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Mr. Dismore: On Report and in this debate, we have not really focused on the special problems faced by ethnic minority carers. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to say something about the Bill's impact on them. I think that it is important that we address that issue.
Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. He will know, because he has examined the Bill very carefully, that nothing in the Bill deals directly with the needs of carers from ethnic minorities. However, that is not to say that the Government do not recognise the need for additional work on that issue. Since we came to office, we have taken various initiatives to work with ethnic communities in finding ways of improving access to social services.
As I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware, there is plenty of evidence that members of ethnic minority communities do not feel that they have proper access to or receive the proper support from social services that they are entitled to expect. There may be many good reasons why social services are provided as they are, but that does not obviate the need for improvements in provision. It is not acceptable for any section of our community to feel marginalised or disfranchised by the failure of statutory services properly to recognise their needs. We shall have to continue working and acting with local authorities on the issue, to ensure that services fully meet the needs of all sections of our community.
Mr. Barron: My hon. Friend mentioned the Bill's progress in another place and the timetable for its implementation, which were also mentioned earlier. Although it is not a Government Bill, does he have any idea about the other place's likely attitude to it? Today and in our previous consideration, the Bill has received overwhelming support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Have discussions been held with the other place to discover whether it is likely to receive the same all-party support there, so that it can be implemented as soon as possible?
Mr. Hutton: I very much hope that that it will receive such support. There is no doubt that some of those in another place have enormous practical experience of many of the issues addressed in the Bill. Baroness Pitkeathley, for example, is a very experienced Member of the other place and has huge expertise on the issue; I am sure that she will bring those qualities to bear in ensuring that the Bill is passed. Knowing how careful their lordships are, I am also convinced that they will study our debates closely, because, as the hon. Member
We have taken the unique opportunity provided by my hon. Friend to produce legislation that can command a consensus of support in the country. We have laid the foundations for legislation that will continue to inform and support service development for many years. Sadly, we do not often have an opportunity to legislate on these issues. The changes that have been made have resulted in a significantly better Bill.
Mr. Edwards: My hon. Friend has mentioned that the Bill applies to Wales as well. I am sure that he will join me in paying tribute to the National Assembly for Wales for the support that it has given to the Bill in principle. Does he agree that one of the aims of the Bill is to equalise the best in services for carers? There is considerable variation between local authorities in England and Wales. That principle of equalising the best has always applied in the national health service, although it has not always necessarily been implemented. We need to apply that commitment to social care as well as to health care.
Mr. Hutton: I do not think that my hon. Friend will be surprised that I strongly agree with him. Through the introduction of the new performance management arrangements for local authority social services and through the new best value powers, we are trying to ensure that the standards of the best local authority providers become the standards for the rest. We aim to ensure that the performance of the top 25 per cent. of local authorities becomes the benchmark for others to follow. There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that, not only on the provision of carers services. We must stay focused on all the issues.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the implementation of the legislation in Wales will be a matter for the National Assembly for Wales. We look forward to talking with Assembly Members about our plans for implementation.
We still have to work out some of the details of the regulations and the guidance and advice that will be given to local authorities on some of the important issues that we have discussed today. I have repeatedly tried to assure hon. Members that we shall develop the new regulations and guidance quickly, effectively and in a process of open consultation with all the interested organisations. We have nothing to hide from them and everything to discuss with them. That is the spirit in which we intend to take the legislation forward over the next few months.
We want to proceed as quickly as we can and put the Bill on the statute book at the earliest opportunity. If we succeed, we shall have done everything that hon. Members want--provided pioneering legislation and delivered it as quickly as possible so that the service changes that we all want come about soon on the front line. Carers, their families and disabled children will be able to see the immediate impact of what we have done.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of secondary education in Southwark. Today is a happy day for Liberal Democrats because we shall have an extra Member of Parliament. There will be 47 Liberal Democrat Members and the sun is shining outside.
There are three issues on three successive days to exercise the minds of families in my constituency. Yesterday, whatever their political views, they rejoiced at the restoration of London government. Tomorrow, they hope that Millwall will beat Oxford and thus make the play-offs to move from the second to the first division. Today, there is an opportunity for one of the borough's Members of Parliament to raise a matter that has greatly exercised families throughout the borough--secondary education in Southwark.
