Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could you help me on a way of proceeding? The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) uttered a calumny against a school in London, which he must have known to be untrue--that it did not recognise unions, when it does recognise unions. What redress do I have to put that right?
Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman must make use of the Order Paper by means of an early-day motion, or he can place a parliamentary question seeking to correct what he thinks has been a misleading statement.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Would you advise the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) that my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) said no such thing?
Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Until this juncture, I had said nothing in the Chamber today, and it might be helpful if the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) began to recognise who is who before he starts talking about hon. Members.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I compliment you, as ever, on your sensitive chairing, but may I ask a question in terms of order? If the Prime Minister starts bawling at me in the middle of Prime Minister's Question Time, do I not deserve a right of reply as well?
Madam Speaker: Yes. I do not have to have eyes at the back of my head to watch what the hon. Gentleman is doing. I thought that it was rather unfair on the Prime Minister, and the hon. Gentleman got what he deserved from him.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Would you support me in recommending the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) to stick to the classics because his geography is rather weak?
Column 142the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) raised a lengthy point of order about my activities in the House. He had made no attempt to inform me of what he intended to do. Had he done so, I should certainly have been in my place to hear what he said and I should have used that opportunity, with your agreement, to follow up his comments. The main thrust of his point of order was that I had somehow interfered with the Proceeds of Crime Bill, to which many hon. Members wished to speak. He implied that I had filibustered to prevent them from doing so. In fact, the debate lasted one hour 28 minutes and I was the final hon. Member to speak before the hon. Member promoting the Bill wound up the debate. I spoke for five minutes and there was ample opportunity for any hon. Member who had given his name to the Speaker to participate in the debate.
Madam Speaker: I made my views clear on that matter yesterday. I want to hear no more about it. I have given many rulings, all of them the same, to the effect that hon. Members should be informed. If any hon. Member does not understand that, he should come to my office. We have now run off pages of Hansard and collected them in a loose-leaf file that can be given to hon. Members so that they will know in future how to behave in the House.
Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is today giving evidence to the Nolan committee about publication of new guidelines for quangos. As quangos now account for £15 billion of public expenditure, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has asked for time to make a statement to the House on that important issue.
Mr. Miller: It is a matter of urgency and I should be grateful if I could raise this point of order now. I received a fax this morning informing me that a Nigerian-owned vessel that had been moored in Ellesmere Port for more than a year is the subject of court action, the result of which is that 50 Nigerian seamen will be forced to leave the vessel on Thursday. They are very anxious because they have no means of getting home and do not know how they will be treated in this country. In view of the urgency of the matter, I wonder whether the Home Secretary could find time to gather some information and put it before the House.
Madam Speaker: That is not a point of order. Perhaps I can advise the hon. Gentleman, and any other hon. Member who might seek to raise a similar point of order, that the way to proceed is immediately to ask for an interview with the Home Secretary or one of his Ministers and in that way make representations to the Home Office. Such matters should not be raised across the Floor of the House, where they cannot be responded to by the Minister in question.
Mrs. Alice Mahon, supported by Mrs. Ann Clwyd, Ms Dawn Primarolo, Ms Jean Corston, Mr. Tony Banks, Ms Diane Abbott, Ms Liz Lynne, Ms Mildred Gordon, Mrs. Helen Jackson, Ms Harriet Harman, Ms Clare Short and Mr. Ken Livingstone, presented a Bill to regulate the diet industry; to bring all medicines relating to diets under control; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 31 March, and to be printed. [Bill 45.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that those who are in receipt of an award of compensation in respect of any accident, injury or disease as a consequence of their employment or occupation shall be entitled to benefit from such an award in its entirety; that any negligent employer or other compensator shall be obliged to meet the cost of any social security or other statutory benefit paid to any worker, employee or dependant of any worker or employee as a consequence of any accident, injury or disease resulting from the employment or occupation for which an award of compensation is subsequently made; to make legal aid available in all personal injury litigation in such circumstances, and for connected purposes. As someone who has been a member of a trade union for nearly 30 years and who is sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union, I am proud to introduce this Bill. One of the reasons why I joined a trade union almost 30 years ago was that I realised, along with everyone else, that none of us could be confident that we would not suffer some illness or injury as a consequence of our occupation. Every year, some 150,000 workers suffer injury or illness as a result of their occupation. Thank goodness many workers still receive the support, counsel and advice of trade unions, which will have achieved more than £300 million worth of compensation on behalf of injured workers this year.
