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The Government have accepted responsibility for putting in place a scheme that will provide financial recompense from the public purse for those on whose behalf mistakes were made by the management of Equitable Life and in the regulatory regime. We hope to have an interim update soon. Rather than considering this as a constitutional issue, we should consider it as an issue of people who have lost their money after having put it into Equitable Life in good faith. There were failures that go back to the 1980s. The Government are taking action. We have said that Sir John Chadwick will set up the scheme and there will be an interim update from him very soon. It took the ombudsman four years to produce her report because of the massive complexity of the case. We cannot just snap our fingers
and work out what the compensation scheme should be. We are working on it, because we want to get financial recompense out to people as quickly as possible.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): It is not far off a year since the right hon. and learned Lady last convened the Modernisation Committee, when it was halfway through its investigation into the governance of Britain and we were poised to consider the Prime Ministers suggestions about dissolution and the powers of Parliament in respect of that. Does she propose to continue with the Modernisation Committee or has she just abandoned it? May we have a statement next week and an amendment to Standing Orders if that is now her position?
Ms Harman: I have no proposal to amend Standing Orders. If the hon. Gentleman wants to suggest issues that he thinks should be taken by the Modernisation Committee, which cannot be taken forward by the Procedure Committee, I would be happy to discuss them with him.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): The report on Equitable Life raises a constitutional issue, in that it was compiled by the parliamentary ombudsman, not the Government ombudsman. The parliamentary ombudsman reports to Parliament, so surely Parliament should have the right to decide the matter. Why will the Government not put their proposals to Parliament so that Parliament can vote on them? If Parliament rejects them, the Government must bring forward proposals that are acceptable to it.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The Government have made it clear that they wish to safeguard manufacturing jobs, but recent reports in the Financial Times and The Times suggest that the Treasury is trying to frustrate the efforts of the Ministry of Defence to secure agreement with the partners and companies participating in the Eurofighter project on the size and timing of the tranche 3 element of the proposal. Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement to the House about precisely what is going on with tranche 3, so as to remove the uncertainty about the matter felt by thousands of aerospace workers in the north-west?
Ms Harman: The Government place a high priority on supporting our manufacturing base. Obviously, there was an opportunity this morning to ask Ministers from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform about this matter. However, I will ask the Ministry of Defence to write to the right hon. Gentleman about his specific question on tranche 3 of the Eurofighter project.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con):
When the Leader of the House put the Governments case on the DNA database passionately, repeatedly and at length, did it not occur to her that that was precisely why there needs to be an oral statement from the Home Secretary? Feelings are running very high on the matter, and there
is a lot that needs to be said. Should not the Home Secretary have been dragged to that Dispatch Box to make a statement?
Ms Harman: It is only a consultation paper. My remarks could be seen as a contribution to the consultation, and we could take the remarks of those hon. Members who flatly disagree with me in the same way.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Can we have a debate on the Cabinet Office guidance to local authorities and regional development agencies on the forthcoming elections? The board of the south-west RDA is meeting on 18 May to decide major cuts to its programmes in the region, but it has now been ordered by the Cabinet Office not to announce the results of the meeting until after the elections on 4 June. The guidance states that the RDA
must not make announcements or publicise decisions that have the potential to affect voting intentions and therefore election outcomes.
Ms Harman: The Cabinet Office guidance is designed to make sure that Government announcements do not interfere with local and European elections, and it simply draws the situation to the attention of all relevant organisations. The Government have made unprecedented investment in the regions, year on year, and we are proposing to continue to do so this year and next
Ms Harman: The Opposition are proposing cuts. The Government are standing by our investment plans for this year and next, but the Opposition would cut public investment at the height of the recession. We say that that would make it longer and deeper.
[ That this House notes that 10 May 2009 marks the seventh anniversary of the Potters Bar derailment; and expresses its regret that no form of public inquiry has yet taken place despite the clearly expressed wishes of surviving victims and bereaved families for such an inquiry to be held. ]
Is the Leader of the House aware that next Sunday marks the seventh anniversary of the crash, yet there has still been no form of inquiry? Is not seven years simply too long for bereaved families, surviving victims, members of the travelling public and others to have to wait for answers to their questions?
