It is a great honour to be asked to speak in support of the Gracious Speech this afternoon. As the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) will know, there are few greater honours and few more daunting invitations than being asked to lead the Government Department responsible for the country’s schools. I am grateful beyond words for the chance to serve my country in this job.
I am grateful also to have a team alongside me that is distinguished and dedicated to ensuring that every child has a better start in life. I am grateful that my hon. Friends the Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) have agreed to serve in this partnership Government. I look forward to working with them in the years ahead.
This Gracious Speech contains two education Bills. Those measures will grant more freedom to teachers, give more choice to parents, reduce bureaucracy for all schools and provide additional help for the weakest. They will ensure that standards rise for all children and will specifically target resources on the most disadvantaged, so that we narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
In due course. This is a progressive programme and, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) appreciates, it comes from a partnership Government. I know that our programme commands support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. It also owes a great deal in its design to someone I am proud to call a right hon. Friend. Before I say anymore, may I therefore say a few words about my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), who was for three years the Liberal Democrat spokesman on education? During that time I, like the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, got to know, like and admire my right hon. Friend. In all our dealings, he was unfailingly honest, considerate, thoughtful and principled. He never, ever sought personal advantage, but instead sought at all times to do the right thing, consistent with his principles.
My right hon. Friend always sought to deploy his considerable personal gifts—his intelligence and capacity for hard work—in the service of those who were less fortunate. In particular, he championed the interests of poorer children, making the case for more investment in their education and for more freedom for teachers to close the gap in performance between the poorest and the rest. It is thanks to him more than anyone that a commitment to investing more in the education of the poorest—a pupil premium—is at the heart of this coalition Government’s plans for schools. In securing that reform, he has already secured an achievement in government of which he and his many friends can be proud. It is my profound hope that he will very soon have the chance to serve again, and I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing him well at this time.
Although we might disagree about much, I know that the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood is wholeheartedly in agreement with me on that issue. I pay tribute to him, too, for the work he did in office. He is a pugnacious political operator, as his rivals for the Labour leadership—including the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)—are about to find out if they do not already know. Having shadowed him for three years, I know that his pugnacity is matched by passion. He came into politics for the right reason: to help the underdog. During his time at the Treasury, although we may have argued with much that he did, it is to his credit that he never forgot to prioritise the fight against child poverty.
During his time as Secretary of State, the right hon. Gentleman secured real achievements. He secured a better deal for children living with disabilities, with more respite care for parents and progress on improving the education of children with special needs. The separation of exam regulation from curriculum design, with the creation of a new regulator, Ofqual, which has the potential to play a part in restoring confidence in exam standards, was a real step forward. He also showed real leadership on child protection, with swift action in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of baby Peter Connelly’s death. The right hon. Gentleman also took constructive steps to help social workers in the vital task that they perform. The coalition Government will build on his initiative in this area, in particular taking forward the recommendations of the social work task force.
I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for the robust way in which he made the case for the continuation of key stage 2 tests to mark and monitor the achievement and attainment of children in primary schools. These are a vital accountability measure, and his robust case for their continuation ensured a consensus across the House for more data, greater parental accountability and a relentless drive for improvement in early years education. We are all in his debt, and I hope that we can maintain that consensus in months to come.
The right hon. Gentleman also always made the case robustly for his Department in budget rounds. He fought with determination, and he was never reticent in letting the Treasury know just how it should discharge its responsibilities towards our schools. That is perhaps why the shadow Chancellor has today come out in favour of the David Miliband leadership campaign.
On the subject of negotiations with the Treasury, can the Secretary of State tell us what negotiations he is having about the future of the Building Schools for the Future programme? Four secondary schools in my constituency are waiting for a decision. They badly need to be renewed and rebuilt: will he deliver?
We will seek to deliver at every stage. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is in his place and that I had the opportunity to visit two superb schools in his constituency, including Madeley school, which has recently been rebuilt. I know that Building Schools for the Future makes a distinguished contribution to ensuring that we renovate and refurbish the schools estate, but I have concerns that under my predecessor the programme was not allocating resources to the front line in the most efficient way. It is critical that we ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent on the front line improving education, and not on consultants, architects or bureaucracy. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that we all have a duty to ensure that money goes to the front line, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood will agree that we should congratulate the Chancellor and the Treasury on the agreement that was reached in the spending round just concluded. For the remainder of this financial year, we will guarantee that there will be no cuts in front-line funding for schools, Sure Start and sixth forms. I hope that both sides of the House approve of that.
My right hon. Friend is setting out his stall eloquently and is being generous in his remarks. He mentions his discussions with the Treasury. Will he accept that the county of Leicestershire is bottom of the pile when it comes to funding, and will he reconsider the funding formula, as we asked the previous Government to do throughout the last two Parliaments?
My hon. Friend makes a passionate case, and I know that Leicestershire is one of the F40 local authorities that have had to do a remarkable amount with not enough. I will listen sympathetically to him and to other colleagues from both sides of the House who represent areas that need a fairer funding formula.
Will any revenue and capital funding for the so-called free schools come from existing education budgets?
I know how committed my hon. Friend is to the education of children in Colchester and, indeed, to that of children throughout the country. He will be relieved to learn that we will ensure that front-line funding for existing schools will not be damaged by the reforms that we intend to make.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is aware of some of the successful pilots that have been attempted in recent years to provide free school meals on a universal basis in some of our primary schools? Will he confirm that the educational and health gains that have been seen as a result of those pilots will now be taken forward, and that his Government will commit to continuing the pilots that the previous Government announced?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I know that in her previous incarnation, in the Child Poverty Action Group, she was a committed fighter for the very poorest children. We are now looking to ensure that we can guarantee that those children most in need receive support with free school meals, and we are examining the evidence that has come in from the pilots that she has mentioned.
Can the right hon. Gentleman comment on the closure of BECTA, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, and the QCDA, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, in Coventry, costing probably 600 jobs, and the potential impact not only in Coventry but on education for poorer families? A letter was sent out announcing the closure arbitrarily, so what will happen to those staff?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He, too, is a dedicated fighter for his constituency, and I know how hard he has fought for the interests of the people of Coventry. However, given the difficult state of the public finances and the situation that we inherited from the Government whom he supported, we have had to make some tough decisions. My judgment was that we had to prioritise spending on the front line. That has meant that those bodies—BECTA and the QCDA, which were responsible for spending money not on the front line, but in an arm’s length way, as quangos—have had to accept that economies are necessary. I have ensured, by writing to those responsible for both organisations, that we handle any redeployment and any redundancy in the most sensitive way possible.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Before the interventions started, he confirmed that he had agreed with the Treasury to match the previous plans for spending in the current financial year—2010-11 —for Sure Start, schools and 16-to-19 education. Can he confirm to the House that he has reached a similar agreement with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to match funding for 2011-12 and 2012-13 as well?
The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure with admirable zeal, wants to look into the crystal ball and find out what will happen in future. However, I have to remind him that just six weeks ago, during the general election campaign, he was engaging in his own form of future forecasting. Just six weeks ago, he said that if we took office, there would be 38,000 fewer staff working in our schools, 6,900 fewer teachers in primaries and nurseries, and 7,300 fewer teachers in secondary schools. Those redundancies have not taken place. The Nostradamus of Morley and Outwood was found out. His predictions did not come true. For that reason, I will not enter into any forecasting about what will happen in future years.
What I will say is that unlike the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, we have secured additional funding from outside the education budget, as confirmed by the Prime Minister at this Dispatch Box just an hour ago, in order to fund our pupil premium—something that the right hon. Gentleman was never able to do, but that we have been able to do in partnership—to ensure that funding goes to the very poorest children. I would have hoped that he would find it in himself to show the grace to applaud that achievement for our very poorest children. I would also have hoped that he would applaud the Chancellor for protecting front-line funding for Sure Start, 16-to-19 education and schools.
The Secretary of State has been talking about protecting front-line spending in education. Can he confirm that that includes important services such as special educational needs provision and school transport, which are of great value to our constituents?
I could not agree more. School transport is covered by the revenue support grant in almost all circumstances and has not been affected. With respect to special educational needs, we are ensuring that the commitment is there to fund the services that our most vulnerable children need.
What I would say to all hon. Gentlemen on the Labour Benches—[Interruption]—and hon. Ladies too—is that in their requests for more spending, however passionately constructed, they should remember one thing. Who were the Government until just a few weeks ago? Who was responsible for the financial situation that we inherited? Who was responsible for writing a letter to the Treasury saying, “There is no money”? None of us in this House wants to see front-line spending on our schools reduced, but none of us on the Government Benches would have wanted the public finances to be reduced to the state that we inherited after the election. As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) put it, in a rare moment of candour when he left the Treasury, there is no money left. In fact, as the markets are all too aware, there is less than no money left. We are currently spending £163 billion every year more than we take in taxes—
And that is thanks to the financial mismanagement of the hon. Lady’s Government.
In the right hon. Gentleman’s desire to be sensible about money, which we would all want to see, will he think about the extended schools programme? What connections is he making with other Departments? That extension to school hours really helps working parents, and working parents help to tackle child poverty. That should be at the centre of his agenda, and I hope that it is.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s commitment to fighting child poverty, both in her role as a Minister and also, previously, as a member of the Greater London assembly. She will be aware that my Department is working with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities and Local Government to carry forward the good work that is already in place as a result of the extension of hours, but it is critical to recognise that everything that is happening in and around our schools to support young people is taking place against a backdrop of dire economic news. That backdrop is one that she played a part in constructing when she was a member of the Government who left us with the desperate economic situation in which we find ourselves. Our debt is growing at a rate of more than £300,000 per minute. That money could have been spent on the front line—on our schools, on teachers and on teaching assistants—but it is not being spent in that way, thanks to the profligacy and inefficiency of the Labour Government.
The right hon. Gentleman might be having a bonfire of the bureaucracies, but will he acknowledge that many of them are not just bureaucracies and that they actually do an important job in education? We still need curriculum development capacity, for example, and we still need technology to be applied in our schools to advance good learning. There is a rumour sweeping through the corridors that he is about to announce the abolition of the General Teaching Council for England. Is that true? What would be the purpose of that?
Lots of teachers are asking what the purpose of the GTCE is; they have been asking that question for years. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on where the resources should go. Should they go to quangos or to the front line? He listens to teachers, and I listen to teachers. They want resources on the front line, in the classroom, raising attainment; they do not want them spent on the bureaucratic bodies that have for too long siphoned money from where it needs to be spent.
Critically, I know that many hon. Members will want to ask why we are not honouring their commitment to spend £250 on the child trust fund. Let me take that question head on. When the Labour Government left office, they ensured that every single child was paying £23,000 of debt every year in order to deal with our deficit. Why is it progressive politics to saddle children with £23,000 of debt in order to give them a financial product worth just £250? That is not progressive politics; it is Maxwell economics. Instead of seeking to defend its financial mismanagement, the Labour party should apologise to the House and to the next generation for saddling them with a national debt so huge that it undermines our capacity to make progress.
The Education Secretary is right about the level of debt that the Labour party left behind: £1 trillion of national debt is a huge amount. However, to use that as a justification for doing away with the child trust fund is wrong. The child trust fund is the only savings product I can think of with a 71% voluntary take-up rate and, given that savings ratios in this country were so low for so long and that the fund goes directly to help children when they leave school, it is a false economy to butcher the scheme, notwithstanding the chaos and mayhem that the Labour party left the economy in.
The hon. Gentleman answers his own question: the Labour party did leave chaos and mayhem, and the tough decisions that it relentlessly avoided now have to be taken. By refusing to state exactly how it would deal with the public spending mess that it left behind, the Labour party is placing itself outside the European mainstream—[Interruption.] In every major European country, including Ireland, Italy, Germany and Spain, steps are being taken to deal with the deficit. The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood was a noted Eurosceptic, when he was at the Financial Times and when he was at the Treasury. I note that he is now taking a similarly Eurosceptic position by refusing to join the European consensus that we need to deal with our sovereign debt crisis by bringing down public expenditure. The longer the Labour party is in denial, the longer it will consign itself to irrelevance and the longer it will stay in opposition.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I congratulate him. In suggesting that other countries are, to use his words, reducing their sovereign debt, is he not admitting—given that he is the Education Secretary and that he can therefore add up—that the previous Labour Government cannot have been responsible for those countries’ debts? Does he acknowledge that they took action in the same way as our Government did to protect us from a meltdown in the system?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making the point, as I was arguing, that other countries are taking action now—in this year, even as we speak—to deal with these problems. He stood on a platform, as did the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, saying that it would be “folly” to take action this year. That view—that action was required this year—was not put forward only by Conservative Members, as it was the view of the Governor of the Bank of England, who backed early action to deal with the deficit. He said that we needed to
“tackle excessive fiscal budget deficits”
“I am very pleased that there is a very clear and binding commitment to accelerate the reduction in the deficit over the lifetime of the Parliament and to introduce additional measures this fiscal year to demonstrate the importance of getting to grips with that before running the risk of an adverse market reaction.”
How wise were those words and how welcome is such robustness from the Governor of the Bank of England. Indeed, one newspaper columnist has argued:
“That is why Bank of England independence, once a controversial idea, is now accepted across all parties and by both sides of industry.”
The columnist in question is, of course, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, writing in the Wakefield Express.
It is a great column!
It is a great column and a great newspaper—never was a truer word said. It is against the backdrop of the terrible fiscal position left us by the previous Government, in which the right hon. Gentleman played such a distinguished part, that we have to make our judgments in this Queen’s Speech.
Hard times require tough choices, and we have chosen to put health and education first, not just in terms of spending, but in terms of reform. Unlike the last Prime Minister, we recognise that investment in the front line has to be matched with trust in the front line. That is why, in both health and education, we will devolve responsibility down—away from Whitehall towards schools and hospitals. Power will be taken out of the hands of politicians and bureaucrats, and placed in the hands of teachers, nurses and doctors.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and congratulate him on his new post. The single most important way to raise standards in education is to attract, retain and motivate higher calibre people in teaching and school leadership. What steps will the new coalition Government take to make teaching more attractive and to ensure that we increase the motivation and support of teachers?
My hon. Friend served in a distinguished way on the Select Committee that deals with these matters, and I am sure that he will continue to serve in a distinguished way in the future. He will know that many of the Select Committee’s recommendations chimed with those that we made in opposition, but we need to learn from countries like Finland and Singapore that have succeeded in attracting an ever-more talented group of our graduates into teaching. In fairness to the Government, we have seen over the last 15 years an increase in the number of talented people coming into teaching. We have among the most talented cohort that any of us can remember, but we need to build on it and ensure that organisations outside the reach of Government such as Teach First are given the opportunity to expand; the Government must support them. Unlike the last Government, who refused to fund their expansion to the north-east of England, we will support that expansion while ensuring that the current graduate teacher programme, which is too bureaucratic and puts barriers in the way of those who want to enter teaching, is expanded by turning it into a Teach Now programme. I see from the nods coming from the former Chairman of the Select Committee that he appreciates that there is room for consensus and for constructive work in this area, which unites everyone who is serious about raising teacher quality. [Interruption.]
As well as mentioning the support we enjoy from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), I should say that it is across the piece of public sector reform that our belief in trusting professionals and attracting more talented people into the front line guides our hand. That is why the Health Secretary has said deliberately that our reforms to the health service will be led in future by clinicians and not by bureaucrats. He has called a halt to the reorganisation of health services promoted by his predecessor, so that we can ensure that every change is driven by professional wisdom and not by bureaucratic convenience. That should mean that in communities across the country, the maternity and A and E services that are cherished by our constituents are protected, because clinicians put their needs first. It is also why my right hon. Friend has ensured that in place of the more than 100 targets insisted on by Ministers in the past, we will have a health care system driven by results, not by processes, by clinical evidence, not political whim, and by patient choice, not top-down diktat.
In the spirit of an holistic approach to education and health, may I ask the Secretary of State to look at early-day motion 25, entitled “Fitness of Children”, before the end of the debate, and may I ask whoever sums up the debate to reflect on it? It clearly states that children who walk or cycle to school are fitter than those who are driven in a car or school bus, but everything that the Secretary of State is proposing is literally driving children out of their communities into cars and buses to travel to schools at the other side of town.
I thank my hon. Friend for another constructive contribution. It is true that as I listened to it, the words “On your bike” passed through my head, but I have to say that I agree with him. It is because I believe in community schools and want them to survive that I believe we should work together to ensure that they are saved from the pressure—whatever it is and from whoever it may come—that may lead communities to be robbed of the schools that they love. One of the aspects of the reform programme that we are proposing, which I hope will commend itself to him and to many of my hon. Friends, is our determination to ensure that small schools, urban or rural, can survive where there is strong parental support for them.
The vision that we have for our education and health reforms is driven by the shared values of this partnership Government. We believe in devolving power to the lowest possible level. We believe that the function of the state is to promote equity, not uniformity; to enable, and not to conscript. We also believe that the power of the state should be deployed vigorously to help the vulnerable and the voiceless, those who lack resources and connections, and those who are poor materially and excluded socially.
However, we also believe that those most in need will never be helped to achieve all that they can unless we harness the full power of civil society, the initiative of creative individuals, the imagination of social entrepreneurs, and the idealism of millions of public sector workers. That means reducing bureaucracy, getting rid of misguided political intervention, respecting professional autonomy, and working in genuine partnership with local communities. It is that genuinely liberal, and liberating, vision that unites every Member on this side of the House and gives our reform programme its radical energy, not least in education.
We have—we have been bequeathed—one of the most stratified and segregated school systems in the developed world. The gap in exam performance between private schools and state schools grew under the last Government. That was a reverse for social justice, and an affront against social mobility. In the last year for which we have figures, just 45 of 80,000 young people eligible for free school meals made it to Oxbridge. More students went to Oxbridge from the school attended by the Leader of the Opposition, St Paul’s, than from the entire population of poor boys and girls on benefit.
I know that the consciences of Opposition Members who are motivated by idealism will have been pricked by those figures. No one contemplating that record can be in any doubt that reform is urgent. That is why we are pressing ahead with the sort of changes that will drive improvement across the whole of the state school system. We are cutting spending on the back office to prioritise spending on the front line.
As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham)—who, sadly, is no longer in the Chamber—we have already saved millions of pounds by taking steps to abolish BECTA and the QCDA—two bureaucratic organisations with their own chairmen, their own chief executives, their own boards, their own communications teams, their own strategies and their own stakeholder groups—so we can ensure that money goes to the classroom. Today I can announce—as the hon. Member for Huddersfield anticipated—that we will take steps to abolish a third quango, the General Teaching Council for England.
The GTCE takes more than £36 from every teacher every year, and many of them have told me that it gives them almost nothing in return. I have listened to representations from teacher organisations—including teaching unions such as the NASUWT—which would prefer that money to be spent in the classroom, and I have been persuaded by them, the professionals. The GTCE does not improve classroom practice, does not help professionals to develop, and does not help children to learn. In short, it does not earn its keep, so it must go.
To those who argue that we need a body to help police the profession, let me say that this Government want to trust professionals, not busybody and patronise them; but when professionals dishonour the vocation of teaching, action needs to be taken. When the GTCE was recently asked to rule on a BNP teacher who had posted poisonous filth on an extremist website, it concluded that his description of immigrants as animals was not racist, and that therefore he could not be struck off. I think that that judgment was quite wrong and that we need new proposals to ensure that extremism has no place in our classrooms, and I also believe that the bodies that have failed to protect us in the past cannot be the answer in the future.
There may well be an argument about the role of the GTCE, especially in respect of the example the right hon. Gentleman has just given, but does he agree that it does not behove him as the new Education Secretary to abolish the GTCE on financial grounds, given that the sum of £36 per teacher to which he referred will not be taxed on teachers and therefore will not be money that can be made available to the front line as he stated just a few minutes ago? Is this not the kind of nonsense that got us into having the pledge that £2.5 billion would be saved by doing away with biometric passports, when it turns out that the correct figure is £86 million over four years?
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but I must point out to him that £36.50 per teacher goes to fund the GTCE, and much of that money actually comes from the Department itself, although some comes from teachers as well. I believe that the money the Department currently spends supporting the GTCE should instead be spent on supporting the front line, because I believe that overall we need to ensure that money that is currently spent on resources such as bodies, institutions, protocols and frameworks that do not raise the quality of teaching and do not improve the experience of children in the classroom should be shifted so that it is spent in the right direction.
Just for the record, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how much he will save for the public purse by abolishing the GTCE?
I have asked officials to calculate exactly how much we will save. [Interruption.] Well, we will bring forward legislation, but there is a sum of £36.50 for every teacher, which will save us hundreds of thousands of pounds. [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the GTCE is the right organisation to keep in place? Does he believe that this money is better spent on the GTCE than in any other area? Does he believe that the hundreds of thousands of pounds that I think we should have spent on the front line should continue to be spent on that body?
I rise to try to educate the right hon. Gentleman. As he is very well versed in educational matters, he must know that what he is telling the House is a fiction. The fact of the matter is that he will not be saving £36.50 for every teacher. Many teachers pay the £36.50 themselves.
Some do, but many do not. It is precisely because the Department pays the fees for so many teachers—it pays £33 of the £36.50—that I have asked officials to work out how much we can save. If, instead of simply carrying on objecting to saving this money, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood wants to tell me how he would spend it, or whether he would keep the GTCE going, I would be delighted to hear from him.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is he who is now the Secretary of State, not I, and therefore he is the person who has to take the decisions and is responsible. It is not proper government for him to come to the House to make an announcement and for it to turn out that he has not even seen the advice on which the announcement has been made, and then for him airily to say, “Well, I think the figure is hundreds of thousands of pounds.” The right way to do it is to get the information first, then make the decisions, and then report them to the House; that is a better way of doing things.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind advice, but the one thing he has not done in his question—or statement, even—is point out whether he agrees with the policy. If he will tell me whether he agrees with it, I will be interested to hear his views. We do know, however, that money will be saved, and that introducing this change in respect of this organisation is in the interests of teachers and of making sure that money that is otherwise spent on bureaucratic bodies can be spent on the front line. [Interruption.] I have had the opportunity to read the advice, and I know that this is the right thing to do. [Interruption.] I would be interested in advice from the right hon. Gentleman about whether or not he thinks—
Order. I am very sorry to interrupt the flow of the eloquence of the Secretary of State, but may I just say, particularly as we are discussing education, that we all believe in the importance of role models, and I am already finding that the behaviour of some senior Members is starting to be imitated by new Members? That is very undesirable, and I know it is not a precedent that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) would wish to establish.
As I am sure the Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, knows—[Interruption.] Forgive me, I should, of course, have said the shadow Secretary of State. How sweet those memories are. As the right hon. Gentleman the shadow Secretary of State knows, the Department provides about £16 million every year to reimburse teachers for the cost of that membership. I believe that that £16 million is better spent on the front line. If he believes that the money is better spent on the GTCE, perhaps he will say so in his forthcoming remarks.
As well as getting rid of that bureaucracy, we will reform other bureaucracies. We will reform Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, so that instead of inspecting schools on the current 29 tick-box criteria, it will examine just four: the quality of teaching; the quality of leadership; pupil achievement and attainment; and pupil discipline and safety. We also want to free outstanding schools from inspection, so that more time and resources can be devoted to helping others to improve. The absurd practice of “limiting judgments”, whereby great schools can be ranked as “poor” because of clerical errors, will end, and inspections will be driven by an in-depth look at teaching and learning, rather than by the current endless paper chase, which deprives classes of teacher time.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment to a very challenging Cabinet post—it is becoming more challenging by the minute. Does he accept that a key factor in improving attainment and achievement is the quality of learning and teaching? Why would any graduate be able to opt out of a teaching qualification, given that, in my experience, some of the most gifted academics are not the most gifted pedagogues? Is this not a dilution that could have a negative impact on standards and quality?
That was a beautifully read question from the hon. Gentleman. As we know, he is a former headmaster of some distinction—indeed, he was headmaster of the school that the former Prime Minister attended—so I shall listen to what he has to say. It is crucial to ensure that we have high standards of teaching and learning. As I pointed out in a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), we are taking steps to ensure that we improve the quality of both recruitment and teacher training—that is central to our reform programme. That is why we will expand Teach First, institute a new programme called Teach Now and invest in continuous professional development to ensure that those who are currently in the classroom—they are doing a fantastic job—have the opportunity to enhance their skills and accept new responsibilities.
It is because we want to attract more talented people into the classroom that we will also remove the biggest barrier to people entering or staying in the teaching profession; we will focus relentlessly on improving school discipline. We will change the law on detentions so that teachers will no longer have to give parents 24 hours’ notice before disciplining badly behaved pupils. We will change the law on the use of force and enhance teachers’ search powers so that they will be able to prevent disruptive pupils from bringing items into school that are designed to disrupt learning. We will change the law to enhance teacher protection by giving teachers anonymity when they face potentially malicious allegations, and we will insist that allegations are either investigated within a tight time period or dropped. We will also change the law to ensure that heads have the powers that they need on exclusions, and we will ensure that there is improved provision for excluded pupils to get their lives back on track.
I hope that the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Lindsay Roy), and others who believe in protecting teachers and ensuring that we have good standards of discipline and behaviour, can support all those measures. I take it from his headshake that we have his enthusiastic assent. In addition to improving discipline, we will strengthen our exam system. We want to have fewer and better exams. We want to reverse the trend towards modularisation, reduce the role of coursework in certain subjects and ask universities to help us to design new and stretching A-levels that can compete with the best exams in the world.
Just as we plan to learn from the rest of the world in order to improve our exam system, so we will learn from the rest of the world in order to improve our school system. In America, President Barack Obama is pressing ahead with radical school reform on the model that we believe in. He is attracting more great people into teaching, demanding greater accountability for parents and welcoming new providers into state education. He has insisted on having more great charter schools—the American equivalent of our academies—to drive up attainment, especially among the poorest. He, along with other reformers, such as the Democrat Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the Democrat in charge of New York’s schools, Joel Klein, and the Democrat in charge of Washington DC’s schools, Michelle Rhee, wants more schools like the inspirational Knowledge is Power Programme—KIPP—schools, which are raising attainment in ghetto areas. Such schools are founded by teachers and funded by public money, but they are free from Government bureaucracy. They operate in neighbourhoods where, in the past, most children did not even make it to the end of high school. Now, thanks to these KIPP schools, a majority of these young people are going on to elite universities. These schools have a relentless focus on traditional subjects and a culture of no excuses, tough discipline and personalised pastoral care. The schools have enthusiastic staff, who are in charge of their own destiny and work hard to help every child to succeed. Such schools are amazing engines of social mobility, which is why we need more like them in this country.
