Previous Section Index Home Page

15 Jun 2009 : Column 14

Judy Mallaber: I welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position and invite her to visit one of the six excellent children’s centres in my constituency, which provide a wonderful range of activities for children and support for families and mothers, and which have been shown to have improved the development of young children thanks to the work of our excellent former Labour county council.

What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me about the future sustainability of those centres, and that phase 3 will go ahead, in light of the fact that a new administration has been elected that does not have the same commitment to the wonderful children’s centres that have done so much to help our children?

Dawn Primarolo: The Derbyshire experience so far shows an excellent record, as my hon. Friend says. Young children are achieving good levels of development, and there has been considerable progress—above the national average—on narrowing the gap between the lowest-achieving and the rest. Funding from the Department is in place not only for the existing centres but to complete the roll-out of the further nine in Derbyshire by March 2010. I have absolutely no reason to believe that that will not happen. The Sure Start funding is ring-fenced, and the Government will watch closely. Should the local authority decide to follow the Opposition’s pleas and cut Sure Start, it can be sure that it will face opposition from both the Government and, I am sure, local parents.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Sure Start centres will each, I believe, have a health visitor based at them in future. That is welcome, but does the Minister accept that the universal health visitor service, which provides absolutely vital assessment and support to families throughout the country, has been undermined by this Labour Government? The Minister—a new, fresh, Minister in a fresh team—can announce today that they will commit themselves to the universal health visitor scheme that this country had, and to which its people wish to return.

Dawn Primarolo: I say to the hon. Gentleman that £1 billion is being invested directly into support services in children’s centres, which his party will not match. The national health service is funding Sure Start children’s services and maternity services, which his party will not match. We see in Sure Start children’s centres work by Jobcentre Plus on employment, training and skills for parents, which his party will not match. I can also say to him, having just arrived in the Department after being a Minister in the Department of Health, that discussions between both Departments about expanding and developing the role of health visitors are under way. His party would not answer the plea that he makes to me.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend has been to Amber Valley and visited the Sure Start centre there, will she continue to Creswell and Langwith? There, she will see two more Sure Start success stories. We have got not only health visitors but national health service dentists in both places. We want to ensure that that is replicated throughout the country, so let’s keep out the Tories with their cuts.

15 Jun 2009 : Column 15

Dawn Primarolo: As my hon. Friend rightly points out, Sure Start children’s centres give children the best start in life in education and health. The Government have invested massively in those services, and all would be put in jeopardy by the policies that the Conservative party espouses. It wishes to make more than £200 million of cuts to Sure Start centres. I am delighted to accept the offer to visit my hon. Friend’s Sure Start centres. When parents understand how damaged their children’s education would be by the Conservative party, they will be clear that Sure Start centres are safe in the Government’s hands.

Topical Questions

T2. [279185] Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending condolences to the family and friends of Jacqueline Fleming, who sadly died yesterday in Scotland after contracting the swine flu virus.

Nine schools in England are currently closed. Seventeen schools and two nurseries that were closed have now reopened. I assure parents that, as the Children’s Minister said, we will act at all times on the basis of the best possible medical advice to ensure that children’s safety is put first.

In the Budget, we announced additional investment of £655 million in the next two years so that every 16 and 17-year-old who wants to study or take up a training place can do so this September. I am today announcing the regional breakdown of the extra funding that we are providing to ensure that September guarantee. I would like a consensus between hon. Members of all parties about the need to ensure that all young people have the skills and qualifications that they need. It is therefore a matter of great disappointment to me that a consensus on funding the September guarantee is proving so elusive.

Mr. Love: I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement on the September guarantee and the £1.5 billion that will come to London in the next year for academic and vocational education for our young people. Does he agree that the investment is particularly important now, at a time of recession? Is it not outrageous that that contrasts starkly with the cuts that the Conservative party would introduce?

Ed Balls: I was pleased to confirm the funding for London and all regions today and show that, with the extra funding that we have agreed with the Treasury, we can now make the guarantee. I assumed that we would get a consensus on the matter. I have now written seven times, as has the Schools Minister, to the Conservative spokesman and received no reply. In the interests of efficiency, we may have to call a halt to the letter writing, but I emphasise that the Labour party will guarantee a place in school or college, or an apprenticeship for every young person aged 16 this September and the Conservative party will not. That says everything one needs to know about the difference in priorities between the two parties.

15 Jun 2009 : Column 16

T3. [279186] Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): On 19 May 2008, I asked the Secretary of State about the future of the Thomas Lord Audley and Alderman Blaxill schools in my constituency. In good faith, he replied:

Regrettably, Tory-controlled Essex county council had deceived the Department and the Secretary of State. Under those circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman agree to meet me and other representatives of the Colchester community to discuss the future of the two schools, which the dastardly Tories want to shut?

