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Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): I wish to talk about rural schools. My part of Somerset has many schools in a vast area. We do not have enough teachers and one of the problems is recruitment.

Bridgwater shows the problem in a microcosm. It has both the best and the worst school in Somerset. The best school in Somerset has no problem in recruiting teachers, but the worst school has the problem of finding enough teachers of the right quality. I have read the Bill carefully and, for all the talk of golden hellos and golden handshakes, we still face the problem of recruiting enough teachers to that area.

Lord King, my predecessor as the Member of Parliament for Bridgwater, carried out a survey of all the head teachers in the constituency just before the last election, to find out how many teachers were required in each discipline. Throughout the area, we discovered that there were not enough teachers.

Special needs teaching is another problem in this vast rural area. We have not got enough special needs teachers. Someone with special needs cannot get a teacher for just two hours a week, because there are not enough of them to cover this huge area.

Minehead is part of Exmoor, which is such a large area that one could fit central London into it. There is just one school in that area, so parents have no choice. Their children have to go to that school and those with problems cannot be excluded from it. The Bill contains provisions for such children to be put into special areas or into special needs classes, but that is physically impossible in that area.

As the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) pointed out, many villages do not have facilities such as post offices so the parents have to work elsewhere. What can one do with children with special needs if there are no alternative schools to which they can go? In Minehead, 142 children have special needs, so I hope that the Minister will explain how the Government will provide the backing so that such children are looked after.

Another problem in rural areas is that of sub-standard wooden classrooms. Because of the policies adopted over the past few years, we are still going through a modernisation process. However, in my constituency the gable ends of some school buildings have fallen out, but will enough money be made available to modernise those classrooms? In the short term, I suspect that the answer is no. Minehead middle school was built for 500 pupils, but it now has 750. It still has five wooden classrooms and it is trying to replace them. Will the Bill make more money directly available to the schools and areas that need it?

Chris Ruane: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that the money used to improve school buildings increased from £680 million in 1997 to more than £2 billion this year?

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that interesting intervention. I am referring to rural areas that do not have enough money to improve the school buildings. I do not dispute the figures, but the money is not going to the rural areas that need it. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) is present and I think that he will agree that, in Somerset, it has been extremely difficult to obtain enough money to carry out such work.

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I also wish to refer to the problems facing governors. The Bill seeks to make enormous changes throughout the education system, but governors already have enough to do. How much more can they be expected to do before we start losing them? People will not be prepared to take on the responsibility for schools or to put themselves forward to help their children and their schools.

I also wish to point out that Minehead college has applied for TEC status. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) made the interesting point that schools do not apply for specialist status only for the money, but schools in West Somerset are applying for such status precisely for that reason. Minehead college has raised the £50,000 it needed—in fact, it has raised £65,000—when the total budget for West Somerset district council is only £4 million. That shows just how desperate people are to raise enough money so that they can educate their children locally in the manner that they want.

Caroline Flint: May I correct the hon. Gentleman? My point was not that money does not play a part, but that the money could be used to enable schools to innovate and to break through boundaries in a way that they could not if they did not have the money. That is what the Government are trying to achieve. Schools bid for money so that they can have the freedom to do the things that they could not possibly do without it.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I misheard the hon. Lady, and I apologise for that. However, I maintain my point that schools seek the extra money that is available and that every school that aspires to it should be given the chance to obtain it.

The support systems in Somerset are inadequate for the area that they cover. I hope that the Bill will ensure that resources are given to those schools that want to climb the educational ladders but that cannot do so because of their inability to recruit teachers. Furthermore, if small rural schools have three classes and they cannot recruit a third or fourth teacher, class sizes will gradually rise. I do not see anything in the Bill that deals with that problem and, although a safety net is in place, the problem seems to occur far too frequently.

I am sorry to have drawn a raft of problems to the Minister's attention. Many hon. Members have been visited by groups of constituents today, and Michael Lerry of the National Union of Teachers has just been to see me. He made it absolutely clear that the union would like as much help as possible to be given to rural areas. Parents cannot send their children to the schools of their choice, because such areas do not have enough schools to provide them with that choice. All schools want to succeed but those in my area do not always have the opportunity to do so. We are not a wealthy area and we do not always get the resources from the county that we feel we deserve.

6.58 pm

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): About a fortnight ago, I spoke in the debate on the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill and particularly on the Welsh clauses in it. My initial remarks related to the constitutional arrangements that enable this place to allow the Welsh Assembly to use secondary legislation to devise a devolved way of working. The Government, who support the current constitutional arrangements that deny

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the Welsh Assembly primary legislation powers, must work harder to make the present system clearer and more coherent.

