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Sex and Relationship Education

3. Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): If he will remove the right of schools and parents to absent children from sex and relationship education within personal, health and social education; and if he will make a statement. [152580]

The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): We want to see an improvement in sex and relationship education in schools, particularly following the Youth Parliament’s helpful report on this subject. We have no plans to remove the right of parents to withdraw their children from all or part of the sex and relationship education that is delivered within the personal, social and health education curriculum. We believe that that right is essential to accommodate different beliefs on what can, for some parents, be a very sensitive issue.

Chris McCafferty: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I wonder whether he is aware that according to the FPA, Marie Stopes and other organisations that work with young people on sexual health, education and services, it is the young people—especially girls—who need this information most who are the most likely to be withdrawn.

Jim Knight: Certainly we need to pay close attention not only to what the FPA says, but to what my hon. Friend says. She has been a long-standing tireless campaigner in this area and her remarks carry considerable weight. We do need to do better in this area. We want to build on the 6,000 nurses and teachers who have undertaken the training programme for PSHE. We will monitor how the new flexibility in the secondary curriculum is used and we will monitor the new PSHE curriculum. We will also watch how the requirement for all schools to become healthy schools—including by following on guidance on sex and relationships education—improves outcomes for young people. If all those measures do not work, we will certainly have to review the decision on the statutory status and the matters that my hon. Friend has raised.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Given the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, especially among teenagers, is the Minister confident that the current teaching in schools is adequate, especially given the scarce resources in primary care trusts and hospital trusts, which obviously have to pick up the bill for STDs?

Jim Knight: We share the concern about sexually transmitted diseases and we take very seriously the improvements needed in teaching. That is why it is important that 6,000 teachers and nurses have been through the continuous professional development programme, and why that number is growing. It is also why it is important that, as part of healthy school status, we should include as one of the four pillars personal, social and health education—and sex and relationship education within that. As I just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris
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McCafferty), if the measures do not work on a voluntary basis, we will have to go back and revisit the decision on statutory education.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty). Does the Minister realise that if those girls, in particular, are withdrawn from the classes, it will be yet another layer of discrimination against them, on top of, say, the fact that many of them start school with no English? There was a programme produced by “File on 4”, I think last week, which claimed that in 2005, 250 girls aged 13 to 15 were removed from schools in the Bradford district, which includes my constituency.

Jim Knight: My hon. Friend has been assiduous in raising concerns on behalf of her constituents about outcomes in Keighley and Bradford in general, particularly for girls. We need to ensure that schools work closely with parents and the community. Schools need to be sensitive to the beliefs of people in their constituencies, but they also need to ensure that they are getting the right outcomes for everybody. That is what we expect from all schools, regardless of their circumstances, but there is a balance to be struck by head teachers and governors on the ground.

Sure Start (York)

4. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): How many children and families have been supported by Sure Start in York since the programme’s inception. [152581]

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes): City of York had one Sure Start local programme, which opened in November 2002, covering a catchment area in which there were 598 children under four. The latest figures, from March 2006, indicate that on average the programme saw 20 per cent. of those children each month. In July, the programme was designated as a Sure Start children’s centre, providing services for 750 under-fives.

Hugh Bayley: There are 9,000 children in York under the age of five. By April next year, the programme will have provided eight children’s centres, offering support for 6,200 children. Is the Government’s plan to roll out the scheme so that all children can receive the services of children’s centres, and if so, what is the timetable for delivering that?

Beverley Hughes: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that he is a strong champion of the Sure Start programme in his area. Under phase 2, York is set to receive £1.7 million of revenue and £3.2 million of capital in total to support the development of the seven other centres. The Government’s target is for every community to have a Sure Start children’s centre by 2010, and as he rightly says, they make an important difference, initially to the most disadvantaged children, and ultimately to all children.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I believe that the programme’s first children’s centre recently opened in New Earswick, which is in the city of York part of the Vale of York. Does the right hon. Lady
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accept that that centre shows that children’s centres can work very effectively with the private sector, which offers nursery places independently? I understand that York will pilot the next stage of the free entitlement to nursery places. Will she use it as a role model, and accept that there should be a free economy as far as the free entitlement to nursery places is concerned, in York and the rest of the country?

Beverley Hughes: I am glad that in her question, the hon. Lady recognises, as she has not done before, that the private sector plays an important and substantial role in the development of children’s centres. The scheme is far from being about state provision: the child care offered by 58 per cent. of children’s centres is provided not by the state but by the private sector. As she says, that is the case in the New Earswick centre, which is to be designated this autumn. That applies, too, to the free entitlement for three and four-year-olds. We want to retain that mixed economy; overall, we think that it is a great strength. We want local authorities to support private and voluntary providers and to sustain their provision.

