wrote to him about it in January. I am happy to meet him to discuss it further, but he already knows that we have taken the decision to trial the unique identification number without the broker system.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post and wish him well. Will he undertake one piece of qualifications research before we come back in October by trying to establish how many people are qualified to teach a broad history curriculum in our schools rather than merely concentrating on Nazi Germany, so that our children can emerge from school properly qualified in a knowledge of their own history?

I will miss my exchanges with the hon. Gentleman on culture. I know of his long-standing interest in our heritage and in history, which, in a sense, we share. On his question, I will have to leave that to my colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, but I will explore those issues in relation to adult education.

Careers Advice (Adults)

Last week, we set out our ambition of creating a universal adult careers service incorporating the Learndirect and Nextstep advice services and working closely with Jobcentre Plus. Currently, every adult who needs free careers information and advice can seek it through the national Learndirect telephone and online service, through local Nextstep face-to-face advice services, or from their local college or training provider.

It is important that people have access to the sort of advice that they need. I ask my right hon. Friend to look in particular at liaison with the Department for Work and Pensions because it is at that point where, very often, people are not directed to the places to which they need to be directed. It is all very well having the services that he describes, but what really matters is ensuring that people know those services are there, and that they can access them.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and there will be the closest possible co-operation between Jobcentre Plus and the new careers service. Indeed, in many cases they will be co-located. For too long, the problem has been that one Department has focused on getting people into work and the other on developing their skill levels. That produces a set of people who go into work and then come back out again in a few months, without having their skill levels raised. I hope that one of the effects of the collaboration between the two Departments will be that we meet individual skill needs as people move into work, therefore increasing their chances of staying in work and getting a better job.

Is the Minister aware of the contribution that science centres make in encouraging young adults to take up a career in science? Why is it that in the United States and France those are being pursued vigorously, while in Britain they have been subject to indifference and interdepartmental squabbling?

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. After a few weeks in this job, my reflection is that we have quite a wealth of places throughout the country—local centres, national science museums, science centres and so on—that provide opportunities for young people to be exposed to science and have their interest stimulated. However, there is not necessarily the best guidance on where to find them, or co-ordination of the services that they offer. I suspect we could do a lot better by having a more coherent approach to promoting the good facilities that already exist.

My right hon. Friend will realise that the best career advice may encourage people to re-route their skills pattern. Does he not find it ironic, as I do, that we can pay someone to stop at home, but if they do more than 16 hours a week on a college course, they lose their benefit? Has he considered any approach to getting around this blockage, which prevents people from advancing their career by reskilling?

We must be careful that we do not undo all the rules of the benefit system, which are there for a reason. However, my hon. Friend will know from the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions last week, that increasingly the approach of Jobcentre Plus will be to build the acquisition of skills into the service we provide to people who are looking for work, so that there is a much clearer process of identifying skills needs and dealing with them.

My right hon. Friend wants to look at the current situation where someone can be out of work for six months before they get access to skills training. If someone has lost their job again because they did not have sufficient skills, there is clearly a case for getting them into adequate skills training straight away, not waiting for six months, as can happen at the moment.

Does the Secretary of State realise that, for an adult who has been out of work and out of the job market for some time, the step of accessing careers advice can be a very big one indeed? For some of those people, so-called leisure courses can be a vital step in boosting their confidence so that they can get back into the job market and take the step of accessing advice. Does he intend to continue with the current policy of axing many of those courses to target money elsewhere?

I recognise that there is a group of people for whom there can be an important stage of getting back into learning before they start a full-time vocational course. However, we have to be straightforward and say that we cannot justify all of the leisure provision that may exist at the moment on the basis that some people will find their way through. Although they have their own intrinsic value, the record shows that many people do not find them to be stepping stones to further qualifications. We have to look carefully at the system and the types of provision that are shown to provide a good stepping stone and progression into effective future learning. We must ensure that our resources prioritise those areas of activity.

Given that 30 years on from equal pay legislation, many young women, particularly those from vulnerable backgrounds, still gravitate towards training and job opportunities that tend to limit their future potential earning capacity—particularly when compared with their male counterparts—what steps will my right hon. Friend take, along with right hon. and hon. Friends from other Departments, to ensure that those who are likely to influence young women’s choices encourage them to broaden the range of training and job opportunities that they consider, as has been suggested by the YWCA’s “More than one rung” campaign?

I am aware of the work of the “More than one rung” campaign. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and members of the campaign to discuss in detail the way in which the changes that we are introducing can meet the needs that she identified. I hope that the changes to Jobcentre Plus, the development of the adult career service and the possibilities that local employer partnerships are opening up, whereby guaranteed routes are offered into work, will contribute to broadening the range of possibilities. However, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and members of the campaign to go through that in more detail.

The Government’s imitation of our advocacy of a new careers service may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if the Secretary of State had examined our policy more closely, he would realise that we proposed a dedicated, all-age careers service. The House of Lords Select Committee that considered the matter recently described a

“failure of careers guidance services”.

Young people do not get the information that they need about apprenticeships or basic information about local labour markets and career opportunities. Why does not the Secretary of State agree that an all-age career service, running alongside Connexions, is vital to tackling the growing army of hapless 16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training?

I certainly agree that we need effective careers advice. The hon. Gentleman will find that I first set out my ideas for an adult careers service in a Fabian pamphlet about three years ago, so I will not allow him to claim authorship.

The range of issues that young people face, especially when they make their initial careers choices, are sufficiently different to make it better to have a separately organised careers service for younger people. However, we do not differ on the principle that, at every stage in somebody’s life, there should be access to good careers advice that can meet individual, particular needs. I hope that we will not fall out over organisation when we clearly agree about the principle.

Technology Transfer

The Government are strongly committed to technology transfer from the research base. We support technology transfer in both universities and public laboratories, for example, through the higher education innovation fund. That has delivered significant improvements in the past 10 years.

My hon. Friend knows from his discussions with companies such as Intelligent Energy, which grew out of Loughborough university, that they are massively successful and will, hopefully, provide world-class energy technology facilities through fuel cell technology. He will be pleased to know that universities have said that the higher education innovation fund is working mainly in the right way and that they support it. However, there are a few minor tweaks and amendments that they would like, for example, to the little gap in the pre-venture capital stage in innovation, and longer-term funding to allow staff from industry to be based in universities for longer. Will my hon. Friend meet me and representatives of other universities throughout the country, who would like some minor improvements, which would make an enormous difference to a track record that is already pretty good?

I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and anybody he wants to bring along to discuss the matter. He is right to recognise the importance of the higher education innovation fund. Since the start of this century, we have invested more than £500 million in promoting university business links through the fund. We might need to do some tweaking for the next stage of the fund and we are considering moving further away from the bidding aspect to a formulaic approach. We have already consulted widely, but I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Adult Education

19. What change there has been in the number of adult learning courses in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement. (152570)

We do not collect information on the number of courses offered by providers. Last week, we published “World Class Skills”, our plan for implementing the Leitch review, which restates the importance of focusing on longer courses such as full level 2 courses and new training opportunities for those in employment through the train to gain programme.

Can the Minister explain to the House the difference between prioritising the “most beneficial learning” and cutting adult education courses? Is that not just another way of saying that the Government are forcing colleges to divert funding away from adult education?

No it is not. The Government are committed to the recommendations made by the Foster and Leitch reviews. That is why, quite rightly, we want to ensure that people are on longer courses, as I set out in my reply. I remind the hon. Gentleman of our commitments in skills for life, of the tremendous work that our union learning reps do up and down the country and of our commitment to ensuring that the most disadvantaged and the poorest get those basic skills, so that they can take part in the economy in the way that we want.

I welcome the Minister to his new post. I also welcome the fact that he cited Lord Leitch’s report, which said:

“There is a pressing need to raise the rates of skills improvements among adults—the UK cannot reach a world class ambition by 2020 without this.”

Will the Minister confirm that nearly 1 million places for adults in FE colleges have been lost in the past five years? That is nearly half of all places for adult learning lost. The Secretary of State dismisses those courses as belly dancing and basket weaving, but I am sure that we can all agree that these are deeply enjoyable and worthwhile activities. Moreover, many of the courses are not just belly dancing and basket weaving; they are valuable in helping older workers to enhance their skills and improve their job opportunities. Why does the Minister say that he agrees with Leitch and that he values adult learning, but meanwhile undermines it?

I do not recognise the figure that the hon. Gentleman uses, and I am trying not to recognise the allusions that he brings to mind. I remind him that the proportion of people in adult learning has increased to 80 per cent., from 76 per cent. just two years ago. Either he supports the Leitch recommendations and what we are doing to try to ensure that employers are close to our FE colleges and providers or, he does not. He cannot have it both ways.

Vocational Training

I can report that the latest figures show that the number of national and Scottish vocational qualifications awarded continues to rise, up 36 per cent. since 1997. Our wider strategy for vocational training was set out in “World Class Skills”, the Command Paper published last week.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reasonable and helpful reply. Does he not accept, however, that once the basics of education—reading, writing, numeracy, expression and comprehension—have been fully grasped by young people, it would be better to introduce vocational training much earlier in education? That would give them a real motivation and a real sense of what they might want to do when they go into the world of work.

