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Another major, strategic London-related announcement was on Thameslink, which is to have a £5.5 billion investment. That north-south link goes through my constituency, crossing Blackfriars bridge. Thameslink is a very good idea, but has one problem, which I have raised over and againthe threat posed to Borough market and the area around Southwark cathedral by the impact of the scheme. I put on record that if Network Rail and Thameslink are to sustain the support of the communitybut more importantly, protect one of Londons heritage sites that has associations with Dickens, a cathedral at London bridge that goes back 1,400 years and Borough market, which is wholesale and retailan inappropriate viaduct and the demolition of lots of listed buildings is not the way to proceed. There must be ways of accommodating the double-width viaduct without destroying the heritage of that wonderful part of London. Huge support has been received from across parties and from people all over the world who are worried about Borough market. Let us say yes to Thameslink, but to a Thameslink that does not ruin
Borough market. We cannot rebuild history or remake Dickensian, historic London.
On the tram, I want to make a plea for the comprehensive funding review to direct adequate funding to Transport for London for good London projects, which would significantly reduce congestion, motoring and environmental harm. The first proposal in that regard is the cross-river tram, which is widely supported. London currently has two tram proposals in the pipeline: the Uxbridge road tram, which is not very popular; and the north-south London tram, which would go from Camden Town in the north down to Peckham and Brixton in the south, crossing Waterloo bridge and going through my constituency at Elephant and Castle, for which a fantastic new regeneration scheme has been announced this week. We need to know that the money is available to do it. If TfL has the money, the Mayor will say yes. My understanding is that if Crossrail gets the green light, and the money is there for one tram, it is likely that we can have the north-south London tram, because an east-west train will not be needed as much if we get Crossrail. That is logical.
People north of the riverin the posher bits of Camden, I understandmight be a bit nervous about the thought of a tram going past their exclusive houses and giving them grief in some of the leafier squares. I hope that that problem can be resolved. Even posh people can go on trams and benefit from them. People with expensive houses might even see their house prices going up, not down. Can we at least have the money to allow us to have what is not a cross-river tram if it stops south of the river, having started south of the river? We want the tram to go from Brixton and Peckham to Waterloo, and at least over to Aldwych. If the good burghersI use my words carefullyof Camden do not want it to go further north than the Aldwych, that is their problem; they are mistaken.
Finally, London has two tube issues, which are not merely related to south London. South London has 38 tube stations, and north London has 200a gross inequity, as I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will agree. On the first issue, everyone agrees that the extension of the East London line is a good project, which is waiting for the funds to be continued. Work is starting, and the line will close later in the year as preparations are made. In the first phase, it will run from Dalston junction down to New Cross, Crystal Palace and West Croydon; at the moment, it just goes from Shoreditch to New Cross and New Cross Gate. The second phase will eventually take it to Clapham junction via Surrey Canal Road. It will link all the bits of the system that are not currently linked. One will therefore be able to get on to the East London line via the Victoria line at Brixton, for example.
It will be no good, however, if the comprehensive spending review does not provide the money. I am a big fan of the line, which will hugely reduce traffic in east London. A lot of people will be able to go to Canary Wharf from south Londoncrossing the river is difficult, because there are not many crossing points. It would be a hugely valuable investment, so may I make a big plea that Transport for London be given enough money to allow the East London line to go ahead as planned?
The second tube issue relates to Metronet and its consequences. The Prime Minister has done many good things in his political career, but one of the bad things that he did was to insist on the public-private partnership for the London underground. That was always going to come to grief, and it has; and Metronet has come to grief. The impact of that is that all the restoration work, and the work on the lines affected, including the Bakerloo line at Elephant and Castle, is at risk because we do not know who will be doing it. Will the Deputy Leader of the House please take back to her colleagues, including the Prime Minister, the new Chancellor and the new Transport Secretary, the message that such a scheme cannot be allowed again? More importantly, we need the security that any scheme will be viable for all its users, if we are to have confidence in the London tube.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I was shadow Minister for London at the time that that scheme was being discussed, and it was as clear as day that consortiums put together with £2 share capital do not have the balance sheets to support the deficits that they will inevitably run into. The result is that the problem comes back to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Should not the Government at least let such contracts to proper companies with proper balance sheets that can underwrite the cost overruns, which are probably their fault in any case?
Simon Hughes: I am grateful for the informed intervention of the hon. Gentleman. What Londoners and the millions who visit London want is an arrangement for the involvement of the public and private sectors, if that is appropriate, or for the involvement of the public sector alone that does not carry all the risks that the current scheme had from the beginning. The workers in the London underground, the users of the London underground and local residents want the same mistakes to be avoided. It is no good replacing one failed arrangement with a parallel failing, risky arrangement. Please heed the warnings from around the House. It is not a party political matter. Warnings came from everywhere.
