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That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 13193/05, modified draft Directive on credit agreements for consumers amending Council Directive 93/13/EC; further notes the Governments current negotiating line; and supports the Governments actions in this area. [Mr. Heppell.]
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con):
It is a great honour to present a petition on behalf of the residents of Dacorum. My hon. Friend the Member for
South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke), who is sitting on my right, represents some of the petitioners, too. The petition of the residents of Dacorum
Declares that we are outraged by the decision of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to restrict NHS prescriptions for Alzheimers drugs. These treatments are proven to provide real benefits to thousands of people at all stages of Alzheimers disease and cost just £2.50 per person per day.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that doctors continue to be able to prescribe Alzheimers drugs treatments to patients who can benefit from them.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.,
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I wish to present a petition on behalf of my constituents in Northampton. The hon. Members for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), and for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), who are present on the Opposition Benches, also represent some of the petitioners. The petition reads:
To the House of Commons.
The Petition of the residents of Northampton and people who work in the town and use its facilities
Declares that, there is serious concern about the budget proposals put forward by Northampton Borough Council in particular the proposals to close Lings Forum Leisure Centre and the Forum Cinema, cut neighbourhood wardens, and take many other actions that are bitterly opposed by local people, will damage community safety and harm the interests of the whole town of Northampton.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to take action to ensure that Northampton Borough Council listens to the voice of local people and withdraws these proposals.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.,
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to promote the good work of the armed forces, and to raise the subject of the need to increase the number of schools involved with the cadets. I do not have a background of knowledge about the armed forces, but ever since I agreed to be a parliamentary aide to the Secretary of State for Defence nearly two years ago, I have been increasingly impressed by the work that the armed forces do in the community.
It is often said that the armed forces are the best education that many young men and women can get. Our schools have improved over the past few years, but some people still slip through the net. They leave school with few qualifications and no skills. As well as providing those young people with a trade, the armed forces have often helped them to gain qualifications, and have even helped them with the basics of literacy and numeracy. The Army, Navy and Air Force have given many young men and women a basic education, life skills, discipline and a strong sense of identity and self-worth. As well as being an exciting and rewarding career, for many young people being in the armed forces is their education.
It struck me that if the armed forces can help so many young people to succeed once they have left school, why can they not play a greater role while they are still at school? Traditionally, cadet forces have offered many attractions for young people, including the chance to try hill climbing, abseiling and other outdoor sports. Cadet forces have also given them opportunities to learn about subjects such as aviation and engineering, which cannot be offered by mainstream schools. They have given young people a strong sense of belonging to a community, and they have helped to instil them with a sense of self-discipline and respect.
Today, Sir Keith Ajegbo, a former head teacher and a Home Office adviser, published a Government-commissioned report that says that more needs to be done to engage white pupils, particularly those who are working-class. His report says that white pupils can feel just as disfranchised as pupils from other ethnic backgrounds. He says:
Many indigenous white pupils have negative perceptions of their own identity.
It makes no sense in our report to focus on minority ethnic pupils without trying to address and understand the issues for white pupils. It is these white pupils whose attitudes are overwhelmingly important in creating community cohesion.
We could encourage some of those young people to join the cadets to regain their pride and identity and, at the same time, have great fun. The cadets are exactly what many young people need to remain engaged at school and to prevent them from becoming disillusioned, bored and, ultimately, truanting from school. At present, as well as 100,000 cadets in youth groups outside school, there are more than 40,000 cadets based in schools as part of the combined cadet
force. That investment in schools costs the taxpayer £80 million a year. More than 200 of the 253 cadet school units, however, are based in independent schools. I shall not go into the reasons for that but, historically, there have always been cadet forces at our top public schools, which have long recognised their educational value.
From the 1980s onwards, funding pressures, perhaps combined with the squeamishness of some teachers in the state sector about the armed forces, meant that the number of units dwindled. It is time for reassessment. Why should those of us who believe in a good state education sector allow public schools to monopolise a programme that could benefit children from less privileged backgrounds? Indeed, it could benefit them even more than it benefits much more affluent children. I appreciate that many teachers are concerned about the issue, and instinctively recoil from anything that smacks of militarism and authority, but I am persuaded that cadet forces offer many young people, particularly white boys, something of real educational value, and I wish that the opportunity to join was more widely available.
