House of Commons
Wednesday 24 November 2010
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
1. What steps his Department is taking to support public bodies in contracting out public services. I announced last Wednesday that the Government are identifying a range of additional commercial models for public bodies wishing to contract out services, such as joint ventures and public sector worker mutuals, alongside traditional outsourcing options. A major barrier to this is the extremely cumbersome procurement process left behind by the previous Government. An average process here typically takes almost twice as long as it does in Germany. This makes tendering less competitive and effectively excludes many smaller suppliers and social and voluntary enterprises. We are taking steps to streamline the process. (25849)
One of the problems with the delivery of public services in the past was the previous Government’s focus on delivery through either private contractors or existing local and central Government bodies. Many public sector workers were thus prevented from suggesting innovative ideas for the more efficient and cost-effective delivery of services. How will they now be encouraged to come forward with their ideas?
We have already encouraged them to come forward with ideas. As part of the spending challenge that we launched in the summer, we invited public sector workers to come up with ideas to save money while protecting front-line services, and 65,000 of them did so, indicating a huge amount of pent-up frustration. We are now encouraging as many of them as possible who are interested not only in having ideas but in putting them into effect to form worker co-operatives to spin out of the public sector while continuing to deliver services.
Given that there are strict procurement rules designed to demonstrate probity and value for money, and to avoid political interference, does the Minister think that it was wise for the Department for Education to hand out a £500,000 contract to the New Schools Network, an organisation led by a former associate of the Secretary of State? Was that contract fully compliant with all the relevant tendering regulations?
Public Sector Mutuals
I announced last week that every Department will put in place “rights to provide” for public sector workers to take over the running of their services. The first wave of 12 pathfinder projects was launched in August this year. Leading organisations in the sector, including Local Partnerships, the Employee Ownership Association and Co-operatives UK, have come together to launch an information and support service for public sector workers interested in mutualisation. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will encourage and support these worker co-operatives.
Many public sector organisations and employees in my constituency are interested in this idea. Will my right hon. Friend clarify whether he sees these policies applying more to local community organisations, or whether he envisages organisations on the scale of, say, NHS trusts being able to take on mutual status?
I do not think that we should be prescriptive about how large or small, or how local or broad, these co-operatives could be. The pathfinders range enormously in size: I think that the smallest has only three potential employees or members, while the largest has 1,100, and it is possible to imagine them being even larger. I hope that groups of public sector workers from right across the sector will consider whether this could be a good route forward for them to take, and we will make it as easy as possible for them to take it.
What action is the Minister taking to protect the interests of innovative public sector workers who come up with exciting ideas for public sector mutuals, but whose senior management do not support them because it might not be in their personal interest to do so?
It is possible that such a situation could come about, which is why we have encouraged the organisations that I mentioned to set up the information and support service for groups of public sector workers. We will also establish a challenge group, into which this service can feed thoughts and suggestions. If there are concerns that middle and senior managers are obstructing the right of public sector workers to form these co-operatives, I hope that people will feed them directly to us, through the challenge group, so that we can take the appropriate steps.
Does the Minister accept that there is a fundamental difference between a worker co-operative and an organisation that is fully mutual? Can he assure me that there will be a democratic process within public sector mutuals and that there will be a membership element to it?
We do not have a dogmatic view about exactly what form these should take. I hope there will be considerable innovation. Some will want to form joint ventures with outside providers; in other entities, the Government or whatever other state agency is the commissioning body might want to retain a stake in the organisation. There will be strong democratic worker involvement in many of them, but the key element is a degree of ownership by the employees themselves.
A range of advice is available. The 12 pathfinder projects are supported by organisations that are able to provide support—for example, Co-operatives UK and the John Lewis Partnership, which have enormous experience in this area. The advice and support service that these organisations are putting together will be able directly to channel support and advice from organisations such as the Employee Ownership Association. That should help organisations to find the right advice for the particular circumstances of a particular group of workers.
The Office for Civil Society will shortly publish a consultation on what changes need to be made to commissioning to make it easier for voluntary and community sector organisations to compete for public contracts. The results will feed into a wider public services reform White Paper, which is due to published early in the new year.
I am grateful to the Minister. On 13 November, I chaired a summit meeting of the chief executives of 14 significant third sector bodies in Suffolk to discuss the big society and Suffolk county council’s radical new strategic direction programme to contract out local public services. The third sector bodies were extremely keen to bid for these contracts, but they were concerned that unscrupulous, large corporate prime contractors and a very crude payment-by-results regime could fatally damage their cash flow—
As my hon. Friend knows, there will be cases where large-scale contracts are more efficient, but we want to make sure that voluntary and community sector organisations do not feel excluded from them and are treated fairly by the prime contractors within any consortiums. The White Paper will address that issue. In addition, the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White), which the Government support, will place a firmer requirement on commissioners to consider social value in their buying decisions. That will help. I should be delighted to meet representatives of the local voluntary and community sector organisations in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley) and I extend the same offer to all hon. Members.
I am sure that the Minister will agree that bidding processes and the awarding of Government contracts must be transparent and fair—and seen to be so. Does he therefore think it good practice that his Department awarded a huge £4.1 million contract to a charity founded by his policy adviser, Lord Wei? Will the noble Lord consider his position as a result of this matter?
I am not entirely sure to which contract the hon. Lady refers, but if she means the recently announced awarding of contracts to 12 providers of the national citizen service, that process was run in an impeccably transparent way. We are absolutely delighted with the outcome and with the prospects for that programme.
Absolutely. That is a hugely important point. Everything I have learned over the past two years suggests that for many organisations the whole process of applying for and reporting public money is a bureaucratic nightmare—often totally disproportionate to the sums involved. Changing that is fundamental to the reform of commissioning and procurement that we are undertaking.
Voluntary Sector Organisations
Our programme of structural reform is opening up huge new opportunities for all sorts of voluntary and community sector organisations to take part in the delivery of public services. In the hon. Lady’s constituency, City Health Care Partnerships—which, I understand, is an employee-led spin-out from the health service—is providing health visitors, district nurses, pain clinics and a range of other services. That is an admirable example of what can be done, and we hope that it will be replicated in other parts of the country.
What message would the Minister send to the Hull Families Project, which is based in Orchard Park, given that £160 million of regeneration funds were stripped from that community on Monday, and to the Hull Churches Home from Hospital Service, which fears that the local authority and the NHS will cut its budget? What message does that send about the coalition Government’s real approach to disadvantaged communities?
The hon. Lady knows that the coalition Government have protected the NHS budget, for the very reason that we regard it as a priority. She may also know that the public health White Paper, which is on the way, will announce our proposals—already well foreshadowed—on the health premium. The health premium will specifically benefit those who are improving public health locally, and will organise funding so that it most benefits the most disadvantaged parts of the country, thus dealing with the precise points that the hon. Lady raises.
There are increasing pressures on independent citizens advice bureaux throughout the country. Debt management issues are an ever-present feature of their work. What assurances can the Minister give that expertise and resources will be available to CABs locally so that they can undertake their invaluable work?
The coalition Government certainly agree that citizens advice bureaux form a fantastically important part of the fabric of the big society and support for people locally, and I believe that Members throughout the House recognise the value of their services. We will support them in every possible way, and I should be delighted to talk to the hon. Gentleman about any specific issues in his constituency.
I believe that strengthening civil society is a common cause between us. Labour is certainly very proud that the sector doubled when we were in government. Now, however, charities are saying that they face cuts of a little over £3 billion during the next couple of years. How many jobs does the Minister expect to be lost in charities that do not have Conservative advisers at their helms or on their boards? To the untrained eye it seems that, worryingly, some charities are now more equal than others.
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that more than three quarters of charities receive no Government money, and therefore will not be affected. He ignores the opportunities presented by the new public service reforms. The Work programme, for example, is creating huge opportunities for the voluntary and community sector, and there will be increased funds from that source. There will be more funds for drug prevention, rehabilitation and recovery, and for the rehabilitation of prisoners. Payment-by-results contracts will be available for a huge range of new voluntary and community sector operators. I expect the right hon. Gentleman to see an expansion, not a reduction, in the sector and its activities.
On 1 November, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office announced a package of measures to help small and medium-sized enterprises to obtain public sector contracts. They include halving the length and breadth of the pre-qualification process for small firms, and creating a single website called Contracts Finder, where small businesses can locate all the contracts that are available from Government.
