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14 Dec 2010 : Column 228WH—continued

12.3 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I should like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) and say that my views on this issue are also mixed. If I look at the commercial situation and even the animal welfare situation, I do not think that there is a problem with the unit that we are discussing, because there will be vets on call, the buildings
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will be exceptional and the quality of everything on that farm will be excellent. I do not think that that is the issue.

I shall explain my concern. When we see the advertising of milk, cheese or butter, we see the wonderful Kerrygold cows hopping around the field. I do not think that the Kerrygold cows are any happier than anyone else's cows, but of course that company is very good at marketing the product.

I worry about the dairy industry as a whole. We live in a time when people want to eat less fat and we need to market the product well, and I am not convinced in that respect with regard to 4,000, 6,000 or 8,000 cows on a farm in Lincolnshire or wherever that are kept indoors all the time. Let us say that a farm has 6,000 cows. Six fours are 24; that is 24,000 feet. Imagine turning those out into a field; certainly, if it was one of my fields in Somerset, it would not take long to turn it into a plough ground. I know that, in reality, not all 6,000 cows would be turned out together, but the chances of those cows going out into the field and being seen grazing are pretty negligible. I think that we all accept that.

We can argue the rights and wrongs of the single farm payment and the common agricultural policy, but farming does take quite a lot of public money one way or the other, and the public, rightly or wrongly, want to see a certain style of farming. They want to see cows out in the fields. We have only to think back to the time of foot and mouth disease in 2001, when so many sheep and cattle were, unfortunately, slaughtered. The one thing that the public told me was that they missed the livestock in the fields. We have to face up to that.

My hon. Friend the Minister has a huge conundrum to solve. From the point of view of the economics, welfare and planning, there is probably no problem, but in terms of the industry, the welfare of farmers and the public's concept of farming, there is a big issue. We can argue about the economics of dairy farming, but it will be accepted that even now, people should be able to make a reasonable living from 200 cows, so do we really want to go to 4,000 or 8,000 cows, which will take out 40 or 80 of what I would call commercially viable farms?

Then what are we doing? We are handing over even more power to the supermarkets. They will love to get their milk from herds of 4,000, 6,000 or 8,000 cows, because they can send dirty great tankers along, probably all day long, to collect the milk. I suspect that the cows will be milked several times a day, so there will be milk there all the time and the supermarkets will be able to get tanker-loads of it. That suits everyone from a commercial point of view, but will it actually increase the price of milk? I doubt that very much. I suspect that it will decrease the price of milk and then the 200-cow herd, the 300-cow herd and even the 400-cow herd will be under pressure.

I know that I am perhaps wanting to have my cake and eat it. I want to say, "Let's have commercial farming," and then say, "Well, this is a little bit too commercial. Let's stop it here." However, we do have to consider the issue carefully, because we are talking about the overall health and the overall marketing of the dairy industry and what I believe is an excellent product; it is very good for people to consume. Returning my remarks to
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my constituency in Devon, I have to say that keeping cows out grazing is part of the landscape that people expect to see.

I do not envy the Minister his task today because he has to balance many elements, but as we move forward on this proposal, or stop it or whatever, we must be conscious of the dairy industry as a whole, of smaller farms and of the public's perception of dairy farming.

12.8 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Leigh, as it was under Mrs Riordan's. This has been an excellent debate. I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) on securing it. He spoke with great passion and authority.

I also wish to commend the contributions of the hon. Members for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) and for North Thanet (Mr Gale), who referred to the moral argument underpinning the issue and to the need for EU-level reform. I thank the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who made an interesting and thoughtful speech. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) spoke of the need to promote further scientific research with the authority of being a dairy farmer. I also wish to commend the speech of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish).

The dairy industry in the United Kingdom has been through an extremely volatile period. Intensive farming raises three challenges: first, animal welfare; secondly, greenhouse gas emissions, to which I think the hon. Member for Richmond Park referred; and thirdly, market distortions, which we hope the work on the grocery ombudsman, begun under the previous Government, will address. I hope that that work will be implemented under the current Government. I shall develop each of the points in turn.