The hon. Gentleman has had a long interest in such issues, particularly in relation to the manufacturing industry, and he makes an important point. However, as he will have heard in the earlier question session, that is precisely why the new diploma for engineering was unveiled this week and why another four diplomas will be published in the next couple of weeks. We want the option of taking a diploma, starting at the age of 14, to be seen as a valid route for young people. I do not want us to lose sight of the importance of apprenticeships, either. The noble Lord Leitch set a target for the United Kingdom of 500,000 people in apprenticeships by 2020. Apprenticeships should also be seen as a relevant, valid and valued choice for young people.

Anglo-Chinese Co-operation

22. What steps he is taking to promote closer partnerships in teaching and research between English and Chinese universities. (152574)

The Government support numerous initiatives to promote closer partnerships with China. Following the Prime Minister’s initiative, more than 50,000 Chinese students are currently studying in the UK. The UK-China partners in science initiative identifies potential areas of research collaboration and funds networking between scientists. The research councils will shortly open their first overseas office in Beijing. Our relationship is highly productive. In 2005, this country published more papers jointly with Chinese authors than any other European Union country.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, on the Select Committee’s recent visit to universities in China, we found a great willingness to engage in serious participation, both at student level and, much more seriously, involving partnerships that really add value for both sides? One senior president of a university told the Select Committee that we could double the research budgets of British universities through closer collaboration and greater emphasis on senior and progressive work.

I am interested in my hon. Friend’s reflections on his visit. I shall be going to China myself at the end of October to help to promote links between our universities and those in China. There are already more than 150 collaborative projects in place between universities here and in China, but if the scope for expanding those links is as great as my hon. Friend suggests, we must clearly do everything that we can to take advantage of them.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 8 October will be:

Monday 8 October—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.

Tuesday 9 October—A debate on defence procurement on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 10 October—Opposition Day [19th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 11 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Further Education and Training Bill [Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Friday 12 October—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 15 October will include:

Monday 15 October—Remaining stages of the Legal Services Bill [Lords].

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on 11 and 18 October will be:

Thursday 11 October—A debate on the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on human rights.

Thursday 18 October—A debate on the management and services of the House of Commons.

All hon. Members have a right to hold Ministers to account during the summer recess, either by tabling parliamentary questions for answer in September or by writing to the Secretary of State concerned. In addition, hon. Members whose constituencies have been affected by flooding need to know that Ministers will keep them updated on a regular basis. I have therefore asked my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Communities and Local Government to write to those Members of Parliament whose constituencies are affected on a regular basis. Both my right hon. Friends will also hold a weekly telephone conference, on a Monday, to enable all those hon. Members whose constituencies have been affected by floods to be kept informed and to question the Minister concerned during the recess.

Finally, I should also like to thank the staff of the House for their continued support to all hon. Members, and the staff in the Departments who provide briefings for the weekly business statement.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the future business. May I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr. Speaker, all right hon. and hon. Members, and officers and staff of the House, a very enjoyable summer recess?

This week, we have had two statements from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the dreadful floods that have hit central and southern England and caused misery for thousands of people. We are grateful that he has kept the House and the relevant Members informed, and I am also grateful for the announcement that the Leader of the House has just made about the provisions for keeping Members whose constituencies are affected, including myself, in touch with developments over the summer recess. There are still questions to be answered, however, on the use of temporary barriers, and on why the Environment Agency has stopped regularly dredging rivers. When Parliament returns from the summer recess, may we have a debate on the flooding and the lessons to be learned from the recent floods?

Last month, the Modernisation Committee produced its report on enhancing the role of the Back Bencher. It contained excellent proposals and, if Parliament is to be strengthened, it should be implemented quickly. When will the right hon. and learned Lady bring those proposals before the House?

Three weeks ago, the Leader of the House said that she would do everything that she could

“to protect the rights of Back Benchers, to hold the Government to account”.—[Official Report, 5 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 1091.]

Yesterday, she failed in her pledge when she abandoned parliamentary procedure in order to put the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on to the Home Affairs Committee. She put the interests—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Lady, but the House has decided on that matter. We are now debating the business for the week after the recess, so that matter should not be raised again.

I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Speaker. I was about to ask about a future item of business related to a more general issue. As that was not a matter of putting the interests of the House first, will the right hon. and learned Lady provide the House with a more accurate statement of her interpretation of her role as Leader of the House, and, given that she is also the chairman of the Labour party, will she touch on the duality of her role?

On Monday, the Minister for Housing made a statement on her plans for more housing, but its contents were in the morning’s press and a BBC correspondent even had a copy the previous weekend. On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Transport made a statement on the railways, but its contents were debated that very morning on the “Today” programme. Yesterday, the Prime Minister made his statement on the detention of terror suspects, but he had already given the story to The Sun. Will the right hon. and learned Lady take time from her other duties to ensure that all of her ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister, live up to his promise to announce policy to the House first?

Also on Monday, the Prime Minister insinuated to the media—not to hon. Members—that he would consider reversing the liberalisation of licensing laws. His spin doctors later confirmed that there would be a review of policy. That comes after a half-announcement to review the classification of cannabis and a half-announcement to reverse the super-casinos policy. This is no way to announce policy, so will the Leader of the House tell the Prime Minister that if he wants to restore Parliament’s powers, he should treat hon. Members with respect?

On that same subject, the Prime Minister yesterday sneaked out 39 written statements and answers to five named day questions from Labour MPs. Those included statements on a £3.5 billion shortfall in Child Support Agency payments, plans for the abolition of 25 councils and the failure of the Youth Justice Board. Today, a further 30 written statements are planned, including one on a breach of data security for visa applications, one on the Government’s climate change target and one on the cost of ministerial cars. So much for the post-spin era. Will the right hon. and learned Lady make a statement on that abuse of written ministerial statements?

Finally, the European Council conclusions state:

“National parliaments shall contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union”.

The Labour Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee has said:

“This is a takeover of the rights of this Parliament”.

Parliament’s representative on the former Convention says:

“The case for a referendum is even stronger now”.

The right hon. and learned Lady says that she understands her duty to Parliament, so after the recess, will she make a statement on the consequences of the treaty for this sovereign Parliament?

The right hon. Lady raised the matter of the use of temporary barriers for the floods. That was dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in an oral statement. He said that the siting of the equipment for these temporary barriers needed to be looked into further and that when that was done, he would report back to the House. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirmed that yesterday.

As to the important work of the Modernisation Committee on enhancing the role of the Back Bencher and the House, we will report back on our set of proposals for the Chamber in the autumn.

The right hon. Lady raised a point about the housing statement made by the Minister for Housing. She will know that the question of how an early version of that statement was leaked is to be the subject of a leak inquiry. I strongly believe, however, that policy announcements should be made to the House first. It is very important that Back Benchers come into the Chamber knowing that they are going to hear an announcement, and that they on behalf of their constituents, and the House on behalf of the country, are able to hold Ministers to account. We must ensure that there is both general discussion in the media, in public meetings and in our constituencies, and that specific information is announced to the House first.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the review of the policy on cannabis. Bearing in mind the evidence of the greater strength of cannabis, and new evidence of links between cannabis use and serious mental health problems, especially among the young, it is good that we are reviewing the policy and that the Prime Minister should announce that to Parliament when responding to questions. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister has made two, or three, oral statements already since becoming Prime Minister— [Interruption.]

The right hon. Lady and hon. Members can hardly say that the Prime Minister has not made enough oral statements to the House—he has made two or three. It is important that the House is told that we are going to review the classification of cannabis, and that is what he did.

It will not be news to any Member that a deadlock has been reached between this House and the other place on the super-casino question. In view of that, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to say that he is reflecting on the way forward, and that he will use the summer to consider the important question of how areas such as east Manchester and Blackpool should be regenerated.

The right hon. Lady complained about the number of written ministerial statements, but she has not said whether any of those should not have been made. When the summer recess is approaching, Departments must consider whether to look ahead and ensure that a written statement is made to the House, rather than either holding up decisions until October or putting them out to the media during the recess. It is simply a practical matter. If Ministers have reached decisions on important issues, it is right that they do not hold them up until October when the House returns from the recess, and that they get those decisions out through a written statement. Recently, a great many oral statements have been made—two and sometimes three a day—so she cannot be suggesting that more of the written statements should have been turned into oral statements. It is therefore right for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to provide the information on the Child Support Agency in that way. I do not accept for one moment that written statements have been abused.

The right hon. Lady also raised the question of European scrutiny. As I said to her last week when she raised the issue, I have met the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, and we need to consider whether the House can better scrutinise European issues.

May we have a debate on the quality of and access to Jobcentre Plus services? In the last three years, changes in the delivery of welfare benefits have caused significant disruption and hardship to tens of thousands of claimants, with families waiting weeks for benefits to be processed and telephone systems overwhelmed by call volumes. Centralising the work of the Department for Work and Pensions into a tiny number of mega-centres is hitting the most vulnerable in our land very hard, and an urgent review is necessary.

I hear the point that my hon. Friend has raised and I will ensure that it is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I reassert and agree with my hon. Friend that the work of Jobcentre Plus is important. Those who can work should be helped into work and the benefits system is important not only to provide support for those who cannot work, but to top up the pay of those in work to ensure that work pays.

I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and I join her and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) in thanking those who work for the House and who serve us in preparing for our business. I also join them in wishing everyone a good break; I will come back to the length of it in a moment.