The cadets offer a range of activities such as camps, expeditions, exchanges, first aid training and sports, as well as qualifications that are valuable to young people, whatever direction they take. Those qualifications include the Duke of Edinburghs award and specialist BTECs offered by the Cadet Vocational Qualification Organisation, which says on its website:
CVQO is dedicated to helping both cadets and instructors of the Cadet Forces get ahead personally and professionally. The qualifications on offer have been designed to show employers and educators the wide range of skills that young people and adults learn in the Cadet Forces.
I was very pleased that the Government have announced a pilot scheme to establish six new combined cadet force units in state schools. The Chancellor of the Exchequer wants more young people to join the cadets, as he believes that the programme provides
an introduction to both military and community service,
engage in their local communities.
Many companies and entrepreneurs accept that they have a corporate responsibility to the communities in which they operate. In recent times, various commercial organisations have invested heavily in improvements to young peoples education. For instance, in my own constituency the Conservative peer Lord Harris of Peckham, who is the owner of Carpetright, has just taken over a failing school and transformed it into an academy. After just two terms, we are beginning to see improvements at the Harris Academy Merton. If commercial organisations invest in our young peoples education as part of their commitment to communities, the armed forces, too, should sign up to the principle of corporate responsibility and consider investing in more of our schools.
I have mentioned one of my local secondary schools, but there are three in total, and I am delighted that two are now academies. At the 2005 election, I pledged to turn Mitcham Vale and Tamworth Manor schools in the east of my constituency in Mitcham, into academies. Both schools have been almost completely rebuilt since 1997, and they now have some of the best facilities anywhere in the country. Previously, however, while other schools in Merton were improving fast, they were in the bottom percentage of schools, both for GCSE results and for the value added to pupils education.
Those of us who campaigned for academies received great support from the Department for Education and Skills, particularly from my noble Friend Lord Adonis. In fact, I cannot praise him highly enough because, with his support, we were able to find two excellent sponsors that fit perfectly the needs of the neighbourhoods served by those academies. The Church of England, which has been involved in education for centuries, took over one school, which was renamed the St. Marks Church of England academy. The Church of England is perfect for that part of my constituency, because demographic changes have brought many black African communities with a strong Christian faith to Mitcham. They want a local faith school based on Christian values, morality and good behaviour. The new Church of England school therefore appeals to many of those parents. The other school, as I said, is sponsored by Lord Philip Harris of Peckham, the millionaire owner of Carpetright. As a local businessman who sees himself as coming from a very modest background, he, too, is a perfect role model for young people in my constituency, except, of course, for the fact that he is a Conservative peer.
Since becoming academies, both schools have made enormous strides. There has been an immediate change of ethos, there are new uniforms, and there is a new approach to discipline and hard work. Residents tell me that behaviour has improved on the way to and from school. Young people want to work hard and get good results, and they tell me that the atmosphere in class is much more professional. One girl told me that bullying has stopped and she is no longer afraid to go to school. Last year, before they became academies, the two schools received only 132 first choice applications combined for the 480 places available, and overall there were more than 900 unfilled places. However, just last week I learned that they will be oversubscribed next year, such is the support from local parents.
Unfortunately, there is a third school in my constituency. Although the two academies in Mitcham have got off to a fantastic start, Bishopsford community school in the south of my constituency is still struggling. Bishopsford is based in the predominantly white estate of St. Helier. Its latest GCSE results showed just 27 per cent. of pupils passing five or more exams at grade C or above, and if we disaggregate the boys and girls, I suggest that we will find the boys doing much worse. Two weeks ago the school was given a notice to improve by Ofsted, following an inspection in November. If it does not improve, it will be placed on special measures.
Much is already happening to try and improve the school. There is a new head, Andrew Barker, who I am sure will prove a very good appointment, and who I hope will have the support of parents, pupils and teachers. The school has been completely renovated under a private finance initiative programme that has delivered some excellent buildings and playing fields, and it has received extra funding and support under the Fresh Start initiative. But one thing that I have learned from my experience with our academies is that they have been able to improve substantially by changing their identity and ethos. They have to offer something that chimes with the parents and communities around those schools.
