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Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): This has been an interesting debate to which many Members on both sides of the House contributed. The number of Members who wanted to speak shows clearly the importance of the Bill, and there are clear divisions of principle between Government and Opposition Members. I am happy to be called a dinosaur or labelled old-fashioned simply because I want to defend this country's comprehensive system to ensure that there is excellence for all, that every single school has the resources that it deserves, and that we do not pit one school or one community against another.
Many hon. Members spoke of the rush to take this legislation through. Interestingly, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) suggested that we perhaps need to look at one or two aspects, and many Government Members said that we should consider amendments to improve the Bill. On cue, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Chair of the Education Committee, has come into the Chamber-he too thinks that the Bill is being rushed through. However, he understands that, should the House of Commons choose to amend any clause, schedule or subsection, it would cause the Leader of the House, who is in the Chamber, great difficulty. As he, I and everybody in the House knows, there is no Report stage, and the Bill could go straight from Committee to Third Reading. That works on the presumption that there will be no amendment in Committee and that business will be finished by a certain time. We know not only that there is no Report, but that if an amendment is made in Committee, the Bill must to go back to the House of Lords, which would be a problem.
The Secretary of State's Bill may be radical-his view is that it is a flagship Bill and a really important piece of educational reform-but he should not rush it through the House in an unprecedented way. Such procedure is usually reserved for anti-terror measures or legislation in an extreme emergency. The Bill is about the future of education. As was witnessed in numerous speeches by Members on both sides of the House, there are big issues of principle to be debated, and they deserve proper consideration. We should have the opportunity to table amendments and the Government should have the opportunity to choose whether to accept them.
My hon. Friends the Members for North West Durham (Pat Glass), for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) and for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) laid out their concerns about the rush. Indeed, the hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) said that he too was concerned. The Chair of the Select Committee pointed out the difficulty with the way in which the Bill is being handled.
Several concerns were raised by hon. Members on both sides. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) talked about structures being placed above the quality of teachers. The lack of consultation and the supersession of the role of local authorities was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and my right hon.
Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). The need for greater fairness for children was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for North West Durham. The problem of the Bill creating a two-tier education system and the way in which it will undermine social justice were mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson), for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi).
Mr Gibb: This Bill has 20 clauses, to be debated in Committee over three days. That is between six and seven clauses a day. Compare that with the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill with which the hon. Gentleman was involved, where we debated 42 clauses in each day in Committee.
Vernon Coaker: The hon. Gentleman needs to explain why it will be impossible to amend the Bill, why it will have no Report stage, and-if it is not impossible to amend the Bill-whether he would welcome amendments. Some of his Back Benchers have serious concerns about the Bill, but if he accepted amendments, we would have to have a Report stage and the Bill would have to go back to the House of Lords.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) mentioned the differences in the profiles of the new academies as opposed to those of existing academies. That set out for us clearly the difference between the academies programme as pursued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood and the previous Government in which academies were designed to tackle social disadvantage and educational underperformance in some of our poorest communities and the schools that have applied for academy status under this Government, which have lower proportions of children with special needs and are in much more socially advantaged areas.
To be fair to Government Members, we heard some good contributions, which were not all supportive of the Government. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) seemed to suggest that amendments were needed, but was unsure about how he could achieve them. I suggest that the Minister of State consider that point.
I thought that the speech by the hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) was excellent. He explained why the Academies Bill is unnecessary and will in fact undermine the education system. I very much agreed with him. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East, whom I cannot see her in her place, also made some good points about special needs.
We all thought that the speech by the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) about the need to ensure that the Bill in no way disadvantages those with special needs was an important contribution and we all learnt from his comments. Other hon. Members also made important contributions.
Apart from the name, this Government's academies policy could not be further removed from the values and goals that underpinned the introduction of academies under Labour. We believed in practical, targeted intervention to help struggling schools, not a free-market free-for-all.
We believed that if a school was already judged outstanding, it was clearly succeeding within the existing framework and could only be damaged by centralised, ideologically driven policy experiments. We believed in local accountability, not unwieldy powers for a Secretary of State far removed from the realities of local circumstances. We believed in local co-operation and mutual support, not isolation, competition and division. We believed in fair funding and fair admissions, not the introduction of unfair advantages and resources to be exploited at the expense of those already most vulnerable within the education system. We believed in evidence over ideology. We believed in listening to educationalists, teachers, head teachers and other professionals who understand better than anyone what does and does not work on the ground.