In relation to the business for the first week back after the summer recess, I repeat my request that the Leader of the House should over the summer reflect on the fact that it is inappropriate to start with the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which we know will get barely any way down the track before we have the end of the parliamentary year, and which will then be amended. I ask her to say that, by agreement over the holiday, that Bill could be taken off the agenda for that Monday. Instead, for example, we could have a debate on the Monday about the consequences of the flooding, because that will be the first opportunity to do so.

On the Tuesday, rather than have a limited defence debate on procurement, we could have a more wide-ranging defence debate on Iraq and Afghanistan. The country would expect, if we have been out of this place for some weeks, that the troops serving abroad and what they are doing for us all should be the subject of scrutiny and review at the earliest possible opportunity, given the danger and importance of what they do.

I request that we add another matter to the business when we come back: the implications of the cuts in rail subsidy. People are encouraged to be environmentally responsible. Some will go on holiday by train. They will have heard that train fares are going up even further because the subsidy is being cut. That is not a popular move and, well before the beginning of the next financial year, and ideally in the first week back, we need to look at the way we pay for the rail industry and the amount that we charge people, because out there in the real world that has a huge impact on the budgets of families who often need to use rail services.

On domestic matters, following what happened yesterday and looking ahead, as the Leader of the House is now on the Modernisation Committee will she reflect on the fact that, if we are to have large numbers of written statements, they should at least do what they say they will do? She gave us a written statement today saying that the Government response to the Modernisation Committee report on petitions and early-day motions would be in the Vote Office, but it was not available when we started this exchange.

May we have an early debate on petitions and early-day motions that have more than 300 signatures—there is an important one on illegal logging and another important one on carers—and may we, as a matter of course, debate motions that have huge support in the House? Lastly, may we have a serious discussion again under the right hon. Lady’s leadership as soon as we come back on whether it is justifiable for the House of Commons in the United Kingdom to go away for 10 weeks when the rest of the country, if they are lucky, go away for two or three? We cannot justify it and we need to debate it again. We need to return to the bad decision, in my view, that we made some weeks ago.

On the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that Sir Ronald Flanagan will be giving his interim report in the summer. That Bill will then be considered in the usual way. If any amendments are to be brought forward by the Government or by hon. Members, the question will be whether they are within the remit of the long title, but I have heard the points that the hon. Gentleman has made and no doubt they will be reflected on by the Home Secretary as well.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there could be a debate on flooding when the House returns. I can assure all hon. Members that the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will keep the House updated, possibly by way of written or oral statements, but they have come forward with as much information as they possibly can. If there is a need for a debate over and above the statement, no doubt my right hon. Friends will seek such a debate.

There will be a debate on Tuesday 9 October on defence procurement, and that would be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise the important issue of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made a full statement on the railways on Tuesday and I am sure that, like all hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman was pleased to hear that more freight is now going by rail, passenger numbers are up and regulation of fares continues. We all want to see the contribution that the railways can make to tackling climate change stepped up. That is the view across Government.

Hon. Members will know of the suggestion to update the antiquated process that means that petitions have to be in a particular form of words, otherwise they cannot be submitted, and simply get put in the bag behind Mr. Speaker’s chair. I thank the Procedure Committee for the important work that it has done on the question of petitioning Parliament. It made many useful suggestions and the Government’s response has been published and will be available from the Vote Office by the end of today.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether early-day motions that have attracted great concern could be the subject of a debate once a certain number of Members had signed them. However, it is always open to hon. Members to apply to debate issues on the Adjournment or to seek a Westminster Hall debate.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the question of the House sitting in September has been the subject of experiment, and the House has voted on the issue. I understand that the hon. Gentleman and—I hope—the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) received an advance copy of the document on petitions. It was certainly my intention that they should have an advance copy, but I hope that all hon. Members will be able to obtain a copy from the Vote Office shortly.

When does the Leader of the House expect to be able to publish the report by the Senior Salaries Review Body on pay and allowances for Members of Parliament and when will the House be able to debate it?

When will the Leader of the House produce the proposals on the new regional Select Committees, and can she tell us whether she intends them to be full Select Committees, where the 99 or 100 Members to man them will be found, what arrangements are being made to resource them and whether the Chairmen will be paid?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is important that we strengthen the accountability of the work that the Government do in the different regions of England. That is why we have established Ministers responsible for the regions, but we need to complete the process by ensuring the accountability to the House of Departments and the regional Ministers. The question is how we take that forward and we are considering that. We will undertake discussions and then bring forward proposals. We are clear on the principle that regional accountability is important, but we need to think through and discuss further the exact form that it will take, so that it has credibility in the regions and operates effectively in this House in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Has the Leader of the House made any contingency plans for changing the business when we come back in October in view of all the talk about an early election, given the massive Labour lead and the two brilliant by-election results, which were the best for Labour in office for many years? If we do have an early election, can we fight it on the old parliamentary boundaries, because that would give Labour another 10 seats?

On the question of elections, I remind the House that it is the anniversary today of the great election triumph of 1945. I also wish to take this opportunity to welcome my two new hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma) and for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson). So many years on from 1945, we are still winning elections.

The Vote Office is helpfully making me a copy of the draft European constitutional treaty, but I understand that it is not readily available and I shall have to read it in French—I shall do my best. It is scandalous that the treaty will be considered by the Government before the autumn, but that it is not available in our own language to Members of Parliament. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the document is translated, printed and made available to all hon. Members immediately?

The negotiations having been concluded and our negotiating objectives having been achieved, the treaty is still in draft as yet, because detailed work is still under way. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman already has problems with translation, because it is not a constitutional treaty as he suggests. A translation will be available and there will be an opportunity for the House to discuss it.

May we have a debate about security measures? Last week I applied for a pass for new member of staff and was informed in writing by the Serjeant at Arms that such an application could take longer to process if the applicant had Irish associations. As far as I know, the only Irish association that the applicant might have is with me, as I, like many other hon. Members, am of Irish extraction. Surely security measures should focus on the current potential threat rather than a threat that may have existed in a previous century.

I know that the Serjeant at Arms, who has responsibility for issuing security passes, tries to ensure that they are made available at the request of hon. Members as quickly as possible. I can remember a time when there was no pass system for the House. The level of threat was so low that people could come in and out of the House without needing a pass, but all hon. Members understand that we now—I regret to say—need effective security measures. As for the point about country of origin, I understand that the Serjeant at Arms undertakes security checks in this country and that foreign nationals also have a security check in their country of origin.

Yesterday’s statement on local government reform included proposals for a stronger tier of government in Cornwall. During the process, Cornwall’s MPs were assured that such a structure would be the best way to achieve the longstanding ambition of Cornwall to obtain devolved powers for planning, economic development and other public services that are currently run by unelected agencies in the Government zone of the south-west. As we are now entering the long summer recess, what can the Leader of the House do to ensure that Departments work together to provide Cornwall with a clear document setting out the extent, route map and timetable for devolved powers before irreversible decisions are taken by local authorities?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government tells me that his Department will work with local authorities in Cornwall to take the matter forward. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) is right to recognise that we have tried to devolve power from the centre to local authorities, communities and regions. Strong regional economic development is one of the reasons why we have had steady, sustained economic growth.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time during the long summer recess to talk to the organisers of the three main parties’ annual autumn conferences with a view to trying to break up the three-week block of conferences so that the House can have a more even pattern of sittings and thus a shorter summer recess?

As I told the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), the House has from time to time changed its September procedures. When conferences are held is not a matter for the House, but for discussion between the parties.

After 10 years of Labour Government, the latest figures show that burglary in the city of Peterborough has risen by 36 per cent. and robbery by 44 per cent. Cambridgeshire has the fastest growing population of any county in England and our crime rate is above the English average. When can we have a proper debate in Government time on police authority grants that properly reflect population changes year on year, so that we can get more police on the beat to tackle crime?

In all areas, including the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, there are more police officers, more civilian staff to back them up and more community support officers. No doubt he will join me in thanking all of them for their work in his constituency. The grants have been increased to make that possible.

Mr. Speaker, earlier I said that the Government response on petitions would be in the Vote Office later today. May I put the record straight? In fact, the document has been available in the Vote Office since 11 am.

Several weeks ago, I raised with my right hon. and learned Friend’s predecessor as Leader of the House Britain’s serious and growing alcohol problems. I expressed concern about the health problems, especially foetal alcohol syndrome, which is a growing problem as more young women drink a lot more. My right hon. Friend, now the Lord Chancellor, expressed some sympathy with my request for a full debate on the Floor of the House about the whole range of Britain’s alcohol problems. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it is a possibility?

It certainly is a possibility. The problem concerns Members on both sides of the House, not only because of the health issues relating to alcohol—my hon. Friend mentioned foetal alcohol syndrome—but also because of crime and disorder. One of the biggest precipitators of domestic violence is excessive drinking. My ministerial colleagues are working seriously on those issues and will no doubt account to the House if they have something to report and want to debate it.

Mr. Speaker, I hope you will allow me to raise two quick matters. The first is in respect of written statements. I shall not use the word abuse, but there is an over-use of written ministerial statements. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made a written statement yesterday about the restructuring of local government in many important parts of the country, not least Cheshire. That should have been subject to a statement in the House to enable Members to question the Secretary of State.