Ed Balls: A new Minister with responsibility for schools offers the opportunity for a new meeting. I remember the remarks that I made. Those plans are, of course, a matter for local decision making, and it is the Conservative authority that is taking them forward. As we have said before, I wish—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does, too—that the whole community could be taken forward in consensus. I support the expansion of academies, but the individual decision is a matter for local decision making. The Minister with responsibility for schools would be delighted to have a meeting to ensure that the hon. Gentleman fully understands all the issues as he takes forward his case with his Conservative opponents in his county.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that Blackpool primary schools very much welcome the injection of capital funding, so that Anchorsholme primary school can be rebuilt? On a recent visit to Norbreck primary school, I was shown exciting plans to remodel the 1930s premises in which the infant children are educated. Will he or perhaps one of his new and expanded ministerial team take the time to visit Blackpool and see the exciting developments that will bring our schools into the 21st century and help better educate our young children?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): I would be delighted to go to Blackpool to see for myself the investment in primary schools. It is worth pointing out that there is an additional £3 million in 2009-10 and £5.38 million in 2010-11 for the primary capital programme in Blackpool, and I look forward to visiting and seeing it for myself.

T4. [279188] Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): The Government’s target to halve teenage pregnancies by 2010 will clearly not be met. Indeed, I have heard mention of dates such as 2039 at the earliest. Notwithstanding that, what action will the Government take to extend and modify the teenage pregnancy strategy beyond 2010 to support all those working on this vital issue up and down the country? That should be done sooner rather than later.

The Minister for Children (Dawn Primarolo): I am sure that the hon. Lady would agree that, while recognising that it will be difficult to reach the 2010 target, it is important that we should none the less continue to work with local authorities and primary care trusts to deliver the very best services in both health and education.
15 Jun 2009 : Column 17
Conversations and discussions have already started with PCTs and local authorities. I myself was speaking at a conference only last week on how we can continue to see a reduction in teenage pregnancies and births as we progress to 2010, and on what we need to do after then to continue building on that good work and the achievements that have been made.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend remember visiting my constituency a few months ago, when we had an interesting discussion about the problems of children entering school at four with not a word of English? At three schools in my constituency, 95 per cent. of the children enter with no English. We had discussions about the possibility of making funding available to help young mothers who have entered as wives to learn English, in order to help them use it at home, so that their children could start school with at least a little English.

Ed Balls: The visits that we had were very interesting and important, and I am determined to do what more I can to support my hon. Friend in her campaign. I was in Peterborough just a few weeks ago and saw in a local Sure Start centre how the combination of free nursery care for two-year-olds and Every Child a Talker was making huge strides in helping the speaking of children for whom English was not a first language at the age of two. If we can do more in our Sure Start centres to help those young children and their parents, we should definitely do so. I would be very happy to discuss that further with my hon. Friend.

T5. [279189] Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Macclesfield and Bollington education improvement partnership, under the excellent chairmanship of headmaster Andy Robinson, comprises four high schools, 28 feeder primary schools, a further education college and a special school, and it has established a strong reputation as a model for collaborative work—so much so that Ofsted has described the work of one of the schools as beyond outstanding. EIPs can do a lot to ensure justice and fairness in the allocation of resources, so would the Secretary of State encourage their work?

The Minister of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Mr. Vernon Coaker): We would certainly be willing to encourage the kind of examples of educational collaboration that the hon. Gentleman refers to. Such collaboration represents an important step forward, and education partnerships demonstrate the ways in which schools can work together to extend their curriculum and to deal with difficult behavioural issues. They provide a whole range of different ways of offering opportunities that simply would not be possible in one school operating on its own. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that secondary and primary schools were co-operating in this way; that kind of collaboration across the age ranges makes a significant difference. It is much better to have collaboration than to set school against school, which is something that his party sometimes advocates.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Sadly, there are now more Conservative councils, and they are relaxed about pupil exclusions. That means that there will be more exclusions and more kids loitering on street corners and estates. The Government’s policy is that the schools in a particular area should share the
15 Jun 2009 : Column 18
burden of pupil exclusions, but that is unlikely to happen under these Conservative councils. How will the Government enforce that policy?

Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend will know that in a recent Ofsted inspection of 18 local authorities, eight were found not to be complying with their legal requirement to make alternative provision for young people who have been permanently excluded from school, six days after that exclusion. We will write to every director of children’s services to remind them of their legal responsibility, and we are putting together an action plan to ensure that the entitlement of young people who have been permanently excluded from school is met, and that the provision is of the right quality. I can also assure my hon. Friend that, in addition to receiving that letter, which I intend to write in the near future, those authorities can expect me to check on the progress that they have made in a few months’ time. It is wrong that pupils who have been permanently excluded from school are not being given the entitlement to education that they deserve, and we are determined to do something about that.