Bob Russell: I recognise the powerful case that the hon. Gentleman makes, but does he accept that in a constituency such as mine this Bill could be the great escape from Conservative-controlled Essex county council?
Vernon Coaker: I wish the hon. Gentleman luck with Essex county council. He and I have worked long and hard to try to free Colchester from various people on the council. But I will not go there, Mr Speaker. I have been to Colchester three times. Perhaps the new Schools Minister will now take up that task with great relish.
It should be obvious that when a Government do not listen, when they do not bother to consult and when they rush through legislation grounded not in evidence or experience but in ideology, they will get things badly wrong. In this instance, that will result in the undermining of our education system in a way that could damage the educational prospects of a generation. Whatever their motive, a coalition Government who have declared an interest in helping those who are disadvantaged in the education system are championing a model of schooling from other countries about which serious questions are now being asked.
According to recent studies, charter schools and free schools in the US and Sweden have led to a deterioration in overall standards, to a greater differentiation in attainment between the haves and the have-nots and to a decrease in racial and socio-economic integration. Just last month, the Swedish Education Minister warned the UK against adopting the free school model, stating:
"We have actually seen a fall in the quality of Swedish schools since the free schools were introduced...The free schools are generally attended by children of better educated and wealthy families, making things even more difficult for children attending ordinary schools in poor areas."
Stanford university published the first national assessment of charter schools in America and found that 37% delivered learning results that were significantly worse than those that the students would have realised had they remained in traditional public schools, and that nearly half the results were no different. That evidence was ignored by this Government.
It is ironic that a party that professeses to champion localism will now fatally undermine the ability of our most local layer of democratically elected government- the local authority-to plan for and support fair and excellent schooling in its area. "What could be more democratic than giving power to parents?", ask the Government, but in the context of the Bill, that claim is
deeply disingenuous. Parents are not mentioned in it once. Around the country, parents are rightly up in arms that governing bodies may seek to convert their children's schools into academies without so much as speaking to them. In a MORI poll this year, 95% of parents and the general public opposed external organisations such as private companies and charities running schools, and 96% opposed the creation of so-called free schools. Parents know what is best for their children.
Sadly, the Liberal Democrats have yet again demonstrated their elastic convictions when it comes to notions of fairness and justice, redefining them at every turn to accommodate their desire to be at the top table.
Stephen Lloyd: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Vernon Coaker: No, I do not have much time.
In June 2010, the Liberal Democrat Education Association said:
"Liberal Democrat Party members call upon their MPs and Peers to vote against the Academies Bill. The present Bill did not form part of the published coalition agreement. The Bill is wasteful of resources at a time when public expenditure is under extreme pressure, and does not meet the coalition's aim for a fairer society."
We shall see how many Liberal Democrat MPs and Peers follow that advice tonight.
It was not so long ago that the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), now a Minister in the Government, described the free schools policy as a "shambles". I should like to remind her that she also said:
"Unless you give local authorities that power to plan, it is just a gimmick. Giving schools a fancy title-be it 'free school' or 'academy'-and allowing disparate groups of parents, charities or other organisations to run or 'sponsor' them will not magically transform them."
I wonder what has transformed her attitude and opinion.
The Bill will visit huge injustice upon those children and young people who most need our help, and it will cause confusion, worry and division for children and parents everywhere. By elevating market mores above the core principles of co-operation, accountability, democracy and equality, it will turn our education system into a dismal experiment in educational Darwinism. It will be the survival of the fittest and the demise of the rest. The consequences could be calamitous for tens of thousands of children and take decades to reverse.
Education- [Interruption.] Conservative Members should calm down; they will like the next bit even better. Education is a public good, not a private commodity. The common good is served not when parents and children engage with schools as consumers pursuing relative advantage, but when they act as citizens and partners who understand their crucial role as co-creators of learning and educational success. For these reasons, we strongly oppose this Bill and we urge all right-thinking hon. Members to do the same.
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): That was somewhat overstated, if I may say so.
This has been an interesting and constructive debate, covering a wide range of educational issues. The Academies Bill is not simply about the nuts and bolts of the conversion process for maintained schools to become academies or for groups of teachers or parents to establish new free schools. It is about changing the deeply unsatisfactory and, for many parents, highly distressing situation where schools in an area are not of the standard and quality they want for their children.
This year in England, nearly one in five parents saw their child denied their first choice of secondary school, and in some boroughs the situation was much worse, with nearly half of parents failing to get a place for their child in their preferred school. These figures do not take account of the fact that many parents have already ruled out applying to the school they really want because they live too far away and know they would not stand a chance.