If we are to have a London that is fit for purpose, we need a tube service, a tram system, bus services and rail services that work, so that when the Olympics come to London, we have a fantastic city that works. I hope that the Minister will heed the constructive suggestions that have been made today, take them back to her colleagues and come back with good news for Londoners and for transport in London.
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Even the most fervent or rabid fans of the school academy programme would find it hard to justify the fact that Heartsease high school in my constituency could be turned into such an academy. The two sponsors have each put money into the programmeup to £2 million. One is a Pentecostal ex-car dealer and the other is the Bishop of Norwich. It seems to be a phenomenon raging across the country these days. Nevertheless, we are in the middle of a consultation, which ends on 20 August, from which we will find out the views of at least some of the people in my constituency.
I will not bore hon. Members with all the honeyed words that are said about the aim of such academies and schools: providing a lovely new building, which is welcome, and making a contribution to people's lives and so on. We have all seen those words. I do not think that I would find anyone who would ever disagree with that, whatever position they took. The school no longer appertains to be a faith school. I say that because, in its original documentation, it said:
there is an opportunity to support an academy in Heartsease. This derives from our faith that the love of God should be seen in our lives
in such a lively school. That has changed as the opposition has grown. It is now to be an open academy of the best sort and to be socially non-divisiveethnic, and religious diversity will be the flavour of the month.
I should say too that it is a school that can improve; it has had trouble in the past. That was the original criterion for such academies. Let me quote from its Ofsted report following its hard years. In February 2007, inspectors said:
This is a satisfactory and improving school. It has overcome significant turbulence caused by recent changes to headship
and governance and it is now much more stable
and there is a great spirit. It also interacts through the sixth form with the local Blyth-Jex high school and Sprowston high school. With the new middle school and early entry to secondary schools, there will be more pupils there than ever. I will say more about that later.
One wonders about the vision for the school, because it is not always clear. When we enter discussions with the sponsors and others they say that they are going to have environmentalismwell, everyone says that these daysbut they do not define exactly what that means in teaching in a school. They are of course to have their specialism, which is engineering. The school achieved specialist status in engineering. It is pretty rare in this country to take that on. It is a hard area to get people interested in, but by gosh when they do get into it they are interested and go on to universities and other places. The vision of how those things will merge has not been spelled out clearly and we have not seen any documentation explaining it.
On a wide range of value-added measures of attainment, the school is among the most improved in the country. It has improved at all key stages. It dispirits people when they see that that is not rewarded and that perhaps many of the teachers and others will lose their jobs. It will have its new glossy buildings, presumably, and its ICT facilities and it might raise standards, but the question is how those standards will be raised. Will it be by diversion of pupils from other schools into the academy because of the attraction of it? Will it really be because of the Christian ethos and what is taught theresustainable development or whatever? Will that bring people to that school to raise the numbers from about 600 to perhaps 900? They will have to come from the other schools in that district.
One thing that has really established Norwich schools has been the interaction between them. Norwich is not north and south; that is only a constituency matter and two MPs. There is a unitary educational system, where the schools work together and through the years they have interchanged heads
and helped each other. The products from our schoolsthe young peoplego on to do excellent work elsewhere; that is second to none. Therefore, social grounds alone may have helped to develop that school.
I am also concerned about the questionnaire that has gone out, which is quite interesting. If ever there were a questionnaire that you wanted to fail, this is it. The questions are biased and loaded. It is amazing. I will take just one example:
Do you agree with the sponsor's vision for the proposed new Academy? We believe in the unique worth of each child. Yes, No, Undecided.
Who could ever be undecided about that kind of question? There are 16 questions just like that, for which the obvious answer is that Heartsease school, as it is now, is rubbish and we need an academy to make it better. No reasons are given. It is just pushing people in that direction. Many people have pointed that out. I am amazed that a county councilNorfolk county councilcan allow such a questionnaire to go out in its name. I wonder as well about the Christian sponsors allowing that to happen.
One other thing gravitates against giving the school academy status. Yesterday, there was a statementit has already been referred tothat unitary status is coming Norwich's way. There is an argument about how it will come. It is not in one of the nine primary areas to which we were minded to give unitary status; the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) mentioned Exeter in that connection. Norwich is singled out and it is said that if we can widen the boundaries just outside Norwichthere is no green belt there now; areas have all merged togetherto territory such as Sprowston and Hellesdon, we really have a chance to meet the five criteria. Everything I hear indicates that there is great hope that that might happen. That means that the local education authority loses its right to look after those schools, including Heartsease, Blyth-Jex and Sprowston. That reflects a difference from where we started, taking one school out of the system and trying to make it very different. It would be divisive to do such a thing in the current situation. I hope that the Minister will listen when we meet him to discuss that issue. Unitary status changes everything.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has made some authentic claims about changing the criteria for academies, not dramatically but just enough. He said that it is just not enough to have a lot of money to be a good sponsor. One has to show leadership, innovation and commitment to act in the public interest. If one is going to run education, it would help to know a little about it before taking those responsibilities on. That is beginning to change, in terms of how the academy programme is rolling out across the country. There is a long way to go, but people are beginning to realise that sponsorship may not be the way to develop better standards in education. There may be better ways, such as addressing the size of the school or the interaction between schools. If someone gave me £25 million, I could take those three schools into the stratosphere, including Nobel prizes or whatever.
