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Mr. Squire: I intended to deal with revenue budgets in a moment. My hon. Friend has provided us with a useful hors d'oeuvre.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Sir M. Lennox-Boyd) on initiating this debate. He has done a service to his constituents and to everyone living in Lancashire by drawing the attention of the House to his concerns about education in the county. He was eloquently backed by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble(Mr. Atkins), by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre(Mr. Mans) and, by their presence and occasional interjections, by my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) and for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans).My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), has also indicated his support.

If I dare say so, we witnessed a St. Valentine's day massacre of the Opposition.

Mr. Elletson: Has my hon. Friend noticed several prominent absences during the debate, in particular that of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)? Obviously he is absent because he is embarrassed by the record of Lancashire county council. Other prominent absences include Liberal Democrat Members, who consistently claim that they say yes to education, but not one of them has bothered to turn up today. Does not that say a great deal about the Liberal Democrats' real attitude to education in Lancashire?

Mr. Squire: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. By their refusal to join in our discussions on Lancashire, Liberal Democrat Members show the priority that they give to that county.

All my hon. Friends emphasised the importance of raising standards and of making the best use of the considerable resources that the Government have made, and are making, available to schools in Lancashire, as elsewhere, to support that end. Government policy is pushing forward all the time across a wide front, with policies designed to raise achievement and to encourage choice and diversity. I shall touch on just some of those.

To begin with, and as the hon. Member for Hyndburn knows, we are currently discussing in Committee the Nursery and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill, which will tackle excellence and opportunity of choice for the

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pre-fives in a way that will lead to a big expansion in provision and obviously contribute to quality of education for those children, especially later in their school lives.

My hon. Friends sought, understandably, a guarantee that the money made available for education in Lancashire would find its way into schools. I know that all my hon. Friends accept that, in practice, it is for Lancashire county council to set its own budget and to decide its priorities within and between services. The council has the last word on how much is spent on education and how much is spent on other services.

Hon. Members should be aware that I have received many letters saying that, this year, Lancashire has been forced to cut school budgets by more than 5 per cent. That is simply not true. The fact is that Lancashire has been able to increase its budget for all services by some£4 million and can spend £888 million on all services. That is a very large sum and it is for the county council to decide how much of it should be given to schools.

I hope that there will not be a repeat performance of so-called cuts--which are not actual cuts, but are based on a wish list drawn up by a local authority, including full allowance for all movement in cash and volume changes. It is then suggested that cuts on that final figure represent a reduction in support. I hope that that will not be repeated in the current year. As my hon. Friends made crystal clear, the Lancashire LEA had an increase in its spending assessment of more than £26 million, or 5.5 per cent.I have to tell the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) that that is real money. He implied that it was fictional money, but he should have a word with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is very clear that it is real money.

I repeat what my right hon. and hon. Friends have said on other occasions. We are unclear from today's debate whether Lancashire is committed to feeding all the increase into schools, so it must be made crystal clear to all parents and teachers in the authority that if that does not happen, it is the responsibility of the county council and no one else.

The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) referred to concern about class sizes in Lancashire schools. Despite the horror stories that occasionally appear, the latest available data show that average class sizes in Lancashire

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are 28 for primary schools and 22 for secondary schools. If there are class sizes of 35 plus, it is for the county council in the first place, and those managing school budgets in the second, to explain to parents why they are so far above Lancashire's average.

My hon. Friends made several references to the quality of grant-maintained schools. I join them in urging parents in Lancashire to think carefully about the benefits that GM status can bring. As we have heard this morning, Lancashire has a tiny number of GM schools--13, representing only 1 per cent. of its primaries and 8 per cent. of its secondaries. Nationally, one in five secondary pupils is now in a GM school.

A glance at the school performance tables or Ofsted's list of recently published oscars shows just how well GM schools are performing--they comprise 40 per cent. of outstanding secondary schools: 29 per cent. of improving schools, against a national average of 18 per cent; and 6 per cent. of excellent primaries, against only 1 per cent. nationally. Going GM sets schools free to make their own choices and develop their own characters. We see evidence all around us of just how much that can do for a school. It releases the energies and talents of staff, and it is the key to raising the attainment of their pupils.

