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The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): We have indeed had an excellent debate. First, let me welcome the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to his new role. We have had the opportunity to debate issues before. I enjoyed my encounters with him when I was a Treasury Minister, and I am sure that there will be many opportunities for him and me to debate education in the coming months.
I worry that the hon. Gentleman might be a tad distracted and that he might have a little more on his mind than simply whether to continue the education policies that were recently rejected by the electorate. I fear that his most difficult challenge will be deciding whether to stand in the forthcoming Tory leadership election, or to let this one go and run to be Leader of the Opposition in a Labour fourth term. I see that the hon. Gentleman has brought many of his hon. Friends with him tonight[Hon. Members: "Where are yours?"] I am not running for the leadership of my party.
If the hon. Gentleman throws his hat in the ring, I know that Labour Members will want to join me in wishing him success in the forthcoming Tory leadership campaign. Indeed, we will wish him more success than he enjoyed during his time as policy guru during the latest Tory election campaign. Labour Members, who are committed to social justice and believe that all young people should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, hope that he can indeed overcome the odds and bring about a triumph of compassionate conservatism over the SAS darling of the Tory right.
I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's speech and his typical ebullient style. It was perhaps a wise strategy for the bright young thing of the Conservative party to concentrate on personalities rather than defending his party's policies, not least because he was the architect of a school voucher policy that was so extreme that it was rejected by not just Keith Joseph, but Margaret Thatcher. After all, the hon. Gentleman recently admitted to his local newspaper that he was "biased" about the education chapter of the Conservative manifesto because, in his own words, he "helped write it". What is his policy on school reform? Is he going forward, or back? Is his policy the same prescription of selection, vouchers and under-investment, or will he think again? I challenge him to come up with some fresh ideas and look forward to debating them.
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Let me take a moment to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's predecessor, Tim Collins. He and I never quite saw eye to eye on education policy, as might be expected, but he argued his case here in Parliament and throughout the country during the election campaignso much so, in fact, that it cost him his seat. However, he showed great dignity in defeat and I respect him for that.
I also take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) to his new role. I knew him before he entered the House, and I am sure that he will make a great contribution to the debates in months to come.
It is a privilege to wind up the debate. Hon. Members will know that the Government's general election manifesto promised continued investment and reform in the public services. Several hon. Members on both sides of the House made remarkably strong contributions about the need for continued investment in child care, schools and local hospitals and health services. Indeed, several of them lobbied for more resources, especially in the health service.
I was most impressed by some of the contributions from Labour Members, although there were also outstanding contributions by other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James) gave a passionate and personal speech about her life in Swansea and her campaign[Interruption.]
Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend drew on her experiences from the miners strike. She focused in particular on her campaign for women and child care, which I know she will continue during her time in the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) brought her front-line experiences of the health service to the debate, and pledged to continue to campaign to improve health services in her constituency and across the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. McGovern) talked about how his constituency is a university town and has benefited from the Government's education policies.
In particular, I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler), who, in succeeding Paul Boateng, will contribute in months to come to ensuring that her constituency has a strong representation in Parliament. Her focus on skills as an agent of regeneration is something to which I am committed. As a Government, we intend to ensure that skills transform opportunities for all young people and adults.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) welcomed the new city academies, bringing aspiration to people in her community. The city academy programme can do an enormous amount to transform opportunities for the most disadvantaged children in the most deprived areas. I look forward to working with her on that agenda over the months to come.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Ms Johnson) mentioned the contribution that Hull has made to improving school meals for children in
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the city. That is another way in which we can do an enormous amount to ensure that children benefit from healthy living.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) noted how unemployment had halved in Durham since the Government came to power. We had a strong contribution from my long-standing friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Ms Thornberry). I learned much more about her constituency than the common perception that normally prevails. I wish her well, and a great future in the House. We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith), who wanted more 14-to-19 vocational provision. I want to join her in ensuring that we deliver that across the country in the years to come.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I am reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Lady's fascinating and lively peroration, but will she explain to my constituents why they cannot get an NHS dentist, which led to 1,600 people queuing for eight hours in Spalding in an attempt to register for a dentist? That is not good enough. It is down to this Government. Will she either defend it or do something about it here tonight?
In our party's manifesto and in the Gracious Speech we explained how we would continue to reduce the number of failing schools, how we would open up choice for parents, how we would tailor education to the needs of every child, relentlessly focusing on the basics, as the hon. Member for Witney acknowledges we should, but also how we would provide opportunities for every child to be stretched to their full potential. Central to this party's programme is school discipline, and I hope that we can establish a consensus across the House on the need for orderly classrooms and good school discipline, and that we can work with parents, with teachers and with everybody in society to develop a culture of respect which means that we have good discipline in our schools. We have made real progress in tackling bad behaviour in the classroom, but zero tolerance of bad behaviour, and the culture of respect, good behaviour and firm discipline, must be the norm in all classrooms, in all schools, all of the time.
This Government have given schools the powers, training and guidance that they need to deal with destructive behaviour, but we know that the real work is done not by Government, but by teachers and classroom assistants working on the front line with those pupils. That is why we, as a Government, will continue to back head teachers and teachers so that they can take the necessary action to address this issue. The
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hon. Gentleman also knows that we cannot just legislate for good order in the classroom; it has to be delivered with the full backing of teachers and parents. That is why we will work with them on making sure that there is a cultural change, and that effective practice in the best classrooms is translated to every classroom across the country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support us when the expert group of head teachers reports, that he will support our work with the teaching profession and that he will back the measures that we take as a result.
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