Sometimes this is discussed, particularly by Labour Members and left-leaning commentators, as if it were just a matter of middle-class angst. This is simply not the case. As the former Labour Cabinet Minister Alan Milburn said in a recent speech to the National Education Trust:
"It is sometimes argued that parents in the most disadvantaged areas are less aspirational for their children than those in better off areas. The figures on school appeals repudiate such assumptions, with a large number of parents in disadvantaged parts of the country using the appeals system to try to get their children out of poorly performing schools and into better ones."
The problem is that there are simply not enough good schools. Some parents can work their way around the problem, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) pointed out. The wealthy can move their children to a private school and the socially mobile can move into the catchment area of a high-performing state school-I cannot and will not say how many left-wing journalists I know who have used both methods for themselves-but for the vast majority of parents who care just as deeply about the education of their children, there is often no choice and they learn to suppress their worries and put up with what is on offer. This Bill seeks to change that.
Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I agree 100% with the Minister that parents in deprived communities care just as deeply about their children's future as do those in other areas, but given that he is saying that the problem is that there are not enough good schools, would it not be better to focus his policy on making poorer schools better rather than creating an educational elite?
That is precisely what this Bill and this Government's policy are all about. It is part of a comprehensive approach to driving up standards. This Government are determined to raise academic standards in all our schools, as the hon. Gentleman says. We will do it by improving the teaching of reading so that we no longer have the appalling situation whereby after seven years of primary education, one in five 11-year-olds still struggles with reading. We will do it by improving standards of behaviour in schools, which is why we are strengthening and clarifying teachers' powers to search for and confiscate items such as mobile phones and iPods, as well as alcohol, drugs and weapons. It is why we are removing the statutory requirement for 24 hours' notice of detentions and giving teachers protection
from false accusations. It is also why we intend to restore rigour to our public examinations and qualifications and restore the national curriculum to a slimmed-down core of the knowledge and concepts we expect every child to know, built around subject disciplines and based on the experience of the best-performing education systems in the world.
Central to our drive, however, is liberating professionals to drive improvement across the system. We want all our schools to be run by professionals rather than by bureaucrats or by bureaucratic diktat. We want good schools to flourish, with the autonomy and independence that academy status brings. I am thinking of schools such as Mossbourne academy in Hackney, where half the pupils qualify for free school meals but where 86% achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths, and Harris city academy in Crystal Palace, where 82% achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths. Harris city academy was the first school to be awarded a perfect Ofsted score under the new inspection regime, and it now attracts about 2,000 applicants for its 180 annual places. Those schools are delivering what parents want for their children, and the Bill will deliver hundreds more such schools.
Opposition Members have raised concerns about the impact that the new free schools will have on neighbouring schools. Of course the Secretary of State will take those issues into account when assessing the validity of a new free school. However, Lord Adonis said in another place:
"The idea that parents should not be able to access new or additional school places in areas where the schools are not providing good quality places simply because the provision of those places will cause detriment to other schools fundamentally ignores the interests of parents and their right to have a decent quality school to send their children to. If there is not such a decent quality school and someone is prepared to do something substantive about it, they should be applauded".-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2010; Vol. 719, c. 1264.]
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) made the important point that the Bill builds on the academy legislation of the last Government. However, the new model agreement gives greater protection to children with special educational needs by mirroring all the requirements that apply to maintained schools. That was not the position in the funding agreement signed by the Secretary of State in the last Government.
My hon. Friend also raised the important issue of exclusions, which, he said, were running at twice the national average rate in existing academies. Many early academies that were established in very challenging areas and inherited very challenging pupils did need to exclude some children to bring about good behaviour and a new ethos, but as they became established, exclusion rates tended to fall. Many open academies have exclusion rates that are no higher than those in the rest of the local authority that they serve. Academies are required to participate in their local fair access protocols. The truth is that they have a higher proportion of children with SEN, and tend to exclude such children proportionately less.
Academies are subject to the same admission requirements as maintained schools. They must comply with admissions law and the admissions code, and are
required by the funding agreement to be at the heart of their communities. Many Opposition Members raised the issue of social and community cohesion. Academies are required to be at the heart of their communities, sharing facilities with other schools and the wider community.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) asked why we were starting with outstanding schools. In fact, all schools have been invited to apply for academy status, not just outstanding schools. Outstanding schools will be fast-tracked because of their outstanding leadership, but we are continuing to tackle the worst-performing schools by converting them to sponsor-supported academies. All outstanding schools will be expected to help a weaker school to raise standards.