That is, in turn, why we need to expand and accelerate the academies programme and why we are reforming state education to help groups of teachers, charities, philanthropists and community groups to set up new schools. It is also why I have been determined to give professionals more scope to drive improvement by inviting all schools to consider applying for academy freedoms. We have invited outstanding schools to lead the way.
I believe that heads and teachers, not politicians or bureaucrats, know best how to run schools, which is why I am passionate about extending freedom. Since I issued my invitation last week, I have been overwhelmed by the response. In less than one week, more than 1,100 schools have applied for academy freedoms, more than half of which are outstanding—626 outstanding schools, including more than 250 outstanding primaries. More than half the outstanding secondary schools in the country have applied, and more than 50 special schools have expressed an interest. That is a vote of confidence in greater professional autonomy from those driving improvement in our schools—inspirational head teachers.
Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that it is dangerous, and certainly misleading, to use terms such as “outstanding” to describe schools when the evidence and research show overwhelmingly that the single most important determinant in success and attainment is the deprivation levels among parents of the children in a school?
I take my hon. Friend’s point that deprivation matters, which is why we have secured a partnership agreement guaranteeing that deprived pupils receive more for their education. I believe in the pupil premium and the progressive alteration to education spending. However, deprivation does not automatically mean destiny. As has been pointed out, there can be outstanding schools with challenging intakes, and what marks them out is the quality of their leadership, which is why it is so inspiring and encouraging that so many great head teachers, including of schools in some of the most challenging circumstances, have endorsed our proposals.
Does the Secretary of State consider that the rush for freedom, as he would describe it, is perhaps more a vote of no confidence in local education authorities, which are predominantly Conservative—for example, Essex county council, which totally ignores the views of my constituents?
Once again, my hon. Friend makes the sort of constructive contribution that I know will make our encounters over the next few years things to cherish. I say to him that it is across the board, whether under Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour-led local authorities, that schools want to embrace freedom. Many of them want to do so, not because they resent or are critical of local authorities, but because they relish the additional autonomy and freedom to disapply parts of the national curriculum, and because they want to work in partnership with existing schools. I want to encourage that sort of partnership, between our two parties and between academies and local authority schools. That is why I have requested that every outstanding school that acquires academy status takes with it an underperforming school on its journey, so that the process of collaboration, with the best head teachers driving improvement, continues, and so that schools can use academy freedom and head teachers can use additional powers to ensure that every child benefits.
In addition to asking that of outstanding schools, we will ensure that the academies programme delivers faster and deeper improvements in deprived and disadvantaged areas. Many more of our weakest schools will be placed in the hands of organisations such as ARK, the Harris Foundation and other academy sponsors best placed to drive improvement. We will also ensure that parents have more information about all schools, so that pressure grows on schools that are coasting to improve, and work in partnership with local government, from Essex to Cumbria, empowering strong local authorities to continue to drive improvement. Most importantly, as I have pointed out, we will target resources on the poorest. Our pupil premium will mean taking money from outside the schools budget to ensure that those teaching the children most in need get the resources to deliver smaller class sizes, more one-to-one or small group tuition, longer school days and more extracurricular activities.
Apart from outstanding schools, special needs schools and some failing schools, what are the criteria for acceptance to the academy programme?
Schools must demonstrate that the acquisition of the freedoms will help drive attainment for children in that area, and that it will also work for other schools.
This is a comprehensive plan to ensure that our state education system is the best in the world, and it is informed by what is happening across the world. Sadly, in the past 10 years, we have fallen behind other countries: we have slipped from fourth to 14th in the world for the quality of our children’s science; from seventh to 17th for the quality of their literacy; and from eighth to 24th for the quality of their maths. We cannot go on like this. While other countries accelerated their reform programmes in the past three years, we went into reverse. In the past three years, the outgoing Government added thousands of pages to the bureaucratic burden faced by schools. They robbed academies of vital freedoms and tried to abolish traditional subjects such as history and geography in the primary curriculum. They created an inspection regime that stifled innovation, failed to take proper action against extremism in the classroom and prevented teachers from searching for disruptive mobile devices and hardcore pornography on so-called human rights grounds.
The previous Government did make progress in certain areas. The former Secretary of State published his own cook book, “Real Meals”— two, in fact—which was distributed to every school in the land. In the words of the Speaker, when opening the debate on the Queen’s Speech, I have “obtained a copy” for the better understanding of the House. Right hon. and hon. Members may wish to read it during our deliberations this afternoon to get a better understanding of just what he was doing for much of his time in office. Certainly, time spent familiarising oneself with his recipes will not be wasted. I am sure that many of us will be captivated by the eye-watering sight of his mighty muffins in full colour on these pages. I have to say that the shadow Secretary of State certainly has a beautiful set of buns. May I congratulate him for striking a blow against elitism with his cook book? For the first time in history, a socialist Government’s response to poor achievement was, “Let them eat cake.”
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box. He will know that the last Conservative Government stopped nutrition in school meals. Is it not true that that cook book and many other things that have happened in the past 10 years have put it back in for the benefit of children?
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman believes that the first responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education is producing mighty muffin recipes. I take a different view. I do not want to take anything away from the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood’s achievements in the kitchen.
I support the outline that the right hon. Gentleman has given for freedoms for schools, but how will he ensure that there is not too great a burden on schools when he wants to find out how they spend their money, how they are governed, whether they have raised standards, how they select pupils and a whole list of other things? How will he ensure that that does not lead to a lot of interference by his Department requiring information from schools that seek freedom?
I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. I know, of course, that there is a separate Minister who is responsible for education in the Province that he so ably represents. Earlier in my speech, I mentioned briefly—and I am happy to expand on this in a private meeting—that we will reduce the bureaucratic burden on schools by asking Ofsted to focus on teaching, learning and three other areas. In many of the areas in which it currently acts as a bureaucratic, box-ticking, information-collecting body, the requirements on it will be scaled back.
Returning to the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, I do not want to take anything away from his achievements, because the most stinging criticisms of his record have not been made by me but have come from his own side. The shadow Foreign Secretary has complained again and again in the past few weeks that in the past few years Labour “lost focus on education”. He has also complained that Labour lost the mantle of reform and therefore forfeited its claims to be progressive. In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, I have to say that I agree with David. The Department did lose focus, reform did go backwards and progress did stall. The radical energy that infused the Labour Government’s programme in 2005, which was embodied in the White Paper of that year, was lost and in its place came the Brownite politics of dividing lines, partisan positioning and misplaced aggression. We are determined to put that to one side and push forward a programme of radical reform.
What do we want to do? Let me quote:
“We need to make it easier for every school to acquire the drive and essential freedoms of Academies, and we need to so in a practical way that allows their rapid development to be driven by parents and local communities, not just by the centre…We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self-governing independent…school”.
Who said that? [Interruption.] Not me, but as the former Minister for Schools, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has just said—10 out of 10—it was the former right hon. Member for Sedgefield, who is sadly no longer in this place, Tony Blair. He said:
“In our schools…the system will finally be opened up to real parent power.”
He argued that all schools would be able to have academy-style freedoms and should be able to take on external partners. He said that no one should be able to veto parents from starting new schools, or veto new providers coming in, simply on the basis that there were local surplus places. He promised a relentless focus on failing schools and that Ofsted would continue to measure performance, albeit with a lighter touch. He said that schools should be accountable not to Government, but to parents, with the creativity and enterprise of teachers and school leaders set free. Those promises were made in 2005 but, sadly, they were never honoured, because of the opposition to the White Paper and the legislation that was led from the Back Benches by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood and his allies.
Presciently, the former Prime Minister anticipated the criticisms that he would face, and which were mounted by the right hon. Gentleman. He said:
“The reforms will naturally come under sustained attack…Parts of the left will say we are privatising public services and giving too much to the middle class.”
He added that
“both criticisms are wrong and simply a version of the old ‘levelling down’ mentality”
that kept Labour in opposition for so long. As long as the Labour party continues to stand in the way of reform, it will condemn itself to continued Opposition.
Labour Members have a choice: will they continue to be a party of no, of the status quo, of carping, nostalgic, backward-looking criticism, always resisting innovation in the name of vested interests instead of pressing for change in the interests of the poor? Or will they join us in a forging ahead, after five wasted years, with a resumption of radical reform? Will they join us in giving professionals more power, the poor more resources, and every child a better chance?
I commend this Gracious Speech to the House.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) on his new role as Secretary of State for Education. It is a huge honour and a great privilege, but also a great responsibility.
I know that driving up education standards is a goal that we all share. The words “children” and “families” no longer appear in the name of his Department, but I hope that the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench team will commit themselves to giving every child the best start in life, and to breaking down all the barriers to the progress, safety and well-being of all children in our country. I can tell the House that, when the Secretary of State gets it right—when he acts to open up opportunities for more children and drive up standards for all—he will have our full support.
We did not agree on everything over the past three years—and neither does it seem that I will get his nomination in my party’s leadership election—but we always had an open and honest relationship. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing him all the best in his new role.
I thank the Secretary of State for the generous remarks that he made about me, at least at the beginning of his speech. On behalf of all Ministers at the former DCSF in the last three years, I pay tribute to all those with whom we worked so closely to implement our children’s plan. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that the civil servants in his Department are the very best in Whitehall, and that his permanent secretary is second to none. He will also find that our country’s social workers, and those working for local authorities and in the voluntary sector, as well as those in the children’s and family services, are distinguished by their dedication and professionalism. He will discover too that, in our head teachers, teachers, teaching assistants and support staff, our country has the best generation of educators that it has ever had.
While I was worried by the new-found enthusiasm of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) for cutting the youth jobs fund, and for immediate and rather drastic cuts to local government spending this year, over the last three years he was a dedicated and wise spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in opposition. I am sure that the whole House will join the Secretary of State in wishing him well, and I expect that we will see him back on the Front Bench at some point.
Indeed, the children and teachers of our country have rather more to thank the right hon. Member for Yeovil for than they probably realise. For the past two years in opposition, the new Education Secretary was unable to pledge to match our education spending for 2010-11, let alone for future years. We all know why: the former shadow Chancellor would not support him in making that pledge.
In this debate, we will hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the shadow Health Secretary, who achieved great things in protecting our vital national health service for the future. He will set out why he fears that the reforms proposed by the Government in this Queen’s Speech will be a backward step for the NHS. The NHS and international development were protected by the then shadow Chancellor from spending cuts this year. In his speech, the Secretary of State tried to divert attention from the threat in future years to the schools and children’s budgets by pointing to our economic record.
For the record, first, it was our Government who made the Bank of England independent in the face of opposition from the Conservatives, and took the tough decisions to get our national debt down lower than that of France, Germany, Japan and America before the financial crisis. Secondly, it was our Government who led the worldwide effort to stop a global financial collapse turning recession into depression, again in the face of bitter and wrong-headed opposition from the Conservatives. While the right hon. Gentleman may now pray in aid the loyal support of the Governor of the Bank of England and the German Finance Ministry in advocating immediate and deflationary spending cuts to reduce the deficit faster this year, he and his Chancellor are out of step with worldwide opinion and are running grave risks with the recovery, jobs and our vital public services.
For the past two years, the right hon. Gentleman was unable to match our schools spending this year. Then came the intervention of the right hon. Member for Yeovil who, in the days after the general election, stepped in and saved the day by securing ring-fencing for 2010-11 for the schools budget. Let me give the Secretary of State some gentle advice based on experience. It is rather dangerous to rely on the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to fight his public spending battles for him. Moreover, with the right hon. Member for Yeovil now out of the Treasury, let me say to the Secretary of State—this may come as some surprise, although I mean it sincerely—that I stand ready. If he needs a little help with how to win arguments with the Treasury in the next couple of years, I am here to help.
In office, the Labour party achieved, as I think the right hon. Gentleman generously acknowledged, some good things in education over the past decade. We doubled spending per pupil, we had 42,000 more teachers and the biggest school building programme since the Victorian era, and we went from one in two schools not making the grade in 1997 to just one in 12. We had more young people staying on in school, college or an apprenticeship or going to university than at any time in our history. That is a record of which Labour can be very proud indeed.
However, in the tough current financial climate in which we need to get the deficit down steadily, I agreed last December with the Treasury that there would be rising spending above inflation for schools, Sure Start and 16-to-19 education not just for one year, but for three years to 2013 because I was determined to fight my corner for the future of the children and young people of our country. I can assure the Secretary of State, now that the roles are reversed and he, not me, is doing the negotiating, that if there is anything I can do to help him secure the best deal for children, schools and families, not just this year but in the next three years, I will play my part, although it is his responsibility.
From what we heard today, no assurances at all for 2012 and 2013 have been communicated to the right hon. Gentleman by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Nor does he seem to have received any assurance that the pupil premium, his free schools and his new academies will be met with additional funding from outside his departmental budget. I hope he has some assurances from the Chancellor. If I were in his place, I would make sure I had them in writing.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman may have been otherwise engaged during Prime Minister’s questions, but the Prime Minister pointed out that funding for the pupil premium would come from outside the education budget.
But I asked whether the funding for schools, Sure Start and 16-to-19 education would be guaranteed to match our rising spending above inflation in 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13. What we discovered from the right hon. Gentleman was that he does not have those assurances for the next two years—this year maybe, thanks to the right hon. Member for Yeovil, but for the next two years he said we would have to wait and see.
I shall come to the issue of funding. Given that the Secretary of State spoke for 50 minutes and rather a lot of hon. Members want to make their maiden speeches, I will be briefer, but I will take a couple of interventions and try to resist promising a meeting with the former Schools Minister.
The shadow Secretary of State mentioned all the good things that new Labour had done for children, but does he agree that after 13 years of a new Labour Government, levels of child poverty in this country were among the worst in Europe, worse even than those to be found in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia?
I am happy to get into robust debates and look forward to seeing the hon. Gentleman defend his coalition, but between 1979 and 1997 the party that he is now propping up in government saw child poverty double. From 1997, we had one of the fastest falls in child poverty of any country in the developed world because we prioritised money going to tax credits, which the Conservative party is now putting into question, and his party as well. We will wait and see what the record shows when his party has had a chance to make a few decisions, but I am a bit of a sceptic about what it will do for child poverty.
Let me come back to money, because, as I said, without the promise of extra and rising resources, not just this year but next year and the year after, I do not see, on the basis of my experience, how it is possible for the new Government to fund free schools and more academies without cutting deep into the budgets of existing schools to pay for it. Even with the settlement that I negotiated, which had within it £1 billion of efficiency savings passed to the front line, it was tough for us to be sure that we would protect front-line staff, and that was before the new schools, the new academies and the thousands of extra places that the Secretary of State wants to finance, and even before the pupil premium, which I understood was to be paid for by abolishing the child trust fund, but that has now been used to cut the deficit, so that is one source of money that has been taken away from the right hon. Gentleman.
My first question therefore is where will the money come from? We have already seen parents, teachers and head teachers throughout the country planning for long-awaited new school buildings. I have lost count in the last two weeks of the number of Members, not just from my side of the House, asking what will happen to the Building Schools for the Future programme and the months of work, the thousands of pounds spent and the raised expectations in 700-plus schools that thought they were getting their new school and now find that it is at risk. We had no reassurance today from the right hon. Gentleman or in Prime Minister’s questions from the Prime Minister about the future of those new school building plans. All we have heard so far from the Secretary of State is a promise of £670 million of cuts from his Department this year to help reduce the deficit in 2010-11. Even then, he provided almost no details.
When I set out efficiency savings in March, I specified the £300 million I had found and said that I needed to find more. So far there has been no statement to the House and no details have been set out. There are hints of cuts to school transport through the local government line and to one-to-one tuition, but there is no detail at all. This is not good enough. The right hon. Gentleman is in government. It is he who must answer the questions now when he is making these big policy announcements. In passing, we would also like to know—we will ask this at Question Time next Monday—how the £1.2 billion of in-year cuts to local government services this year will impact upon vital children’s services such as child social work, libraries and looked-after children.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Building Schools for the Future programme is vital not only for the welfare of the future skills and education of our children, but for the construction industry, whose welfare is vital for sustaining the employment, the tax levels and the corporation tax necessary to pay off our public debt?
Yes. Back in February, we thought that it was one of the shadow Schools Minister’s flights of fancy. We never realised that he was serious when it was suggested that, despite schools being almost at the point of signing the forms, when the work had been done and the contractors pretty much hired, at the last minute all would be put on hold. That dashes expectations for children and it takes away contracts and jobs. All we heard from the Secretary of State was that it was important that we built new free schools somewhere else. It is no satisfaction to know that there will be a new school down the road for some parents, if another school, which was planned to be rebuilt, is suddenly put on hold. That is a reality for 700-plus schools all round the country.
The right hon. Gentleman painted a devastating and damning picture of people who had been expecting capital funding but were denied it. That is exactly what happened under his Government, when the Learning and Skills Council left colleges unbuilt and denied principals cash. Precisely the picture that he paints, and which he says is bleak, was delivered under his Government.
And the right hon. Gentleman is not the only one who can abolish quangos, but I have to say to him that back in 1997 no money was being spent on further education. There is £2 billion-plus being spent on further education capital projects now, so we are not going to take any lectures from the Conservatives on new school buildings or new further education colleges. Under their previous Governments, such schools and colleges were starved of resources.
Then we hear that, along with the free schools and the new academies, they are going to fund the new pupil premium. However, people will ask, “Where is the money going to come from?” I have seen some of the past advice, and I know how difficult it is to find the money to pay for such measures, so if I had to make an estimate I would say that an additional £1 billion a year is going to be needed if the pupil premium is to have any meaning.
Where will the cuts fall to pay for the pupil premium? Will the right hon. Gentleman scrap the extension of free school meals? Will he scale back one-to-one tuition and the Every Child a Reader programme? Will he cut education maintenance allowances? Will he cut the budgets for disabled children, for children in care, for youth services, for school sport and for school music? Will he scale back the 15-hour offer for three and four-year-olds? Will he abolish free nursery care for two-year-olds?
Where is the money going to come from? I do not expect answers today, but we will need answers soon. The difference between the right hon. Gentleman in opposition and now in government, as we found earlier, is that there is nowhere for him to hide. He will have to answer those questions and my advice is to him is, “Read the advice before you start making statements in the House,” because if he does not he will find that he gets into trouble very quickly indeed. Indeed, he can no longer rely on the right hon. Member for Yeovil being in the Treasury to bail him out on spending issues.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil might have ridden to the rescue to support the Secretary of State on protecting schools spending, but on other aspects of Conservative education policy he was withering: he called the right hon. Gentleman’s free schools policy a “nonsense”; he said that having a strict national curriculum for some schools while letting others opt out was “dotty”; and we all recall his views on the elitist policy whereby only people with a 2:2 or above would be allowed to go into teacher training. The new Schools Minister, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), seemed to go even further down the elitist road in recent weeks. He said:
“I would rather have a…graduate from Oxbridge with no PGCE teaching than a…graduate from one of the rubbish universities with a PGCE.”
We need to know whether that is a statement of Government policy. If so, which are those “rubbish” universities? We need to see a list.
I agree with the Minister for Universities and Science, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr Willetts)—I hope the Secretary of State does, too—that we can be proud of our university sector in all its diversity. My advice to the Education Secretary is, disown the Schools Minister—it probably will not be the last time that he has to do so during this Parliament—and join me in saying that we welcome as teachers excellent graduates from all our universities.
Whatever university the Secretary of State attended, however, he is a very intelligent man, and I know that he will be delighted, as always, to show us all once again just how very, very clever he is. For that reason, I have prepared for him another Queen’s Speech quiz. I know how much he enjoyed the last one, but given the Schools Minister’s presence why do we not play “University Challenge”?
Here is their starter for 10—no conferring on the Front Bench. Who this weekend said:
“The free schools are generally attended by children of better educated and wealthy families making things even more difficult for children attending ordinary schools in poor areas”?
Gove, Lady Margaret Hall? It was Mr Ostberg, Mr Bertil Ostberg, as the right hon. Gentleman should know, the Swedish Education Minister.
Let us try again. I have an easier one this time. Here is their starter for 10—definitely no conferring at all this time. Who in April described the new Conservative-Liberal Government’s proposed free schools policy as a “shambles” and went on to say:
“Unless you give local authorities that power to plan and unless you actually make sure that there is money available…it’s just a gimmick”?
I am going to have to hurry them. Yes, Teather, St John’s, Cambridge. It was in fact the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), the new Minister for Children and Families. In recent months, the Education Secretary’s new Front-Bench colleague has made some notable speeches—notable in retrospect, at least. Back in March, she told the Liberal Democrat spring conference:
“The Tories don’t know what they are talking about. They have no idea how the other 90% live. Scratch the surface and the old Tory party is alive and well.”
[Interruption.] There is more. She also told her party conference last September that the Tories’
“only motivation is that they think it’s their turn. They don’t really think they can make things better. All they believe is that they have a right to rule.”
Of course, they are ruling only because the hon. Lady and her Liberal Democrat colleagues put them into power. I only wish I was attending the ministerial team meetings to see the sparks fly. There is a serious point here. As we now know, on education policy this Government are divided from the start. It is not only the new Minister who needs to be persuaded that this new-schools policy is not an uncosted shambles, to use her word.
It will be no surprise to the Secretary of State that we Labour Members have very serious reservations about his lurch in education and academies policy. It is reported that he has written to 2,600 outstanding schools, inviting them to become what he calls academies. They are told that they will get extra funds—funds that are currently being spent on special needs, school food, transport and shared facilities such as music lessons, libraries or sports facilities. At no point in his proposal does the Secretary of State explain the impact that that may have on other local schools.
Where our academy policy gave extra resources and flexibility to the lowest-performing schools, the new Secretary of State proposes to give extra money to his favoured schools by taking money away from the rest. Where our academies went ahead with the agreement of parents as well as of local authorities, the new Secretary of State is proposing in legislation to abolish any obligation on schools to consult anyone at all before they become academies—no one will be consulted, including parents and local authorities.
We brought in external sponsors such as universities to raise aspirations, but we were clear that profit-making companies were not welcome to sponsor academies. However, the right hon. Gentleman is abolishing the requirement to have sponsors at all and encouraging private companies to tout around the country to parents, offering their services for profit to provide education. Our academies were non-selective schools in the poorest communities, but his new academies will be disproportionately in more affluent areas and he will allow selective schools, for the first time, to become academies too. Where we used accredited schools groups to encourage school-to-school collaboration to raise standards, he is allowing schools to opt out and go it alone.
The policy is not an extension or even a radical reshaping; it is a complete perversion of the academies programme that the right hon. Gentleman inherited and that my noble Friend Lord Adonis and I drove through in government. It is not a progressive policy for education in the 21st century, but a return to the old grant-maintained school system of the 1990s. It will not break the link between poverty and deprivation, but entrench that unfairness even further, with extra resources and support going not to those who need it most, but to those who are already ahead. My very real fear is that that will lead to not only chaos and confusion, but deep unfairness and a return to a two-tier education policy as the Secretary of State clears local authorities out of the way and then encourages a chaotic free market in school places.
I am not the only one who is concerned. Let me quote the chair of the Local Government Association, Margaret Eaton. I am sorry; I should have said the new Conservative peer Baroness Eaton, who said:
“Safeguards will be needed to ensure a two-tier education system is not allowed to develop”.
Those are very wise words, and such concerns are widespread in local government and across the school system. Will schools that do not become academies pay financially for those that do? Will the admissions code apply to new academies and be properly enforced? Will academies co-operate, as now, on behaviour policy, or will the Secretary of State allow high-performing schools to exclude pupils as a first resort, without any role for local authorities, Ofsted or children’s trusts? Will he step in if things go wrong in what will be a massively centralised education system and how can he reassure us that disadvantaged children will not lose disproportionately from the resources for wider children’s services that will be transferred from local authorities to high-performing opt-out schools, as they take the money away with them? Those are the questions to which we will want answers. We will return to these issues in much greater detail in the coming weeks as he tries to rush his Bill on to the statute book.
I want to make clear to the House what sort of Opposition we will be on education and children’s services. There are cuts that have to be made, and we will support them, as I did before the election in outlining cuts to a range of non-departmental bodies. When the right hon. Gentleman gets it right, we will support him. When he is genuinely supported by teachers and parents, we will support him too. On some of the very difficult issues that will pass across his desk—some of the most sensitive issues that the Government have to deal with on a daily basis, as I know—he will have our understanding and our support. However, I have to say to him that every school building that this Government cancel, this Opposition will fight against tooth and nail; every programme vital to ensuring that every child succeeds, this Opposition will defend; and every individual child’s future that this Government put in jeopardy through their programme of immediate cuts, whether directly by abolishing the child trust fund or indirectly by attacking local government funding, this Opposition will oppose. That is because we believe that every child matters, not just every other child. The right hon. Gentleman may have changed his Department’s name, but we will not let him duck his responsibilities.
Several hon. Members
Order. I remind the House that Mr Speaker has placed an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, which operates from now on. Any hon. Member who can speak within that figure will be doing a great favour to many others who are on the list.
I listened with interest to the speech by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls). His case appears to be that the previous Government did no wrong and, in particular, that their economic policy represented global leadership and error-free judgments. If that is the basis on which he seeks the leadership of his party, I can only say that I wish him well.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), the new Secretary of State, on his appointment and on the way in which he spoke of the things that we have in common within the parties supporting the coalition Government and of the programme that the coalition Government have set before Parliament and the country, particularly on the reform of public services. There is obviously no doubt about the principal domestic challenge that faces the coalition: the fact that the deficit that we inherited from the previous Government is unsustainable and must be reduced. That is a matter not simply of accountancy but of creating the stability that is necessary to allow the process of wealth creation to be reignited and, particularly for the purposes of this debate, to provide the stability that is necessary if we are to secure our common objective of delivering high-quality public services. That is the core challenge facing the new Government.
A second challenge of equal importance to the country and to this House is the securing of our common objectives for the delivery of public services. That is a major opportunity for the coalition, because it represents a failure of our predecessors to deliver our constituents’ objectives in health and education. It is also an opportunity for the coalition, as my right hon. Friend made clear in his speech, because within the coalition we share a commitment to a more localised and less bureaucratic approach that accords significantly greater respect to the professional people who work in those services.
I want in particular to talk about how those ideas are applied to the national health service. Let me begin with a brief piece of history. June 1990, exactly 20 years ago, was the month in which the purchaser-provider split was first legislated and brought into action in the health service. At that time, the introduction of accountability to purchasers was seen as an important means of driving accountability and quality into the health service, eliminating unaccountable practice variation and improving value for money.
The Select Committee on Health in the previous Parliament conducted an audit and progress review of where we had got to in achieving the objectives that were originally set out for the purchaser-provider process, which is now called commissioning. That report makes depressing reading. In today’s health service, commissioning is seen as over-bureaucratic and as too much of a box-ticking process. The power still lies with the provider, and worst of all, the process is seen as excessively expensive and certainly not delivering the objectives that were originally set out for it 20 years ago. The Select Committee report poses the question whether we should therefore give up on the principle of commissioning and, by implication, although it does not say this, go back to a tradition of central planning. I hope that that is an entirely rhetorical question, and I am pleased to say that I believe my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Health thinks so.
To give up on the principle of commissioning would be to give up on the requirement to set priorities and make resources follow those priorities, and on the principle of accountability. In short, it would be to give up on the ideals on which the health service was originally founded. I am pleased that the Queen’s Speech makes it clear that the coalition and both parties within it are committed to following through the logic of empowered commissioning and to making the idea work and be successful.
I offer my right hon. Friend four thoughts on how to deliver that objective, all of which are in the coalition agreement. The first way is through greater local engagement, including with general practitioners, and the involvement of elected members in primary care trusts. That is needed so that local communities understand what is being done on their behalf. Secondly, we need greater engagement by the professions so that commissioning in the health service is not something that is done to professional people by managers but something that engages the professionals themselves in securing the objectives that we as lay people, and even more importantly the professionals themselves, have for the health service.
The third objective is that commissioning needs to be outcome-focused, so that we justify what we do in the health service through improved outcomes experienced by patients. Fourthly, there is an idea that the previous Government canvassed on but never followed through. We need to look for opportunities to bring external support into the commissioning process rather than imagine that we have the capacity in the NHS on an entirely home-grown basis. We need to bring in outside expertise from both within this country and overseas.
There is no party divide in the House about the principles on which the health service was founded. The Labour Government increased the resources available to the health service on an unprecedented scale, but they never followed through in a sustained way with the discipline required to deliver value for money and high-quality health care in return for those resources. That opportunity is open to the coalition—to maintain the resources available to the health service, as it is committed to do, but to add the commitment to deliver the results that, both as taxpayers and as patients, our constituents want the service to deliver.
It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to this debate. I am certainly seeing the benefits of the election, as I think that this is the first time that I have been called to speak before 9 pm in the five years that I have been here. It is also a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), who was an excellent Chair of the Health Committee in the last Parliament. I regard him as a friend and he did a sterling job.
I wish to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health for coming to visit Milton Keynes hospital yesterday. I said during my election campaign that I would make health my priority and, in the past two years, we have had some particular problems in Milton Keynes at the maternity unit. It was very reassuring to have my right hon. Friend visit yesterday and to see that the hospital, which is desperately trying to do the right things to put matters right, will have the full support of the Department of Health in trying to deliver the positive change that we all want to see.
I shall address three issues—the funding formula, targets and waste. NHS funds are allocated to primary care trusts on the basis of a complex weighted capitation formula. The allocation is based mainly on the number and age distribution of a PCT’s population and then adjusted for a large variety of other factors, including the type of population; deprivation; mortality rates; and, controversially, the difference between previous allocation and formula results.
The formula leads to a marked difference in per capita allocation by PCT across the country. For example, in the current year the PCT with the lowest funding was Leicestershire with £1,330 per head, and the highest was Liverpool with £2,140 per head. This year, Milton Keynes PCT received £1,410 per head, the 12th lowest in the country. In other words, if Milton Keynes, with a crude population of approximately 240,000, had received average national capitation, it would have an extra £51 million more than the £349 million it actually received, and had it been funded at the average rate of a northern PCT, it would have received £74 million pounds more. Just to underline this point at a regional level, South Central strategic health authority received £5.8 billion for its 4.1 million people. Had it received a typical northern per capita allocation, it would have received an extra £1.2 billion.
Given those numbers, perhaps it is not surprising that the NHS in the south of England struggles to make ends meet.
What are deprivation levels like in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency? How much longer do people in his constituency live compared with men in Doncaster, Liverpool, Newcastle and other northern areas? We recognise that there are health inequalities and we have to fund the necessary measures to ensure equality in living as long as possible.
The right hon. Lady makes a valid point. The whole point is that we have the health formula to take those factors into account, but despite that the last Government artificially adjusted the funding to upgrade certain PCTs. If she listens to my speech, she will understand what I am trying to say.
Northern SHAs have surpluses approximately three times the size of South Central. Yorkshire and Humberside enjoys a surplus of £49 per head. However, putting the inequality of this to one side, it means that the weaknesses of the current NHS structures are likely to appear first in the south rather than in the north of England. But given that the allocation formula attempts to fund broadly according to need, why have the funding formula at all if we are going to ignore it? The answer, in part, appears to lie in an extract from the Health Committee’s report, “Health Inequalities”, published in March 2009. Paragraph 96 says that
“not all areas currently receive what they should receive according to the resource allocation formula. This is because historically many areas have received less funding than they need, but rather than taking away large amounts of funding from some over-funded areas to compensate more needy areas, the Government has adopted a more gradual approach to shifting resources over a number of years, meaning that some PCTs are still receiving funding below their ‘target’ amounts.”
The development of the weighted capitation formula is continuously overseen by the independent Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation, or ACRA. Given the inequalities in funding that currently exist, I would like to suggest some minor changes of my own. First, the allocation formula should adequately address the costs of providing health care to the elderly, especially in areas with high life expectancy. Secondly, the allocation formula should adequately reflect the fact that the majority of an individual’s lifetime costs of health care are incurred in the last two years of life, whatever the age of death, and—crucially—regardless of the local level of deprivation. Finally, the key area in which the formula could be improved—I make no apologies for the fact that as a very diverse community Milton Keynes would benefit from this change—is by basing allocations on individuals’ health, rather than the blunt tool of populations being aggregated at the PCT level. However, I accept that the principal problem with that is getting sufficient data.
Process targets sometimes yield perverse incentives when coupled with the inappropriately named “payments by results” scheme, which actually seems to reward activity rather than results. I shall give just two brief examples. The first is the four-hour waiting time in accident and emergency. Say that after three hours 55 minutes a patient is waiting for a blood test result. The hospital will take them in as an in-patient—perhaps only for 10 minutes until the result arrives—so that it does not miss the target. That means that rather than being charged £70 for out-patient treatment, the PCT will be charged £700 for in-patient treatment. Is that really the best use of scarce financial resources?
Hospitals have no incentive to discharge people from out-patients as they are paid for activity. Indeed, in Milton Keynes, less than half of first out-patient appointments are the result of GP referrals. For example, lots of patients attending accident and emergency or the assessment unit will be given a hospital-initiated out-patient appointment rather than being discharged back to their GP. If a hospital can see a patient several times, generating a bill on each occasion, where is the incentive to organise care so that everything can be done at one visit if it can then only bill for that care once? I support limited targets, providing that they are based on clinical need and are not process driven—and do not lead, like the examples that I have just given, to scarce financial resources being squandered.
It is widely recognised that the NHS, in common with health care systems in every developed country, wastes possibly 20% or more of its resources on overuse, misuse and underuse of health care. Many feel that the current configuration of hospitals and community services in England does not readily allow clinicians to offer the highest quality of care at lowest unit costs.
There is an argument that the rigid demarcation between primary and secondary services and the role of the district general hospital needs to be allowed to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century. That is particularly true where administrative boundaries and top-down planning have stifled local developments. For example, the Milton Keynes and south midlands growth area has a rapidly growing population. The growth area straddles three strategic health authorities and government regions. It has a population of nearly 2 million, but is served by several small hospitals close together, each of which is struggling both financially and to provide the quality and range of services that the population needs and expects. The challenge in and around Milton Keynes is to allow local communities and hospitals to think beyond and across artificial bureaucratic boundaries to find new ways of improving value for money and quality of care.
Taken together, if health services were held to account for the outcomes that they produce, rather than the numbers of patients treated, the services of the future, and particularly hospitals, might need to look very different from those of today. However, if we allow changes to be led by clinicians in consultation with the public—a bottom-up approach rather than the top-down approach advocated by the last Government—we can be confident that, most importantly, the services will be of a higher quality. I believe that the measures outlined in the Gracious Speech are a step in the right direction, and that we can achieve those aims.
In the final 20 seconds left to me, I simply want to wish all those about to give their maiden speeches the best of luck.
It is a great pleasure to speak about a matter of vital importance to my constituents young and old. A focus on education matters a great deal in Hackney, where we have a multinational community and education is highly prized. Hackney is a poor borough in many ways, but it is also aspirant, and there is no lack of poverty in the desire to get educated and improve one’s life. Education and skills training more widely, which I would like to touch on, are important to my constituents. They also help to tackle poverty and social exclusion.
Hackney’s record is a good one. We have four brand-new city academies, with a further city academy on the way, and we have seen massive improvements to other secondary and primary schools. Hackney’s record on educational attainment at 16 has massively improved. The results improved from 30% of pupils achieving five GCSEs at grades A* to C in 1997 to 70% doing so in 2009. In particular, we should thank Mossbourne city academy and its head teacher, Sir Michael Wilshaw, for last year having 83% of students achieving five GCSEs at A* to C, which is well above the national average, and this in a borough that in the past would not have been a byword for good education. There is still more to do, of course. Bridge, Petchey and City academies in Hackney, which are yet to have GCSE years, are all working to emulate the Mossbourne example. It would also be interesting to discuss with Ministers the establishment of a 14-to-18 academy in Hackney community college.
There is more to do. Around 48% of 16-year-olds still leave school without five GCSEs at A* to C. It is not the only measure of success, but it is an important one in any attempt to get young people into work and further education. We also need further improvement in our primary schools. Some good work has been done in the 12 new Sure Start centres in the constituency, which are of huge benefit to parents and under-fives across all social backgrounds. I am concerned at the suggestion that this Government plan to segregate support for the under-fives and focus only on those in greatest need. One of the strengths of Sure Start in Hackney is its comprehensive nature. I have a one-year-old, as well as other children, and I know that all parents, whatever their backgrounds, need the support.
Hackney’s approach has been pivotal to how things have worked. We have an elected mayor and a council in Hackney, which have taken a can-do approach to what the Government have to offer. Hackney’s focus across the board has been on practical results that change lives. We are not bound up in ideology; we want to ensure that what we do makes a difference. Mayor Pipe should be congratulated on his work, as should others on their work. We have taken what the Government have offered and made it work for Hackney, tailoring it to Hackney’s needs and interests. Whatever the Government propose, we will continue to put Hackney children first in our schools system.
I am concerned about the free school proposal—I would love to talk more about it, but I do not have much time. How will it fit in with proper planning in local authorities? Is it not a distraction? Is not the proposal a policy for the few and not the many?
I want to touch briefly on extended schools. Schools in Hackney are leading the way in that respect, with provision usually provided from 8 am to 6 pm, and in secondary schools for far longer, with breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and, often, ESOL-type teaching—the teaching of English for speakers of other languages—for adults, as well as wider adult education. Such initiatives help to tackle poverty and social exclusion where it really matters: in the family, helping those parents to help their children get better educated. In many communities, the young children coming to school at both primary and secondary levels often go home to a household not only where no English is spoken—it is fine for them to have that mother tongue—but where the parents themselves are not very literate in their mother tongue. Addressing that is an important aspect of what primary schools in Hackney provide.
At the secondary level, we want to give young people the opportunities provided by extended schools well into the evening and before school. Those clubs are supported not only by schools, but by organisations such as the excellent Magic Breakfast, which provides young children with breakfast in schools. It was discovered that in Hackney, as well as in other boroughs, many young people turn up to school without food in their stomachs because of their chaotic family backgrounds. That meant that they were achieving less well. Thanks to Magic Breakfast and others, we have seen attainment increase.
I want to know that the Government are still committed to extended schools, because they are vital to working parents. If we want child poverty to be tackled and attainment increased, we need to see that input in the family—those role models in place and that income coming in—which is something that any Secretary of State for Education needs to see in the round, and as something that goes hand in hand with welfare support. It is all very well asking people to go back to work, but without the child care in place, that is challenging, and in Hackney that matters a great deal.
In the time remaining I want to talk about skills and training. I do not have the time to go into all the figures, but Hackney has one of the highest unemployment rates in London. However, we are fortunate to have a good further and adult education sector, in the form of Hackney community college, BSix and the sixth forms emerging in new schools for 18-year-olds. In particular, Hackney community college, organisations such as Working Links and Lifeline, and the jobcentre provide support to workless adults, focusing on the skills and education that they need to get off the dole and into work, supporting themselves and their families.
With 34% of Hackney households speaking English as a second language and 16% of adults in Hackney having no qualifications, which is above the London average, we need to ensure that this issue is tackled. Significantly, however, the figure for adults with no qualifications has gone down, from 25% to 16% in just three years, thanks to work by the community college and others. Significantly—this is directly linked to the work of Hackney community college, which should be congratulated—the number of young people not in education or training is down, from more than 12% to 6.4%, again in three years. That is evidence to back the argument that the college should be supported in being allowed to become a city academy in media and health, within the environs of the wider adult education that it provides.
Hackney community college is soon to receive an Ofsted report, which I do not doubt will be good. Because of its excellent reputation and work, the college deserves to have the freedom to decide how the money that it receives from the Government is spent, because what works in Surrey Heath might not work in Hackney. We need that flexibility between Government budgets to allow local priority setting, in order to ensure that ESOL, basic skills, work with 16 to 18-year-olds, as well as those who are 19-plus, Train to Gain and apprenticeships are judged by their results, rather than by the name attached to the money that is given to them. If the Government are serious about giving freedom to education providers, I hope that they will consider giving freedom to further education colleges to make their own choices about what works locally and be judged by the results, rather than the tick-box approach based on where the money comes from. I hope that the Government will consider meeting me and the principal of Hackney community college, Ian Ashman, to discuss that freedom, as well as setting up a city academy within the environs of the community college.
Given that it has taken me 10 years and three elections to reach this place, I feel a real privilege and a sense of service in giving my maiden speech. Although I am the first Halfon to serve as a Member of Parliament, I am not the first to have a role in British politics. I understand that my ancestor Isaac Halfon, who was an expert on divorce legalities, was called on by King Henry VIII to discover the status of Judaic law regarding the King’s proposed divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Fortunately for me, I am told that he gave the right answer. I am reminded of the quotation of the civil war poet, Robert Herrick, who said:
“Know when to speake; for many times it brings
Danger to give the best advice to kings.”
I hope I will remember that as I begin my career in this Chamber.
Harlow is a unique place, and a varied constituency. In less than 10 minutes, one can travel from new town to leafy village. It is thought that one of the first slaves to be buried in England, who was known as Hester, was laid to rest in 1767 in St Mary’s church at Little Parndon. I am glad to say that the MPs who lived in west Essex at the time were contemporaries of William Wilberforce, and that they fought alongside him for the abolition of slavery.
Harlow has a long tradition of helping the most vulnerable, and of being a thriving community and a place where social justice is at the forefront of the minds of its political representatives. Winston Churchill represented Harlow between 1924 and 1945, when it came under the Epping constituency. In 1923, in a speech in Victoria Hall in Old Harlow, he urged the restoration of the penny post and of pensions for widows with children. Similarly, although I had many policy differences with my predecessor, Bill Rammell, there was never any doubt about his absolute passion for Harlow, or about his determination to improve the lives of those most in need.
Harlow new town was built primarily to provide decent homes and living space for those living in poor quality housing in east London. It has many beautiful places, most notably Parndon Mill, which is perhaps the most romantic spot in Essex. The town park, Harlow common, the green wedges and our picturesque villages of Hastingwood, Matching Tye, Roydon, Nazeing and Sheering are a testament to the green nature of my constituency, and I will always fight hard to preserve this.
Like so many residents of Harlow, I am delighted that the Government have said no to an extra runway at Stansted, with all the environmental damage that that would have wrought. Nevertheless, despite our many beautiful areas and original architecture, parts of Harlow are creaking with age. There is a great feeling of optimism about the regeneration of the town, however, thanks to the work of Harlow Renaissance, local councillors and the former MP. Some regeneration has already been completed, including a new leisure zone, which is soon to be opened, and the revamped water gardens. Anglia Ruskin university—which my partner, Vanda, attends as a mature student—is due to open a campus in Harlow next year. The regeneration will strengthen Harlow’s rightful place in the pantheon of great new towns.
For the regeneration of Harlow to succeed, however, there are certain things that the town desperately needs. One of the most important is an extra bypass to the M11. Inexplicably, Harlow was built with just one entrance, with most of the industrial quarter being at the opposite end. As a result, traffic in Harlow has reached gridlock, with large lorries trundling along from one end of the town to another. If Harlow is to have a viable future, a bypass is not a luxury but a necessity.
I mentioned a moment ago that one of the best tributes to my constituency is its strong community. I am a community Conservative, so I will always act to support and strengthen community organisations, even when financial resources are not readily available. To me, communities are the bedrock of our stability and are fundamental to our well-being, but there remain significant problems that we have to confront, rather than sweep under the carpet. One in eight adults in Harlow have literacy problems, and one in five have difficulties with numeracy. There is also a skills deficit. In Essex, nearly 4,000 young people are not in employment, education or training, and Harlow is one of the worst-affected towns.
I have come to the conclusion that education and skills are the real answer to these problems, but we must also transform the nature of vocational training and apprenticeships in our country. If we give young people the necessary skills and training, we give them opportunities and jobs for the future. Expanding and improving apprenticeships is not just about economic efficiency based on pure utilitarianism; it involves the profoundly Conservative ideas of helping people to help themselves, of a work ethic, of opportunity and, most importantly, of social justice.
I have seen for myself the power of apprenticeships to transform lives. I have seen John Tennison, the managing director of Smiths aircraft industries in Harlow, who started as an apprentice there more than 30 years ago. I have seen the construction training partnership, which helps youngsters supported by youth offending teams to train in building, electrical work and plumbing, and gives them the chance to succeed. I have seen Harlow college, and was delighted to visit the Essex apprentices scheme there with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). It is no accident that our college is climbing so high up the league tables, with its aim to be one of the best in England.
Our policy of creating 100,000 extra apprenticeships every year is something to be proud of, but we must do more, particularly in regard to reducing red tape and regulation and giving better incentives to businesses. Above all, we need a root-and-branch cultural change in our country. Winning an apprenticeship should be as highly regarded as getting to Cambridge university—or any university, for that matter. Apprenticeships should be held in the same regard as higher education by secondary school teachers, yet all the evidence shows that the opposite is the case. The apprenticeship organisation Edge says that two thirds of teachers regard their knowledge of apprenticeships as poor, and that just one in four teachers believe that apprenticeships are a good alternative to A-levels. As an MP, I intend to play my part in changing the way we regard apprentices.
I began my speech with the story of a monarch, and I hope that you will forgive me for ending it with another. Queen Elizabeth I was a great fan of Harlow, having visited it on a number of occasions. It is well known that her chief adviser, Lord Burleigh, suffered from the most tremendous gout. He expressed his concern about his service to his Queen, to which the monarch replied:
“My Lord, we make use of you, not for your bad legs, but for your good head.”
Mr Deputy Speaker, I have good news for you and this Chamber. I do not suffer from gout, but I do have the heart and stomach to fight hard in this House for Harlow and for our country.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on an excellent maiden speech. We look forward to his future contributions. I should also like to echo his tribute to his predecessor, Bill Rammell, who was popular on both sides of the House.
Today I am making my second maiden speech—the first was 13 years ago—and I am doing so in the hope that I shall not have to deliver a third at any point in the future. My predecessor, Bob Wareing, entered the House in 1983. Bob was one of the first MPs to propose private Members’ legislation to tackle discrimination against disabled people. I know he was respected on both sides of the House as a decent, courteous parliamentarian who believed passionately in the causes for which he spoke up. In his maiden speech in 1983, he spoke out against the threatened closure of Croxteth comprehensive school. The school was saved in the 1980s but, sadly, it is due to close next month, despite massive local opposition. I will work with local parents, with Liverpool city council and with the Government to explore options to restore a mixed, non-faith school for 11-year-olds in Croxteth and Norris Green.
Almost 1,000 years ago, West Derby featured in the Domesday Book. Today’s parliamentary constituency includes Dovecot, Tuebrook, Croxteth, Norris Green, Knotty Ash and West Derby itself. Perhaps my most famous constituent resides in Knotty Ash. He is the comedian Ken Dodd who is now 82 years old and still going strong—[Interruption.] I shall make no comment on his politics. West Derby village has the only free-standing post-mediaeval courthouse in the country. It was built in 1586 and restored in 2005.
Crime and policing are key challenges in the communities that I represent. The appalling murder of young Rhys Jones in 2007 shocked the entire country and united the people of Liverpool not only in revulsion but in a determination that no more young lives should be lost. Rhys’s parents have shown great dignity and courage throughout their terrible ordeal.
West Derby has a vibrant community and voluntary sector, in which the “big society” is already a reality. The sector involves groups such as Kinship Carers, which supports grandparents with caring responsibilities; Chrysalis, which provides a voice for families living with the horror of domestic violence; and the Communiversity, which provides jobs, training and apprenticeships for hundreds of local people. Then there are active citizens, such as Lee and Stephen Dunne, whose son Gary was murdered in Spain—they had to fight to have his body returned home and are now setting up a charity in his name to tackle the scourge of knife crime.
Perhaps the best known facility in the constituency is the truly wonderful Alder Hey hospital, which was founded in 1914. It was originally conceived as a workhouse for infirm paupers. Today it is an excellent hospital, caring for 250,000 children every year. Its plans for redevelopment will create the first ever children’s health park in the UK—replacing buildings, most of which are 100 years old, with some having been built to the design of Florence Nightingale. The plan is for a hospital set in a park that will be the most environmentally sustainable hospital in the country. I know that the new Secretary of State for Health visited Alder Hey earlier this year and was very impressed by what he saw. I hope he will be able to take the opportunity when he closes today’s debate to reaffirm the Government’s support for Alder Hey, so that the children’s health park can open in time for the Alder Hey centenary in October 2014. I also urge the Secretary of State to give the go-ahead for the Royal Liverpool hospital scheme, which is so vital for the future health of the people of Liverpool.
I want to focus on education in the time remaining. Last week, at the beginning of the debate on the Loyal Address, the Prime Minister characterised Labour’s approach to public services as simply a combination of extra spending and Whitehall diktat. Well, yes, we did increase spending, and we make no apology for having done so. The fruits of our investment can be seen in all our constituencies—in the children’s centres, in the new and refurbished schools, in better paid teachers and in a new work force of teaching assistants in our schools—but it was never just about money. It was about innovation and improvement in our schools, and the sharing of best practice across the system. It was about the literacy strategy, Teach First, the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services, school federations, academies and trust schools. All these reforms were designed to improve the quality of education, and most notable of all was Sure Start—perhaps the most significant innovation in social policy in this country in the past half century.
Those are real achievements of which Labour Members can be proud, but we also need an honest debate about where we made mistakes during our period in government. We did allow the target culture in public services to go too far. Many professionals felt that their voices were not being heard by the Government, and we sometimes focused too much on structures and not enough on content. On that point, I fear that the new Government might well be in danger of making exactly the same mistake. At the heart of good public services are good relationships. The best schools combine effective leadership at all levels with an absolute focus on the quality of learning and teaching.
As we consider the Government’s school reforms in more detail, I suggest three tests against which we should judge them: will they support improved teaching and learning; will they encourage better leadership at all levels; and will they promote fairness both in admissions and in school funding? I welcome increased flexibility and freedoms for schools, but we should support co-operation between schools and a continued role for local authorities to guarantee fairness at the local level.
I want to finish by talking about Building Schools for the Future because BSF is about promoting both fairness and excellence in education; it is not just about new buildings. A deliberate choice was made by the Labour Government to focus first on the poorest parts of the country. I am proud that Cardinal Heenan, Broughton Hall and West Derby schools in my constituency are currently being rebuilt—£67 million being well spent, but there are five more schools waiting to find out whether the Government will decide to go ahead. I urge the Government to go ahead with these important programmes. I want an 11-year-old in my Liverpool constituency to have the same opportunities that a child going to a top private school can take for granted. That was the vision behind Building Schools for the Future. If we are serious in this House about social justice, it is a vision that we should reaffirm today.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in this Parliament. I congratulate the hon. Members for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on their thoughtful and compassionate speeches. They are indeed a hard act to follow.
One of my predecessors as Member of Parliament for Chippenham, albeit almost 200 years ago, was Sir Robert Peel. His maiden speech was to second the reply to the King’s Speech and it was described by the then Speaker as
“the best first speech since that of William Pitt”.
It lasted 40 minutes and Members will be pleased to hear that I cannot hope to emulate him—in that respect, at least.
Although Chippenham first returned Members in 1295, it is one of this Parliament’s new constituencies, formed from parts of North Wiltshire, Devizes and Westbury, all of which were represented by Conservatives. My hon. Friends will therefore find me in the unfamiliar position of saying kind words about not one, but four, Conservative MPs—I could certainly use the practice! I say four because Sir Richard Needham was the most recent Member to represent a constituency going by the name of Chippenham. Sir Richard was the longest-serving British Government Northern Ireland Minister and also a successful Minister of Trade. He continues to work in business and I had the pleasure of meeting him on the very day that the election was called, as I visited a company in my constituency of which he is chairman. The significance of the visit was not lost on the local and regional media, who reported it widely, and I am grateful to him for his enthusiastic welcome.
Sir Richard was succeeded by my honourable neighbour, the current hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray). We were both involved in the campaign to save Chippenham hospital, which, like the minor injuries unit that closed in Melksham, had been frustrated by a lack of support from Wiltshire county council when it really mattered. My honourable neighbour secured an Adjournment debate on the issue on 18 March 2008. I came to the Gallery that evening to lend my support and to see him put the then Minister on the spot. Now that we sit on the same side of this House, I look forward to finding common cause with him more often.
Members will know that my honourable neighbour, the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), formerly Westbury, is a doctor. He served for 18 years as a medical officer in the Royal Navy, leaving as a surgeon commander and continues to serve as an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve. This saw him recalled in 2003 to serve in Iraq, and he has used that experience to speak eloquently about defence matters while in opposition. He reminds us of the professionalism of our armed forces, both regular and reservist.
Finally, the Devizes constituency has also contributed to the Chippenham seat. My predecessor there was Michael Ancram, who served three constituencies during his time in this House, as well as serving his party as chairman and deputy leader. I commend his last speech in this place, which was during the debate on the Budget statement. He was concerned that this generation’s legacy to the next would be worse than financial debt, which can, after all, be repaid, as we risk leaving as our legacy a permanently damaged environment. He quoted a native American saying, which has long been a favourite of mine:
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
He urged this new Government to recognise and address the coming environmental challenges, the greatest of which is surely man-made climate change. Accepting this mission—one that has also been put to me by the Bradford-on-Avon climate friends— will be a focus of my activities throughout this Parliament.