I shall briefly outline the background. There are six secondary schools in my constituency--more in the borough as a whole. I represent two fifths of the borough. The right hon. Members for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and for Dulwich and West Norwood (Ms Jowell) represent the other parts. Of the six secondary schools in my constituency, three are local authority schools, two are Roman Catholic schools and one is a Church of England city technology college.
Throughout my time as a Member of Parliament, all the Church schools have been oversubscribed and the local authority schools have been less popular, whatever the efforts of their staff, whom I commend. I have worked with them and supported them, as I try to support all the schools in my constituency. However, this time every year, I am visited by tens--sometimes hundreds--of families who are unhappy because they cannot obtain places for their children in the schools of their choice. The parents are up in arms.
Again this year, parents gathered at meetings, where their anger and frustration was evident. They reiterated that the problem has existed for too long. It is so bad that some parents who are offered a local authority school place--all parents should be offered such a place, but sometimes they are not--do not send their children there because they do not want them to go to a particular school. Sometimes they send them there belatedly; buy education, although they may not have the money; or move away. That is not helpful in the context of sustainable communities.
Most parents try the appeals system when it exists. There is no proper, independent appeals system for the city technology college. That is frustrating, and parents approach their Members of Parliament. This year, the parents' campaign has become even angrier. I pay tribute in passing to one of our local newspapers, Southwark News, which has supported the parents. The borough comprises 250,000 people. Its make-up and character are varied, and it has great cultural diversity.
This is the history. We had a boys' secondary school, Scott Lidgett, run by the Inner London Education Authority, which was closed. Bacon's college was a Church of England secondary school--I was a governor--
We have a Labour education authority and an education action zone, but secondary education outside the Church sector still does not enjoy the confidence of the people of the borough. Thirty per cent. of secondary school pupils leave Southwark. I tried--as, more recently, did my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow)--to persuade the Government, and the previous Government, to reverse the Greenwich judgment, which forbids local authorities to prioritise their own secondary school pupils. My hon. Friend recently presented the School Admissions (Amendments) Bill for that purpose, but was unsuccessful. As a result, many parents choose to send their children elsewhere. There is, of course, an influx of children, but it is not as great as the number of children who leave.
Let me mention one frustrating aspect, which I hope the Minister will refer to the Department. I thought that I had persuaded Ministers to introduce a co-ordinated appeals application system for schools. It could apply to nursery and primary schools as well, and it would take some of the grief and angst away from parents. Parents shop around; some know the system better than others. I think that we would all be better served by an independently managed system, a bit like the university application system.
Sadly, prejudice is not the reason for the dissatisfaction of so many families. They are dissatisfied because the performance has been so bad. It gives me no delight to quote from the performance tables--I have never been a great fan of such tables--but I shall do so notwithstanding their inadequacy. The local education authority average in England for pupils attaining five or more grades A to C at secondary school rose from 43.3 per cent. in 1994 to 46.3 per cent. in 1998, and to 47.9 per cent. in 1999. The Southwark average was 18.3 per cent. in 1994, 27.2 per cent. in 1997, 29.1 per cent. in 1998 and 29.5 per cent. in 1999. Some schools produced dire figures: 8 per cent. in one secondary school in my constituency in 1994, 9 per cent. in another--both are borough run--and 6 per cent. in another Southwark school in the following year.
Then there is the "top and bottom" local authority table. In 1999, Southwark was sixth from the bottom with its 29.5 per cent., whereas four authorities--represented, I note, by my hon. Friends--were in the top 10. Isles of Scilly came top with 61.3 per cent., Sutton came third with 60.1 per cent., Kingston upon Thames had 57 per cent. and North Yorkshire had 56.8 per cent. We are not achieving, and parents do not want their children to go to schools that do not deliver results. That is understandable.
Paradoxically, schools in special measures have continued to struggle while some of the greatest improvements have occurred in schools outside the local-authority sector. St. Saviour's and St. Olave's--a Church of England girls' school--and Notre Dame, a beacon school, have been among those recognised by Government as some of the most improved.