On the responsibilities of the Leader of the House, does not the right hon. and learned Lady think it is time for her to make a statement in the House about the responsibilities of the Modernisation Committee, which she will chair in due course, and the Procedure Committee? There appears to be a blurring of responsibilities and an assumption that the Modernisation Committee should take over matters that I consider are the duties of the Procedure Committee.

I think it is important that we recognise the different roles of the Modernisation and Procedure Committees although they often work closely together, and I pay tribute to the work of both Committees in making suggestions that have improved the way the House operates. I hope that will continue to be the case.

The hon. Gentleman questioned there being a written statement yesterday on local government issues by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. It is the usual practice for such issues to be dealt with in written statements. Yesterday, we had important oral statements on terrorism and the commissioning of aircraft carriers and it was right that they were oral statements to the House. There is a hierarchy: oral statements and then, if something is not appropriate for an oral statement, written statements. Above all, however, information should be given to the House first.

I am clear in my own mind that it is important for information to be given to the House. It is strange that some Members seem to say that we are having too many written ministerial statements, or indeed too many oral statements. It is a challenge for the business of the House when we want to make important oral and written statements before the House rises, but the most important thing is accountability to the House.

May we have a debate, or even better a Bill, as soon as the House resumes on allowing the House to stop unlimited spending by parliamentary candidates long before an election is called? That was never permissible before 2000 and is permissible now only due to a loophole in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which was exploited by Lord Ashcroft and many others in the run-up to the 2005 election and is already being exploited in the run-up to the next election. It is urgent that we close the loophole, rather than waiting for a magical consensus on other party funding issues that may never come.

My hon. Friend raises a very important point indeed. The British people want elections to be fair, not bought by unfair funding arrangements. I hope that the work being undertaken between the parties by Sir Hayden Phillips will reach a speedy conclusion. I reassure my hon. Friend that despite the fact that there was a great deal of spending by the Conservatives in the Ealing, Southall election, we won the argument and, therefore, the vote, but his point about party funding is important and I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice.

Does the Leader of the House think there would be value in a statement, or perhaps an Adjournment debate, on the sensitive and difficult issue the Government face in relation to 60 Sri Lankan citizens awaiting deportation who are on hunger strike? They are clearly concerned about what their treatment will be on return to that country.

If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary with specific details of the case I am sure she will look at it as soon as possible. There is also the opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise it, if he so wishes, in the debate on the Adjournment of the House later today.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the concern felt by many Members about the erratic sitting hours of the House? Does she agree that it is a bit of a dog’s breakfast and, given that Members elected post-’97 have never had an opportunity to debate the issue, will she find time for such a debate in the autumn?

The sitting hours of the House are important. Obviously, we need to ensure—especially on Mondays—that Members of Parliament in far-flung constituencies can travel to the House in time for the start of business. I can remember when the House regularly sat throughout the night and I assure Members that it did not enhance scrutiny or opposition one bit. My view on sitting hours is a matter of record. No doubt, they will continue to be a matter for discussion and my hon. Friend rightly raises that point.

Just in case that, when the House returns in October, the most unfortunate prisoner early release scheme is still in place, can the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Justice comes to the Dispatch Box and makes a further statement on it? He might well wish to address a constituent of mine, a serving police officer who, while off duty, was viciously assaulted in one of our local medical centres, only to find that the person who committed that horrible crime had just been released early. I do not think that that police officer, who risks his life day in, day out, quite understands what is going on.

I express my sympathy to that victim of crime from the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I ask him to bear in mind, though, that one of the things that militates against the rehabilitation of offenders, and which therefore makes it more difficult to prevent reoffending is if the prison regime is not able to do the work with those offenders while they are in prison because there is a problem of overcrowding. I think that all Members in the House would understand that. The early release scheme is only available for prisoners who are serving less than four years and who are within 18 days of release anyway. [Interuption.] I have said that there are certain categories of serious violent crime, such as grievous bodily harm, malicious wounding and homicide, where even if the person is serving a sentence of less than four years, they would not be eligible for the early release scheme; otherwise, if the courts have seen fit to give a person a sentence of less than four years and that person is within 18 days of release, they can be released 18 days early.

I hope that hon. Members think sensibly about this. Obviously we want lower repeat offending and that means that we must focus as much as we can on rehabilitating those who have been sent to prison.

In the United States of America increasing sums are being spent on higher education, and that is not just from the Government but from private sources. In the developing world, places like India and China are also spending huge sums on higher education. May we have an early debate on how the British Government can support UK universities in the competing global economy, to ensure that our universities remain as successful as they have always been?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Education is important for individuals' personal development and it is absolutely essential to our success in a globalised economy, so I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

May we have an urgent statement on the postal workers’ dispute? The strike is causing great damage not only to Royal Mail but to small businesses and other people who are heavily dependent on Royal Mail. Management and the unions are not even talking to one another. Will the Government, as a matter of urgency, intervene in the dispute and get both sides round the negotiating table in meaningful talks? Perhaps it is time for a return to beer and sandwiches at No. 10.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the Government’s position on that yesterday. We hope that there will be a successful conclusion to this dispute, to save further damaging consequences not only for residential users of the mail but for small businesses.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for an early debate on occupational health and safety? She may be aware that the Health and Safety Executive will today release its figures for last year on occupational health and safety, which are expected to show an increase in deaths; in fact the construction industry is expecting that they will show that deaths in construction have increased by about 30 per cent. She will also be aware that since 2000 there have been 200 fewer inspectors, and if the comprehensive spending review imposition is accepted by the Department for Work and Pensions, it follows that year on year we could lose another 700 inspectors. It is important that we have an early debate on health and safety.

I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friends. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the all-party group on occupational health and safety, which my hon. Friend chairs, and to recognise the contribution that he, as a Member of the House, has made to bringing before the House, and soon into legislation, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. I recognise the important work that still needs to be done on safety in the construction industry.

May we have an early debate on the freedom of expression? We all uphold the right of protest, which is an integral part of our democracy, but under cover of the right of protest, 100 yd from here, we now have a permanent disfigurement, right in the heart of our capital, in the form of an encampment of tents. Is this not an abuse of the right of protest?

It is a difficult balance to protect important heritage sites—which is what Parliament square is; an important tourist location—and the ability of the House to go about its business not unduly disturbed by a great deal of noise and shouting through loudspeakers, while at the same time allow the right to protest. It is a subject that is regularly considered by the House.

I am the proud honorary unpaid adviser to the Port of Tilbury Police Federation, of which I think there are 16 members. I raise that in the context of yesterday’s welcomed announcement that we are going to have a uniformed border force. May I urge the Leader of the House, before the legislation comes before the House, to use her good offices to ensure that the Port of Tilbury police and the other small police forces, which were privatised by a Conservative Government, are consulted, not just about their individual futures, because they could guide this new force on best practice? I also counsel caution that successive Home Secretaries, including the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) who rejected the idea originally, and my right hon. Friends the Members for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), all rejected this idea, because the police advisers said that it was not a good idea. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to listen to those in the House who, for the past 15 years, have said that it is a very good idea, and could we have some consultation?

My hon. Friend has a track record of making arguments for a long time and finally getting there. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State writes to him specifically about the Port of Tilbury police.

We heard earlier in the House that almost 1 billion adult learning places have been lost over the last five years. That is causing concern in my Lincolnshire constituency, but it is part of a deeper fear about the access to opportunities and the provision of services in rural areas, fuelled by concern about post office closures, inadequate police funding, fire brigades and the centralisation of health services. May we have a debate about the quality of life in rural Britain, because there is a widespread fear in Lincolnshire, and I suspect elsewhere, that this Government have a careless disregard for the countryside?

I deny that this Government have a disregard for the quality of life in rural Britain and I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we have seen big increases in investment in education for under-fives and school-age children and in further and higher education, and will continue to do so.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 2009?

That this House fully supports the IraqChild appeal launched by the UK-based Iraqi Association to raise £250,000 for emergency protection for children through the Andalus Medical Clinic in Baghdad; notes that children in Baghdad will suffer disproportionately this summer through sweltering heat, electricity shortages and lack of air conditioning in addition to the violence and sectarian strife which has led to the displacement of thousands of children and many orphans having to fend for themselves; further notes that terrorists are using children as decoys for sadistic killings, that one in eight Iraqi children died of disease or violence before reaching their fifth birthday in 2005, and that there are worryingly high levels of malnourishment; believes that this non-sectarian project, which was developed through a lengthy consultation process with concerned medical personnel in Baghdad and local non-governmental organizations, is credible; points out that, for example, £22 can buy a child’s clothing pack, £48 can treat a child for diarrhoea and ear infection, £60 can pay for a qualified nurse to care for 10 children every week, £650 can pay for a medical doctor for a month to visit 10 families with children every week, and £1,580 can maintain running a children’s clinic for a month for eight children everyday; and urges widespread moral and material assistance for this vital humanitarian initiative.

It refers to the appeal for the children of Baghdad, wherein the Iraqi Association in this country is launching an appeal for £250,000 to raise money to develop a clinic in Baghdad to help with the one in eight children who will die this summer. I would ask that this be debated at the next sitting of the House, but there will not be a sitting over the summer and thousands of children will die. Can the Minister ensure that this motion gets to the relevant Departments, to see whether they can help to pay?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the appeal to my attention. I know that he has worked alongside the trade union movement in Iraq and he raises another very good cause, which I will bring to the attention of my ministerial colleagues.