Bill Esterson: Will the Minister give way?
Mr Gibb: I will not, because there is very little time left.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield also raised the issue of free schools and faith schools, as did the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop). Although existing faith schools will retain their faith designation on conversion to academies, new faith schools will be able to select only 50% of their intake on the basis of faith.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) for his support for the Bill, largely because many of the policies in it were built on his work as shadow schools Minister in days of yore. He has visited a KIPP-Knowledge Is Power programme-school in Washington DC, which he described as "one of the most exciting schools I have ever visited." He said, "I want these schools in this country"-as do we all.
The hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) is concerned about children with special educational needs in academies, but academies take a significantly higher proportion of children with SEN, and the evidence suggests they are less likely to exclude. I refer her to clause 1(7) of the Bill, which strengthens the position of children with SEN and imposes on new academies all the obligations on admissions and exclusions that apply to maintained schools.
The hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) raised some concerns about the Bill and I would remind him that charter schools in New York have dramatically closed the gap between the poorest and those from neighbouring wealthy boroughs-by 86% in maths and 66% in English. A third of academies in this country with GCSE results in 2008 and 2009 have achieved a 15% increase in results compared with the results of their predecessor schools.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) is passionate about education, and she made an excellent and thoughtful speech highlighting the enormous and widening attainment gap in this country. She is right to welcome the expectation that outstanding schools opting for academy status will help weaker schools.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) brings to the House all her experience of, and passion for, education. She pointed out how millions of children have been let down by 13 years of
failed education policies. She also pointed to millions of pounds being wasted and consumed by quangos, strategies and initiatives that dictated a prescriptive approach to teaching that demoralised the profession and forced teachers to teach to the test and to fit the system. She is right to say that the new freedoms, and our plans to sweep away many of the bureaucratic burdens that are piled on to teachers and schools, will help to rejuvenate the teaching profession. This is a Government who trust the professionalism of teachers. She is also right to point out that there are extensive concerns about standards.
We are not prepared to continue with the system we inherited. We are a Government in a hurry. Head teachers are in a hurry. Every year and every month that passes by is a month or a year of a child's education. It is a disgrace that, in 2008, of the 80,000 young people qualifying for free school meals just 45 got into Oxbridge. It is wrong that 42% of those qualifying for free school meals failed to achieve a single GCSE above a grade D. It is unacceptable that just one quarter of GCSE students achieve five or more GCSEs, including in English, maths, science and a foreign language. The coalition agreement says:
"We will promote the reform of schools in order to ensure that new providers can enter the state school system in response to parental demand".
This Bill delivers on that agreement.
Despite some of the rhetoric from Opposition Members today, support for the Bill's proposals goes wider than the coalition partners in this Government. There is, in fact, a broad progressive consensus that includes my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Benches and that extends to the liberal wing of the Labour party. In 2005 Tony Blair said:
"We need to make it easier for every school to acquire the drive and essential freedoms of academies...We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self-governing independent state school...All schools will be able to have academy style freedoms."
This Bill delivers on the former Prime Minister's aspiration. The coalition even extends to the Democratic party in the United States.
The Bill will deliver more excellent schools in the most deprived parts of our country. So far, more than 1,900 schools have expressed an interest in academy status. The Government are determined to raise standards and the Bill is part of that strategy. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Academies Bill [ Lords]:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
2. Proceedings in Committee, any proceedings on consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be completed in three days.
3. Proceedings in Committee shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the first column of the following Table and in the order so shown.
4. Proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
Clauses 1, 6, 9 and 10, new Clauses relating to Clauses 1, 6, 9 or 10, new Schedules relating to Clauses 1, 6, 9 or 10.
Three hours after the moment of interruption.
Clauses 2, 7, 8 and 11 to 13, Schedule 1, Clause 14, Schedule 2, Clause 15, new Clauses relating to Clauses 2, 7 or 8 or any of Clauses 11 to 15 or Schedule 1 or 2, new Schedules relating to Clauses 2, 7 or 8 or any of Clauses 11 to 15 or Schedule 1 or 2.
One hour after the moment of interruption.
Clauses 3 to 5, Clauses 16 to 20, new Clauses relating to any of Clauses 3 to 5 or 16 to 20, new Schedules relating to any of Clauses 3 to 5 or 16 to 20, remaining proceedings on the Bill.
One hour before the moment of interruption.
5. Any proceedings on consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the third day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee, any proceedings on consideration or proceedings on Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any message from the Lords) may be programmed. - ( Mr Vara .)
