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Whatever the merits of that opinion, surely you, Mr. Speaker, will be as surprised as I am that parliamentary questions on the subject have not been answered. Are you aware of any statement that the Home Secretary proposes to make on that issue? Could you give an instruction that she should at least pay attention to her parliamentary duty and answer hon. Members’ questions?

Mr. Speaker: I am always very keen for Members of the House who table questions to get a proper answer. I am not responsible for the reply that any Minister gives, but the hon. Gentleman has put the matter on record, and I hope that the Ministers responsible will take note of the points that he has made.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to ask your advice on a matter relating to Iqra Slough Islamic primary school in my constituency, which has refused to allow me to visit it until, according to the governors, I issue

I know that this is not a matter of privilege, but I believe that that body is seeking to fetter my ability to represent my constituents.

Mr. Speaker: I am afraid that is a matter in which I cannot interfere, but the hon. Lady has an advantage in that her constituency is quite near the House of Commons. The important thing about the school is the children, so why not invite them along to the House of Commons and let them see the good work that the hon. Lady does? To me, that would be the answer.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the Prime Minister was in Berlin with other leaders of the European Union discussing matters relating to the regulation of financial services and, by implication, the City of London. Surely a matter of that importance ought to be accompanied by a statement. Would you please be kind enough to ensure that the Prime Minister comes to the House of Commons on such occasions?

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Mr. Speaker: It is up to the Prime Minister, but he will note the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you reassure the House that if, as rumoured, the Government are about to authorise the Bank of England to take further steps towards the printing of money, involving some £150 billion-worth of taxpayers’ money, that will be done only through a full statement to the House?

Mr. Speaker: Once again, the matter has been put on the record.

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise with you a letter that has been written by my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter), which has gone to tens of thousands of my constituents, outlining his reasons for his resignation as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Malloch-Brown? It is written on House of Commons Portcullis paper, which seeks to lend the authority of the House. In a letter to my constituents, the hon. Gentleman says that he has been their elected representative for 25 years and he is looking forward to fighting the next election as Labour’s candidate for the new Hammersmith seat. He goes on to say:

but that is written to people who are not his constituents. May we have a ruling on whether the rules on writing to other Members’ constituents are properly enforced in the House?

Mr. Speaker: First, I hope the hon. Gentleman has notified the hon. Gentleman about whom he is complaining. The best ruling that I can give is keep the Speaker out of disputes over boundaries. That is the best thing to do. Hon. Members should try and resolve these matters themselves. Every constituency has a Member of Parliament. The boundary changes that the boundary commission has brought in are nothing to do with the House or the individual Members. Hon. Members should be busy looking after their existing constituents without interfering. I make no criticism of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency neighbour. I say to the whole House— [Interruption.] Order. I say to the House, if the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) will let me speak, that every Member of Parliament has constituents. Look after the existing constituents, and worry about what happens after the next election.

Bill Presented

Northern Ireland Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. Secretary Woodward, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary David Miliband, Mr. Secretary Straw, Secretary Jacqui Smith, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Mr. Secretary Paul Murphy, Mr. Secretary Jim Murphy and Paul Goggins, presented a Bill to make provision in relation to policing and justice in Northern Ireland; and to amend section 86 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 62) with explanatory notes (Bill 62-EN).

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Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

[Relevant D ocuments: The Fourth Report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee, Session 2007-08, The Draft Apprenticeships Bill, HC 1082, and the Government’s response, HC 259, Session 2008-09; and oral evidence taken before the Committee on 9 July 2008 on the Learning and Skills Council, HC 960-i, Session 2007-08.

The Seventh Report from the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Session 2007-08, Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill, HC 1062-I, and the Government’s response, HC 262, Session 2008-09; and the First Report from the Committee of Session 2008-09, Re-skilling for Recovery: After Leitch, Implementing Skills and Training Policies, HC 48-I.]

