|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Charles Clarke): I was going to welcome the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) to his demanding role shadowing both the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. I was slightly concerned that the rival for the title "titan of East Anglia" might give us a lot of difficulty, but I advise him to pay a lot of attention to detail and to speechwriting and to put a bit more focus on the real policy debates facing the country as a whole.
In his winding-up speech, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will deal with the points relating to health made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk. The Gracious Speech contained three relevant Bills and I shall spend a couple of minutes discussing two to which the hon. Gentleman rightly referred: the children Bill and the draft Bill on school transport.
In our Green Paper "Every Child Matters", we indicated that we would seek to legislate quickly in several areas to help to secure better outcomes for children and to ensure that support services are designed around their needs. The Bill will include key measures such as bringing together the planning, commissioning and delivery of all services that affect the lives of children and young people and their families; clarifying accountability for children's servicesa key recommendation of Lord Laming; strengthening arrangements for child protection by making local safeguarding children's boards statutory; and requiring all agencies to have a responsibility to promote the welfare of children and young people. The Bill will support joint working by seeking to remove legislative barriers to information sharing, and it will support an integrated inspection framework. It will establish a children's commissioner as a voice for all children.
We regard the Bill as an extremely important measure and I was grateful when the Leader of the Opposition, in his response to the Queen's Speech on the day it was made, indicated general support across the House for the provisions it contains.
We welcome all-party support for the Bill, but let me respond to specific comments made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Children not only has my total confidence and that of the Prime Minister, but the confidence of all the people working in the field with whom she has been working since her appointment to fashion the Bill and take it forward. In her responsibilities, she has focused on ensuring that we can take major steps to make sure that vulnerable children in our society are protected. Those are the issues facing us in the Bill. To be frank, I was disappointed that the hon. Gentleman took such a partisan view, since I know that many Opposition MembersI could name them, but will not do sothink that the policy embodied in the Bill is critical and do not believe that gutter-raking is the right approach to take to such questions.
Mr. Hinchliffe: I warmly welcome the child protection Bill that is referred to in the Queen's Speech. I welcome especially the proposal to establish a children's rights commissioner, which has been argued for by many Members on both sides of the House for a long time. Bearing in mind the fact that the issue of domestic violence has caused concern to Members for many yearsI welcome the Bill that is to be brought forward to tackle domestic violencewill the child protection Bill address another aspect of domestic violence, which is the number of children who die at the hands of their parents or carers? At least one child a week dies in that
Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. We have discussed this matter both informally and formally. My hon. Friend has a long and distinguished tradition and record of campaigning on these issues. I can confirm that the Bill will address the general issues that he is mentioning. I am confident that we will have a full debate on the issue of reasonable chastisement and on how we address such matters in a proper way during the passage of the Bill. We will continue that dialogue. I acknowledge that my hon. Friend is raising these important matters in a correct and responsible manner. They are matters that are legitimately to be considered within the framework of the Bill.
Gregory Barker: The Secretary of State is right to say that there are important issues to be discussed when we consider the child protection Bill. Is not that all the more reason why it should be piloted through the House by a Minister who is not sullied, who is not tarnished and does not have such a dreadful reputation in this area? Will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to deprecate the comments made earlier by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), when he so scurrilously attacked the children of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo)?
Mr. Clarke: I shall not deprecate any remarks made anywhere. People will make their own judgments on the basis of those remarks. However, I say in all seriousness that there are Opposition Members who think that the children's Bill is important, who respect the work that has to be done and who say that the issues involvedhow we protect vulnerable children in precisely the way suggested in the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe)should be debated, rather than focusing, as the hon. Gentleman has just done, and as the hon. Member for South Suffolk did from the Opposition Front Bench, on a scurrilous series of attacks from history.
I move on to the draft school transport Bill to which reference is made in the Queen's Speech. There has been a degree of misleading reporting, at least on the front page of The Times the day after the Queen's Speech. I shall summarise quickly our approach. First, we hope that the Bill will be published in draft during the third Session, and will then be the subject of substantial debate throughout the country in a variety of different ways. Secondly, it comes from local government of all parties, which have expressed serious concern about how we address the matters that will be raised by the Bill. The Churches have been worried, too, that current legislation is not working quite as it should. That is why we thought that we should take the issue forward in a non-partisan way by means of a draft Bill for wider consideration.
The approach that we have suggested in the draft Bill is that we shall free up to 20 local education authoritiesthat will be by their own choice, by the way, so Suffolk, for example, need not be a pilot if it does not wish to be sofrom existing legislation to trial new ways of getting pupils to school. It is a deregulatory
We are seeking to address what I think most people acknowledge is a serious issue of road congestion at times when pupils are travelling to and from school, with its implications for the health of our children, along with a variety of different issues. I say to the hon. Member for South Suffolk in a genuinely open spirit that we desire to address these matters in a bipartisan or tripartisan way, in a cross-party way, with our colleagues in local government of all parties and with our colleagues in the Churches, to see whether we can move forward and allow trialling to find better ways of dealing with the issues.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is entirely possible to campaign on the basis that we have a secret agenda of the type that was described by a headline in The Times the day after the Queen's Speech and by what the hon. Gentleman has had to say. However, that is not a correct reading of where we are. I offer him publicly, in the House, the opportunity to discuss these matters fully before the draft Bill is prepared, to see where we can go in addressing any legitimate concerns, and of course he and his colleagues will have such concerns
Mr. Andrew Turner: I am sure that we welcome the approach that the Secretary of State has described, although I know that The Times has impeccable sources for discovering these things. Will he explain why it is necessary to have legislation at all when there are provisions in the Education Act 2002 for local authorities and schools to propose innovation, which the Secretary of State may by regulation agree, unless he proposes to introduce something which neither schools nor local authorities would wish to propose?