I was very pleased to receive a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), telling me:

“The future use of Llandrindod Wells courthouse has been reviewed and it will remain open for the next few years.”

No reasons were given for the change of decision—no indication of what “the next few years” may be. But earlier in the letter, it said:

“Her Majesty’s Courts Service is committed to putting the public first in the delivery of justice”.

I think this must be a radical change of policy, so will the Leader of the House make an opportunity to have a debate on the future of the magistrates courts, particularly in rural areas, so that witnesses, victims and professionals can have ready access to justice?

Perhaps that is an issue that the hon. Gentleman could return to in the Adjournment debate this afternoon. The important thing is to have court systems that are accessible to people locally and to have disabled access and good provision for victims and witnesses.

Following on from the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for a statement to the House about the increased fatalities in the construction industry? She will be aware from yesterday’s statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that there have been significant increases in the deaths of those deemed to be self-employed and indeed vulnerable. Migrant workers are being compelled by illegal gangmasters on to a false classification of self-employment and as a consequence, the safety imperative that is delivered through PAYE is lost. Rather than reinventing the wheel, can she use her good offices to influence the Government to extend the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 into the construction industry?

I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will be considering this question. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for introducing, by way of a private Member’s Bill, what became the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 and I remind the House that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is, as we all are, concerned about too many deaths in the construction industry and has set up a forum to work with the construction industry to improve health and safety.

May I renew the request that I made to the Leader of the House last week for an early debate on Iran and Afghanistan? Many of us believe that our policies in Iraq are deeply flawed and many of us believe that, with the available forces, we will not be able to achieve in Afghanistan any of the objectives that we have set ourselves. We must debate those matters urgently and frequently.

We have regular debates on Afghanistan and Iraq for Members to participate in. In the meantime, I take the opportunity to express my strong support for the work that our armed forces do in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Is the Leader of the House aware of any plans that the Department for Transport has to change the Aviation Minister’s title to the Minister for BAA? Despite the right hon. and learned Lady’s help, BAA still continues to have the environmental data relating to the expansion of Heathrow whereas they have not been made available to me. Following her assistance, I received a response from the Minister, but he told me that he does not think that it is in the public’s interest to release this data. How can it possibly be in the public’s interest not to release the data to the public while, at the same time, sharing that data with the operator of Heathrow, BAA? Can she investigate this issue further during the recess and, if necessary, have a debate on it when we return in October?

Clear, well established rules have been agreed by the House on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that was introduced by this Government and they make available information that was previously kept secret. I suggest that the hon. Lady refer to those rules. Then she will understand why in this case there is obviously an exception to that Act.

Equality of access to the NHS requires access. Today the Horton hospital is having to admit patients from Oxford because the John Radcliffe cannot cope. That is not because of the flooding; it is a regular fortnightly occurrence. By a cruel twist of irony, today is the day when the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS trust is considering proposals that will severely undermine the viability of the Horton as a general hospital. So can the Leader of the House join me in thanking Mr. Speaker for providing a debate in Westminster Hall on 10 October on the future of smaller general hospitals? If the Government continue to undermine general hospitals, they will be undermining a fundamental principle of the NHS.

The fundamental principle of the NHS is that it should treat patients according to need. The greatly increased investment in the NHS has happened in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency as well as throughout the country, but I shall draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

May I reiterate the plea that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made for a proper debate in the autumn not just on flooding but on the protection of our critical national infrastructure? The Leader of the House will know how near we came earlier this week to losing power in the whole county of Gloucestershire; that was avoided only through the marvellous work of our emergency services and armed forces. However, that and the loss of water supplies in huge parts of Gloucestershire, including some areas of my constituency, highlighted a critical problem that it would be sensible to debate when we return in the autumn.

These issues will be covered in detail in the review that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced. I take this opportunity, as the hon. Gentleman did, to pay tribute to the work undertaken by local authorities employees, Environment Agency employees, the police and the armed services who are all working together to protect people during these very difficult floods.

May we please have a debate in Government on time on the Floor of the House on the continuing crisis in Burma? Given that the illegal military dictatorship there is guilty of extra-judicial killings, rape as a weapon of war, compulsory relocation, forced labour, the use of child soldiers, the use of human minesweepers and the bestial destruction of villages throughout eastern Burma on virtually a daily basis and given that this week the report of the Select Committee on International Development calls for significant changes in Government policy towards the internally displaced people and refugees in the area, does the right hon. and learned Lady not agree that it is about time that we had the first ever debate here in this Chamber on how, through concerted action, we can force the Government of Burma to stop slaughtering their people and to start liberating them?

The whole House will identify with the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman has expressed about the Government of Burma. As I have announced, there will be on a debate on Thursday 11 October on the report on human rights from the Foreign Affairs Committee. I hope that will give him and other hon. Members the opportunity to raise the issue of the appalling breaches of human rights in Burma.

Yesterday in Kettering, a man with a knife threatened staff in three separate shops in the town centre. When the House returns in October, may we have an urgent debate in Government time on the Floor of the House about what on earth this country is going to do about the growing problem of knife crime?

Last week, we had a statement from the Home Secretary about her plans for crime reduction. I am sure that the local authority, the police and community organisations in the hon. Gentleman’s area will work with my right hon. Friend and her Department to make that a reality in his constituency.

May we have a debate on special educational needs funding? Many schools in my constituency find that they are getting less funding for children with special educational needs than other schools in less affluent and more deprived areas are getting for children with exactly the same educational needs. Surely funding for special educational needs should be given on the basis of need and not on the affluence of the surrounding area. May we have a debate on this important issue for parents, children and teachers in many of my local schools?

The allocation of funding between different schools is obviously a matter for the local education authority to address and no doubt the hon. Gentleman speaks to it about it. However, when he talks about the importance of the right level of funding for special educational needs, I wholly identify with the comments. In fact, one of the reasons that I joined the Labour party was that I thought it would be better to have really good investment in public services for the people in greatest need rather than tax cuts for the wealthy.

Following on from what the right hon. and learned Lady has just said, could she therefore explain why my constituent, Mrs. Kruger, who is going blind will not receive NHS treatment but if she moved to Scotland, she would receive NHS treatment and her sight would be saved? Square that.

As I have said to the hon. Gentleman on previous occasions, he should raise the case of individual constituents with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I will bring the issue to his attention, but the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence considers what should be available and at what stage for different disorders.

Royal assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007

Offender Management Act 2007

Pensions Act 2007

National Trust (Northern Ireland) Act 2007

Aim Higher (10-year Strategy)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement.

Two weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out how the new Department for Children, Schools and Families would accelerate the drive to raise standards of attainment, particularly for the most disadvantaged children. Today’s statement responds to the distinctive needs of young people and looks at how we can better support them through the development of positive activities and places to go.

The joint review by my Department and the Treasury of national and international research, including on the views of young people themselves, has established a number of key findings about adolescence on which we must now act. First, today’s teenagers do indeed face a much more complex process of growing up, with an unprecedented range of opportunities, but with new risks and challenges, too. Secondly, social and economic trends, including globalisation, mean that academic and vocational skills alone are no longer sufficient to equip young people for our changing labour market.

Thirdly, young people also need well developed capabilities—sometimes called social and emotional or non-cognitive skills—in order to acquire the flexibility, adaptability and resilience to overcome challenge and change. Employers are increasingly demanding those capabilities too. Finally, although committed parents and good schools are always crucial, these additional capabilities are not largely acquired through formal learning; they are acquired by participating in positive, structured activities with trusted adults. It is now clear that taking part in organised activities—whether sport, music, drama or volunteering, or the Scouts, the Guides or a rap group—led by responsible adults is how young people develop confidence, tenacity and tolerance, and how they learn to lead, co-operate with others and solve problems.

Those attributes are not just nice for young people to have; they are essential if young people are to overcome the challenges of adolescence and mature into well adjusted adults. The strategy is focused on ensuring that all our youngsters can enjoy their teenage years—a formative time in their lives—while at the same time, and crucially, developing the capabilities essential for success. The strategy builds on the unprecedented investment and progressive reform that the Government have already undertaken in relation to young people through Every Child Matters and Connexions—with extra support targeted at those most in need. It complements our decision to raise the age of participation in education and training and extends the initiatives set out in the Green Paper “Youth Matters”.

As a result of these measures, and the hard work of parents and the many dedicated practitioners working with young people, and contrary to the hype about youth being in crisis, the facts show that most young people are doing better than ever before. Exam results and the numbers staying on in education are both at all-time highs, with more than 59 per cent. gaining five good GCSEs and 77 per cent. of 16 and 17-year-olds continuing in learning and training. More young people are volunteering than any other age group. Compared with previous generations, young people are more accepting of other faiths and races, more liberal about gender roles and more likely to express satisfaction with their lives.

We also know, however, that a minority of young people are not sharing in that success. They are young people who are born into disadvantage, involved in high-risk behaviour, underachieving at school and, crucially, failing to develop the capabilities that they need for the future. They are held back by low self-esteem, lack of self-discipline and poor self-control. All those factors are strongly linked to serious problems such as crime, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of education and training, and the misuse of drink and drugs. Disadvantaged young people are much less likely to get the chance to take part in organised activities—organised through school or by their parents—and so they are doubly disadvantaged. The result is that the young people who most need those capabilities to meet the significant challenges that they face are the least likely to acquire them.

