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Mr Gibb: We have had an interesting week of debates on the Bill, and I thank all hon. Members who took part, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) and for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who made their maiden speeches during these debates. I should also like to thank the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), for her help, and the right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench for their careful and thorough scrutiny of the Bill.
I thank officials in the Department for the long hours that they have spent on the Bill during its passage through the other place and this House, and for their support of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We should also thank the Chairs of the Committee: Mr Evans, Mr Caton, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and Ms Primarolo, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Mr Hancock) lovingly referred to as "Miss P". I am grateful to my noble Friend Lord Hill, who skilfully steered the Bill through the other place just days after being appointed a Minister, and to my hon. Friends and noble Friends who have improved the Bill and the model funding agreement in both the other place and this House.
Throughout the process we have been keen to listen to concerns, particularly, though not exclusively, those of our partners in the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition. Amendments in the other place have given children with special educational needs greater rights to admission to academies than existed in previous academies legislation, and new requirements for funding for low-incidence special needs have been added. New duties to consult have been included in clauses 5 and 10, and the Secretary of State will now be obliged by statute to take into account the impact on other schools of any new school established under the Bill. That is now in clause 9.
My noble Friends have added greater parliamentary accountability through an annual report to Parliament, which will also enable us to analyse issues of concern to my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), such as the viability of primary schools that opt for academy status. He made a compelling case for
increasing the number of parent governors, so as I mentioned earlier, the model funding agreement will be changed to increase the number from one to two. Opposition Members have successfully ensured that the funding agreement includes a requirement for looked-after children to have a designated member of staff.
After 22 hours in Committee and nine hours on Report in the other place between 7 June and 13 July, and after 19 and a half hours of Second Reading and Committee in this House, not including this afternoon and evening, we finally reach Third Reading of a Bill that, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State,
"grants greater autonomy to individual schools...gives more freedom to teachers and...injects a new level of dynamism into a programme that has been proven to raise standards for all children and for the disadvantaged most of all."-[ Official Report, 19 July 2010; Vol. 514, c. 24.]
I shall start by saying what the Bill is not about. It is not about a "full-scale assault" on comprehensive education-a ludicrous claim by the shadow Secretary of State in The Guardian on Saturday. We believe in comprehensive education and are committed to it, and the Bill will strengthen it. Nor is it about scrapping the admissions code, another spurious claim about the Government's education policies by the shadow Secretary of State. We are committed to fair admissions through the code, and all academies will be bound by it through the model funding agreement.
Nor is this Bill about the creation of a two-tier education system. Two tiers are what we have today-the best performing state schools and the worst. The independent sector, which educates just 8% of children, is responsible for 44% of all A* grades in GCSE French. It educates just 10% of 16-18 year olds, but is responsible for 35% of all A grades in A-level physics.
The Bill offers all schools the opportunity to acquire the kind of professional freedoms that have proved so successful not only in the independent sector, but in the city technology colleges and in academies. After 20 years of independence, CTCs are among the most successful schools in the country. On average, in those schools, 82% achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths. In those academies that have been open long enough to have had GCSE results in 2008 and 2009, a third have GCSE results that improved by 15 percentage points compared with their predecessor schools.
There have been 1,958 expressions of interest from schools in all parts of the country. Of those 1,071 are from schools graded outstanding by Ofsted. Many of the heads and governing bodies of those schools are hungry for the freedoms in the academies legislation that the previous Administration introduced. They are in a hurry to have them by September and, for those schools that are ready and able, so are we.
We are in a hurry because we do not think that it is right that 40% of 11-year-olds leave primary school still struggling with reading, writing and maths. It is not
acceptable that nearly three quarters of pupils eligible for free school meals fail to get five or more GCSEs or equivalents at grades A* to C, including English and maths, or that 42% of those eligible for free school meals fail to achieve a single GCSE above grade D.
I know that there are some concerns among hon. Members of all parties about the future role of local authorities if all schools become academies. However, I should point out that there are 203 academies out of 3,300 secondary schools and some 17,000 primary schools. It will be many years, if at all, before all those schools acquire academy status. The Bill is permissive, not prescriptive or mandatory. We see a new and stronger role for local authorities emerging over the years as champions of parents and pupils, challenging rather than defending underperforming schools. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has established a ministerial advisory group to take that forward and written to all education authorities seeking views.
The Bill is the first step in the coalition's ambitious plans to raise standards in all our schools. We want parents not to have to worry about the quality of education that their children will receive at their local school. We want behaviour in all schools to be as good as in the best. That is why we are clarifying and strengthening teachers' powers and abolishing the statutory requirement for 24 hours' notice for detentions. We want a teaching profession with renewed morale and confidence, no longer struggling under the yoke of monthly Government initiatives and ever-demanding bureaucratic requirements.
The Bill is about trusting the professionalism of teachers and head teachers. It is about innovation and excellence, about giving parents a genuine choice and children the opportunity for a better future. It is a short Bill, but its impact will be long lasting. I commend it to the House.
Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood) (Lab/Co-op): It is customary to commence a Third Reading debate with congratulations to hon. Members of all parties on the excellence of their speeches; to departmental officials and external advisers on the cogency of their briefing, and to you, Mr Speaker and your Deputies on your conduct of the proceedings. Tonight must be no different. Therefore, on behalf of the shadow Education Ministers and all Labour Members, I commend all those who have taken part in the debates, with a special mention to my hon. Friends the Members for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and for North West Durham (Pat Glass) for their contributions, as well as-the list is only partial, from the speeches that I have heard-the hon. Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), for St Ives (Andrew George), for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), for Portsmouth South (Mr Hancock) and for Bradford East (Mr Ward).