Language Units

5. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): What assessment he has made of the impact of the closure of language units attached to mainstream schools; and if he will ensure that full consultation with affected parties is required before such closures may be implemented. [152582]

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Improving provision of speech and language therapy is a key priority for my new Department. When a maintained mainstream school has a set number of places in a unit reserved for children with language difficulties, statutory procedures have to be followed before units making such provision can be closed. The process involves preliminary consultation, and then, depending on the outcome, the publication of notices, allowing six weeks for objection or comment. Final decisions may then be reached locally, taking account of consultation responses and objections.

John Bercow: I thank the Secretary of State for that helpful reply, and I declare an interest, both as a vice-president of the charity Afasic, and as the parent of a child who is in a language unit—which, I am pleased to say, is not threatened with closure, and is doing an excellent job. Given that parents in Oxfordshire, Surrey and East Sussex have expressed concern about their local language units facing the threat of summary closure, without provision of comparable quality having been made elsewhere, will the Secretary of State accept that the Government need urgently and publicly to remind local education authorities of their responsibilities, and parents of their rights? Will he simply undertake to monitor the number, size and location of language units across the country, in the interests of some of our most vulnerable children?

Ed Balls: I am happy to make that commitment and to make clear to local authorities their responsibilities, as I have set out. I know that the hon. Gentleman has
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personal experience, and also a campaigning track record, in this field. I met him and the chief executive of Afasic a few months ago. I am happy to look into the issues that he raises and for my officials to work with him and Afasic to look at the particular cases that he raises. It is important that a proper consultation should occur. I will make sure that that happens, and monitor what is happening across the rest of the country as well. More generally, if we are to address the needs of these children to make sure that they have opportunities and to prevent problems in later life, it is essential that effective speech and language therapy is provided in the early years and through school. I will commit to doing everything I can to make that happen.

Innovation, Universities and Skills

The Secretary of State was asked—

Science and Innovation

14. Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the progress made on the Government’s 10-year strategy on science and innovation published in 2004. [152563]

16. Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the progress made on the Government’s 10-year strategy on science and innovation published in 2004. [152565]

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Ian Pearson): It is a pleasure to open the first Question Time on the work of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The Government published their third annual report on the science and innovation investment framework on Monday. The report shows that over the past year there has been continued good progress in implementing the Government’s challenging vision for science and innovation.

Dr. Blackman-Woods: I, too, welcome the appointment of the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to the new Department and to its first Question Time. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to ensure that the expertise in British universities, such as the excellent Durham university in my constituency, is applied by industries so that jobs can be created in Durham and elsewhere? Does he accept that the proposed energy technologies institute provides a good model for that, and that the institute should come to the north-east?

Ian Pearson: There has been a massive change in the links between our universities and the business community over the past decade. As a Government, we have more than doubled the science budget and we have invested heavily in encouraging university-business links. I applaud Durham university for the work that it does. The energy technologies institute is important for the future of the United Kingdom. If we are to tackle climate change successfully, we need to invest in low carbon technologies for the future. The decisions about its location will be taken in due course by the board. My hon. Friend will know that five
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shortlisted consortiums have been bidding to host the hub of the energy technologies institute. We expect that decisions on its location will be taken in September.

Mr. Clapham: I welcome the new ministerial team to their positions. My hon. Friend is aware that when the science and innovation paper was published in 2004, the objective was to increase investment in research and development over 10 years, from 1.9 per cent. of gross domestic product to 2.5 per cent. so that we would be second only to America in the world. From what he said, it sounds as if we are on track, but can he confirm that we will reach that point by 2014, and can he say whether the private sector is fulfilling its commitment to match the investment by the public sector? If we are to compete in the global economy, we need a substantial science-based economy.

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend raises an important point about targets. The 2.5 per cent. R and D target remains. It is very much an input measure, and I am at least as interested in the quality of R and D as I am in its quantity. The figures are improving. Business R and D was £13.5 billion in 2005. It has been increasing in real terms, but as our GDP has been increasing as well, the situation has become quite stationary. It is important that we continue to invest in the science base. The Government can rightly be proud of the investment that we have put into science and scientific research over the past 10 years. Making sure that we maximise the benefits of that for the economy and for society is a key priority for us and will remain so over the next months and years.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Although it is encouraging to see the science and innovation portfolio in such competent hands, does the Minister understand my concern as Chairman of the Trade and Industry Committee—that is still its name for a few more weeks—that changes to the machinery of Government risk breaking some of the important links between science and innovation and business, owing to the portfolio being moved away from the business-facing Department? What reassurance can he give me that those links will be maintained?