Given that 95% of people in my constituency are employed by small and medium-sized enterprises and that some companies would relish the opportunity of a fair playing field in bidding for Government contracts, will my right hon. Friend make suitable changes to the bureaucratic burden that they currently bear, thanks to the previous Government, as soon as possible?
The short answer is yes—and abundantly so. The measures I just described are intended to do that. In addition, we are looking at the causes of delay in the procurement process because, as was mentioned earlier, that is often part of the problem. We are also requiring suppliers to pay their subcontractors within 30 days, and encouraging them to pass those payments right down the line to the smallest businesses.
I am happy to be able to tell my hon. Friend that that is precisely what we are doing. That is why we are publishing every contract for tender of over £10,000 on a website, enabling people to see the opportunities. It is also why we have put in every Department’s business plan the requirement to report on the percentage by value of contracts they have let to small and medium-sized enterprises. We shall measure the extent to which Departments fulfil that requirement. [Interruption.]
Will the Minister consider organising an event or exhibition at which small businesses could show what they can offer to Government procurement? Perhaps we could have a street fair in Downing street, and invite people out of their offices to come and see for themselves?
I cannot offer my hon. Friend a street fair in Downing street, but I can certainly promise that we will take up his suggestion of looking into ways of enabling small businesses to bring home to those responsible for procurement just what a valuable contribution they make.
Perhaps we could have a street fair in Colne Valley. SMEs in my constituency will certainly welcome the measures, which will make it easier for them to do business with the Government, but can the Minister assure them that the process will be more accountable and transparent?
Yes, indeed, I can; in fact everything I have been describing tends to that end. We are going to make sure SMEs know what contracts are available; we are going to make sure they get a proper account of what is awarded; and we are going to make sure that Departments are held to account in awarding to SMEs. We want transparency all the way through the process because that is what will drive Government to let contracts to SMEs.
Now that Lord Young has gone, does the Minister agree that SMEs have never had it so good in respect of their share of Government procurements given the scale of cuts announced in the spending review?
Lord Young has resigned. My personal view is that the longest and deepest recession since the war, and the vast fiscal deficits that the Labour party bequeathed to us, have left not only SMEs but the entire country, and, of course, the Government, with an enormous challenge that we are now trying to meet.
Some of the enterprises of relevance in this context are third sector or voluntary sector organisations, for which the operation of the compact is important. How will the Minister respond to the concerns expressed by a number of those organisations that the compact is not working and that the new compact’s accountability mechanisms are not robust enough? The reality is that voluntary sector organisations are first in line for cuts, and this Government are doing nothing to address that.
Let us be clear: the compact is not about the level of expenditure but about the extent to which, in each contract, the Government play fair by those with whom they are contracting. We absolutely accept that the operation of the compact under the previous Government was not adequate. We are introducing new measures to make it more transparent, and the entire structures of our payment by results contracts will be totally transparent and in line with the spirit, as well as the letter, of the compact.
Of course. If the Scottish Government take the correct measures, it will apply in Scotland; and in the UK as a whole, and in England in particular, we will make sure there is transparency and that the compact is totally observed regardless of where the contractors come from.
The cuts in public expenditure will put enormous pressure on construction industry firms, and the smaller and medium-sized firms will be particularly badly hit. What are the Government going to do to protect those companies so that when the economy improves they will still be there to do the construction that is needed?
The greatest protection for small and medium-sized enterprises in the construction sector and elsewhere is, of course, a macro-economic framework that enables them to survive the recession, prosper and grow. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has taken the steps that have led the world in providing a solid macro-economic framework and low interest rates that enable—
The Government have cut the previous Government’s profligate spending on consultancy. In the first six months of this financial year, consulting spend by the Cabinet Office fell by 42% compared with the trajectory for the previous year. In the first six months of this year, consulting spend right across central Government fell by £350 million—or more than 50%, so it has more than halved—compared with the same period last year.
I can only assume that the proper processes were followed, because this happened under the previous Government, when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) was Minister for the Cabinet Office. Any suggestions of a conflict of interest arising from the position of the Deputy Prime Minister’s wife are wholly misplaced, because the contract was placed before he was anywhere near government.
I welcome the Minister’s statement on a reduction in consultancy fees, but hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is still being spent with these firms. Why does he not simply say no and get civil servants to do their jobs?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s robust support for this Government’s change in direction from that taken by the Government of whom he was a member. We believe that the incontinent use of consultants is demeaning for civil servants, who would, in many cases, like to be doing this work and are very capable of doing it. [Interruption.]
Civil Service Compensation Scheme
The Superannuation Bill, which will impose caps on compensation payments and permit the reform of the civil service compensation scheme, is proceeding through the other place. I remain confident of being able to introduce a new scheme before the House rises.
I thank the Minister for that reply. More than 30% of the work force in my constituency are employed by the public sector, given the heavy proportion of Army personnel and Ministry of Defence civil servants. Many of the MOD civil servants are members of the Public and Commercial Services union. Has it come to the table and joined the negotiations, or does it still stand alone?
Sadly, despite repeated invitations, the PCS has not come forward with concrete proposals. The other five unions engaged constructively and their proposals formed the basis for the new scheme that we have developed. I am sorry that the PCS, which represents so many civil servants, particularly lower-paid civil servants, has not chosen to take part in a constructive spirit.
That has been our principal concern in fashioning a new scheme. Civil servants’ average pay is lower than that in the private sector and the wider public sector, and it is right that they should be at the forefront of our concerns. The scheme that we have developed, in negotiation and consultation with five of the six unions, gives particular protection for them by deeming that the salary on which their compensation calculation is based is £23,000, so anyone paid less than that will have their compensation calculated on that basis.
The hon. Gentlemen will know from the Budget and previous statements by the Prime Minister that the Government are committed to developing broader measurements of well-being to inform policy development. A conference tomorrow will bring together experts to discuss how we measure and promote robust, independent measurements of subjective well-being.
I am delighted that the Government are taking this issue of well-being seriously. Does the Minister agree that promoting well-being involves a focus on development and understanding in schools, not just exams, on fulfilment and job satisfaction at work, not just salary, and on community and opportunity nationally, not just gross domestic product?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a big interest in this subject as vice-chair of the all-party group. The Government take it seriously. We are taking forward the recommendations in the Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi report and the conference tomorrow will be the first step in deciding how we go forward to measure and promote subjective well-being. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s view will be heard.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 November. (25834)
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Guardsman Christopher Davies of 1st Battalion the Irish Guards, who died on Wednesday 17 November in Afghanistan. He was the 100th British soldier to die this year, a reminder of the high price we are paying for the vital work that is being done. Christopher was an utterly professional and highly respected soldier and we send our deepest condolences to his families and his loved ones.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I associate myself and my colleagues with the condolences that the Prime Minister passed on and I also express sympathies to the families of those involved in the New Zealand mining disaster, two of whom come from Scotland.
Does the Prime Minister share my concerns that, although good restaurants pass on 100% of tips to their staff, some are using bogus tronc or kitty schemes to avoid paying national insurance while ripping off up to 14% of their staff’s tips? Will he personally stand up for fair tips and agree to meet me and a delegation of hospitality workers to discuss the need for the promised one-year review of the operation of the law on tips?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to mention the tragic accident at the New Zealand mine. What has happened is immensely sad. I spoke to the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, this morning and I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the 29 miners who lost their lives and with their families—particularly Peter Rodger from Perth and Malcolm Campbell from St Andrews. I know that our high commission and the consular officials are in touch with their families and doing everything to help at what must be an impossibly difficult time.
The hon. Gentleman has been a long-standing campaigner on the issue of tips and has done some excellent work on it. It is right that tips should be distributed to staff and should not be used to top up the minimum wage. They should not be diverted in any way. The law is very clear: tips must not be used to back up the minimum wage and enforcement officers should take action to ensure that that does not happen. The hon. Gentleman should meet Business, Innovation and Skills Ministers and they can look at the important code of practice that was produced and ensure that the hospitality industry is meeting it.
Will my right hon. Friend take steps to sort out the mess in Parliament square, particularly ahead of 29 April? Does he think that it is reasonable that visitors to London from home and abroad should be faced with a no-go area surrounded by a campsite?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I will always defend the right to protest and the right to protest peacefully. It seems to me entirely fair that people should protest, but I have never seen why they are able to sleep in Parliament square. I have had many discussions with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I think 29 April is too far a deadline by which to get this problem sorted out.
