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Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): For six years, I was a lecturer in higher education. I witnessed not only massive expansion in participation but an under-investment in the sector. Will the hon. Gentleman guarantee to me that, under his proposals, which would restrict the numbers going into higher education, none of my constituents' families and children will suffer from not being allowed to go to university, particularly those in the most deprived communities, in respect of whom the Government have enjoyed great success by increasing participation?
Mr. Yeo: I am happy to guarantee the hon. Gentleman that any student who is qualified to enter a university and whom that university wishes to take will be able to go. My concern is precisely about those students from the poorer communities to which he refers. According to Barclays bank, they will face a debt that, by 2010, will exceed £30,000. That is frightening for many people who may be contemplating a degree course; it is also worrying for their parents. If young people are deterred from going to university altogether, they will be predominantly from poorer familiesthe families about whom Ministers always claim to be concerned, but who in practice are often damaged by the policies of this Government.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the Russell group of universities student admissions from among the 7 to 8 per cent. of young people who go to public schools are seriously disproportionate? On his drive
Mr. Yeo: Let me say first that I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has signed the early-day motion that criticises the Government's policy. I hope that he will take the opportunity to vote in support of his views when the Bill's Second Reading takes place in the new year. The right way for universities to decide who to accept on to their degree courses is for them to set the criteria, publish the criteria and make their own selection. The wrong way is for Ministers to tell them that they want to embark on some social engineering experiment to manipulate university intakes.
Is the Secretary of State pleased that, as a result of his policy, the next generation of school teachers will start their careers with a debt equivalent to their gross annual salary? Because of him, after 10 years of work, a teacher will still have to devote 7 per cent. of his or her take-home pay to servicing that debt. It will take 15 years of hard work in the classroom to pay off that debt completely. Does he think that his top-up fees policy will make it easier or harder to attract graduates into teaching? Does he think that he will make it more or less likely that those teachers who start work will be able to afford a mortgage while in their 20s or 30s?
Another offensive aspect of this Bill is the access regulator. Will the Minister say which universities support the idea of such a regulator? One would hope that after years of telling teachers, nurses and doctors how to do their jobswith disastrous consequencesMinisters might have learned their lesson, although, sadly, it does not look like it. Ministers apparently know better than universities too, so they are going to tell them who to let in and who to exclude. That will not be on the basis of who is best qualified to benefit from a university course; instead, we are embarking on an expensive new experiment that is not in the interests of the young people whom Ministers will use as guinea pigs, not in the interests of employers, none of whom is calling for more graduate recruits, and not in the interests of universities, who do not want more students with fewer qualifications, especially when drop-out rates at some universities are already as high as one in threea failure rate that constitutes an appalling waste of human and financial resources.
Mr. Allen: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. I do not doubt his good will, that of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench or indeed that of previous Governments. The truth, however, is that over the last 40 years the number of working-class kids going to university has been stable at around 20 per cent. It is incumbent on the Opposition to come up with some answers to tackle that disgrace, rather than wash their hands of it and say that they will leave it to university vice-chancellors, who have had their chance over the past 40 years.
I want to turn to another Bill in the Queen's Speechthe child protection Bill. It is almost a year since the Laming report was published, and almost four years since the tragic death of Victoria Climbié, so the Bill is not appearing a day too soon. We look forward to seeing the details of it, and we hope to give it our broad support. Before that can happen, one important change must take placethe Minister for Children must be replaced. No Member of the House is less suited to the task of introducing a Bill to improve child protection than her. It was astonishing enough, given her disgraceful record as leader of Islington borough council, that the Prime Minister should have appointed her to this sensitive and important job in the first place; the fact that she remains in place now, however, is beyond belief.
I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear in his speech whether he has full confidence in a Minister for Children who tried to prevent the BBC from exposing her record on child protection issues; a Minister who branded a totally innocent victim of child abuse as a seriously disturbed person; and a Minister who made this extraordinary and totally unfounded attackthe victim of which could not reply because he was unaware of what she was doingnot because she believed that it was in any way justified but solely as a shoddy and ultimately futile attempt to save herself from embarrassment. She then tried to prevent the attack from becoming known, and, when all these disgraceful circumstances finally came to light she refused to give any explanation or apology until she was forced to do so by the threat of legal action. Anything less than a forthright condemnation of the Minister for Children by the Secretary of State in his speech in a few minutes
Mr. Speaker: Order. I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman and he is going too far in this matter. Any criticism of the nature in which he is indulging should be on a substantive motion of the House. I therefore hope that he will move on.
Mr. Yeo: The child protection Bill is mentioned in the Queen's Speech. As far as we know, the Minister for Children will be responsible for taking it through the House. I am worried that the Secretary of State, like the Prime Minister and the Minister
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should take my advice. I like to give good advice. Of course he can talk about the Bill, but he is referring to an individual Member of the House, which requires a substantive motion. I let him make his case to an extent, but it must now stop. It must cease.
On health matters, after the mangling that the Government's flagship health Bill received in the last Session, the legislative programme is, not surprisingly, much lighter this year. As that Bill imposed a two-tier health service in which a few hospitals will enjoy the privileges denied to the many, most hon. Members will breathe a sigh of relief that there is not more legislation. The absence of a mental health Bill, however, is a serious omission. Although we have repeatedly said that the Government's draft mental health Bill is not the answer, we desperately need an update to the 1959 and 1983 mental health legislation. Unfortunately, that appears to have fallen victim to the turf war between the Home Office and the Department of Health. The failure to introduce a mental health Bill will heighten the stigma faced by people with mental health problems. They need legislation to protect their rights as well the ability to gain access to treatments. The lack of a Bill means that mental health remains a poor relation to the rest of the national health service.
The national health service chief executive published his annual report this morning. We welcome the progress that he describes. We congratulate those NHS staff who have contributed to that achievement, but as usual the report tells only part of the story. Although spending on the NHS is up by 37.5 per cent., activity is up by only 5 per cent. Although fewer patients are waiting for very long periods, overall patients are waiting longer. The average waiting time is now nine days longer than it was four years ago.
Despite the fact that in certain respects the NHS clearly has improved, the trouble is that too often the experience of individual patients, nurses and doctors does not bear out Ministers' claims. The Prime Minister likes to boast about falling waiting times, but he does not mention the fact that the average waiting time for 12,000 patients with chronic renal failure has tripled since 1999. He does not mention the fact that the average waiting time for 19,000 people suffering from atrial fibrillation has increased by a half since 1999. He does not mention the fact that 50,000 children waiting for paediatric surgery now wait a third longer than they had to wait four years ago. He does not mention the 28,000 people who are waiting a third longer for neurosurgery than they would have done in 1999.
The claims in the Queen's Speech that the Government will give more freedoms to NHS staff are likely to produce a hollow laugh among hard-pressed doctors, nurses and managers. Which targets do the Government intend to abolish? Do they include the one that has led to patients going blind because the Secretary of State set a target for hospitals to see new glaucoma patients instead of treating existing sufferers, or is it the one that forces accident and emergency departments to leave patients waiting in ambulances or inflatable tents instead of allowing them inside the hospital?
Against that background, is it any wonder that the number of nurses leaving the register last year was almost twice as high as that for the previous year? Is it any wonder that more than half of family doctors report that recruitment is harder this year, with more than two out of three vacancies for family doctors remaining unfilled after six months?