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I want to mention another big issue, which is often not understood. Many science departments in universities have closed in recent years, partly because the funding council does not fully fund the cost of the disproportionately expensive courses. However, there is another factor: if university vice-chancellors and bursars see that the cohort of 15 and 16-year-olds taking GCSE physics and chemistry in a particular year is small, they know that not many children will apply to do those subjects at university when they reach the age of 18. If the number of applicants is smaller, the departments will be smaller, and if the departments are smaller, the research grants will be smaller, because such grants relate to departmental size. The effect is that a university knows when it looks at the number of
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15 to 16-year-olds taking GCSEs what size the research budget will be, and they are worried.

We must address that network of issues, and I urge the Government to do much more. I have published my submission to the shadow Cabinet, and as we are not having a general election, I urge the Labour Government to read my report, which is available in the Library and on all good websites. We must take corrective action now. We must improve teacher retention in sciences. We have to do more to stimulate use of the available science learning centres—partly funded by the Government and partly by the Wellcome Trust. That means changing the structure to allow supply teachers to go in when teachers go off to be trained. A whole series of interconnections have to be addressed; if not, we will not make a rapid change, however aspirational we are. We have to change the career structure that by and large sees careers teachers saying to children, “Well, that might well be a difficult subject, so don’t try it”. We need to downgrade the weighting of non-core subjects in school league tables to provide an incentive.

I urge the Government not to engage in banter between the Front Benches, as such banter is irrelevant. Let us stimulate ourselves to stimulate children to do better at whatever they want to do. Let us also remember that part of the overall ambition is to be excellent on a global basis and face up to some of the real challenges that the country will encounter over the next decade.

7.20 pm

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): Let me say at the outset, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am speaking in favour of the Loyal Address and against the Opposition amendment. It is a pleasure to participate in today’s debate. I do not intend to detain the House for long, but I want to make a few points about education. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), who made an excellent speech on the same matter that I want to raise—increasing the school leaving age to 18.

In my Barnsley constituency, we have made great progress in education over the last few years. We have had two record years of educational achievement. Unfortunately, just as we have achieved better results, the national average has improved, so a gap still remains between our own achievement and the national average—but we still strive towards it. The building schools for the future programme provides one important advantage for us in the near future, as most of our primary schools, and every secondary school in the constituency, are to be rebuilt—thanks to the resources invested by this Government.

I welcome the Government’s proposals to increase the school leaving age to 18, but I do want to raise one or two issues about it, particularly in respect of the NEETs—an awful acronym, which means young people not in education, employment or training. If someone were to mention NEETs in Barnsley, by the way, people would think they meant the opposite of days—such are the nuances of our language; if one is really unlucky, it could be a question of NEETs, afters and days, on a three-shift system! Our NEETs figure has been quite high over the years, but I am pleased to
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report that it currently stands at only 8 per cent.—the lowest ever. That has been achieved by a steering group—a partnership between the schools, the local further education college and employers—by setting up customised college courses and by requiring schools to take some responsibility for their school leavers.

My worry is that by extending the school leaving age to 18, we would inadvertently increase the number of children in my area who just disappear from the system, and do indeed drop out of education, employment and training. A significant number of young people in my constituency are happy to attend college after 16, but only until the age of 17. The local college has tailored courses to address that age group by providing a foundation course. The college, and indeed certain employers, look on it as a foundation course for these young people, before they look for or enter employment. The college is happy with that particular outcome: it views it as an achievement to have kept young people in FE until 17 and to have prepared them for the world of work. The college’s worry is that extending the leaving age to 18 might deter young people from staying on the extra year, resulting in a drift away from provision.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about NEETs. Is he aware that the Government have spent a cumulative total of £1.6 billion on education maintenance allowance, but that the number of 16 to 18-year-olds not in education, training or employment has actually risen by more than 30 per cent. between 1997 and 2005? Does he really think that that is money well spent?

Mr. Illsley: Yes. That is an aspect that I am about to deal with. My constituency has the highest number of people in receipt of the education maintenance allowance, and that has gone a long way towards improving staying-on rates after the age of 16, so I am a big fan of EMA.

As I was saying, there is a fear that increasing the staying-on age to 18 could increase the number of young people in my constituency who completely drop out of education. The question has to be asked whether the resources would be better spent earlier in the pupil’s lifetime, or whether we should increase the resources spent earlier in an individual pupil’s school year in order to prevent the drop-out rate.

I was pleased to see the Government talk about one-to-one literacy classes and the idea of secondary school pupils having a tutor of studies. Experience in my constituency suggests that we need to address problems as they occur in primary and secondary schools rather than allow children to leave school at 16, drift away and be lost from the system. I recall talking with employers a few years ago and finding that they wanted to take children at 16 and provide them with training within the job that they offered—but they did not want to have to teach the kids how to read and write. They wanted children to leave school with the basics, so that they could take on the training aspects.

