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Mr. Blunkett: I shall endeavour to answer the hon. Gentleman's other points in my winding-up speech, but I want to make it clear that the resources allocated today make it highly likely that work done on drawing up plans and putting together proposals and prioritisations will be successful. Those who have plans to replace rooms and boilers, to make window frames tight and to ensure that there is an environment in which to teach will receive the resources to fulfil the plans. Without prioritisation, it would be impossible for a school, a local authority or the church authorities to be able to order work sensibly.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that. However, a large number of bids are still outstanding. The Secretary of State has announced additional money for repair and maintenance of school buildings, but the success rate of bids to date in that area has been just 25 per cent., with 75 per cent. of bids failing. There are also huge variations across the country. In Oxfordshire, only 10 per cent. of bids have been successful. The London borough of Ealing is even worse, with only 8 per cent. of bids succeeding. I hope that the bidding process can be re-examined.

Finally, the new deal is another area in which the Government need to do much more detailed work. The Government appear not even to have done their homework on making arrangements to collect the information necessary if we are to judge the new deal. Other hon. Members have already said that we do not know whether the new deal is improving employability, a factor that is clearly crucial. In recent weeks, I have asked the Government for information about the new deal, but they were unable to tell me how many subsidised vacancies there were, the size of the companies taking on new deal trainees, the courses that people were taking on the full-time education and training option, or the providers of those courses. Nor could they tell me anything about the progress of ex-offenders, other than the number who joined the scheme early.

Perhaps my biggest concern is that the new deal seems not to provide information even on where people are going. The latest figures show that the destination of 9,500 individuals on the new deal is totally unknown. The Government are failing even to collect data, never mind getting all the detail right. The fact that we have no education legislation this year gives the Government a real opportunity to get the details right. I hope that they will take the opportunity to move education and employment forward in a way that the country desperately needs. If the Government are prepared to do that, the Liberal Democrats are more than willing to offer them support.

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8.25 pm

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): Before I came to the House last year, I spent 30 years in the engineering industry. I started work at 16 as an apprentice, and I joined hundreds of workers in walking to work in the early hours each morning. That was a real world. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) is no longer in his place, but he talked about the real world. Well, that was a real world, and I valued it.

Unfortunately, that world was devastated in the early 1980s by the monetarists in the Conservative party. It has become a disappearing world. If I walked to work early these days, treading the same streets I trod then, all I would see would be the milkman, and even he is becoming increasingly rare. The industrial world that I knew and loved has declined massively, and Britain is a much poorer place for it. The decline has been not just economic, but social and cultural. Generations of industrial and engineering workers and employers provided not only manufactured goods, but employment and wealth for whole communities.

For 28 of my years in industry, I was an elected trade union representative. I witnessed a decline in industrial relations, just as I watched our industrial base disappear down the plughole. It does not really matter what came first, or who was to blame for the decline of management-employee relationships. As in all wars, there were no winners, just casualties. Anyone who has a real understanding of, or a genuine concern for, good industrial relations should understand that collective interests involve everyone. That must include the interests of both employers and employees. Responsible trade unionists with any experience soon recognise that the best wages and conditions in the world are pretty pointless if the company went out of business last week. Good shop stewards are well trained shop stewards.

Too often, the problem is that employers do not discuss their problems with their employees. When they do, they often exaggerate, or they do not reveal the full picture. Good employer-employee relationships, like good marriages, should be based on mutual trust and honesty. That is why partnership is so important if we are to succeed as any sort of industrial nation.

The "Fairness at Work" White Paper is a good and encouraging example of how trade unions and business can work together to deliver a document that represents almost all points of view. It has clearly walked a difficult tightrope, and we are bound to hear criticism of it from all sides. If that were not the case, it would probably have failed to strike an honourable balance. The proposals in the White Paper should remain undiluted, as they are balanced proposals that should succeed.

We will still have the most lightly regulated labour market of any leading industrial economy, but what is wrong with that if we get our regulation right?

As for the working time directive--an over-hyped problem--during all the 28 years that I represented employees in industry, not one individual complained to me about the amount of overtime that he or she was being forced to do by an employer. Employees often argued about how much overtime their employers were delivering. The truth is that most employees want to work, and they want to work lots of hours. If employers cannot organise that sensibly with their employees, they are bound to fail in business.

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What is important is that the proposals offer the biggest advance in employee rights for a generation, which is not surprising, because the previous Government took us so far in the other direction and built up so much animosity among workers that we almost tore our industrial economy apart in the end. As a result of that legislation, we ended up where we are today. It was not a Labour Government who decimated industry, but a Conservative Government, who so regulated the trade unions that they drove us to a complete lack of co-operation.