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con):
May I reiterate the eloquent pleas from hon. Members on both sides of the House for more time for consideration on Report of the Policing and Crime Bill? It has 10 parts and addresses a welter of contentious issues, which the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) has already
listed. There is a certainty of no fewer than 10 groups of amendments, and a possibility of 20 or such groups. We are at a late stage but there is still time for the right hon. and learned Lady to concede an additional day for consideration. If she does, will she take it from me that her willingness to listen and adapt will be greatly respected?
Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for adding his views to those of other hon. Members on all sides of the House. I will reflect on them. It was only the provisional business that I announced earlier.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) has done great work in his constituency by helping to set up a job club, and other Members of this House are looking at establishing similar initiatives. Will there be an opportunity in the reasonably near future for a debate on unemployment and employment, so that hon. Members can consider practical ways to help their constituents during these extremely difficult times?
Ms Harman: We have spent a number of days debating the Budget, and one of them was focused on employment and unemployment. We were able to make the point that we hope that all the capital and investment that Government initiatives have put into the economy will mean that fewer jobs will be lost than would otherwise be the case. The investment of £1.2 billion in jobcentres will mean that those who lose their jobs will get prompt help and have a better chance of getting work in the future.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con):
In April 2004, just weeks before European elections and with the Labour party dipping in the polls, Tony Blair had the brainwave of offering a referendum on the constitution. Shamefully, he withdrew the offer shortly before he swanned off, but here we are againjust weeks before European elections and support for the Labour party is haemorrhaging. I know that that has been a huge
distraction for the Leader of the House, but could she possibly arrange for the Prime Minister to come to the Dispatch Box next week and re-offer the British public the referendum taken away from them so cruelly by Tony Blair?
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to the British tourism industry? It is our fifth biggest industry, and Britain is the sixth most visited country in the world. Millions of Americans come here, but onethe DJ Michael Savagehas been banned from the UK because of the stupid inflammatory remarks that he has made. He has told his audience of 10 million people not to come to the UK, so does the right hon. and learned Lady have a message for him? Does she have another, more positive message for the many Americans who might be thinking of coming to holiday in the UK?
Ms Harman: I do have a message, and I am sure the whole House does, for the many hundreds of thousands of Americans who visit this country every year, and it is that they are very welcome tourists. The tourism industry is very important, and has been made more competitive by the change in the value of the pound, which has meant that holidays in Britain are even better value for money.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The very sad news over the weekend that the Leader of the House had ruled out ever becoming Prime Minister gives rise to a constitutional problem. If the Prime Minister became ill, had an accident or was accidentally stabbed in the back, who would take over? Could we have a statement on thator will the right hon. and learned Lady reconsider her position, as many Opposition Members would like?
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the report of the expert group on assessment that has been published today.
Over the past 10 years, thanks to increased investment and great teaching, there has been a significant rise in standards in our primary and secondary schools. Testing and assessment have played a vital role in bringing about those improvements, and they continue to do so. However, the system is not set in stone. In my statement to the House in October, I set out three key principles that guide our approach. They are that we have to give parents the information that they need, to enable head teachers and teachers to secure the progress of every child, and to allow the public to hold national Government, local government and governing bodies to account.
Having also studied the Select Committees report on testing and assessment, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners and I concluded, on the basis of those principles and the key role that GCSE results play in secondary school accountability, that we would end key stage 3 national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds. I also said that the national curriculum tests at the end of key stage 2 provide the only objective measure of attainment during primary school, and that they are therefore essential to giving parents, teachers and the public the information that they need about the progress of each primary age child and of every primary school. However, I also said that I take seriously the concerns that some have raised about key stage 2 testing and accountability, so I announced the establishment of an expert group to advise us on the future of testing and assessment and its role in school accountability.