It is not just my view, or that of parents, that the education authority is not doing its job properly. In 1998, the Office for Standards in Education commissioned a report, inspected it and set various targets. The follow-up report published last autumn states:
In the event, that expectation has proved over-optimistic. The LEA has gone through a difficult period . . . At the same time, the national agenda for change has not ceased to press as hard upon Southwark as on other LEAs . . . Overall, however, the LEA has regressed. In particular, it has lost the trust and respect of its schools, some of which can no longer discern any useful purpose that the authority serves.
Many of the best schools in Southwark no longer feel that the LEA supports them. That feeling is a direct consequence of the LEA rightly attempting to direct its resources to need. The schools' reaction reflects a culture of dependency which should, in time, be dispelled.
There is some hope and opportunity ahead, which is why this debate is well timed. Southwark has recently elected a new leader and a new chair of education, and has recently appointed a new director of education, who started last month and whom I have not yet met. Coincidentally, the Liberal Democrat opposition also elected a new leader this week. We now have a charter school in the south of the borough under the new start scheme, following the closure of one of the least satisfactory schools. Outside the borough, the Church of England has indicated that it is interested in possibly taking on other schools, and a report is expected on that.
Much development is taking place, especially in my constituency, which would provide space opportunities for the building of a new school. There is also the possibility of converting the old St. Saviour's and St. Olave's boys grammar school building at Tower bridge, because the school has moved to an outer London location. More land is available near Tower bridge, next to the site of the Greater London Authority building which is now under way. Land will become available in the Surrey docks, and at the Elephant and Castle under a redevelopment scheme by the local authority. Land is also available in Bermondsey through the Spa road regeneration scheme.
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment gave further grounds for optimism in his widely reported speech on 15 March to the Social Market Foundation, which was entitled "Transforming Secondary Education". He ended his introductory remarks by saying:
Things have moved on and, as a result of the parental pressure and outcry, matters went before the local authority education committee on 27 March and the full council on 29 March. A resolution proposed by the Liberal Democrats was agreed after amendment by the Labour majority and the Conservative third party group. The resolution agreed that there would be speedy progress towards assessing
We also appreciate that money is a problem, but if money can be found to build a millennium dome and wheel, surely it can be possible to find money for one new school. Children are our future and as parents and carers it is our duty to make sure that they receive the very best there is to offer our children. The first thing we should make sure of is that they receive an education that they so deserve. Unfortunately this year is no exception from any other year, and we feel that this problem has gone on for far too long. Now is the time to rectify it before the next set of children have the same problems.
First, given that we want a new school in the north of the borough, but do not want any schools that parents would not choose for their children, and given that we must have provision for those who are excluded so that they do not fall out of the system altogether, will the Government support a new school although technically there might be an argument that every place across the borough is not being filled? I would strongly argue that, if we have a new school and the other schools are popular, the numbers will recover and the places will be filled. Parents take their children away from schools that do not reach acceptable standards. It is a chicken and egg situation; unless we have decent schools, we will not fill them.
Secondly, what sort of school can we have? Could we have a Church school if the Church wanted to provide one? Are we eligible for a city academy? It seems that one could be provided within a year and a half. I understand that one could be built ready for the autumn term 2001. If we were to have a city academy, could we have one that had an admissions appeals procedure, unlike the current one? I must declare an interest as a trustee of Bacon's college, but I remain critical of the fact that it does not have an admissions appeals procedure. Could we have admissions criteria that gave priority to those from SE1 or SE16, or certainly the local area which feels deprived? Can we have some encouragement that it is not
Can we make sure that, when we build the new school, which I hope the Government will approve, we do not neglect the other schools that are still regarded as being of a less high standard so that they remain part of the programme? I am absolutely committed to the idea of a programme to ensure that no school is not justifiably successful and popular.
Southwark is undergoing a real transformation. The Tate Modern is opening next week and the Millennium bridge, which is not quite finished, will be open soon. It is the borough of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens. If we cannot provide education now, we will not produce the scholars that Southwark, London and Britain need for the future. I hope that the Minister can give me a positive and encouraging reply.