The backdrop to all that is an unrelentingly negative view of young people in this country, with the problems of the few eclipsing the achievements of the many. Some 71 per cent. of media stories about young people are negative. It is no wonder that 98 per cent. of young people have told us that they feel stereotyped, criticised and undervalued, with their achievements unfairly disregarded. Under the strategy, we are determined both to rebalance the public debate about young people and to transform their opportunities to take part in positive activities and to have places to go—especially for those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable or disabled.

Three principles underpin this vision: empowerment, access and quality. Our youth opportunity and capital funds are already putting real spending power in young people’s hands. Some 650,000 teenagers have already taken part and benefited. It is already clear that when young people influence local decision making, opportunities and services improve, so we will invest a further £173 million over the next three years through the funds. To ensure that we are reaching the most disadvantaged and excluded young people, we are going to invest an additional £25 million in the most deprived neighbourhoods. But we want to go further. Our expectation is that by 2018 young people will have direct influence over at least 25 per cent. of local authority budgets for positive activities.

We also want a step change in what is on offer locally to all young people—again, especially the most disadvantaged. The strategy includes major new investment in places to go. Unclaimed bank assets will complement new Government spending to support our aspiration of an exciting, modern, up-to-date place for young people in every community. Local authorities will lead public, private and voluntary sector partnerships, working with young people to develop visionary facilities for teenagers while addressing problems such as poor transport that would otherwise mean that some young people missed out. We want to develop young people’s capacity for leadership and entrepreneurship through a new fund, creating, in effect, a national institute of youth leadership. We will also support older teenagers to set up social enterprises in their communities and we will promote intergenerational activity by encouraging adults—especially active retired people—to volunteer and mentor young people.

Our success in engaging the most excluded young people will be the critical test of the strategy, because they have most to gain yet are the least likely to participate. We will invest in a variety of ways of reaching them. In our most deprived communities, we will test cutting-edge approaches to creating more and better youth facilities—informing how we spend the unclaimed assets in the future. We will also invest up to £82 million, in addition to the existing funding of £140 million, in established schemes such as the Positive Activities for Young People and Youth Inclusion programmes, to increase them and make them available all year round.

We will also invest up to £100 million so that third-sector providers with a proven track record in working with vulnerable young people can expand and sustain their activities into the future. We will build on the successful Do it 4 Real residential scheme, which has already demonstrated that bringing together young people from different backgrounds raises aspirations, especially among the more disadvantaged, and fosters community cohesion. A further £15 million will subsidise those who otherwise could not afford to take part.

Finally, this new investment must be matched by further reform. Despite significant progress since “Youth Matters”, services for young people are too often fragmented, patchy and poor. Yet research shows that only high-quality services make the difference. We need stronger leadership, and more skilled and creative people working with our teenagers—good role models who can relate to and inspire young people from all backgrounds. The strategy sets out a 10-year work force reform programme, supported by new investment of £25 million. That includes a leadership programme to attract more graduates into the sector, building on the successful model of the Teach First scheme. We will also expect local authorities, youth offending teams and primary care trusts to start to pool their budgets—a radical change to drive a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention.

With the strategy, we are making the most ambitious commitment to all our young people for decades, supported over the period 2008 to 2011 by £124 million of new investment, reinvestment of unclaimed assets and £60 million of new Government capital for youth facilities, and £495 million of continued baseline funding. I hope that Members of Parliament on both sides of the House will join together and take the lead in promoting a better appreciation of our nation’s young people—our future—and that, through the strategy, we can achieve a transformation of the opportunities young people need to succeed. I commend the statement to the House.

May I first welcome the Minister for Children, Young People and Families to her newly re-badged but long-standing role, and thank her for giving me prior sight of the statement? There is much merit to it, and much of it sounds very good. Over many years, she has presided over a plethora of projects aimed at children and young people, but the projects will be judged on effectiveness, quality, and the quality of the outcomes for the young people concerned, not on quantity and the amount of boxes that have been ticked.

I could say that part of the announcement is perhaps a statement of the bleedin’ obvious: the right hon. Lady said that whether we are talking about sport, music, drama, or volunteering, or being in the Scouts, the Guides or a rap group, it was clear that taking part in organised activities led by responsible adults is how young people develop confidence, tenacity and tolerance—words that could have been spoken by Baden-Powell 100 years ago on the occasion of the foundation of the Scouts, if it were not for the mention of rap groups. It is not rocket science, but we welcome any initiative that at last acknowledges the enormous challenge that we face from an increasingly disillusioned and disengaged younger generation who are experiencing huge and increasing gaps in opportunity and achievement.

As the right hon. Lady said, young people are quick to be fingered by a hostile media as the source of all society’s ills. Some 71 per cent. of stories about them are negative, and do not praise the achievements of the vast majority of decent children and young people who face growing challenges, and who grow up in an increasingly uncertain and insecure world. The image is not helped by constant Government announcements about youth crime and antisocial behaviour. The Government treat the fact that a growing number of young people are subject to antisocial behaviour orders, and a record number of children are locked up in our prisons, as a benchmark of success rather than an admission of failure and as symptoms of our increasingly broken society. We have to tackle the underlying causes of those problems.

The Institute for Public Policy Research report, out today, confirmed everything that we said in the social justice report a couple of weeks ago: youths in Britain are more likely to drink, take drugs, have sex, join gangs and get into fights than youths almost anywhere else in Europe. It confirms, too, the findings of February’s UNICEF report about—[Interruption.]

Order. The House listened with courtesy to the Minister, and it ought to do the same for the hon. Gentleman.

I do not know whether hon. Members want to challenge the findings of the IPPR report, but it confirmed the findings of the social justice report and the UNICEF report that was produced earlier this year. It is no good trying to deny the reality; we have to face up to it, and then tackle it. The Labour party seems to be in denial. We have a problem with obesity. One in 10 of our young people has a mental health problem, and the number is growing. There are 454,000 prescriptions for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drugs, and 212,000 prescriptions relating to depression among children who are sometimes as young as six. There has been a 300 per cent. rise in Chlamydia over the past 12 years, and 8,500 children were admitted to accident and emergency departments last year for binge-drinking and alcohol-related problems. Children are drinking younger, drinking stronger and drinking more often. All those problems were recognised in the social justice report, under the excellent authorship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith).

We should not shrink from the stark reality of the challenge that we face. We must form proposals on the tough decisions that we will have to make, and we must confirm that we face an increasingly broken society. The opportunity and achievement gap has widened under this Government, and some of the appalling outcomes for young people are the symptoms of that broken society. The truth is that the 10-year strategy should have started 10 years ago. The Prime Minister himself has warned often enough about the seriousness of the situation. In the pre-Budget report of 2005, he said:

“we have to do far more where in the past too little has been done, investing in youth and community facilities that are modern, relevant and welcoming for teenagers up and down the country.”—[Official Report, 5 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 613.]

In a speech to the Fabian Society in January last year, he said:

“in 2006 a new British youth national community service can galvanise and challenge the energies and enthusiasm of a fresh generation of teenagers and young people.”

The Prime Minister recognised the problem a rather long time ago. Today is an announcement of some Government money and a raid on orphan assets—we are not talking about public funds—that might otherwise have been used to address the pensions crisis.

We need to know about the devil in the detail. We would like to ask some questions about the warm words in the statement; there were a lot of buzz words relating to cutting-edge approaches that the right hon. Lady might like to define. In particular, we would like to know where exactly the money is coming from, and about the sustainability of the funding. She talked about a plan to make one-off hits on orphan assets between 2008 and 2011. Providing the services is not just about building lots of shiny new buildings so as to present photo opportunities for ribbon cutting by Ministers. There are underused halls, schools, church halls and youth centres that could be used far more before we build more. Secure revenue is essential if we are to set up new programmes that put properly trained staff and volunteers in place, and if we are to provide continuity, so can she tell us when the 10-year funding plan will be put in place? We must not return to the three-year cycle in which a new scheme is announced only for a new fashion to come along, the funding to disappear and it is back to the drawing board. Sustainability will be key to the success of the projects.

If the programme is not just about buildings, it certainly is about staff. How will the programme fully engage with the 500,000 volunteers in youth work, including the many young volunteers whom the right hon. Lady mentioned? How will it support the many excellent youth organisations in the voluntary sector that already do great work with much expertise, knowledge and dedication? She mentioned some projects in her statement. What about projects such as the Bolton lads and girls club, which I visited with my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and others? It has been going since 1889, operates seven nights and days a week, 52 weeks a year, has 3,200 active members, and exists on very little public money. What about the Young Adult Trust, which raises aspirations by bringing together groups of people from different backgrounds? Will she assure us that she will not try to reinvent the wheel, but will work with the expertise found in examples of good practice?

Where will the extra trained staff who are needed to run the facilities come from? In my constituency, there is a waiting list to join the Scouts, which is a tremendous achievement, but one reason why we have a waiting list is the lack of volunteers who are prepared to come forward and give their time. Will she look at streamlining the Criminal Records Bureau checking and vetting systems, so that volunteers are not subject to multiple checks and are not deterred from offering their services in those important areas? Exactly what steps is she taking to invest in youth work of an appropriate quality, and how will that work be linked to the extended schools and the enhanced programme that was announced yesterday? It is not clear how she intends to work with local authorities and local youth services to manage the new investment and make sure that the activities are suitably diverse. They have to appeal to young people, so that we can engage with them constructively. Most of all, local authorities and local youth services have to make sure that they do not replicate existing services, and make sure that they are fun.