Schools need better buildings and playing fields. The science labs at Sprowston high school are mediaeval. I had a meeting the other week with the director of education for the county and we showed him the appalling labs. The wooden desks have things like Tony loves Cherie scrawled all over them. We used to love such desks, but labs in good schools now look completely different. All those schools need an investment of money, and to interact with each other. That has started to happen with the sixth forms and it could happen in other areas of school endeavour.
I also wish to raise a point that someone made recently in a big meeting about academies, and that is the human rights of people in academies. Are they covered by the 1944 Education Act and the rest of the 9 ft pile of legislation and regulations on education and grant-maintained schools and the rest? A lawyer from the eminent Matrix chambers, which I seem to remember hearing of somewhere before, said that that has not been tested yet, so that is another problem.
I do not think that the academy proposal has been considered in terms of value for the £25 million that the sponsor gets to do what they like, such as appointing governors and so on. Because of the unitary status situation, it will take time to discuss with other local councils how they can work better together and how the schools and other services will be taken from the county council and brought under the umbrella of the unitary authority. In those circumstances, I call for a moratorium on the academy programme. The judgments that have been made so far are unsound, such as the questionnaire that I have mentioned. If one looks at the education situation in the round, the academy proposal will not give us a well funded, accountable or fair school system in my part of Norwich.
The first subject goes back some way to the unfair treatment of pensioners from this country who choose to live overseas. Many people believe that the arguments that successive Governments have used are wrong. Brian Havard of Australia has pointed out that he has lost £30,000 since he retired there. Another resident of Australia, aged 96, is getting a state pension from this country of £6 a week, but it would be £70 to £100 a week if she had chosen to go and live in the Philippines rather than in an old British dominion. I do not expect the Minister to be able to do more than to say that she has heard what I have said, but it is a scandal that gets worse with the passing years. It is time that Government woke up and said that whatever the other spending priorities may be, pensioners should get the same north of the 49th parallel as in the United States, in another European Union country or in South Africa. People should be treated fairly.
The second issue is one to which I have given a great deal of time and attention. It is the proposed reconfiguration of hospitals in West Sussex. I pay tribute to the chairman of the primary care trust, David Taylor, who has resigned today for personal reasons. I do not believe that his resignation is linked to
the fact that the health oversight committee yesterday referred the consultation to the Secretary of State on the grounds of inadequate and improper procedures. I accept what the chairman said and I wish him well.
I suggestalthough he is in my partythat the Government appoint as chairman of the PCT someone such as Henry Smith, the leader of West Sussex county council. He would approach the issues in a proper way. He has led the council well and he would be able to get the consultation halted and then put back on course properly.
It is unprecedented for the first meeting of a joint health and oversight committee to take the action that that one did, and the Government should take it seriously. If they say that it is nothing to do with them and that the strategic health authority should make the decision, they should give direction to the chief executive of the SHA to try to get the consultation working properly. I shall not take the House through all the issues, but the representations made to the former Secretary of State for Health have not apparently been referred to the PCT as part of its consultation. The thousands of representations made to the PCT in the year that it took to come out with its inadequate consultation get no more than a passing reference.
Many of the clinicians, including those who got standing ovations at the meeting in Worthing a few days ago, have made a declaration that the proposals were not safe, and thatapparentlyhas allowed others to claim that the clinicians are agreed that there can be only one major hospital on the south coast in West Sussex.
The county of West Sussex has a population of 750,000 and there will be 3,000 births at Worthing hospital this year. The former Prime Minister, who thought it worth bypassing ones local hospital for special primary angioplasty treatment, should know that if he wanted that treatment he could have it in Worthing, where our surgeons are of world renown. At a meeting of the all-party health group, some of us heard Professor Sir George Alberti and another Government adviser, Roger Boyle, agree with Mark Signy of Worthing hospital that treatment there is more likely to save a patients life than if they journeyed to hospitals in Brighton, Chichester or Portsmouth.
The inadequacies of the consultation are well known locally and to the PCT, too. As an example, it was decided to recommend three options. A fourth was cut out at the last momentmy belief is that it was done on the instructions of the SHA or the Department of Health, but I cannot prove it. There has been some dispute as to whether the consultation document was submitted to the Department of Health for approval before it was released. It was certainly released later than anyone expected, but that is in the past so there is not much point in going over it again.
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