After a period of extreme volatility, the dairy industry in the UK is still the third largest in the EU and the ninth largest in the world, producing more than 11 billion litres per annum, amounting to more than 16% of agricultural output last year, and contributing £3.1 billion to the economy. Despite the volatility in production and prices, yield per cow increased between 1995 and 2005, and average yield per cow increased in 2008 and 2009. The NFU said earlier this year that a typical UK dairy farm with a herd of 113 is likely to produce approximately a million litres of milk per year, with the average yield per cow increasing from slightly less than 6,000 litres in 2000 to more than 7,000 in 2010.

It is clear that it is ultimately for the local council and, if brought in by the Government, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to determine what happens in Nocton. I do not wish to comment on the precise legal technicalities of the process that may come in future. However, the debate has raised wider questions on what the view of DEFRA and right hon. and hon. Members should be towards intensifying farming, based on the three points that I mentioned.

There does not seem to be a consensus that intensifying farming will universally lead to negative outcomes on animal welfare. The Farm Animal Welfare Council
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and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have said that, in their view, intensification will not necessarily lead to a diminution in animal welfare.

Mr Gale: Does the shadow Minister accept that there is a fundamental difference between animal health and animal welfare? One is quantifiable and easy to identify, and the other is much harder to identify, but just as important.

Mr Bain: That is an extremely good point. The hon. Gentleman anticipated the argument that I was going to advance. There is a need for more research into intensification. In the United States, farms of 15,000 cows or more are not unknown, and the proportion of farms with more than 500 cows has doubled from 31.3% to 59.5% of the national herd. Fewer than half the farms with under 99 cows are still in business, so it is clear that there has been an impact on the small dairy farmer in the US. It is important that we conduct economic research into whether the same would happen in the EU.

Stephen Phillips: In the US, which is a much larger country, there is a minimum separation zone between these sorts of intensive farms and the nearest settlement. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is important? It may be one reason why these intensive dairy farms are not appropriate for many places in the UK.

Mr Bain: That is another excellent point, and it is why we must move with extreme care and ensure that we get the best evidence on animal welfare and on the economic impact on small farmers. I hope that the Minister can give us further information in his closing remarks on any impact assessment that DEFRA is conducting.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said earlier this year that the global dairy sector contributes 4% to total global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and the share from global milk production is 2.7%. There is a balance to be struck between the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which taking more cows inside and using anaerobic digestion more may diminish, and the wider arguments on animal welfare. Some concerns have been expressed by Compassion in World Farming, for example; it said that excessive intensification could lead to growing incidences of lameness, mastitis and other illnesses affecting cattle.

However, some advantages of intensification have been identified, which we must properly evaluate and not rule out. For example, the FAWC has said:

It goes on to say that housing cows all year round allows for more effective control over feed composition and for diets that are targetable to specific groups. There is also a reduced risk of parasitic infestation and greater biosecurity. It is clear that there is no consensus on whether intensification is intrinsically bad, which is why we need further economic and scientific research to explore the issues more fully.

There have been extreme swings in the market in recent years, particularly in EU milk prices. Indeed, the
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Commission had to produce a package of support in 2009 to support dairy farmers in the UK and across the EU. In the discussions on CAP reform, which we hope will be concluded by 2013, there needs to be a longer-term settlement that will put the dairy industry, across the EU, on a surer footing. I hope the Minister can indicate the position that the Government will take on dairy farming in those negotiations.

This is an extremely controversial issue. The planning application for Nocton in itself raises important matters, but I think the wider debate we need to have about the three principles is more important-animal welfare, greenhouse gas emissions and correcting the problems in the dairy market. I hope the Minister can set out the Government's position on all three in his concluding remarks.

12.18 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I am grateful to be serving under your chairmanship for, I think, the first time, Mr Leigh. I start obviously, but genuinely, by thanking my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) for securing the debate. He feels strongly about this issue, which is obviously precipitated by his constituency. It is a matter of great concern, as we all understand and has been demonstrated in the Chamber this morning. I have received countless letters and e-mails from people all over the country expressing concern, as I am sure other Members have.

If I may, I shall make a slightly provocative statement. For the past 30 years or so, all political parties and consumer organisations have called for the dismantling of agricultural protection, in whatever form it took, and for a move to a market-based system, because the consumer pays too much for food under protectionist systems. We have moved a long way in that direction over the past few years, and the debate today is the consequence of that move.