Over the past six months, the group has widely consulted head teachers, teachers, parents, subject associations and academics, as well as schools engaged in our stage not age single-level test pilots. I have now received the groups final report, and I have placed copies of it and my reply in the Libraries of both Houses. I should like to thank the groups members for all their hard work.
The expert group has recommended that we improve the transition between primary and secondary school, including through stronger links between schools, an extended project and a new primary graduation certificate that recognises each childs achievements; intensify our focus on catch-up learning during years 7 and 8 for those who fall behind during primary school, including through developing a progress check for those children at the end of year 7; strengthen the quality of teacher assessment, including in IT; continue to make key stage 3 tests available to all secondary schools, including the 75 per cent. of schools that have requested them this year; use a national sample test to ensure that standards are maintained; and strengthen the school accountability system by introducing a new school report card.
Externally marked and validated tests play an important role in the accountability system,
removing externally marked Key Stage 2 tests now, and replacing them with teacher assessment only, would represent a step backwards for pupils learning and for school accountability.
Key Stage 2 tests in English and maths should remain as a key accountability measure for all primary schools.
The group also recommends that we continue and extend our trials of stage not age tests; and that we move the key stage 2 test back from May to mid-June, so that there is continued learning to the end of year 6 and the role of teacher assessment in the transition to secondary school is strengthened.
On science, the expert group concludes that we can improve the teaching and assessment of the subject, and reinforce its critical role in the new primary curriculum, by replacing the externally marked test with enhanced teacher assessment that better recognises whether pupils have a firm grip of the practical nature of science and the skills to develop and apply scientific understanding.
I can confirm that I will accept the expert groups recommendations in full and now consult on their implementation. We will now move forward with our stage not age test pilots and trial, replacing the standard key stage 2 tests with single-level tests in maths for pilot schools next year. In addition, because the expert group rightly stresses that the importance of science will only grow, I intend to ensure that there is externally validated accountability for national standards in science by introducing a new sample test at key stage 2going beyond the expert groups recommendations. I am pleased that the Royal Society, the Science Community Representing EducationSCOREthe Science Learning Centres, the Association for Science Education, the Wellcome Trust and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation have all agreed to work with us to design that national sample test and to strengthen the teaching and assessment of science in our primary schools.
some schools, teachers and educational organisations are concerned that the use of the outcomes of external tests for purposes which are high stakes for schools can lead to unequal attention to all pupils needs, and to pupils being put under undue pressure.
That is why the expert group has asked us to provide new guidance to schools to ensure that preparation for key stage 2 tests is proportionate and educationally appropriate. However, the expert group also concludes:
Many concerns about testing arise not from the tests themselves but from the uses to which the test data is put, and the impact this can have on school and teacher behaviour.
Parents currently find published league table information easy to understand, but by focusing only on the performance of the average child, those tables do not challenge schools on whether they are stretching their most gifted and talented pupils or helping those who have fallen behind; they do not recognise the extra challenges that some schools face in helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed; and they ignore discipline, attendance, parental satisfaction and the vital contribution that schools make to childrens wider development. That is why the report card will, for the first time, provide easily accessible information on all those aspects
of school performance. It must be fair to all schools and help parents and others to make meaningful comparisons between schools.
Although some have said that league tables should be banned, that is simply not an option, as all the data are rightly in the public domain and will continue to be. It is therefore essential that the school report card provide a better balanced and clearly superior alternative to old-style league tables. I know that there are strong views about whether the report card should be based on a single grade, or on a combination of grades measuring attainment, progress and well-being, but without an overall score or grade on the report card it is very hard to see how it can allow between schools appropriate comparisons that both take account of the range of schools work and are as compelling and easy to understand as those provided by old-style league tables. We will now consult further on that issue in advance of our forthcoming schools White Paper.
Others have called for us to drop key stage 2 tests entirely, but the expert group is clear that to drop them entirely would be the wrong thing to do. Furthermore, independent surveys of parents show that the clear majority value the information that the tests provide. I know that head teachers take their statutory responsibilities and position as role models to young people extremely seriously, and I know that they want nothing less than the best for the children in their schools. However, as the expert group says,
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