I start by joining the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Guardsman Christopher Davies of 1st Battalion the Irish Guards. He died providing heroic service to our country, like all our other troops. We pay tribute to him and send our deepest condolences to his family.
I also join the Prime Minister in expressing deep sadness about the deaths of the miners who were tragically killed in the underground explosion in New Zealand, including the two miners from Scotland. I know from my constituency the risks that miners take when working underground and our hearts go out to the miners’ families and friends.
I also thank the whole House for the good wishes on the birth of my second son, Samuel. In particular, I thank the Prime Minister and his wife Samantha for their very generous gifts—[[Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] I shall keep the gifts secret. I also thank the Deputy Prime Minister.
I want to turn to a decision that has been made in advance of the education White Paper, on which there will be a statement at 12.30 pm. Is the Prime Minister aware of the deep concern among schools, families and leading sportsmen and women about the Education Secretary’s decision to take away all the funding from the highly successful school sport partnerships? Will the Prime Minister overrule the Education Secretary and reverse the decision?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman back and I congratulate him again on the birth of baby Samuel. I very much know what it is like—the noise, the mess, the chaos and trying to get the children to shut up. I am sure that it was lovely to have two weeks away from it all. He is very welcome.
On the point about sports funding, in the White Paper that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will announce later we are taking a very different approach. We are taking a lot of the specific grants that were spent on specific subjects and putting them into basic school funding. That means that the schools budget is going to go up by £3.6 billion over this Parliament. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that what we experienced over the last decade was a lot of money being put into school sport but without seeing a lot of progress. [Interruption.] We did not see a lot of progress. Let me give him one figure: the number of schools offering rugby, hockey, netball and gymnastics actually fell under the previous Government. That approach did not work and it is time for a new one.
The Prime Minister will come to live to regret that answer, because he should not believe the nonsense that the Education Secretary is telling him about this. Since 2002, we have seen an increase from 25% to 90% in the number of kids doing more than two hours of sport a week. We have seen 1 million more kids doing competitive sport between schools and—I would have thought the Prime Minister would support this—we have a network of 200,000 volunteers from the school sport partnerships. I say to him: that sounds like the big society to me. Why is he undermining it?
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what we have ended up with after 10 years of that approach. Only two in every five pupils play any competitive sport regularly in their school. That is a terrible record. Only one in five children plays regular competitive sport against other schools. The approach that Labour took for all those years did not work. The time for endlessly telling head teachers what to do and how to spend their money is over. It is time to trust head teachers, give them the budget and let them decide how to make sure that we have great competitive sport within school and between schools.
If the Prime Minister will not take it from me, perhaps he will take it from Jo Phillips, the school sports co-ordinator in Chipping Norton school in his constituency. In a letter to me, she said:
“I am devastated to witness the potential demise of this legacy with the sweep of Mr Gove’s pen. I wish that he had spoken to me, the teachers in our partnership, our students, our parents and our local sports clubs and providers”.
I say to the Prime Minister: this is frankly a daft decision that he should U-turn on as soon as possible. I am afraid that it sums up this Education Secretary: high-handed, incompetent and unfair. Why does the Prime Minister not get a grip on it?
I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that last year the proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds playing sport went down. That was after all the money that Labour spent and all the initiatives. It simply did not work. What we are doing is protecting the playing fields under our planning rules and taking back the vetting and barring scheme that stopped so many people from taking part in school sport. Again, there is a fundamental difference. Labour’s approach was specific grant after specific grant, wrapping teachers and schools in red tape and not making any progress. We take a different approach: putting the money into the schools budget, growing it by £3.6 billion, holding a schools Olympics and promoting school sport. That is the way that will make a real difference.
Q2. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, during the international negotiations regarding the economic situation in Ireland, at any point anyone suggested that countries with large deficits should slow down the rate at which they are reducing them? (25835)
My hon. Friend asks a very good question. In the G20, the G8 and European Councils, there is absolutely nobody who thinks that if they have a big budget deficit they should do nothing about it. The only people who seem to be taking that view are the Opposition, who now have a new approach. They are having a policy review, and the Leader of the Opposition says:
“In terms of policy…we start with a blank page.”
That would be a great help at the G20.
Q3. UK Border Agency funding to support immigration and related work at the ports unit in Stranraer and Cairnryan ceased yesterday, with the commitment that all such work would be dealt with in Northern Ireland. Without additional resources at that location, I believe that that cannot work. If in the coming months the ports unit in my constituency does not see a reduction in immigration-related cases, will the Prime Minister revisit the issue? (25836)
What we do at our borders is incredibly important. I spent some time yesterday with the Home Secretary at Heathrow airport, meeting UK Border Agency staff. They do a fantastic job, and I want to help them go on doing it. I shall look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman says—[Interruption.] The answer is that what we are going to do is make sure that immigration work is done in Northern Ireland rather than at Stranraer, but I shall look very carefully at that to make sure that the system is working.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Every man, woman and child in Ireland spends more than £3,000 each year on British goods and services. Our economies are very intertwined—very interlinked—and it is right that we take part in helping to ensure stability and growth in the Irish economy.
Q4. In the context of “We are all in this together”, could the Prime Minister explain why he proposes to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board, which protects some of the poorest workers in the country, while at the same time he is protecting from public scrutiny the salaries and bonuses of major bankers in this country? (25837)
We have looked very carefully at all the quangos and tried to work out which ones need to stay and which ones need to go. That was long overdue. We have a minimum wage and a tax credit system, and there are so many quangos that are not adding value that it makes sense to give taxpayers value and scrap the ones that are not doing anything.
Will my right hon. Friend explain why at every turn—the City of London, the investigation order, economic governance of Europe and the stabilisation mechanism—the coalition Government under his premiership are acquiescing in more European integration, not less? And there is no repatriation of powers.
It will not surprise my hon. Friend to hear that I think he is wrong. Under the approach of a previous Government, we would have caved in when the European Parliament asked for a 6% budget increase. We have not, and we have fought that increase—[Interruption.]
Yes, we do agree with that. The last Government commissioned the Walker review. David Walker has carried out that review and made his report. He has made it very clear that he thinks we should make progress with the transparency agenda at the same time as other European countries. That is a view we think should be taken into account.
The Prime Minister will have to do better than that. He is demanding transparency—rightly—from the public sector, but unless we have transparency in the banking system, shareholders cannot exercise their duty to clamp down on unacceptable bonuses. The Business Secretary issued a statement on Monday, when news of the climbdown was in the offing. He said:
“Transparency is key to creating confidence in any commitment from our banks to behave more responsibly on pay and bonuses.”
Why will the Prime Minister not listen to his Business Secretary?
We agree with the approach of transparency. That is why the Walker review was set up, and that is why we should examine what Walker has to say. I will take lectures from the right hon. Gentleman about lots of things, but not when it comes to the banks. He was in the Treasury when the previous Government did not regulate the banks properly. He was in the Treasury when they set up the tripartite system that failed. He was in the Treasury when they had the biggest boom and the biggest bust. He was in the Treasury when they gave Fred Goodwin—the man who broke the Royal Bank of Scotland—a knighthood. I would go back to the blank sheet of paper, if I were you.
I will compare my record in the Treasury any time to the Prime Minister’s—he was there on Black Wednesday.
Is this not just typical of the Prime Minister? Before the election, he promised “a day of reckoning” for the bankers. We passed the legislation. It is there for him to implement. It is not very much to ask. All that the legislation requires is that the banks publish the number of people—not even their names, as the Chancellor used to call for—getting pay and bonuses above £1 million. It does not make sense to wait for Europe. Why does the Prime Minister not show a lead and just get it done?
The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to contrast his record in the Treasury. [Interruption.] Yes, let us remind people that when he was in the Treasury the Government built the biggest budget deficit of any G20 country. We had the biggest boom and the biggest bust. It was his Government—[Hon. Members: “Answer!”] It was his Government who set up the Walker review, and he should listen to what it has to say. The right hon. Gentleman has nothing to say about the deficit. He has nothing to say about regulation. He is just the nowhere man of British politics.