Chippenham has not been represented by a Liberal since Alfred Bonwick more than 80 years ago. I am also the first Liberal Democrat Member to serve in this House for Wiltshire. Chippenham has experienced substantial growth in recent years, so I am pleased that the coalition Government have resolved to scrap the housing targets in the regional spatial strategy, which would otherwise have seen Chippenham grow by about a quarter over the next 15 years, threatening open land near to Birds Marsh woods and along Chippenham’s flood plains.
Although not included in its name, my beautiful and diverse constituency also includes the towns of Melksham, Corsham and Bradford-on-Avon, as well as villages such as Holt where I live, Hilperton, Winsley, and the National Trust village of Lacock—and, indeed, the southern tip of the Cotswold area of outstanding natural beauty at Limpley Stoke. In fact, my constituency will be familiar to fans of costume drama, as Lacock has starred in adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” among others, and is better known to many as Cranford.
The railways have long been vital to the constituency’s economic development, yet Melksham, which is the county’s fifth largest town, has only two trains a day in each direction. Some Members may pass through Corsham, after Brunel’s impressive box tunnel, when travelling by rail to Parliament. The town certainly sees many trains each day, but none of them stops there for the people of Corsham to use. Through my work here, I will continue to campaign for the improved rail services that my constituents so badly need.
I hope to open a constituency office in Chippenham town centre, which, if successful, will make a modest contribution to the town’s services. However, I shall not be able to match Joseph Neeld, who paid for a new town hall to be built on the high street. It still bears his name, although—or perhaps because—his energies were so focused on the town that, in the 24 years that he spent as Member of Parliament for Chippenham, he did not speak once in Parliament. It seems clear already that I have not managed to show such self-restraint.
As a Wiltshire school governor for the past eight years, I was particularly keen to make my first speech during a debate on education. Great teachers, excellent schools and a world-class university all helped to give me the confidence, financial security and independence to embark on the journey that has brought me here today.
Despite my father’s best efforts, both my parents attended secondary moderns, and, in his case, a technical college. I recall my mother telling me while I studied for GCSEs that she had left school by the time she was that age. Nevertheless, as loving parents, they well understood the difference that embracing learning could make to the opportunities that lay ahead for all of us, and I was the first in my family to go to university—something that we could only afford with the help of a grant.
I was very fortunate. As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out repeatedly during the recent election, family wealth still makes a massive difference to the educational outcomes achieved by children today. I agree with Nick. There are some excellent schools serving communities in less well-off areas, but it simply is not good enough for so many families to find that accessing a good education for their children is dependent on their faith, on paying fees, or on being able to afford a home in an expensive catchment area. Every school should be a good school.
The pupil premium that our Government will now introduce is a crucial lever for directing funds into schools serving families who cannot buy their way to a more successful school elsewhere, so that we can be sure that all children receive the support and attention that they need. I believe that this Government will become known for their ambitious school reforms, the measure of success for which will be that a great education is within reach of every child, whatever their background and whatever their family’s means.
Whether in education, the economy or the environment, looking ahead with a concern for the next generation will, I hope, be the hallmark of my contribution to this place—a contribution to which I will devote the very best of my ability.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thank you for calling me in this important debate on the Gracious Speech, and congratulate the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) on his maiden speech. I am sure you agree that every maiden speech makes the last constituency flit away as we hear of the honours and excitement of the new constituency.
It is an honour and a privilege to speak in this Chamber. Indeed, it is something that very few people in each generation are able to experience. A year ago, I did not anticipate that this would be part of my life—certainly not at such a young age—but the voters of Luton South have bestowed on me this position of service, and I will for ever owe them a debt of thanks.
To me, Luton South is not just a seat; it is my home. I was born in the town, receiving the schooling that saw me into Girton college, Cambridge. I was fortunate enough to receive a bursary to study there, and my student fees were covered by the public purse. Those investments in me are, I hope, being repaid in my desire to serve our society. I worked for a local church, and I joined the Labour party. I have always been inspired by the people who choose to serve a place, to commit themselves to it, and to see it change in terms of individual lives and on a regional level. That is the model that I have sought to replicate.
Luton South is a wonderful constituency, and I can honestly say that I would not want to represent any other seat. As well as containing Luton airport, two mainline railway stations, a carnival arts centre, Luton Hoo, the General Motors plant in which my father worked, Stockwood park, many improving schools, and the villages of Caddington, Hyde and Slip End, Luton South is home to a rich and diverse range of communities. Indeed, it has been remarked to me that should it choose to declare itself an independent state, we should have all that we need. Now that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and I are the only two Opposition MPs in the east of England, perhaps that is not such a bad idea.
I love our town, and it fills me with enormous pride that her residents chose one of their own to represent us in Parliament. In her maiden speech, my predecessor Margaret Moran spoke about a pupil of Dallow primary school. In 1997, that pupil was in a class of 37, facing educational challenges that few would recognise today. Our Labour Government faced up to the reality of that time, and moved to act and invest in education.
Margaret Moran served the people of Luton South for 13 years in a position that carries its own unique pressures, and she deserves recognition as someone who, as part of that significant intake of 1997 Labour Members, transformed fundamentally the terms of debate not just in relation to politics, but in relation to education in particular. The legacy of those Members can be seen in the educational achievement of every child who no longer has to sit in an overwhelmed class or a crumbling building. The House has lost many from that landslide year, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.
I have always believed that education cannot simply be reduced to the economic transaction of knowledge and skills in return for time and money. Education is about the investment that we make in each of our young people. Education is about the kind of society that we seek to create. I should like to think that my own comprehensive education provided me not just with knowledge but with values—the values of a mixed society, and of a shared experience beyond income, race or religion.
While the debate of the coming years will inevitably focus on greater diversity of provision, we must ensure that the vast majority who receive a comprehensive education are not left behind. Education remains the most effective and, indeed, the most intuitive route to ensuring social mobility. We recognise it in developing countries all over the world as the silver bullet—the means of tackling both poverty and inequality—and we should recognise it here as well.
The excellent university of Bedfordshire also has its home in Luton South. In the coming Parliament, we will examine the issue of student funding in greater detail; and here the economic argument continues to hold sway. It is often true that graduates earn more, but it may not automatically be true that as a result they should pay more, at the cost of student fees which, despite all the safeguards, can still deter those from disadvantaged backgrounds. When we educate someone, be it as a teacher, a doctor or even, dare I say, a social science graduate, we all benefit. That must be an important part of this debate.
Finally, let me speak in the context of the times in which we find ourselves. It has become fashionable to say that markets must have morals, but it is also worth articulating that there are limits to markets altogether. In natural monopolies such as rail, in the provision of education, where they can serve to ration provision, and in other areas in which co-operative ideals best express their form, we are forced to examine the prevailing orthodoxies and expose their weaknesses.
My Christian faith confirms in me the conviction that we are fundamentally designed to operate in co-operation and not merely in competition; that not just some but all have inherent worth and value; that tackling inequality is not merely a political concern, but a moral one; and, also, that there is more to life than politics. I am young, but I am not naive. I am sure that I will humbly need to reacquaint myself with those convictions in the years ahead.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for letting me catch your eye when so many hon. Members wish to do the same.
I thank the hon. Members for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) and for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) for their passionate speeches about education. I come to the House with little political experience, but as a doctor and teacher selected through an open primary, the first in the country to give every voter in a constituency the chance to select their candidate. I would also like to thank my predecessor, Anthony Steen. He served this House for an extraordinary 36 years. He is not the sort to retire, and I wish him well in his continuing fight against the evils of human trafficking.
I am very fortunate to represent one of the most spectacular and diverse constituencies in this country. The Totnes constituency stretches from the hill farms of Dartmoor to the most stunning of west country coastlines, which supports a diverse tourist and fishing industry. Many people may not realise this, but more fish are landed at Brixham than at any other port in England—and I hope all Members will join me in recognising the adverse effect of the common fisheries policy on our fishing industry.
Hear, hear; very well said.
We are also home to “Transition Town Totnes”, which is the home of the transition towns movement. As such, it recognises not only the problem of climate change, but problem of the peak oil; it is planning ahead for a time when we no longer have abundant or cheap fossil fuels.
In the South Hams, we also have some of the most spectacular countryside, but I have to inform Members that that countryside is in crisis. We are fast losing our sustainability as more and more dairy farms in particular go out of business because of the problems of bovine tuberculosis. Devon is, in fact, at the very heart of the bovine TB epidemic. As a doctor, I have to tell Members that we cannot treat infected badgers by vaccination. Vaccination can only hope to prevent the disease in unaffected individuals. I have been teaching junior doctors evidence-based medicine for 11 years, and I can say that one of the problems we face is that the randomised badger culling trial has for years wrongly been used to justify a policy of inaction. Unless we do something about bovine TB, more and more of our farmers will go out of business. We need to recognise the effect on them and their families, and the very real distress bovine TB causes them.
The main reason why I came to this House is because I feel passionately about our NHS and the patients it treats. I welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech to get rid of top-down bureaucracy in the NHS and to hand power back to clinicians on the front line.
In my constituency, we have four community hospitals, and I would like to pay tribute to their staff, and also their volunteers, for the work that they do. I hope that giving patients a louder voice in our NHS will prove to be the best protection for community hospitals, because people, particularly those in rural constituencies, really value them. I hope Members will support me in this endeavour.
There is another issue I wish to highlight, which affects not only my constituents, but those of all Members. After the tragedy of the Paddington rail disaster in which 31 people lost their lives, we rightly held a public inquiry and that led to the setting up of the Rail Safety and Standards Board, and after 3,000 terrible deaths in the USA, we joined a “Global War on Terror”, so what should we say should happen after 15,000 to 20,000 deaths every year in this country as a result of alcohol? I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), who has chaired the Select Committee on Health. It has recommended minimum-price alcohol as the best way forward. That may not be popular—in fact, in suggesting that we cull diseased badgers and raise the price of alcohol, it is clear that I am going for the popular vote! However, unless we do something about this, our constituents will continue to suffer. Let us look at the statistics: 1.3 million children in this country are directly affected by alcohol, and alcohol is a factor in half of all homicides. Members also need only consider the number of constituents they see in their surgeries who are victims of domestic violence. Alcohol continues to be the number one date-rape drug in this country, too. I ask all Members to look at the evidence, so we can have evidence-based politics.
The evidence is out there, and it is very clear. If we want to do something about the death toll—15,000 to 20,000 people a year in this country—we have to do something about price and availability. This is not about the nanny state; lives are at stake, and I ask the House to look again at the evidence, not only from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence report issued today, but from its own Select Committee. I commend minimum-price alcohol to the House.
There is no such thing as cheap alcohol; we are all paying a very heavy price.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on making such an excellent maiden speech, and I also congratulate all the other new Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I thank you, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech as the new Member for Wolverhampton North East. It is a privilege and an honour to represent my home town in Parliament.
My predecessor, Ken Purchase, is a giant of a man. Apart from being tall and broad, his booming voice was the envy of many in this House, and many on the Government Benches will remember him well. Ken’s lifetime of public service extends over some 40 years: he served for more than 20 years as a local councillor and for 18 years as a Labour MP. His commitment to the constituency was exemplary, in particular his fight for greater equality and fairness. As a tireless campaigner for improved social housing, he touched the lives of thousands of his constituents.
I would also like to pay tribute to the powerful women who have preceded me in Wolverhampton: the journalist and activist, Renée Short, who represented the constituency for more than two decades until her retirement in 1987; and Jennie Lee, who in her second stint in the House of Commons straight after the war, represented the constituency of Cannock, which then stretched south to cover Wednesfield and which now forms a large part of my constituency. Jennie was a firebrand socialist and a passionate defender of the poorest in society. She blazed a trail that many other women would follow—and I, too, hope to follow that trail. Always outspoken on issues that mattered to her, in her maiden speech in 1929 she defied the convention of avoiding controversy and launched a stinging attack on the Government. Never one to pull her punches, she described their Budget as
“a mixture of cant, corruption and incompetence.”—[Official Report, 25 April 1929; Vol. 227, c. 1117.]
Years later, she was appointed Arts Minister by Harold Wilson and her lasting legacy was the establishment of the Open university, securing a revolution in education. That was a huge achievement, as relevant and important today as it was back then. Jennie’s belief in expanding educational opportunities is one that I share and am passionate about.
Wolverhampton has a long and rich history. While Jennie Lee was the youngest parliamentarian of her time—in fact, she was too young to vote—the Liberal Member, Charles Villiers, was the longest serving MP in parliamentary history; and while Villiers opposed the corn laws in the 19th century, Sir Geoffrey Mander was one of the first MPs to take a strong stand against appeasement a century later.
Wolverhampton has been first in many other areas, too, and I am proud of its achievements. In 1866, Queen Victoria made her first public appearance after her husband’s death when she unveiled a statue of Prince Albert in the centre of Wolverhampton to honour his memory. Still standing today, the statue is a busy meeting point and affectionately referred to locally as “the man on the horse”.
Not far from there is our fantastic football stadium, the Molineux, which is home to our great football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves were the first English team to play in the Soviet Union and were hailed by the press at the time as “the unofficial world champions” after one of their most famous victories, against Budapest. This year, as a proud Wolves fan I am happy to be able to say that we are still in the premier league at the end of a tough season.
Wolverhampton also boasts the headquarters of the UK’s most successful regional newspaper, the Express & Star, which has a circulation of more than 130,000 a night, six nights a week. Never shy of embracing new technology, the Express & Star blazed a trail when it was the first daily newspaper to publish colour photographs.
Since its foundation in 985, Wolverhampton has always been a place of trade and commerce, starting as a market town famous for its mediaeval wool trade and developing into the beating heart of the industrial revolution. Household names such as Sunbeam cars, Chubb locks, Boulton Paul aircraft and Norton motorbikes were famous worldwide and symbolised British manufacturing at its very best. Manufacturing continues to play a crucial role in the city’s economy; it is more important to Wolverhampton North East than to the west midlands region as a whole, with 18% of its work force employed in manufacturing jobs compared with the regional average of 13%. Leading aerospace companies, such as Goodrich, HS Marston and Moog, as well as companies such as Goodyear, Carillion and Banks’s brewery, are all major local employers.
Of course, our service sector has also developed strongly and the largest private employer is the headquarters of Birmingham Midshires. However, the recent recession has demonstrated clearly the dangers of relying too heavily on financial services. The UK remains the sixth largest manufacturing nation in the world, and we need to build on our expertise and take full advantage of the low-carbon revolution to secure a strong and sustainable economy in the wake of the global financial crisis.
We must look to the future as well as learn from the past, and I am optimistic about Wolverhampton’s future. During my election campaign, I promised to champion local jobs and industry, and I am already working with local businesses and Advantage West Midlands to ensure that projects such as the new i54 business park are a success. On that point, I am deeply concerned about the new Government’s planned cuts to regional development agencies, including Advantage West Midlands, which brings a return of more than £7 to the regional economy for every pound spent. This Government’s plans to cut its budget dramatically will put local businesses and jobs at risk, and I urge the Government to think again.
Public services are central to a strong economy and a strong society. I am proud of the previous Labour Government’s achievements in health and education. New Cross hospital is at the heart of my constituency, and the previous Government’s investment has resulted in a massive increase in the number of front-line staff, lower waiting times and a state-of-the-art heart and lung centre. Educational standards have also risen, and the university of Wolverhampton is the sixth largest in the country and has a proud record of tackling social exclusion.
My journey to stand here today as the newly elected MP for Wolverhampton North East has been a very personal one. I grew up in Wolverhampton and memories of my formative years lie in our great city. It has long been my home and it has given me the opportunities that I have taken. I now hope to give something back to the good people of Wolverhampton, who are our city’s biggest asset. They are friendly, hard-working and fair-minded, and I promise to fight their corner to the very best of my abilities in Parliament, championing local industry and speaking up for greater equality and fairness.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech. I shall keep it short, given that there are so many maidens-in-waiting. I cannot let this opportunity pass without congratulating all the new Members, including my new hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames), who is just leaving the Chamber, and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). My father works in the NHS, so I am delighted that we have her kind of expertise on these Benches, because it is of great benefit to the whole House.
I stand here as a newcomer to the House who is slightly intimidated by the formalities—I beg your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, should I mess up any of these formalities while making this speech—and sometimes the Chamber can seem a very long way from the streets of my constituency, where I have spent the past three years campaigning. My predecessors in Bristol North West have campaigned to ensure that this place is not a distant Chamber, removed from places such as the streets of Bristol North West, but is a Chamber that serves the people of Bristol North West and, indeed, of the entire country. On that note, I should like to pay tribute to my direct predecessor, Dr Doug Naysmith, who will be known to many hon. Members and who brought a tremendous amount of expertise, wisdom and integrity to the House. I am not following formalities when I say that he will be a very hard act to follow.
I should like to focus the majority of my remarks on education, which is the subject of today’s debate. Bristol North West is a fantastic and incredibly diverse constituency. It contains areas ranging from the fantastically successful Bristol port, which is undergoing expansion, to the rolling downs in Stoke Bishop. That diversity also means that Bristol North West is a tale of two cities, whereby extreme poverty and deprivation exist side by side with some of the richest wards in the country. Nowhere is that inequality seen more starkly than in education, because in my constituency some of the best-performing schools in the country can be found just hundreds of metres away from some of the most challenged schools in the country, and I am privileged to be able to address the Chamber today on education and to discuss some of the measures in the Gracious Speech.
Breaking down the terrible and invisible barriers that divide the haves from the have-nots will not be easy, but I am delighted that one thing on which the coalition rests is the pupil premium. Quite a long time ago, back in 2005, I was lucky enough to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and James O’Shaughnessy on the pupil premium, and little did we know then that it would be a raft for such a friendly and successful coalition. The financial incentive directed to those most in need is just the beginning of eradicating the educational inequality that exists in my community and it will help schools such as Henbury school, Orchard school and the Oasis academy Brightstowe.
However, we all know that it is not only money and direct investment that can make a difference to tackling inequality—and thank goodness, because there is not a lot of it around. Human resources are also massively important. I am therefore incredibly excited about and welcome the measures contained in the Gracious Speech to expand organisations such as Teach First. I tugged the elbows of those in Teach First a couple of years ago, begging them to come to Bristol. They did not say no, but they did not say yes. Given the legislation that we will be considering, I hope that they will be able to come to Bristol North West, as Teach First will make a tangible difference to the lives of the children there. Such measures, which often start out merely as ideas in a report that are then taken to this place, can sometimes seem dislocated from those whom they are supposed to serve. The world outside this Chamber can seem very distant when one has been sitting down inside it for five hours, but it is there. I very much look forward to seeing these ideas make a tangible difference.
I shall cite one example in that regard. St Ursula’s school is a private school in my constituency, but it wants to open its doors to take state pupils. It exists in an area of burning parental need and desire for a new school. Parents have asked for this new school, but all along the line the authority has said no—the computer has said no. I shall be delighted if the legislation set out in the Gracious Speech means that parents who want a new school find that the computer can say yes and that the authority can help them to realise their ambitions for their children, giving children from all backgrounds access to new, good schools—to schools that only the well-off can afford at the moment.
In conclusion, I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for indulging me. It has been an honour to address this debate on the single most effective way of closing that gap between the haves and the have-nots, which remains so stark in my constituency. I am talking about education, and I look forward to working within this Chamber, with my honourable colleagues and friends, to ensure that Bristol North West is a tale not of two cities, but of one city. I want it to be a place of opportunity for all, and that is also what I want this country to become.
I congratulate the hon. Members for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) and for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on their maiden speeches, both of which promised much for the future. I well remember my own maiden speech. It was supposed to have been non-controversial, so I chose the entirely non-controversial subject of holiday homes in Wales!
In this new Parliament, Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party Members will be vigorous participants in the business of the House. I am glad to say that the new Green MP, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), has joined us on this Bench, because she, too, has much to contribute. I would have been glad to hear contributions from our erstwhile colleagues, the former independent Members Dai Davies and Richard Taylor, both of whom worked very hard, and I pay tribute to their work while in the Chamber. Richard Taylor is a consultant physician, and I remember him saying in his maiden speech, “Since I joined the NHS, there have been 28 reorganisations. I rather liked the 19th.” That is a cautionary word for the Government and their aim of reorganising the health service in England.
Much education and health legislation is not directly relevant to Wales. However, there is a great deal to be said about education and health in Wales, not least the First Minister’s incomprehensible decision last week to sabotage Welsh medium education in Cardiff West. No doubt the Welsh electorate will make their view clear on that next spring—but I shall not stray into devolved matters in this speech. Health is largely a devolved matter, although some important matters are not. Early in my career here, I tackled the then Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, over nurses’ pay. His erroneous response was, “It is an abiding joy to me that I have no responsibility for things Welsh.” He was actually wrong, and I hope that this Government and their Ministers are better informed and will show at least a modicum of better grace in dealing with all matters Welsh.
The question from Wales is, what is the significance of the Queen’s Speech for education and health? The Academies Bill will apply to England only. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State refer repeatedly to “this country”, whereas, of course, he should have referred to “England”. He should be aware that there are other parts of the United Kingdom that will not go down the route of academies or any of the other measures for education in England that he has outlined. The education and children’s Bill and the health Bill will have some provisions that apply to Wales, but it is not particularly clear which ones.
The main effect in Wales of the Queen’s Speech will of course come from cuts. We know already that the Government are postponing looking at the Barnett formula, even though successive independent reports have shown clearly that Wales is underfunded. The last report, the Holtham report, showed that Wales is already underfunded to the tune of £400 million. Added to that are the cuts already announced for Wales as part of the first £6 billion tranche and the much bigger cuts that we are facing in the future. Clearly, public services in Wales are in great danger. That is even more pressing because the easy—or easier—efficiency savings available in some parts of England are not necessarily applicable in Wales. The Prime Minister mentioned this morning savings from development agencies, but that opportunity has gone in Wales. It is particularly galling, I am sorry to say, that we are facing these cuts, given that the Liberal Democrats campaigned in Wales very much on the prospectus of raising public spending. Now we have not only cuts but no changes to the Barnett formula, in the foreseeable future at least.
We also have cuts in the numbers of additional university places. Again, the number for Wales is unclear, although one might speculate that it might be 500. This is particularly difficult given that universities in Wales are clearly underfunded as well. A study of cross-border education by the Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I was a member in the last Parliament, showed that universities in Wales were underfunded to the tune of £60 million per annum, and that university research in Wales was underfunded to the tune of about £40 million. Both sums of money, of course, would go far in filling the funding gap. Successive Labour Secretaries of State claimed that the Barnett formula has served Wales well, but it does not apply to research moneys. If it did, we would get not 2% but 5.6% of research money, which would make a huge difference.
I will not take up much more of the Chamber’s time, because many people are waiting to make their maiden speeches. I will add, however, that the One Wales Government—the red-green Government—in Cardiff are committed to social justice, sustainability and inclusivity, and firmly reject NHS privatisation and the market models in the health service. That might come as a surprise to some hon. Members who do not know the ins and outs of Welsh politics, but that is how it stands at the moment. That refers back to my earlier point about this country being the UK and not just England. The Welsh Assembly Government are also responsible for the Wales-wide practical curriculum, including a foundation, play-based phase for four to seven-year-olds. Were I in charge of taking lessons from Sweden, I would look at the universal child care available there, which I saw a couple of years ago on a visit with the all-party Sweden group, rather than at some of the other lessons that the Government are taking. We also have in Wales the Welsh baccalaureate and are developing 14-to-19 education in general. In this respect, I hope that Wales will be protected from the coalition’s wilder enthusiasms in respect of health and education, and I genuinely regret that that choice is not open to people in England.
I am grateful for this opportunity to deliver my maiden speech as the new Member of Parliament for Croydon Central. I congratulate the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on his contribution and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), who has just left the Chamber, on her maiden speech. I know how hard she has worked to get to this place.
It is traditional to start a maiden speech by paying tribute to one’s predecessor, and despite the fact that he was an opponent in the recent election, I have absolutely no hesitation in doing so. Andrew Pelling was elected to the House in 2005 as a Conservative, but for the last two and a half years sat as an independent Member. During his time here, he experienced a number of difficulties in his personal life, but despite them he was regarded in the constituency as an excellent local MP. In addition to his service in the House, he served the people of Croydon and the Conservative party as a local councillor for more than 20 years, and as a member of the Greater London assembly for eight years. He was one of the people who encouraged me to get involved in local politics, and I wish him well in whatever he chooses to do in the future. I hope that his contribution to public life is not at an end.
It is a great honour to represent Croydon. It has been my home since I was a few months old, and it is where my wife and I have chosen to bring up our children. There is no getting away from the fact that Croydon has an image problem—a reputation for rather unwelcoming 1960s architecture, and for crime and antisocial behaviour. The town centre is certainly in need of regeneration, which our Conservative council and its excellent chief executive, Jon Rouse—a former chief executive of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment—have ambitious plans to deliver as the economy emerges from recession. It is also true that crime is my constituents’ No. 1 concern, although it is lower than in many other London boroughs, and the town centre, in particular, is safer than it was a few years ago thanks to the efforts of our local police, led by Borough Commander Adrian Roberts.
Those two problems aside, Croydon has much going for it. Historically, it was a market town in Surrey, situated in a valley between the Crystal Palace escarpment and the north downs, just north of a gap in the downs and therefore on the natural route from London to the south coast. The Archbishop of Canterbury had his summer residence in the town, and some of the original buildings survive and today form part of Old Palace school. The arrival of the railways—first the Surrey iron railway between Croydon and Wandsworth in 1803, then connections to London in 1839 and Brighton in 1841—led to a 23-fold increase in Croydon’s population between 1801 and 1901, and as Croydon grew north, London grew south, and by the outbreak of the great war it had become part of the London metropolitan area.
Further change came after the second world war. The Croydon Corporation Act 1956, coupled with Government incentives for office relocation out of central London, led to almost 500,000 square metres of office space being built or given permission in just seven years—much of it in multi-storey blocks—plus an underpass and a flyover, which transformed the town from a market town into a mini Manhattan. Today, Croydon is a city in all but name, a major commercial and retail centre, and the largest metropolitan area in western Europe without city status. However, it is also part of London, the world’s greatest city. It has excellent transport links, including a 24-hour rail service to central London, Gatwick airport and the south coast. Croydon tramlink is London’s only tramline, and the East London line extension to West Croydon, which opened just over a week ago, has finally put Croydon on the tube map. As a result, Croydon residents can be in central London in just over 15 minutes, while living on the edge of the beautiful countryside of the north downs and not having to pay through the nose for housing.
