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Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): The hon. Gentleman takes a profoundly parochial and complacent view of this country's educational attainments. In that respect, he is similar to Ministers. What does he think that we in Britain can learn from the educational practice of Germany, France, Japan and New Zealand?
Dr. Harris: If there are lessons to learn, they are the ones that I am talking about: education policy should be evidence-based and planned for the long term; the electorate and Members of the legislature should know what they are entering into when proposals are first flagged; and the wider context should be considered when education policy is being delivered.
All hon. Members are concerned about what is happening in Oldham and what happened there in the run-up to the general election. I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong, but I understand that Oldham, which is a diverse community, has two Church of England secondary schools and that not one Muslim child attends either of them. The development of too great a freedom for individual schools over admissions policy, based on the religion or purported religion of parents, can lead to social segregation. I would like to know what the Minister will do to avoid such a situation as the freedom of schools to select on such lines expands.
On the NHS, we must consider policy in terms of the context. Regardless of who is to blame for staff shortages, although I would blame both Conservative and Labour Governments, it cannot be right or sensible to give NHS funding to private sector organisations in a blase fashion to enable them to carry out work when that will lead to them recruiting from the NHS, which is the only source of staff. The Minister will accept that there are no pools
In the context of staff shortages in almost every health profession, have the Government, in their short-term desperation to meet false and counter-productive targets, given any thought to the effect on the NHS of giving taxpayers' money to the private sector to cream off staff in whose training it has not invested? There is no level playing field. The NHS, our universities and the public sector invest in training staff, but those staff might work in the private sector thanks to taxpayers' money--sometimes for the NHS, but, in the main, for people who can afford to go private rather than the poor with the greatest health needs, who are most reliant on the NHS. That requires the Government to explain whether they are thinking about the issue.
The Government entered the general election campaign making incompatible pledges: dramatically to improve public services, but not to increase fair taxation on those who can afford to pay for the investment in public services. Indeed, we know that the Government will raise tax, but they will do so stealthily, indirectly and unfairly. It is so sad that the only tax that they have ruled out increasing is the fair tax on those who are better off. I do not believe that the Government, without significantly increased investment, will be able to deliver what is needed to improve our public services.
The Government can no longer hide behind the Conservatives. In the previous Parliament, the Labour party spent a long time presenting the legacy of the previous Government as an excuse for every failure. Certainly, the Conservatives had an appalling record, but for the past two weeks the Government will have found that blaming "the legacy of the previous Government" has been truer than they can believe. On the delivery of public services, the Government can run for dishonest and unplanned options that have no evidential base, but they will not be able to hide.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): First, I offer my congratulations to the new Secretary of State and, indeed, to all her team. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who made a number of interesting points. Some I agree with; others, I dispute.
I want to consider the Gracious Speech through the experiences of my constituency and the changes that have affected it and Barnsley as a whole since 1997. I also want to make a point about Labour's victory, which should be put to Opposition Members: the electorate rejected the individualism of the Thatcher years, and one can see that individuality has replaced individualism. That individuality, which is a far cry from individualism, became embedded over the second half of the previous century.
In the four years that Labour has been in power, it has done much to pronounce that value of individuality. Individuality, as opposed to individualism, is the way to ensure that we create the conditions to enable everyone to fulfil their potential. Individualism has held that aim back. Labour's election victory was built around the idea of individuality--creating the conditions in which people are able to fulfil their aspirations--and the Secretary of State made her points creatively when she addressed the House.
It is right to emphasise education, as well as health and crime, in the Queen's Speech. Education in my constituency has improved dramatically over the past four years. For example, before 1997 and in the last year in which the Tory party was in power, some schools in my constituency had bucket monitors. When it started to rain, named children fetched a bucket and put it under the leak in the roof. However, within a few months of Labour being elected, we had our first new school for 20 years and major refurbishments, which have altered the situation dramatically, were carried out across my constituency and across Barnsley.
We should consider the national figures. In 1996-97, which was the last year of the Tory Government, about £670 million was spent on refurbishing school buildings. Over the past year, this Government have spent more than £2 billion on refurbishing school buildings, and my constituency has benefited from that.
When a building is pleasing to children, it encourages and is conducive to their learning, and some of the results in primary schools in my constituency and across Barnsley show that the refurbishment programme and the hard work of teachers carried out within local education authority guidance have achieved increased standards. For example, in the last year of the Tory Government, only 55 per cent. of children aged 11 were reaching the required standard in reading and writing. In the past four years, there has been a 25 per cent. increase in that figure. Last year, almost 70 per cent. of children aged 11 were reaching the required standard in reading, writing and mathematics. Those standards have been achieved because this Government have put the necessary resources into schools and supported the hard work of teachers.
I visit the primary schools in my constituency regularly. Only last Friday, at the request of the pupils of St. John's junior school in Penistone, I opened their new computer suite. I saw the excitement on the faces of the children using the new computers under the guidance of a well-trained teacher. On some visits to my schools, I have found that eight-year-old children using the computer systems have been answering a question that was on the GCSE paper only two years ago. Thus my primary schools have benefited handsomely from a Labour Government being in power.
