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2 Jun 2010 : Column 500

However, we all know that it is not only money and direct investment that can make a difference to tackling inequality-and thank goodness, because there is not a lot of it around. Human resources are also massively important. I am therefore incredibly excited about and welcome the measures contained in the Gracious Speech to expand organisations such as Teach First. I tugged the elbows of those in Teach First a couple of years ago, begging them to come to Bristol. They did not say no, but they did not say yes. Given the legislation that we will be considering, I hope that they will be able to come to Bristol North West, as Teach First will make a tangible difference to the lives of the children there. Such measures, which often start out merely as ideas in a report that are then taken to this place, can sometimes seem dislocated from those whom they are supposed to serve. The world outside this Chamber can seem very distant when one has been sitting down inside it for five hours, but it is there. I very much look forward to seeing these ideas make a tangible difference.

I shall cite one example in that regard. St Ursula's school is a private school in my constituency, but it wants to open its doors to take state pupils. It exists in an area of burning parental need and desire for a new school. Parents have asked for this new school, but all along the line the authority has said no-the computer has said no. I shall be delighted if the legislation set out in the Gracious Speech means that parents who want a new school find that the computer can say yes and that the authority can help them to realise their ambitions for their children, giving children from all backgrounds access to new, good schools-to schools that only the well-off can afford at the moment.

In conclusion, I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for indulging me. It has been an honour to address this debate on the single most effective way of closing that gap between the haves and the have-nots, which remains so stark in my constituency. I am talking about education, and I look forward to working within this Chamber, with my honourable colleagues and friends, to ensure that Bristol North West is a tale not of two cities, but of one city. I want it to be a place of opportunity for all, and that is also what I want this country to become.

7.8 pm

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I congratulate the hon. Members for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) and for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on their maiden speeches, both of which promised much for the future. I well remember my own maiden speech. It was supposed to have been non-controversial, so I chose the entirely non-controversial subject of holiday homes in Wales!

In this new Parliament, Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party Members will be vigorous participants in the business of the House. I am glad to say that the new Green MP, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), has joined us on this Bench, because she, too, has much to contribute. I would have been glad to hear contributions from our erstwhile colleagues, the former independent Members Dai Davies and Richard Taylor, both of whom worked very hard, and I pay tribute to their work while in the Chamber. Richard Taylor is a consultant physician, and I remember him saying in his maiden speech, "Since I joined the NHS, there have been 28 reorganisations. I rather liked the
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19th." That is a cautionary word for the Government and their aim of reorganising the health service in England.

Much education and health legislation is not directly relevant to Wales. However, there is a great deal to be said about education and health in Wales, not least the First Minister's incomprehensible decision last week to sabotage Welsh medium education in Cardiff West. No doubt the Welsh electorate will make their view clear on that next spring-but I shall not stray into devolved matters in this speech. Health is largely a devolved matter, although some important matters are not. Early in my career here, I tackled the then Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, over nurses' pay. His erroneous response was, "It is an abiding joy to me that I have no responsibility for things Welsh." He was actually wrong, and I hope that this Government and their Ministers are better informed and will show at least a modicum of better grace in dealing with all matters Welsh.

The question from Wales is, what is the significance of the Queen's Speech for education and health? The Academies Bill will apply to England only. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State refer repeatedly to "this country", whereas, of course, he should have referred to "England". He should be aware that there are other parts of the United Kingdom that will not go down the route of academies or any of the other measures for education in England that he has outlined. The education and children's Bill and the health Bill will have some provisions that apply to Wales, but it is not particularly clear which ones.

The main effect in Wales of the Queen's Speech will of course come from cuts. We know already that the Government are postponing looking at the Barnett formula, even though successive independent reports have shown clearly that Wales is underfunded. The last report, the Holtham report, showed that Wales is already underfunded to the tune of £400 million. Added to that are the cuts already announced for Wales as part of the first £6 billion tranche and the much bigger cuts that we are facing in the future. Clearly, public services in Wales are in great danger. That is even more pressing because the easy-or easier-efficiency savings available in some parts of England are not necessarily applicable in Wales. The Prime Minister mentioned this morning savings from development agencies, but that opportunity has gone in Wales. It is particularly galling, I am sorry to say, that we are facing these cuts, given that the Liberal Democrats campaigned in Wales very much on the prospectus of raising public spending. Now we have not only cuts but no changes to the Barnett formula, in the foreseeable future at least.

