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Mrs. May: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Luton, South (Ms Moran) who made her maiden speech before I spoke. I completely failed to congratulate her on it, which was bad manners on my part. I congratulate her on it now and say that, if the quality of her speech is anything to go by, she will be an excellent advocate for Luton.

9.8 pm

Mr. Thomas Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on her excellent maiden speech. She could have mentioned ICI Paints of Slough, a company for which I worked in the past.

I thank the electors of Carshalton and Wallington for electing me and for putting their trust in me, as other hon. Members have thanked their electors.

Let me mention my predecessor, Nigel Forman, who represented the constituency for 21 years. He was a good constituency Member and took an interest in education. Indeed, he was a Minister responsible for higher education for some months in 1992.

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Carshalton and Wallington is in the London borough of Sutton which has been Liberal Democrat-controlled since 1986. It is in that belt of seats in south-west London that fell to the Liberal Democrats. The London borough of Sutton is unique in at least one respect, in that it has not only a Liberal Democrat council, but two Liberal Democrat Members and a Liberal Democrat peer.

My constituency stretches from Clock House in the south to St. Helier in the north, a large estate built in the 1930s, and from Beddington in the east to Carshalton in the west of the constituency.

The history of the area is well documented in a book by Douglas Cluett. The first sign of life dates from 1000 BC and there are still traces near St. Philomena's school in the constituency. In 1871, excavations on the site of the Beddington sewage farm revealed that the Romans had been there for a very different purpose: there had been a Roman bath house on the site. A number of the parishes were mentioned in the Domesday Book, including Beddintone, or "Beader's farm", Waleton, which was probably a Welsh settlement, and Aultone, or "farm by the spring". Those parishes became Beddington, Wallington and Carshalton.

Newer additions include the St. Helier estate, which comprises 40,000 houses and was built as a garden city in the 1930s. Many of its original features survive to this day. The Roundshaw estate is a much more recent addition and was built on the site of the old Croydon airport. Many of the streets and blocks in the area are named after famous aviators or aircraft manufacturers. Amy Johnson primary school is one example. The Roundshaw estate is currently the subject of a major regeneration project. The council, in partnership with various other organisations, is spending £105 million on the estate, taking away the walkways and the underground garages and making it a place where people will be proud to live.

I return to the subject of tonight's debate by mentioning Bandon Hill primary school, which is attended by many of the children who live on the Roundshaw estate. It was the first constituency visit that I made after my election and many exciting developments are taking place. Seven new classrooms are being built, and for the first time the school will have an assembly hall that is big enough to accommodate all its pupils. That is excellent news.

I do not understand, however, how the abolition of the assisted places scheme will help other schools in the borough that are in similar need of major renovation works. Temporary buildings--a euphemism for huts--have been in place for 30 or 40 years, and there is no possibility of their being replaced in the short or medium term.

The abolition of the assisted places scheme will not do anything about the Greenwich judgment, which affects all the constituencies in south-west London, particularly my own. In some schools, more than 50 per cent. of the pupils in any given year come from outside the borough. Perhaps we are victims of our own success. Since we cannot predict how many out-of-borough pupils will take places from local pupils who need them, we have the problem every year of a mad scramble to try to find enough school places in the borough.

The Liberal Democrats pledged an extra £2 billion each year for education. That is what we think is necessary to provide an education system that is second to none. In

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contrast, all that the Bill proposes is an extra £100 million. That may sound a lot--there is some dispute about whether the figure is £100 million or £40 million--but is it really enough to provide high-quality education for absolutely everyone? The Liberal Democrats want to provide the best for all our pupils, as I am sure do Government Members. I am afraid that Conservative Members are talking about a select group of people to whom they want to give priority.

The £100 million on offer through the abolition of the assisted places scheme is the only new money being found by the Government for education. Although we will be supporting the Bill, I urge the Government to be more ambitious. We must tackle head-on the legacy of 18 years of neglect. If we do so, we shall command the respect of the British people, who are crying out for change.

9.15 pm

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. In line with all the other maiden speeches that have been made in this debate, the speech by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) was very well thought out and shows that, when one is involved in debate and discussion, one can learn from the opinions and thoughts of others, as I am sure we all will in future.

It is a great honour and privilege for me to be able to address the House as the first Labour Member for Gedling--or Carlton as it was called from 1951. It is also an honour for my family, although the first concern of my children was that I should not be seen on television. Many hon. Members have told me that I should get out of that habit fairly quickly if I want to make any progress. I thank the people of Gedling for their support and assure them that I will represent them to the best of my ability.

My immediate predecessor was Andrew Mitchell, who was extremely well regarded in the constituency. He was respected as a hard-working Member of Parliament, who took up the cases of many constituents and fought hard for local issues. Whatever the reasons for his defeat, they were nothing to do with lack of work in the constituency.