In 1997, my local authority collected statistics demonstrating Barnsley's deprived position. They showed that we needed to create 19,000 jobs by 2001 just to lift us up to the national employment average. The same survey showed that the average income on council estates across Barnsley was between only £5,000 and £6,000 a year, which gives hon. Members an idea of how deprived the area was.
That deprivation, caused largely by the economic dislocation imposed on the area by an indifferent Tory Government, left us with a legacy that had to be picked up. The challenge has been accepted by the Government and we are now seeing the improvements in education to which I have referred. Those improvements are important for Barnsley's regeneration. It is realised that if we are to attract industry into Barnsley, we must have a much better education system and be able to provide industry with the skills that are required.
We have been discussing how the education culture is changing, and I referred to the way in which the changed values in society impacted during the election. Clearly, the perceived value of the education system relates to individuality. In that regard, I share the view of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon when he spoke about the change to faith schools and selection.
There is much to be gained from creating the conditions necessary to pursue individuality. Much of the gain could be lost if we were to revert to selection and specialisation in some of our schools. If we did that, we would risk creating a two-tier system, so we must be very cautious. I urge the Secretary of State to look carefully at the matter before making those changes, because all that we have gained in creating the conditions for individuality could be lost if we were to make the wrong move in developing the secondary sector.
The issue of health is also enormously important to my constituency and to Barnsley generally. The 1997 survey to which I referred also looked at the health problems across Barnsley and my constituency. It identified the fact that 30 per cent. of households--nearly a third--have a disabled person. Much of that disability results from Barnsley's heavy industrial base in coal mining and steel, and many of those being cared for suffer from respiratory diseases as a result of coal mining.
I thank the Government for much of the work that they have done, particularly in setting up a system of payment for former miners suffering from respiratory diseases and a scheme that pays compensation to miners suffering from vibration white finger. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is also helping to rebuild our communities. In the days of economic dislocation, Barnsley's communities started to unravel and they needed to be rebuilt. That is beginning to happen with the help of the coalfield regeneration fund.
Given Barnsley's high rate of heart disease and strokes, much can be gained from having a health service that can provide for the community's needs. South Yorkshire's health action zone works with the local health authority. However, because the health authority started from a very low base, the percentage increases have not been sufficient to provide the resources needed to tackle Barnsley's health problems. That needs to be looked at. Although a lot of work has been done within the health action zone, in health as in education there are dangers in involving the private sector. It all comes down to a question of ethics: the ethic of individuality as opposed to that of individualism; providing a service for need as opposed to one for profit. We must look carefully before extending the private sector into health service provision.
I have referred to the crime scene and I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to a new police Bill, particularly the setting up of a criminal assets recovery unit. I chair Barnsley's community safety partnership which, as some Members will recall, was set up under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Barnsley ran a community safety project from 1995. As a result of much of the work that we did in the town, it was taken as a template for many of the projects introduced via the 1998 Act. It has
However, Barnsley has a drugs problem. The drugs action team reports that every 41st person in Barnsley regularly takes heroin. We have a population of some 237,000 people, which means that 6,000 people regularly take heroin. That is the source of crime in my area: 70 per cent. of crime in my constituency and across Barnsley is drugs-driven.
We must reconsider the strategy. The drugs tsar set out the three planks of his strategy: education, treatment and stifling supply on the streets. We have had some success, but stifling supply on the streets is enormously difficult. The decision of the police in London to concentrate their resources on hard rather than on soft drugs is a step forward. The problem in Barnsley is heroin, which is becoming a drug of first use. We must concentrate our resources to ensure that we tackle the problem of hard drugs.
I want to refer to the health and safety aspect of the Queen's Speech. The Cullen report will be taken forward in new legislation. It is important that that is done. The railway industry has a poor health and safety record, and it needs to be bettered. In the press today, it is reported that last month 50 trains went through red lights, so there is still an enormous problem, which must be dealt with via legislation.
Railtrack has failed, so I should like the Government to consider whether to bring the track back into public ownership. I think that there is a case for that. An opinion poll during the general election showed that 90 per cent. of the public are in favour of Railtrack being brought back into public ownership. I urge the Government to sit down with the unions in the rail industry--especially the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers--and talk about the issues to work out a strategy for the future. It may be possible for a non-profit-making organisation to run Railtrack. I believe that, given the pronounced problem, strong health and safety legislation is required.
The Gracious Speech referred to NATO. I sit on the NATO parliamentary assembly and I am concerned about some of the plans for expansion. We must be extremely careful about expanding NATO, and should ensure that it is expanded into some of the former Soviet Union republics only if there is consent and understanding. In March, the civil dimensions of security committee met at the Duma in Moscow to discuss some of Russia's fears regarding the expansion of NATO, which were well founded. Anyone who has followed the son of star wars debate will have read in the press this week about Mr. Putin's meeting with President Bush. The Russians have made it clear that if the anti-ballistic missile treaty were ditched, it would push the world into another arms race. Britain has an important part to play. We should make it clear that there should be a European strategy on son of star wars, rather than different countries taking their own separate initiatives.
The Queen's Speech offers a great deal. It clearly shows our plans for revitalising public services, which I believe will be achieved in the programme for this Session and for the next three years. I am confident that we can accomplish what we set out in our manifesto.