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Kerry McCarthy: Is the Minister aware that the CFT is currently conducting a survey of regional variations
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in treatment across the country, as it appears that there are some postcode variations in the treatment people receive? Will she support calls for a national service framework for cystic fibrosis treatment?

Ms Winterton: A number of national service frameworks could have an effect on the treatment of cystic fibrosis, but as part of that treatment we wish to help people to manage their conditions. That is an important part of the work that we are currently doing, especially in terms of ensuring that people take medication, and that they understand what can worsen the condition and how to alleviate some of the symptoms.

I wish briefly to talk about the 1998 review of prescription charges as that will highlight some of the difficulties that we face in the review that we are currently carrying out.

Mr. Hayes: When does the Minister anticipate that the current review will be concluded?

Ms Winterton: We anticipate that it will be concluded in the summer of this year, and I should emphasise that we would welcome any comments from organisations or MPs on possible options for changing the current prescription charge arrangements. Once we have submitted the review to Parliament, we will look at what steps need to be taken next.

The review will address in particular whether we should revise the list of medical exemptions to prescription charges. The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends rightly pointed out that MPs—and Ministers, of course—receive many representations from people on this matter. Some of them are about congenital heart disease, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. There is also now an issue in that people are living longer and longer with diseases—such as cancer—and that they have to continue taking drugs throughout their lives. Cancer has become a long-term condition for some people. We want to receive representations on such matters. That is why it is important to ensure that we consider these matters in the light of the review, as opposed to picking out one particular condition and saying that we would change the policy beforehand, and not consider it alongside all other demands—

It being half-past Two o’clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 19 October.

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Remaining Private Members’ Bills


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 19 October.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 18 May.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 27 April.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 20 April.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 20 April.

23 Mar 2007 : Column 1128

Community Cohesion

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Claire Ward.]

2.31 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Respect): I begin with this evening’s Evening Standard headline, “East Enders ‘need English to win Olympic jobs’”, by its Olympics correspondent. The article begins:

Or we could take the BBC’s website this morning, which, under the heading, “Locals ‘could miss Olympic jobs’” said:

Again, it highlights poor English among local workers as being critical to the problem.

There has rarely been a more perplexing paradox or bizarre contradiction than the Government’s policy of charging for English courses for speakers of other languages from September. Over the past few years, a range of social ills—from the riots that erupted in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham in 2001 to the so-called radicalisation of the Muslim community—has been blamed by Minister after Minister, at least in part, on the failure of groups of citizens to acquire proficiency in English. Indeed, Minister after Minister has beaten a path to east London—so often, that they are unable to answer my parliamentary questions about how often they have been there—to lecture the local people on the concept of Britishness; to lecture them on the need for integration; to lecture them on the dangers of ghettoisation.

I do not hold with that crude argument, but it poses a problem for the Minister. If the Government believe that a lack of ability in English contributes to something as grave as terror plots being hatched in Britain, why on earth are they making it more difficult for people to join English for speakers of other languages classes from September? For that is what introducing charges and ending the principle of universal access will mean. It always means less take-up. It used to be part of Labour’s ABCs that means-testing means less take-up, but that is exactly what the Government now propose for students seeking to study English for whom it is not their first language.

Working tax credits—the Minister knows something about them—are a case in point. The Minister intends to use entitlement to working tax credit as a criterion for exemption from the charges. So the Government’s
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policy is to make access to English classes dependent on a successful application for benefits that itself demands a high level of competence in English. “Catch-22” is the literature that springs to mind.

A few weeks ago, a large number of my constituents and those of other hon. Members, such as the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), who also has responsibility for London, and people from Newham and elsewhere in the east end lobbied Parliament. It was quite a sight and sound, with many immigrant people, including some of the poorest people in London. Most of them were women, including Muslim, African and east European women, who spelled out heartrending pleas—I shall refer to some of them later—to the Government to think again on this issue.

In my constituency, 70 per cent. or nearly three quarters of the people studying at admirable colleges such as Tower Hamlets college will no longer be able to afford the classes after September and will have to drop out. The college will lose 20 full-time posts, if the charges are imposed, on top of the 35 full-time posts that were lost last year. The Government are imposing a £27 million cut on adult education across London and the axe will fall on those precious, vital courses for people who want to be more British. Some Ministers, such as the Leader of the House, go around demanding that Muslim women take off their veils, but this measure will keep some of those very same women behind a veil of ignorance.