However, normally those tributes are paid after weeks of post-Second Reading scrutiny-after many days of Committee deliberations and hours of scrutiny on Report. Those weeks of debate in Parliament are important because, although consensus may not be reached on every point, everyone can feel that they have raised issues, aired concerns and had their say. Not so with this Bill. In the opinion of my hon. Friends and I, and many
outside experts, the flawed and rushed provisions in the Bill risk ripping apart the community-based comprehensive education system that we have built in this country over decades. We fear that the Bill will make things worse for our schools, our children's futures and the cohesion of our communities, yet it has been railroaded through from Second Reading to Third Reading in just seven days, with just three days in Committee, and following unprecedentedly constricted debates in the other place.
There has been no time for proper debate or scrutiny, no Report, and no amendments have been allowed, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have had no opportunity to correct some of the Bill's worst excesses. Three weeks ago, we had the unedifying sight of the Secretary of State having to apologise twice to the House because of his rushed and discourteous handling of his school buildings cancellation. It is a pity that he has not learned that rushing through unfair or ill-thought through policies does him no credit.
As I said on Second Reading just seven days ago, the Secretary of State was clearly fearful of what proper parliamentary scrutiny would throw up about the Bill. As the hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) said earlier from the Government Benches, "We have the spectacle of Ministers who have already told us that they will accept no amendment, period, and the sight of Whips new and old cracking their knuckles off-stage and perfecting basilisk-like stares in the mirror."[Hon. Members: "What?"] I have no clue what that means, but it sounds very bad to me. If the hon. Gentleman were in the Chamber, I would be happy for him to intervene to tell us. He is a Liberal Democrat, so clearly, among those on the Government Benches not only the Chair of the Select Committee on Education is deeply critical of the handling of the Bill.
The Opposition are very proud of the biggest school-building programme since the Victorian era, of the best generation of teachers we have ever had in our country, and of the hard work of children, parents and teachers. That has delivered the biggest increase in standards for many years. We have gone from fewer than half of schools not reaching the basic standard to just one in 12 over the past 10 years. It is our firm view that the Bill will create an unfair, two-tier education system, and gross unfairness in funding. Standards will not rise but fall, and fairness and social cohesion will be undermined.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that he is proud of bringing up a new generation of teachers. The Bill is principally about handing power back to teachers to set up good new schools. Why is he running scared of that?
Ed Balls: The most important issue is standards, not structures, and the Bill is all about structural change that cuts out consultation with teachers, governors, parents and communities, and that undermines the ability of people to ensure that their local area has a proper spread of schools. The fact is that the Bill is a complete free market free-for-all. That is why I am critical of it.
"The Secretary of State expects that a significant number of Academies will open in September 2010",
but we now know-we heard it this afternoon-that such are the rushed provisions of the Bill and the lack of substance to those expressions of interest, no academies at all will open this September. We are rushing this through purely to have orders agreed by next September. This is just an attempt to bounce the coalition partners into agreeing before they wake up to exactly what is going on.
I shall explain that in more detail. What has become abundantly clear in the short time that we have had to debate this Bill is that, by dropping any pretence at consultation and clearing away the role of the local authority entirely, the Secretary of State has made it possible, through this legislation, to divert billions of pounds from existing school building, the Building Schools for the Future programme, into the creation of new, additional school places through the setting up of new, free market schools, even when there are already too many school places, creating a chaotic free market.
Chris Skidmore: The right hon. Gentleman is right that it is standards, not structures that are important, so I find it hard to believe his new obsession with the BSF programme, which he never had the money for in the first place. But he did not answer my first question: why is he running scared of allowing teachers to set up schools? Why is he running free-I mean scared-of giving teachers that freedom?
Ed Balls: I am not running free, or even scared. I support new schools where we need new schools, but I have been to the Brunel academy and seen the huge boost to the aspirations of the children in that part of Bristol from the first ever BSF programme. I also went to Knowsley last year and opened a new BSF school. I asked two year 9 pupils what they thought of the school. They said that they never thought that anybody would think that they were sufficiently important to have a school like that built for them. That boost to aspiration, hope and expectation has been taken away from 700 schools and from 700,000 children all around the country, and that is why I am critical of this Bill and that decision. This is paving legislation for the new free market schools.
Mr Mike Hancock: Like the shadow Education Secretary, I think that this Bill is a threat to comprehensive education. But I thought that his Government's Bill on academies was also a threat to comprehensive education. What is the difference now?
The only similarity between our policy on academies and the new policy on academies is that the Secretary of State has pinched the word "academy" and
attached it to the new schools he wishes to establish. Our academies were set up in the most disadvantaged areas, not the most affluent areas. They were set up with the agreement of local authorities rather than to avoid any role for local authorities. They taught the core parts of the national curriculum, including sex and relationship education, rather than opting out entirely from the curriculum. They had an obligation not just on looked-after children, but to co-operate to stop competitive exclusions in an area, and that has been entirely removed by this Bill. There was a requirement for our academies to have a sponsor, and that has been removed. We had a requirement for proper consultation with the community, also removed. Our academies programme was about tackling disadvantage. The new policy is about encouraging elitism and enabling the affluent to do better. That is why it is so deeply unfair.
Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has just said that the academies that the previous Government set up were in disadvantaged areas. In the London borough of Croydon, he approved two academies in two of the most affluent wards in the borough.