Let me say a few words about further education funding issues resulting from the Government’s moves in that regard. I am particularly interested in the relationship between the post-16 agenda and the 14-to-19 agenda. My question is about the future of the
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learning and skills councils. Are they still to provide post-16 funding? Is money going to local authorities intended to provide for the 14-to-19 agenda, and if so, will that detract from the money available to our FE colleges? My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), who is no longer in his place, referred earlier to the funding gap between schools and colleges. It would be quite wrong to maintain or increase the gap, or just to allow it to continue. The colleges are worried that local authorities will take some of their funding for the provision of the 14-to-19 agenda.

Another question to the Government—I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health cannot respond to it, but I hope that someone else will pick it up and answer it—is about the relationship between the vocational and the 14-to-19 agenda. We heard the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families talk about diplomas, but will there be any opportunity to mix and match between the two? Can the academic cross over to the vocational and vice versa, or are we to have a dividing line between diplomas?

As for the capital funding of Barnsley college, it, like many others, has undertaken a rebuilding programme at the behest of the LSC, which has required it to borrow large amounts of money. Next year the college is embarking on loans of some £10 million. Because of the LSC’s delays in agreeing that funding, the rebuilding programme has been held up and almost jeopardised. The college had to agree a rebuilding programme in phases, the first of which was to allow a decanting of the buildings to be refurbished. That first phase almost fell through because of the delays, jeopardising the other phases in the programme. What is the future of the LSC, which has brought about those loans, not only at Barnsley college but at others? Colleges are worried that they might be left holding large mortgages or loans in an uncertain future, given the divisions of funding between the 14 to 19 set-up and the colleges.

I repeat that Barnsley has one of the highest take-up rates for the education maintenance allowance, which has been a huge success. It has improved post-16 staying-on rates in my constituency, and I hope that it will continue to do so.

Finally, I have a concern about the Sale of Student Loans Bill. Will the Government ensure that students repaying student loans are not placed in any worse situation than at present through the sale of that student debt?

7.32 pm

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, under which amendments could be made to the 1990 abortion legislation, will soon come before the House. I want to consider some of the information to which MPs can look to inform their vote on such a serious issue.

As many MPs will know, more than 200,000 abortions take place in the UK each year—the highest number in any country in Europe, apart from Ukraine. A large percentage of women, particularly younger
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ones, are now multi-aborting, so we have concrete evidence that abortion is being used as a form of contraception. Everybody agrees that 200,000 abortions a year is too many. It was never intended that so many should take place. We would all like to see that number reduced—we would be strange people if we did not—on a yearly basis.

Many people cite the British Medical Association, which ruled this year that it would like the requirement for two doctors’ signatures to be replaced with a requirement for one doctor’s signature. I want to describe how that ruling took place. A motion was passed at the BMA conference. Three motions were put to the floor. At a BMA conference, motion one is always heard and voted on, sometimes motion two will squeak though, and motion three is very rarely heard. The three motions put to the BMA for a vote on that day were all pro-abortion; none was pro-life. Let me tell the House that I am not a pro-lifer; I believe that abortion is absolutely necessary in today’s society, and I do not want abortion driven under ground. Nor am I a pro-choicer; I suppose that I am pro-choice in terms of abortion to a certain stage, but I am pro the foetus, and very much balanced on the issue.

Members of the House and the Government describe the BMA’s position as being that only one doctor’s signature should be required. That is not the case, because the following week more than 1,000 doctors who are members of the BMA put a petition online to say that that was not their position, and that the conference was given only pro-choice motions on which to vote. So Members should not look to that BMA ruling to inform their opinion.

Members might therefore look to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists instead. The Government paid the RCOG to establish a guideline committee to inform Government policy and provide the framework within which the abortion industry operates. Who is on that committee? Every person on it is pro-abortion and pro-choice. For example, the all-party pro-choice group is represented on that committee, but not the all-party pro-life group. Nearly every person on the Committee has a vested financial interest in the abortion industry; they are either paid to carry out abortions, or run clinics that carry out abortions.

Let us take the example of Dr. Kate Guthrie, who is on that committee. She advocates via that committee the assertion that abortion is fine up to 24 weeks. She does not support a change in the upper limit. On the “Dispatches” programme, she said that personally, she would not perform an abortion at over 16 weeks, because the foetus is too much like a baby. She is, however, a pro-choicer who sits on a committee and says that the upper limit should remain at 24 weeks.

The committee has no pro-lifers, or anyone with a balanced view. I do not believe that the RCOG main board realises what has happened, but the guideline committee has been completely hijacked by pro-choice activists and those who have a vested financial interest in the abortion industry. Members should not therefore look to the BMA or the RCOG guideline committee, because they will not get a balanced view from either of them.