Croydon’s greatest asset is undoubtedly its people, many of whom have come from all over the world to make it their home. They set up new businesses, work in our public services, contribute to the town’s thriving voluntary sector and enrich its culture, making it a vibrant, cosmopolitan place to live. The real Croydon is a mix of ancient and modern, city and countryside, long established and newly arrived. Like many suburbs, Croydon is not without its problems, but it is a great place to live.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate for three reasons. First, as a parent of three young boys, who I expect are watching at the moment, and as the chairman of governors at a local secondary school, education is an issue in which I have a personal interest. Secondly, it is also a key issue in my constituency, particularly in relation to secondary school standards, which I shall come to in a moment. Most importantly, if we want to lift people out of poverty and to increase social mobility in our country, then education, and not the ever more complicated tax and benefit system favoured by the previous Government, is surely the key to doing so, as the hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) recognised. Of course it is important that young people leave school, college or university with the qualifications they need to get a job, but education is about much more than exam results. It is about inspiring children, raising their aspirations and giving them the confidence that if they work hard, they can fulfil their dreams.
Given the time available, there is just one more issue that I wish to raise—standards in secondary schools. My constituency is lucky to have some excellent state faith schools—Coloma Convent, a Roman Catholic school for girls, and Archbishop Tenison’s, a co-educational Church of England school, both of which deliver excellent results on limited budgets thanks to outstanding leadership by Maureen Martin and Richard Parrish respectively. We also have some excellent independent secondary schools—the Islamic Al-Khair school, as well as the Trinity and Old Palace schools, which are part of the foundation established more than 400 years ago by Archbishop Whitgift, about which I should declare an interest as a governor.
Until recently, parents who were not practising Christians and who did not wish or were not able to go independent had either to accept places at schools where standards were not high enough or send their children miles away to Bromley, Surrey or Sutton. Thankfully, a couple of years ago, our Conservative council took action to address the problem, replacing low-performing schools with new academies and putting in place plans to expand popular schools. Some of those plans are dependent on Building Schools for the Future funding, and I was therefore grateful to hear the Secretary of State’s positive comments in that regard earlier in the debate.
Unfortunately, not all councils are as progressive as mine. Too many turn a blind eye to low performance, rather than taking the tough decisions needed to turn things around. That is why it is so welcome that the coalition proposes to remove the monopoly of local councils and to allow parents, teachers, charities and local communities to set up new schools. Each year, thousands of parents are told that the inn is full. They are told that there are no places at any of the schools where they want to send their children and that they have either to send them to a school they did not choose or educate them at home. The policy that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has championed with such passion will provide another option to those parents, and the knowledge that a new school could open if enough local parents are dissatisfied will put pressure on low-performing schools across the country to raise their game.
The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) is concerned that the proposals in the Queen’s Speech will create a two-tier system, but the reality is surely that the current system of catchment areas coupled with the local authority monopoly of supply allows well-off parents to move into the catchment areas of good schools and leaves the less well-off with little or no choice. It demonstrably does not ensure that everybody gets an equal education. The previous Government believed that a top-down approach was the best way to drive up standards. I believe that a bottom-up approach, based on parent and pupil choice, is far more likely to be successful. That is what my constituents want, and I look forward to supporting the measures when they come before the House.
Let me begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on his maiden speech, which was extremely informative. It outlined not only the needs of his constituents, but the attractions of his constituency.
There are a great many measures in the Queen’s Speech that I am very concerned about, that I disagree with and that I think will be unhelpful to my constituents. There are also a few measures that I think will be unhelpful for our democracy, the most obvious of which is the proposal requiring the approval of 55% of the House for its Dissolution. I also think that a number of the measures proposed will undermine local democracy as it is embodied in our local councils. I am talking not only about the effect that drastic cuts will have on services, but about the proposals to remove most of our schools from the local authority family.
I have a number of concerns about the proposals on education, including those covered by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, that I want to outline, the first of which relates to the further withdrawal of funding from our universities. Like many others in the House, I believe that universities are the powerhouse of our future economy. They provide young people and others with the necessary skills to compete in the global jobs market now and into the future. The withdrawal of 10,000 places and the cutting of a further £200 million from the higher education budget is to be wholly deplored. I suspect that those who will lose out on a place this autumn will not be those from the most affluent backgrounds, but those who were hoping to benefit from Labour’s widening participation strategy and perhaps to be the first person in their family to go to university. What will happen to those young people if they do not gain a place at university? Are the Government going to offer them a job or alternative training, or will they simply throw them into unemployment?
That brings me to the cuts in the future jobs fund. We think that about 40,000 to 80,000 young people could be affected by the cuts in funding. It is interesting that both parties in the coalition thought that programme was a very good one before the election—and, indeed, it was. When Labour left office, there were around 40% fewer young people signing on than during the recession under the Tories in the 1990s. Labour Members will be taking a very careful look at how this issue plays out in the areas of the country that we represent that are most disadvantaged. In particular, we will look at how it feeds into youth unemployment.
The third issue that I want to address is that of academies. Like all Members of the House, I think, education in my constituency was transformed under the last Labour Government, with attainment levels improving from the low 30s, in percentage terms, in relation to those gaining five GCSEs. That figure was about 31% in the early 1990s, whereas currently the figure is higher than 80% for a number of schools in my constituency. That did not happen by accident: it happened because of the investment that Labour put in. But we are still waiting for our first academy. We have an excellent proposal, and a scheme that was approved by the last Labour Government is under way. It brings together a very interesting partnership between the excellence of Durham university, our local chamber of commerce and the local authority. I am seeking reassurance from the Secretary of State and his Ministers tonight that that excellent scheme will go ahead.
The House might be interested to hear that those new buildings, which are planned for 2013, were opposed by my Liberal Democrat opposition in the election. She told us in a focus leaflet—not the most reliable source of evidence, I know—that she was leading the opposition to the academy on ideological grounds. Those ideological grounds were, apparently, that she deplores—and thinks her party’s policy is against—any schools being brought out of the local authority family. I should therefore like to hear from the Government how they have managed to reconcile the huge differences between both parts of the coalition on academies and whether they used the services of Relate to bring them together.
I hope that those new buildings go ahead. Labour saw that investment as essential to improving opportunities for our young people, so I am very concerned about a policy that seeks to make all schools into academies without necessarily adding to their facilities or introducing new facilities. We all know that simply removing schools from the local authority will not necessarily lead to innovation or the driving up of standards that is necessary.
The fourth issue that I want to talk about is the free schools policy. At the moment, we probably have more questions about it than answers, and I am going to add a few questions of my own this evening. If there is a rush for free schools, how will the Government ensure that all areas benefit equally? If resources are directed to them, what will happen to existing schools, particularly in areas where there are falling rolls? If additional money is put into free schools, will it be taken away from others?
When the coalition parties talk about the pupil premium, they do not say much about the money already directed to disadvantaged schools through targeted grants. Again, I wonder whether those grants will be continued with the pupil premium. If the Government are going to withdraw them, they should make that very clear.
The last issue that I want to raise is that of free school meals. My hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana R. Johnson) and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and I, together with the public services trade unions, drove forward the campaign for free school meals. I am extremely fortunate to have a pilot scheme in my constituency. It is showing enormous benefits in improving the understanding among our very young people of the importance of eating well, and it is also helping them with their studies by enabling them to concentrate more. I would really like to hear from the Government this evening that they are going to continue and expand these excellent pilots, which are doing so much to tackle educational disadvantage and child poverty.
I have been here throughout the debate and there have been some excellent maiden speeches. I congratulate all those who have spoken so far, and there will be more to come. I also thank those who paid tribute to their predecessors. That is appreciated as well.
I will be voting for the Queen’s Speech, warts and all, because I think that a Government must have a programme to take forward. However, I give notice that, when some of those warts come back, I shall need some convincing if I am to vote for them.
In Essex, there is an attraction about getting shot of Essex county council. It is not so much that it has a dead hand on education: as far as Colchester is concerned, it has a warped hand. The council has failed to listen to the people of my constituency even though, in a consultation exercise, in excess of 96% of them said no to the secondary school reorganisation.
If we can persuade the sixth-form college and the Colchester institute to come together with all the local secondary schools in a co-operative—or whatever name we want to give it—my hope is that we can build on what the coalition is putting forward and get shot of Essex county council. As the previous Government well knew, the council is a disaster as an education authority. Indeed, hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will know that I raised the shortcomings of the Essex education authority time and time again.
The coalition needs to look at a policy paper put to the Liberal Democrat spring conference of March 2009. It stated:
“the Academies model is unfair in relation to freedoms granted and unsustainable given the way it is centrally run from Westminster.
Liberal Democrats would replace the Academies programme with a new devolved model of Sponsor Managed Schools in which…All schools, including existing Academies (which would become Sponsor Managed Schools) would be under the strategic oversight of local authorities and not Ministers in Whitehall.”
Nothing that I have heard or seen in the succeeding year and a bit since has altered my view on that. A letter appeared in last Friday’s Liberal Democrat News from Helen Flynn of Skipton and Ripon, and I should like to put it on the record. It said:
“Though much has been achieved in terms of shoehorning in Lib Dem policy in many areas of the Coalition Agreement the Queen’s Speech shows how we have dropped the ball on education—massively.
It defies belief that as the party supposedly set apart for its stance on localism in education we have allowed in massive expansion of the Academies Programme, which is at once centralised as opposed to local in its accountability framework, and is divisive as opposed to inclusive in terms of its admission arrangements.”
I will delay more comment until the Second Reading of the Academies Bill. We look forward to that with great interest, but I return to the fact that Essex county council has failed the secondary school system in Colchester. I was greatly encouraged by the Secretary of State—and I shall be reading Hansard closely tomorrow—because I think that there is a glimmer of hope in what he said.
It was confirmed only this week that Colchester is the fastest growing borough in the country, yet Essex county council has plans to shut two secondary schools there when all the figures show that they should be retained, and that a new school will be required elsewhere. That is nonsense: shutting schools while expanding others to provide for up to as many as 2,000 pupils is not localism and does not make sense.
I hope that Colchester schools will come together and that we can save Thomas Lord Audley school in Berechurch and Alderman Blaxill school at Shrub End. In one of my interventions in the speech by the Secretary of State, I drew attention to early-day motion 25 in my name, which relates to the fitness of children. Linked with that is early-day motion 24 on learning outside the classroom, and Ministers may also want to look at early-day motion 65, which raises questions about the results achieved by academy schools.
Lastly, this debate is about education and health. I therefore urge the Secretary of State for Health to draw together health and education in an holistic approach, and bring education about first aid into the school curriculum. All the evidence shows that that would save the NHS tens of millions of pounds a year by reducing the numbers of people going to hospital accident and emergency departments. Lives would be saved in the precious two or three minutes after an incident happens, for example when someone falls down the stairs or is involved in a road crash.
To conclude, although I will be voting for the Queen’s Speech, I have set out my serious reservations about school academies and free schools.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to give my maiden speech today. I congratulate my fellow south Londoner, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), and others on their fine maiden speeches. It is a pleasure to be able to make mine in the same debate this evening.
I am deeply humbled to stand here as only the second Labour Member of Parliament for Streatham. Six individuals have represented the constituency since its creation in 1918. I am incredibly proud to succeed my very good friend the right hon. Keith Hill, who in 1992 became the first Labour Member to represent the constituency. Returning Members will know that Keith served in the last Labour Government, from 1997 until 2007, in a variety of roles. Most notably, he was Under-Secretary of State for Transport, as well as being Minister for London and Minister for Housing and Planning. He was also Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Tony Blair, until the latter left office.
Keith is a larger-than-life person. He was, and is still, very respected in this House, and is remembered with great affection on all sides. He made a big contribution to this place and, above all, did so with great humour. In a tribute to Keith earlier this year, Mr Blair told how, at 11.57 am every Wednesday, just before Prime Minister’s Questions, Keith would arrive to take him to the Chamber, greeting him with the words, “Prime Minister, a grateful nation awaits your presence.” This never failed to bring a smile to Mr Blair’s face.
In May 2007, Keith announced that he would retire at the general election that we have just had because he thought that, at the age of 66, it was time to pass the baton on to a new generation. Notwithstanding Keith’s age—I do not think age should be a barrier—Keith always went about his work with a certain youthful vigour right up until retirement, and it will come as no surprise to those who know him well for me to tell the House that he is, at this very moment, surfing the waves in Cornwall in a wet suit.
I helped Keith with his constituency surgeries for half a decade and saw for myself what a fine Member for the constituency he was. He has been a great source of support to me, for which I am so grateful. I am conscious that I have very big shoes to fill, but I have every intention of living up to his very high standard.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank the good people of my constituency for electing me to succeed Keith as their Member of Parliament. I am the first Member for Streatham who was born and bred in the constituency, and it is such a privilege to represent them. The constituency is officially the centre of my universe. For the benefit of those who have yet to hop on the No. 159 bus just outside on Whitehall to go to Streatham, it is a constituency situated in south-west London and covers Streatham and parts of Balham, Brixton, Clapham and Tulse Hill in the London borough of Lambeth. The A23, which runs directly through the middle of the constituency taking in Brixton hill and Streatham high road, contains the longest piece of continuous high street in Europe.
The constituency is hugely diverse in many ways. With my own mixed English, Irish and Nigerian heritage, I am in many ways typical of the constituency, which is a very multicultural area. More than 35% of the population is, like me, from an ethnic minority, and there is also a big socio-economic mix, with the north of the constituency being quite inner-city in nature, and the south being more suburban. Like much of London, next to pockets of great wealth can be found areas of great deprivation.
Huge strides were made under the last Government in reducing deprivation in my constituency, be it through Sure Start—we have nine children’s centres—or through the numerous tax credit innovations that have helped keep people above the poverty line in my area. However, the big outstanding gap between the rich and the poor is there for all to see. This is something that I am determined to work to reduce during my time in the House.
Although there are outstanding problems, there is a terrific sense of community in the constituency. It is not broken in the way that some have described our country as being. “Broken” is a word which I think has been too loosely bandied about to describe our society. The word is often attached in television news reports to images of young people in inner-city areas like mine. That is reinforced by a tabloid media that at times presents young people as nothing but trouble. It is utterly deplorable to demonise our young people in this way.
Take the latest school exam results in our borough. Across Lambeth we saw success last year. Dunraven school in the middle of the constituency has a sixth-form centre that opened in 2003 to address the lack of A-level places. Last year, 70 per cent. of its A-level students got A to C grades. Likewise, the percentage of Lambeth pupils obtaining five or more A* to C GCSE grades soared to 71 per cent., which is well above the national average. These are not the results of a broken society.
There are planned building developments at three of the five secondary schools in my constituency that have not reached the financial close stage of development. We know that we do not see such results unless we invest in our schools. Those developments in my constituency are Building Schools for the Future projects. I hope that the Secretary of State for Education will at some point clarify the Government’s intentions in that regard. The hon. Member for Croydon Central referred to positive comments about BSF. I did not hear them myself, and I want to know what is going to happen about that.
We all understand the need to address the public sector deficit, but that cannot be at the expense of those to whom we are looking to grow our economy in the near future. Ensuring a return to economic growth is surely a key element in ensuring the recovery. The economic recession that we have just lived through was triggered by the global credit crunch that led to the collapse of several major financial institutions. The root causes of the global downturn are complex and varied, but a culture of excess and of recklessness in the banking sector undoubtedly played a role.
At the beginning of my legal career, I worked for just over three and a half years as a corporate employment lawyer in the City of London, and I acted for a number of institutions in the financial services sector on a variety of international transactions. I know from my time working in the City that it makes a big and important contribution to our economy, but a casino culture was allowed to develop there. In all parts of the House, it is acknowledged that the financial services sector needs to be better regulated. To say that things got out of hand is an understatement, so I welcome the continued prominence that the new Government are giving to reform of the financial services sector, and I intend to take a particular interest in how we reform it.
We must never again allow a situation to develop where the hard-working people whom we are elected to represent are left to pick up the tab for a financial crisis that was not of their making, jeopardising continued investment in our schools, hospitals and other public services that we are debating today. It is they whom we are elected to serve and I, for one, will never forget that.
It is a very great pleasure to be here today. It has been quite a couple of weeks for the town of Blackpool. Not only did it elect me as a Member of Parliament, but we now have the delight of playing in the premiership next season, not just against Wolverhampton Wanderers, about whom we heard earlier, but against many other teams that I am sure we all support. I was thinking of buying a tangerine tie, which is our club colour, but I thought that that might push the politics of coalition that bit too far, as I do not own such a thing.
It was with great pleasure that in my acceptance speech on election night I paid tribute to Joan Humble. It was no problem for me at all and I am delighted to do so again. She was always courteous, unfailingly polite and gracious. I note that she is remembered with affection in all parts of the House. She was an excellent member of the Work and Pensions Committee. More important in my view was the work that she did with the all-party group on non-combat deaths in the military, particularly in the aftermath of the Deepcut inquiry. Her work on that group demonstrates to me what can be achieved as a Back Bencher. It is a useful lesson to all of us newer Members that we do not need to hanker after ministerial office to achieve in the House.
Joan was, of course, the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood. There are people out there, beyond the Chamber, who take great interest in the nomenclature that attaches to constituencies. Cleveleys is a debutante in having a constituency named after it. It is an interesting town, partly because it does not really exist. There is another group of anoraks out there who know all about postcodes; they are obsessed with postal towns. Cleveleys is part of what is called Thornton Cleveleys. No one is quite sure where Thornton stops and Cleveleys starts or where the two merge.
Cleveleys has a distinct identity. It is attractive to day-trippers from across the north-west and beyond, as far south as Stoke, but it faces a number of challenges. I shall highlight one today that affects education and health: long-term care for the elderly and long-term medical conditions. At the time of the last census the Blackpool, North and Fleetwood constituency had the highest number of people living in a household where somebody had a long-term medical condition—some 42 per cent.
So I urge those on my Front Bench to bear in mind that what matters in health care is not just what occurs in an acute hospital. It is not just about what can be measured and put on a website as an indicator. It is about things such as quality, and perhaps most importantly—a word that I never hear often enough in political discourse—dignity. We cannot measure a patient’s dignity, but we know when they have lost it. Once again, I urge my Front-Bench team to put dignity at the heart of all they do in health care.
I pay tribute to Cleveleys first because I would hate it to feel overshadowed by its big brother to the south, Blackpool. I am sure all hon. Members know Blackpool. Many of them will have propped up the bar in the Imperial hotel in my constituency at many a conference. Everybody loves Blackpool, but I wonder whether they know much about the real Blackpool, the Blackpool behind the headlines. There are some extremely deprived parts of my constituency, and there are some real public health issues that we have to deal with as a Government. It is of great satisfaction to me that, as a party, the Conservatives started almost seven years ago working on improving public health policy. I pay tribute to the work that the Secretary of State has done in delivering an excellent public health document while in opposition. I hope we can build on that.
The other key issue that affects Blackpool, or the part that I represent, is educational aspiration. Sadly, we have some fairly underperforming schools that still have national challenge status. It is not easy running an education system in Blackpool. Deprivation does not make for easy pupils, and the staff in Blackpool do a tremendous job. Yes, results are slowly beginning to improve, but there is a poverty of aspiration within the town. Too many generations have not felt that education had any purpose for them; that there was any point in investing time in their studies so that they could build lives for themselves.
I feel passionately as a new Member that I want to introduce or try to reintroduce that culture of aspiration, because educational aspiration matters to me personally. As far as we can tell, I am the first Member of Parliament to be elected who attended a special school, and I particularly ask those on the Front Bench to pay special attention to needs of special schools, because they do matter. Had I not gone to that special school for the first few years of my education, I would not have been able to transfer to mainstream education. Without the speech therapy that I got at primary school, I might not have been able to stand here today and make a speech, so special needs education does matter.
Once again, as far as we can tell, I am also the first Member of Parliament to be elected who has cerebral palsy. I do not claim that that marks me out as anything special at all. I have never let it define my politics. Those who know me know that my interests are wide-ranging and far-reaching, and I will not let it define what I do in this Chamber—certainly not. I do not see myself as a role model for anyone. I have too many frailties, weaknesses and imperfections for that. I am but a weak and humble man after all.
None the less, I hope that I can be a role model to the many people out there who might feel that they want to play a role in public life, but may not quite have the confidence to do so. I know from experience that one needs a bit of courage, yes; a bit of self-deprecation, yes; and the humility to accept that sadly, yes, the bar is still that bit higher for some of us. I found that during my campaign, when my cerebral palsy was used against me by some. It surprised and shocked me, but on 29 April I picked up The Economist and read in an article about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget crisis in California that people with cerebral palsy and epilepsy—the combination I have—had “mental disabilities”. If a publication as august as The Economist cannot get it right, it shows that there is an awful lot of work to do.
Just last week, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Lord Morris’s Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which introduced the basic concept of rights for disabled people, an Act without which I would not be here in the public sphere today, and I pay tribute to that. But it is abundantly clear to me that no matter how much we legislate, no matter how many laws we pass, we cannot legislate for what occurs in people’s minds. I hope, by my presence in the House over the coming years, not so much by what I say but by the very fact of being here, that I can challenge some of the misconceptions, prejudices, fears and suspicions that go with my conditions.
I am grateful to be given the opportunity to make my maiden speech in the House in such an important debate. I start by paying tribute to the excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). I think that we would all agree that his maiden speech will be read time and again, and I hope that people will take account of it. It was very eloquent and I am sure that we will all have much to learn from his experiences in future.
As I make my maiden speech, I am conscious of and very humbled by the great privilege that has been bestowed on me by the people of Kilmarnock and Loudon electing me as their Member of Parliament. As people may be aware, I also serve in the Scottish Parliament, and those who know me from that place may have warned Mr Speaker and Mr Deputy Speaker that I need little encouragement to wax lyrical about my home town of Kilmarnock, not least because it is the home of Scotland’s oldest professional football team. My family roots are there as well as in the nearby mining community of Auchinleck, and my adopted home is in Mauchline, which was also home to Rabbie Burns. I will not have time today to extol the virtues of every town and village in my constituency, but I trust that I will, given Mr Speaker’s good grace, have the opportunity in future to talk at length about issues that matter to the people in my constituency, particularly when we come to debate jobs and the economy and how to revitalise our former coalfield communities and our former industrial towns, which is highly pertinent given the impending loss of jobs at the Kilmarnock Johnnie Walker plant.
Kilmarnock has an enviable history of representation. I am delighted to be the first woman to take my seat to represent Kilmarnock, if not the first woman elected to serve. At the general election in 1945, Clarice Shaw won the parliamentary election with a majority of just over 7,000 to become the first woman Labour Member of Parliament in Ayrshire. Unfortunately and tragically, she was struck down by a serious illness shortly afterwards, which stopped her ever attending the House of Commons, although she continued faithfully to deal with her parliamentary work until she was forced to resign in September 1946. I am grateful to a resident historian at the Kilmarnock Standard, Mr Frank Beattie—whose mother was one of my primary school teachers—for researching Clarice’s background and for a fascinating account of her journey. Clarice was a socialist and a co-operator, and I intend to bring those values and principles to the House on behalf of my constituents, and perhaps take up some of the issues that my predecessor was not able to take forward.
It is also an honour to represent the constituency of Kilmarnock and Loudon as a Labour and Co-operative Member, partly because that area is home to what is now generally recognised as the first consumer co-operative in Scotland, and—dare I say it—perhaps in the UK, if the Rochdale Pioneers will forgive me. The Fenwick Weavers Society began in the village of Fenwick in 1761—meeting at a place, incidentally, that is now known as the Parliament Wall. In 1769, the society expanded to become a consumer co-operative, initially designed to foster high standards in the craft of weaving, although activities later further expanded to include collective purchasing of bulk food items and books.
The need for the co-operative movement and those co-operative principles to be represented in this place has perhaps never been more important, particularly in light of the turmoil that our financial services sector has recently faced. Perhaps the near collapse of a system to which we have been intrinsically bound may be the crucible of a new beginning. Surely the time has come for co-operation to come to the fore again, and the idea of people owning and running their own democratically accountable banks has once again come of age.
Co-operation also brings new opportunities in education and health. Mutually owned and run care co-operatives are already providing more responsive services, and the principles of co-operation are taking root in many of our schools. I hope that the new Government will take account of those values and principles as they move forward rather than simply trying to rely on private sector solutions that have failed in the past.
Other notable representatives in Kilmarnock and Loudon include Willie Ross, who has legendary status, certainly in Scotland and probably also in the House. Although I hope to match his commitment, I doubt whether I will ever be able to match his skills of oratory. Similarly, the Member who followed him, Mr Willie McKelvey—much loved in Kilmarnock—was well known in the House not just for his wit but for his love of greyhounds. He was succeeded by the retiring Member for Kilmarnock and Loudon, Des Browne. Des will be a hard act to follow. He served this House in a number of important posts, in his own distinct and inimitable style. I pay tribute to his work on behalf of all my constituents and wish him well in his future political career in another place.
Let me say a few words on the subject of today’s debate. Having had the privilege of serving as a Minister for Education and Young People in Scotland, I hope to make meaningful contributions not only today but in future in relation to those matters. Education in Scotland is a devolved matter, but what happens in this House is important, particularly in terms of decisions on budgets, because what happens here has an impact on what is taken forward in the Scottish budget.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) who spoke earlier, I am very fortunate to have been one of the first pupils to go through the comprehensive education system when it was introduced, and I am pleased that the current constitutional settlement recognises the opportunity for us to do things differently in different parts of the UK. However, those solutions must be based on the underlying principle that every child is given the best possible start in life, with added support for those who, like myself, come from a low-income background, and for those whose life chances make things very difficult.
I want to conclude on a particular note, with a plea to the Government to reconsider their position on child trust funds and, specifically, the proposal to end the payment of such funds to looked-after children—some of the most vulnerable and needy children, for whom we all have responsibility. Those funds for looked-after children give youngsters who have been brought up in the care system the opportunity to move forward and go with some financial backing into further or higher education or the world of employment. Surely it is not too much to ask that any Government consider it important to look after those young people as we move forward.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak to the House today. I hope that the Government will address those issues, and I look forward to being able to play a meaningful role in, and make a meaningful contribution to, our debates in future.
Thank you very much indeed for inviting me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have been very impressed with the numerous debates to which I have listened, and the one thing that I have learned about the House is that one does have to be patient from time to time. I completely agree with the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) about the power of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). It was outstanding, and it will be one of those that everybody remembers—and quite right, too. It was also so right that he emphasised the need for special education. That is of pivotal importance, and he should be appreciated for that.