Ed Balls: The fact is that our academies were disproportionately set up in disadvantaged communities. They disproportionately took in more children on free school meals than the catchment area required, and they achieved faster-rising results than the average. That was social justice in action; what we are seeing with this Bill is the opposite. The freedoms and the extra resources in the Bill are going to outstanding schools, not schools that need extra help. They are going to schools that have more children from more affluent areas, fewer children with free school meals, and fewer children with special needs and disabilities, even though they will get pro rata funding. That is not social justice being put into action; it is social injustice. That is why the Bill is deeply offensive to people on the Opposition Benches and, I think, probably to many on the Government Benches as well.
Ed Balls: If the hon. Gentleman looks at the facts over the past decade, he will see that of the 20 local authorities that had the biggest increase in results, half were in the poorest 10% of boroughs in the country, all of which were in London. The London Challenge programme and our academies focused on tackling disadvantage. Of course there is a long legacy of social division and inequality in our education system. We were addressing it; the Government are going to re-entrench it. That is the difference.
Ed Balls: It would have been better if the Secretary of State had contributed to this debate, given that it was so truncated. The only thing that I will say, Mr Speaker, is that in 1931, Ramsay MacDonald cut public spending to try to get us out of a recession. That caused a depression, and I am afraid that he ended up going into a coalition with the Conservatives. In that debate the Liberal Democrats opposed the cuts that were being made; unfortunately, this time they are propping up the coalition. However, I did not raise the issue of Ramsay MacDonald, Mr Speaker, so I will move on.
Mr Speaker: Order. Let me gently say to the shadow Secretary of State-this is a point often not fully comprehended on either side of the House-that contributions to Third Reading debates have to be on the remaining content of the Bill, and must not focus on matters that have been excluded from it. But I know that the right hon. Gentleman will reorient his remarks readily.
Ed Balls: In that case, Mr Speaker, I will make no reference to the fact that a requirement that the admissions code should attach to such schools was excluded from the Bill, nor will I refer to the fact that parental consultation could have been strengthened, but that that was ignored.
Ed Balls: The right hon. Gentleman makes his jokes, but as Secretary of State he is, in my view, presiding over the most profoundly unfair piece of social engineering in this generation, and in the end he will be ashamed of what he has done this evening and over these past few days. That is my strong view. The contemptuous way in which he has treated the House of Commons in recent weeks is a matter of great shame to him as well.
"we will ensure a level playing field for admissions and funding and replace Academies with our own model of 'Sponsor-Managed Schools'. These schools will be commissioned by and accountable to local authorities and not Whitehall".
However, the Bill entirely removes any role for local authorities. We are told now by the Schools Minister that there will be a new ministerial advisory group. However, the fact is that cutting out the role of the local authority will mean that there will be no check on the pressures for free market schools to lead us not just to massive unfairness, but to what we fear will be much greater social segregation in the coming weeks, months and years. I fear a new education social apartheid arising from this Bill.
I am very fearful, and that is why I say to Government Members that this Bill is the greatest threat to our state education system in 60 years. It is a Bill of great significance, but it has been rushed through in a way that is an abuse of Parliament. As I said a moment ago, I think that the Secretary of State should be ashamed of himself. This evening we challenge the coalition,
Conservatives and Liberal Democrats alike, to put a halt to this deeply ideological, free market experiment before it is too late, and to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill.
Gavin Barwell: I spoke in the Second Reading debate and sat through most of the Committee stage because one of the main issues in my constituency is standards in schools, particularly secondary schools. The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), approved a number of academies in the London borough of Croydon, often in schools with a deprived pupil cohort that were in affluent areas. That catchment could change over time as the schools improve. He was right to do that, but the question that I want to ask Labour Members is why they want to limit to underperforming schools the improvements that the academy programme has delivered. Why should not good, satisfactory or outstanding schools also seek to improve? In my borough, one third of parents who choose to send their children to a state primary school do not go on to send them to a state secondary school in Croydon. They look to selective schools outside the borough and to schools in the independent sector. I would have thought that Opposition Members wanted improvements in schools right across the board in my borough, to give parents the confidence to send their children to local schools.
In Croydon, we had the Harris city technology college. It was one of the original CTCs, and it is now the Harris academy Crystal Palace. More than 500 parents wanted to send their children there this year-more than twice as many as to any other school in our borough. We also have schools such as the Coloma convent school, Archbishop Tenison's high school and Wolsey infants school. These are outstanding schools that want to take up the opportunities that the Bill offers.
The shadow Secretary of State spoke of the importance of spreading opportunity in disadvantaged areas. Wolsey infants school is in the middle of the town of New Addington in my constituency-one of the most deprived parts of London. It is an outstanding school that is doing a fantastic job for pupils from a deprived background, and it wants to take on the additional freedoms that academy status will offer. Why do Opposition Members want to deny that school that opportunity?
Beyond those outstanding schools, we have Shirley high school and St Mary's junior and high schools. They are good or satisfactory schools that have also expressed an interest in taking on the opportunities that academy status offers. Why should they be denied that opportunity? Why should it be reserved solely for a certain class of school?
We also have to accept that there are local authorities that are not as progressive as my own, and that do not take action to deal with underperforming schools. Indeed, the shadow Secretary of State took a great deal of action when he was Secretary of State to push councils into taking that kind of action. The Bill will give freedom to parents who have been told, year after year, that there is no place for their child in the schools that they want them to go to. It will give them the opportunity to find a place for their child in a satisfactory school. Local authorities should be doing that already, and
those that are taking the right action and driving up standards have absolutely nothing to fear from this legislation, but it will give an option to parents who have not been given that opportunity, year after year.