In Lancashire, only 5 per cent. of schools have even held a ballot on going GM, which is half the rate in the country as a whole. Governors are not offering parents the chance to choose; but parents need not wait for governors. They can ask for a ballot themselves, and I urge them to do so.

In relation to the much-reported activities of Labour councillors and Labour Members of Parliament in Lancashire and elsewhere who have been campaigning ferociously against schools being given the freedom to run themselves, while their colleagues are sending their children to GM schools, I can only say that it is not only a desperate and disgraceful situation--it is hypocritical in the extreme. One does not drive up standards in our poorest schools by abolishing some of our best schools. The Labour party needs to learn that lesson.

This debate has been wide ranging and interesting, and I am grateful to my hon. Friends for raising so many important issues. They have clearly ensured that the Lancashire LEA is charged with the responsibility.

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Air Crash (Coventry)

11 am

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East): I should like to express my thanks to Madam Speaker, on behalf of the residents not only of Coventry but of Warwickshire, for this debate. I thank the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their support in arranging the debate. I also thank my colleagues from Warwickshire and Coventry and from Bedworth, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner).

I particularly thank the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) as over the past couple of years, even before the crash, he and I have tried to introduce legislation in the form of regulations to deal with small airports. I am appreciate all my colleagues' assistance. So far as possible, we have sought to take a bipartisan approach to the air crash as we see no need for it to become a party political issue, although it is certainly a political issue with a small "p".

The crash caused tremendous grief to the residents of the Willenhall area and, indeed, to the citizens of Coventry and of Warwickshire. It was a traumatic experience for them. Anyone who visited the scene of the crash on that day, as I did, could not help but be astounded--it was a miracle--that the aircraft did not land on the houses. I understand from the report that the aircraft clipped the roof of one house and came down about 100 yards away. Had it come down on the houses, it would have been a great catastrophe and no doubt the Government would have rushed legislation through the House to deal with it.

I see the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of Statefor Transport, the hon. Member for Epping Forest(Mr. Norris), on the Government Front Bench. As he knows, there have been a number of meetings. However, my colleagues and I would like to know when the Government will find the time to introduce regulations, based on their own proposals, so that we can debate and amend them and pass them through the House. It is vital that he answers that question today. My colleagues and I cannot keep on going back to residents--I have been to three public meetings--and telling them that it is a matter of finding parliamentary time. The Minister must come clean and tell us whether it is really just a question of parliamentary time or whether the Government do not have the will to regulate on the basis of their own report.

We must discuss the Coventry air crash of December 1994 and the report into that tragedy that was published on 10 January this year. In this debate, I wish to accomplish three main aims. First, as the title of this debate suggests, I intend briefly to discuss the events of 21 December 1994--the crash that left five people dead. That was, in itself, a tragedy. Secondly, I shall highlight the air accident investigation branch's report into the crash, and the implications of that report for future action. Finally, I shall raise the important issue of airport safety--an issue that I have been raising for two years, and the reason for this Adjournment debate--and discuss the impact of the crash and the subsequent report. It would be a mistake not to highlight the issue of air safety.

The crash in Willenhall, Coventry occurred at 9.52 am on 21 December 1994 and left three crew members and two handlers dead and a community in shock. The aircraft involved was a Boeing 737, owned and operated by Air

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Algerie and leased by Phoenix Aviation to conduct a series of live animal export flights from the United Kingdom to airports in France and the Netherlands.I should add that, as a result of those flights, a young lady from my constituency, Jill Phipps, was killed when standing up for what she believed was right. We should not forget her; she was another casualty.

I shall discuss the reasons for the crash later in my speech when I discuss the report, but it is important to stress that the disaster could easily have been a catastrophe. I do not wish to diminish the seriousness of the events that occurred, but if the aircraft had been just a few feet lower it would have landed on a densely populated housing estate in Willenhall, causing severe loss of life. Nevertheless, the crash was a dramatic episode in my constituency, which had a profound effect on residents not only in Willenhall but also in Baginton and throughout Coventry.

Anyone who visited the crash scene that day or shortly afterwards would have been moved by the residents' reaction and awestricken by the response of the emergency services, whose reaction and work throughout the disaster deserves the highest commendation: neither I nor the residents could find fault with their efforts, and I am sure that all hon. Members present in the Chamber will concur with that sentiment.