We also have cuts in the numbers of additional university places. Again, the number for Wales is unclear, although one might speculate that it might be 500. This is particularly difficult given that universities in Wales are clearly underfunded as well. A study of cross-border education by the Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I was a member in the last Parliament, showed that universities in Wales were underfunded to the tune of £60 million per annum, and that university research in Wales was underfunded to the tune of about £40 million. Both sums of money, of course, would go far in filling the funding gap. Successive Labour Secretaries of State claimed that the Barnett formula has served Wales well,
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but it does not apply to research moneys. If it did, we would get not 2% but 5.6% of research money, which would make a huge difference.

I will not take up much more of the Chamber's time, because many people are waiting to make their maiden speeches. I will add, however, that the One Wales Government-the red-green Government-in Cardiff are committed to social justice, sustainability and inclusivity, and firmly reject NHS privatisation and the market models in the health service. That might come as a surprise to some hon. Members who do not know the ins and outs of Welsh politics, but that is how it stands at the moment. That refers back to my earlier point about this country being the UK and not just England. The Welsh Assembly Government are also responsible for the Wales-wide practical curriculum, including a foundation, play-based phase for four to seven-year-olds. Were I in charge of taking lessons from Sweden, I would look at the universal child care available there, which I saw a couple of years ago on a visit with the all-party Sweden group, rather than at some of the other lessons that the Government are taking. We also have in Wales the Welsh baccalaureate and are developing 14-to-19 education in general. In this respect, I hope that Wales will be protected from the coalition's wilder enthusiasms in respect of health and education, and I genuinely regret that that choice is not open to people in England.

7.16 pm

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): I am grateful for this opportunity to deliver my maiden speech as the new Member of Parliament for Croydon Central. I congratulate the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on his contribution and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), who has just left the Chamber, on her maiden speech. I know how hard she has worked to get to this place.

It is traditional to start a maiden speech by paying tribute to one's predecessor, and despite the fact that he was an opponent in the recent election, I have absolutely no hesitation in doing so. Andrew Pelling was elected to the House in 2005 as a Conservative, but for the last two and a half years sat as an independent Member. During his time here, he experienced a number of difficulties in his personal life, but despite them he was regarded in the constituency as an excellent local MP. In addition to his service in the House, he served the people of Croydon and the Conservative party as a local councillor for more than 20 years, and as a member of the Greater London assembly for eight years. He was one of the people who encouraged me to get involved in local politics, and I wish him well in whatever he chooses to do in the future. I hope that his contribution to public life is not at an end.

It is a great honour to represent Croydon. It has been my home since I was a few months old, and it is where my wife and I have chosen to bring up our children. There is no getting away from the fact that Croydon has an image problem-a reputation for rather unwelcoming 1960s architecture, and for crime and antisocial behaviour. The town centre is certainly in need of regeneration, which our Conservative council and its excellent chief executive, Jon Rouse-a former chief executive of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment-have ambitious plans to deliver as the economy emerges
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from recession. It is also true that crime is my constituents' No. 1 concern, although it is lower than in many other London boroughs, and the town centre, in particular, is safer than it was a few years ago thanks to the efforts of our local police, led by Borough Commander Adrian Roberts.

Those two problems aside, Croydon has much going for it. Historically, it was a market town in Surrey, situated in a valley between the Crystal Palace escarpment and the north downs, just north of a gap in the downs and therefore on the natural route from London to the south coast. The Archbishop of Canterbury had his summer residence in the town, and some of the original buildings survive and today form part of Old Palace school. The arrival of the railways-first the Surrey iron railway between Croydon and Wandsworth in 1803, then connections to London in 1839 and Brighton in 1841-led to a 23-fold increase in Croydon's population between 1801 and 1901, and as Croydon grew north, London grew south, and by the outbreak of the great war it had become part of the London metropolitan area.