I am sure that the Prime Minister is aware of the Movember campaign, in which men grow moustaches for the month of November to advance awareness of prostate cancer. Will he join me in congratulating the almost half a million people worldwide, many in the UK, who are on track to raise £25 million this year in sponsorship? Given how good we look, will he consider joining us next year?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on such a magnificent specimen—the moustache that he has grown. It is absolutely right to raise awareness of prostate cancer. The campaign is a very good charitable move. I can see that some of his neighbours along the Bench have followed his example, as have some of the people in my protection team. They are all to be commended for raising awareness about a real killer that we need to do more about.
Q5. I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Guardsman Christopher Davies who, sadly, lost his life in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister will be aware of problems with post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by many service personnel and veterans across the United Kingdom. Will he now give a commitment to implement in full the report prepared by his hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), which makes key recommendations to help our veterans and service personnel with that dreadful condition? (25838)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We are implementing in full the report of my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison). He did an excellent report, particularly about mental health issues and how we need to invest in them, both in the forces and in our NHS, and we are carrying out those recommendations.
Foreign students make a big contribution to British universities and to the British economy, but the Home Secretary and I went to Heathrow yesterday to talk with UK Border Agency staff, and the one thing that they all raised was the problem of bogus students coming to the UK—people arriving at our borders who have a visa and who are claiming to go and do an MA or a BA, but who cannot speak English. The problem is that Border Agency staff cannot stop them, because they already have the visa. I am convinced, as I have said at the Dispatch Box before, that we can control immigration properly by cutting down on bogus students and people coming here without a reason, while helping the UK economy at the same time.
Everyone wants to see an expansion of competitive sport in schools, and I feel absolutely passionately about the issue. The fact is the approach we have taken for the last decade has meant that only one in five—one in five; that is pathetic—of our children is playing competitive sport against other schools. There is a choice in politics: to go on with an approach that is failing, or to make a change and do it differently. [Interruption.] They are shouting on the Opposition Front Bench, because they know that their record was one of lots of money spent but complete failure.
Q7. The issue of workplace bullying is highlighted in an article in the New Statesman this week. It states: “Ed Miliband’s team are terrified of Ed Balls and Yvette. They think they’re going to…kill him…because they”— (25840)
Q8. If the Prime Minister is so keen to put a cap on immigration, why did he earlier state that he gave his 100% backing to Turkey joining the EU? Surely he knows that most immigration to Britain comes from the EU. Does he not think that there is a stench of hypocrisy about the Government’s immigration policy? (25841)
I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong, for a very clear reason. If we look at immigration, we find that migration between European countries and the UK is broadly in balance. The excess immigration all comes from outside the EU. The current figures—under the last Government—are for net migration into the UK of 200,000 a year, and that is 2 million people across a decade. In our view, that is too high, it needs to be cut and a cap is a very important part of that.
I think he is completely and utterly wrong, and the world is in a slightly mad place when someone who supports Militant Tendency can be elected to the largest union in the country on 17% of the vote. Indeed, that same union basically picks the leader of the Labour party and pays all his bills. It is completely wrong, and if the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) is going to be a reformer he had better do something about it.
Despite being slightly ahead of the curve in the moustache stakes, may I take the Prime Minister back to an exchange that we had in June? Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), much more needs to be done to help our troops who return from conflict. I know the Prime Minister is very concerned about that. I am very concerned about it, and I hope that more will be done. In particular, there are so many people now returning who become homeless, and medical services are necessary, so will he please commit himself to making an urgent statement on the matter before long? Time is running on.
The Government are very closely focused on that issue. It is not just about medical services, as the hon. Gentleman says; it is also about long-term mental health needs. In the US, veterans are contacted every single year to check up on their mental health status. When we look at the mental health problems that came out of the Falklands war, where, tragically, more people killed themselves after the Falklands, it is estimated, than died in the war, we find that we are storing up a huge problem for the future because of the incredibly active service that people have seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to prepare for the situation now. The Government are fully aware of that; I am very aware of it myself. I am not sure about a parliamentary statement, but we do want to legislate on the military covenant and then make sure that it goes through everything that the Government do.
Yes, I agree with the shadow Chancellor. The interesting question is whether he agrees with the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition has two policies on tax, the graduate tax and the 50p tax, and his shadow Chancellor does not agree with either.
Q11. Before the election, the Prime Minister pledged not to cut education maintenance allowance and the Deputy Prime Minister pledged to vote against tuition fees. Can the Prime Minister now explain to my 17-year-old constituent Lauren Bedford the difference between a pledge and a promise? (25844)
What I would say to the hon. Lady’s constituent is that we inherited a complete mess from the previous Government. We have a choice—we can deal with it or we can end up in a situation like in Ireland and other countries of not just cutting education maintenance allowance but cutting everything. We are going to replace it with something that is more targeted on those who need the money to stay on at school—that is in the best interests of her constituents and everyone else.
Stepping Stones Nigeria is a children’s-based charity in Lancaster. It works with its Nigerian partners to rescue children who are accused of witchcraft and often, if they were left, would be persecuted or killed, and have recently been subject to a great deal of intimidation. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to do whatever it can to assist the children’s-based charities in Nigeria?
Q12. Is the Prime Minister aware that in Four Hills nursing home in Ruchill in my constituency there are some of the 60,000 people across this country whose quality of life will be shattered because of his Government’s decision to remove the mobility component of disability living allowance? How can he possibly justify this cruel cut of either £18.95 per week or £49.85 per week to some of the most decent people who have paid their taxes all their lives? (25845)
It is important that we make sure that disability living allowance is paid consistently to people who are in hospital and to people who are in care homes, and that is what we are doing. As I understand it, the Labour Front Bench supports this change—yes? Nod? On a previous occasion, the leader of the Labour party said that he supported our changes to disability living allowance—or is this another area where it is back to the blank sheet of paper?
I do think this is important. For years, we were spending lots of money on housing but not building any houses—why? Because there was no incentive for local authorities and few incentives for house builders. We are changing that so that even though the resources are limited, a lot more house building will go ahead.
Q13. I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree that education is a powerful agent for social mobility. While I welcome in principle the pupil premium, emerging details seem to suggest that taken together with the withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance, it could deter some young people from staying on in education. Will he agree to meet a delegation of experts to address that very specific problem? (25846)
I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes this extremely seriously, as do I. I have seen the letter that he has written to the Education Secretary, who I am sure would be happy to meet him to discuss this. Basically, what is happening is that we are seeing per-pupil funding that is not being cut, and on top of that we are going to see the £2.5 billion of the pupil premium. That will mean overall that the education budget rises by £3.6 billion across this Parliament. That is a substantial funding increase. I am sure that the pupil premium will have the positive effect that the right hon. Gentleman wants and that I want, but I am also sure that he can look at the detail of it with the Education Secretary.
Q14. I have recently been meeting many charities in my constituency, such as Rumbles catering project and Indigo Children, many of which have expressed concern at the reduction of local authority funding and the time lag between the opening of the big society bank. Can the Prime Minister assure me that that big fund will be quick and easy for those charities to access? (25847)
Yes, I can. The point that my hon. Friend raises is exactly why we are introducing a £100 million transition fund to help charities that might be affected by difficult decisions by local authorities to help them through that time. That is exactly why we are doing it, and I expect that we would have the support of the whole House in doing so.
Will the Prime Minister explain to me how the closure of the Identity and Passport Service information office in my constituency will enhance safety and security in this country? It is possibly going to be replaced by a risk-assessment system, which surely cannot be right. It surely cannot be safe and secure.
I am very happy to look into the individual case that the hon. Lady mentions and write to her, but the truth is that we are having to make savings right across the public sector, which means big changes in the way that we do things. In each case, we should be looking at ensuring that the effect that we want is delivered by the money that we spend. We have to do that across the public sector, and any Government would have to do that, but I am happy to take up her individual case.
Q15. The residents of Glossop and Tintwistle in my constituency have suffered for years due to excessive traffic. As we try to get the best we can from the meagre resources left by the Labour party—[Interruption.] What words can the Prime Minister offer as encouragement to those residents of the possibility of a bypass in the future? Will he or a Minister visit Tintwistle with me to see the situation? (25848)
The Opposition do not like to hear about the mess they left this country in. Just in case they are in any doubt, we will be talking about the mess they have made not in five months’ time, but in five years’ time too.
On transport expenditure, we are spending £30 billion on transport investment. That is more than the Labour party planned, and it means that there will be schemes that can go ahead. I wish my hon. Friend well with the work that he will be doing with the Department for Transport.