What can Bishopsford offer its parents and pupils to make it a more attractive proposition? How can it shine when there are other good schools elsewhere? I have met the director of education at Merton council, the LEA covering Bishopsford, and the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for schools, my noble Friend Lord Adonis, and they have been extremely supportive of plans to improve the school. They have also shown an interest in the potential for involving a cadet force in the schools improvement plan.
A partnership with the armed forces, through the cadets, would add greatly to the appeal of Bishopsford school, reduce many of its internal problems, and help it compete against other schools in the area. Such a partnership would offer it a new unique selling point that would help it first to survive, and then to thrive. The St. Helier estate on which Bishopsford school is based has strong links with the armed forces. A number of houses and flats have been built for ex-servicemen and women on the Haig Homes housing association estate in Green lane, which is next to St. Helier station. Hundreds of ex-service families live in the community.
The Royal British Legion is one of our most active and welcome community organisations, offering grants and support to former servicemen and women in my constituency. I often refer individual cases of people who come to my advice surgery to the legion, and I find it quick, helpful and extremely supportive. Other regimental charities also frequently help out in cases of hardship and need in the St. Helier area. If the armed forces wish to extend their commitment to the communities in which they operate, I can think of few better contributions they could make than establishing a cadet force at Bishopsford school.
I appreciate the opportunity to praise the cadets and the Governments commitment to improving young peoples life chances. I hope that this Adjournment debate is useful. I warmly welcome the work that the Government have done to extend the combined cadet forces to more state schools. I believe that many young people, especially working class boys and girls, would like the opportunity to take part in the activities that the CCF offers. The CCF is a further demonstration, if one were needed, of the armed forces reputation for offering good educational opportunities. I should like the cadets to be extended to many more state schools as a way of contributing something back to the communities in which they operate. I am not alone in wanting that to happen, and I have spoken to several hon. Friends who are as excited as me about the prospect of extending cadets to more state schools.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) has even gone as far as working towards persuading the armed forces to sponsor a local academy. My noble friend Lord Adonis is also interested in pursuing that idea. I hope that the debate has helped put many of the arguments in favour of it. I hope that Bishopsford school in my constituency might be considered as the base for a new cadet unit in the near future to help it improve the life chances of young people in St. Helier, Mitcham and Morden.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on securing the Adjournment debate. I am delighted that she is such a keen advocate of our cadets and I was pleased to hear her speak so highly of the tremendous benefits they offer our young people. As she acknowledges, the cadet forces are a genuine success story.
With a membership of some 130,000, the cadets are one of the biggest youth organisations in this country today. They make a huge contribution to local communities and our nations youth. I know that they are highly valued by my colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills, the Home Office and across Government.
I should like to begin by setting out the structure of our cadet forces. That will help clarify the funding structure. In total, the Ministry of Defence sponsors four separate cadet forces. The vast majority of the funding we providesome 89 per cent. of the totalgoes to the three single service cadet forces: the Sea Cadet Corps, the Army Cadet Force and the Air Training Corps. Together, they account for 88,000 cadets and 24,000 volunteers.
All three cadet forces are community based in more than 3,000 locations in towns and cities throughout the country. Indeed, in many small towns they are the most visible defence presence. There are plenty of opportunities for young people to join their local cadet forceincluding in my hon. Friends constituency of Mitcham and Morden. Any boy or girl who wants to become a cadet in the Morden area can join any of the single service cadet forces. All are well represented in the area.
The fourth cadet force, which receives 11 per cent. of total Ministry of Defence funding, is the combined cadet force. The CCF is based solely in schools and has a further 42,000 cadets with 2,000 volunteers. Today, the establishment of a CCF is open to any school prepared and able to support one. There are 253 CCF contingents based in schools around the countrycurrently 52 of them are in state schools, but as my hon. Friend knows, the figure will be increased by a further six schools through the new pilot schemes that we have announced.
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