I want to talk about two of my predecessors. The first is Lord John Russell, who was twice Prime Minister and once MP for Stroud, between 1835 and 1841. I do so because I want to emphasise the good neighbourliness that exists with our coalition partners—Lord John Russell being a Whig, a Liberal. That is a good sign that we will co-operate well, especially because he piloted the 1832 Reform Act through the House, and as the Deputy Prime Minister said recently, this Government will be as dramatic in shaping our constitution as the Government of that period were. That represents a signal change.
The next predecessor whom I want to mention is, of course, the one who preceded me, David Drew. He was an outstandingly good constituency MP. He served his constituents with total devotion, and there was never a stone left unturned in order to ensure that they were looked after. His will be a hard act for me to follow, but I intend to do just that. He was a very good constituency MP, and I therefore pay tribute to him. Incidentally, I wish him well in his new role as chairman of Forest Green Rovers, our local football team, which is based in Nailsworth. He has a job to do there, and I am sure that he will tackle it with vigour.
All constituencies are beautiful, but none is as beautiful as Stroud. I can prove that by reference to a king who was on his way back from the failed siege of Gloucester. That, of course, was King Charles I, who stopped off along the Painswick valley and was so impressed by it that he remarked that it was “paradise”. That name has stuck to the community in Painswick ever since. Stroud contains another four magnificently beautiful valleys, which all comprise really interesting communities and some fantastic reputations—for writing, with Laurie Lee, for example; for textiles, with the mills; and so on. We also have the vale, which is about the same size as the valleys put together. It is equally beautiful and impressive, but very different in terms of appearance.
Stroud has a number of other features which it is well worth telling the House about. One is its reputation for engineering and manufacturing. The businesses are usually small, but they are all really exciting and think about high added-value and new technology products. If we manage to support manufacturing and engineering, as we so desperately need to do, that is where Stroud and the whole country will find its economic growth once again.
Stroud is beautiful, as I have said, and we rejoice in the fact that we have got rid of the regional spatial planning system, because it is good to know that we will not be carpeting over green fields to the absolute outrage and fury of our residents. We need to build houses and more social housing, but that will come from proper local community activities, decided by local people. That is very exciting, and we already have a very strong movement through community land trusts.
I should mention agriculture. I am a farmer myself, and it is an important part of the constituency. We have big and small dairy farms, all of which are vulnerable to TB and struggling with the price of milk and so forth, so the House can expect that I shall be a steadfast supporter of agriculture.
Stroud has a good tradition for renewable energy and some exciting ideas about its promotion. Hydro is one good example, and we will see more of that as the Government unfold their policies to encourage renewable energy. That is good news for Stroud, and renewable energy is one of its characteristics.
I want to talk about education, and I have only two minutes and 46 seconds in which to do so. The Gracious Speech contains some important measures that will benefit Stroud and, indeed, this country. One is the move to academies, but the key thing to remember is that our task is to ensure that all schools are good schools. The issue is not just about the best schools; it is more important to talk about the schools that are having problems and failing, because we have to ensure that everybody can fulfil their lives. There is nothing more heartbreaking than discovering that people cannot do things simply because they have not had a decent education. That must, of course, be the fundamental point about our interest in education.
It is also critical to emphasise the importance of school leadership and management. I have had some experience of dealing with such issues as a governor of a school. I am still a governor of Stroud college, in which I must clearly declare an interest. Leadership and management in schools is critical because the most important thing about schools is the people who are in them—the people who do the teaching, who do the work, who deal with the pupils and who ensure that the pupils are given the best chance. We must never forget that.
Further education is an important subject. Sometimes it is the Cinderella of education, but I want to emphasise how important I think it is. Effectively, it is the facility that can overcome the problem of people who thrive not in schools but in vocations and in the further education environment, so it is absolutely right that the further education sector be helped as much as possible. Reducing the amount of bureaucracy and regulations is clearly one thing that must happen, but we must also tackle the question of funding. That is complicated, but we need to ensure that FE colleges know where the money is coming from. Governance of colleges and schools is important. Governors must recognise and take on their responsibilities, because if we are to have academies we must have capable governors and a governance system that works and ensures that schools are checked.
The House can be sure that I shall represent Stroud’s constituents as vigorously as David Drew did, and I shall also ensure that it is properly and powerfully represented in this House in terms of policy, holding the Government to account and ensuring that the people of Stroud thrive.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and all those who made their fascinating maiden speeches that we have heard in this debate. It has been a real education. I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate. In his book “In Place of Fear”, Nye Bevan wrote of the frustration caused to new MPs who provocatively deliver the concerns of their constituents in their maiden speeches and are met simply by a polite response from the next speaker, according to parliamentary convention:
“After remaining in his seat a little longer, the new Member crawls out of the House with feelings of deep relief at having got it over with, mingled with a paralysing sense of frustration. The stone he thought he had thrown turned out to be a sponge.”
Notwithstanding parliamentary tradition, I shall endeavour to make my points provocatively, and to receive equally strong, uncompromising answers from Members opposite in due course.
I succeed the right hon. Jane Kennedy, an inspirational lady who served our nation and the people of Liverpool, Wavertree—formerly the constituency of Liverpool, Broadgreen—for nearly 20 years. She worked tirelessly for her constituents and was also a Minister in no fewer than six Departments. Her time as security Minister in Northern Ireland was precious to her. Jane was incredibly proud that it was the Labour Government who made such strides against the scourge of youth unemployment. When Jane was Minister for Work, there was virtually no youth unemployment, and serving as Health Minister, Jane was also so proud of the improvements made to our NHS under the previous Labour Government, particularly as they affected older constituents.
Jane did what so many could not or would not. I was struck by the number of people I met on Wavertree’s doorsteps who admired her greatly for the courageous actions that she took, particularly for her stance against the militant tendency. A brave woman, she will always remain an inspiration—never afraid to roll up her sleeves and get stuck in, even at the highest levels of Government. Jane did a sterling job for her constituents, for the Labour Government and in this House. As my friend and mentor, I hope to do her proud.
I have the privilege of representing the warm and kind people of Liverpool, Wavertree. It is a remarkably mixed constituency—culturally and historically rich, and ethnically diverse. It is a mixture of suburbia and metropolis, and a place where the old meets the new. We have our fair share of notable residents and landmarks from across the business, academic, musical, religious and political worlds. Wavertree is the birthplace of Meccano, Littlewoods pools and catalogue shopping. It is also home to the oldest Hindu community in the UK outside London.
Perhaps our most famous residents were John Lennon and George Harrison; Penny lane sits on the border of the constituency. Some lesser known people also deserve mention for the contribution they have made, not only to local life but also nationally. Dr Fred Freeman was a Wavertree businessman who owned a large department store in the constituency; he was also the philanthropist who pioneered tax-effective giving in the UK. James Newlands, a resident of Edge Hill, became the first borough engineer for Liverpool in 1847 and paved the way for municipal engineering as the world knows it today, creating the world’s first integrated sewerage system. The significance of that development cannot be overrated. During his years in office, Newlands succeeded in doubling the average life expectancy from 19 to 38.
Politically, the constituency has seen a whole spectrum of political representation. The new hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) went to school in the constituency, as did Edwina Currie. Lord Alton was once its Member of Parliament and Derek Hatton lived in Childwall. Although Wavertree has been home to notable political representatives from across the political divide, it is the rich Labour witness within the constituency that has made such an impact. Stewart Headlam, one of the pioneers and publicists of Christian socialism, was born in Wavertree, and fiery campaigner “Battling Bessie” Braddock attended a Socialist Sunday school in Marmaduke street in the constituency. I intend to keep the rich socialist tradition alive.
We will be celebrating two notable anniversaries in Wavertree this year. In 1836 the world’s oldest passenger station, described by some historians as the start of the modern world, opened in Edge Hill, and this September marks the 180th anniversary of the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester railway line, which started at Edge Hill station. That was the first time anyone in the world could travel between two cities by rail. This celebration will be taking place at Metal, a creative hub that sits in the station today. We are also marking the 100-year anniversary of the Wavertree garden suburb, a development that was part of a national movement to improve urban living conditions, which gave tenants a stake in the place where they lived.
I requested the opportunity to make my maiden speech during the education and health debate because knowledge and well-being are so important to my constituents. I urge the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley) to honour the guarantee that he made in March to rebuild the Royal Liverpool hospital. The scheme is so important, not only to sustain the provision of high-quality health care for all the people of Liverpool, including many in my constituency, but also because it will be the catalyst for sustaining growth in the economic renaissance of Liverpool, with the creation of a globally excellent, biomedical science campus.
Similarly, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), Alder Hey—the largest national children’s hospital in Europe, which treats young people from more than 85% of the UK’s PCTs—must see its accommodation upgraded. Alder Hey has put forward the most affordable hospital scheme in the country to replace its Florence Nightingale design from 100 years ago, so it can provide paediatric treatment in 21st-century facilities.
As a Labour and Co-operative MP, I am delighted that there have been real strides to expand mutualism in our public services. Mutualism ensures the promotion of democratic accountability—giving users, staff and other stakeholders a real say in how our public services are run. So far, the biggest expansion of mutuality has taken place in the NHS, with the formation of 129 NHS foundation trusts, which are accountable to a widely defined membership of more than 1.5 million. Similarly, in social care 178 user-led organisations have been created, and they both design and deliver high-quality services.
I move on to education. Incredible investment has been made into my constituency, where we have made great strides in education. Before the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) starts redirecting money from the education budget to create new free schools, I urge him to come and see how education is working in Liverpool. I urge him to invest in those schools, such as St Hilda’s in Picton and Archbishop Blanch School in Wavertree, that already have a vibrant community ethos and active governing bodies, and are already achieving above national-average grades at GCSE.
Nearly 90 years ago, my great-uncle, Manny Shinwell, newly elected as the Member for Linlithgowshire, made his maiden speech to this House. It feels almost eerie now to echo the words that he said then, that
“in opposition we would bring every kind of pressure—constitutional pressure, I may say—to bear on the”
“Government in order to compel the Government to implement the pledges they gave”.—[Official Report, 23 November 1922; Vol. 159, c. 119.]
Order. That was a wonderful maiden speech, but I am afraid that the clock stops for no one in this place. I call David Ward.
I praise the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and all those who have made their maiden speeches for their eloquence and endurance. It is customary during a maiden speech to speak in complimentary and glowing terms—indeed, frivolous terms in some cases—about the relevant constituency. However, I hope people do not mind if, as a Bradford councillor, I pass on that and leave it until another occasion.
I love my constituency, I really do, but it does have its problems. I fought it five times over a period of 20 years and I never considered for even one second trying to be an MP anywhere else. I am proud to be an MP, but even prouder to be MP for Bradford East.
I shall get one thing out of the way. I did not know Terry Rooney, my predecessor, too well, although I fought him five times. I do know, however, that he was a colleague of many here and gave 20 years’ service to the House. He put in many years’ work on the Work and Pensions Committee and chaired it. I pay tribute to him.
I have extensive yet limited experience of education; I shall try to explain what I mean by that. The extensive experience includes working for Leeds Metropolitan university for nearly 25 years. I cannot say that I regret having failed to come here sooner, because that would have meant my missing out on my wonderful memories of working with thousands of bright, funny, infuriating, creative and inspiring young people.
For the past five years, I have been seconded to Bradford City football club. I went there to help it to create a community department to engage with the predominantly Pakistani-Bangladeshi community that surrounds the club in Manningham. It is now host to a positive lifestyle centre, which has run programmes for more than 11,000 school children in the past five years. There is the football in the community scheme, which works with 130 of Bradford’s schools. I am probably most proud of all to be associated with my hero, Andy Sykes, who joined the British National party, understood how he had made an error, was going to leave, went undercover and was featured in the BBC documentary “The Secret Agent”. Andy was that man, and he now works with Dale Althorp carrying out some really tough work across the country with some really tough young people with extreme racist views.
For 26 years, I was a councillor in a ward in Bradford, where I was a group spokesperson for education. For four years, I held the education portfolio at a very difficult time, with a privatised education service, an Ofsted inspection that was one of the worst in the whole country, a move from a three to a two-tier education system, and the closure of all special schools and the reopening of new schools with co-located mainstream schools. For nearly 30 years, I have also been a school governor in special, primary and secondary schools, and I am still a governor at two schools in Bradford.
Bradford has one of the fastest growing populations in the country, and one of the youngest. Believe it or not, one in four of the population in Bradford East is under the age of 25. That is scary, because many of those young people are failing quite badly educationally. There is a view—we have heard it tonight—that if one can only improve the educational outcomes of children in deprived communities, that will somehow break the cycle of deprivation. Well, that is not my experience. It is not by raising educational outcomes that we reduce deprivation—it is by reducing deprivation that we raise educational outcomes. This is why I intervened earlier. We need to look at all the possible determinants of educational attainment, including gender, ethnicity, religion, and school structure—we have been through them all: community, foundation, grant maintained, academies, city technology and private. Nothing, but nothing, compares with deprivation as the overwhelming determinant of a pupil’s academic success and later, sadly, their prospects for employment, mental health, physical health and life expectancy. In education, class really does matter.
Yes, schools can be improved—I have been there—by better leadership, management, governance, teaching, learning, and freedoms from central Government. However, all head teachers and governors know that the most effective way of improving attainment is to change the intake of a school. I get very angry when I hear people glibly talking about good, bad or failing schools. I was chair of governors at a school branded as a failure—part of the national challenge—because of its attainment levels. At the same time, it was the first secondary school in Bradford to be categorised by Ofsted as outstanding—madness. Schools in the more affluent parts of Bradford district are deemed to be good, but only because of their A to C grade attainment. They are left standing, in terms of contextual value added, by many inner-city schools that are looked down on.
The Queen’s Speech—certainly, the agreement—contains many education proposals that I welcome. The slimmed-down national curriculum and flexibility in terms and conditions are necessary if the pupil premium is to work. I am not sure why these freedoms cannot just be made available to all schools, and why that has to be the preserve of academies. The most important freedom is not from overpowering local authorities, which can be controlled—perhaps unlike Essex. That view is out of date. The most important freedom is from the strangulating control of local education and authorities and schools by central Government.
The pupil premium, which is conspicuous by its absence in the Queen’s Speech, offers the real prospect of redressing the disadvantage faced by young people from deprived backgrounds. There is already deprivation funding, but it is a pittance. By and large, the amount of money that a school gets is based on the number of pupils in the school. That cannot be right, because going into an Ilkley primary school on a Monday morning is not the same as going into a school in BD3, the area that I represent.
I said that my experience of education is extensive but limited. It is extensive because of what I have done, but limited because of where it has been—in Bradford. I acknowledge that. However, it is that understanding of Bradford that I was sent here to voice. In a place such as Bradford, proposals for more faith schools and academies and the rights of parents to set up their own schools threaten social cohesion, strategic planning of school places, co-ordination of admissions and collaborative partnerships. I worry about that.
For many years, my wife has worked in a service providing support for Travellers, Gypsies, Roma, asylum seekers and refugees. My personal test of new academies and free schools will be based not on their standing in a league table showing key stage 2 and 4 results, but on the extent to which they provide a helping hand for the clients my wife represents. We will wait and see.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to address the House for the first time. It is a great pleasure to follow the very many hon. Members who have also done so and have spoken so passionately about their constituencies. I will listen with interest over the next few days as many more Members do the same.
Our duty to our constituents is one that we share in all parts of the House, and this debate could not be more relevant to my constituents in Wigan. Even with the much-needed investment over the past 13 years, people in Wigan still get sick earlier and die younger, and too many of their children leave school without good jobs to go to or without the qualifications they need for the jobs that there are. Those facts are a scar on the conscience of this House, and we must not rest until social justice is a reality in Wigan and across the country.
I know that that is a view that I share with my predecessor, Neil Turner. Neil drew on several decades of experience in, and service to, local government when he arrived in the House 11 years ago after the tragic death of his predecessor, Roger Stott. In his leading role in SIGOMA—the special interest group of municipal authorities—which is the campaigning network for local authorities, Neil fought hard for better public services, particularly housing, which was one of his passions. He was proud to be a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a number of Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), who has done such important work in this field. Neil was also a leading light in another of his passions—the all-party rugby league group—and I think it is fair to say that he has taught me literally everything I know about rugby league.
However, it is for his tireless work in redressing inequality in health funding that I think Neil will really be remembered. He fought for, and got, recognition that places such as Wigan were chronically and unfairly underfunded. The results of this change in Wigan have been visible and striking. To suggest that his work has saved lives is not an overstatement: it could not be more important to the people I now represent. It is this perseverance that marks Neil out both as a politician and as a person. It is rooted in a generosity and a kindness from which I have also benefited. His refusal to give up when he was told, firmly, “No”, was a beacon of hope to a people who frankly deserved better, and an example that I am determined to follow.
Neil and I are both part of a long line of Labour representatives of Wigan that stretches all the way back to 1918. Many hon. Members will know much of Wigan’s history. It is a town that has endured great hardship, but at great cost. From the great depression to the extreme poverty and deprivation that George Orwell railed against in “The Road to Wigan Pier,” Wigan has achieved extraordinary things, too often against the odds.
The scars that still run deepest in my constituency are those that were formed by the decimation of the town’s historic mining and industrial base in the 1980s. It was in that divisive and heated decade that my politics were forged. I grew up in the north-west believing that the Government not only did not speak up for people like me, but actively opposed us. My challenge to the new Government is not to repeat that bitter experience.
I address that challenge to both sides of the House. In Wigan, there is pride in what we have achieved, but that is mixed with frustration at what we have not, and fear for the future. I believe we can and must do more. For the past five years, I have worked at the Children’s Society with some remarkable children caught up in that situation. It has been devastating to see them living with the consequences of decades of under-investment, and growing up in poverty with inadequate housing. However, it has been equally devastating to work with their classmates, who fled persecution abroad to seek safety in the UK, but who often have been blamed for the problems faced by their peers. We owe it to those children not to play politics with their lives and to challenge the politics of fear and hatred, rather than pander to it.
I believe there is reason to hope for better. I am privileged to come from a family that spans a wide political spectrum from liberalism to Marxism, which gives me the belief that things can be better, that assumptions can be challenged and that those things can be achieved without delay, however difficult the times. Wigan has bucked the national trend through the efforts of its excellent council and many hard-working community groups. We have kept youth unemployment low and attracted new investment, such as from the Tote and Keep Britain Tidy. We have retained important employers, such as Heinz, and have world-class rugby league and football teams, which crucially support a strong network of community sports clubs.
Perhaps more importantly, through testing times Wigan has always fought against the politics of hate with the politics of hope. The story of Wigan is the story of a community that has refused to be characterised by poverty, despair or fear throughout its history. No group could better embody that than Wigan and Leigh United Against Racism, whose thriving and energetic presence I am proud to be associated with.
It is with that sense of energy and ambition that I approach this Parliament. I am ambitious for positive new solutions where they are so badly needed, but I am also ambitious for respect for those policies that have served us so well. We must continue to invest in social housing, including council housing, and we must strive for a level playing field in education if we want a society in which the choices we make are more important than what we are born into. Decent workplace rights and strong trade unions will always be the most fundamentally effective way to tackle fear about immigration. If we are serious about showing people that we are on their side, we should back the living wage and the minimum income guarantee. We must lift people up, not drive others down.
We face a clear choice in this Parliament: a fairer, more equal society or a return to the inequality and despair of the 1980s. My promise to this House is to work tirelessly, fairly and constructively to achieve the former, but my promise to the people of Wigan is to fight every inch of the way if they face the latter. There is a generation of children and young people in my constituency who are expecting us to succeed, and there are older generations who have worked tirelessly for just that. We must do the same in this House, because we cannot afford to fail.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) on her speech. It is a wonderful part of the country to visit, as I do regularly from Sheffield. I also share the hon. Lady’s passion for manufacturing.
It is an extraordinary privilege for new Members to address the House for the first time. For me, Sheffield Central is an extraordinary constituency to represent. Significantly redrawn in the last boundary review, stretching from Hillsborough Corner to Manor Top, from Kelham Island to Carterknowle, it is the heart of Sheffield. It is also a special privilege to represent the city that is my home, although my son would be the first to point out that I do not really count as a Sheffielder because, unlike him, I was not born and bred there. He would say that I am an incomer because I first moved to the city at the age of nine.
Hugely diverse, Sheffield Central includes both Victorian Broomhill, which was once described by John Betjeman as the “prettiest suburb in England” and the Park Hill flats, which opened in 1961 to international acclaim, as an innovative replacement by the Labour council of the time for tenements and back-to-back slum housing. Now the largest grade 2 listed building in the UK, Park Hill is currently being refurbished in a major regeneration project, combining social housing, owner occupation, and business units. I hope that the project will be supported by this Government as strongly as it was by the last.
Among the neighbouring constituencies is Sheffield, Hallam, which is of course represented by the Deputy Prime Minister. A consistent message in his election literature, of which I saw a great deal, was “If you don't want the Conservatives, vote Liberal Democrat here”. I wonder whether he is now reflecting on that message, because I can assure him that many Sheffield voters are doing so.
The constituency was previously represented by Richard Caborn, and I pay a deep and genuine tribute to his work here over 27 years. In considering my maiden speech today, I looked up Richard’s from 1983. Having not spoken in the House until November of that year, he referred to an article in The Sunday Times, which had described him as a “tight-lipped Member of Parliament”. Now I have heard Richard described as many things, but those who knew him in this House and in Sheffield would never call him “'tight-lipped”. He is someone who has always been quick to share his views, and to do so robustly. But he is someone who has the special talent of provoking argument, respect and affection at the same time and he is recognised across Sheffield as a relentless champion of the city he loves.
Richard’s roots are in the steel industry. One of the things that he was proudest of was his role over the past three years in helping to secure an £80 million loan for Sheffield Forgemasters, which is facilitating an investment of £140 million to enable the purchase of a major new forging press, the largest in the world outside Japan and Korea. I am deeply concerned that the new Government are reviewing that loan. Speaking in Yorkshire last week, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to encourage manufacturing, particularly outside the south-east and particularly in high-tech engineering and low-carbon technology industries. If that statement is to have any meaning, the Government need to act quickly to end the uncertainty and confirm the loan facility for Sheffield Forgemasters.
Future jobs and prosperity in Sheffield will be built not only on the skills of our traditional industries, but on the research and innovation of our two universities. Both are located in my constituency. I have spent most of my working life in one—the university of Sheffield—and several years as a governor in the other, Sheffield Hallam university. They play a key role in supporting economic development in the region. Sheffield Hallam university has worked with local companies in pioneering product development. The university of Sheffield has used its research collaboration to apply specialist engineering expertise to real-world manufacturing problems, most notably in the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, established in partnership with Boeing.
Both universities are leaders in their sectors, and they make Sheffield an increasingly popular destination for students. Together, their students account for 10% of the city’s population, and the direct economic benefit is more than £1 billion. I therefore speak for many people in Sheffield when I express concern that the new Government have chosen to target universities in the first wave of cuts. Reducing funding and university places will damage economic development and crush the hopes of thousands of young people. Funding the nation’s universities must be a priority for this Parliament. When we consider the Browne review, we should ensure that it considers all the options and does not limit itself to a debate about the level of tuition fees.
The city of Sheffield is constantly seeking new opportunities. As chair of the city trust for 11 years, I had responsibility for many of our sports and cultural facilities, and I have seen the economic benefits of the international events that we have hosted. I am proud that we were recognised as the UK’s first city of sport and, with our thriving cultural industries sector, that we have been shortlisted as a candidate to be the UK city of culture in 2013.
We also have a great radical tradition in Sheffield. We were the first major city in the country to elect a Labour council, replacing—perhaps presciently—a Liberal-Conservative coalition. That early Labour administration did away with slum housing, through a radical programme of house building, tackled childhood disease and led the way with innovative environmental policies. That tradition continues today. We are the UK’s first “City of Sanctuary”, having welcomed refugees from throughout the world—people who have added to the rich range of cultures that form the constituency of Sheffield Central.
As I said in opening my remarks, it is an extraordinary privilege to take my seat in this House. There is a special responsibility on all of us who do so at this time to rebuild trust and confidence in democratic politics. I am pleased to commit myself to that task and to thank the people of Sheffield Central for giving me that opportunity.
First, let me pay tribute to the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for his wry and measured contribution.
I remember reading many years ago that an august former Member of this House once said that one’s maiden speech was the easiest speech that one would ever have to make in the House of Commons. Standing here now, I suspect that I speak for a few people who were in the same position earlier this evening when I say that that former hon. Member had a very singular interpretation of the word “easy”; because although this is a tremendous honour, it is also terrifically intimidating. I can therefore tell the House that nobody is looking forward to the end of my speech more than I am.
I shall say a few words first about Tamworth and then about my predecessors. Tamworth is an ancient town whose history stretches back to when England was formed. It was founded in 874 by King Offa, who built the dyke to keep out the Welsh. Sadly, his defences did not extend to keeping out the Danes, who came and burned the town down a few years later. The townsfolk were not daunted, however. They picked themselves up, got themselves together and rebuilt their town. That did not commend itself to the Danes, who promptly returned and burned it down again. It says something about the resilience of the people of Tamworth that they did not give up. They built their town again, this time with the help of the Normans, who built a castle to protect it. The castle is still standing, and the Danes never returned. Ever since that time, through the reign of Edward II, when the town received its charter, and the reign of Elizabeth I, when it got another, to the age of Peel, when Tamworth played host to the launch of the Conservative party with the Tamworth manifesto, the town has been at the heart of England. It has been part of our national history and identity.
Sadly, not enough people know about Tamworth’s history. When I tell people that I come from there, they say, “Ah, yes. The Snowdome!” or “Ah, yes. The Tamworth Two! The escapee pigs that caused such a furore during the BSE scandal eight years ago.” They do not mention Peel or the Tamworth manifesto. So I hope that when the Secretary of State for Education introduces his education proposals, he will ensure that history is set first and foremost in the teaching of young people, so that they can learn much more about Tamworth and the Tamworth manifesto, and a little less about the Tamworth Two.
Let me now say a few words about the issue at hand. Education is an extremely important subject in Tamworth. We have suffered for many years as one of the poorest-funded local education authorities in the country. That sets children in Tamworth apart; they start at a disadvantage. We need to even up the opportunities for young people there, which is why I welcome my right hon. Friend’s invitation to head teachers to apply for academy status, and his proposal to lift the burden of bureaucracy off the backs of teachers and to give them more power. Only if we give head teachers more power and more money to spend on their schools as they see fit, and only if we give teachers the time and the space to teach, which is what they want to do, will we drive up educational standards and improve the morale of the teaching profession.