It is now nearly four years since the collapse of Farepak left hundreds of people in Makerfield and thousands of people throughout the country without a Christmas. They have not yet received one penny in compensation or a satisfactory explanation. Will the Prime Minister meet me to bring this sorry affair to a conclusion as soon as possible?
I well remember the case the hon. Lady mentions, and it happened at a time that brought misery to many families who had saved and who were expecting to have a good Christmas, and did not get it. It was a particularly tragic case. I will sort out for her to have a meeting with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to see whether, as she says, we can bring this sorry episode to a close.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.]
Order. First, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that points of order come after the statement, and secondly, I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly, so that we can hear the statement from Mr Secretary Gove.
Schools White Paper
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to a make a statement to accompany today’s publication of the coalition Government’s White Paper on schools.
England is fortunate that we have so many great schools, so many superb teachers and so many outstanding head teachers. Their achievements deserve to be celebrated, and I was delighted that last week, the Prime Minister and I were able to meet hundreds of the very best school leaders in Downing street to congratulate them on their work and welcome their commitment to the academy programme.
We are fortunate indeed that our schools system has so many important strengths, but our commitment to making opportunity more equal means that we cannot shy away from confronting weaknesses. We are failing to keep pace with the world’s best-performing education nations. In the past 10 years we have slipped behind other nations, going from fourth in the world for science to 14th, seventh in the world for literacy to 17th and eighth in the world for mathematics to 24th.
At the same time, the gulf between the opportunities available to the rich and the chances given to the poor has grown wider. The gap between the A-level performance of children in independent schools and state schools doubled under Labour, and in the last year for which we have figures, out of a population of 80,000 children eligible for free school meals, just 40 made it to Oxford and Cambridge, a drop from the previous year, when just 45 made it. Social mobility went backwards under Labour, and it is the mission of this coalition Government to reverse that unhappy trend and to make opportunity more equal. Under this Government, we can become an aspiration nation once more.
If we are to make the most of the potential of every child, we need to learn from those countries that outperform us educationally and have more equal societies. This White Paper does just that. It takes the best ideas from the highest-performing education nations and applies them to our own circumstances.
The single most important lesson, which is reflected in the title of our White Paper, is the importance of teaching. The best schools systems recruit the best people to teach, train them intensively in the craft of teaching, continue to develop them as professionals throughout their career, groom natural leaders for headship positions and give great heads the chance to make a difference. That is why we will reform and improve teacher training by establishing a new generation of teaching schools, which will be based on the model of teaching hospitals. Outstanding schools will be showcases for the best in teaching practice. We will also invest in doubling the number of top graduates who enter teaching through Teach First, and will create a new programme, Teach Next, to attract into teaching high performers from other professions. We will subsidise graduates in strategic subjects such as science and maths to enter teaching and create a new troops-to-teachers programme to attract natural leaders from the armed forces into the classroom.
Because we know that the biggest barrier to recruiting and retaining good people in teaching is poor pupil behaviour, we will take decisive action on discipline. Unless order is maintained in the classroom, teachers cannot teach and children cannot learn, so we will make it easier for teachers to impose detentions on disruptive pupils by abolishing the rule that requires 24 hours’ notice before a detention is given.
We will give teachers stronger powers to search students if they bring items into school and are intent on disruption. We will give teachers clearer rules on the use of force and we will protect them from false allegations made by disruptive and vindictive pupils if they act to keep order.
We will support schools to introduce traditional blazer-and-tie uniforms, prefects and house systems. We will prioritise action to tackle bullying, especially racist and homophobic bullying, and we will make it easier for schools to exclude disruptive children without the fear of seeing excluded children reinstated over their heads. We will improve education for troubled young people by bringing in new organisations to run alternative provision for excluded pupils.
By improving behaviour, we can then free teachers to raise standards. We will reform our national curriculum so that it is a benchmark we can use to measure ourselves against the world’s best school systems instead of a straitjacket that stifles the creativity of our best teachers. We will slim down a curriculum that has become overloaded, over-prescriptive and over-bureaucratic by stripping out unnecessary clutter and simply specifying the core knowledge in strategic subjects that every child should know at each key stage. That will give great teachers more freedom to innovate and to inspire. We will support their drive to raise standards for all by reforming our exams. We will reform assessment in primary schools to reduce teaching to the test and we will make GCSEs more rigorous by stripping out modules. We will make GCSE performance tables more aspirational by judging schools on how well all students do not just in English and maths but in science, modern languages and the humanities, such as history and geography.
We will also reverse the previous Government’s decision to downgrade the teaching of proper English by restoring the recognition of spelling, punctuation and grammar in GCSEs. Because we know that it is great teaching and great teachers who improve schools, we will reduce the bureaucracy that holds them back and put teachers at the heart of school improvement.
We will double the number of national leaders of education—outstanding head teachers with a mission to turn round underperforming schools. We will raise the minimum standards expected of all schools, so primaries and secondaries that fail to get students to an acceptable level and fail to have students making decent progress will be eligible for intervention. We will make £110 million available to create a new endowment fund to turn these schools round, and we will introduce a reward scheme to make additional incentive payments available for great heads who turn round underperforming schools.
In our drive to improve all schools, local authorities will be our indispensable partners. They will play a new role as parents champion, making admissions fairer, so parents choose schools rather than schools choosing parents. They will act as a strong voice for the vulnerable by ensuring that excluded children and those with special needs are properly supported, and they will be energetic champions of educational excellence.
As more and more schools become increasingly autonomous, local authorities will increasingly step back from management and, instead, provide focused leadership. They will challenge underperformance, blow the whistle on weak schools and commission new provision—whether it be from other high-performing schools, academy sponsors or free school promoters.
The need for thoroughgoing reform is urgent. Our competitors are all accelerating the pace of their education reforms. From America to Singapore, New Zealand to Hong Kong, schools are being granted greater freedom, great teachers are being given more responsibilities, and exams are being made more rigorous. We cannot afford to be left behind.
In the last three years of the previous Government, reform went into reverse. Schools lost freedoms, the curriculum lost rigour and Labour lost its way. Now, under this coalition Government, we are once more travelling in the same direction as the most ambitious and progressive nations. Schools spending is rising, with more money for the poorest through the pupil premium; education reform is accelerating, with one new academy created every working day; and standards are being driven up, with teachers now supported to excel as never before.
The programme we outline today affirms the importance of teaching at the heart of our mission to make opportunity more equal. There is no profession more noble, no calling more vital and no vocation more admirable than teaching. This White Paper gives us the opportunity to become the world’s leading education nation, and I commend it to the House.
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and for his courtesy in allowing me advance sight of the White Paper? It is just a shame that that happened 10 days after the Financial Times and the rest of the nation’s media were given such advance sight, and that Parliament was the last to know. We were promised new politics, and it is time the Government lived up to their words.
I apply two clear tests to any education policy. First, will it help every school to be a good school? Secondly, will it help every child to be the best that they can be? While we welcome elements of this White Paper, I believe that it fails those fundamental tests. It is a plan for some children, not all children. The right hon. Gentleman will need to work hard to explain how his plan will not create a new generation of failing schools.
Let me say where I think the Secretary of State is moving in the right direction. We welcome the retention of a floor target for secondary schools and his apparent change of heart on the role of targets in raising standards—building on Labour’s successful national challenge programme. We welcome the expansion of Teach First, which we championed in government. Labour’s legacy, according to Ofsted, was
“the best generation of teachers ever”.
We share his aim to have the best in the world. We also support anonymity for teachers who face accusations from pupils and some of his moves on discipline.
However, the Secretary of State’s overall drive is towards a two-tier education system. I support his focus on maths, English and science, where take-up doubled since 2004, but by making the entire focus five academic subjects, is he encouraging schools to focus only on those children who have a chance of achieving that particular batch of GCSEs? Is not there a huge danger that he is cementing the divide between academic and vocational qualifications, which educational professionals have worked so hard to remove?
The risks of the Secretary of State’s English baccalaureate becoming the gold standard by which schools are judged have been highlighted by the Institute for Public Policy Research, which states:
“Schools will have an incentive to focus extra resources on children likely to do well in those subjects, rather than on children receiving free school meals.”