Much fuss has been made about the recognition proposals contained in the White Paper "Fairness at Work". Some old-fashioned and misguided employers have attempted to weaken the proposals to the point where they become almost sterile. Progressive employers do not need legislation, and that is a fact. They see the absolute value of recognition.

Therefore, we must resist the industrial dinosaurs, because all that is proposed is recognition, which in any civilised society is just good manners. If we do not recognise each other's existence, how can we communicate at all? Recognition alone does not deliver anything, that is the truth of the matter. Only through sensible negotiations and good relationships can we make real progress. To do so, we must recognise each other. To develop any relationship in any walk of life, we must at least recognise each other. If we cannot do so, we are surely doomed as a modern, progressive economy.

Much in the White Paper disappoints me. I do not intend to go into the list, as it has been dealt with, but I am thinking particularly of the one-year qualifying period for unfair dismissal protection. If a dismissal is unfair, why should it matter when it happens?

In my early trade union days, the majority of those in the trade union movement did not want unfair dismissal tribunals. They preferred to deal with such dismissals through industrial action. They argued that the courts should be kept out of the trade union scene. That seems a pretty old-fashioned view now. At every opportunity, we should be seeking ways to deliver rights to individual workers, rather than cause disruption. I cannot understand those people who oppose not only the trade union movement but the rights of individuals to take a dismissal to a tribunal. That seems contradictory.

On the other hand, the White Paper suggests some progressive changes--particularly the requirement to hand over to employers the names of those who will be taking part in a strike ballot, and allowing dismissed strikers to claim for unfair dismissal. In this modern world, anything less smacks of intimidation.

Of course, there has to be much more negotiation, and a great deal more has to be said by each side. That is the nature of the trade unions and those negotiating on the employer's side. However, it must not become a question of victory for either side, as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) suggested. It is not a question of victory, or of whose side the Government are on. They are on the side of the interests of the British people. We should not make the mistake that the previous Government made, because they took us into more conflict and dissatisfaction. That is why I urge the Government to stay with the White Paper as it stands.

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8.35 pm

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I have waited to make my contribution to this debate mindful of the diminishing number of my colleagues. I do not know whether they have been deterred from attending by my impending oratory, or perhaps by the demagoguery of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) or even the contribution of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). Notwithstanding that fact, I intend to concentrate on two aspects of the Gracious Speech--disabilities and education--partly because they are two subjects that I know something about. I learned before coming to this place that it is best in life--and certainly in Westminster--not to speak about matters of which one knows little.

Would that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had learned that lesson. Those of us who have made our living in information technology and who have worked in the field for some years were astounded by some of his pontificating on that subject--for example, speaking of electronic commerce as something of a revolution around the corner, when many companies, including mine, have been engaged in it for some considerable time--even some time before I came to the House.

The notion that business is not already being done by means of the internet and other forms of technology is at best naive. The idea of a digital envoy, speeding his way around the country spreading good news, and presumably good will, everywhere is little more than a gimmick. Good practice in information systems and high technology exists in all parts of the country. We do not need some envoy to tell us exactly how to spread such good practice. So I urge the Secretary of State not simply to parrot words on matters of which he seems to have little comprehension.

On a more positive note, I turn to the comments of the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry). The hon. Member for Bath anticipated my remarks to some extent, by paying tribute to the good work that the hon. Gentleman has done. I speak as the very junior new joint chairman of the all-party disablement group. The hon. Member for Kingswood speaks with altogether more authority as the well-respected and senior secretary.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member had to say on disablement. He will welcome the acceptance, welcome and support that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition gave the disability rights commission. The hon. Gentleman was a little churlish about my right hon. Friend, who was a well-respected Minister for the disabled. I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that my right hon. Friend was genuine in welcoming the commission yesterday.

My right hon. Friend said that we need to examine the detail of the proposal, and I shall make two observations--not objections--about that detail. First, we must not ignore the most neglected disabled people. It is easy to think of the disabled as a generic group--easy, but misleading. The needs of people with different disabilities vary widely, and the chronically sick disabled are often the forgotten element within that group.

That point has been made by Sense in respect of deaf-blind people, and it is also true of multiple sclerosis sufferers, who are often not heard because they are chronically sick. Some disabled people--perhaps those

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with spinal injuries who have made good recoveries from accidents--are able to live good lives and to speak loudly, forcefully and persuasively in defence of disabled interests. They are usually the people we encounter representing the disabled. That is understandable, and I make no criticism of them, but the chronically sick disabled can easily be forgotten. We must ensure in the work of the commission that that is not the case in future.