Many workers, of course, do not belong to trade unions. As a consequence, they are especially disadvantaged. None the less, all workers, whether members of trade unions or not, find it enormously and increasingly difficult to obtain remedies for illness or injury sustained at work. One reason for that is the lack of access to legal aid to match the resources available to the employers or the insurance companies. My Bill would ensure the availability of legal aid to workers who are injured or ill so that they could challenge the vested interests of insurance companies, which do everything that they can to resist the just claims of sick and injured workers. My Bill also takes on board the concept of the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), which has been signed by more than 205 members of all Opposition parties and which draws attention to the unfairness of the clawback provisions of section 22 of the Social Security Act 1989. The compensatory recovery unit currently claws back large sums of benefit from people's compensatory awards. It is demonstrably unfair, it makes nonsense of the concept of compensation and it is wholly wrong. Increasingly, hon. Members are finding that constituents are making representations to them about that unfairness, which will soon be comparable with the scale of representations that we all received about the absurd activities of the Child Support Agency. My Bill would amend section 22 of the 1989 Act and make it fairer to the taxpayer and the disadvantaged worker.
At present, the system works in favour of the selfish insurance company and the rogue employer, which are already doing everything possible to stall and frustrate fair and reasonable compensatory settlements for workers. They know that, if they stall, the likelihood of a person receiving just compensation after paying the Department of Social Security is minimal. The
Column 145system further persuades sick, disadvantaged, very ill and often traumatised people to settle for derisory compensation. Some of the people involved are terminally ill. The system is demonstrably unfair and is not in the interest of the country or taxpayers.
For the sake of sick and disadvantaged workers, many of whom are in great pain and suffering disability, and who need compensation to increase mobility, diminish their discomfort and, in some cases, to provide carers if they are very sick, we must shift the burden of the payment of social security benefits to the compensator--the employer or the employer's insurance company. That would be fair and would establish a level playing field in this unhappy state of affairs. It would mean that the employer or the insurance company would reflect that if they dragged out the proceedings and did not reach a fair and early compensatory settlement with the injured or disadvantaged worker, they could face a larger burden when the case was finally prosecuted through the courts and the worker had the support of legal aid. Not only would employers or insurance companies have to pay proper compensation, but they would repay the taxpayer for social security benefits spent in trying to maintain that sick worker and his or her family.
There would also be some very useful spin-offs from the Bill. If people were paid adequate compensation early, it stands to reason that the national health service and, indeed, the Department of Social Security, would incur less expense.
Secondly, there would be a greater incentive for insurance companies to be much more robust in demanding that employers minimise hazards at work. That might ensure that there was a proper health and safety regime in our factories, offices and laboratories, which there is not at present. There has been
Column 146considerable slippage in that respect, and it is absurd for people to suggest that we have a good record for health and safety in this country.
Mr. Mackinlay: I do not call the 150,000 illnesses and injuries caused each year in places of work a good record. That figure is a disgrace and the House should be ashamed of it. Hon. Members who support the introduction of my Bill are demonstrating their desire to diminish that unacceptable toll of illnesses and injuries suffered by workers.
It is time that the House addressed itself to the great unfairness with which workers who are sick or injured because of their occupation or their place of work are treated. I hope that my Bill will be given a fair wind and that the Government will find time for it to be discussed in Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, Ms Jean Corston, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Bill Etherington, Mr. D.N.