Is not there a real risk that his pupil premium will not be spent on the children for whom it is intended? At a time when we all need to focus more on the 50% of young people who do not plan to go to university, is it not the case that he has very little to say to them today? His message is that a vocational route is second best, and that is unacceptable.
Is there not a real danger that the combined effects of the Secretary of State’s announcements today will be to create a new generation of failing schools? Is it not the case that some improving schools will see themselves plummet down the league tables, damaging morale and risking throwing progress into reverse? Many of those are the same schools that suffered from his decisions on Building Schools for the Future. What hope can he give them today of extra support to raise standards for all their children, both academic and vocational?
The Secretary of State wants to make it easier for schools to exclude children, but who will have the responsibility of helping schools to pick up the pieces? Why is he ending the independent appeals panel for exclusions, which ensures fairness across a local education community? He has rightly placed a strong emphasis on teacher training, but is he not at risk of ignoring the advice of his experts? Ofsted said yesterday:
“There was more outstanding initial teacher education delivered by higher education-led partnerships than by school-centred initial teacher training partnerships and employment-based routes.”
Why, we might ask, is the right hon. Gentleman planning to end university-led teacher training for a schools-based model? Can he assure the House that that will not undermine the quality of teacher training and that it is not a move simply motivated by cutting costs? But is there not a much bigger contradiction? Today he lays down prescriptive standards for teaching training, but his message just days ago to free schools and academies was that they were free to employ unqualified teachers. Is he not mixing his messages and trying to have it both ways?
All this exposes a major flaw in the right hon. Gentleman’s thinking, which is repeated throughout the White Paper. Today he talks a good game on standards; on any other day he says to schools that they will have the freedom not to follow them. Which is it? He sounds confused. That is because his real focus is on potentially damaging structural reforms and he is prioritising competition above collaboration in the schools system. His talk on standards is undermined by his ideological obsession with structures. In his rush to reform, he is making mistakes that will damage our education system. He seems not to have learned from the mayhem that he caused with Building Schools for the Future. At the most crucial moment for sport in this country’s history, on the eve of a home Olympics, why is he abandoning a school sport system that the Australians have called “world-leading”? Does that not embody his approach to education: competitive sport for the elite and forget about the rest?
The right hon. Gentleman briefs newspapers that he will abandon the local authority role in school funding, but then tells the BBC the opposite. Did he rediscover localism last week, or did he cave in following a furious backlash from his friends in local government? Can he tell us today what role he envisages for local government over the long term? Will it have any powers of intervention in respect of free schools and academies? Is not his biggest mistake of all that he tells schools that their budgets are protected—thereby raising expectations—by continuing to mis-sell his pupil premium policy? It is a con: it is not additional, as the Prime Minister said today. Is it not the case that when schools receive their budgets in a couple of weeks, many in the most deprived areas will be the biggest losers and will simply not have the means to deliver on his fancy rhetoric today?
In conclusion, the right hon. Gentleman brings a lethal mix of incompetence and ideology to this crucial brief. Just because he believes in the teaching of history, it does not mean that he has to live in the past. He is in danger of bringing forward a plan for a fragmented and divided education system of winners and losers. He is in danger of creating a lost generation as a result of his elitist education system. He sits in his ivory tower, with nothing to say to young people who do not plan to go to university or whose hope is being cut by his Government—vocational studies downgraded; apprenticeships for young people frozen; the education maintenance allowance scrapped. He has a plan for some schools and some children, not for all schools and all children, and that is the fundamental flaw of his White Paper.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for that performance. Obviously at St Aelred’s in Lancashire, where he was educated, drama was very well taught.
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman on those areas where he agrees? I thank him for his support for ensuring a consensus in the House on the importance of floor standards. It is important that we also recognise that, as well as having clear levels of attainment, we will be judging schools on how well all children progress. The one change that we will be making to the way in which the national challenge operated under the previous Government is that schools in challenging circumstances, with pupils from difficult backgrounds, will be given additional understanding and support, and will be judged on how they make progress. That is a clear difference from the record under the previous Government, when one rule was applied inflexibly. We are applying it more sensitively.
May I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the expansion of Teach First and for the statesmanlike way in which he approached the issue of discipline and granting teachers anonymity? I look forward to working with him and his Front-Bench colleagues on bringing forward an education Bill that makes good on those promises.
However, may I express my surprise that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that children who are eligible for free school meals are unlikely to do well in science, language or history GCSEs? He specifically said that schools that concentrate on raising attainment in those subjects will not be spending money on children from poorer homes. Has that not been precisely the problem in our education system for three generations? Is not the automatic assumption that because someone is poor they cannot aspire, precisely the problem that we need reform to overcome? Is not the soft bigotry of low expectations alive and well, and beating in his heart? Is it not the case that when it comes to improving vocational education, it is this Government who are taking action?
The right hon. Gentleman asked us what we were doing, but he had three hours to read the White Paper. I thought he would have noticed that we are increasing the number of technical schools and university technical colleges; I thought he would have noticed that we are increasing the number of studio schools, which deal specifically with vocational education; I thought he would have noticed that we have commissioned Professor Alison Wolf, the world leader on the future of vocational qualifications, to overhaul the ramshackle system that we inherited; I thought he would have noticed that thanks to the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning we are increasing the number of apprenticeships by 75,000. Vocational education is undergoing a renaissance under this Government, and it is typically grudging of the Labour party not to recognise that.
The right hon. Gentleman asks what we are doing for children who are excluded. Again, I thought he would have seen in the White Paper not only that we are trialling a new proposal whereby schools take responsibility for the children they exclude but that he would have noticed in the White Paper that we are deliberately commissioning extra, additional provision for excluded children from a wider range of organisations, and we are giving pupil referral units the chance to become academies, the chance to acquire appropriate heads, and the chance to turn round the lives of desperate children who need additional help. We have heard not a single word from him about what we can do to help those children, and not a single word of praise for the dedicated people who do so much to help them.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me about competition rather than collaboration. Everywhere in the White Paper collaboration is incentivised, with more money for great head teachers who want to work with underperforming schools, more opportunities for federations, trusts and academies to help underperforming schools, and a culture of collaboration entrenched at its heart. But there is one area where I believe in more competition—I make no apology for it. I believe in more competition in team sports. It is wrong that after expenditure of more than £2 billion, only one child in five took part in regular competitive team sports under Labour. That melancholy trend will be reversed, thanks to the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman said that our policy is for some schools, not all. I know that he, by his own estimation, went to an ordinary comprehensive in Lancashire.
I prefer the old counties. The good news about that comprehensive in Merseyside is that St Aelred’s, where the right hon. Gentleman received such a great education, has this week applied to the Department for Education to embrace academy status. It is joining more than 340 schools that recognise the importance of academy freedoms. The people who taught him so well are now embracing coalition policies. Is it not about time he did as well?
In the light of the performance thus far from both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, I must remind the House that this is not a debate; it is a statement in which the Government set out their policy, and hon. Members question the Minister on that policy. That is the situation, and we must get back to it.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that there will be further cuts in bureaucracy for schools,. The Government have already started that, and it has been welcomed by head teachers. When it comes to exclusion, he talked about trialling ways of ensuring that schools retain responsibility for excluded pupils, which I also welcome. Will there be further recognition for schools that take in excluded pupils from other places to ensure that when they are assessed and the league tables are published, they receive recognition of their extra work?
My hon. Friend is a passionate supporter of better care for children who have been excluded, and our proposal today will mean that any school that excludes a child will carry on with responsibility for funding its provision and for the attainment of that child. Head teachers will now have a direct stake in ensuring that every child who arrives at their schools is well treated throughout their school career. Schools that take excluded children also need recognition, and I will explore with my hon. Friend how to ensure that they receive the support and recognition that they deserve.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it profits no one to pretend that there is a great divide between political parties when he makes a statement such as this? I congratulate him on taking on board many of the former Select Committee’s recommendations on teaching, standards and much else, but does he not share with previous Labour Front Benchers some guilt that we never addressed the problems that Tomlinson highlighted? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he has not addressed them, and that we funked them?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s typically statesmanlike words. I agree that there is significant consensus across the parties on the way forward. When he was chairman of the Select Committee he did a great job of pioneering ideas. It is right to look at Mike Tomlinson’s arguments and to ensure that all children have a properly broad education. Our English baccalaureate will ensure that all children, whatever their background, have access to the best that has been thought and written academically, but we will also ensure that vocational qualifications that blend with the academic are of the highest quality. That is why we commissioned Alison Wolf, and why the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has done so much with the launch of his skills strategy last week to raise the prestige and esteem of vocational learning.
