Legislative Programme

[back to previous text]

Lembit Ipik: I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that, in some senses, there is a fair degree of disillusionment with Government performance. Will he respond to continuing concerns about waiting lists and the lack of provision in education, where a huge opportunity and a huge majority have, to some extent, been squandered? Much more money could have been put in and many people still feel that the Government have not been sufficiently radical.

Mr. Murphy: Of course, I do not agree with that. If one looks at past settlements, and my political memory goes back to the 1960s, it is clear that nothing like the present sum was put into public services in Wales. People told us on the doorsteps that they understood that we had improved the economy and put in the money, but they stressed that the next stage is to ensure that it gets to the front line, which, in most cases in Wales, is the responsibility of the Assembly. Nevertheless, we hold joint responsibility for delivery in some examples.

The hon. Gentleman must also consider this: if disillusionment means a majority of 167 in the House of Commons for a second-term Labour Government, I do not know what would have happened if there had been no disillusionment. I shall do my best to answer points about education and health, but we have to be careful in the Committee, because those matters are now devolved.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I quite agree that resources have been excellent and we are pleased with the amount that has been allocated, but I should like to refer to a point that we raise repeatedly in the Committee. In England and Scotland, health resources are allocated on the basis of deprivation, but there is no such arrangement in Wales. Those of us who represent deprived areas want to know when the Welsh Assembly will make the decision about the reallocation of health resources so that those communities that are particularly deprived can benefit from that reallocation.

Mr. Murphy: Few communities are as deprived as those represented by my hon. Friend. I understand that. As a valley MP, I sympathise with the point that she makes. A report that is before the Minister for Health and Social Services in Wales considers those very issues and obviously we await its findings with interest. As usual, my hon. Friend makes her points tellingly.

I do not want to go through the details of every Bill, because hon. Members will have read what lies behind them. I shall simply point out how they will operate in Wales. Labour Members will recall that one of our five pledges was to seize the assets of drug dealers. The criminal justice Bill and the proceeds of crime Bill were both in the Queen's Speech. The Bill to reform the welfare system and the pension credit Bill are of enormous importance to us in Wales. We have often discussed in Committee the plight of those pensioners who are not poor enough to receive as many benefits as they should. Those pensioners in the middle ground are to be helped by the new pension credit system. The Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill is enormously important to us, particularly to hon. Members representing Llandudno and Cardiff.

There are Bills that relate to Assembly responsibilities, although in certain respects there is no need or wish for substantial difference between Wales and England. Three affect us in Wales, but there is general agreement that we can operate together. The first is the adoption and children Bill. It is particularly important for us in Wales for a number of reasons, not just because of the Kilshaws in north Wales, although we should ensure that international adoption is considered. The Prime Minister set up the working party on adoption the day after I presented the Waterhouse report to the House of Commons. Furthermore, we recognised that adoption was too slow and we wanted to ensure that family life helped children in a special way.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): Will my right hon. Friend stress that the proposed register needs to cover the UK—Wales, Scotland and the whole of England—rather than be split into regions? That should ensure that the maximum number of children are found appropriate homes.

Mr. Murphy: Yes, that is an important point. I have discussed the issue with Jane Hutt, the Minister for Health and Social Services, who has responsibility for those matters in Wales. The Assembly and the Government have worked well together to ensure a common approach. As my hon. Friend knows, the administration of adoption in Wales is the responsibility of the Assembly and local authorities, but taking different approaches in that respect does not make sense, which is why we worked together so carefully.

The communications Bill is to be published in draft form. It is important to Wales that Ofcom acts as a single regulator, and the Bill will also safeguard bilingual broadcasting. Its draft publication will provide Members of Parliament and the Assembly with the opportunity to examine it carefully. The Homelessness Bill, which also has an important resonance in Wales and which aims to deal with homeless people more effectively, received a Second Reading yesterday. Those Bills have been introduced and they show how the Government and the Assembly can work together.

Two Bills deal with education and health. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) mentioned education. I assume that he was referring to the education Bill, which will, in respect of Wales, be permissive. That means that the Assembly will be able to enact any framework established by the Bill, if it so desires. As I said to the Assembly last week, there is great merit in including as many permissive clauses in Bills as we can, because they will enable it to decide how best to implement various reforms through legislation. That applies to any Bill that affects the devolved functions of the Assembly.

The purpose of the education Bill is to drive up standards in secondary schools, to promote diversity and, to deal with the issue raised by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, to increase the freedom of schools to innovate. Our aim is to make it possible to tailor educational provision from the age of 14 to the talents of each pupil. It is important to drive up standards so that children acquire the skills to make something of their lives. If that means looking for greater diversity in education, I agree with it. We already have diversity in Welsh secondary education. Of the eight comprehensives in my constituency, two are different: one is Catholic and the other is a Welsh language school. That offers diversity of comprehensive education and meets the needs of different people.

It is up to the Assembly to consult in Wales. It will do so and then decide how best to move the agenda forward. However, whether private funds should be used for education will be a matter for the Assembly to decide. I do not want to pre-empt the Assembly's debates, but we must all focus on improving standards in secondary education. We tackled primary education quite substantially over the past four years.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) rose—

Mr. Llwyd rose—

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) rose—

Mr. Murphy: Kevin.

Kevin Brennan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important consideration for Welsh education is ensuring that schools such as Glan Ely high in my constituency, which was twice labelled a failing school by the inspectorate, have the freedom and opportunity to diversify and grow? That requires funding and we must properly reward the work of teachers and pupils in that school. Children from Ely should have the same opportunities as other children attending schools in wealthier parts of Wales.

My right hon. Friend is right to point out that diversity already exists in Wales, and my constituency has a Welsh medium secondary school, a Church in Wales school and a Catholic school. Does he agree that the priority should be ensuring that kids who attend schools such as Glan Ely have the same opportunities as kids from wealthier backgrounds?

Mr. Murphy: Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. He comes from the same valley as myself, and will recall that areas such as Trevethin and Pen-y-Garn in the middle of it are similar to parts of Ely. The Assembly is considering a proposal for a similar community school to be built there, which would bring nothing but benefits to our young people. My hon. Friend and I share something else: we both taught for many years and understand the importance of ensuring that standards improve.

Mr. Llwyd: If the Secretary of State gives way to me, perhaps I should address him as ``Paul''.

No one doubts that standards need to be raised. I am sure that that is accepted across the political spectrum. I am, however, concerned about sponsorship, because I have it in mind that some large companies in the UK will be keen to become involved with schools for their own benefit and nothing else. In any event, how many of those companies will want to be associated with schools that are currently failing? The problem is that the gap between schools could become even larger. I put exactly the same question to the Prime Minister last week, but did not receive an answer, so I shall try again with the Secretary of State.

Mr. Murphy: I will answer the question as far as I can, but the delivery of education in Wales is for the National Assembly to consider. I hope that it will consider the involvement of a private company if it thinks that that is sensible and will help a particular school. Governors, local education authorities and the Assembly will consider any such scheme carefully, and proceed with it only if it can improve the way in which a school is run. I have to tread warily, because it is not for us to decide how that happens. In general, I see nothing wrong with private sector involvement in education so long as we monitor it properly. The local education authorities and others who are responsible for education are aware of what is going on, and it improves education and drives up standards. That is what is important.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 3 July 2001