Queen's recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Academies Bill [ Lords], it is expedient to authorise-
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of-
(a) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State, and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under or by virtue of any other Act out of money so provided, and
(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.- (Mr Vara.)
Motion made, and Question put (Standing Order No. 55),
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2011-
(1) further resources, not exceeding £277,712,252,000, be authorised for use for defence and civil services as set out in HC 128, HC 133, HC 134, HC 149, HC 229 and HC 269,
(2) a further sum, not exceeding £255,954,633,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to meet the costs of defence and civil services as so set out, and
(3) limits as set out in HC 128, HC 133, HC 134, HC 229 and HC 269 be set on appropriations in aid. - (Mr Vara.)
Ordered, That a Bill be brought in upon the foregoing Resolution;
That the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Danny Alexander, Mr Mark Hoban, Mr David Gauke and Justine Greening bring in the Bill.
Presentation and First Reading
Mr Mark Hoban accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the service of the year ending with 31 March 2011 and to apply certain sums out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of the year ending with 31 March 2011; to appropriate the supply authorised in this Session of Parliament for the service of the year ending with 31 March 2011; and to repeal certain Consolidated Fund and Appropriation Acts.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 2 ).
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 18(1)),
That the draft Legislative Reform (Licensing) (Interim Authority Notices etc.) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 10 March 2010, in the previous Parliament, be approved.- (Mr Vara.)
That with effect for the current Parliament, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 121 (Nomination of select committees), the chair for the time being of each of the following select committees (including from the date of his or her election a chair elected under Standing Order No. 122B) shall be a member of the Liaison Committee:
Business, Innovation and Skills,
Communities and Local Government,
Culture, Media and Sport,
Energy and Climate Change,
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,
Finance and Services,
Joint Committee on Human Rights (the chair being a Member of this House),
Northern Ireland Affairs,
Political and Constitutional Reform,
Science and Technology,
Standards and Privileges,
Welsh Affairs, and
Work and Pensions.- (Mr Vara.)
That this House welcomes the work of the United Kingdom Youth Parliament in providing young people with an opportunity to engage with the political process; notes that the House agreed on 16 March 2009 to allow the Youth Parliament to meet once in the Chamber; recalls that this meeting took place on 30 October 2009; and accordingly resolves that the UK Youth Parliament should be allowed to meet once a year in the Chamber of this House for the duration of this Parliament.- (Mr Vara.)
That the Motion in the name of Sir George Young relating to the Electoral Commission shall be treated as if it related to an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice of a motion has been given that the instrument be approved.- (Mr Vara.)
Mr Speaker: Before I call the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), I appeal to Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly, thereby treating the right hon. Gentleman with the same courtesy and consideration with which they would wish to be treated.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.- (Mr Vara.)
John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to debate the work of the Coalfield Regeneration Trust in my constituency in South Yorkshire. I am proud to say that it has its headquarters in the Wentworth and Dearne constituency, which I am privileged to represent, and it works throughout England, Wales and Scotland. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) to the Front Bench; he is certainly the hardest working in the ministerial team, picking up the widest possible range of debates and other business on behalf of colleagues in the Department. In his constituency on the south-east fringes of Manchester, the last of the pits, in and around Poynton, was closed some 70 years ago.
It is therefore a useful opportunity for me to underline for the Under-Secretary and his ministerial colleagues the impact of the wholesale closure of the coal industry in a very short time in the 1980s and 1990s and the importance of the review that the Department is currently conducting about the work of the Coalfield Regeneration Trust and the coalfield regeneration programme, led, of course, by Michael Clapham. Parliament is much the poorer for not having Michael Clapham in the House. He was a very strong voice, not only for Barnsley, but for the coalfields, health and safety and workers in all industries in this country.
The timing of my debate is deliberate. I would like the Minister and his ministerial colleagues to understand that there has been good progress, not least through the trust, in the regeneration of our coalfields, but that there is still a lot of work to do. I would also like him to understand that there is strong support in the House, in local government and in the communities in the former coalfields for the work of the trust and of the regeneration programme. The decisions that he and his colleagues make on the review that Michael Clapham produces will be a test of the Government and of whether they can claim to be a Government for the whole country.
I am proud that a Labour Government set up the Coalfield Regeneration Trust in 1999, following the report of the Coalfields Task Force, which noted the coalfield areas of Wales, Scotland and England as having
"a unique combination of concentrated joblessness, physical isolation, poor infrastructure and severe health problems"
in 1998, at the start of the regeneration programme. After more than 15 years in many cases, many of our coalfield communities were still reeling from the unprecedented devastation and deliberate destruction of the coal industry at that time.