What we have heard in the debate is almost a plea to go backwards. We have heard that consumers would pay a bit more for their milk to protect farmers, but that is a bit like the letters we get from people who say they would rather pay more tax than have the funding to their children's school cut. However, the reality, as we all know, is that they will not pay more tax if they are given the option, and I am afraid that it is the same with dairy farming.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr Gale) referred absolutely rightly to what happened after we banned veal crates, and the same applied with sow stalls, when the pig industry was decimated. We simply exported those standards. Units in the pig and poultry industries have become larger, with fewer individual proprietors, and concern has been expressed that milk will go the same way.

The reality, of course, is that we have imported pig meat, veal and other commodities from other countries because it is cheaper to produce it abroad. As my hon. Friend made absolutely clear, that is what consumers wanted. The only protection against that is not to raise our standards or to instigate some form of import control, which, as we all know, is illegal under European law and the World Trade Organisation.

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Neil Parish: I do not believe that we want to go backwards, but this proposal wants to go forwards too fast. It will see off too many medium-sized farmers who can make a good living. That is my point.

Mr Paice: I understand my hon. Friend's point, and I will try to pick it up, although I will obviously not be able to respond to all the important points that my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) have made.

There has been a bit of a battle for credibility between some of my hon. Friends as to who first milked cows. If I might join in, it is about 44 years since I first milked cows. In those days-we can all say "in those days"-most dairy herds were in the 20-to-30 cow bracket, and 100 was a massive herd. If we had had a debate about mega-dairies in those days, we would have been talking about 100 cows.

The average herd in England is now 113 cows. There are lots of herds with more than 500 cows; one has 2,000 cows and several have more than 1,000 cows. The world has moved on, and no Government of any colour-we have obviously had all shades over the past 44 years-have blown the whistle and said, "This is too big."

Zac Goldsmith: The Minister is right to have identified, as others have, the perverse European rules that force us into a situation where our farmers are out-competed by farmers importing substandard products from elsewhere in Europe. Before the election, the Prime Minister pledged to challenge those rules, and my question is simply whether the Government still have any appetite to do so on behalf of our farmers and food security groups. It would be welcomed by farmers across the board if that pledge was fulfilled.

Mr Paice: Without wishing to duck that question, I should say that trade issues are, as my hon. Friend is well aware, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Obviously, however, we would wish to pursue as best we can commitments made by the Prime Minister before the election.

Let me move on to the point about competition in the domestic market and about supermarkets, which all my hon. Friends have raised in various ways. First, let me reaffirm that the Government are committed to introducing legislation to bring in the supermarket code adjudicator. We will call it an adjudicator because, compared with existing ombudsmen, it is not strictly an ombudsman.

I urge those of my hon. Friends who share my view that the sooner we introduce the adjudicator the better, to press the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skill because this is his legislation. We will proceed as quickly as possible, but we need to be absolutely honest with ourselves and with farmers that this proposal will not in itself lead to a price rise; it is about ensuring that we have fair and transparent terms of trade and about enforcing the code, which has been in operation since February. We must not be accused of misleading people into thinking that the adjudicator will somehow make everything all right.

My hon. Friends said a lot about supermarkets, so I will not go further into that issue. However, we also need to look at processors. As my hon. Friend the
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Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) said, certain processors have massively bid for contracts to process and bottle for supermarkets. They then pass on to the producers the results of what is, in many ways, over-bidding. We are now in the absurd situation where the farm-gate price paid for milk that goes into liquid products or relatively high-value cheese products is lower than that which people could afford to pay if they were going to convert that milk into skimmed milk powder, which is the lowest-priced global commodity-although, even then, the global price for the raw milk is about 27p or 28p a litre.

The Government are, of course, committed to the concept of free trade and open markets, and the Opposition probably largely share that fundamental belief. We do not believe in interfering in how business operates, but it behoves business to operate a fair market arrangement.

I cannot stand here and say that the Government will never intervene if we clearly see unfair practices going on. We hope that the adjudicator will resolve all that, but let me make it clear to the dairy processing and retail sectors that it behoves them to operate a fair market. They must recognise that if they do not, we will, as hon. Members have frequently said, lose the British dairy industry, whatever the type of housing, to overseas competitors. The result will be ever-more volatile prices.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Paice: I am sorry, but I cannot give way any more.

People would not have the cheap liquid milk that they want, because, as we all know, importing liquid milk is always expensive given its bulk cost. As a result, therefore, business will find that it is operating against consumer interests in the long term.