I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak in the debate, so I shall draw my remarks to a close. I welcome the debate that we had in Committee, and I paid tribute earlier to the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for his contribution. I disagree with him about primary schools, and with his point about surplus places being a bar to academies being set up. He was right, however, to raise the issue of special educational needs. We have had a long and detailed debate, which has added something to the Bill. I shall be grateful to see the Bill pass into law because it will drive up opportunities for pupils right across my constituency.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): I was interested to hear the contribution of the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell). He spoke eloquently of the freedoms that will be presented to the schools in his constituency, but he markedly failed to give details of what those freedoms would be, as indeed has the Bill. One of the freedoms is said to relate to expansion. We all have schools in our constituencies that are oversubscribed. However, the capacity for expansion, which would enable parents in my constituency to send their children to schools with very high standards, was completely sabotaged by the Secretary of State cancelling the Building Schools for the Future programme, so capacity is still an issue.
I was interested to hear the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), making a direct comparison between comprehensive state education and the independent sector. I was having a conversation with a parent only this weekend, and she told me that, in the school that her children attend, there are only 18 children in every class. If the Government are so committed to raising standards in the state sector so that they meet and pass those of the independent sector, why are they not spending their time and energy putting the necessary funding into the state system so that those class sizes could become the norm rather than the exception?
The central issue is that the Bill has nothing to do with freedom for all our people; it has to do with exclusion, not inclusion. The failure to consult on these proposals across a wide range of people in the community will mean that more and more children, certainly in my constituency, will be excluded from the best that already exists. The best that already exists is from a system that was funded by my Government, and that acknowledged the need for wide consultation across the community, with services presented to all schools from a local authority, which is essential to those standards. The proposal of the Minister and the Government, however, will sabotage those standards. As I had occasion to say on Second Reading, and as I have continued to say, we will not only see standards go down in our state sector as result of the Bill, but we shall see centrally, and most reprehensibly, serious social division, of which he and every member of his collaborationist Government should be ashamed.
Dan Rogerson: I extend my thanks to all hon. Members who participated in the debate, to the Minister, who has done his best to listen and take on board the issues raised, and to the hon. Members for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for-famously-Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who have led ably for the Opposition.
I am delighted to say that the Bill is better than when it started out. Clearly, in another place it was altered to reflect some of the concerns generated there and outside. During the Committee stage in this place, we have heard, on the record, that there are no extra sources of funding for the academies above and beyond the money that will go to the local authority for them; that the role of the Young People's Learning Agency with regard to monitoring will be clarified; and that there will be wide consultation, the intent of which will be explained, which is helpful. The Minister has also generously pointed out that the role of parent governors will be strengthened.
Bob Russell: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is disappointing that the Minister was not able to say whether parent governors would be elected or appointed? The other issue is that existing comprehensive schools can have as many as eight elected parent governors, whereas under the Bill the number is only two.
The progress that occurred in the other place on the impact statement has been crucial. Tonight's discussions about community cohesion have also been important. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), who is no longer in his place, made some useful points on that, and I was delighted to hear the Minister's reassurance.
It is nice to see the shadow Secretary of State for Education in his place. He was not here for most of the debate-someone was, because they wrote his speech for him. As a comprehensive-educated boy, I can point out to him that a basilisk is a mythological reptile that can freeze someone with its breath or stare. That point aside, it is clear that he has not listened to the debates too closely. For some of us who do not have the widening of the number of academies at the top of our political agenda, the explanation of the Government's thinking has reassured us about a Bill that, with some welcome safeguards, allows that in places that are keen for it to happen.
I was not planning to speak on Third Reading, but I want to respond to a couple of points made by the shadow Secretary of State, particularly relating to Labour Members' concerns about special educational needs and inclusion. We should always use temperate language, and although debate on the Bill has been interesting and measured on both sides of the House, the extreme language used-we heard some recently from the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson)-about social division, apartheid and exclusion has been incredibly unfortunate. As the Bill has progressed, we have received assurances from Ministers about the content of funding agreements with regard to social inclusion and SEN. It is incorrect to
suggest that only Labour Members are interested in those issues. Many Members have raised concerns and received assurances from Ministers.
The Bill has been improved in another place, and welcome assurances have been received from Ministers. Ultimately, we should accept that parents will be given a choice, and it is for parents and governors to take the Bill forward and make what they can of it. The suggestion that schools will, in some way, do something bad for their community is a nonsense.
That the draft Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Disclosure of Information by SOCA) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 18 January 2010, in the previous Parliament, be approved.-( James Duddridge .)
That Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Rosie Cooper, Frank Dobson, Thomas Docherty, Gemma Doyle, Mr Mark Francois, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Mrs Siân C. James, Dr Phillip Lee, Nigel Mills, Tessa Munt, Sarah Newton, Bob Russell, Mr Shailesh Vara, Mr Dave Watts and Mike Weatherley be members of the Administration Committee .-(Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
That Peter Aldous, Richard Benyon, Neil Carmichael, Martin Caton, Katy Clark, Murray, Caroline Nokes, Mr Mark Spencer, Dr Alan Whitehead and Simon Wright be members of the Environmental Audit Committee .-(Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
That Mr William Cash, Mr James Clappison, Michael Connarty, Jim Dobbin, Julie Elliott, Tim Farron, Nia Griffith, Chris Heaton-Harris, Kelvin Hopkins, Chris Kelly, Tony Lloyd, Penny Mordaunt, Stephen Phillips, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Henry Smith and Ian Swales be members of the European Scrutiny Committee .-(Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
That Dr Hywel Francis, Dr Julian Huppert, Mrs Eleanor Laing, Mr Dominic Raab, Mr Richard Shepherd and Mr Andy Slaughter be members of the Select Committee appointed to join with a Committee of the Lords as the Joint Committee on Human Rights .