Of the 130 pits that were operating in 1981, 124 closed. More than 190,000 of the 200,000 jobs in the coal industry in 1981 went. In the Yorkshire coalfields, some 67,000 jobs were lost-more than one in four of all the male jobs in the coalfield region. In my constituency, there are four wards, in which in 1981, between two fifths and two thirds, in one case, of men aged over 16 were employed in coal mining. That was the extent of the importance of the industry to our areas at the time.
There was unparalleled and unique reliance on a single industry, not only for jobs, but for housing, social and welfare support, often for sports and recreation facilities and sometimes for the financial and retail services for the community.
I am proud that the Labour Government set up the Coalfield Regeneration Trust and that its headquarters has been in my constituency for the past eight years, on the site of the old Manvers colliery, which had the first shaft sunk in 1870 and was closed by the previous Tory Government in 1988. When that was closed, its 285-acre site became part of one of the largest derelict areas in western Europe, and one of the biggest regeneration challenges this country has faced. Now, I am happy to say, it has been overtaken by new jobs, businesses and housing.
The trust has played an important part in that regeneration since it was set up, supporting groups and activities in the constituency with more than £3 million. It supported the widest possible range of work, from the Dearne Valley college to the Rawmarsh St Joseph's football club and the Montgomery hall needlework group in Wath. Across the country, the trust has distributed grants of around £190 million. I pay tribute to the work of the chief executive, Janet Bibby, and her small team of staff, and in particular to the trustees-dedicated men and women-who are chaired by Peter McNestry. They have committed their work to backing the trust and have served the coalfields so well.
The trust is an independent charity and limited company. It supports our communities through grants, but it also supports them by linking up in a more long-term and strategic way with other agencies. It operates in England, Wales and Scotland. Simply put, the trust reaches people and parts of our communities that public agencies simply cannot reach. It helps to rebuild the community and strengthen the spirit of the old pit villages, as well as providing the physical regeneration of the other programmes.
The trust is special because it understands the unique culture and character of the coalfields, because it is trusted by the communities, and because it reaches back with families and through generations, sharing their history, but also helping them to shape their future. In my constituency, the trust gave an important grant to Cortonwood Miners Welfare club. Cortonwood, of course, was the pit where the miners strike started in March 1984. The grant enabled what was still a well-used building to become a one-stop shop for services and, more importantly, the future hub of the community. It supported the Cortonwood Comeback Centre, a group of women who originally formed as part of Women Against Pit Closures during the strike. They kept going, took over the Methodist church with the help of the trust, and ran a support group for the community and attracted other volunteers.
The trust has helped the South Yorkshire credit union, which is based in Goldthorpe in my constituency, and run a programme of debt support as part of a programme across the coalfields. That now helps more than 5,000 people in the light of the recession, and managed nearly £38 million of debt. Otherwise, those people would have been sunk.
Of course, one of the latest grants-small but nevertheless important-was used to set up a boat house on the lake
that occupies part of the old Manvers pit site, in conjunction with the British Canoe Union. A new form of activity and use for the coalfield area has therefore been created.
In fact, since the trust began, it has created 119 new community facilities, and refurbished and improved more than 2,000. It has helped more than 17,000 people in our communities to find work and more than 115,000 to get skills and training for the future. It has worked on child care places, social enterprises, community transport, and debt and financial advice, and it has helped nearly 10,000 people to become new volunteers in projects within their communities. It is special and it works in special ways, because it recognises the special challenges in the coalfields.
Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I am speaking as a former miner and as the chair of the all-party coalfield communities group. We recognise and welcome the trust's work. However, the Audit Commission, in its 2008 report, praised the physical and economic regeneration, but made the point that in former mining areas throughout the country, there were still high levels of worklessness, low skills and poor health.
John Healey: Indeed, and my hon. Friend chairs the all-party coalfields group very ably and plays an important role. He is right, and the National Audit Office recognised that progress had been made. Some of the gap with the rest of the country in jobs and skills has been closed, but a big challenge remains ahead. That is why the work of the trust and the wider programme is necessary for the future.
The trust works in unusual ways that are especially suited to our coalfield communities. It helps groups to develop ideas in order to bid for support. It ensures that the support that it can give goes beyond the grant of money and assistance. Most importantly, the trust backs projects that increase opportunities for local people to get involved. That is why more than 250,000 young people, in the projects that the trust has supported over the years, have become involved and part of the activities that the trust has supported. That is why nearly 10,000 people have volunteered as part of the projects.