Campbell-Savours, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Alan Meale, Mr. Gordon McMaster, Mr. Andrew Miller, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. John Spellar and Mr. Tony Worthington.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay accordingly presented a Bill to provide that those who are in receipt of an award of compensation in respect of any accident, injury or disease as a consequence of their employment or occupation shall be entitled to benefit from such an award in its entirety; that any negligent employer or other compensator shall be obliged to meet the cost of any social security or other statutory benefit paid to any worker, employee or dependant of any worker or employee as a consequence of any accident, injury or disease resulting from the employment or occupation for which an award of compensation is subsequently made; to make legal aid available in all personal injury litigation in such circumstances, and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Monday 1 May, and to be printed. [Bill 46.]
Madam Speaker: Before we begin, I have to tell the House that I must limit Back-Bench speeches to 10 minutes both in this debate and in the next, on passenger services under railway privatisation. 3.46 pm
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside): I beg to move, That this House believes that the 1995-96 financial settlement for schools will, in the words of the Secretary of State for Education, `cause class sizes to shoot up' and `lead to the loss of thousands of teaching posts', with a consequential detrimental impact on standards and opportunities for young people.
In tabling the motion, it is we in the Labour party, not the Government, who speak for the pupils, parents, governors and teachers who are rightly concerned about what the Government's financial settlement for local government in the coming year will do to our schools and to our children. Those people say, as we say, that that is a cut too far--a cut that will damage education prospects, standards, achievements and opportunities for children in every part of the country.
We are backed not only by those who have traditionally fought for education but by the words of the Secretary of State herself, who clearly admitted the truth in a letter leaked to The Times Educational Supplement , in which she gave her Cabinet colleagues a clear picture of what would happen if the Government's increase in expenditure and their predictions of what local authorities should spend did not even manage to meet the sum necessary to take account of the 110,000 extra pupils who will have to be accommodated in schools in the coming year. That is the equivalent of two primary schools in every area of the country. The 1.2 per cent. increase necessary to match that growth in numbers has not been included in the Government's calculations, never mind the 2.5, 2.6 or 2.7 per cent. increase in teachers' pay that the Government will agree later this week.
It is a scandal that while the Secretary of State for Education sits on the sidelines--not sulking, I hope--the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and even, today, the Prime Minister, treat the issue as if they were in the right and governors, parents and teachers should be abused and bemused. Every governor and every teacher in the country knows exactly what the position is.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what he makes of a council that makes provision for an increase in pay for council bosses but none for teachers' pay or for schools--a council that, on the contrary, cuts those budgets? I refer to Kent county council, which has had a 2.1 per cent. increase in Government funding and is controlled by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
education--known as the standard spending assessment--is dealt with in terms of Government grants
Column 148and the capping regime, and that precludes the council from being able to spend the money even if it was able to raise it.
Mr. Blunkett: Kent county council--after 20 years--has now, under an alliance between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, opened the first nursery class in two decades and is about to open another eight. It is strange that the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) should raise only the issue of financing Kent. The Government are not prepared to provide the necessary spending for the pay increase for teachers, and they are not even prepared to begin to suggest where the money will come from to pay for the much- vaunted promise of the Prime Minister at the Tory party conference that four-year-olds would receive nursery education.
The truth is known by every governing body and parent in the country. The delegation now permitted to governing bodies is used effectively by authorities up and down the country--the average delegation to governing bodies is between 85 per cent. and 90 per cent.--which is why governors and parents are up in arms. It is because it is no longer a battle between the local education authorities and the Government, but a battle between parents and governing bodies and the Government. That is why those involved with schools--often from leafy suburbs--are now suggesting that their task should not be to cut the number of teachers, increase class sizes or reduce the availability of books. Their task should be to fight for standards and opportunities in education.