That Mr Joe Benton, Oliver Colvile, Mr Stephen Hepburn, Lady Hermon, Ian Lavery, Naomi Long, Jack Lopresti, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, Ian Paisley, Stephen Pound, David Simpson, Mel Stride and Gavin Williamson be members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
That Mrs Jenny Chapman, Mr Roger Gale, Mr James Gray, Tom Greatrex, John Hemming, Mr David Nuttall, Andrew Percy, Bridget Phillipson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Angela Smith, Sir Peter Soulsby and Mike Wood be members of the Procedure Committee .
That David Heyes and Jon Trickett be added to the Select Committee on Public Administration .
That Heidi Alexander, Mr David Anderson, Andrew Bridgen, Jack Dromey, Lilian Greenwood, Ben Gummer, John Hemming, Gordon Henderson, Andrew Jones, Ian Lavery, Brandon Lewis, Andrew Percy, Mr Robert Syms and Valerie Vaz be members of the Regulatory Reform Committee .-(Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
That, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 121(2) (Nomination of select committees), Sir Paul Beresford, Luciana Berger, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Robert Flello, Mr James Gray, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Mr Lindsay Hoyle, Mr Brooks Newmark, Jonathan Reynolds, John Thurso and Mr Iain Wright be members of the Finance and Services Committee.-( James Duddridge.)
That Mr Kevin Barron, Sir Paul Beresford, Annette Brooke, Mr Tom Clarke, Mr Geoffrey Cox, Mr Jim Cunningham, Mr Oliver Heald, Eric Ollerenshaw, Heather Wheeler and Dr Alan Whitehead be members of the Standards and Privileges Committee.-( James Duddridge .)
That, on Tuesday 27 July, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any message from the Lords has been received, any Committee to draw up Reasons which has been appointed at that sitting has reported, and he has notified the Royal Assent to Acts agreed upon by both Houses.-( James Duddridge .)
The Petition of residents of the Plymouth, Moor View constituency and others,
Declares that the petitioners are unhappy with the decision to withdraw the taxibus service that serves the residents in the north of Plymouth; notes that residents in St Budeaux and Weston Mill use this bus to access their GP surgery, dentist, shops and other community facilities; and further declares that the withdrawal of this service will cause major inconvenience to residents.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage local authorities to support local taxibus services to avoid these vital public transport services being removed.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
The Petition of Mrs Priscilla Whisker and residents of Wakefield constituency, and others,
Declares that HM Government's decision to cut the previous Labour government's free swimming scheme from 1 August 2010 will make it more difficult for under 16 and over 60 year olds to access swimming facilities in Wakefield; further declares that the scheme was part of the 2012 Olympics legacy to get more people involved in healthy activities; further declares that there are high levels of child obesity in Wakefield; and further declares that the cuts will disproportionately affect the health of poor people in Wakefield.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Government to recognise the value of encouraging young people to take regular exercise and to learn to swim; to recognise the important health benefits of swimming to children and people over 60; to reconsider the cuts to the Swim 4 Free local authority grant support; and to reinstate the Swim 4 Free grant support to local authorities from 1 August 2010.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
The Petition of staff and students at Halton Lodge School and their friends, relatives and others in their community,
Declares that the petitioners support the 1GOAL For All Campaign to use the power of football to contribute to securing universal primary education by 2015 (Millennium Development Goal 2); notes the progress that has already been made towards this goal, with 40 million more children in school since the Millennium; further declares that the petitioners are appalled that 72 million children across the world are still denied the opportunity of schooling; further notes that sport can be used to champion education, which gives people the tools to help themselves out of poverty...The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons agrees to any motion expressing support for the 1GOAL Campaign and urges the Leader of the House and the Backbench Business Committee to consider scheduling a debate on progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 2 (Universal Primary Education).
Declares that the petitioners support the 1GOAL For All Campaign to use the power of football to contribute to securing universal primary education by 2015 (Millennium Development Goal 2); notes the progress that has already
been made towards this goal, with 40 million more children in school since the Millennium; further declares that the petitioners are appalled that 72 million children across the world are still denied the opportunity of schooling; further notes that sport can be used to champion education, which gives people the tools to help themselves out of poverty; and further declares that Halton Lodge School has used the opportunity afforded by World Cup 2010 to engage with the international campaign founded and chaired by Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, by watching and reading 1GOAL material, by producing artwork to raise the profile of the Campaign, by holding a 1GOAL school assembly and by opening the school for parents to watch the first game (France v South Africa) of the World Cup 2010 recently held in South Africa, an event which has raised the hopes and aspirations of millions of young people across Africa.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons agrees to any motion expressing support for the 1GOAL Campaign and urges the Leader of the House and the Backbench Business Committee to consider scheduling a debate on progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 2 (Universal Primary Education).
The Petition of the residents of Woolavington and others,
Declares that they are concerned about plans by EDF Energy Renewables to develop a new wind farm at Withy Farm near Puriton; about the implications for local residents of noise from the turbines; the intrusive nature of the wind turbines and any possible additional power lines associated with them on the unique landscape of the Somerset Levels; and the potential damage to wildlife and their habitats.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to take the impact on local communities and the landscape fully into account when considering plans submitted for the siting of wind farms and the provision of energy generation through renewable sources.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
The Petition of Mrs Jacqueline Stayt and Mrs Josephine Seath, residents of the North Dorset community and others,
Declares that they are concerned about the future of Portman Ward at Blandford Community Hospital, Dorset.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Health to encourage NHS Dorset to consider seriously the impact on the local community of proposed cuts to services at Blandford Hospital, in particular the proposed closure of Portman Ward, and to ensure that decisions affecting the hospital's future reflect the concerns and needs of patients, staff and the community at large.