Second Reading

3.38 pm

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Over the past 11 years our education system has been transformed and the lives of children and young people in our country have improved substantially. Over 100,000 more children are now leaving primary school secure in English and maths at level 4, compared to a decade ago. Almost half of young people now achieve five good GCSEs. That compares to just over a third in 1997. Results are rising fastest for pupils in schools in the most deprived areas. More than 3,000 schools have been rebuilt or completely refurbished, nearly 3,000 Sure Start children’s centres are open, and more young people than ever before are going on to higher education and university.

By investing in education and working with our many great school leaders and teachers, we have gone from well below average standard to well above average in education in the world. That view is supported by the recent trends in international mathematics and science study in respect of both maths and science.

However, there is still further to go to get to a truly world-class education system. Although the proportion of secondary schools below our basic benchmark has fallen from more than half—more than 1,600—in 1997 to less than a fifth today, we want every school to be a good school. Although the number of exclusions has fallen by 29 per cent. since 1997, some young people are still left on the wrong track after being excluded from school.

Our Sure Start children’s centres now reach more than 2.3 million children and their families, but not every family yet gets the support that it needs during the early years. Although we have legislated to raise the education leaving age to 18 and more young people are going to university than ever before, there is more to do to get all young people and adults the qualifications and skills that they need. That is why, building on the progress of the past decade and the vision of our children’s plan, the Bill introduces the next stage of radical reforms to guarantee that every school is a good school, to give teachers the support and powers that they need, to provide excellent services for all families in every area and a real culture of early intervention and prevention, and to ensure that all young people and
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adults get first-class qualifications and skills. All those reforms are vital to our mission to ensure that opportunity and excellence are for all—not just some—young people in our country.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con) rose—

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con) rose—

Ed Balls: I shall take both hon. Gentlemen’s interventions in a second. However, before I do, I want to pay tribute to Lord Dearing, one of our country’s great education reformers, who died last Thursday. He made a massive contribution in so many areas, and for successive Governments, on languages, the curriculum and higher education. Right up to the end of his life, he was working with my Department to create academies that specialise in technical education. He will be sorely missed by Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Boswell rose—

Ed Balls: I want to turn to those reforms in detail, but first I shall take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.

Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way and I immediately take this first opportunity to echo my party’s recognition of the tremendous work done by Lord Dearing.

The Secretary of State referred to participation in higher education, and was boastful about his—or his Government’s—record on that. Will he confirm whether the Government stick by the target of 50 per cent. participation for under-30s by 2010? If he confirms that target, how does he reconcile it with the fact that the Government are now capping student numbers?

Ed Balls: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for my words about Lord Dearing. In my speech I was paying tribute not to myself, but to all the Secretaries of State in the past 10 years who have made the programme. There is a fundamental difference on the issues. On the Labour Benches, we will continue our investment. For 2009-10, and in future years, our commitment is that 50 per cent. of young people will go to university. The Conservative party will not match our commitment, because it wants to cut public spending next year and the year after. That is the difference. There is no cap on student numbers. Our commitment is clear, and the Conservative party’s commitment to cuts is also clear.

Mr. Graham Stuart: I wonder whether this is the time for the Secretary of State to share with the House whether he believes that the university of Durham was right to say that official statistics overstate the improvement in educational performance in recent years. Does he believe that Professor Peter Williams, chair of the advisory committee on mathematics education, is right? He said:

Is the Secretary of State trying to set up an independent Ofqual today because he accepts those points?

Ed Balls: As I said, the international, objective TIMSS report, which came out only recently, showed that England was ahead of our European partners in maths and
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science. There has been no dumbing down of our science qualifications. As to the review of primary education to which the hon. Gentleman referred a moment ago, I should say that we are grateful for that contribution. Jim Rose will reflect on it, as he reflects on other contributions. In my view, it is essential that we have a slimmed down primary education curriculum that focuses on what children and parents want—to have the basics of reading and maths under control when going to secondary school. We have made substantial strides in achieving that in recent years, and we are not going to go backwards and take away the emphasis on the basics. I hope that that is not what the hon. Gentleman would propose.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Clause 47 concerns the provision of education for persons subject to youth detention. Given that, as the Secretary of State knows, upwards of 60 per cent. of the 11,000 people in our young offender institutions suffer from speech, language and communication problems of an intensity that prevents them from accessing conventional education and training courses, can he say something more than the Bill does about how the Government intend to ratchet up provision for those people?