The trust is backed by local authorities in the coalfield communities, a network that is ably led by Ian Watts, the leader of Bolsover council. It is backed by public agencies that often use the trust to deliver programmes better than they can themselves, as the £3 million jobs, skills and training programme run by the trust in the east midlands demonstrates.
Most importantly, the trust is backed by independent evaluators. In 2007, the Department for Communities and Local Government commissioned a review of the trust's work, which said that it
"has made an important contribution to the transformation of the coalfields. Initially the Trust was...a responsive, opportunistic regeneration grant donor...over time the Trust has taken on more of a strategic role, supporting larger schemes...including the targeted multi-agency work...developing stronger links"-
with the wider coalfield regeneration programme-
"and other delivery partners such as at Shirebrook or through its work on the impressive Breathing Space Centre in Rotherham."
The NAO has said something similar and that the trust's family employment initiatives produce work and jobs at a better rate and for more people-and at less cost to the Treasury.
As my hon. Friend said, there has been progress but there are still problems. The 2009 report by the NAO said:
"The gap with the rest of the country has narrowed, but many coalfields remain among the most deprived areas in England."
A range of problems remain, related to those communities' former dependence on coal mining and described in one of the reports as
"unique challenges in the coalfields with inner city type deprivation coupled with rural isolation."
That is why the CRT is needed now as much as it was in 1999. It is needed in the coalfield areas that are still struggling and those that were hit harder in recession and will find it harder to grow again in recovery.
There is one other reason why the work of the trust should recommend itself to the Minister's Tory ministerial colleagues. The Prime Minister today spoke of the big society. It is not new, but it is important. It is important that it complements, not substitutes for, public services and investment. The Prime Minister criticised Government as top-down and top-heavy. The trust has always worked from the bottom up-in, with and for the coalfield communities. It supports the big society actions, but it supports the men, women and young people in the small pit villages in our country.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): My right hon. Friend makes a very powerful speech on behalf of the CRT. In my area the trust has delivered 83 young people into jobs through the work that it has done in collaboration with the future jobs fund, and is planning to help another 150-funding pending. Does he agree that that shows that it is organisations such as the CRT that have the real knowledge of the coalfields that the Government should tap into?
John Healey: My hon. Friend has a lot of experience in this area, and he is absolutely right to say that the trust combines running jobs programmes with providing skills, health care and child care and all sorts of other support that recognises and tackles the often complex barriers that prevent people in our villages from getting into the kind of work that they need.
The Prime Minister said today:
"The rule of this government should be this: If it unleashes community engagement-we should do it."
The Coalfields Regeneration Trust does just that. It unleashes the potential, the energy and the commitment of individuals and communities in the old coalfield areas, and the Government should back the trust for the future. If they do so, they will show that, despite our deep doubts, they are a Tory-led Government unlike the Tory Government of the 1980s and 1990s, and that they will not turn their back on the coalfields, as the previous Tory Government did.
I hope that the Minister will be able, in advance of the important review that Michael Clapham will produce, to give us his full commitment to that review on behalf of the Government, as well as a clear commitment to the publication of its report, and a strong commitment to seeing the trust and the regeneration programmes continuing in our coalfields throughout this Parliament and beyond.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) on securing this debate. I also congratulate the hon. Members for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on their contributions. The right hon. Gentleman made some important points, and I shall do my best to reply to them. I certainly take his point that I am something of a utility player in the team, and I do not think the fact that my constituency used to have a coal mine 70 years ago really qualifies me to speak as an expert on these matters.
The right hon. Gentleman set out the history of mining, as well as describing its woeful end in his constituency and the legacy that that left behind. I fully acknowledge many of his points. Regenerating the English coalfields has been a huge challenge over the past 30 years. There is no doubt that the speed and extent of the pit closures resulted in significant economic and social damage, as well as creating some real environmental challenges.
The right hon. Gentleman described the steps that the previous Government took to set up the national coalfields programme, which last year had a £50 million capital programme funded by my Department and the Homes and Communities Agency. He also mentioned the creation of the enterprise fund, which last year was managing a £30 million revolving loan fund, two thirds of which came from the Department, while one third came from the private sector.