The huge emotional impact made by the crash on the residents of Willenhall has not subsided with time.I recently attended a residents' meeting to debate the crash and the report with residents and local councillors. Throughout that well attended meeting, a depth of feeling was demonstrated which made it obvious to me that the crash has been very much in the minds of the people of Willenhall.

The implications of the report were debated at the meeting. The report was conducted by the AAIB in accordance with the 1989 civil aviation regulations, submitted to the Secretary of State for Transport on7 December 1995, and made public on 10 January 1996. It reached a number of conclusions and made several important recommendations, ranging from the reasons for the crash to suggestions for future action. It is constructive to highlight the key recommendation, as that will contribute to the debate.

The report's first conclusion was that the flight crew allowed the plane to descend lower than is recommended in the guidelines on approach to Coventry airport. Furthermore, the members of the crew were over-tired, because they had been on duty for too many hours. There was a lack of communication between the pilots, and their comprehension of English was limited. To compound the problem, some of the aircraft's navigational equipment was not compatible with devices in the control tower, and the crew would have seen an electric pylon too late to avoid it.

The plane's commander had received an inadequate weather warning and tried to land in foggy conditions.Air traffic control in Coventry had failed to give details of weather conditions and advice on landing visibility. Finally, the radar systems at Coventry airport could not determine the actual height of the plane. Ground staff could not have been aware that the aircraft had gone lower than recommended by guidelines and could not warn the crew and thus prevent the accident. That was coupled with the fact that a newly qualified weather watcher was on

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duty in the air traffic services unit at the airport without adequate supervision. The lack of accurate information contributed to the crash.

Those are clearly important conclusions, and I urge the Minister to take note of them and to take some action. The people of Willenhall have been profoundly affected by the crash, and it is vital that the Minister should implement the recommendations if he is to restore public confidence. It is essential that the citizens of Coventry are assured, now that the report has been published, that it will be acted upon. To disregard it would not only limit future improvements in airport safety but deal a substantial blow to the confidence of the people who live near the airport at which the tragedy occurred.I acknowledge that, on publication of the report,the Minister announced in a press release that the issuing of permits to foreign aircraft was to be tightened. I await implementation of that announcement, but I must make it clear that that in itself does not go far enough.

Finally, I stress the need for the regulation of airport safety. Quite apart from the 1994 crash, this has been a theme that I and my colleagues have pursued consistently for the past two years, during which I have tabled a number of questions about problems at Coventry airport and had a number of meetings with various Ministers.I hope to meet the Minister for Aviation and Shipping with my colleagues next month when we have sorted out a date.

In March 1995, I travelled to Brussels to meet the European Transport Commissioner, Neil Kinnock, who said that regulation of small airports was needed and that he would be very interested in the results of the report.I have sent him a copy and await his comments.

In July last year, the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth and I led a delegation of Coventry Members of Parliament to meet the Minister for Aviation and Shipping to raise the concerns of residents of the city of Coventry. One important issue raised at that meeting was the Government's own 1993 proposals for the regulation of small airports. The Minister assured us that he was very much in favour of his own proposals, which I shall outline, but said that he was not responsible for their introduction. Like other Ministers, he claimed that there was insufficient parliamentary time available to discuss them. Now that the report on the crash, which contains clear recommendations, has been published, there can be little excuse for not making the time to discuss such an important issue.

The proposals are that the Department should commission and consult on guidance to create a national network to assist the preparation of noise amelioration schemes; that the Department should encourage aerodromes to review existing noise amelioration measures and their enforcement and arrangements for local accountability; and that the Department should open discussions with the British Airports Authority and local consultative committees about making Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports more responsible and locally accountable for their noise control measures. Why cannot we do the same for airports such as that at Bagington just outside Coventry?

Other sections of the proposals include new enabling powers for aerodromes to establish and enforce noise control arrangements, including ground noise. Designated aerodromes should prepare noise amelioration schemes,

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consult locally and agree with the lead local authority what is to be established. Where disputes arise, the Secretary of State would have the power to settle them.

Those are important proposals and, although far from exhaustive, could make a real difference to people living near small airports such as that at Coventry. I urge the Government to find time to debate them and, if the House so wishes, to implement them.

I hope that I have shown that the crash and the report resulting from the tragedy should prompt the Government to implement not only the report's recommendations but the proposals for the regulation of small airports produced by the Government themselves in 1993.

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