Ed Balls: I wanted to make some progress and look at the individual reforms in order, but I am happy to answer that particular point. I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman’s speech later on, and I hope that, if possible, he might be permitted to serve on the Committee. The reforms that we are introducing in the Bill, which build on the work that he has done for the Government in speech, language and communication, are very clear about the fact that we must strengthen our responsibility to young people going into custody and coming out of custody—in particular, through new responsibilities for local authorities in taking forward those young people’s education and ensuring continuity of education afterwards.

It is not normal on Second Reading to look forward to amendments, which are really a matter for the Committee, but in recent weeks there has been a debate, which has included contributions from the Special Educational Consortium, on ways in which we could strengthen this part of the Bill. I am happy to say that in Committee we will table amendments to make it clear that the obligations on local authorities to deal with young people in custody will be strengthened. In particular, although it is not possible for all the content of educational statements to continue while a young person is in custody, local authorities and the youth custody estate will have an obligation as far as possible to continue that special focus on those with learning difficulties while they are in custody. That, among other changes, will be very important in ensuring that these clauses have real, detailed teeth. We will also ensure that we say so in our guidance. Those issues will be debated in Committee, but today I am giving an assurance that we will take them forward with great seriousness.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): I am sure that the Secretary of State did not wish to mislead the House in his answer to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), but would he confirm that the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills has announced a moratorium on university places for 2009 and 2010?

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Ed Balls: As I understand it, we have funded 10,000 more student places—that is no cap. The question is this: are the aspirations of young people in this country capped? The answer is, not by this Government—we want 50 per cent. of young people in universities. Would they be capped by the Conservatives? The answer is yes, because they will not support our objective; in fact, they would cut the public spending that is needed to ensure that those numbers keep rising year on year in the future. That is the difference between the two parties, and that is the point that I was making in my answer.

I wanted to start my speech by talking about school reforms. As I said, in 1997, 1,600 secondary schools were below the basic benchmark; that figure is now down to just 440, from over half to less than a fifth of secondary schools. We are not satisfied, however, and our national challenge objective is to ensure that we get that number down to zero by 2011. That is why we have provided £400 million of funding and why there is extra support for those schools. Many of them, already high-performing schools that are doing well, will get there without the need for such extra support, but where schools are not on course, we will step in. The Bill challenges local authorities to tackle underperforming schools, but it also gives us the power, where they will not act, to step in and require them to take their responsibilities seriously. We will do so by requiring them to match new investment with new leadership through national challenge trusts and our academies programme.

Over the past 18 months, I have given the go-ahead to 96 further academy projects, of which 43 will replace national challenge schools. We have gone from six university sponsors of academies in July 2007 to 48 sponsors today, and 12 local authorities are now sponsoring academies themselves. These schools are taking a greater proportion of disadvantaged and deprived children than the catchment area would suggest and delivering faster rising results than the average. They are proof that we can break the link between deprivation and lack of achievement. That has not happened by accident, but because we are willing to act and intervene. Since January, we have agreed to 17 new academies, and I can announce today that the Schools Minister and I have given the go-ahead to six new academy projects to replace a total of seven schools, six of which are national challenge schools, in Croydon, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Bournemouth. I commend the academies programme to the House.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): As someone who wishes to see more pupils from state schools get to top universities, does the Secretary of State agree with those in such universities who think that some A-levels are more serious and academically rigorous than others, and if he does, will his reforms include getting more of those subjects taught and examined in state schools?

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