The right hon. Lady mentioned working with young people to fashion services, and we welcome that. We also welcome what she said about giving young people control over their budgets. How exactly does she plan to ensure genuine engagement with young people in planning the services? It is a common fallacy that all that young people want is a new skateboard ramp and a pat on the head from a council official, and they will be in a state of nirvana. How will she engage with youth mayors—a post that we have in my constituency—the Youth Parliament and the Youth Cabinet to make sure that the proposals have the full backing and engagement of local people?

Will the services be aimed at the people who are most in need, and who are often the most difficult to access, or will the money be spent too thinly among 11 million children? The right hon. Lady mentioned working with other agencies, which we welcome, especially health agencies, on problems such as obesity, sexually transmitted diseases and substance abuse, yet her Government raided £300 million from the sexual health strategy fund to plug deficits in other parts of the health service. How exactly does she think that the money provided in the next three years will plug the enormous gap in the sexual health strategy fund, let alone the enormous gap in funding to tackle alcohol abuse, as the money will have to apply to all sorts of other things, such as setting up social enterprises and work force reform? How will she provide the counselling services that she mentioned to tackle the underlying problems of unhappiness and mental illness? We need to make sure that the programme is a sustainable, meaningful long-term project and not another poorly planned gimmick like the Connexions card—the loyalty card scheme for 16 to 19-year-olds run by Capita, which was a costly £100 million failure, with just a 3 per cent. target take-up, and which has now been abandoned?

What will be the measures of the success or failure of these plans? That should not be based only on raw figures such as those that I have mentioned. The scheme’s success should be measured by whether it results in children engaging more with their parents. The state is a poor parent, as the children in care figures alarmingly show. We cannot deal with children in isolation. It is essential that the Government do not try to displace parents, but work with them and their children, and acknowledge that in the vast majority of cases it is parents who know best how to bring up their own children.

If the Government take that on board, put their money where their mouth has been uttering warm words for too long, and work with the expertise and tremendous enthusiasm of the voluntary sector, they will have our support for the scheme.

I am disappointed that, despite a promising start for about 10 seconds, yet again the hon. Gentleman could not resist the temptation of repeating the latest Daily Mail mantra and in so doing writing off all our young people, as the newspaper does today, as the worst in Europe. He had the opportunity to give the serious response that the issue deserves. He could have accepted the invitation at the end of my statement to be positive about young people, to commit the Conservatives—[Interruption.] He started promisingly, as I said, for about 10 seconds before he lapsed easily into his default position.

The hon. Gentleman could have committed his party to challenging the negative stereotypes which young people, in the most extensive ever consultation of them, told us that they detest—but no; he thinks that it will be to the Tories’ political advantage to trash teenagers. That is what he did today—[Interruption.] Not only is the picture that he painted untrue of the vast majority of young people, but I do not understand how he thinks it will help his party for him constantly to run down Britain and young people—the broken society that he spoke about—[Interruption.]

Order. These are serious matters and it does not help sensible discussion if all the time we have silly remarks from both sides of the House.

I wonder what the hon. Gentleman thinks such talk says to all the young people who are working hard and, on many indices, doing better than any previous generation. What does he think parents in Britain make of Conservatives apparently thinking that they are doing such a terrible job of bringing up their children? Yes, a minority of young people are having problems, and we are very concerned about those, as we have been for the past 10 years. However, those such as UNICEF and the Daily Mail this morning which say that there has never been a worse time to be a young person in this country are dumbing down the real progress that most children, with dedicated help from their parents, families and teachers, are making.

I do not accept the conclusions of the UNICEF report or the Daily Mail’s interpretation of IPPR research. For us it is important that every young person reaches their potential, but with child poverty decreasing, when it trebled under the Tory Government; with teenage pregnancy falling, when it reached an all-time high—the highest in Europe—under his Government; and with drug use falling and educational standards rising, life for the majority of young people in Britain is getting much better.

The hon. Gentleman says that this is not rocket science, but I should let him know that we have been working on these issues for the past 10 years. He asked why we did not start 10 years ago. The answer is that we did. If he were answering questions today, I could ask him why that work did not start 28, 15 or 11 years ago. Most of the opportunities and facilities that we are discussing today, including the quality of the youth service and youth workers, all but disappeared under 18 years of Tory rule. That is the legacy that we were left with. Our response since 1997, under Every Child Matters, Connexions, the creation of youth offending teams, the intensive activity programmes that I referred to, the volunteer service, the millennium volunteers, has been progressively to rebuild the infrastructure and the services that allow us today to take the next step for the young people of this country.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of issues, all of which are dealt with in the strategy. When he gets a chance to read it, he will see the proposals for work force development and reform and the importance of the voluntary sector. He mentioned Bolton lads and girls club. That is used as a case study in the document, because we want to build on what the third sector is providing. He mentioned extended schools. The £1 billion that we announced yesterday will assist.

When young people and their parents have the chance to look at the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman has blown by telling us where the Tory party stands, they will ask, like the voters in Ealing, Southall and Sedgefield, what the Conservative party is now for. Young people will know a sham when they see one. The hon. Gentleman said nothing positive at all to them today. It is more of the same and that is nothing.

This Government are serious about addressing poverty and inequality and meeting the distinctive needs of young people. That is what the strategy is about. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would support the spirit of it and forge a better appreciation of our young people. He has shown again that the Tories are not up to it.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that not only do I welcome the statement, but that people in my constituency do not think that society or their community is broken? They resent such terms. Indeed, some of them remember a former Prime Minister who said that there was no such thing as society.

I welcome the statement. I particularly like the emphasis on empowerment. We have learned from all the research and work that has been done over the years that we should listen to young people and then give them leadership. My recently failed private Member’s Bill sought the guarantee of two weeks’ community leadership training for 16 to 18-year-olds. What is important is not only empowering young people, but the quality of the investment. There is an amazing group of volunteers out there in every community in the country. All they want is a bit more resource and a bit more access. It does not have to be a shiny new buildings. There are too many buildings in our towns and cities that are not open after 5 pm. What we need is opportunity.

I have one piece of advice for my right hon. Friend. There is more money if she needs it—

Order. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is about to come to a question.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is £62 million languishing in landfill tax, which was supposed to have been used for educational research, that she could get her hands on? It could help the effort that she has announced.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Like him, I regret the tone of the comments from the Conservative Front Bench. Interestingly, I wonder what divisions there are between the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) who I understand has distanced himself from the UNICEF report and said that it was unfair. We will see where that disagreement ends up.

My hon. Friend is right to say that empowerment and the involvement of young people is not only important as a principle. As we know, the youth opportunity and youth capital funds that we have been giving to local authorities over the past year to spend on the condition that they spend it with young people are making a demonstrable difference to the quality, relevance and attractiveness of what is on offer to young people. Indeed, my right hon. Friends and I and the Prime Minister had a meeting with young people today in the Cabinet Room. Their single message to us was, “Please tell the people to talk to us, to listen to what we have to say, and to involve us in decision making.” One young man said, “If you give us money to spend, we are not going to buy a PlayStation for everybody in their bedrooms. We are going to spend it on positive things that bring us together and help us to progress.” I thought that that was profound.

I will investigate the point about landfill tax, because any additional resources that I can get my hands on will be welcome.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement.

I welcome the tone of the statement and some of the intentions that lie behind it. As has been said, it has appeared on the same day as the Institute for Public Policy Research report. The Daily Mail coverage is a caricature of the actual report—a Hogarth image of debauched behaviour by young people, which I do not accept and recognise as an accurate picture of young people in society today. I know that many young people participate in volunteering, raise money for charity and achieve in schools.

I hope that the statement is the welcome start of a departure from some of the language of the Tony Blair era, namely the language of marching children to cash points, the language of dealing with feral youth and the language of imposing dispersal orders on young people, such as the fatuous dispersal order imposed on skateboarders in my constituency this week. I hope that it is a fresh approach that will empower young people.

On money, the Minister’s Department, unlike all other Whitehall Departments, has its comprehensive spending review settlement for 2008 to 2011. Will the Minister say how much of the various sums identified in the statement is genuinely new money, rather than recycled existing money? Specifically, how much of it is Government money as opposed to the money of local authorities, youth offending teams and primary care trusts? How much is expected to be raised on the rather flimsy financial basis of recovering unclaimed assets lying in bank accounts? If investment in youth is really important—I think that it is—is that the correct source of money for that important investment?

The statement mentions that one of the aims is “empowerment”, which I welcome. However, the only example that I could find in my brief perusal of the statement was for young people to have “influence” over 25 per cent. of local authority budgets by 2018, which is not exactly immediate empowerment. I expected the statement to say much more about how we can engage young people in citizenship and how we can ensure that every school and local authority encourages young people to participate in elections to the Youth Parliament. The Select Committee Chairman has left, but the recent Select Committee report, to which I was a signatory, recommends that every school should have a school council. If that were implemented, it would teach young people through practical action the skills of working together. I also hope that at some point we will have another debate about reducing the voting age to 16.