That reminds me of the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) made about imports and exports. He is right about the figures for liquid milk, but virtually all our liquid milk exports actually go over the Irish border, from Northern Ireland to southern Ireland, where they are made into cheese before coming back into the UK market.

Overall, our dairy market is massively reliant on imports of dairy products, which is why I personally believe-there is no strong evidence one way or the other-that the fear that a mega-dairy will destroy smaller dairy farmers is not necessarily justified. There is huge scope in this country to improve and expand our dairy industry. With the exception of Ireland, we grow the best grass anywhere in Europe, and we should be competitive. It is my job to try to create that competitiveness.

I am clearly running short of time, and I cannot respond to all the points that have been made. However, as my hon. and learned Friend opened the debate, I must emphasise that, as has frequently been said, I have no powers to intervene in any application. Issues to do with traffic, pollution and noise are for the local council to consider. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park talked about my using my influence on the Secretary of State if an application went to appeal, but that would be seen as illegal and would be wide open to judicial challenge, so I am afraid that I cannot accept that invitation, much as I might wish to.

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In conclusion, the Government understand the great public concern about this issue and about the changes to cattle-a lot of genetic improvement has taken place-and we accept, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North East said, that there is a need for research. That is why we have commissioned research-the previous Government commissioned some of it, and we are very happy with that-from the Scottish Agricultural College on improving the robustness and welfare of cows through the development of breeding indices, as well as a further study on the management and welfare of continuously housed cows.

If those studies demonstrate that the Government need to act on welfare codes, or in any other way, we will, of course, have to consider that, but I do not wish to pre-empt the conclusions of those studies. The Government believe in being led by scientific evidence; we will examine those research studies when they come out and we will act if necessary. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for giving me the opportunity to discuss this matter.

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Early Years Education

12.30 pm

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh.

There is now almost universal agreement in the House that early years education improves children's outcomes in school and beyond. I want to focus today on the take-up of the entitlement to 15 hours a week of free early years education for three and four-year-olds, and to stress how important it is that all children should benefit from it. Currently about 8% of three and four-year-olds do not take up their free entitlement. Figures show that children who do not receive early years education are significantly more likely to be from non-working and lower-income families.

The free places were introduced as part of a strategy to improve child outcomes, as an abundance of research has shown that attendance at high-quality settings is linked to improved outcomes, both at the time of attending and later in life. That, too, was a central message in the recent independent review of poverty and life chances by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who said that the first five years of a child's life were the most important. The Prime Minister agreed, and wrote to him that the foundation years

In short, we all agree that early years education can make a difference to outcomes, and that it has the potential to reduce inequalities.

In January 2010, according to the Department for Education, the number of three-year-olds benefiting from some free early education at maintained schools or in the private, voluntary or independent sector was 584,200-or 92% of the three-year-old population. However, close analysis of the figures shows that the take-up of early years education remains lower among non-working and low-income families, some ethnic groups and families living in more deprived areas, who, I would argue, are precisely the children who would benefit from it most.

The child care and early years survey of parents 2008 showed that uptake of free early education for three and four-year-olds was highest, at 90%, among couple families where both parents were working. The figure for working single parents was 88%. By far the lowest take-up was in couple families where neither parent was working, where the figure was 79%, and among lone parents who were out of work, where it was 76%. That pattern roughly accords with figures that I have obtained locally.

In Stockport, the average take-up of places by three and four-year-olds is 96%, which is above the national average, but in the two most deprived areas of my constituency the take-up figures are lower. In Brinnington the take-up is 92.7% and in Lancashire Hill it is 84%. I believe that the Brinnington figure is higher because it is a more settled community, has a higher working population, and has had the benefit of one of the first children's centres in the country, whereas Lancashire Hill has lower levels of employment and the population is more unsettled and transient. Although those figures are higher than the national average they are still cause for concern, because it is extremely important that children from the most deprived families should take up their
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places. Research shows that that increases educational opportunities in life and means those concerned are less likely to fail in later years. It also means that the state needs to spend less money later to pick up the costs of that failure.

