18 Jul 1997 : Column 593

House of Commons

Friday 18 July 1997

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

9.34 am

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have continually said over the past few weeks that any changes in Government policy should be spelt out on the Floor of the House. We have seen from the newspapers today that there appears to have been a change in Government policy without any statement being made to the House.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a strong statement on human rights and said that arms and equipment would not be sent to countries with bad human rights records that might use them for internal repression. Today, we read in the press that 16 Hawk aircraft are to be sent to Indonesia.

Over the past few weeks, I have tabled 38 parliamentary questions to the Department of Trade and Industry about our arms trade with Indonesia. Until a week ago, I had not even had holding answers to any of those questions; I have now received 12 answers. Six weeks have gone by, and the Department has still not answered the other questions. I feel that I have been misled, and I am sure that many other hon. Members will feel the same. At the very least, we should have a statement from the Government, on Monday if not today.

Madam Speaker: Let me respond to the hon. Lady. She well knows that I am not responsible and have no authority to call Ministers here to make statements, but she was quite correct in what she originally said, in that if there is a change, we in the House should be the first to hear about it. I hope that those on the Government Front Bench will have noted what she said and will report the matter back.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I found out last night that, contrary to assurances given to me and to others, with great duplicity and irresponsibility, Lincolnshire health authority has taken a decision to close the paediatric ward in Grantham hospital. That sets at

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risk the health of my constituents and the lives of children with acute conditions who need emergency care, and will undermine the obstetric and maternity facilities in the hospital and lead, I fear, in short order, to the end of Grantham hospital as a general hospital.

As you can imagine, Madam Speaker, the matter is causing the greatest anxiety and concern in Grantham. My constituents naturally look to me to do what I can to ensure that it is brought to the Government's attention. Is there some way in which I can ask the Secretary of State for Health to come urgently to the House this morning to discuss the future of Grantham hospital, which is a matter of the gravest concern to the 50,000 or 60,000 people who depend on it?

Madam Speaker: I have not been informed at this stage that the Secretary of State or any Minister from the Department of Health is seeking to make a statement. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the matter, and he may seek an appointment this morning with a responsible Minister in that Department.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford(Mr. Davies) has said. The matter is of grave concern not only to those who live in Grantham, but to all the people of Lincolnshire, because there are knock-on effects.

Many of us who represent Lincolnshire constituencies are getting increasingly fed up with the high-handed way in which Lincolnshire health authority has conducted its affairs over the past 18 months. It sought to close the hospital in Horncastle, in my former constituency, and to close down or affect the accident and emergency department in Gainsborough hospital, in my present constituency.

Those are matters of grave concern. There have been public meetings all over Lincolnshire and hundreds of people have attended and expressed their concern and outrage at the way in which we are being treated. It is therefore important that all of us who represent Lincolnshire constituencies should support my hon. Friend and call on the Government to get a grip on the matter and ensure that the people of Lincolnshire are properly represented and that their interests are protected by the Government.

Madam Speaker: One or other of the hon. Gentlemen, who clearly have an interest in the matter, because it involves a catchment area that affects their constituents, might seek an Adjournment debate on the subject before the recess.

18 Jul 1997 : Column 595

Schools (White Paper)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[ Mr. Dowd.]

9.39 am

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Byers): Ten days ago, the White Paper, "Excellence in schools" was published. I am sure that many hon. Members will welcome the opportunity to discuss in detail some of the proposals and measures contained within it.

The Prime Minister has said on more than one occasion that education is to be the No. 1 priority of his Government. Those are not just fine words; they have been matched with action and with deeds. The first Budget of the Labour Government provided an additional £2.5 billion in revenue and capital spending for our schools--a real investment in our children and in the future of our country. The first White Paper published by the Government has been that which we shall debate today.

The White Paper puts standards in schools and the need to provide high-quality education for all our children at the heart of the Government's programme. It is a White Paper which provides a vision for the future, a future in which everyone has a part to play, whether they are the Government, parents, teachers, governors, businesses, local authorities, Churches and, most important, our nation's schoolchildren. It is a White Paper about equipping our children for the challenges that lie ahead. It also honours the Government's core commitment to excellent education opportunities and high standards.

Perhaps above everything else, this is a White Paper which has the aim of replacing a culture of complacency with a commitment to success. It is for those reasons and based on those principles that the White Paper has been met with such broad acclaim and support across the spectrum of opinion in our country. The leader in The Daily Telegraph states that the Secretary of State

The Independent reported:

    "The White Paper is the most grown-up document to emerge from Government for a long time."

The Sun described it as

    "A welter of excellent proposals."

The Express has described it as an

    "ambitious and admirable White Paper."

A leader in The Times stated:

    "The Government has produced policy proposals for improving standards more coherent and all embracing than any of the initiatives introduced by the Government"--

the previous one.

Perhaps more important than those reactions from the newspapers, extremely welcome as they are as an indication of the public mood and the response to the White Paper, has been the reaction from parents, the teaching profession and the wider public. They have recognised that the proposals set out in the White Paper and the principles that underpin them are the right way ahead. They are the way in which we shall raise standards for all, and we shall achieve that in partnership with everyone who shares our commitment to raising standards.

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Since the publication of the White Paper last week, we have not stood still. The document has been sent to all schools and local education authorities. It has also been sent to key national and regional bodies. Summary versions are widely and freely available, including at a number of supermarkets where parents and others can easily obtain them.

Since the publication of the White Paper, we have also had the first meeting of our new standards task force on 10 July, which was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. That body achieved some publicity when it was announced that the two vice-chairs were to be the chief education officer of Birmingham and Her Majesty's chief inspector. I must report that they both attended the first meeting of that task force and in their own ways made significant contributions to the discussion. What came out of that meeting of people with different approaches to meeting the needs of our education service was a common commitment to work together to raise standards and to improve the quality of education that our children receive.

The great strength of the task force is that it draws together representatives from the worlds of teaching, communications, local authorities, businesses, academia and the Government. The task force has already identified a number of topics that need to be pursued, for example, how best to celebrate and disseminate good practice and how to break down barriers that too often exist between schools and the wider community.

The task force has already shown that it will be a prime mover in our crusade to raise standards. In many respects, its wide-ranging and diverse membership shows the spirit of partnership that is central to the White Paper and to our overall approach towards raising standards. We believe that the White Paper is significant because, perhaps for the first time, a Government in charge of education have set out a clear, coherent agenda from early years through to secondary schools. It shows in detail how we shall improve the standards of teaching and learning in all our schools for all our pupils.

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