But it is not just a question of improving education; it is also a question of providing job opportunities. The Government need to get the burden of bureaucracy off the backs of businesses, so that they can grow, prosper and create new jobs. In that way, the children who are now leaving school in Tamworth can be employed and build their own prosperity. I hope that, when the Government introduce their great repeal Bill, the Secretary of State for Education will use all his artistry and eloquence to prevail upon his right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to focus not only on civil liberties but on the promotion and preservation of business liberty. I want to see a bonfire of red tape, so that businesses in my constituency—such as Forensic Pathways and Alcon—can grow and prosper, and employ and reward more people. Personal prosperity is the best guarantee of liberty, and I hope that the Government will take that on board.
I should like to say a few words about my predecessors. Tamworth is an old constituency, and it has had a long line of great—sometimes rather colourful—Members of Parliament. In the 18th century, our Member, Sir Thomas Guy, built our almshouses before going to London to build his hospital. Peel, whom I have already mentioned, was a great Member for Tamworth. He founded the police force, reformed our penal laws and emancipated the Catholics. He also repealed the corn laws, thus enshrining free trade as a fundamental principle of the Conservative party. He was a great statesman who represented Tamworth. Incidentally, he also had the county boundary of Staffordshire moved so that his house fell within his constituency. Now I do not suppose that the modern Boundary Commission would be quite so accommodating to any such request I might make, which I suspect is the price we pay for progress.
More recently, as some Members might remember, we had Sir David Lightbown—a Member much loved in his constituency, but much feared in the passageways of this Palace. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) reminded me that that was true, to his own cost, some years ago, when Sir David, a Whip of some considerable stature, picked him up by the lapels to remind him which Division Lobby he was meant to be going into that night.
My immediate predecessor was Brian Jenkins, who held the seat for 14 years, in which time he worked hard to put his constituents first and foremost. During the six years I have been a candidate in Tamworth, I have never heard a bad word said about Brian Jenkins, who I think genuinely demonstrates that an MP does not have to sit on the Treasury Bench or be a great orator or firebrand like the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) in order to be a good parliamentarian. Brian Jenkins served his constituents conscientiously and quietly for 14 years. If I can work as hard for them as he did, I will reckon myself a good parliamentarian.
It is a great honour to stand in this spot where Peel must have stood close by. I said at my count just a month ago that it was the honour of my life to be sent here by the people of Tamworth, and so it is. I feel that honour acutely tonight, and I hope that, however many speeches I make, however long I am here, however many brickbats get thrown up from this or that side, I will acutely remember that honour.
I congratulate all the new Members who have made their first speeches, as well as thank the old Members who have stayed in their places to listen to us. I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my first speech in the House. I would like to place on record my thanks to those in the offices of the House who set up the induction day, which made our life as new Members much easier and helped us to settle in.
Members will have noticed that I share the same surname as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). There has already been some confusion, as some Members think I am his daughter, while others think I am his wife. Thankfully, no one has suggested yet that I look like his mother, but that may be to come. For the record, I am his sister, and I have had congratulations and commiserations in equal numbers for that. It was our parents, Merlyn and Tony—sadly, both now deceased—who taught us about public service and that when much is given, much is expected. After my father died, my mother brought up three teenagers single-handedly. All three of us became lawyers, but that was not her fault. She found time when she was a pensioner to become a councillor and set up the first senior citizens committee, highlighting that important and growing group of citizens. Her initiative to give Christmas hampers to senior citizens was legendary.
There is an invisible thread that links me standing here today with Emily Davison—the suffragists and the suffragettes, but particularly Emily Davison—because she hid in a cupboard below the west cloisters, so that her address in the 1911 census would be the House of Commons. A former right hon. Member, Tony Benn, placed a plaque there so that we can remember her. It is because of her actions that I am able to give my address as the House of Commons.
Following custom and practice, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Bruce George. He was a Member of Parliament for 36 years. He was a member of the Select Committee on Defence and then its Chairman, but his heart and soul always remained in Walsall; he cared about Walsall and its people above all else.
In his first speech, Bruce referred to part of his constituency that was represented by the late John Stonehouse. Members will recall what was said about him—that he was the only Postmaster General to sew his own mailbags. Curiously, he stood in Twickenham, as I did in my first attempt in a parliamentary election in 1987. I also have a link to the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), as we both have family who come from Goa, India—mine by birth and his from his first marriage.
A previous Member of Parliament for Walsall South, Sir Henry D’Avigdor-Goldsmid, referred to Walsall in his first speech as a town of a hundred trades. Many have gone, particularly the steel industry, but I am pleased to say on this coronation day that our Gracious Sovereign’s handbags are still made in a factory in Chuckery.
Walsall is also a place that has seen the fruits of regeneration. Massive investment by the previous Government made possible the completion of the Manor hospital, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) for the huge part that he played in ensuring that funds were secured. There has also been regeneration in the town centre, and there is new housing. There is a refurbished Walsall college, and a new Tesco site that will create nearly 3,000 jobs.
The creative arts are celebrated in the New Art Gallery Walsall, an iconic building which I urge Members to visit. At the gallery there is a new generation of poets: Helen Calcutt, who, with her father David Calcutt, a renowned writer and poet, performed her poem celebrating regeneration, entitled “Where there was nothing”. She referred to another iconic part of Walsall’s skyscape,
“to the thought of light’s near breaking, over the bell tower, over St Matthews Spire.”
That continues the literary tradition of Walsall, for it is in Caldmore—pronounced “carma”; they do things differently in Walsall—that Jerome K. Jerome was born. Members will recall the first line of “Three Men in a Boat”:
“There were four of us”.
That seems so relevant to this coalition Government.
Walsall South is a constituency of contrasts. There is a farm at Pheasey Park Farm, and, at the other end, the vibrant, close community of Palfrey and Pleck. However, there are inequalities. When it comes to one of the key performance indicators at GCSE grades A to C, there is a contrast between one end of the constituency and the other. In Paddock, an affluent ward, the rate is 100%, whereas in Darlaston it is 41%. That is why it is important that Joseph Leckie school, which was in line for repairs and upgrading from the Building Schools for the Future fund, is not overlooked in any future decision.
I do not think that education can be measured as a unit or in fiscal terms. I would like the Wellington College well-being course to be taught in every school, because it is a design for life. Education is continuous. From birth, there is Sure Start. I am pleased that the Government have no plans to dismantle it, especially as there are 17 schemes in Walsall, and in Palfrey good work is done with both fathers and mothers. However, it concerns me that the 5,000 child trust funds that were started in Walsall South will end. The funds are a gift from the state to children, and, in my view, teach them fiscal responsibility, because they can track their investment as they grow up.
I ask the Government to rethink the future jobs fund. My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and I saw its work at first hand. Young people who would have been on the dole were taught skills. There was no Government interference, but money was given directly to local organisations which taught skills to match the available jobs. When I asked what the young people received at the end, I was told that they received a CV and a reference—along with, I am sure, lashings of self-esteem.
Many of my constituents are very distressed by the events that have taken place in international waters near Gaza. I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary have made strong statements, and I support them, but the blockade must be lifted. Aid and construction materials should be allowed under the supervision of the EU and the UN. Anyone who attended the BBC Proms, where the East West Divan Orchestra played—the initiative of Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said—will see hope for the future. When people meet, they do not fear each other. The children of Israel and Palestine should hear music, laughter and their parents’ voices, not gunfire and the mourning of lost lives.
Let me end by saying that there is a strong feeling among Members to whom I have spoken, new and old, that we will do good work together in the House, and go some way towards restoring trust in Parliament. I pledge that to the House, and to the people of Walsall South.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I am pleased to follow the maiden speeches of the hon. Members for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) and for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and of many other Members who have spoken today with great pride in their constituencies and also a good sense of humour. I was pleased to learn of the farming background of the hon. Member for Stroud. As someone who grew up on a Norfolk farm, I am aware of some of the significant challenges facing agriculture, and it is good that someone with direct expertise in that area has been elected to this House.
I would like to start by paying tribute to Charles Clarke, the previous Member for Norwich South. Charles brought immense intellectual rigour to debates on policy, both locally and nationally. He worked very hard for his constituents, and while he was serving outside the Cabinet he also built a reputation as someone with real independence of mind, and with great confidence in speaking up when he felt his party was wrong.
Norwich has a tradition of rebellious tendencies. In 1381, it was a focus of the peasants’ revolt; the city gates were forced open and the castle taken by the rebels. Within 200 years, my city experienced another great rebellion: Robert Kett led a three-week uprising against the enclosure of common land. His army seized the city, and defeated a Government army in battle. In 1793, Norwich’s Bell hotel was the meeting place of a secret group hoping to spread French revolutionary ideals.
As I am probably not giving too much reassurance to my party’s Whips about the value of having a representative from Norwich in their ranks, I shall move on to talk about some other issues that affect my constituency. It truly is a great honour and privilege to represent Norwich South. Norwich is a great city in which to live and work. Economically, politically and culturally, it is a very important capital within Norfolk and East Anglia, and we aspire to be, and do, so much more.
However, like the rest of Britain, Norwich faces its own challenges. Top of the list is the need to develop the infrastructure supporting Norwich’s economy. One of the major issues is the need to improve the Norwich to London rail service, which has suffered from under-investment for many decades. As part of the Greater Anglia rail franchise, I want to see a genuine commitment to 90-minute journeys between Norwich and London, more reliable services, newer trains and improvements to capacity. Although new high-speed rail is, of course, to be welcomed, we must not distract attention from such routes, where investment is so desperately needed.
I also want to see the soonest possible completion of the dualling of the A11, a key road link connecting Norwich to London. Following a Government inquiry into this matter earlier this year, we are all now awaiting the inspector’s report. It has been estimated that for every pound required to complete the dualling, the local economy would benefit by £5. It is a very strong and necessary investment, which would give Norwich and Norfolk a much needed boost. The state of the public finances means that there is real pressure on budgets supporting such infrastructure development, but it is vital that those parts of the county that have not had a fair deal in recent years do not lose out now.
Norwich is seeking to become the UK’s first capital of culture, in 2013. My city has a fantastic cultural heritage. I am enthusiastically backing Norwich’s bid, and I urge other Members to join me in doing so by signing up to my early-day motion. This would mean so much to the city of Norwich and the wider region, not only in terms of cultural growth, but through the economic and tourism boost a successful bid would provide. I fear that I probably will not have the backing of the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), however.
My city’s culture and heritage includes a wealth of pubs and churches. Norwich was once famous for having a church for every week of the year, and a pub for every day, with the highest number of watering holes per square mile in the UK. It is also thought that Norwich’s churches were so popular in part due to activities that resulted from the popularity of its pubs.
Norwich is also known for its world-class research in the field of climate change. As a low-lying county with a soft coastline, Norfolk is in many ways at the forefront of climate change in the UK. Many of the UK’s leading climate change experts are based at research institutions in Norwich, including the university of East Anglia and the Norwich research park. This Parliament will prove to be of vital importance to the future of our planet, and the expertise in my constituency can play a vital role.
Another area I am passionate about is education. As a former secondary school teacher, I am committed to seeing that schools get the best deal possible. I am delighted that front-line school funding will be protected, and that the new pupil premium will provide greater support for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Norwich is a university city, and my constituency contains the university of East Anglia. Like university students throughout England, its current and potential students are nervous about taking on the level of debt now required to study their chosen degree courses. I am one of an increasing number of MPs who has the misfortune of having a substantial debt to pay off. I passionately believe in the case for free higher education and, until the country can afford to deliver on that, I hope that we can at least work to address the issue of student debt. We also need to widen participation in higher education and increase the number of young people entering it from less well-off backgrounds. Education and aspiration are key to improving social mobility.
Building a better Norwich, or building a better Britain, does not come about simply by dropping Government legislation from a great height and hoping that it will bear fruit. It comes about through working the ground to enable it to bear fruit and working with the people whom it affects in order to harvest their ideas and experiences as to what works and what could be made to work. I am a local representative as well as a parliamentarian, so I know that we must connect the legislative process with our communities. As the Member of Parliament for Norwich South, I will spend the next five years and, I hope, many more thereafter, working with individuals, community groups, the police and council representatives—with everyone who has a stake in the future well-being of my city—to bring about the very best for Norwich. I look forward to working over the years ahead to raise, through Parliament, the concerns and issues expressed by my constituents in Norwich and to working with colleagues from all parties to deliver on the proposals outlined in this debate to the benefit of my community.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I hope to have learned from my experience in local government when making this speech, in that it does not matter what someone says as long as they are brief, because then people will like them. I congratulate everyone who has made their maiden speech this evening, because we have heard wonderful contributions demonstrating real passion for the home territories of hon. Members, and I hope that my speech can do the same.
I wish to start by paying tribute to my predecessor as the MP for Walthamstow, because I know that I have a hard act to follow. In E17, we have a fine tradition of MPs who have embodied the best of my party and the best of our politics, not only in London but nationally. Just like another previous incumbent, Clem Attlee, our MP Neil Gerrard fought tirelessly for the ideals that brought him into political life with independence and with honour. I am reliably told that he is a man who was a Whip’s delight, taking up the causes that others often shied away from. He was a tireless advocate for a better and more humane approach to asylum and immigration, for the need to support action on HIV and AIDS, and for prison reform. He has also been a powerful voice for my home of Walthamstow, and I have been honoured to work with him.
Neil and I have campaigned together for many years on local issues that matter to the future of our area and to the community in which we live. We have called on London & Quadrant Housing Trust not to leave our iconic local dog track derelict for six years and instead to name its price so that we can bring it back into use. We have called on the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God not to leave the beautiful EMD cinema derelict and instead to work with the McGuffin Film and Television Society and local residents so that we can have cinema in Walthamstow. We have fought for more investment in our local Whipps Cross hospital and for local school places. We have stood up for human rights in Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Palestine. The Whips may be horrified to learn that Neil has been an inspiration to me, and I promise in this Chamber to follow his good work for the people of Walthamstow.
I know from my work with the people in Walthamstow that we are not a community short on ambition. We put our money where our mouth is, organising and mobilising for a better future for our families, wherever in the world they may be. Whether we are talking about the Senior Citizens Asian group, our local Somali, Anatolian and Tamil communities, the mum and dads in our Sure Start centres in Lloyd Park, Sybourn or Church Hill, our local toy library, or the many local youth projects with which I am proud to work, including the Active Change Foundation, Pak Cultural Society, the X7eaven Dance Group, the Woodcraft Folk or even the Scouts, Walthamstow is full of people with ideas and dreams about what they want to do and with the passion and commitment to each other to work together to achieve it.
Indeed, I contend that because Walthamstow has always been full of people like that, our area has played a key and yet too often unacknowledged part in shaping the lives of everyone in this Chamber. I want to try to change that this evening. Hon. Members may not be aware that Walthamstow and the Lea valley were the original base of British aviation and motoring. Our area also has a proud history in the creative industries, which ranges from its being part of the original British film industry and having Turner prize winners as residents, to holding on to William Morris and even the grime music scene. We lay claim to helping put a man on the moon, to England football team greats, through David Beckham, to even the kinder Conservatives, through Disraeli, and to the best of British rock, through Ian Drury and the Rolling Stones. I am proud to share with Keith Richards’ grandmother the honour of having served as mayor of Waltham Forest.
Yet for all that we have contributed to this country, we in Walthamstow know that we still live in a world in which too often it is where someone lives, rather than what they are, that defines whether they have the opportunity to realise their potential. I am so proud to represent Walthamstow, and therefore so determined that that situation must change. I know that it is worth our while. If we can unlock the talent of Walthamstow’s residents, Britain will benefit even more than it has done already from the creativity of previous generations. That is why I wanted to speak in today’s debate and why I want to draw the Government’s attention to how their education plans will hinder, not help, young people in places such as Walthamstow.
Following on from what the Secretary of State said, I want to prick the Government’s conscience: if they can find the money for marriage, they can find the money for the programmes that actually work for our families. Political leadership is about the ability to think long term. I urge the new Administration to rethink their proposals for child trust funds, and instead to recognise the investment in the future that this scheme represents. For the 8,000 young people in Walthamstow who have one, they offer the kind of opportunity that too many in previous generations have been denied. They are a launch pad for a leap into further and higher education; the start of funding for a down payment on a house; or money to help pay for training or start a business. Do not listen to me; listen to the 30% of poorer families topping up their child trust funds as we speak.
The same could be said of the future jobs fund. For many young people in Walthamstow this has been a lifeline, getting them into employment and on to the first steps of their career ladder. They are not the young people who have the networks and connections that mean that success is assured, but they have grabbed with both hands the start that this scheme offers. I also urge Ministers: if they say they care about social mobility, they should rethink their planned cuts for universities. I can attest that it is in places such as Walthamstow that those kinds of policies, over the past 13 years, have transformed the life chances of young people.
When the previous Government started to increase the number of places available in higher education, Walthamstow’s children took the opportunity it represented. In the past 13 years, the numbers of young people from my constituency going to university have rocketed by 87%, and the evidence shows that they are the children from poorer backgrounds. Our young people in Walthamstow do not lack ability. We have the top-performing economics department in the country, at Sir George Monoux college, and we have pupils who have benefited from the Building Schools for the Future fund, in schools such as Walthamstow School for Girls and Frederick Bremer school, and we are concerned about what will happen if we hang the axe over projects such as the one for Willowfield school in Walthamstow, because we see the difference that such investment makes.
I urge the Government to ensure that they will guarantee the Building Schools for the Future funds that have already been committed. Above all, this programme shows that these things happen not by accident, but by design. The Labour party understands that when we invest in the future of every young person in Britain, wherever they live, we all benefit. That is why I give notice to those on the Government Benches: on behalf of the people of Walthamstow and their families, I intend to fight for every place, every opportunity and every chance that my community wants and deserves; to challenge the Government’s proposals that will mean a bleaker, not a brighter, future for them; to use my place in the House to be a voice for those who will be forgotten by the Government’s proposals; and to argue that there is not simply opposition to the Government, but an alternative. The potential that we have in Walthamstow to contribute to the future prosperity of this country demands nothing less.
Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for letting me make my maiden speech this evening. I congratulate all the other hon. Members who have made their first speeches today, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), whose speech was quite inspirational.
I feel honoured and privileged to have been sent by the people of Sittingbourne and Sheppey to represent them here in Parliament. They have placed on my shoulders a great responsibility, and it is a responsibility that I take very seriously. I know my immediate predecessor, Derek Wyatt, felt the same way, and I would like to pay tribute to him for his dedicated service to our community over the past 13 years. Of course, like many other political opponents, we locked horns on a number of occasions, and the 2005 general election was a real ding-dong battle that ended with me winning by 118 votes —or so I thought. Understandably, Derek asked for a recount, and hon. Members can imagine my disappointment, and his relief, when the result changed to a 79-vote victory for him. Part of me was disappointed when Derek decided not to seek re-election this time because I wanted to beat him fair and square without the need for recounts, but another part of me was pretty relieved, because he was well liked and well respected in my constituency and if he had been the Labour opponent, it would have been far more difficult for me to convert that 79-vote deficit into what was eventually a majority of 12,383.
Life moves on. I am now the MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, and standing in this Chamber today is the culmination of a lifelong dream. I come from a humble background. I grew up on a council estate, went to state schools and, like many of my generation, left school at 16. For boys from the Fort Luton secondary modern school in Chatham, there were few employment options. It was pretty well expected that we would become apprentices in the dock yard, go to work in the oil refinery on the Isle of Grain or join the armed forces. Going to university was something that we could only dream about—particularly someone like me who failed the 11-plus.
Despite having had a less than classic education, my generation of working-class children was taught to love our country, honour its traditions, obey its laws and respect its institutions, particularly Parliament, which is the very heart of our democracy. I have been concerned by the way in which respect for Parliament has diminished in recent years and I am determined to play my part in helping to restore its somewhat battered reputation. I will do my best to uphold the best traditions of Parliament and I will never knowingly bring it into disrepute. That is my pledge to the House and to the people of Sittingbourne and Sheppey.
I want to be a true parliamentarian, holding the Executive to account and representing without fear or favour those who sent me here. Those people—my constituents—are special people, and Sittingbourne and Sheppey is a special constituency that I am very lucky to represent. For those who do not know, it is situated on the north Kent coast and is one of the most unique and diverse constituencies in the country. I know that we all say that, but in my case it is true. We have a port that has the deepest water outside of Rotterdam and we have one of the few steelworks in the south of England. We have three prisons, which is pretty unique in itself. We have a seaside community and a rural, farming community with both livestock and fruit farmers. Some 40% of our population lives on an island, which is also unusual in England. We have 24 town and parish councils and three large, unparished urban areas.
Each of those communities has uniquely different problems and concerns, and I will be dedicating myself to highlighting some of those concerns in the coming months and years. Today, I would like to start by addressing an issue that is relevant to the Academies Bill. Two years ago, one of the secondary schools in my constituency, Westlands school, received an outstanding Ofsted report. So good was the report that the head and his senior staff were seconded to help to improve standards in a number of other schools in Kent. More recently, Westlands decided to form a federation with a struggling local primary school so that it could help that school to drive up standards. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that that this is just the kind of initiative that we should welcome. But the staff and governors at Westlands are even more ambitious than that. To make their school even better, they are keen to become an academy. They have already made inquiries about obtaining academy status, but have been told that their bid would not succeed because they are in a federation with a school that was deemed to have been struggling. It seems that a key test for approving academy status is that the applicant school is “outstanding”.
I have no problem with that criterion, except that it effectively prevents federated schools from gaining academy status unless both schools are “outstanding”. That seems a particularly perverse rule when one considers that one of the objects of the Academies Bill is to give schools
“the freedoms and flexibility they need to continue to drive up standards”.
I very much hope, when the new Academies Bill is drafted, that that rule can be amended to make an exception for outstanding schools like Westlands which, for the best of intentions, have linked up with a less successful school. That would make a great deal of sense if we are genuine about driving up standards in all our schools.
In conclusion, let me explain briefly what motivates me. One of our regional newspapers published recently a short biography of all the new Kent MPs. Each piece finished with what might be a dream job for that MP. The jobs ranged from Sports Minister through to Prime Minister. My dream job was listed as being the Member of Parliament for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. That pretty well sums me up, because being able to represent a community that I love here in Parliament is actually what motivates me.
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech this evening. I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) warmly on his maiden speech. I share his passion and conviction in wanting to represent my constituents. He is right to say that doing that is a very great honour for all of us, and it is one that I hope to carry out to the best of my ability.
I should also like to congratulate all the other new Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I have listened to most of them—it has been a long day—and I think that many of them spoke with great conviction. They have been extremely accomplished, and I congratulate them on opening their accounts.
My predecessor as the Member for Pontypridd was of course Dr Kim Howells. Kim first entered the House in a by-election in 1989, and he served with what can only be called great flair and passion for over 21 years. His broad experience and interests—his hinterland, so to speak—allowed him to serve with great distinction in a wide range of Departments. At the Department for Trade and Industry and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and as Minister for Higher Education, he spoke fluently and fearlessly to Members and media alike—so fearlessly on occasion, in fact, that many of us who know him well were deeply worried when we learned that he was going to be announced as the new Minister for the Middle East. However, Kim of course carried off that portfolio, like all of the others, with great panache, charm and purpose, as he did his role as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee when he returned to these Back Benches. I know that he will be greatly missed in this House and in my constituency, his former constituency. I wish him well, and I am sure that many others in the House will join me in doing so.
For my own part, I intend to carry on Kim’s tradition of speaking without fear or favour on behalf of the constituents of Pontypridd, addressing the issues that matter to them and serving them by articulating their concerns both in and outside this great Chamber. I will do so with passion, and a conviction that I think comes easiest to those of us in this House who are lucky enough to represent the towns that made them. As a man of Pontypridd once naively hopeful of achieving the highest accolade his town might bestow on him—playing for the first XV at Sardis road, of course—I have no qualms in stating that standing here today is almost as proud a moment as it would have been to pull on the black and white jersey of Ponty.
I am sure that hon. Friends from neighbouring constituencies will forgive me for saying that Pontypridd is an iconic valleys seat. From the town of Pontypridd, bisected as it is by that most Welsh of waterways, the Taff, whose once coal-black eddies mix now with the Rhondda in the great park of Ynysyngharad, through to the former mining towns and villages of Beddau, Tynant and Tonyrefail in the north, to the farmland turned commuter communities of Pontyclun, Miskin and Efail Isaf in the south, it is modern south Wales in microcosm. Its past is also a near-perfect reflection of south Wales history. Ponty grew from village to market town, then county town, on the profits from coal. The rush for black gold in the 19th and early 20th century forged great architecture, culture, character and a frontier town attitude that would have been recognised in Abilene or Dodge City in the same era.
That period left us with our famous bridge, once the widest single span crossing in the world, and another by Brunel; a train station built to accommodate the great caravans of coal trucks, also at one point the longest in the world; boxing champions like Freddie Welsh, singers from the bass baritone of Geraint Evans to the Treforest tenor of Tom Jones, and rugby stars by the dozen—Glyn Davies, Russell Robins, Neil Jenkins, Martin Williams, Gethin Jenkins; the list is endless.
Pontypridd’s present, too, mirrors post-industrial Wales: greener, cleaner, healthier and wealthier now, thanks to Labour investment. There is a new hospital, four new schools, a massive increase in quality housing and home ownership, and now a £40 million learning campus soon to be opened in Nantgarw, just one current testament to our ambition, the aspiration of our people and our faith in them.
However, questions remain about the future of Pontypridd. Though the last decade has seen my constituency, and others like it, start to close the gap in health, wealth and opportunity between them and more affluent parts of Britain, the distance is still unacceptably wide. It can be closed, in part, with effort and aspiration, but it requires sustained investment too, and although we live in much straitened economic times, principles of social justice and economic equity dictate that, whichever Government are in power, we must recognise the need to shrink that gap further.
That is why I chose to make my maiden speech during this important debate on health and education, because although a devolved Wales may be insulated, in part, from the policies currently proposed by the Tory coalition, other actions already undertaken will have a long-term impact on the ability of my constituents to improve their health and educational achievement. In particular, I refer to the so-called efficiency savings that the Government are achieving through abolishing the future jobs fund and axing the baby bonds, policies that were proving popular and effective in my constituency.
As a Welsh MP in a British Parliament, I make no apology for addressing the substance of the Government’s proposed education Bill, which appears to subvert entirely the original intention of the academy system, transferring freedoms that were accorded as a specific stimulus to schools in challenging circumstances and with diverse intakes, and affording them instead to already successful schools, allowing them to float free from democratic and local control.
As for the notion of free schools modelled on their Swedish equivalents or US charter schools, I urge those on the Government Front Bench to examine the evidence anew. Already today we have heard that state education authorities in Sweden have decidedly mixed views about the track records and the segregating impact of the free schools there. From America, there is already a growing body of evidence that leading educationists such as Diane Ravitch are railing against them. She described them recently as a “free market construct” designed by
“right wing think-tanks for the purpose of destroying public education and the teachers’ unions”.
