Simon Hughes: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any way of formally recording in the Official Report or the Orders of the Day that a Third Reading debate has taken place with only the promoter of the Bill, and no one else, speaking in support of it?
In the short time available, I shall provide a quick profile of the Bill. It is a modest Bill, but it will make a tremendous difference to many young people leaving school at 16. There is already the Children Act 1989 and we also have Every Child Matters, which deals with five major outcomes for children. However, we still live in a country and society in which those outcomes seem to desert children at 16. We seem not to care very much about what happens to some children at 16. Many of them become NEETsnot in education, employment or trainingand some go into routine, mundane jobs that have no training attached to them.
My Bill is in four parts. First, I believe that every child leaving school should have a guarantee of an holistic assessment of their time in education. That should involve not only the bare academic qualifications that they have gainedor not gainedbut something much deeper and richer involving their strengths and weaknesses and their out-of-school activities, to give a fuller sense of what the person has achieved as well as what they might be able to achieve if they make the right decisions about their career. Such assessments should already be taking place in most schools through the Connexions service, but in many parts of the country that service does not deliver. Connexions is going through a time of change, and soon it will again be run by local authorities. This is therefore an opportune time to ensure that every child leaving school has the right to a profile and an holistic assessment.
Secondly, my Bill proposes a guarantee of a mentor for every child between the age of 16 and 18. That mentor would be there for the young person either via the internet or through face-to-face meetings. If the young person did not have the family backing that many children have, the mentor would be there to give advice and guidance at those critical times when a child must decide whether to stay on at school and do A-levels, go into further education or go in for an apprenticeship. That is the time when a mentor can be vital, particularly in the lives of children who do not have a rich backing at home.
Thirdly, my Bill would introduce vital guarantees for children with special educational needs and disabilities. When the Select Committee on Education and Skills, which I have the privilege to chair, recently investigated special educational needs the area that gave me the most concern was what happens to children with special educational needs and disabilities from the age of 16 through to 18 and beyond. My Bill will help those between 16 and 18, but of course that experience can be built on thereafter.
Lastly, my Bill would deliver for every young person between 16 and 18 a minimum of two weeks intensive training in community leadership. I do not mean picking up newspapers and wiping off graffiti; I mean training in leadership skills. We know how to impart such skills, and we know that an intensive two-week period of community leadership training can make a
great deal of difference to getting young people into work, and into work with training.
This is a modest Bill. I am sure that any Government who want to ensure a fuller life for young people would want to back it. I am sure that the Minister will say that he backs it, and that the new Prime Minister would like to embrace it because he really wants to make a difference in our country.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) has put across the real qualities of his Bill very well in those four minutes. He will be aware, however, that the Government have a number of measures in train at the moment, not least the recent Green Paper Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post-16. I know that he welcomes the measures in that Green Paper.
My hon. Friend also mentioned his focus on children with special educational needs. He and I have had many a debate, here in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall, on that issue, and I respect the work that he and his Committee have done on it. I am sure that we will continue to have a good, full dialogue on the matter.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends work on a range of issues in relation to the measures in the Bill. Although we are pleased to hear him raise the issues, he will not be surprised, given that so much work in the Department
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I wish to present a petition signed by Councillor Ian Nimmo-Smith and 1,190 people of similar dispositionnot only residents of my constituency, where cycling is obviously an important issue, but citizens from many other places in the United Kingdom.
That there is significant concern that the proposed changes to the Highway Code will force cyclists to use sometimes inadequate cycle facilities and that the proposal to require cyclists to ride on the left-hand lane on roundabouts will place cyclists in greater danger.
Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House shall urge the Department of Transport to reconsider the proposed revisions to the Highway Code so that cyclists are not required to use cycle facilities wherever possible.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc.
The first is the petition of the residents of the London boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth, Croydon, Lewisham and others about the Maudsley hospital 24-hour emergency unit. I will hand in the many pages of signatures in a moment.
The Petition...declares the Petitioners serious concerns about the decision to close the 24-hour emergency mental health clinic at the Maudsley Hospital, Denmark Hill in Camberwell.
The Petitioners further declare their anxiety that new replacement facilities at Kings College Hospital will not be ready for a further 18 months and that even then they may not constitute an adequate replacement.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Health to postpone the closure of the 24 hour emergency mental health clinic until the incoming Prime Minister and health ministers have an opportunity to review the situation.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Simon Hughes: My second petition ties in with the Adjournment debate on post offices that I am grateful to have been granted. I am pleased to see that the Minister for Trade is present to hear the petition as well as the debate.
The petition follows a recent announcement that the future of the Crown post office in Borough high street, in my constituency, is to be reviewed. I have long taken an interest in the post office, and have previously sought successfully to keep it open. Again, there are many pages of signatures.
The Petition of residents, employees in and visitors to the London Borough of Southwark declare the Petitioners' serious concerns about the decision of the Post Office to review the future of the Borough High Street Crown Post Office at 239 Borough High Street, London SE1.
The Petitioners declare the importance of this Crown Office to thousands of people living, working in and visiting the Borough and surrounding areas, including the more elderly and disabled... and reminds Members of Parliament of the number of closures of local sub-post offices in the London Borough of Southwark over recent years.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons makes clear to the Post Office the importance of this office continuing as a Crown Post Office and the benefit of withdrawing as soon as possible any proposals which put at risk any of the existing services provided from this office.
And the petitioners remain etc.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for selecting this subject, and to the Minister for Trade for attending. I greatly appreciate his interest, and the way in which he always engages constructively with Members throughout the House. I say that most sincerely.
The debate was prompted by the sudden appearance on the radar of the uncertain future of the Borough High Street post office in the London borough of Southwark, in my constituency. I received a letter about it, dated 19 April this year, from Alan Cook, managing director of Post Office Ltd, setting out the general plans as they affect Crown post offices across the country.
I stress that this is separate from the decision announced this week by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) responded on behalf of my colleagues and myself. That decision related to the general outcome of the review of post offices across the country. Within a matter of weeks it has been announced that many Crown post offices in Greater London are to be franchised to WH Smith, and that othersincluding the Borough High Street branchface an uncertain future. Then, this week, it was announced that thousands of other sub-post offices around the country would be similarly affected.
We will continue to run, and invest in, 373 Crown Post Offices
alongside those branches run by private subpostmasters and mistresses...As part of the plan...a further 70 branches are expected to move to nearby WH Smith stores under a new partnership agreement, also announced today.
For the remaining 15 Crown Post Office branches, including that at Borough SE1, further work to identify a franchise partner to own and manage the branch will be undertaken.
A letter that I received last week, dated 14 May, dealt more specifically with post offices in my borough and constituency. I expect that other Members representing seats in Greater London and beyond have received similar letters. The letter confirms the figures that I read out earlier, and also states: