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in a meeting just before the Ofsted inspection at the end of April 2002... Marina Parhawho was in charge of ESOL at Mancatannounced to the teachers that the department had achieved a student retention rate of 100 per cent.
Those present were stunned by what she saidwe were, after all, the teachers of the classes and we knew that it was common for students to leave, sometimes without any warning, in the middle of their courses. It was common knowledge in the department that she had amended our registers to create a false impression of student retention.
mark my absent students as present on my class register, in order (so she said) to avoid such absences casting a negative light on my performance as a teacher. I refused to do this.
I found out that he had been subjected to pressure into signing misrepresentative documents and had refused to do so. Marina Parha seemed to revel in her ability to deceive. She actually boasted to the teachers in a meeting how she was going to give an incorrect picture to the Ofsted inspector during the inspection.
contemptuous about the inspection process at Wednesday evening staff meeting. She was pleased we had only one inspector... who knew absolutely nothing about ESOL.
focus his attention on certain classes.
I believe it is legitimate to speculate that the inspectors exposure to the reality of the department was carefully controlled
and that he was not given a full picture of the classes, teaching, administration or staff morale within it.
Ms Parha has continued to thrive since her department gained its grade 1: she is now head of department for language support at the Manchester college, but I would suggest that the Ofsted exercise of 2002 gives food for thought about how far such inspections can be relied upon to give a true picture. I also suggest that all those events should make the Secretary of State cautious about granting further education the increased self-regulation that it so strongly desires.
John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): I do not think I can speak quite as fast as the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon). Many subjects have been mentioned in the debate so far. It is an appropriate time of year to talk about the middle east, but I would prefer us to be peacemakers in the middle east, rather than taking one side or the other.
Christmas is a time of good will and an opportunity to thank people, so I take the opportunity of this speech to thank both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats for introducing the highly successful proportional representation system in Scotland. I am doubly appreciative because we have it both in the Parliament and in the councils, especially in Glasgow. I have to accept that I have been elected under the first-past-the-post system on four occasions out of five, so I have benefited from that system, but I remain convinced that the PR system is much better.
We have to thank Tony Blair and Donald Dewar for introducing PR for the list system for the Scottish Parliament in 1999, which has led to fairer government and greater consensus. The first two terms, of course, were coalition government. PR also opened up the opportunity for minority government. Some had reservations about that in 1999 and 2003 and no one dared try it, but now it has been tried and it works. The First Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), is to be congratulated on the tremendous success he has made of that.
The second form of proportional representation for which I am grateful is PR by single transferable vote, from which the 32 Scottish local authorities benefit. That was introduced in 2007, thanks largely to the Lib Dems, who insisted on it in 2003. In Glasgows case that has been a huge improvement. First past the post had latterly been a total failure in Glasgow. In 2003 Labour took 71 of the 79 seats, which is 90 per cent. of the seats on only 47 per cent. of the vote. By contrast, in 2007 that was reduced to 58 per cent. of the seats, even though Labour was still in control. But the system means that representation is much closer to the actual vote and the will of the people.
The advantage of STV is that as well as being more proportional, it maintains the strong councillor-ward link, or potentially the strong MP-constituency link. There are clearly different forms of proportional representationthe list in the Scottish Parliament, and STV in Glasgow city council and elsewhere. STV has the bonus that the public choose both the party and the individual.
It would be good at this time to acknowledge, as I hope all Members of the House would do, the hard work that many councillors do throughout the country. As the Member who has most recently been a councillor, I see the huge amount of work that councillors put in. They often get little support and are not well paid for that work.
Another advantage of proportional representation is that the public prefer us to consider issues on a case-by-case basis. They get fed up with issues being pushed through by one party no matter what. PR encourages more of a shared agenda between parties. It means that we are more likely to get a result that is in tune with public opinion. Minority government takes that even further by making it essential that each individual case is looked at. It depends on how mature the Opposition tend to be. In Scotland we have seen co-operationwith the Conservative party, I must admit, which is perhaps not our expectationon getting more police on the street. That has been a practical success of PR and STV. We have smaller class sizes
Mr. Pelling: I endorse the hon. Gentlemans comments and share experience with regard to the London Assembly, which is also elected by proportional representation. That has meant that, rather quixotically but also quite effectively, there has been a dialogue between a broad spectrum of views, including Greens, UKIP, Liberals and Conservatives. Getting politicians to co-operate publicly in that way must be a great endorsement from British politics.
John Mason: Indeed. One of the disappointments that I have had in coming here is that there are no Green politicians in the House. The public are extremely concerned about the environment, yet one party is totally excluded from the House.
Of course, the Government can sometimes be defeated in such circumstances. For example, the proposal for trams in Edinburgh was passed, with the result that fewer schools are now being built in Scotland. However, I urge Members to consider PRSTV at some stage. It might prove to be a big success both here and in another place.
Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): I shall wish everyone a happy Christmas and new year now, because I shall end my speech by talking about the Iraq war, and that may not be the best context in which to wish people a happy Christmas.
A Member who spoke earlier issued an annual invitation to Members to visit her wonderful constituency in Devon. That is a county that I know well and love, but may I invite Members to take a Christmas and new year break in my constituency? If they want outdoor activity, Chesterfield is a great base. Two or three miles down the road is the fantastic Derbyshire Peak district. People can walk on the moors, uplands and lowlands, where the scenery is absolutely beautiful. They can visit Chatsworth house, or, a couple of miles in the other direction, Bolsover castle, Hardwick hall and the National Trusts
Clumber park. Those are wonderful attractions, but there is also a great deal to be seen in Chesterfield itself. People can enjoy themselves and work off the Christmas pudding and the mince pies.
When I first lived in Chesterfield in 1979, the Chesterfield canal was a stagnant, overgrown ditch, but volunteers have renovated it, and it is now a linear green lung. It is possible to follow it from the centre of Chesterfield into the countryside. It is widely used by birdwatchers, fishers, walkers, cyclists and canal enthusiasts. The Barrow Hill engine shed is not technically in my constituency, being just over the border in the constituency of North-East Derbyshire, but it is effectively part of Chesterfield. It is one of the few working roundhouses that survive from the great steam train age, and is a very popular tourist attraction.
In 1688, the Revolution House at Old Whittington was a small pub at the edge of a little hamlet up on the moors. That is why the Duke of Devonshire and others from across Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire who were plotting a treasonable actthe overthrow of the King in the glorious revolution of 1688met there to plot in secret, away from prying eyes.
Chesterfield has a wonderful old town centre with a large open-air market, which is the focal point of the town and brings in a large number of shoppers, tourists and other visitors. At one end is the parish church, the Crooked Spire. Many Members will have seen it when travelling from one end of England to the other on the midland main line. It has a crooked corkscrew spire which both twists and leans to one side. There are seven such spires in Europe, but Chesterfields is the one that twists and leans the most. It is a great tourist attraction: people come from throughout Europe, and even from America, specifically to see the church and the spire.
One of the advantages of visiting Chesterfield at Christmas is the opportunity to see the Christmas lights. That brings me to a key point. Year after year, the borough council invests more money in expanding and improving the lights. Apart from putting out the Christmas message, brightening up the midwinter scene and helping people to enjoy themselves, they attract visitors to Chesterfields wonderful town centre with its large open-air market. That brings in people who spend money and create jobs in the shops and on the market stalls.
Unfortunately, the Labour councillorsthere are a few left in Chesterfielddo not understand. They consider investing money in Christmas lights to be a strange thing to do, although it creates jobs and brings in visitors. When the Liberal Democrats took over the council in 2003, they built a new coach station which the previous council had refused point-blank even to consider. That bus station was absolutely dire. At one stage, it featured in the national press as the worst in the United Kingdom. It was such an eyesore. The Liberal Democrats built a new station, and now there are coaches. When the Christmas lights were switched on one Sunday a few weeks ago, coaches came from places as far away and as varied as Walsall and Lowestoft, each of them bringing 40 or 45 visitors to spend the day, see the lights turned on, and spend money at the market and in the pubs and restaurants in the town centre. It is all part of job creation and making the town vibrant.
The number of lettings at the market has increased this year, while most open-air markets around the country are suffering badly. As a member of the all-party parliamentary group on markets, I hear from people all over the country that open-air markets are suffering as a result of competition from shops, stores such as Primark, out-of-town shopping centres and massive car boot sales. For the first time in some years, however, the number of stall lettings at Chesterfield market has increased. The shops in Chesterfield have a 4 per cent. vacancy rate, compared to the English average of 10 per cent. They are doing very well. A recent university survey marked out Chesterfield as one of the fastest growing and improving economies in England.
All of this brings me on to the problems local councils face when trying to invigorate and renovate their economies. They know what is most needed and wanted locally, and they are best placed to take that action, but they are often handicapped by the Government and the funding streams that the Government control. At yesterdays Prime Ministers Question Time there was a question about a council that had turned down an offer of free swimming for under-16s and pensioners. How could it be so callous as to turn down this free offer from the Government? Many councils have done thatalthough not Chesterfieldbecause the Government have, of course, not funded it. They have given out this wonderful initiative, but they have not provided all the money. Chesterfield is providing that free swimming, but it is costing us £50,000 of council tax payers money to cover the shortfall in Government funding. That is 1.2 per cent. on council tax for Chesterfield, which is a small council. Also, this year and next year there will be the 3 per cent. Gershon efficiency savings, and next year2009-10there will be a 0.6 per cent. grant settlement from the Government, who provide 75 per cent. of council money; that is well below the inflation rate. Therefore, there will be more cuts. The year after that, the settlement will be 0.2 per cent. so there will be more cuts again.