And your Petitioners remain, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): I am very grateful for the opportunity to bring before the House this important issue, which is of great local concern in Hereford, where a campaign led by Sarah Carr has resulted in a petition of more than 1,400 signatures against hospital car parking charges. It is important to emphasise that this issue is not about a "little local difficulty". On the contrary, it shines a bright light on the huge cost and inflexibility of the private finance initiative and raises some profoundly important long-term public policy issues about the management and financing of the NHS. It is a case study of the foolishness and self-serving incompetence of the last Government.
These charges are expensive and unfair. They affect hospital patients and their families at a very vulnerable and difficult time in their lives. They particularly target frequent users, such as those visiting in-patients and those suffering from cancer, and they are socially regressive, falling relatively harder on the poor than the rich. Nationally, patients are estimated to pay more than £100 million a year in these charges.
But the problem of car parking charges does not end with Hereford hospital-quite the contrary. The trust would like nothing better than to reduce or scrap the charges for those affected, but it cannot because its hands are almost completely tied by the hospital's PFI contract.
To see why, we need to step back a little. Hereford hospital was started in 1999 and was one of the earliest projects undertaken through the PFI. It was built, and is currently owned and managed under a 30-year contract, through Mercia Healthcare. Mercia is a special-purpose company that is 75%-owned by Semperian, a large PFI firm that is based in the City of London, and 25%-owned by the French industrial services giant, Sodexo. As well as being a shareholder, Sodexo acts as the contractor for car parking, among other things, which it in turn subcontracts out to CP Plus. Other non-clinical services are contracted out, including maintenance to WS Atkins.
The total cost of the project has been about £93 million. In return the hospital trust pays a unitary sum every year, currently about £15 million, which covers all costs-both capital and services. Governing all that is a huge legal contract that seeks to cover every eventuality that could arise between the two sides over its 30-year life. But there is little transparency in the contract as to how much different services cost or what margin is being charged on them. Instead, there is massive inflexibility.
This is how the contract works. A consultant who wants to put up a shelf in her office cannot do it herself or get the odd-job man in-after all, the trust does not own the hospital; instead, she has to use the in-house PFI contractor at unknown but doubtless significant expense. The contract allows up to 12 weeks for a quotation to be supplied and up to 12 more weeks for the work to be completed-six full months from when the original need arose. Even that is not necessarily the end of the matter. The contractor will also insist that some items be treated as capital items-as permanent
additions to the infrastructure. and charged for in every subsequent year of the life of the contract.
A recent low point was reached with the installation of a new TV aerial in the consultants' staff room at the hospital. A "changes" notice was raised and sent to the contractor, WS Atkins in that case. Twelve weeks later, it was costed at the princely sum of £819 plus VAT, or a grand total of £963-almost £1,000 for a TV aerial! That is the reality of public contracting in the UK today.
It is significant that later PFI contracts contained some financial safeguards for the NHS, which included automatic efficiency savings of 3% a year and the right for a hospital to put services out to public tender periodically. However, the Hereford contract contains neither of those safeguards; any efficiency savings go direct to the PFI consortium. Yet including savings of only 3% a year would reduce the cost of services by 60% in nominal terms over the life of the contract. That is a lot of lost medicines, lost hospital care and lost surgery.
The car park is managed not by Mercia or by its contractor, Sodexo, but by Sodexo's subcontractor, CP Plus, in effect creating a treble mark-up on the deal. The hospital trust has little influence, knowledge of underlying costs or legal scope to negotiate changes to the contract. There are no automatic efficiency savings, and the contract cannot be re-tendered until 2029. The PFI consortium is thus sitting on a huge revenue stream, paid for by the taxpayer. My fear is that the contract is costing the taxpayer millions of pounds too much over its life.
Is it any surprise that the citizens of Herefordshire are paying so much for car parking, or that so little progress has been made to fix the problem, despite the trust's best efforts? Is it any surprise that cost inflation in the NHS has been running at twice the national level?
Let us take stock. The issue of car parking charges is a matter of public concern. Every year, thousands of vulnerable people are affected by the charges in Herefordshire alone. We must have a solution.
It is well known that PFI contractors have done very well over the years from the huge wave of spending that has taken place in the NHS. I therefore ask Sodexo and Semperian to sit down again with the hospital trust, open up the books, sharpen their pencils, pass on some efficiencies and work with the trust to craft a new agreement. For myself, I shall not let the matter rest until they do.
However, the deeper issue, here as elsewhere, lies in the impact of the PFI itself. It is almost as though these contracts were deliberately designed to impede public transparency and public accountability. The point is not to blame those who originally negotiated the Hereford contract; they were rightly delighted that the new hospital was being built, in a county traditionally starved of public investment. It was one of the earliest deals of its kind, and as with any new market it took time to develop the knowledge and safeguards of the public interest that existed in later deals.
