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Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for his proposed expansion of specialist schools, in whose number I hope that the Blackpool Collegiate high school--currently preparing a bid for sports college status--may be included. What resources does my right hon. Friend think he may be able to allocate to non-specialist secondary schools, so that subjects such as history, geography and citizenship, all of which need promotion, receive the right resources, so as to enable the expression of diversity of choice across the whole sector?
Mr. Blunkett: That will be done by ensuring that, first, should the Collegiate school obtain sports status, it can share it with neighbouring schools, to increase the excellence of the athletes and gymnasts of Blackpool who will welcome us to a triumphant party conference in a couple of years. Secondly, the programmes that we have set in train--the excellence clusters that are reaching out to other parts of the country--will ensure that the resources for learning support units, for mentors and for the programme for gifted and talented children will be extended in the way that I want. I hope that whoever is in my job in a few years will have been able to ensure that those measures and that investment--over and above the amount that schools would have received and thus vulnerable to the election of a Tory Government--have been put in place.
Sandra Gidley (Romsey): I would be among the first to welcome the greater diversity offered by specialist schools--I welcome the increase in their number--but the reality is that, increasingly, parents can send their children only to the local school. Their offspring may be budding sports stars, but they might be stuck in an area where the specialist school is one for languages--excellent though that may be. Are we not introducing a postcode lottery for education?
Mr. Blunkett: The Liberal Democrat spokesman agrees in his usual cheerful way. However, if the Greenwich judgment were overturned, people would be confined within their postcode areas and they would not have the choice to move across the boundaries.
Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central): Given that comprehensive schools have played a major part in raising standards of pupil achievement in the past 30 years, and although I recognise that we can do even better, may I urge my right hon. Friend to give particular encouragement to comprehensive schools serving the most deprived inner city communities to seek specialist status where they wish to do so?
Mr. Blunkett: The answer is an unequivocal yes. Under the excellence in cities initiative, we have deliberately supported and worked with schools to do that. My intention has always been that city academies and specialist schools should be targeted and resources provided precisely to lift the standing, the status and the achievement of the schools that need that particular boost; they can then share it with their communities.
Mr. Fabricant: I welcome those statements, which come straight from Conservative party policy--even though they were delayed because of the dreadful activities of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) on Thursday--but what can the Secretary of State do to make people in Staffordshire believe that anything he says now is not a promise today and no jam at all tomorrow? A promise was made in 1997 that the Government would spend more money per capita as a proportion of GDP on education--they have not. They made promises in 1997 to raise the SSA in Staffordshire within a year of forming a Labour Government; we still languish second from bottom.
Mr. Blunkett: There has been a £300 increase in per pupil funding--£700 by the end of the spending review period--and the commitment to increase the amount spent on Staffordshire's schools has been met, ensuring that the buildings are repaired, that technology is installed and that teachers are better paid.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): The Secretary of State has referred to comprehensive schools that, in practice, are not comprehensive. I wonder what the statement offers to areas such as mine, where we have so-called comprehensive schools and an 11-plus exam? We have four grammar schools and five secondary schools. How will the Green Paper provide extra opportunities and diversity in places that still retain selection?
Mr. Blunkett: Yes, in the Green Paper is a proposal, which I want to exemplify in the weeks ahead, to provide substantial additional resources for schools in such circumstances that are prepared to co-operate in sharing staff and facilities and in facilitating the integration of their pupils. In that way we can encourage the schools that have a traditional selection process at 11 to give all children the life chance that they are denied if they are excluded from excellence by an examination at one point in their lives.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order, of which I gave you notice this morning, concerns the removal from the Order Paper of Question 10, which I tabled and which was already printed in the Order Book, to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for answer on Tuesday 27 February 2001. You will be familiar with the letter written to me on 7 February from the Deputy Principal Clerk at the Table Office. I make it clear that in no way do I criticise the Clerks, who are doing their job, and in normal circumstances, there would be no whisper of an objection from me for ruling out a question that involved sub judice matters.
You may already know that Mr. Al-Megrahi has lodged a Notice of Appeal and that accordingly the sub judice rule applies once more to the matters in the case. The Speaker has therefore directed that your oral question be removed from the Order Book.
The rule also, of course, applies to your Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday 13 February on relations between the UK and Libya. References in debate to the matters awaiting adjudication in the case would be sub judice. Although the bare facts that the trial court at Zeist has reached a conclusion and that an appeal has been lodged may be acknowledged, any further comment about the trial or appeal or matters likely to be raised in the appeal would be out of order."
As notice of appeal has been lodged by Mr. Al-Megrahi, the case is now sub judice. Under our rules the question to which the hon. Gentleman refers has properly been removed the Order Paper. However, he also has an Adjournment debate tomorrow in Westminster Hall. In that debate, Members will be able to discuss the wider issues of the United Kingdom's and the United States' relations with Libya arising from the Lockerbie case to which the hon. Gentleman has also referred.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In answer to my supplementary question in Defence questions, it became clear that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence did not understand the difference between a landing ship logistic and a roll-on/roll-off ferry. I attempted to correct him from a sedentary position, but you, Mr. Speaker, quite properly rebuked me. If the Minister's answer has misdirected himself and the House, is there anything else besides the Order Paper that I can use to get him back to the House to correct the record?