T6. [279191] Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Is the Minister aware of the increased difficulties being faced by smaller charities that deal with children and young people? An example is Visyon, which is based in Congleton but which provides support throughout Cheshire. It provides valuable quality counselling and support to young people, which in many cases prevents their having to be referred to the child and adolescent mental health services. What advice can be given to ensure that these charities can continue to do their proven good work in the future?

Ed Balls: It is vital that charities work together with local authorities to provide the support that children need, especially those with a special educational need. I do not know the details of the charity that the hon. Lady has mentioned, but if she writes to me, I will be happy to take the matter forward.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the education maintenance allowance will continue into the long-term future? It has persuaded many young people from low income families in my constituency to stay on at school post-16, and we all want to hear that there is no question mark over this policy.

Ed Balls: The expansion of funding for the September guarantee includes extra funding for EMAs, to ensure that young people can stay on in education. This is a vital part of our September guarantee, and of our extension of opportunity in education. I can assure my hon. Friend that this party will stand by our investment in EMAs and by our September guarantee, but I cannot give her the full reassurance that she wants, because the Leader of the Opposition refuses to endorse or support the continued existence of EMAs, and his shadow education spokesman refuses to back our September guarantee. This tells us everything we need to know about the difference between the two parties and their priorities.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Last week, I asked Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport why so few secondary schools were able to play cricket using cricket balls, and now I should like to ask
15 Jun 2009 : Column 19
the Secretary of State a question about balls. Wasim Khan, who runs the excellent Chance to Shine programme, explained on the “Today” programme that this was because so many secondary schools now no longer have access to their own school playing fields. Does not the Secretary of State think that it is rather sad that schools cannot play competitive cricket using cricket balls because they do not have access to their own school playing fields?

Ed Balls: I attended the Twenty20 match at Lords last night and saw England win. [Hon. Members:
15 Jun 2009 : Column 20
“Hear, hear.”] Before I went there, I presented a prize to schools that had demonstrated how they were using cricket as a means of taking forward the curriculum and providing opportunity. One school in north Yorkshire was using cricket to learn about science. The other case was a consortium of schools from Tower Hamlets, whose young people were going over to Blackheath to play cricket. The competition, sponsored by the English Cricket Board, is an important part of our ambition to ensure both that more young people can play cricket and that England continues to do as well in future Twenty20s as we did last night.

15 Jun 2009 : Column 21


3.31 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): With permission, Mr. Speaker. The whole House will want to join me in expressing condolences to the family and friends of the two soldiers who recently lost their lives serving in Afghanistan: Lieutenant Paul Mervis of 2nd Battalion the Rifles; and Private Robert McLaren of 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland—the Black Watch. Their lives, their service and their contribution will not be forgotten. Their sacrifice reminds us of the dangers our serving armed forces confront every day and of why we must continue to give them all our support.

Our troops first went into Iraq in March 2003 and now they are coming home. In total, 120,000 men and women have served in Iraq during the last six years, so it is fitting that I should now come to the House to talk of their achievements through difficult times; to chart the new relationship we are building with Iraq; and to set out our plans for an inquiry into the conflict.

As always, we can be supremely proud of the way our armed forces carried out their mission—proud of their valour in the heat of combat, which is recognised in many citations for awards and decorations; and proud of their vigilance and resolution amid the most difficult imaginable conditions and the ever-present risk of attack by an unseen enemy. Today we continue to mourn and to remember the 179 men and women who gave their lives in Iraq in the service of our country.

In my statement to the House last December, I set out the remaining tasks in southern Iraq for our mission: first, to entrench improvements in security by putting Iraqis in charge of their own defence and policing; secondly, to support Iraq’s emerging democracy, particularly through the provincial elections; and, thirdly, to promote the reconstruction of the country, economic growth and basic services like power and water in order to give the Iraqi people what matters most for their livelihoods in years to come—that is, a full stake in their economic future. I can report that those three objectives are being achieved, and that, thanks to our efforts and those of our allies over six difficult years, a young democracy has replaced a vicious 30-year dictatorship.

In recent months, we have completed the training of the 9,000 troops in 14 division of the Iraqi army, who are now fully in charge of the security of Basra. It was 14 division who, with our and the Americans’ help, took on the militia in the crucial Operation Charge of the Knights in spring last year. Since then, violence and crime in the Basra region have continued to fall, while levels of violence across Iraq as a whole are at their lowest since 2003. Provincial elections were held peacefully on 31 January with 7 million Iraqis turning out to vote for 440 different political groupings. The Iraqis ran the elections themselves with only three violent incidents across the entire country, and preparations are now under way for national elections on 31 January 2010.

Next Section Index Home Page