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No reasons were given for the change of decision—no indication of what “the next few years” may be. But earlier in the letter, it said:

I think this must be a radical change of policy, so will the Leader of the House make an opportunity to have a debate on the future of the magistrates courts, particularly in rural areas, so that witnesses, victims and professionals can have ready access to justice?

Ms Harman: Perhaps that is an issue that the hon. Gentleman could return to in the Adjournment debate this afternoon. The important thing is to have court systems that are accessible to people locally and to have disabled access and good provision for victims and witnesses.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Following on from the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for a statement to the House about the increased fatalities in the construction industry? She will be aware from yesterday’s statement by the
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Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that there have been significant increases in the deaths of those deemed to be self-employed and indeed vulnerable. Migrant workers are being compelled by illegal gangmasters on to a false classification of self-employment and as a consequence, the safety imperative that is delivered through PAYE is lost. Rather than reinventing the wheel, can she use her good offices to influence the Government to extend the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 into the construction industry?

Ms Harman: I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will be considering this question. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for introducing, by way of a private Member’s Bill, what became the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 and I remind the House that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is, as we all are, concerned about too many deaths in the construction industry and has set up a forum to work with the construction industry to improve health and safety.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I renew the request that I made to the Leader of the House last week for an early debate on Iran and Afghanistan? Many of us believe that our policies in Iraq are deeply flawed and many of us believe that, with the available forces, we will not be able to achieve in Afghanistan any of the objectives that we have set ourselves. We must debate those matters urgently and frequently.

Ms Harman: We have regular debates on Afghanistan and Iraq for Members to participate in. In the meantime, I take the opportunity to express my strong support for the work that our armed forces do in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware of any plans that the Department for Transport has to change the Aviation Minister’s title to the Minister for BAA? Despite the right hon. and learned Lady’s help, BAA still continues to have the environmental data relating to the expansion of Heathrow whereas they have not been made available to me. Following her assistance, I received a response from the Minister, but he told me that he does not think that it is in the public’s interest to release this data. How can it possibly be in the public’s interest not to release the data to the public while, at the same time, sharing that data with the operator of Heathrow, BAA? Can she investigate this issue further during the recess and, if necessary, have a debate on it when we return in October?

Ms Harman: Clear, well established rules have been agreed by the House on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that was introduced by this Government and they make available information that was previously kept secret. I suggest that the hon. Lady refer to those rules. Then she will understand why in this case there is obviously an exception to that Act.

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Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Equality of access to the NHS requires access. Today the Horton hospital is having to admit patients from Oxford because the John Radcliffe cannot cope. That is not because of the flooding; it is a regular fortnightly occurrence. By a cruel twist of irony, today is the day when the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS trust is considering proposals that will severely undermine the viability of the Horton as a general hospital. So can the Leader of the House join me in thanking Mr. Speaker for providing a debate in Westminster Hall on 10 October on the future of smaller general hospitals? If the Government continue to undermine general hospitals, they will be undermining a fundamental principle of the NHS.

Ms Harman: The fundamental principle of the NHS is that it should treat patients according to need. The greatly increased investment in the NHS has happened in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency as well as throughout the country, but I shall draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): May I reiterate the plea that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made for a proper debate in the autumn not just on flooding but on the protection of our critical national infrastructure? The Leader of the House will know how near we came earlier this week to losing power in the whole county of Gloucestershire; that was avoided only through the marvellous work of our emergency services and armed forces. However, that and the loss of water supplies in huge parts of Gloucestershire, including some areas of my constituency, highlighted a critical problem that it would be sensible to debate when we return in the autumn.

Ms Harman: These issues will be covered in detail in the review that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced. I take this opportunity, as the hon. Gentleman did, to pay tribute to the work undertaken by local authorities employees, Environment Agency employees, the police and the armed services who are all working together to protect people during these very difficult floods.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we please have a debate in Government on time on the Floor of the House on the continuing crisis in Burma? Given that the illegal military dictatorship there is guilty of extra-judicial killings, rape as a weapon of war, compulsory relocation, forced labour, the use of child soldiers, the use of human minesweepers and the bestial destruction of villages throughout eastern Burma on virtually a daily basis and given that this week the report of the Select Committee on International Development calls for significant changes in Government policy towards the internally displaced people and refugees in the area, does the right hon. and learned Lady not agree that it is about time that we had the first ever debate here in this Chamber on how, through concerted action, we can force the Government of Burma to stop slaughtering their people and to start liberating them?