But if we look more broadly, we see some staggering ironies. The PFI was used to protect the last Government's much-vaunted fiscal rules, only for the same rules to be spectacularly smashed anyway, as their spending boom gave us the longest and deepest recession on record. Secondly, the early PFI consortiums were actively encouraged by the Government to take on service provision
so that their debt could be put off balance sheet. The result has arguably been to impose hundreds of millions of pounds of unnecessary costs on the NHS, while the Office for National Statistics has started to look at bringing the same debt on to the national balance sheet anyway. You could not make it up, Mr Speaker. Thirdly, the PFI has put car parking and other services beyond the scope of public accountability, while the structure of the contracts prevents hospital trusts from having the very information they need to renegotiate the contracts themselves.
This cautionary tale raises a vital wider question. At a time of fiscal crisis, should PFI projects be exempt from contributing to the public purse? I would argue that they should not be exempt. They should contribute to our national economic recovery like everybody else.
There are some £210 billion-worth of outstanding PFI capital assets in this country at the moment. A McKinsey study last year suggested that for the NHS alone, a reduction in interest charges of just two or three one hundredths of 1% could save £200 million. Anyone who thinks two or three hundredths of 1% is a lot should bear in mind that since July 2007, the base rate has fallen a full 5.25%.
"Are these not commercial contracts?", it might be asked. Of course they are, and I am not for one moment suggesting that those contracts should be torn up. But the Government do not lack influence in this area. They have many points of contact with the different consortiums. For example, Semperian alone has stakes in 106 different PFI or public-private partnership projects, while Sodexo has stakes in 11 of them.
Moreover, many of the investors in these organisations are themselves public authorities. The largest investor in Semperian, with an equity stake of more than 25%, is Transport for London. It and other public bodies may themselves wish to support fairer treatment of PFI hospitals, rather than make huge sums at a time of national austerity.
Finally, some PFI providers are looking to expand abroad in search of future growth. They will not wish to be faced with criticism at home about the high cost of their services, while they seek new markets overseas. So I would call on the Government to use all these levers to encourage PFI providers to rebate some of their gains to the taxpayer. There is a direct precedent for this in the voluntary code that was introduced a few years to encourage PFI providers to share refinancing windfalls with the taxpayer.
I will close on a more positive note. The use of assets in many PFI hospitals remains far below international best practice. But over the longer term, there is clear scope to open up current deals, to relax some of the restrictions, to make better use of hospital assets and to remit more value to the public purse. The contractors will get what they are owed, but the taxpayer could benefit still more. That, I suggest, should be the thrust of Government policy in this area, and I greatly look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on this issue. I would, of course, be happy to work with him to win a fairer deal for the taxpayers of Herefordshire and elsewhere if the need arises.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) on securing his first Adjournment debate-on the effect of NHS PFI costs on hospital car parking charges in Hereford.
Let me provide a little background on the trust before discussing my hon. Friend's specific points about car parking. As he will know, Hereford Hospitals NHS Trust is the main provider of acute services across Herefordshire and for parts of Wales. The trust offers a wide range of services, including a dedicated cancer unit, which forms part of the three counties cancer network. I understand that funding has now been secured in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support to develop a new cancer unit.
The most recent Care Quality Commission outpatient survey, released in April this year, showed that 19 out of 20 patients-95%-attending the Hereford hospital out-patient department rated the care they received as either "good", "very good" or "excellent". It also found that 89% of those asked stated that they were treated with dignity and respect at all times. This is very much to the hospital's credit, and I pay tribute to the hard-working staff at Hereford hospital. It is through their dedication and expertise that my hon. Friend's constituents benefit from such a high quality of care.
My hon. Friend has raised the important issue of parking costs at Hereford hospital. The quality of care inside the hospital is excellent. However, the service provided outside the hospital presents a real and pressing concern for patients, visitors and members of staff.
The Hereford county hospital development was, as my hon. Friend mentioned, part of the previous Government's first wave of private finance initiatives. The County hospital PFI contract lasts for 30 years, from 2002 until 2032. In some respects, the Hereford contract differs from later PFIs, which utilised a standard form developed following the experience of earlier agreements.
In 2005, car parking charges for the period 2006-15 were agreed between the trust and Mercia Healthcare and incorporated in the main PFI contract through a legally binding variation, as my hon. Friend mentioned. Although Mercia owns the car parks, CP Plus operates them on a day-to-day basis via a subcontract with Sodexo, which runs all food and facilities management services on the site. I am told, unfortunately, that the cost to the trust of buying back the car parking element of the contract to 2032 has been calculated at some £7 million, a sum that my hon. Friend will agree is deemed prohibitive by the Hereford Hospitals NHS Trust.
The contract also switched car parking charges from pay and display to pay on exit. That change was introduced to discourage people using the hospital car park when shopping in Hereford city centre, cutting the number of spaces available for patients and visitors to the hospital. The hospital offers concessionary parking for different types of user. For example, a range of discounts is available to those who use the car park frequently, to the disabled and to a wide range of people on benefits or low incomes. In addition, when the length of stay exceeds certain local waiting targets, the cost of parking
is reduced to the target wait. For example, if initial treatment is not given within four hours at accident and emergency, the cost of parking is reduced so that a patient pays only for four hours. Also, parents of children staying overnight in the hospital have their parking costs discounted to the two-hour rate of £3.
However, there is a real issue about people not knowing that those concessions exist. Although they are clearly displayed on the trust's website, the internet, as my hon. Friend will probably appreciate, is not usually the first place to look for information when one drives into a car park. The clear and prominent display of the discounts and concessions available is a common complaint of patient groups throughout the country and one with which I have a considerable sympathy. I am told that the current car parking charges are in fact a little lower than those originally agreed with Mercia and reflect the trust board's decision to subsidise the tariff by 50p an hour over the past two years. The annual cost of that subsidy is £88,502.