Ian Pearson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He knows me well, and he knows that I will never forget the importance of the links between universities, science and business. I categorically assure him that the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will work closely with the new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to ensure that we have a successful economy in the future. Competitive advantage is, in part, down to our ability to translate our world-class research into new products and processes and to achieve the maximum commercial advantage from that. It is vital that we work closely with industry, and we will do exactly that.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): May I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to his new post, as I did when I saw him in the Select Committee? Have the Government had any further thoughts about how to encourage for the science and innovation framework the promotion of careers in
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science for young people, especially given the relatively poor salary progression that afflicts researchers and the problems faced by indebted graduates, especially women, seeking to make their way in science careers?

Ian Pearson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question and for his comments; he has highlighted an important issue. The Government are keen to promote the message that there is a valuable career in research. Over the past 10 years, the number of researchers has increased significantly. Applications for science, technology, engineering and mathematics at undergraduate level have recently increased by more than 10 per cent., which is an encouraging sign that more people are applying to study those subjects at university. Making sure that people continue with and progress in careers in research and science is also important, if we are going to make sure that we have a research community that supports our business community and that achieves high growth for the future, which we all want to see.

Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op): What actions have the Government taken to improve and generate new business links with my local university, the university of the West of England, and my neighbouring university, the university of Bristol?

Ian Pearson: Both the university of the West of England and Bristol university have benefited from the higher education innovation fund, which is one of the initiatives that the Government have introduced to promote innovation and university business links. There has been a massive change in our universities from 10 years ago in terms of technology transfer, the number of people working in the area and the number of academics who are working closely with business. That is one of our key strengths, and I believe that the Government can do more to encourage university business links not only in universities in my hon. Friend’s area, but more broadly. That must be part of our mission as a new Department.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I welcome the Minister to his new role. I understand the urge for Ministers to focus only on Government successes by quoting figures selectively, but we have faith, and we hope that the new Minister will resist that urge in his reply. The Government consistently tell us how well they are doing in achieving their goals on science and innovation in society, but equally consistently, despite the many targets, schemes, reviews, reports, initiatives and interventions over their long period in office, the evidence shows a continued decline in the number of STEM graduates—why?

Ian Pearson: We always have to select statistics, because we cannot use all of them. The hon. Gentleman might want me to read out a few pages of statistics, virtually all of which point in the right direction—that of progress and improvements as regards links between universities and business, research and development, numbers of citations, spin-out companies, and licensing of intellectual property. That is all good news. Yes, he is right that we want more people to do science subjects at A-level and in our universities. That is something on which we will
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continue to work closely with the new Department, DCSF, and it will be a priority for us for the future. I apologise for the use of acronyms, Mr. Speaker, but I had forgotten exactly what the Department was called.

National Qualifications Record System

15. Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had on an online national qualifications record system. [152564]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. David Lammy): Ministers have regular conversations with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and sometimes those conversations relate to the qualifications infrastructure.

Martin Linton: I welcome my hon. Friend to his first Question Time, and I welcome the new Department, which I am sure that many will see as a DIUS ex machina. I fully support the moves towards a national qualification records system, but I urge him to consider the alternative, whereby instead of having a central Government database, we have a user-centred approach in which each person keeps their own qualifications on a secure site where they can be authenticated by a third party such as an employer and can include not only school and university qualifications but professional and private qualifications from this country and abroad. That has wide support in the industry. Surely it is better for each individual to have ownership of their own qualifications than just to set up a central Government database.

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of individual ownership of qualifications. That is why we are shortly to trial the unique identification number. He has taken a big interest in this issue, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education wrote to him about it in January. I am happy to meet him to discuss it further, but he already knows that we have taken the decision to trial the unique identification number without the broker system.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post and wish him well. Will he undertake one piece of qualifications research before we come back in October by trying to establish how many people are qualified to teach a broad history curriculum in our schools rather than merely concentrating on Nazi Germany, so that our children can emerge from school properly qualified in a knowledge of their own history?

Mr. Lammy: I will miss my exchanges with the hon. Gentleman on culture. I know of his long-standing interest in our heritage and in history, which, in a sense, we share. On his question, I will have to leave that to my colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, but I will explore those issues in relation to adult education.

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