In Kent, 50 per cent. of secondary pupils and a significant number of primary school pupils are now educated at grant-maintained schools. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that there should be a reduction in education bureaucracy to match the number who are taught outside the LEA?
Mr. Blunkett: The Secretary of State pointed out to her Treasury colleagues in the leaked letter just before Christmas that the cuts that we are talking about this afternoon would apply equally to grant-maintained schools as to LEA schools-- [Interruption.] That is in the letter, and it is in brackets to emphasise it. The reason the Secretary of State wished to emphasise that point was to ensure that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was aware that the favoured schools would not escape the cut, and would be affected by an increase in class sizes and reductions in teacher numbers. Kent's SSA--as we are dealing with Kent--is £55 down per pupil for every primary school and £203 down per pupil for every secondary school. That makes a total of £8.7 million, a figure which the hon. Member for Gravesham shouted was not true. It would appear that the hon. Member for Gravesham has something in common with the Chancellor of the Exchequer--they are both, to use politically correct language, mathematically challenged. Both are under misapprehensions about grant, SSA and the capping regime.
Several hon. Members rose --
Column 149reason for cuts if only local authorities were prepared to delegate more of their budgets. Labour-controlled Dudley council delegates the most of its budget to schools, while Tory-controlled Wandsworth delegates least. Dudley delegates 93 per cent. while Wandsworth delegates 82 per cent.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer's answer a fortnight ago--not this lunchtime--to the suggestion that the money allocated would not match the teachers' pay increase was that local authorities should consider selling off and leasing back their buildings, just as he was doing with the Treasury. If that is intelligent financial management, I am a Dutchman. And if I were a Dutchman, I would experience much better standards of education than under the present regime in this country.
Moreover, it is time that we challenged the Prime Minister. This afternoon, he said in reply to the leader of the Liberal Democrat party that there was no problem because local authorities could simply remove a million surplus places.
Mr. Blunkett: As usual, an intervention by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) sheds no light on the situation and shows that the didactic education that she received with chalk and talk did nothing to expand her learning and understanding.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: The hon. Gentleman may think that it is funny to have 13 per cent. surplus places in Lancashire, but school governors in my area do not think so because the money spent on those 13 per cent. surplus places should go into the schools. Does he really think that it is necessary to have one bureaucrat at county hall for every 17 teachers in the classroom in my constituency?
Mr. Blunkett: Lancashire faces cuts of £24 million in its budget. Every time a local authority attempts to reduce its surplus places, struggles to persuade its community, involves through consultation parents, governors and teachers, and puts the proposals to the Secretary of State, schools that appear to want to opt out to save themselves from rationalisation have permission to do so from the Secretary of State. Remaining schools must then pay for the unfair distribution of capital and revenue resources that flow from that decision, so children in other schools are further disadvantaged. That has happened throughout the country to the point--
Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way in a moment. I have already given way three times. Unlike some Conservative Members, I can count. A little honesty from Tory Members would be welcome this afternoon. We are addressing a genuine crisis in the way in which excellent schools are facing up to their budgets, and all we get is silly heckling from Tory
Column 150Members who, instead of representing their communities, their parents and the future of their children, attempt to score inaccurate party political points.
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Waterson: Will the hon. Gentleman apply his own nostrum of honesty to the question by telling the House, when he reaches a logical point in his speech, whether a future Labour Government would spend significantly more across the board or adjust the distribution of SSAs? If so, which authorities would gain and which would lose?
Mr. Blunkett: We had it at Prime Minister's Question Time and we have it again now--the Government are now treating the Labour party as the Government and themselves as the Opposition. I have made our position unequivocally clear. If one does away with the bargaining between local education authorities and teachers, excludes governing bodies and schools from the ability to determine what happens with pay and conditions, but then accepts the report of an independent pay review body, one has an obligation to meet the proposed expenditure, unless one is prepared to stand up and say that it is the pupils in schools who must pay the price of that expenditure and the teachers who must face redundancy, instead of the Government.
The Government's dishonesty in suggesting that reductions in standards and opportunities in our schools should now take place, when only a few months ago they were boasting that they intended to improve standards and to match the needs of schools, reveals the duplicity of a Government who have run out of steam and who no longer care about what happens to those who are most vulnerable in our society.
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): The hon. Gentleman spoke about schools using their resources properly. As he lives in Sheffield, he will be aware that the neighbouring county of Derbyshire has, in the past 14 years, subsidised school meals to the tune of more than £100 million. This year it plans to subsidise school meals by £4 million. Does he regard that as a good use of education money?
Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has just cryptically said to me that the hon. Member for West Derbyshire does not look short of a meal or two. [Hon. Members: -- "Answer the question."] I will answer, because the shortfall faced by Derbyshire is £17 million.
Column 151We are in favour of nutritional standards and of school meals that children can afford, because we believe that a well-fed and happy child is one who will learn and respond in our classrooms.
Mr. Skinner: We should recall that, for many years, the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) and his Tory friends called upon Labour-controlled Derbyshire county council to put up the price of school meals, which were the cheapest in the country. They said that if the county council just put up the cost of those school meals, it would get more money from the Government for teachers and for kids. The truth is that in the past two or three years the cost of school meals has gone up three times, yet Derbyshire pupils get £272 per head less than those in the leafy suburbs of Surrey. That has not done them any good, has it?
According to yesterday's briefing from the Prime Minister, he said that a compromise, a settlement, a gesture, would be made to find a solution. According to the Chancellor's briefing this lunchtime, no such settlement will be reached. I shall be interested to know whether the Secretary of State for Education has a solution to offer either today or on Thursday, or whether she is simply a pawn, an unwilling one, in a game of Government retrenchment. After all, the Government amendment speaks about a "tough" settlement. That game is obviously more important than investment in our children's future. I regret that the Secretary of State, who means well and does her best, has become tragically enfeebled. The previous Secretary of State was missed by no one. After five years of utter turmoil, with contradiction following contradiction; after the creation of a national curriculum that caused confusion and chaos in every classroom; and after disagreement and insults being exchanged over tests, this Secretary of State came in with a pledge to be different. She said that she would be gentle and sweep the past under the carpet, but the previous Secretary of State at least managed to get a 1.8 per cent. increase in the SSA even though he did not believe in state education. The new Secretary of State, who is committed to state education, obtained a 1.1 per cent. increase in SSA and only a 0.5 per cent. increase in real spending power--
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it correct for the hon. Gentleman to refer to my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State in the way that he has, saying that he does not believe in state education, when he sent his daughter to a state primary school?
Column 152themselves responsible for the remarks that they make, but I think that they ought to be responsible in what they say.
Mr. Blunkett: Let me rephrase that, Madam Speaker. The previous Secretary of State showed his commitment to state education by the way in which he tried to destroy it in everything that he did in every classroom, in the conflict that he created with the teachers and in the way in which he undermined morale and confidence. We knew that we were about to have something different, in a Secretary of State who was sent to bury education.
Fortunately, that will not happen, because we are here this afternoon to praise education, to fight for education and to refuse to allow other people to be blamed for the Government's decisions. It was, after all, the Secretary of State who, in a leaked letter to colleagues, wrote the following to explain how she was trying to dig the Government out of a hole of their own making:
"All of this"--
the effort that she is making--
"will be in immediate jeopardy if we now offer teachers either a provocatively low pay settlement or acceptable pay levels only at the cost of sharp increases in class sizes."
That is precisely the issue that we are debating this afternoon--whether the Government are prepared to match the review body's proposals on Thursday, which are, we understand, within the predicted inflation levels, not above them. The implementation of those proposals will ensure that teachers' morale is restored, and, for instance, the Marches school in Shropshire, whose results improved dramatically in the past few years, will not have to cut three or four teachers from its classrooms.