The council has to meet those settlements, but Chesterfield does so very well, as it is a well-run council. It was, in fact, on course to start expanding some services next year with the money it had set aside, but then we got the concessionary bus fares fiasco. At the start of this year, councils across the country said, The Government are not providing enough money for this wonderful new national scheme. In Chesterfield, the guesstimate was that it would be down by about £300,000. The figures have now come in from Derbyshire county council, which is administering the scheme, and Chesterfield is expected to put in about £1.8 million to bail out the Governments scheme. As I have said, Chesterfield is a small council, and that sum amounts to 11 per cent. of its average revenue budget. It cannot afford that; it is impossible. That will devastate the councils finances. The options are to either put 36 per cent. on council tax or slash services by 11 per cent. This is happening all over the country, but according to Local Government Association figures, Chesterfield is the worst hit council in the country; Exeter and Cambridge, with a proportion of 8 per cent. of annual revenue, are the next two worst hit. The Government must backtrack on this and provide the proper funding for their scheme, as they introduced it.
I became increasingly angry while listening to the contributions on the statement on Iraq earlier this afternoon, because Members seemed to be reinventing history. Both Labour and Conservative Members said we could forget the illegal invasion, the 300,000 civilian deaths, the breeding ground for terrorism that has been created when terrorists were not operating in Iraq before, the wrecked economy over the past five years in Iraq and the destabilisation of the Arab world, because we had had regime change, which made it okay. Iraq was never about regime change, however; that was explicitly stated by the then Prime Minister. For example, on the radio on 18 November 2002, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said:
I have got no doubt that the purpose of our challenge...is disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. It is not regime change.
It is solely because of the threat
and for this reason alone,
I detest his regime...but even now, he could save it by complying[ Official Report, 25 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 124]
The then Prime Minister said on three occasions that it was not about regime change. Regime change is illegal under international law. If we have really adopted this policy of regime change, when are we invading Zimbabwe or Burma, or China to get it out of Tibet? This is nonsense; the Government know it is not a policy. It was just a fig leaf to disguise the fact that we were taken into an illegal war under totally false pretences and pretexts. As a citizen, I joined the 1 million other citizens, along with my youngest daughter, who was 10, to walk past the Palace of Westminster in protest at the illegal invasion that everyone could see was coming. As an MP, I took part in our process and voted against that war.
One or two Conservative MPs have said, both following the statement and during this debate, that we should not be criticising what happened and that we should forget all that. I remember the wall of sound that came across from the Government Benches attacking us because we were opposed to the war, but I remember even more the comments that came from some Members on the Conservative Benches to my right; they were shouting about cowardice, offering white feathers, and displaying jingoism and bombast of the worst kind. As a citizen who took part in that million-person march and who voted against the war in this Chamber, I think it is unacceptable that in this afternoons statement about pulling out British troops we did not get a statement about an open inquiry into the disastrous illegal decision to invade Iraq.
I simply wish to say a few words about UN resolution 1843 on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to which the UK Government signed up one month ago. It resolves to increase the size of the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 17,000 to 20,000. MONUC is run by a UK citizen, Alan Doss. It was argued very strongly by the UN that there was a requirement to increase the number of troopsalthough 17,000 personnel are in the DRC, it is a very large countryin view of the latest phase of a civil war that is going on between two groups, the CNDP, which some people think is helped by some Rwandan citizens, and the FDLR. The FARDC, the Congolese Government troops, who are deeply ineffectual, are also involved.
The UN has deployed to do what it can in that situation, and the UN Security Council has agreed that extra troops are required. The assessment was that it would take two months to deploy the UNs troops in the DRC, once it had found who was actually going to send 3,000 troops there. I understand that the realistic assessment now is that it will take six months to deploy them. Everyone agrees that this is an enormously urgent situation, because raping, looting and pillaging are occurring. Although a ceasefire is technically in place between the FARDC and the CNDP, the two protagonist groupsthe FARDC is made up of the Government troops, but there are issues to address associated with the behaviour of all the troops involveda great deal of fighting is still going on between groups such as the Mai-Mai and the CNDP. The civilians get caught in the crossfire and they also get targeted deliberately. Two little girls, one aged five and the other seven, were shot dead a few days ago inside a UN camp, and a series of rapes took place just outside itrapes are used in the DRC as a weapon of war.
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