The strategic health authority has informed me that the trust board has taken a number of measures to ensure that car parking charges are reasonable. It has committed to reducing progressively the costs of on-site parking for patients and, eventually, to eliminating those costs all together. To pay for the reduction, charges for visitors and other users will be increased in line with the existing 10-year tariff plan. The trust is also investigating alternative transport initiatives to encourage staff and patients to use public transport.
The strategic health authority informs me that Hereford Hospitals NHS Trust is reviewing its car park policy. The aim is to develop proposals for charges and concessions for patients' parking at the hospital, covering the hourly rates charged to patients and the availability of revenue to develop alternative arrangements. The review will also consider the range and appropriateness of current concessions. The trust hopes to complete its review of car parking charges by the end of this month, and the next increase to car parking charges, now due, is on hold pending the outcome of it. I also understand that the trust has already agreed a package of measures to improve car parking arrangements for patients receiving chemotherapy. These include the allocation of further free car parking spaces and better advertising of concessions.
Individual patients and advocate groups such as Macmillan Cancer Support and the Patients Association regularly raise the issue of car parking charges. Macmillan has highlighted how a lack of awareness among users and the poor promotion of concessions by some trusts lead to low take-up among long-term patients. We are giving those concerns serious thought. The Department of Health recently conducted a consultation on car parking charges, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we aim to publish a response to that consultation in September.
Unfortunately, though, whatever one's views might be on the subject of NHS car parking charges, given the dire state of the public finances it is simply not possible to abolish them. Within a very difficult economic climate, this Government are committed to delivering health care outcomes that are among the best in the world. As part of this, power is being devolved to the front line like never before. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, when we came into government in May we inherited a deficit of £155 billion. Some tough decisions are having
to be taken because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer rightly makes it a priority to reduce the huge debt that we inherited, which is causing so many problems for our general economic well-being.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that, as I said, it is simply not possible to abolish car parking fees at the moment, because the ethos of our policy towards better provision of health care, as outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health in his White Paper last week, is that we believe that it is crucial to put patients at the forefront and the centre of health care. We must have bottom-up provision of health care that meets local needs to improve services and ensures the finest quality health care that the health service can provide in such a way that we do not have politicians and bureaucrats dictating a top-down approach.
Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the problems that we face in Hereford and in many other towns across the country are down to poorly negotiated private finance initiatives agreed by the last Labour Government?
Mr Burns: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that cogent and powerful point. As we have all found out since we came into office, the economy was left in a dire state, and we are now having to pick up the pieces, as we did in 1979, to sort out the mess that the previous Government left us. That is the challenge that we are facing, and that is why we are having to take some tough decisions for the general better welfare of the economy as a whole and the people of this country, as tends to be traditional when we come to power after a Labour Government.
Where car parking charges make it difficult for staff to do their jobs properly, where they damage patients' access to services, or where they prevent family and friends from visiting, hospital trusts have a responsibility to look again at their charges and policies. As my hon. Friend knows, a review is currently under way at Hereford hospital. I trust that he and all his constituents who are concerned about the level of car parking charges at the hospital are contributing to that review and ensuring that their views and concerns are known as regards the impact that those charges may be having on them. I also believe that it is crucial, not only in Hereford but throughout the country, that greater publicity and prominence be given to the fact that some people may qualify for a reduction in car parking charges due to their individual circumstances. That must be drawn to the attention of the client group that might benefit, because one suspects that too often, there is too little publicity and awareness of those discounts, which would provide genuine help to those who find car parking charges genuinely onerous to pay for.
James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): I should just like to have it recorded in Hansard as a point of important note that while we are talking about the people who are the most disadvantaged by the charges that are so often levied in hospital car parks, not a single Opposition Member is here to hear the debate. I hope my hon. Friend agrees that that is an important point that should be recorded and registered.
I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has certainly succeeded in achieving what he intended. No doubt tomorrow, when Hansard is published, his cogent
point will be marked. The only disappointment is that as there are no Opposition Members here, they will not be aware of his intervention, but I am sure he will use his skills to ensure that his point is given a wider audience.
Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): Before my hon. Friend concludes, will he address the point about renegotiating the PFI? Will he take up the offer of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) and try to squeeze some more value out of the PFI, and to help? He has made an eloquent case about how tight the money is.
I thank my hon. Friend for that extremely helpful intervention. I am grateful for his kind offer for me to try to intervene and use my good offices to facilitate a renegotiation. It is late at night, but I do not want to be churlish and I do not want to upset my hon. Friend. However, gone are the days when politicians and bureaucrats sitting in Whitehall interfere and micro-manage local health services. The Government's vision, new policy and ethos is for a localised health service, responding to local needs, not hamstrung by interfering Ministers, including-I know that my hon. Friend will
find that difficult to believe-me. I must therefore say that it is a local matter, which would have to be taken up and sorted out locally, though, from my extensive knowledge of the position, I would not, were I a betting man, put a considerable amount of money on the suggested course of action being adopted.
Having said that, during a review of car parking at the hospital, it is important that all those with an interest or a concern about the charges play a full part. Ultimately, as I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) will appreciate, it is for the NHS trust to manage its car parking to suit best the needs of its patients, the visitors and staff.
However, I hope that, given the campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire and my hon. Friends in the surrounding constituencies, who have played their part not only in recent months but for a considerable time in representing their constituents and trying to get a good deal for them, they will continue to open dialogue with the local trust and do all they can to pursue the matter and ensure that they get a better and fairer deal, which is mutually satisfactory to the trust, the PFI and my hon. Friend's constituents.