My second observation is that disabled people do not live by rights alone. I should declare an interest, as I have a disability. It is important that we do not tie the treatment of the disabled--especially the financial support for disabled people--wholly and solely to work. Careless statements from Ministers have caused considerable disquiet, some offence and a great deal of trepidation among disabled people, because there has been a suggestion that people can be full members of society only if they work.

We must give every disabled person the opportunity to work, and we must pave their way to fulfilling that opportunity, but we must never forget that a significant number of disabled people--because of the nature of their disability, their age or other circumstances--do not work and never will. They must never be treated as second class, even within the family of disabled people. Having used the word "family" after saying that disabled people are not a generic group, I have perhaps contradicted myself a little, but I am sure that the House will forgive me for that.

Those are my two observations on that subject, and I very much want to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Kingswood.

The most prominent feature of the Gracious Speech is not what is in it, but what is left out. That is especially true of education. The hon. Member for Bath said that that is good news--later, I shall deal with initiative fatigue, which is felt by most schools and teachers throughout the country--but it is not entirely good news, because it is indicative of lack of vision.

There is little evidence in the Gracious Speech of any holistic view of social progress or of economic success, and there is certainly no clearly defined view of the national interest, or even of man in society. I can almost hear my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) saying, "Well, what do you expect? If there is no such thing philosophically as a single view or a big idea, why expect it to be in the Speech?" In my view, however, public policy, at this stage in a Government's progress, should have some sense of purpose, unity and symmetry about it. I see none of that in the Gracious Speech.

The Prime Minister is fond of calling that joined-up government, but the only thing that was joined up in the words that we have heard from Ministers tonight was the suggestion that all these policies are linked by the common word "modernisation". The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry might have used the word "modernity". I have to tell him that the worship of modernity is not only divisive in itself, but not implicitly symptomatic of a coherent view of the present, let alone the future. It is not enough to say that, just because something is modern or new, it is therefore good, and that it hangs together with other measures in the national interest or for the common good.

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That is true in a number of particular policy areas. In education, for example, there are many holes in the Gracious Speech. The absence of legislation relating to lifelong learning and early years has been mentioned, and yesterday my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition talked about the gap in respect of the expansion of popular schools and the sharing of good practice. Those are legitimate criticisms of the Government's approach to education.

We have heard a little about the problems of the class size proposals, and how their implementation is leading to unanticipated difficulties for the Government. Perhaps it was for that reason that they were reluctant to introduce still more changes.

Surely, though, there should have been in the Gracious Speech evidence of commitment to sharing good practice--from specialist schools and beacon schools, for example. These questions need to be asked: what responsibility do beacon schools have to export their excellence and innovation? Where are the targets, not only in terms of the school, but for the spreading--the fountaining down, to use a popular term, or, in more egalitarian vein, the fountaining out--of that good practice? I had hoped to see some mention of that.

Where are the plans to allow the benefits of investment in special schools to be felt across the whole sector? I have some experience in that area, and know that there is little evidence that investment is benefiting neighbouring or feeder schools. Although there are some isolated examples of good practice in this respect, there is little suggestion that schools are benefiting universally as a result of that significant private and public sector investment.

I should have thought that some improvement would also be made in respect of targets and measurement. The previous Government changed the education agenda by measuring output, not input. When I first became a member of a local education authority, most of the measurements were those of input, such as spending and pupil-teacher ratios. The current consensus is that we need to measure empirically what schools deliver. Given that the previous Government laid that foundation, one might have expected this Government to take up the baton and to refine and improve those means of measurement. One might have expected them to look more carefully at measuring value added.

If schools are to be financially rewarded, and teachers' salaries are to be based on clearly defined targets and proper measurement, we must be sure what we are measuring. We need to identify excellent schools and teachers who out-perform their catchment area and do exceptionally well despite the fact that they start with few inherent advantages. Equally, we must carefully scrutinise the schools in leafy suburbs that under-perform.

We can do that only through empirical measurement of value added. I commend to the House the work of Sheffield university and the work done in Scotland, some of which was started some seven years ago, so it is well established. There is a lot of evidence on how measurement of value added can be achieved. Some good local authorities, both Labour and Conservative, have already gone down that road, yet the Government seem reluctant to propose a consolidated national programme.

The Government also seem unable to make proposals in respect of the best use of technology. We heard a great deal about the digital envoy and the impact on industry of

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information technology and high technology, but we heard little about the effective use of the internet in schools or higher and further education. The effectiveness of all that is extremely patchy.

The Government have spoken about training teachers in IT. The Minister twitches. Although positive steps have been taken, I assure him that the effective use of the internet and information technology in schools is extremely patchy. It needs to be pulled together urgently if a great deal of money is not to be wasted on inappropriate hardware and software.

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