Although important clauses in the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill, and this Bill, refer to Wales, Ministers have not addressed any of those issues at all. Perhaps, when my hon. Friend the Minister sums up, he will deal with them then. However, I made the same point when we discussed the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill and was notably ignored when that Minister summed up.

The Bill is, in effect, two Bills. They deal with the same subject matter, but address it in widely different ways. I am in a difficult position because I am being asked to support different lines of argument for England and Wales. They relate to the direction that local government is taking and the promotion of various provisions. Specialist schools, faith schools, league tables and formal testing at seven are to be promoted in England, but not in Wales. Therefore, one set of rules will apply to Welsh constituents and another to everyone else.

I am a loyal member of the Labour party and will vote in favour of Second Reading, which I can justify because the Bill contains many measures that should apply to my constituents and they will not benefit from them if it is defeated. I sympathise with the arguments that were ably made by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), although I probably should not say that because he is the spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. I appreciate their dilemma. However, were they not consulted on the mechanism to introduce clauses that apply to Wales, because that would have been the time to raise their concerns?

I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) in voicing concerns about the promotion of faith schools. Many other people are also worried about them. The Commission for Racial Equality criticises faith schools because it believes that they will increase segregation in inner cities. In the circumstances—there were riots in several cities this summer; we are battling against a fundamentalist regime in Afghanistan which is based on religious schools; and the British National party is enjoying its highest level of support for 25 years—I do not think that it is an appropriate time to promote faith schools.

Faith schools are said to improve standards, but there is no clear evidence to support that. They attract the better-off and the argument that they improve standards is reduced when we take into account the effect of such a background on scholastic achievement. The constitutions of countries such as France and the United States, which have benefited from revolutions against the old order, contain the principle that the state should have no part in promoting religion. There are no state-funded religious schools in those countries and it is not clear that they suffer as a result, especially in the light of the ability of the US to integrate people from widely different backgrounds. I should have thought that Opposition Members would have sympathy with arguments that come from the lips of American politicians, who would be amazed at the idea of the state promoting faith schools.

The Government recently proposed outlawing religious discrimination. It is hard to understand how it is consistent to promote faith schools and to outlaw religious

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discrimination. It is hard to understand how a real Protestant—not someone from a Church of England school—could explain Protestantism without saying how it is based on the belief that there is something wrong with Roman Catholicism. Perhaps Ministers would prefer Luther to have nailed the 95 theses to the door in Wittenburg because he was in complete agreement with the Pope and Calvin to have believed that the Church of Rome was not the anti-Christ, but a friendly neighbour. However, that is not the case. I find it hard to understand how a proper teaching of the theology of Protestantism can sit side by side with an inclusive view of Catholics. There is already a Seventh Day Adventist school. What are the Government going to do about minority sects with increasingly bizarre opinions of other religions?

On specialist schools, is 11 an appropriate age to decide a child's specialism? That poses great difficulties in rural areas, where there is not much choice. In an area with five schools, it is inevitable that one will become a specialist science school and the best science teachers will gravitate to it. Teachers from other disciplines will gravitate away from that school because they will feel marginalised. In those circumstances I would not want to have to decide what is in the best interests of my child, because I would have to consider whether he is going to be a scientist, an artist, a talented musician or whatever, and take the view that he is not going to change.

The idea of specialist schools sharing their superior resources in one discipline is unrealistic. The head of the National Association of Head Teachers said that that was

In Wales, Jane Davidson has listened to the people of Wales and has suggested proposals that are largely supported by them. I welcome the move towards a Welsh baccalaureate and the proposals on teacher assessment for young children under seven instead of making them take statutory tests. I am concerned, however, about the lack of prescription on local government ring-fencing, which has been deplored in some quarters. It has been suggested that the threat of ring-fencing might work, but only four of the local authorities in Wales pass on more than 80 per cent. of the money that they receive directly to schools. The figure is far greater in England. I have a mixed view on the differences between the two systems.

I want the two Governments on both sides of the Severn to show some humility. They must be prepared to examine the experiences in their countries and in Scotland and Ireland, and to look objectively at what works. After all, we are new Labour, and what works is what counts. If there is evidence that some of our proposals are not working and that something is working better elsewhere, perhaps we will have the humility to accept that and learn from the experience of others.

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