The subject that the right hon. Gentleman dwelt on most was the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which last year had an £11 million revenue budget and a £6.65 million capital fund, both from my Department. It is based in his constituency and is perhaps one of those symbolic landmark organisations, as far as he and his constituents are concerned. It is right to recognise some of the real achievements that those programmes have delivered over the years. He outlined a number of them, and I am happy to endorse what he said. I have been provided with a list, which also includes the family employment initiative, the debt response programme and the sports legacy. There is a long list of projects that have been delivered and of which he is rightly proud on behalf of his Administration.
The right hon. Gentleman failed to detail some of the shortcomings that were highlighted in the National Audit Office report that was published in December 2009, and again in the Public Accounts Committee report of March 2010. It is only right that I should quote from some of the PAC's conclusions. Conclusion 1 states:
"Thirteen years after the start of the schemes, the Department-
the Department for Communities and Local Government-
"still lacks clarity as to how its initiatives can best revitalise the local communities in which it is investing."
"The Department has failed to lead coalfield regeneration across Government."
"The Department has not sufficiently coordinated its three strands of coalfield regeneration and funding for improving local coordination is at risk.
"The Department has failed to develop a robust assessment of the direct impact of its initiatives, including proof that the money spent has created jobs that would not have been created anyway. To demonstrate that its plans merit continued funding, the Department should establish the success of its initiatives using direct measures such as the occupancy rates on sites and the number of jobs filled by members of coalfield communities as a direct result of the initiatives."
I could go on, but that would not be a sensible use of my time, so let me finish by citing conclusion 7, which states:
"The Department did not act quickly enough to support enterprise in coalfield areas. By the time the £50 million Coalfield Enterprise Fund to support businesses was proposed in 1998, the employment, skills and confidence in many coalfield areas had been lost. An urgent response was needed but the Department took until 2004 to develop and launch a £10 million fund. And the Department took until 2009 to identify a mixture of public and private funding to reach the £50 million mark."
What that says is that, good as the programme has been in parts, there is a serious need for more to be done to make it fully effective. The criticism was sharp. We have inherited a series of failings, but we are determined to find ways to put things right. I want to reassure the right hon. Gentleman on this point: we have no plans to dismantle the programme.
We published our response to the PAC report on 15 July and did our best to address the points raised in the Committee's earlier report. We focused on reassessing the immediate and long-term needs of coalfield areas and on ways of achieving the best value for money. We are focusing on the co-ordination of coalfields regeneration across and within Government, which the PAC charged our predecessors with having failed to do. We are working hard to make sure that the need to demonstrate the benefits of specific funding for coalfield areas is shown and followed.
As the right hon. Gentleman said. our former colleague, Michael Clapham, is chairing the review of coalfields regeneration. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing has already met him, and I echo the right hon. Gentleman's praise for Mr Clapham's tireless support for miners, the mining industry and the victims of industrial diseases in general. I am sure that he will be an admirable and effective chair of the review.
The review will help the Government to take decisions on the direction of future interventions in former mining constituencies, both for the remainder of the current spending period and also into the next comprehensive
spending review period. The consultation period closed on 30 June, and I understand work has begun on drafting the report. The Minister for Housing and I look forward to receiving Michael Clapham's report at the end of August. To confirm what the right hon. Gentleman asked me about, publication of that report will be well timed for fitting in with the Government's current spending review, which the House will know is planned to be announced on 20 October. I confirm that publication of the report is certainly in our minds.
The review is intended to look at the way in which the current programmes are delivered. We expect there to be a major role for local authorities, but we are clear about the fact that there must also be a joined-up approach, with all partners-including the local communities themselves-working together. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Prime Minister's statement today. We are certainly committed to a bottom-up community-focused approach.
The Government remain supportive of action to meet the continuing need for land-based remediation, remain strongly supportive of community-led regeneration projects and are committed to helping communities to come together to tackle local problems and support local enterprises, especially in vulnerable areas such as the former coalfields. Those three strands were in the initial programme, and we intend to make progress with all of them. We must ensure that all possible ways of securing maximum efficiencies are considered, particularly in the current climate. As the right hon. Gentleman knows-and as the whole House knows-the spending review will be extremely difficult, and hard choices will need to be made. Whatever the outcome, we can at least ensure that we get value for money from the resources going into the coalfields communities.
The right hon. Gentleman is an old hand who has stood at this Dispatch Box fending people off, and he will appreciate that I cannot make any promises ahead of the comprehensive spending review; but I will say that I have heard his messages, and I hope he has heard mine. The spending review will be difficult, but we recognise the important work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in helping to improve coalfield communities, and we are absolutely determined to ensure that every penny spent gives full value for money not just to the taxpayer, but to the communities that it is designed to help.