I believe that there can be consensus in the House, but it must be based on an acceptance that the present position is not good enough, that we must have higher aspirations for this country, that we must recognise that we have fallen behind our international competitors, and that we have seen the gap between rich and poor widen unacceptably.
On international comparison, will my right hon. Friend explain how the Select Committee will be able to map and track that? Will there be a role for Ofsted—on which we are doing an inquiry—in providing information and checking the Government’s progress?
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee. There is a role for the Select Committee and there is a role for Ofsted. The White Paper specifically states that we want Ofqual, the exams regulator, to benchmark our exams against the world’s best. The more data we have, the better. The White Paper also says that we will ensure that a sufficient number of schools take part in the international comparisons run by the OECD, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and other organisations. I am open to all ways of ensuring that we rigorously benchmark the performance of our schools and indeed our Schools Ministers.
May I welcome those aspects of the White Paper that were directly cribbed from initiatives brought in from 1997? How does the Secretary of State justify the contradiction of being against targets but toughening them and introducing new ones, less prescription but more prescription, less central direction but more top-down diktats, and more freedom for some schools but direction and restriction for others? What form of geometry did he learn to square such circles?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman not just for his question, but for his achievements as Secretary of State for Education. I have said it before, and I will repeat that he was an outstanding Education Secretary. One reason why he was so good was that he recognised that there is a time for central Government to play a role, and a time for them to let go. When he was Education Secretary, it was vital to tighten things up, particularly at the bottom, but, over time, he recognised that as the education system improved, we needed to let go more and more. We are saying that there should be a relentless focus on underperformance. We need tough standards for schools that are failing, but for those that can help there is, as Joel Klein said, a chance to liberate greatness rather than mandate it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The example of teaching schools can reinforce the already high standards in many new entrants to the profession. We know that the best teachers are those who are intellectually capable, and those who learn from others. The best way to improve as a teacher is to observe great teachers and to be observed by great teachers. That is why we are moving towards a system of teaching schools, which replicates the virtues of teaching hospitals.
The Secretary of State has said today, as he has many times, that social mobility went backwards under Labour. Will he clarify whether that comment is based on the latest evidence from the London School of Economics in 2005, which found that social mobility was lower among those born in 1970 compared with 1958? If that is so, will he explain how he blames Labour for the decline in social mobility among people who were 27 when the previous Government were elected?
That was a beautifully read question. We can see why the hon. Lady was such an effective special adviser to the former Deputy Prime Minister. I referred in my statement to one of the most telling statistics of all: the fact that, among our very poorest children—those who were eligible for free school meals—who had their entire education under Labour, fewer are now going to Oxford or Cambridge, where I believe the hon. Lady was fortunate enough to be educated. Those children are, I am afraid, the unhappy victims of a Labour education programme which, despite the efforts of Members such as the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), did not do enough to extend opportunity to the very poorest. When only 40 of our poorest children make it to Oxbridge—fewer than from Westminster, Eton or Winchester—no one can say that social mobility is right in this country.
It is always a pleasure and a privilege for me to listen to the Secretary of State, but I am afraid we cannot have an essay in answer to every question. There simply is not time. I enjoy the content of his answers and his mellifluous tones, but there is not time. Shorter, please.
I welcome the emphasis that the Secretary of State has placed on science in schools. Does he agree that we need to do much more to inform pupils who are about to select their GCSE subjects of the value that science can add to their career? Does he also agree that we need to do more to inspire them about the sciences? I would like to commend to him the work of the Camborne science and community college, in partnerships with schools in Japan and Singapore. Perhaps he would like to come and see some of that work.
Does the Secretary of State agree that any reform should be evidence based, and that anything else is pure ideology? In the light of the chief inspector of schools’ report published yesterday, which showed clearly that university-led initial teacher training was twice as likely to be good or outstanding as schools-led initial teacher training, will he now look at that matter again?
The hon. Lady has been an impressive lead Member for children’s services and education in the past, and she speaks with authority. We are publishing an evidence paper to go alongside the White Paper—the first time that has happened—which will contain the evidence base for everything that we are doing. The expansion of teaching schools is based on research by the National Federation for Educational Research, which showed that they are outstanding in the work that they do.
I welcome many of the freedoms that are now being given to schools, but will the Secretary of State clarify one point for me? If a group of parents requested that a Sport for All programme should be continued, would the head teacher have the funds in his budget to continue such a programme?
I absolutely believe so, as a result of the real-terms increase in spending on education. Critically, by removing ring fences and giving heads more control over how they spend their money, the priorities that are dear to all of us, including sports, can be pursued.
In his statement, the Secretary of State mentioned the changing role of the local education authority. Can he explain how he would deal with reluctant LEAs such as Liberal Democrat-controlled Stockport council, which is holding schools such as Reddish Vale technology college back from grasping his new agenda?
I am very interested that Reddish Vale is keen to become an academy and to embrace the future, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. There is a huge variety of views across local government about the future of education, but I am encouraged that some of the most progressive and imaginative figures in local government are Liberal Democrat councillors. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to Gerald Vernon-Jackson in Portsmouth and to David Bellotti in Bath and North East Somerset, among many others. I will visit Stockport and have a word with the Liberal Democrat councillors there, and I am sure that I will leave better informed and happier about the world.
There has been a teacher training institution in Bedford since 1882, and my right hon. Friend will be aware of the great work that the university of Bedfordshire does on teacher training for small schools in the eastern region, and on supporting further and continuing education for teachers. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that his proposals will reinforce, and not undermine, the excellent work being done by such institutions?
Absolutely. We are going to say to all higher education institutions that are currently involved in the provision of initial teacher training that we want them to open lab schools, in the same way that such schools have been developed in Finland and the United States. Those schools are run by education departments and they act as showcases for the best in teacher training, and I believe that education departments here can grasp this opportunity. We are working with the Training and Development Agency to ensure that they have the resources to do so.
The Minister said in his statement that he wanted to bring back an emphasis on punctuation. However, his 10-page statement contains no more than 16 full stops. In the middle of the statement, we have to read nearly 300 words before we find a full stop, and at the end, there are more than 300 words before we find a full stop. How would the statement be marked under his system?
I welcome the White Paper, but my right hon. Friend will be aware that the educational attainment of looked-after children remains woefully low. Will he meet me and other colleagues who have a particular passion for this subject, to discuss how, as we take the White Paper forward, we can come up with better support and better measures of the progression of looked-after children through education, to ensure that their outcomes in education, and in life in general, are vastly improved?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. It is vital that we ensure that the pupil premium follows looked-after children as well. We all need to recognise that care leavers need not only support after they leave school but focused interventions while they are at school. We will be doing everything possible in that regard, and I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this.
The short answer is no. I am under the impression that Newham is an outer London borough and it will definitely benefit from the additional resources of the pupil premium. If it is in inner London, it will definitely benefit as well. The pupil premium will go—[Interruption.] Everyone will benefit, because there is more money overall.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that he will prioritise action to tackle homophobic bullying, which terrorises many vulnerable young gay men and women. Will he set out his plans for this in a little more detail?
I am delighted to do so. Homophobic bullying is on the rise in our schools, and homophobic terms are increasingly used towards gay students and straight students in a way that seeks to undermine the tolerance that we have built up over the past 15 years. We therefore need to work with organisations such as Stonewall and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, and to shine the light on schools such as St George’s Church of England school, which has done a fantastic job in tackling homophobic bullying. This requires work not only by school leaders but by political leaders and all of society to tackle a growing prejudice that is scarring our tolerant society.
Before the Secretary of State takes us on a headlong rush back to the 1950s, will he bear in mind that good teaching requires not only practical experience but an academic knowledge of how children learn? Can he tell us how much funding will be available to his new teacher training schools to ensure that students get that academic training? Will the money go directly to the schools, or will it be placed in the universities?