Andrew Mitchell and I have been political opponents for a number of years. He was first elected as the hon. Member for Gedling in 1987, which was also the year that I first stood for the constituency. In all that time, he has always been polite and courteous to me, and never more so than on 1 May when, despite his personal disappointment, he congratulated me and wished me, as well as the Labour Government, well for the future. I am sure that he will return to public life--although I hope that it is not in Gedling in 2002.

The name Gedling often provokes the questions, "Where?" or "Sorry, did you say gelding?" Gedling is not a type of horse: it is an area of rich diversity that adjoins the city of Nottingham. It borders Sherwood in the north, the River Trent to the south-east and the city of Nottingham to the south-west. The main urban centres are Arnold and Carlton. Arnold has much rich history and is mentioned in the Domesday survey. Until the 1800s, it was a quiet forest village, although now it is a predominantly residential area. Carlton includes the conurbation of Carlton, the more industrialised areas of Colwick and Netherfield to the south and, to the east, the rural area of Gedling, from which the constituency takes its name. Gedling retain much of its village atmosphere, with many old shops and cottages.

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There are also two beautiful rural villages. Burton Joyce is the larger. It is popular with commuters to Nottingham and has a most beautiful 13th-century church. Stoke Bardolph is in the valley of the Trent, with lovely views across the river to Shelford and Radcliffe.

The constituency is primarily residential, but has an important industrial and commercial base, which has been badly hit in recent years by the closure of Gedling colliery in 1991 and the more recent closure of the Home Ales brewery in Daybrook, following the Scottish Courage merger, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs and the sad demise of another local brewery.

Gedling borough council is well thought of, particularly for its policies on housing, crime prevention, environmental protection and recycling. I am acutely aware of the number of local issues that I shall want to highlight in the House, including the need for additional funding from one of the many special schemes to help continue the efforts to regenerate Netherfield, the future development possibilities of the Home Ales breweries site in Daybrook, the restoration of the Gedling pit site to form a country park, which seems slow in coming to fruition, and the associated campaign for a Gedling bypass.

Today's debate is about education, focusing in particular on reducing class sizes. Just 11 weeks ago, I was a deputy head teacher in Big Wood school, a Nottingham city comprehensive. I applaud the measures that the Government have already taken. There can be nobody who does not regard raising standards of achievement for all children as a major priority for any Government. Phasing out the assisted places scheme and reducing class sizes for all five, six and seven-year-olds will mean a better deal for all our children.

A survey that I conducted of all the primary schools in my constituency showed considerable problems with class sizes. There are many classes of well over 30 for the youngest pupils in Gedling. Indeed, several are approaching 40 and one class has 45. Parents will welcome action on class size because it will help to start the process of meeting the targets set by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of 80 per cent. of 11-year-olds reaching national curriculum level 4 in English and 75 per cent. reaching that level in maths. As many hon. Members have said, basic numeracy and literacy are essential for all pupils. Without them, nobody can achieve.

I should like to highlight two other areas of concern that are not helped by ever larger classes. The first is the relatively poor standing of the teaching profession. That is clearly demonstrated by the great difficulty that many schools have in recruiting suitably qualified staff. There are difficulties in head teacher recruitment. The Times Educational Supplement pointed out last week that there were 40 per cent. more advertisements for headship vacancies in the primary sector during the first four months of this year than in the same period last year, and nearly 60 per cent. more in the secondary sector. Coupled with the teacher recruitment shortage, that means that real difficulties could lie ahead. Those problems are affecting schools all over the country, including those in my constituency. I look forward to working with the Government to tackle those and other problems.

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The second problem is the increasing disaffection among a significant proportion of school children. If we are to raise levels of achievement, all pupils must be able to learn in a calm, reasonable environment and teachers must be able to teach. Class size matters--as does good teaching--because it allows teachers to deal with individual problems.

Statistics from the House of Commons Library show that there were 11,084 permanent exclusions from schools in 1994-95, compared with 2,910 in 1990. We need to deal with that worrying upward trend across the country. The Bill gives us an opportunity to do something for the majority of children in our schools. By abolishing the assisted places scheme, we will provide extra resources to tackle the problem that faces our youngest children.

We have a modernising Government who are determined to raise achievement for all. There is a mood of great optimism about education, but there is also a realistic acceptance that there are no quick fixes and that tough and difficult decisions will have to be made if we are to improve our schools. We have great confidence about the possibilities before us. I look forward to the challenge and I will work hard to do my best to play a small part in achieving the goals of the new Labour Government--a fairer, more just society in which opportunities are available to all, whatever their background. If we are to realise those goals, the success of our education policies will be crucial, and the Bill will be a start along that road.


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