In that one phrase the true agenda of the new right-wing coalition Government shines through, and it is a vision that I and others on the Opposition Benches will oppose with vigour and conviction.
I have had a lot of advice since arriving here as a new MP, all of it well meaning and most of it entirely contradictory—speak early and make a name for yourself, or bide your time for a decade or two; frequent the Tea Room with regularity, or shun it like the plague; never show weakness to the Whips, and never cross them either. I would like to thank all the honourable and venerable Members for these pearls of wisdom. However, I believe the best advice I have taken was not delivered first hand, but in the pages of a newspaper by the former deputy leader of the Labour party, Roy Hattersley.
Lord Hattersley stated that
“it is belief that sustains MPs through the unavoidable days of doubt and disappointment.”
I am not sure about the next bit, as he went on:
“The pay is … moderate. The conditions, though improved, are still inadequate. The status is equivalent to that enjoyed by snake-oil salesmen. Without clear convictions, life at Westminster is a boring waste of time. With them, it is a great and glorious adventure.”
I have my beliefs and my convictions, and I intend to hang on to them. I intend my time in this place to be a “great and glorious adventure,” at the end of which I will have made real improvements to the lives of people in Pontypridd.
What a great note on which to end. We are sure that will come to pass.
I begin by congratulating the Secretaries of State for Health and Education on their new positions. I also welcome back to the Department of Health the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), who left it in 1997. I trust that he finds the NHS in much better shape than he left it all those years ago. Whatever policy differences we may have, I do not think that any Opposition Member would doubt the conviction or the depth of knowledge with which both Secretaries of State speak in their new roles. The two Departments that they now lead have established impressive collaborative working in recent years, particularly on children’s health, on promoting children’s activity and on child safeguarding, and I hope that I can begin on a non-partisan note by encouraging them to build on that track record. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) and I rarely missed an opportunity to promote joint working between our two Departments, although we can probably both admit now that jumping on a rope swing was, in retrospect, a promotional step too far.
I enjoyed it.
I beg to differ.
We heard from another former Secretary of State today, praising Labour’s investment in the NHS—the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell). When the Education Secretary spoke, he really laid bare the difference between the two sides of the House. He boasted of the funding settlement that he had secured for this year, but under questioning from my right hon. Friend, he could not answer tell us about future years. Nor could he say whether it extended to 11-year-olds and beyond.
The big difference between us is that we on the Opposition Benches recognise that improving the health of the nation depends on investing in far more than the NHS. It involves investing properly in local government and in our schools to ensure that we have public services that are able and equipped to work together. The Government have made their commitment to increase health spending in every year of this Parliament at the expense of other crucial budgets on which the NHS depends. It is a judgment that has more to do with political positioning than with sound and good policy making, and they will come to regret it.
It is important for me, on behalf of all Opposition Members, to put something on the official record at the start of this Parliament. Labour has left the NHS in its strongest ever position. That is a fact, and no attempt by the Government to rewrite history will change that. The NHS is substantially rebuilt and renewed. It has an expanded, skilled and fairly rewarded work force, able to meet the expectations that today’s patients have. Waiting times are at an all-time low and infection rates are right down; consequently, patient satisfaction with the NHS is at an all-time high. That did not happen by chance. It happened because of decisions taken by Labour Members in the teeth of opposition from the new Secretary of State and Conservative Members. Because we took those tough decisions, we have left the NHS in that position. We shall be watching the Government’s decisions closely to ensure that the NHS continues to move forward in this period.
I have never doubted the right hon. Gentleman’s commitment to the NHS, but I am less sure about the people behind him and around him. Last August, a ComRes survey of prospective Tory parliamentary candidates found that an amazing 62% disagreed with their Front-Bench policy to increase NHS spending in real terms during the course of this Parliament. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) was one of the respondents to that survey, but it was an amazing statistic that so many people could not agree with the policy that Conservative Front-Bench Members were putting forward. We have not heard from them today, but I suspect that there are a few more members of the Daniel Hannan tendency on the Government Benches. I am sure that we will come to know and love them as the weeks and months go by.
With apologies to some of the older hands in the House, in the time remaining I would like to concentrate on some of the 23 maiden speeches today. All hon. Members spoke with great authenticity, and it is refreshing for Members who have been in the House for some time to hear such speeches made with real sincerity and passion, and before people learn the tricks and artifices of this place which we all know so well.
Let me mention some of those speeches. The hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) spoke of his ancestors advising Henry VIII on divorce, and the thought crossed my mind that the family’s skills might be of some use if the fabled married men’s allowance ever reaches the Floor of the House. We had a second maiden speech from my hon. Friend the new Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). I have just been out to check, and I can assure the House that the second was much better than the first—[Laughter]—but the first was quite good as well, actually. He made mention of the wonderful, international institution that is Alder Hey hospital, and all Members, not just north-west MPs, look forward to its successful rebuild in the coming years. It really is a true, national jewel in the crown, and we look forward to seeing that scheme make progress.
The hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) praised the beauty of his constituency, and it is indeed a wonderful part of the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) praised the huge change that took place in his constituency after Labour came to power and, particularly, the progress that the university of Bedfordshire has made. Perhaps others have said this to him since his wonderful victory, but I was musing on the idea that his victory speech was the shortest ever given at a count, with just the words: “That’s life.” I am sure that that was the speech. It did not need to be much more than that.
The hon. Member for Totnes is a very welcome addition to the House. We have lost a GP in Howard Stoate, whom Opposition Members will remember very fondly, but the hon. Lady brings back to the House the experience and voice of a general practitioner. She brings also some experience of wider public involvement in the political process, which is a good thing, too, and she spoke very knowledgeably about the real problem and threat that alcohol misuse poses to our society.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) rightly praised Ken Purchase, who made a distinguished contribution over many years in this House, not least in securing the redevelopment of Wolverhampton’s New Cross hospital. My hon. Friend said that she hoped to follow in the proud tradition of women MPs who have come from the area, particularly Renée Short and Jennie Lee, and I am sure that she will keep up that fine tradition.
The hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) made a very fair-minded and good maiden speech, talking of the need to improve educational opportunities for all. She praised her predecessor, Doug Naysmith, who was also very warmly regarded by Opposition Members and, I am sure, by Members from all parts of the House for his crucial work on the Health Committee and on mental health.
The hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) made a very strong maiden speech. “Croydon born and bred,” he said, and he talked about the town’s image problem. However, on that outing he has already done his bit to reverse that idea and is already an excellent ambassador for his home town.
My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) gave a very insightful and measured speech. Again, born and bred in his constituency, he spoke knowledgeably of the casino culture in the City and of the gap between rich and poor. It is still too wide, and Opposition Members will renew our efforts to narrow that gap. He talked also of the former Member for Streatham surfing in Cornwall as we met here today, and I think we could all hear his trademark laugh echoing around the House as we imagined that scene.
We then had a very rare moment in the House: a most impressive and incredible maiden speech. The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) followed his leader in speaking without notes, and as he can see not all of us can manage to do that, even after nine years in the House. However, he gave a most confident speech, mentioning that he is the first former pupil of a special school to take a seat in the House and, indeed, the first Member with cerebral palsy. He made a huge contribution this evening and a huge impression, and nobody could fail to be moved by it. We all want to hope that people can fulfil their ambitions, whatever difficulties they face in life, and he will make a distinguished contribution in the years to come. His praise for Joan Humble was very well received by Opposition Members, and I do not know whether he makes any connection between Blackpool’s recent promotion to the premier league and his recent election as Member for the town, or indeed whether it is too early to make such a claim, but Everton look forward to picking up six points when the new season begins.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) spoke passionately about the importance of co-operative values and she was right to do so. In the age that we live in, the public are looking for organisations that embody something different and give the public something that they can trust. She made that important point well. My hon. Friend also mentioned Des Browne, whom we all remember well. He made a huge contribution to public life and will continue to do so in another place.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) praised David Drew; I believe that the hon. Gentleman comes from his constituency and is well known there. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) made an important point, and I ask the Secretary of State for Health to consider it. She spoke of the important need to rebuild the Royal Liverpool hospital. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I approved that decision not long before leaving the Department of Health. There can be no question but that the hospital redevelopment is essential for the city of Liverpool. It is not only the hospital trust that is involved; there is also a partnership between the university of Liverpool and the pharmaceutical industry. The hospital desperately needs to be replaced and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will encourage the decision back out of the Treasury and allow it to proceed quickly. The scheme is much needed to improve the health service on Merseyside.
The hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) stressed the significant effect of deprivation on a whole host of factors, including life chances. We may feel that he is more in sympathy with us than with his new friends on the Conservative Benches. My neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) made an excellent speech praising my good friend Neil Turner. She mentioned the importance of rugby league in our borough and rightly said that our borough is only now recovering from the effects of the recession of the ’80s and ’90s. That is why it is so crucial that the Government should continue to help the North West Development Agency and others to develop the jobs of the future in boroughs such as Wigan. We will hold the Government to account for the decisions that they take on that.
The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) spoke of the importance of Toyota to the Derbyshire area and I am sure that she was right to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) paid tribute to another good friend, Richard Caborn, who will be remembered most as a very distinguished Minister for Sport. My hon. Friend also reminded the House of something that we may want to file away and come back to a few times before the next general election—how his neighbour, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), now Deputy Prime Minister, was wandering around his constituency right until polling day warning people that they should vote Lib Dem if they did not want the Tories. We need to remind the right hon. Gentleman of that.
The hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) praised Brian Jenkins, who made a distinguished contribution to the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) made a distinguished speech. Finally, she is in this House in her own right, and she is very welcome. She will make a huge contribution. The hon. Member for Norwich South (Simon Wright) paid tribute to Charles Clarke in a distinguished speech.
There was a spirited and passionate speech about Walthamstow from my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). I do not know whether, as a former Health Secretary, I can admit to having been to the dog track there, but I have. It was a wonderful place and we need to ensure that she fulfils her ambitions for her constituency. She made a wonderful speech. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) spoke passionately about the fulfilment of his dream. Finally, I turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith). We could not give him the black and white of Ponty rugby football club, but we have given him the green Benches. We hope that they are good enough. His first speech shows that he will have a great career in this place.
In the time that I have left, I want to tell the Health Secretary that we will come back time and again in this Parliament to the commitments that he made during the general election campaign to remove NHS targets. That is the biggest difference between us. I am picking up whispers that, having spoken to the civil servants in the Department, he is having second thoughts and thinks that that is not such a good idea after all. That was the whisper in the trade press. However, this afternoon at the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister said that the targets would be going. Let me tell the Health Secretary directly that if those targets are removed from the national health service, people everywhere who depend on a good service from the NHS will no longer be able to count on that. Those standards, which Labour introduced, have given us a national health service that provides a good standard of care to people right across the country. They are good standards to have in a national health service.
The Secretary of State needs to come clean at the Dispatch Box. Is he going to back up those standards, or does he have something else in mind? Is he going to keep the 18-week target, the two-week target for cancer, and the four-hour A and E target? He needs to give a direct answer. If he is not going to do that, he will leave lots of people without the peace of mind that they need and that tells them the NHS will be there for them when they need it. I can tell him that if he removes those standards in a time of financial pressure in the NHS, then as sure as night follows day, waiting lists and waiting times will begin to increase, and Labour Members will hold him and his colleagues responsible for that. We have given the warnings. We do not want to see the progress made in the NHS lost in the months and years ahead, and we will hold him to ensuring that commitments given will be honoured. He said that he will take the NHS forward, and we will ensure that that is indeed what he delivers.
If the Secretary of State makes those changes and leaves people without the peace of mind that they need from the NHS, and if the Education Secretary and the Business Secretary go ahead and take away people’s life chances by restricting access to university and the future jobs fund, it will not be a case of, “We’re all in this together”, but of leaving people who have least and are in a much deeper hole than the others without the security and peace of mind that they need from a strong NHS and, for young people looking for a job, the ladder to get up to a better life. We will hold this Cabinet to account for those decisions, and we will ensure that the excellent progress that we have made is not threatened or jeopardised by this Government.
It is a great privilege to be able to come to this Dispatch Box for the first time as Secretary of State for Health, after six and a half years as shadow Secretary of State. I thank the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for his kind words about me and my team. I am very proud of the team that we have at the Department of Health. I was proud when the Prime Minister spoke of us in warm terms today, and we will fulfil the responsibilities that he has placed on us.
Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman, in return, that I thank him, on behalf of the NHS, for his commitment. From the days when he began as a Minister in the Department and then went, as it were, back to the shop floor, I think that nobody has doubted his personal commitment to improving standards in the NHS, nor, indeed, that of his outgoing ministerial team. He is on his own in the shadow health team—[Interruption.] Oh, I beg their pardons. However, he has lost his fellow Ministers. I will not go on at length, but I know that they were all committed to their jobs. I want especially to mention Ann Keen. As a nurse, she showed her personal commitment to the NHS and to nursing as a profession. My colleagues, including the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), and I will ensure that we continue the work of identifying how we can take nursing forward as a profession. That includes the work that she and the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), have done in looking at nursing as a profession for the future.
As Secretary of State, it is my privilege to be able to represent those who work in the national health service. We have reason, all of us, to be grateful to them every day. People in Cumbria, especially today, have reason to be grateful to the north-west ambulance service, to local GPs, and to those who work in North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, particularly those at West Cumberland hospital, whom I have twice visited. I know the responsibility that they feel, even on a day-to-day basis, for providing hospital care—acute care—to patients across that part of Cumberland, which is at a great distance from other hospital locations. I know that people in Cumbria will be deeply grateful for the service that they have provided to look after them today.
It is a privilege for the shadow Secretary of State and I to respond to this debate, which has included 23 maiden speeches and, indeed, some fine speeches by Members who are not new. Before I respond to those speeches in detail, I want to say that it was very encouraging to hear the commitment to improving quality expressed on both sides of the House.
It was particularly encouraging to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and other Members on these Benches demonstrate that what we need to achieve that quality is a change from a command-and-control, top-down system of running our schools, hospitals, health care and social care services to one that is built on standards of delivering quality. We need to understand that if we are really going to achieve that, we have to give parents greater choice and control over the education that their children receive. We have to give patients greater information, choice and control over the health care that they receive, and in all the public services that we are talking about, we must provide those who deliver them with a much greater sense of ownership.
It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Leigh to talk about what has been achieved in the NHS over recent years, and I have never been one to diminish what has been achieved. However, many who work in the service, notwithstanding the fact that they are better paid than they were and know that they have had an unprecedented increase in resources to deliver improvements, still feel demoralised and that they are not in control of the service that they provide. They cannot give the care that they want to give, and they know that they are not yet matching the standard of care that they could achieve given the opportunity to do so. It is our responsibility to make that happen and I do not doubt the commitment of Government Members to do so. I visited 62 constituencies during the general election campaign and, without exception, I met candidates who were committed to delivering improvements in health care, not least because in many cases they had personally campaigned for years to deliver improvements in health care services. That is why we will not let Labour’s debt crisis, which we have inherited, mean that we cut the NHS and make the sick pay.
When the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State, he commissioned McKinsey to go off and publish a report. It produced a report for him stating that on average, something like 10% of those employed by a provider of health care with 300 staff should be taken away, mostly clinical staff. That was the recommendation given this March to my predecessor as Secretary of State, but that is not the way we should go. We must move towards a change in priorities from a service that was increasing the number of managers three times as fast as the number of nurses to one that deploys clinical staff on the front line to deliver the care that patients need.
Just for the record, the report was not commissioned by me or by Ministers but by the former director of commissioning in the Department, who left before I arrived.
Let me put it like this: I inherited a Department in which the report had been produced but not published, so I published it. I published the report on London and will publish all the reports that were prepared before the election, such as the prescription charges review that the Secretary of State commissioned from Professor Ian Gilmore, which was not published before the general election. As far as I am concerned, we are committed to transparency and getting that information out.
I have immense respect for the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron). He and I do not agree about the specific issue of minimum unit pricing on alcohol, and he knows why—I do not believe we have seen the evidence of its benefit compared with cost, particularly for low-income households. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) is absolutely right that we must do something about the matter. We must acknowledge the scale and severity of the problems resulting from alcohol misuse, and we must tackle supply, pricing and problem drinks. We must ensure that we enforce legislation properly, but we must also recognise that it is not just about restricting the availability of alcohol. We must change our relationship with alcohol as individuals and as a society, and we will address that issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) knows that I am committed to maternity services there and to helping them deliver the quality that his constituents expect. The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) said that what works in Surrey Heath may not work in Hackney. Exactly—that is the point. When we devolve decision making inside the education and health services, as we intend to do, things happen differently in different places. That is precisely why those services should be empowered to respond in different ways in different places, and that is our intention.
There have been some fabulous maiden speeches today. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) that I appreciate the 10 years that he has been fighting for the people of Harlow. He showed today his absolute commitment to maintaining exactly that support for the people whom he represents.
It is good to see the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) back, and to those of us who entered the House at the same time as him, it feels as though he had not gone away. I understand exactly what he says about Alder Hey, and the same is true of Broadgreen. I visited Alder Hey shortly before the election, and it tells us a lot when families are crammed together on a ward, but all they want to do is say how wonderful the care that they are receiving is. However, we have a responsibility to ensure that terrific care is provided in physical circumstances that reflect it. We cannot make announcements about the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen, or about Monitor in relation in Alder Hey as a foundation trust, but I hope that we will be able to do so soon.
The hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) and others talked about the importance of community hospitals. I hope that he will have heard the Prime Minister say this afternoon that they are supported and valued. That is absolutely the case, and I know Chippenham hospital from visiting it in the past. The hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) said that there is more to life than politics. That is very wise, very true and very good advice for those in the Labour party at the moment. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) has obviously learnt her politics well, because she mentioned the Express & Star, which is very sensible. She also talked about New Cross hospital, which I have visited, as she will know.
We must provide the public with the information required to enable them to support the driving up of standards through the exercise of control and choice, but also sometimes just through holding people to account publicly for the quality of the service that they provide. New Cross is a great example: there has not been a case of MRSA there since June 2009. That is terrific. The former Secretary of State will say, “Haven’t we done well in reducing infections?” However, that is from a terribly high base. What will drive down infections is a constant focus on places that achieve the best results, and New Cross—as I know from personal experience—does extraordinarily well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) and others talked about the pupil premium and the health premium, how we can reduce health and education inequalities and how we can achieve a greater sense of equality in our society. Notwithstanding some of the correct arguments about the wider social determinants of health and education, if we tackle both as communities and as a society, we can do a great deal to reduce those underlying inequalities at the same time as we tackle economic inequality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) and I go back a long way—20 years—and it was a delight to hear him talking about Croydon and, in particular, about leadership, because that is important. Many other hon. Members also talked about that issue, and rightly so. I heard no references to traffic lights from the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), but I used to live in Balham and it was a delight to learn more about the area. I never knew that I was walking the longest high street in western Europe. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) managed to tell us about the world’s first integrated sewer system and Meccano, so the debate this evening has been very educational.
I do not want to leave anybody out, and I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), who talked about mutualism and social enterprise, which are terrifically important. We will do more to give employers in public services ownership of the services that they provide. The hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) will know that examples such as Born in Bradford will be part of how we approach our public health strategies. Everyone seemed to mention academies this evening, but my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) was the only one to mention a golf academy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) made the important point that we must deliver improving long-term care that allies health and social care together. We will do that and we will reform adult social care—and we will not wait until 2015-16 as proposed. We will press on and examine how we can do that in a matter of months, not of years.
The hon. Members for Norwich South (Simon Wright) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) gave us further visions of how they will achieve their objectives for their constituencies, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith). They are robust advocates in speaking up for their constituencies and explaining their convictions.
In conclusion, I am committed, as is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, to putting in place sustainable, stable reforms that achieve our vision of delivering health and educational outcomes that are as good as anywhere in the world, based on principles of equity, excellence and delivering greater efficiency in the services that we represent, but most of all based on empowerment of people.
Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): I start by saying that I intervened on the Secretary of State for Education when he mocked a school book that encouraged children to eat more nutritionally. I admired the Conservative party when it was in Opposition for wanting to reduce health inequalities in this country, but I say to Government Members today that when considering issues such as childhood obesity, if we do not encourage children to eat more nutritionally—no matter whether that is done at school, at home or anywhere else—we will never get anywhere near to reducing health inequalities. We should not mock such ideas, we should support them.
I wish to mention two health issues that the Secretary of State for Education raised, one of which was that of trusting clinicians. In the previous Parliament, I chaired the Select Committee on Health—indeed, I have been involved in public health issues in Parliament for most of my years as an MP—and I have to say that, occasionally, some parts of the national health service and some clinicians give the distinct impression that they would not have wanted any of the changes made since 1948. We therefore need to be careful about that matter.
I am not saying that we should not take clinicians along with us when dealing with the issue. The noble Lord Darzi did so in his next stage review. He engaged thousands of clinicians to ensure that improvements were made. However, there were still people on the ground opposed to such things as the seven-days-a-week, twelve-hours-a-day opening of primary health care centres so that people could see a GP. We should learn lessons from the recent past about the attitudes of some professional bodies.
The Secretary of State mentioned health targets. If any of my constituents go to their local district general hospital because they want a new knee or hip, the wait is measured in weeks—perhaps 18 weeks, or a lot less in South Yorkshire at the moment depending on where they go. Not long ago, the wait was 18 months or more and the consultant in the hospital concerned—the same surgeon who would have done the operation on the NHS—would say to patients, “If you want to have a new knee, I can do it next week at a private hospital in Sheffield if you’ve got £3,500 lying around that you want to get rid of, or you can wait 18 months or two years with a poor quality of life because of the pain.” Targets have been set to help all our constituents with their health needs, and we should ensure that if they are removed it is not to the detriment of the massive improvements that have been made in health care over the past 10 years.
Right up until the general election, the Conservative party was considering putting in place what was effectively private insurance cover for social care. The Health Committee published a report on adult social care and particularly care for the elderly. The idea expressed by the Conservatives only a few months ago was that people in my constituency who retired could find £8,000—or £16,000 for a couple—to pay into a scheme so that they would have their care needs met in future years, which is an unbelievable concept. The Health Committee did not exactly praise the previous Government, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) will remember. However, in the report on adult social care, we said that there needed to be a consensus about the way forward and how the system should be paid for so that it was fairer than the current system. I am pleased that the new coalition has said that it wants to set up a commission to achieve that, but it should not wait longer to deal with the matter than it has to. Let us get the matter sorted out in this Parliament and get some fairness into the system as soon as practicable, when the commission has met and reported. Without consensus across the House, the unfairness and inequity in social care in this country will carry on for ever and a day.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has today made a recommendation on the minimum pricing of alcohol. I believe that the recommendation stands up well, and indeed, the Health Committee felt in most part that minimum pricing was the best way to deal with the alcohol problem. The recommendation has been made by an independent institution that has examined the effect that such a policy would have on alcohol consumption. It disagrees with what the alcohol industry has been saying in and around this place for many years—that minimum pricing will not stop binge drinking. I ask people, and especially Ministers, to read the NICE report. I am convinced, as were most members of the Health Committee in the previous Parliament, that the minimum pricing of a unit of alcohol is crucial if we are to take control of alcohol consumption in this country. There are other means of doing so, and people have argued that for some time.
The previous Government introduced regulations in April to stop the practice of students being invited into nightclubs where, for £10, they could drink all night. The Channel 4 News website says today:
“At Dukes nightclub in Essex, the owner Lou Manzi told Channel 4 News that they had stopped all you can drink for £15 and were now offering 15 drinks vouchers for £15, which they believed complied with the new rules.”
People will always try to get round any new rules, but the market cannot get round price. It worked to reduce consumption of cigarettes, and we have a far healthier population as a result. This Government will need income at some stage, and a minimum price for a unit of alcohol is the way forward if we are to stop alcohol abuse. More than 1.3 million children suffer because of alcohol abuse, and we cannot carry on thinking that education will make any difference. We have tried that, but we have failed. We have failed the nation, especially those children, and action needs to be taken by this Government to ensure that we price alcohol sensibly to bring some common sense back to consumption.
Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I stand to make my maiden speech, which is a daunting task not least because my seat has been represented by such colourful MPs in the past. This is the seat that was looked after by George Brown and Edwina Currie. The lady has been mentioned twice tonight—what a night for her. My immediate predecessor, Mark Todd, was a diligent constituency MP—indeed, having had Brown and Currie, such a quiet and thoughtful man looking after us for 13 years was definitely a time of respite and calm from the spotlight that the earlier incumbents drew to the area. I wish him well with his new job as chairman of Derby City primary care trust.
South Derbyshire is a great place to live, work and visit. We are a semi-rural constituency made up of 84,000 acres and 98,000 people, so the idea of a 100,000-person constituency in two years’ time is perfect. We are the fifth fastest growing district in the country and at the centre of the constituency is our largest employer, Toyota. I particularly wanted to speak in today’s debate on the Gracious Speech because education and the provision of schools and apprenticeships are crucial to the future success of my residents. I have already had a request for the Minister to visit to discuss the setting up of a new free school by parents who run Dame Catherine Harpur school in Ticknall. We also desperately need a new secondary school near Melbourne and that initiative will help with that too. I have held meetings with other colleagues who are in the House tonight who have also met with the unions at Rolls-Royce. We have been working on some innovative ideas for apprenticeships that I hope we will be able to take further. One glaring omission from the services that we have in South Derbyshire is a college. All our residents have to travel for full-time further education, and there is an opportunity for us to do better for my residents.
South Derbyshire has a great history. Indeed, it is the resting place of the Mercian Kings, was invaded by Vikings and has a diverse economy, with a split of 27% based on manufacturing and 27% on tourism. We have a strong heritage, from market gardening to coal mining and clay pots. We have the largest inland marina, and our canals are a major attraction in the area.
I am even more proud that we are at the heart of the national forest, with Rosliston forestry centre receiving thousands of visitors every year. South Derbyshire is always reinventing itself and being host to new ideas. Right now, a new golf academy is being built, which will have apprenticeships for the next generation to learn to excel. At one end of Swadlincote is a dry ski centre and at the other a golf course. When people visit, they are not bored.
My aims for the future are to build on the great reputation that we have for hard workers. We are at the heart of the country and our inward investment plans will lead to even more companies from Japan, China, Sweden and all over basing themselves in South Derbyshire. That will happen because we intend to get the future education of our children right, and I intend to play my part in working with Ministers to make that happen. I am proud to represent the area in which I live, and I look forward to encouraging the Minister to visit us shortly.
The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).
Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.