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Ms Harman: The whole House will identify with the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman has expressed about the Government of Burma. As I have announced, there will be on a debate on Thursday 11 October on the report on human rights from the Foreign Affairs Committee. I hope that will give him and other hon. Members the opportunity to raise the issue of the appalling breaches of human rights in Burma.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Yesterday in Kettering, a man with a knife threatened staff in three separate shops in the town centre. When the House returns in October, may we have an urgent debate in Government time on the Floor of the House about what on earth this country is going to do about the growing problem of knife crime?

Ms Harman: Last week, we had a statement from the Home Secretary about her plans for crime reduction. I am sure that the local authority, the police and community organisations in the hon. Gentleman’s area will work with my right hon. Friend and her Department to make that a reality in his constituency.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on special educational needs funding? Many schools in my constituency find that they are getting less funding for children with special educational needs than other schools in less affluent and more deprived areas are getting for children with exactly the same educational needs. Surely funding for special educational needs should be given on the basis of need and not on the affluence of the surrounding area. May we have a debate on this important issue for parents, children and teachers in many of my local schools?

Ms Harman: The allocation of funding between different schools is obviously a matter for the local
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education authority to address and no doubt the hon. Gentleman speaks to it about it. However, when he talks about the importance of the right level of funding for special educational needs, I wholly identify with the comments. In fact, one of the reasons that I joined the Labour party was that I thought it would be better to have really good investment in public services for the people in greatest need rather than tax cuts for the wealthy.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Following on from what the right hon. and learned Lady has just said, could she therefore explain why my constituent, Mrs. Kruger, who is going blind will not receive NHS treatment but if she moved to Scotland, she would receive NHS treatment and her sight would be saved? Square that.

Ms Harman: As I have said to the hon. Gentleman on previous occasions, he should raise the case of individual constituents with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I will bring the issue to his attention, but the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence considers what should be available and at what stage for different disorders.

Royal assent

Mr. Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007

Offender Management Act 2007

Pensions Act 2007

National Trust (Northern Ireland) Act 2007

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Aim Higher (10-year Strategy)

12.29 pm

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement.

Two weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out how the new Department for Children, Schools and Families would accelerate the drive to raise standards of attainment, particularly for the most disadvantaged children. Today’s statement responds to the distinctive needs of young people and looks at how we can better support them through the development of positive activities and places to go.

The joint review by my Department and the Treasury of national and international research, including on the views of young people themselves, has established a number of key findings about adolescence on which we must now act. First, today’s teenagers do indeed face a much more complex process of growing up, with an unprecedented range of opportunities, but with new risks and challenges, too. Secondly, social and economic trends, including globalisation, mean that academic and vocational skills alone are no longer sufficient to equip young people for our changing labour market.

Thirdly, young people also need well developed capabilities—sometimes called social and emotional or non-cognitive skills—in order to acquire the flexibility, adaptability and resilience to overcome challenge and change. Employers are increasingly demanding those capabilities too. Finally, although committed parents and good schools are always crucial, these additional capabilities are not largely acquired through formal learning; they are acquired by participating in positive, structured activities with trusted adults. It is now clear that taking part in organised activities—whether sport, music, drama or volunteering, or the Scouts, the Guides or a rap group—led by responsible adults is how young people develop confidence, tenacity and tolerance, and how they learn to lead, co-operate with others and solve problems.

Those attributes are not just nice for young people to have; they are essential if young people are to overcome the challenges of adolescence and mature into well adjusted adults. The strategy is focused on ensuring that all our youngsters can enjoy their teenage years—a formative time in their lives—while at the same time, and crucially, developing the capabilities essential for success. The strategy builds on the unprecedented investment and progressive reform that the Government have already undertaken in relation to young people through Every Child Matters and Connexions—with extra support targeted at those most in need. It complements our decision to raise the age of participation in education and training and extends the initiatives set out in the Green Paper “Youth Matters”.

As a result of these measures, and the hard work of parents and the many dedicated practitioners working with young people, and contrary to the hype about youth being in crisis, the facts show that most young people are doing better than ever before. Exam results and the numbers staying on in education are both at all-time highs, with more than 59 per cent. gaining five
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good GCSEs and 77 per cent. of 16 and 17-year-olds continuing in learning and training. More young people are volunteering than any other age group. Compared with previous generations, young people are more accepting of other faiths and races, more liberal about gender roles and more likely to express satisfaction with their lives.