Members might want to look at the report produced by the Science and Technology Committee, on which I served. They might think that it had a balanced view,
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as it was an all-party Committee. Let me tell them what happened on that Committee. The Committee recommended that there was no scientific reason to reduce the upper limit from 24 weeks, because, it said, there is no evidence that babies can live below 24 weeks. It also says that a foetus cannot feel pain.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Minister’s response to the Science and Technology Committee seemed to ignore the new evidence in relation to foetal pain?

Mrs. Dorries: That is absolutely true: the response was that it does not matter whether a foetus can feel pain, because a foetus can be anaesthetised before it is aborted.

The issue of abortion is not only scientific but ethical and moral, and we all have our own consciences to deal with. It is now also a matter of public opinion, because there is now a huge movement by the general public towards wanting to see a reduction from the upper limit—72 per cent. in the most recent poll, and 69 per cent. in the Communicate Research poll. Marie Stopes has just done a poll, and 62 per cent. of GPs want to see the upper limit reduced.

I am digressing slightly, and I want to return to the Committee’s report. It says that there is no reason to show that babies can live below 24 weeks’ gestation, and that foetuses cannot feel pain. First, no research post-2003 regarding foetal pain was considered by the Committee; it considered only research pre-2003. Why was that? Research pre-2003 says that foetuses cannot feel pain until 24 weeks. Research post-2003 tells a different story; it says that a foetus probably can feel pain, down to 16 weeks. Anyone who has been pregnant or who has seen a scan of a baby having its position changed will understand this. If one scans a baby at 18 or 20 weeks and attempts to change its position, one can see on 4D scanning that the baby suffers discomfort and does not like it. In fact, 4D scanning has shown us what a baby looks like in the womb, and how it behaves. There is no hard evidence that, for example, if we see a baby crying in such a scan, it is really crying, but we are looking at a small human being.

Dr. Gibson: The hon. Lady says that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is important, but there is nothing in it that necessitates a digressional discussion about abortion. That is an important issue, but we will have other opportunities to discuss it. The Bill is about so many other issues, and we would not want to be deflected from them by talk about abortion. We need to talk about the real issues, including fathers, the sex of children, and IVF and the other assisted reproductive techniques, and whether they need to be regulated. The hon. Lady is trying to deflect us from those real issues.

Mrs. Dorries: All those issues are important and will be debated, but the Clerks have taken a ruling that amendments to the Abortion Act 1967 can be tabled. I will table such amendments, as will many other hon. Members, so the discussion is valid.

Post-2003, the research shows that foetuses feel pain as early as 16 weeks. So hon. Members should think again before letting the Science and Technology Committee report inform their position. The report
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recommends—and hon. Members have said that they will table amendments to this effect—that only one doctor’s signature should be required. One of the reasons why two doctors’ signatures were thought necessary when the issue came before the House in 1990 was that abortion is not a tonsillectomy or an appendectomy but the ending of a life, and that is a grave and serious consideration. Therefore, it was felt that two doctors’ signatures should be required, to reflect the gravity of the procedure. However, the report suggests that the requirement should be reduced to one signature.

Amendments may also be tabled to provide that nurses should be allowed to perform surgical and medical terminations—abortions—rather than doctors. That recommendation was made by the Royal College of Nursing, which did not consult its grass-roots membership on the issue. I am a former member of the RCN and I would have objected strongly to that. The BMA does not support that proposal, because its members have an interest in the abortion industry.

Making access to abortion easier should not be a priority. We do not want to see the numbers go up. What is it that we would be asking nurses to do? My American intern, Stephanie, telephoned a British Pregnancy Advisory Service clinic and said that she was 18 weeks pregnant and a student alone in the UK. She said that she had been to see a GP who had told her that she was 17 weeks pregnant and she needed a termination, and asked what she could do. She said that she did not want to have an anaesthetic or go into hospital. The clinic said, “No problem. Come along to the clinic, we will give you medication and you can go home and abort there.” They told a student, who they thought would be on her own, with a pregnancy of 17 weeks gestation to go home and experience pain like she would never have known before, to bleed in a way that she would never have imagined possible, and then to abort her own baby and dispose of it. At that stage of gestation, the baby would be entirely recognisable. That is what is taking place today in the UK—and the amendments that I have described would make abortion even more easily accessible.

The BPAS, and the other providers carrying out abortions on behalf of the Government, do so for around £700 a time. There are some 200,000 abortions a year, and some people have a very serious interest in ensuring that we do not restrict the number of terminations, and even that they increase. I call that almost an abuse of women’s rights. When a woman goes to a doctor to request an abortion, she is in crisis. Every woman who presents at a GP’s surgery requesting an abortion should be counselled and told what the alternatives are. She has a right to know her options and the consequences of abortion, but that does not happen. I want amendments tabled to the Bill that would give a woman the right to know what abortion entails and what she would go through.

I hope that hon. Members, when they seek to inform themselves about abortion, will not go to the Science and Technology Committee report, the RCOG committee or the BMA, because too many people in those organisations have too great a financial vested interest in the industry.

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