Further change came after the second world war. The Croydon Corporation Act 1956, coupled with Government incentives for office relocation out of central London, led to almost 500,000 square metres of office space being built or given permission in just seven years-much of it in multi-storey blocks-plus an underpass and a flyover, which transformed the town from a market town into a mini Manhattan. Today, Croydon is a city in all but name, a major commercial and retail centre, and the largest metropolitan area in western Europe without city status. However, it is also part of London, the world's greatest city. It has excellent transport links, including a 24-hour rail service to central London, Gatwick airport and the south coast. Croydon tramlink is London's only tramline, and the East London line extension to West Croydon, which opened just over a week ago, has finally put Croydon on the tube map. As a result, Croydon residents can be in central London in just over 15 minutes, while living on the edge of the beautiful countryside of the north downs and not having to pay through the nose for housing.

Croydon's greatest asset is undoubtedly its people, many of whom have come from all over the world to make it their home. They set up new businesses, work in our public services, contribute to the town's thriving voluntary sector and enrich its culture, making it a vibrant, cosmopolitan place to live. The real Croydon is a mix of ancient and modern, city and countryside, long established and newly arrived. Like many suburbs, Croydon is not without its problems, but it is a great place to live.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate for three reasons. First, as a parent of three young boys, who I expect are watching at the moment, and as the chairman of governors at a local secondary school, education is an issue in which I have a personal interest. Secondly, it is also a key issue in my constituency, particularly in relation to secondary school standards, which I shall come to in a moment. Most importantly, if we want to lift people out of poverty and to increase social mobility in our country, then education, and not the ever more complicated tax and benefit system favoured by the previous Government, is surely the key to doing so, as the hon. Member for
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Luton South (Gavin Shuker) recognised. Of course it is important that young people leave school, college or university with the qualifications they need to get a job, but education is about much more than exam results. It is about inspiring children, raising their aspirations and giving them the confidence that if they work hard, they can fulfil their dreams.

Given the time available, there is just one more issue that I wish to raise-standards in secondary schools. My constituency is lucky to have some excellent state faith schools-Coloma Convent, a Roman Catholic school for girls, and Archbishop Tenison's, a co-educational Church of England school, both of which deliver excellent results on limited budgets thanks to outstanding leadership by Maureen Martin and Richard Parrish respectively. We also have some excellent independent secondary schools-the Islamic Al-Khair school, as well as the Trinity and Old Palace schools, which are part of the foundation established more than 400 years ago by Archbishop Whitgift, about which I should declare an interest as a governor.

Until recently, parents who were not practising Christians and who did not wish or were not able to go independent had either to accept places at schools where standards were not high enough or send their children miles away to Bromley, Surrey or Sutton. Thankfully, a couple of years ago, our Conservative council took action to address the problem, replacing low-performing schools with new academies and putting in place plans to expand popular schools. Some of those plans are dependent on Building Schools for the Future funding, and I was therefore grateful to hear the Secretary of State's positive comments in that regard earlier in the debate.

Unfortunately, not all councils are as progressive as mine. Too many turn a blind eye to low performance, rather than taking the tough decisions needed to turn things around. That is why it is so welcome that the coalition proposes to remove the monopoly of local councils and to allow parents, teachers, charities and local communities to set up new schools. Each year, thousands of parents are told that the inn is full. They are told that there are no places at any of the schools where they want to send their children and that they have either to send them to a school they did not choose or educate them at home. The policy that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has championed with such passion will provide another option to those parents, and the knowledge that a new school could open if enough local parents are dissatisfied will put pressure on low-performing schools across the country to raise their game.

The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) is concerned that the proposals in the Queen's Speech will create a two-tier system, but the reality is surely that the current system of catchment areas coupled with the local authority monopoly of supply allows well-off parents to move into the catchment areas of good schools and leaves the less well-off with little or no choice. It demonstrably does not ensure that everybody gets an equal education. The previous Government believed that a top-down approach was the best way to drive up standards. I believe that a bottom-up approach, based on parent and pupil choice, is far more likely to be successful. That is what my constituents want, and I look forward to supporting the measures when they come before the House.

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7.24 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Let me begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on his maiden speech, which was extremely informative. It outlined not only the needs of his constituents, but the attractions of his constituency.

There are a great many measures in the Queen's Speech that I am very concerned about, that I disagree with and that I think will be unhelpful to my constituents. There are also a few measures that I think will be unhelpful for our democracy, the most obvious of which is the proposal requiring the approval of 55% of the House for its Dissolution. I also think that a number of the measures proposed will undermine local democracy as it is embodied in our local councils. I am talking not only about the effect that drastic cuts will have on services, but about the proposals to remove most of our schools from the local authority family.

I have a number of concerns about the proposals on education, including those covered by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, that I want to outline, the first of which relates to the further withdrawal of funding from our universities. Like many others in the House, I believe that universities are the powerhouse of our future economy. They provide young people and others with the necessary skills to compete in the global jobs market now and into the future. The withdrawal of 10,000 places and the cutting of a further £200 million from the higher education budget is to be wholly deplored. I suspect that those who will lose out on a place this autumn will not be those from the most affluent backgrounds, but those who were hoping to benefit from Labour's widening participation strategy and perhaps to be the first person in their family to go to university. What will happen to those young people if they do not gain a place at university? Are the Government going to offer them a job or alternative training, or will they simply throw them into unemployment?

That brings me to the cuts in the future jobs fund. We think that about 40,000 to 80,000 young people could be affected by the cuts in funding. It is interesting that both parties in the coalition thought that programme was a very good one before the election-and, indeed, it was. When Labour left office, there were around 40% fewer young people signing on than during the recession under the Tories in the 1990s. Labour Members will be taking a very careful look at how this issue plays out in the areas of the country that we represent that are most disadvantaged. In particular, we will look at how it feeds into youth unemployment.

The third issue that I want to address is that of academies. Like all Members of the House, I think, education in my constituency was transformed under the last Labour Government, with attainment levels improving from the low 30s, in percentage terms, in relation to those gaining five GCSEs. That figure was about 31% in the early 1990s, whereas currently the figure is higher than 80% for a number of schools in my constituency. That did not happen by accident: it happened because of the investment that Labour put in. But we are still waiting for our first academy. We have an excellent proposal, and a scheme that was approved by the last Labour Government is under way. It brings together a very interesting partnership between the excellence of Durham university, our local chamber of
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commerce and the local authority. I am seeking reassurance from the Secretary of State and his Ministers tonight that that excellent scheme will go ahead.

The House might be interested to hear that those new buildings, which are planned for 2013, were opposed by my Liberal Democrat opposition in the election. She told us in a focus leaflet-not the most reliable source of evidence, I know-that she was leading the opposition to the academy on ideological grounds. Those ideological grounds were, apparently, that she deplores-and thinks her party's policy is against-any schools being brought out of the local authority family. I should therefore like to hear from the Government how they have managed to reconcile the huge differences between both parts of the coalition on academies and whether they used the services of Relate to bring them together.

I hope that those new buildings go ahead. Labour saw that investment as essential to improving opportunities for our young people, so I am very concerned about a policy that seeks to make all schools into academies without necessarily adding to their facilities or introducing new facilities. We all know that simply removing schools from the local authority will not necessarily lead to innovation or the driving up of standards that is necessary.

The fourth issue that I want to talk about is the free schools policy. At the moment, we probably have more questions about it than answers, and I am going to add a few questions of my own this evening. If there is a rush for free schools, how will the Government ensure that all areas benefit equally? If resources are directed to them, what will happen to existing schools, particularly in areas where there are falling rolls? If additional money is put into free schools, will it be taken away from others?

When the coalition parties talk about the pupil premium, they do not say much about the money already directed to disadvantaged schools through targeted grants. Again, I wonder whether those grants will be continued with the pupil premium. If the Government are going to withdraw them, they should make that very clear.

The last issue that I want to raise is that of free school meals. My hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana R. Johnson) and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and I, together with the public services trade unions, drove forward the campaign for free school meals. I am extremely fortunate to have a pilot scheme in my constituency. It is showing enormous benefits in improving the understanding among our very young people of the importance of eating well, and it is also helping them with their studies by enabling them to concentrate more. I would really like to hear from the Government this evening that they are going to continue and expand these excellent pilots, which are doing so much to tackle educational disadvantage and child poverty.

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