We also know, however, that a minority of young people are not sharing in that success. They are young people who are born into disadvantage, involved in high-risk behaviour, underachieving at school and, crucially, failing to develop the capabilities that they need for the future. They are held back by low self-esteem, lack of self-discipline and poor self-control. All those factors are strongly linked to serious problems such as crime, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of education and training, and the misuse of drink and drugs. Disadvantaged young people are much less likely to get the chance to take part in organised activities—organised through school or by their parents—and so they are doubly disadvantaged. The result is that the young people who most need those capabilities to meet the significant challenges that they face are the least likely to acquire them.

The backdrop to all that is an unrelentingly negative view of young people in this country, with the problems of the few eclipsing the achievements of the many. Some 71 per cent. of media stories about young people are negative. It is no wonder that 98 per cent. of young people have told us that they feel stereotyped, criticised and undervalued, with their achievements unfairly disregarded. Under the strategy, we are determined both to rebalance the public debate about young people and to transform their opportunities to take part in positive activities and to have places to go—especially for those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable or disabled.

Three principles underpin this vision: empowerment, access and quality. Our youth opportunity and capital funds are already putting real spending power in young people’s hands. Some 650,000 teenagers have already taken part and benefited. It is already clear that when young people influence local decision making, opportunities and services improve, so we will invest a further £173 million over the next three years through the funds. To ensure that we are reaching the most disadvantaged and excluded young people, we are going to invest an additional £25 million in the most deprived neighbourhoods. But we want to go further. Our expectation is that by 2018 young people will have direct influence over at least 25 per cent. of local authority budgets for positive activities.

We also want a step change in what is on offer locally to all young people—again, especially the most disadvantaged. The strategy includes major new investment in places to go. Unclaimed bank assets will complement new Government spending to support our aspiration of an exciting, modern, up-to-date place for young people in every community. Local authorities will lead public, private and voluntary sector partnerships, working with young people to develop visionary facilities for teenagers while addressing problems such as poor transport that would otherwise mean that some young people missed out. We want to develop young people’s capacity for leadership and entrepreneurship through a new fund, creating, in
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effect, a national institute of youth leadership. We will also support older teenagers to set up social enterprises in their communities and we will promote intergenerational activity by encouraging adults—especially active retired people—to volunteer and mentor young people.

Our success in engaging the most excluded young people will be the critical test of the strategy, because they have most to gain yet are the least likely to participate. We will invest in a variety of ways of reaching them. In our most deprived communities, we will test cutting-edge approaches to creating more and better youth facilities—informing how we spend the unclaimed assets in the future. We will also invest up to £82 million, in addition to the existing funding of £140 million, in established schemes such as the Positive Activities for Young People and Youth Inclusion programmes, to increase them and make them available all year round.

We will also invest up to £100 million so that third-sector providers with a proven track record in working with vulnerable young people can expand and sustain their activities into the future. We will build on the successful Do it 4 Real residential scheme, which has already demonstrated that bringing together young people from different backgrounds raises aspirations, especially among the more disadvantaged, and fosters community cohesion. A further £15 million will subsidise those who otherwise could not afford to take part.

Finally, this new investment must be matched by further reform. Despite significant progress since “Youth Matters”, services for young people are too often fragmented, patchy and poor. Yet research shows that only high-quality services make the difference. We need stronger leadership, and more skilled and creative people working with our teenagers—good role models who can relate to and inspire young people from all backgrounds. The strategy sets out a 10-year work force reform programme, supported by new investment of £25 million. That includes a leadership programme to attract more graduates into the sector, building on the successful model of the Teach First scheme. We will also expect local authorities, youth offending teams and primary care trusts to start to pool their budgets—a radical change to drive a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention.

With the strategy, we are making the most ambitious commitment to all our young people for decades, supported over the period 2008 to 2011 by £124 million of new investment, reinvestment of unclaimed assets and £60 million of new Government capital for youth facilities, and £495 million of continued baseline funding. I hope that Members of Parliament on both sides of the House will join together and take the lead in promoting a better appreciation of our nation’s young people—our future—and that, through the strategy, we can achieve a transformation of the opportunities young people need to succeed. I commend the statement to the House.

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