Will the Minister work with the Minister for Schools and Learners in making sure that every school in the country teaches all aspects of the personal, social and health education curriculum and the social and emotional aspects of the learning curriculum without opt-out? Many of the problems that have been caricatured in the Daily Mail and that have been the subject of the crossfire between Government and Conservative Front Benchers could be dealt with positively in schools, if that curriculum were taught without exception.

Investment in youth workers is important. Many hon. Members know that before I became a Member of Parliament my professional career for 17 years was as a tax consultant, but the first job that I was trained to do was as a children’s play leader for the YMCA and for the local authority. [Interruption.] It was good training for this atmosphere. I know that by working with young people, one can teach them how to trust and about teamwork. Importantly, one can teach them about risk, too, through games, which is something that has been missing in the past 10 years. Not only are those qualities good for children, but they will stand them in good stead in later life.

The statement specifically mentions £25 million for the work force to attract graduates into youth work, which is worth while, but I wonder whether we can do more to encourage community leaders and senior citizens into youth work. People who have lost their jobs in other industries could also be retrained. That point particularly applies to men, because many young, disaffected men need male role models—they may not get it at home, but they could get it through the youth service.

Can we have a statement about detached workers? Much of the language of the statement is about places to go and investment in youth centres, but it is people who will make the difference. Rather than imposing dispersal orders on skateboarders in Bristol, it would have been much better to have sent a detached youth worker to talk to the young people, to engage with them and to tackle what is perceived as their antisocial behaviour.

Finally, the statement mentions “social and emotional skills”. I think that values are important, too. Youth work has a great role to play in teaching young people tolerance and respect for other people in our diverse society. In particular, I would welcome an initiative to make anti-bullying work part of the youth service. I welcome much of the content of the statement, but the approach will succeed only if we engage with young people, rather than demonising them, and if we involve them in the construction of policies, rather than imposing policies on them.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments and the tone of his contribution. If the Conservative spokesman had made a similar contribution, we would have had a much better debate and, more importantly, we would have sent a more powerful signal to young people from both sides of the House.

The tone of the statement was chosen for a particular reason. That does not mean that we can disavow the important work that we had to do to make sure that if some young people behave badly, there is the wherewithal at a local level to deal with it. Many young people suffer from such behaviour, and we need to protect them and demonstrate to them that they are part of our consideration.

The hon. Gentleman asked about money. The new money from the comprehensive spending review programme is £124 million, plus another £60 million in capital to support the unclaimed assets, when they come on stream. I have not attempted to claim that the baseline funding is new money from the CSR, but it was previously short-term funding, whereas now it has been consolidated, so in a sense it is almost new money. That is a substantial contribution to young people.

The hon. Gentleman asked me what “influence” means. On the basis of our experience with the youth opportunity fund and the youth capital fund, we are saying to local authorities that we expect them to spend those resources in conjunction with young people. Most local authorities have risen to the spirit of that challenge by setting up panels of young people to make decisions about whether bids are successful, and groups of young people, obviously with the support of adults, are submitting bids. The system is suffused with young people’s participation, which is the model that we want to take forward. When the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to read the full document, he will see that there is a lot of discussion about other forms of influence. The possibilities include young mayors—we spoke to the ex-young mayor of Lewisham today—young advisers, mystery shoppers and so on.

We have recently announced £13 million to extend social and emotional work to primary schools and secondary schools, which is important.

I do not underestimate the importance of the work force. The strategy is about not only new facilities, but the fundamental reform and remodelling of the work force. The work force will have the opportunity to develop the skills, particularly leadership skills, that they need to develop our young people’s values and capabilities.

When the hon. Gentleman has read the document, I hope that he will have more questions for me, and I am happy to discuss with him how we can work together to take the matter forward.

Order. Given the number of hon. Members seeking to catch my eye, it ought to be possible—it ought to have been possible—to call everyone today, but unless questions, and perhaps answers, are much briefer, a number of hon. Members will be disappointed.

Keighley Cougars rugby league club has for a number of years promoted out-of-school activities for young men and women in various areas, and I have the great honour to be a member of the trust that oversees the organisation of that work. One of the most encouraging events that I have been to was to see boys and girls, white and Asian, training together at Lawkholme lane with a rugby football a year or two ago. Does my right hon. Friend agree that public money should not be going into any youth facility that is discriminatory but into organisations that encourage cohesion and integration between the communities?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and commend the efforts that she has made to promote cohesion and integration. This issue has come more into our consciousness and understanding in recent years. I can assure her that, through the strategy, we will make every effort to ensure that there is integration in the youth facilities that we want to provide.

I welcome much of the Minister’s statement. However, may I gently say to her that there is a big difference between being positive about children and holding this Government to account for their policy towards children, as did my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton)? The strategy fails to address one of the most important causes of educational failure—family breakdown, to which almost every aspect of educational failure is related. What reassurance can she give the House that she recognises that fact, and what long-term measures are in the strategy to deal with it?

Family breakdown can be a cause of compounding disadvantage for many young people. In trying to address that, we have worked to provide support, specifically for parents, through a whole range of mechanisms, including children’s centres and extended schools, and through work with local authorities. However, if the hon. Gentleman thinks that the situation would be improved by transferable tax allowances for married people, which would benefit only one in 10 young people and not the most disadvantaged, the Conservatives have to think again about how they address family breakdown.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which was positive, intelligent and thoughtful. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggest that the dispersion between those who are successful educationally and those who fail is wider in Britain than in almost any other developed country, so there is still much to do. However, I applaud the Government for what has happened in the past 10 years. On the evidence of my constituency, much has been achieved and achievement is much higher than it was.

My right hon. Friend will know that the former Prime Minister’s speechwriter recently left Downing street to teach in a London school, and he concluded that two serious problems in primary schools lead to this dispersion—teaching methods and failure to deal with behavioural problems in the classroom. Will she look again at what we can do to get the best teaching methods and to make better provision for those with behavioural problems?

My hon. Friend will know that the Steer report accepted the importance of the issues that he mentions. Closing the gap between the most disadvantaged children and the rest, right across the board but particularly in terms of attainment, is an absolutely key priority. The investment of £1.3 billion that we are making into a much more personalised approach in the classroom to identify children who are at risk of falling behind is specifically designed to address that.

The Minister referred to the need to provide positive impressions of the contributions that young people make in our society. As she will be aware, the Respect taskforce, which has responsibility for all antisocial behaviour initiatives, has recently been transferred from the Home Office to her Department. That suggests that the Government view antisocial behaviour as a youth issue. What are they going to do to counteract that unfortunate impression?

We are still working through how the transfer of the personnel working in that unit will be achieved. I think I am correct in saying that the most recent statistic is that only 41 per cent. of antisocial behaviour orders were issued to young people under the age of 18, so the hon. Gentleman is right to say that antisocial behaviour is not, by any means, exclusively a young person’s problem. However, the taskforce is dealing with family intervention issues which have been very important in trying to identify and address the multiple problems of chaotic families, and it is that work in particular that we want to bring into the Department.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly the £25 million for deprived areas. However, can I caution her against being too structured in terms of how that money is spent? Some of the things in which we have invested in the past, such as Connexions, have not been attractive to young people because the approach has been too structured. Will she encourage local authorities to carry out audits of parks and open spaces to see where they can introduce facilities for young people where they might be able to participate in less structured sporting activities? There is a great deal of goodwill among parents and other people who want to do things for young people, so will she ensure that the adult population are engaged in these facilities as well as young people themselves? Can she ensure that we cover core funding for voluntary organisations that are involved in youth work, because they often find that difficult? Will she undertake to meet me so that I can discuss all the other ideas that I have?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a tremendous champion of young people and the facilities that they need. I want local authorities to undertake an audit of everything in their community, including parks and open spaces. Those that have done so have often found that there is considerably more than they thought or that young people know about. They now have a duty to improve their offer to young people and to inform them and their parents more accurately about what is available. Sustainability of good third sector organisations is critical to this strategy, and we are putting resources behind that. I will happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further.

As an ex-cub scout, venture scout and assistant scout leader, I welcome the recognition of the importance of scouting in its centenary year and hope that funding follows.

The Minister will be aware that I am concerned that children are inappropriately put into care and that research demonstrates that 70 per cent. of children return to their parents when they escape from the control of the state at the age of 16. I am particularly concerned about deaths of children in care, particularly one that occurred in the Trafford local authority area earlier this year. We must ask why arbitrary bureaucratic rules prevent children in care from making toast for each other but do not allow people to prevent them from acting as youth prostitutes. Will she look into the treatment of children in care, including the activities they are allowed to be involved in?

As an ex-Akela, I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of scouting.

It is very important that children in care are firmly included in the opportunities that the strategy is making available to all young people. In our White Paper, we proposed dedicated sums of money for each child in care to be spent in conjunction with them to give them access to extended activities through schools and in the community. The attributes that I talked about are particularly important for the most disadvantaged young people, many of whom end up in the care system.

I, too, welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend, particularly the announcement of the additional £173 million over the next three years for the youth opportunity fund. In my constituency, a panel of young people has been making the awards from the YOF, and that has been very successful. However, there remain difficulties in engaging young people who are not in organised groups and who are often the most disadvantaged and the most at risk, both from themselves and others. Will she ensure that local agencies have proposals in place on how they plan to engage those young people as a condition of receiving YOF funds in future, as we need to equip all young people to face the challenges of a very difficult world?