Ministers say that such provision is expensive. It is expensive at £1 billion, but we are not short of billions of pounds. We just voted in principle last week to expend £25 billion up front—£75 billion over the lifetime—on a new nuclear weapons system. We will spend £10 billion on the Olympic games in the east end, where east enders will not be able to get a job, according to the London assembly, because of their poor English skills. It goes without saying, of course, that we are spending billions of pounds on war. We have also just given a large amount of money away to the richest companies and corporations in this country through the cuts in corporation tax introduced by the Chancellor in the last few days.

Such provision is expensive, but ignorance is more expensive. What is the price of the alienation, marginalisation, isolation, anger and frustration produced by the ghettoisation of many people who cannot, despite their best efforts, learn the language of the country in which they now live, in which their children were born and are growing up, and in which they will continue to live? They are not people who are here today, gone tomorrow. What greater ghettoisation could there be than to ghettoise people behind a veil of ignorance?

It is extraordinary that Nazma Begum, my constituent —[ Interruption. ] I hope that the Minister will listen to the words of Nazma Begum at least, although she has not listened to a word that I have said so far. Nazma Begum says:

Jinette Nsanzugwimo, an African woman, wrote:

I shall read just one more, from Nargis Bahar who says:

It is bizarre, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Government correctly seek community cohesion in the country, to bring us together, and correctly identify that the lack of a common language for people living in the country is a problem that can lead to many things. We hear often that the security services and the police, for example, are unable properly to relate to some in the communities where problems might be germinating. One of the reasons is the wall, the ghetto, the veil of ignorance of the English language, especially among parents and especially among women. In those circumstances we should be increasing the budget to make sure that everyone living in our country has the opportunity to learn English, but instead we are cutting it, and that just does not make sense.

The cut represents about £1 million from the budget of large colleges all over the country. Every large college will lose virtually £1 million, with job losses among the admirable teachers—yes—but even more important than that, consigning significant numbers of people to having to drop out of the English classes that they greatly value and love.

For goodness’ sake, with the problems in places such as Oldham, Bradford and east London, where language gave us the reason for raising the issue of veils, for example, with separateness, with not wanting sections of our community to accentuate their separateness, what could do more to break down separateness and bring us all together than ensuring that the country invested in classes for people to learn English? It is frankly bizarre, it is grotesque and unbelievable that the Government, who have so often in east London and elsewhere waved their Union jacks and beaten the drum of Britishness, should be consigning a section of the British population to ignorance in this way—£1 billion for 500,000 people, not all Muslims, not all Africans, not all black.

Everybody knows about the way our community is developing: immigrants from eastern Europe, central Europe, Africa, Asia, the middle east—some are refugees, but others are migrants who have been given permission to stay here and become citizens, and are aching for the
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opportunity to learn our language, which is our greatest treasure. It is the language of Shakespeare and our greatest national asset. We ought to be shouting it from the rooftops. We ought to be going round looking for people so that we can drag them into colleges and give them the benefit of learning this wonderful language. Instead, this penny-pinching cut will force ghettoisation and marginalisation on the very people we claim we want to integrate into our society.

My last point relates to the introduction of means-testing and what used to be the ABC of Labourism and of social democracy. I know that the Minister is going to say that some people will qualify if they apply and if they can fill in the forms correctly, and that, if they apply for working tax credit and can get through the eye of that needle, they will somehow be able to apply for relief from the charges. I promise her—she must know this in her heart—that substantial numbers of poor, immigrant women will not be able to get through the eye of that needle. Some 70 per cent. of my constituents have said that they will have to give up their courses in September. That is a cruel and unnecessary act on the part of the Government and, even at this eleventh hour, I beg the Minister to see sense and think again.

2.46 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway) on securing this debate. I assure him that I have listened carefully to the points that he made. I do not agree with the way in which he characterised Government policy in this area, but I will attempt to address many of the points that he made. I should make it clear that we believe that the use of English can only have a positive effect on community cohesion. It is particularly important to underpin not only communities and community relations but opportunities, and in particular the opportunity to work.

A key element of our strategy to increase race equality and community cohesion is the development of strong and positive relationships between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods. In that context, the ability to understand and converse in a common language is obviously hugely important for all members of society. An inability to communicate in a common language can lead to lost opportunities, division, misunderstanding and isolation.

Knowledge of English increases both employment prospects and the ease with which people can carry out their day-to-day life in this country. It has an impact on access to public services, but also, critically, on the chances of being able to get a job and to secure income for the future. Research commissioned by the Home Office shows that a person’s chances of getting a job are enhanced by over 20 per cent. if they have a reasonable command of English—the standard we now require for citizenship. Among unemployed ethnic minorities, about 15 per cent. believe that a lack of language skills is a barrier to finding employment. Clearly, we take the issue seriously.

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