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Mr. Blunkett: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell me whether the £48 million--£2,000 per school--for books is the sort of initiative of which he is thinking; or does he have in mind the new deal for schools,which now amounts, in grant and not in credit approval, to £1.5 billion?

Mr. Jamieson: Tell us about that.

Mr. Willetts: The hon. Gentleman says "Tell us about that," but we have been hearing about it since July last

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year and it had another outing today. We are all familiar with it, because we have been hearing about it for 15 months.

Mr. Blunkett: It is important that the shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment should be able to refer to a calendar or to events that have taken place, rather than to ones that he has made up. When, either in July last year or over the past 18 months, have we heard about £1.5 billion for the new deal, given that £500 million of that was announced only this morning?

Mr. Willetts: I am referring to the statement in the House on 2 July 1997 in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave the figures for new deal expenditure on school capital. I am speaking from memory, but I recall that it was a £1.2 billion programme that sounded suspiciously like the capital under the new deal that the Secretary of State announced again today.

I am happy to tackle the Secretary of State's direct question. Yes, if a head decides that perhaps the priority for his school is not to spend money on the loos, but to employ a maths teacher, who are we to stand in his way? Individual heads are best placed to decide the priorities of their schools. Instead of having a clear total budget that they can spend in the way they think best, head teachers are increasingly having to submit bid after bid for individual and often relatively small sums of money, each associated with some new initiative launched by the Secretary of State. Every time the right hon. Gentleman gets his 48 hours of headlines, he undermines the professional judgment and authority of individual head teachers. I should warn him that they are increasingly frustrated and irritated by that process.

Head teachers are also irritated by the sheer distraction. Despite claims that the Government are interested in standards, not frameworks, many schools have to put so much effort into changing their status and their legal position in order to meet the requirements of the Secretary of State. Tragically, grant-maintained schools are losing some of the freedoms that we gave them and, most recently, grammar schools are being distracted by the Secretary of State's campaign against them.

We agree with the statement:

Those are the words of the Prime Minister in an interview with ITV on 3 April 1997. We ask only that the Secretary of State endorses what his right hon. Friend has said. However, it is clear that, every time the Prime Minister makes such statements, the Secretary of State takes the opportunity of the detailed regulations on grammar school ballots, which nobody at No. 10 will be able to scrutinise, to smuggle in as much bias as he can to make life difficult for grammar schools.

Mr. Bercow: As my right hon. Friend knows, grammar schools are of the highest importance. The Royal Latin grammar school is testimony to their success [Interruption.] Despite the sedentary chuntering and laughter on the Government Back Benches, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is extremely disturbing that schedule 4 of the regulations that the Secretary of State has commended to the House enable him to declare the

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result of a ballot null and void if he considers that the content, tone or presentation of the arguments is not reasonable? Who is to determine what is reasonable in that context?

Mr. Willetts: There was an intriguing story about that in the Financial Times. It looked like another desperate attempt by No.10 to haul back the policy--some briefing with the message, "Don't worry, we'll try to use some of these powers to stop grammar schools disappearing after all." My hon. Friend--the Back Bencher to watch as we must now call him after the Spectator parliamentarian awards--is absolutely right.

We should look at the question that the Secretary of State will put into grammar school ballots. He is not going to ask a straightforward question such as, "Do you want to keep local grammar schools?", which goes straight to the nub of the issue. Instead, he wants to ask, "Are you in favour of a the introduction of a non-selective system of education in local schools?" We learn from an interesting experiment carried out by the Sunday Express last weekend that, if we ask the question in Government gobbledegook, we get a very different answer from the one to a straightforward question that makes it clear that people are voting on whether or not their grammar schools will survive.

The real criticism of the Secretary of State throughout the world of education is that he believes that education should be run by him sitting in the Department sending out instructions to all the LEAs, which in turn send them out to more than 4,000 schools. They then all write the plans for which he is asking--at the last count there were 17--and submit them to the LEAs, which debate them with the schools, revise them and submit them to him. He sits like some old-fashioned industrialist running the nation's schools from Whitehall. No organisation believes that that is the way in which it can enter the 21st century--it is an attack on teachers' professional judgments and standards, and the Secretary of State will anyway find his task impossible.

We should be relieved that there is no education legislation this year. I am sure that, if the right hon. Gentleman had secured any legislation, it would have been regressive, interventionist, heavy-handed and nannying. We hope that he will reflect on the contradiction between his apparent commitment to raising standards and his behaviour in office.

9.26 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): Dear me. It has been a long day for us all, and I do not intend to prolong it into the early hours of the morning. It behoves me first to congratulate a number of my hon. Friends on their contributions to today's debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) has campaigned for people's rights for as many years as I can remember. The appearance in the Queen's Speech of the proposals for the disability rights commission is a tribute to him and to all the people he listed who have made contributions over the years. Much still needs to be done; this is another brick in the wall rather than the construction of the building. However, we are well under way, which we would not be if the Leader of the Opposition had had his way--as has been pointed out, on 23 February 1995, he opposed the establishment of a disability rights commission.

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I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my hon. Friends the Members for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) and for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) for what they have said on the important subject of improving rights at work. They showed how positive policies by employers can transform not only individuals' life chances but their contributions to this country's economic well-being. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend for her considerable work on the matter over the years.

I believe that the tribute to campaigners lies in the new sure start programme, in the proposals on child care, in the doubling of nursery places for three-year-olds and in the fairness at work Bill, which together make it possible to provide for children and their parents in a positive, radical and modern way. The House has a great deal to be proud of in what has already been achieved in the past 18 months.

I also thank my other hon. Friends for their contributions, including my hon. Friends the Members for Luton, South (Ms Moran), for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen), for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby).

The debate has been of varying parts. The shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was not sure whether he was in favour of what the Conservatives had previously stood for, and he was totally unsure whether he was in favour of what they currently stand for. He rigorously denounced what he was against in past Conservative party policy but he could not say what he was in favour of in current Conservative party policy--no wonder, as the Conservatives do not have any policies and are ashamed of the bits that they think they have. There is a sort of trial by denial in the Conservative party, which is very difficult for Labour Members not to view with equanimity.

The previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) has decently sent his apologies for not attending the wind-up. I do not know how many other Conservatives have sent their apologies but, given the nature of the debate, one would have thought that more than seven or eight would have turned up.

Mr. John Healey (Wentworth): There are seven.

Mr. Blunkett: There are seven--numeracy is alive and well. Seven have turned up, including, I think, four on the Back Benches. A number of them are clearly here in spirit, if not in person.

The speech by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon made the Leader of the Opposition's speech look immature and feeble. The previous Prime Minister made it clear that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was going to spend most of his political life denying that he had anything to do with past policy. When the previous Prime Minister referred to mistakes, I thought that he was referring entirely to the placement of the right hon. Member for Wokingham in his Cabinet.

Enough of levity mixed with sadness. This evening, we should take head-on some of the silliness that has emerged from Conservative Members. It is difficult to treat seriously anything that the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) says in this House, although she sends me entertaining notes from time to time--normally written on the back of letters I have sent her. Her passing

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references to the new deal--and everything else--as a sign that we do not want to make families happy seemed to me to be very sad. We in new Labour are totally in favour of happiness, and we will engage in it as often as we can.

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