More money will be available for teaching schools, and money will also be available for higher education institutions. I agree that it is important to recognise that teaching combines both IQ and EQ—emotional intelligence. Teachers need to have a grasp of their subject, but they also need to like children. Increasingly, I have found that it is through applying themselves to the craft of teaching in the presence of great teachers that they truly soar and inspire.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on dealing with the overloaded, over-prescriptive and over-bureaucratic method of teaching that the previous Government allowed to be established? What is he doing to get rid of further red tape, as well as getting rid of the 4,000 pages of direction that the previous Government gave to all our teachers?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are removing bureaucracy at every point. Not only are we slimming down the national curriculum, but we have got rid of the self-evaluation form, which could run to more than 100 pages. We have also got rid of financial management standards in schools, which was another burden that head teachers said that they did not want. We are doing this because we believe in trusting heads to do their best for the children whom it is their mission to educate.
I fear that the Secretary of State knows as much about schools as he does about punctuation. Will he look again at the evidence that was given to the Select Committee about the 24-hour notice provision? Great teachers and great head teachers have given evidence, and they have consistently said that the removal of that provision would have a negative effect and risk safeguarding issues. No sensible head teacher would go down that route anyway.
A great many sensible teachers and head teachers have applauded precisely that move. There is a philosophical difference between the hon. Gentleman’s approach and my approach. When I say that we are no longer going to require something, that does not mean that we are saying to everyone, “Under no circumstances do it.” We believe in something called freedom, which means that it is up to individual teachers or head teachers to decide for themselves. It is called “treating people like adults.”
I welcome the Secretary of State’s emphasis on raising standards. In Leicestershire, however, we have a particular issue because we are one of the last counties to retain the middle school system. Local head teachers are telling me that this is holding back standards, particularly in GCSE results. Will the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers meet me to discuss how best to move away from that system so that we drive up standards in Leicestershire, too?
I believe in diversity and pluralism—different strokes for different folks. Middle schools do very well in some parts of the country. I know that the lead member for education in Leicestershire, Ivan Oulds, is one of the most impressive councillors in the country, and I look forward to talking to him, my hon. Friend and other colleagues to see what can be done to ensure that everyone is better off.
May I urge Ministers to focus on the question of resits, which often work to the disadvantage of lower socio-economic groups and are at the root of grade inflation? I am also concerned about the thinking on modules. Modules at A-level work very well indeed, so I would be hesitant about rolling those back. Finally, I join my hon. Friends on the question of the importance of grammar and spelling. On that note, I must point to a grievous error on page 7, line 7 of the statement we were provided. The Secretary of State, of all people, should know how to spell “bureaucracy”!
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point about bureaucracy. Whenever I see that word, a red mist descends over my eyes, so occasionally the finger slips on the keyboard. I also thank him for his points about GCSEs and A-levels. We are stripping away modules from GCSEs. With A-levels, although I favour in many cases a linear approach that encourages synoptic understanding of the subject, it remains for universities, learned bodies and schools to decide the best way forward. For some subjects, it is appropriate to have a modular approach at A-level.
May I welcome the White Paper, particularly the drive towards making schools independent entities? There has been a stampede towards academy status in my constituency, but will my right hon. Friend ensure a smooth transition to academy status in all areas of the country? I know that the shadow Secretary of State will be anxious to see his old school, St Aelred’s, become an academy. [Interruption.]
I am delighted that St Aelred’s, as an outstanding school, is going to become an academy. I look forward to visiting the school with the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), so that we can celebrate the superb education he received, along with the coalition’s extension of more autonomy to more great schools.
The Secretary of State has spoken a great deal about the poorest, but he appears not to understand that no matter how much money is in the schools budget, it is the money in the family budget that matters so much. What would he tell the parents of the thousands of young people in my constituency about their prospects when the £30-a-week education maintenance allowance is cut by his budget?
I am a great fan of the right hon. Lady, and I know how passionately she fights for her constituents in Lewisham. I also know that she is deeply concerned about differential attainment from poorer children. One thing we are doing with the education maintenance allowance is ensuring that it is effectively targeted on the very poorest. That is the thrust behind our whole review of education spending in order to make sure that more money—£2.5 billion—is spent through the pupil premium on the poorest, while also ensuring that an additional £150 million is spent on children from poor homes as they make a transition from school to university. We are also providing more money for pre-school learning for impoverished two-year-olds.
From my experience of working with adults with learning disabilities, I know that it is quite common to encounter people who can read, but who do not always have the right level of comprehension. I note that the White Paper refers to a reading check at the age of six. I would like to know a little more about that and to be assured that this means a test of comprehension as well as a reading test.
The test designed for six-year-olds is there simply as a screening test to make sure that people are decoding fluently. Once children are decoding fluently, it is vital that they are well taught in order to encourage comprehension. Subsequent assessment throughout the primary school years can ensure just that.
The Secretary of State makes a great deal of freeing good head teachers to make decisions. If such a head teacher were to say, under the new freedoms, that smaller class sizes and funding to match it were necessary—this is what everyone applying to open a free school in my area is saying—will they get the same sort of sympathetic hearing as those free school applicants?
We have waited 13 long years for a Minister to bring in reforms that will truly drive up standards of education and behaviour. Now, some Members are saying that we are acting too hastily. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will bring in these measures as quickly as possible, the better to encourage the devolved regions such as Wales and Scotland to follow?
I would like to ask a question on behalf of the many intelligent, highly motivated and well-informed youngsters—and their parents—who have a problem with dyslexia. They already face great challenges when it comes to learning a modern language. Their concern might be that the school would hold their difficulties against them because, many dyslexic children might cause the school to fall in the standards league. My main question is this: in his statement, the right hon. Gentleman said that he was going to restore the recognition of spelling in GCSE examinations. Will that not be a barrier for those dyslexic kids no matter how hard they try to pass the requisite number of GCSEs?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who makes a number of important points. Identifying dyslexia at the earliest possible stage is one of the reasons why we are introducing an appropriate check at the age of six. There are many other ways of identifying children who have special needs and require support. A number of interventions are in place to ensure that, at assessment time, children with dyslexia or specific learning difficulties can be supported through it. I absolutely agree that we can never stop trying to ensure that children who are living with dyslexia or other learning difficulties are better supported.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who I know takes a keen interest in the educational attainment of poorer children. In addition to implementing the pupil premium, we are going to focus relentlessly on schools where attainment is low and progress is poor. I know that some schools will often take in children who have been poorly educated at primary level, but still make fantastic progress with them. I do not want those schools to be stigmatised and I do not want schools to be seen as failing, but where they are underperforming, we need to hold them to clear standards and provide additional financial support to help them achieve them. I am perfectly happy to say that this builds on an initiative that the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and Lord Adonis helped to introduce. I take no pride in authorship: this was a good idea, and I am delighted to extend it.
May I tell the Secretary of State that the decision of St Aelred’s school in my constituency to go for academy status was made under the last Labour Government, not his Government? He has some responsibility, however, for blocking many of the rebuilding projects that were intended to take place. Will he take credit for that and offer to provide the much-needed resources? If we are to have a world-class education system, we need the schools to go with it.
I look forward to visiting the hon. Gentleman’s constituency to congratulate St Aelred’s on moving towards academy status. Of course, it was our Government and our legislation that allowed the school to make that transition to academy status with the speed, grace and support that the superb officials in the Department for Education accord to all schools that want to enjoy greater autonomy.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that schools fail children if they do not teach them an acceptable level of spelling and grammar? Does he further accept that it is the job of all teachers to ensure that that is the case and to correct work, where necessary?
I could not agree more. Earlier today, it was a pleasure to visit the Durand primary school in the constituency of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), which does precisely that. The school also does a superb job of training new teachers to become outstanding leaders.
Will the Secretary of State explain his comment, where he says he will
“make GCSE performance tables more aspirational by judging schools on how well all students do—not just in English and maths but also science, modern languages and the humanities, like history and geography”?
Will he explain what that means in plain English?
Yes, it means that instead of the performance tables that were used under the Labour Government, in which only English and maths and then any mixture of GCSEs were taken into account, we will, in future, have English, maths—[Interruption.] How many questions does the hon. Gentleman want to ask?
I think I made my view clear in my response to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), but I am happy to have an opportunity to repeat it. I believe that it is wrong to assume that children from poorer backgrounds cannot pass GCSEs in modern foreign languages, science, history and geography. One of our problems in this country is that only 16% of young people achieve those five academic GCSEs, and only 4% of children eligible for free school meals do so. That is a scandal. The hon. Gentleman should be on our side: he should be trying to get the children in his constituency to learn, and to obtain the qualifications that will give them jobs in the future.