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4 Mar 2009 : Column 844

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Some 34,000 families in my constituency are languishing on the council’s housing waiting list. They earn, on average, less than £24,000 per year, yet the Mayor of London has decided to decrease the numbers of homes for rent built in the capital by 10 per cent. Failing to deal with the snow was one thing, but blatantly ignoring the needs of my constituents and tens of thousands of other Londoners is another. Can she—will she—intervene?

Ms Harman: I know that my hon. Friend and her hon. Friends will stand up for all those people in London who need housing and need it now. While Boris Johnson, the Mayor, does not recognise their concerns, I know that they have, in my hon. Friend, a champion on housing.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): May I add my condolences to the families of Marine Laski, Rifleman Gunn, Lance Corporal Upton and Corporal Gaden, who all died serving their country on 25 February; and also to the victims of the Sri Lankan atrocity.

As the Leader of the House is a former pensions Minister and Law Officer and, I believe, a trained solicitor, she is exceptionally well placed to understand pensions law. Instead of the rather eccentric proposal for a “Harriet’s law” to stop Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension, would it not be more sensible for the Government to use existing legislation under which pensions can be forfeited in cases of employee negligence, which is surely the case with Sir Fred Goodwin, Adam Applegarth of Northern Rock and the others who bankrupted their banks?

Ms Harman: Perhaps I can update the House on this matter. The Government have asked United Kingdom Financial Investments to investigate all the circumstances surrounding the contract for Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension, including the extent to which it was discretionary and including whether or not the people who took the decision had all the facts on which they could take it. That, too, bears on the enforceability of the contract. We are absolutely clear that it is not acceptable and we are taking all steps to challenge the enforceability of the contract.

Dr. Cable: I think that the right hon. and learned Lady is missing the point. The issue is not whether the pension is £400,000 or £700,000; the issue is why it is being paid at all. Is this not part of a much bigger issue? There is growing anger in what she calls the court of public opinion not just about the pension and remuneration of those who are now public sector employees, but about other public sector fat cats, including senior civil servants and, dare I say it, Ministers, and their very lavish and generous pensions. Does she recognise that anger, and what is she proposing to do about it?

Ms Harman: I think that we do recognise that concern. In particular, there is concern about the question of remuneration in the financial services industry because it has been part of encouraging short-termism and risk-taking. As well as looking at the contractual basis of Sir Fred’s pension, we have also asked the Financial Services Authority and the Walker commission to look at how we tackle and improve the remuneration regime as part of corporate governance.

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When it comes to the banks squandering their customers’ money, there is one thing that perhaps I ought to add. I discovered that it was not only Sir Fred who was getting money off RBS; it was also the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who got £30,000 off the Royal Bank of Scotland, it turns out, for just two after-dinner speeches.

Hon. Members: Pay it back!

Mr. Speaker: Order. [ Interruption. ] Order. You must be quiet—you cannot shout across the Chamber.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will not say, “Pay it back”. What I would say to my right hon. and learned Friend is that in 1965, a piece of legislation was brought in by the Labour Government covering statutory redundancy pay. That has been eroded over many, many years. Will my right hon. and learned Friend support my private Member’s Bill on 13 March that would ensure that the Government will look at the matter again, and ensure that there is a better deal for statutory redundancy pay? Will she ensure that the Government will back that private Member’s Bill?

Ms Harman: We want to do everything that we can to support people who, through no fault of their own, lose their work. I know that that private Member’s Bill is coming forward; the Minister will respond on that occasion and give his response to those important proposals.

Q2. [260224] Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): In addition to the list that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) gave to the Leader of the House of schemes to assist business that are not operating, may I add one more? It is the scheme to introduce help for those without trade credit insurance, promised by the industry Minister when the Government announced their help package for the motor industry. Thousands of companies around the country, both large and small, are finding trading extremely difficult without this trade credit insurance. When will the Government announce the details of that scheme?

Ms Harman: I agree that that scheme is important. We have to do everything that we can to help manufacturing—in particular, through the automotive assistance scheme. In addition, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that businesses in his constituency benefit from public capital investment. I hope that he will agree with us that the Opposition should not oppose capital investment in his constituency. I hope that he will support the ability for businesses in his constituency to defer their tax payments. Opposition Members have a choice: they can either say to their constituents that there is no help and that nothing can be done, and wring their hands, or they can work to support businesses and bring schemes forward.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): At this very moment, in west Hendon mosque in my constituency, funeral prayers are being held for my constituent, 19-year-old university student Hassan Kul Hawadleh—an innocent victim of a brutal knife attack, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, merely filling up at a petrol station. Rather than attend his funeral, his family asked
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me to come to the House today to ask my right hon. and learned Friend this: what more can be done to redouble our efforts against knife crime to prevent such pointless tragedies occurring again in the future, and to support families such as theirs in their bereavement?

Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the Metropolitan police, local authorities, schools, youth centres and community organisations across London are working together to tackle the menace of knife crime. While crime generally has gone down, there is a problem of knife crime that persists, which is why we have strengthened the law to ensure that there is a greater possibility of searches and that there are tougher penalties. But today, we share with my hon. Friend the grief about his constituent, and we send our condolence to the bereaved family.

Q3. [260226] Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Will the deputy Prime Minister confirm that the real reason for part-privatising Royal Mail stems directly from European Union postal legislation, which forced Royal Mail to divest itself of its most profitable business, thereby handing—it over lock, stock and barrel to European competitors? What sense is there in that?

Ms Harman: The real reason, and the basis on which we are bringing forward the Postal Services Bill, is the analysis in the Hooper report, which we commissioned as long ago as December 2007. It made it clear that we need to take action to put Royal Mail, which, as the Prime Minister has said, is part of the fabric of our society, on a firm footing for the future. That means that we have to ensure that the pension liabilities are met. We have to ensure that the unfair regulation is tackled. We have to ensure that there is legislative underpinning of universal postal services, and also that we get into the organisation—so that, as well as meeting its pension liabilities, it can also modernise—considerable public capital investment but also private capital investment. When we bring forward that Bill to support the future of Royal Mail, I hope that the hon. Lady and all other hon. Members will support it.

Q4. [260227] Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): I am delighted that the Government have brought forward £900 million of capital funding for schools. Shockingly, however, the Conservative-led Brighton and Hove city council failed to take advantage of the £9 million available locally, despite admitting that there are not enough places for my local children. What advice does my right hon. and learned Friend have for councils that could not get it together in time to take advantage of our Government’s funding?

Ms Harman: There is no excuse for my hon. Friend’s council not to step forward to ensure that it can take advantage of the funds that have been made available to improve still further the education prospects of children in her constituency. I hope that she will be able to work with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to ensure that, despite the lagging behind of her local council, it will get on and deliver for children in her constituency.

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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Can the Leader of the House please confirm who it was that nominated Sir Fred Goodwin for a knighthood and, crucially, why?

Ms Harman: I believe that Sir Fred was nominated for a knighthood because of his services to the Prince’s Trust. I understand that it was not in recognition of his services to banking.

Q5. [260228] Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Last week, we laid the first bricks in the £4 million extension to Rainbows children’s hospice, which is in my constituency but serves the whole east midlands. We still need another £1 million, plus £2.5 million each year to keep the hospice running. When are the Government finally going to act to ensure that children’s hospices do not rely for 95 per cent. of their funding on local residents and fundraisers, and finally get them to parity with adult hospices, for which about 40 per cent. of the funding comes from the public purse?

Ms Harman: I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to all those in the NHS, both in hospital care and in the community, who help with palliative and end-of-life services, but I would also like to pay a very big tribute to the hospice movement, the voluntary movement that has spearheaded new ways to care for people at the end of their lives. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has made that a priority, investing £30 million extra for palliative and end-of-life care and announcing additional support for all hospices and hospice home services for children up to the age of five. There is a great deal of progress under way, and it is very important indeed.

Q6. [260229] Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): The right hon. and learned Lady will be aware that electronic identification of sheep will become mandatory for all animals born after 31 December this year. Does she
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share the view of the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the cost of complying with those rules outweighs the benefits? Does she recognise that those costs may well force many thousands of British farms out of the industry, and will she urge the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to apply whatever pressure it can to the EU to drop this ridiculous and unnecessary legislation?

Ms Harman: I know that identification of sheep is very important as part of infection control. The hon. Gentleman will know that that is a serious issue. Therefore, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to write to him on the issue.

Q7. [260230] Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, contrary to what was said by the quasi-deputy leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), we have in fact already received the agreement of the Commission for the £2.3 billion of aid for the motor industry and we expect to have clearance for the £20 billion working capital package this month? That said, will she take it from me that now is the time, when we have those permissions and the schemes in place, for us to get cracking and get the money out to the companies that deserve and merit it? Will she also have a word with my very good friend in another place, congratulating him on what he has done, but telling him that he has got to get cracking?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes some very important points. I would have liked to give those points as my answer to a previous question, but I would also like to tell the House that the Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Bill, which will be introduced in the House today, will facilitate an extra £16 billion, to be directly available. I hope that all hon. Members will welcome that Bill being introduced to the House today.

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bill presented

Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. Pat McFadden, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Paul Murphy and Ian Pearson, presented a Bill to amend section 8(5) of the Industrial Development Act 1982 and to amend section 1(1) of the Export and Investment Guarantees Act 1991.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 70) with explanatory notes (Bill 70-EN).

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Teaching of British History in Schools

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

12.33 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I beg to move,

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand before you today to advance a cause that I and many Members of this House feel passionately about, but which in recent decades has been shamefully neglected: the teaching of the history of our nation and its peoples to pupils in schools across the land. The peoples of these magnificent British Isles—England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man—along with the numerous and unique British territories around the world, have a rich and proud history like no other. From Stonehenge to St. Paul’s cathedral; from the battles of Agincourt, Trafalgar and Waterloo to the defeat of the Spanish armada and the liberation of the Falkland Islands; and from the invention of the steam engine to the discovery of penicillin, the great explorations of the seven seas and the British empire, the depth and breath of our history is unsurpassed.

Yet, today, where does the comprehensive teaching of British history figure in our nation’s education? I believe that it is time that British history was made a core subject in all schools and at all stages of learning, so that every young person can grow up with an appreciation and understanding of all that has made our nation great throughout the centuries, and with an ability to demonstrate that to future generations, so that they in turn will wish to play their part in building on what has gone before, as the next chapter of British history unfolds.

In their seminal work of 1930, “1066 and All That”, Sellar and Yeatman famously wrote that every schoolchild could be relied on to recall two key dates in our history—the Norman conquest in 1066 and Julius Caesar’s invasion of England. Today, we cannot rely on even that level of knowledge. Despite the best efforts of history teachers to advance the subject and provide children with a solid grounding in the fundamentals, they are constrained by a history curriculum that does not enable pupils to develop a comprehensive understanding of British history. A recent Ofsted report worryingly noted that pupils’ knowledge and understanding of “key historical events” is not good enough, and that their knowledge is fragmented,

It also noted that their

Unlike in most European countries, the teaching of history is no longer compulsory in British schools after the age of 14, and evidence suggests that the history curriculum in our country is deeply flawed. The following findings from surveys conducted over the last few years offer some alarming insights into this matter. It was found that 70 per cent. of 11 to 18-year-olds did not know that Nelson’s flagship at the battle of Trafalgar was called HMS Victory. More than 20 per cent. of
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16 to 24-year-olds thought that Britain had, at one stage, been conquered by the Germans, the Americans or the Spanish. Several children mistook Sir Winston Churchill for the first man to walk on the moon. He also joins King Richard the Lionheart and Florence Nightingale as being mistaken regularly by our youth as a creation of fiction.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has previously highlighted, full participation in our nation is greatly aided by a thorough understanding of our heritage and tradition. The study of history helps children better to grasp their own identity, and reading history enables our younger generation to analyse and question the present by engaging and examining what has gone before. Knowledge of the history of our country is so important because it allows people to make informed decisions about the future of our nation. If our children do not know where they come from, how can they possibly move forward? By learning about the rich tapestry of British history, they can identify with the culture and society of modern Britain.

Over the past decade, the number of students reading history has fallen, from 35 per cent. of teenagers taking history at GCSE level in 1997 to 30 per cent. in 2007. This led Ofsted to claim last year that history was increasingly becoming an “endangered subject”. Indeed, Britain in particular is envied for its rich history, the knowledge of which we must cherish and hand down to future generations. Something is going wrong, however. Many pupils harbour a negative view of history by the age of 16. According to some universities, many of those who study the subject in higher education have very little knowledge of history prior to the 20th century.

It is Henry and Hitler who now dominate the history syllabus. Most pupils today would be able to recite the fate of Germany in the second world war and the tribulations of Henry VIII and his wives, but little else. World war two and the Tudor dynasty were, of course, significant events in our nation’s history, but to study them in isolation is not truly to understand the events that led to and followed them.

Change is needed to ensure that young people’s knowledge does not remain patchy and over-specific, and tied only to one or two moments in our nation’s history and ignorant of others. They need to be able to comprehend a longer narrative of our history. Knowledge of events such as the establishment of Parliament, the triumphs of the British empire, the monarchy and our Royal heritage has to an extent been cast by the wayside.

If we are to advance the cause of British history, we must not focus solely on England. Currently, the history curriculum sheds very little light on Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. British history should encompass all countries and all peoples of these isles, as well as those parts of the world in which Britain has had a significant input—including those whose people still identify themselves as British, such as in Her Majesty’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies.

A proper appreciation of our nation’s history is an important factor in forging national cohesion. It would combat the current failure of some pockets of our youth to engage with society and enlighten them as to the impact of the key factors that have shaped our nation over the centuries. History has always been a great contributor to British democracy and has allowed us to conduct a pluralistic analysis of the status quo.

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