Improving take-up of early years education for the most disadvantaged families is crucial. Perhaps some lessons can be learned from the experience of the pilots of free nursery places providing high-quality learning for the most disadvantaged 15% of two-year-olds, which the Labour Government introduced. I welcome the fact that the coalition Government have announced that they will continue that offer, and plan to put their commitment into legislation by 2013. In a written statement yesterday the Secretary of State for Education referred to the commitment to

with funding of £64 million in 2011-12 and £223 million in 2012-13. That will be part of the early intervention grant, which is for early interventions across all the age ranges. The early intervention grant is not ring-fenced. However, in the statement the Secretary of State said:

One of the key areas is two-year-olds; indeed, specific funding was announced in the statement, together with children's centres and short breaks for disabled children.

Will the Minister confirm that that is ring-fenced funding? If it is not, will he confirm that the continuation of the current offer for two-year-olds until there is an entitlement in law, in 2013, will be determined by local authorities? As the Secretary of State has announced that the early interventions grant will be 10.9% lower, in 2011-12, than the aggregated funding through predecessor grants, is the Minister confident that local authorities will continue to fund the offer for two-year-olds when there will also be pressure to fund services to young and vulnerable adults? Coincidentally, those are the same disadvantaged young adults whose life chances would have been much improved by early education. If the distribution of all the early intervention grant will be at local authorities' discretion, what monitoring will the Department do to ensure that there is provision in all local authorities?

Stockport participated in the pilot for two-year-olds, which has been very successful. I believe that that is one of the reasons the take-up of the free entitlement for three and four-year-olds in Stockport is above the national average. Some of that success could be copied and transferred to help to increase the uptake by three to four-year-olds nationally. I maintain that in Stockport take-up has been high because of the nature of the proactive work that has been done in engaging families and children in the pilot for two-year-olds. In addition to high-quality places for 10 hours a week over 38 weeks, Stockport families were given access to strong family support. Although it was not a condition attached to a place, families were actively encouraged to participate in home learning support, or wider parental support. I hope that the Government's offer for two-year-olds will involve such additional family support, which is vital. As part of the Stockport pilot parents were encouraged
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to ensure that they obtained an appropriate place for the free entitlement to 15 hours that their child would gain on turning three.

Stockport's project for two-year-olds was successful also because of strong commitment from all partners. I pay tribute to Vicki Packman, from Stockport's children and young people's directorate, and her team, for their incredible enthusiasm and commitment to early years education in Stockport. The Stockport pilot had a data-driven approach, with a clear focus on early intervention and prevention, and family support. Allocation of places was by a multi-agency panel. It built on strong, existing universal and targeted outreach networks. Those teams took a holistic approach to the identification of support needs, and used their professional experience and judgment to refer appropriate families to the panel. They also helped to engage directly a number of hard-to-reach groups. A brokerage service offered by Stockport's family information service was a key feature. It provided a key contact for parents, some of whom needed extra encouragement, support and advice, and offered home visits to explain the options to the family. In that way the service developed a trusted relationship with parents and carers. An initial visit to the setting was set up for the family and their support worker could attend. Those relationships, formed at an early stage, were crucial to the success of the placement and the project. It is interesting that that brokerage service ensured a very low drop-out rate. Only two children out of 117 left the project, and that was because both moved away from the area. Those figures are truly excellent.

It was very important that those disadvantaged two-year-olds had such a positive experience outside the home, as a proportion would have been on the child protection register, or the family would have experienced recent domestic abuse, or substance misuse in the previous 12 months. There are lessons to be learned, and the success needs to be transferred to encourage the families of three to four-year-olds who receive no early years education to get their children to attend and benefit from the free sessions to which they are entitled.

Kate Wood, the co-ordinator of the Two Year Old pilot project in Stockport explains things perfectly. She said:

That is what we want for all those children who have difficult lives: an opportunity for them to learn, develop and have experiences outside the home, which will enable them to cope better and achieve when they start school. There is a variety of reasons why parents say they do not take up their free entitlement. Some parents simply want to look after their own children, but others will lead too chaotic a life and find it too challenging to get their children to the nursery on a regular basis, and we need to help them.

The Department for Children, Families and Schools 2008 survey asked parents who said that their children were not receiving free entitlement whether they were aware that the Government paid for some hours per
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week of nursery education for three and four-year-olds. Only 61% of those parents said they were aware of the scheme. Will the Minister tell me what plans he has to raise the level of awareness and improve the quality and accessibility of information about free early years education?

When parents were asked where they got their information about child care, the most frequently mentioned source was word of mouth, 41%; followed by school, 18%; local authority was mentioned by 10%; and families' information services by 8%. Parents also mentioned local advertising, 8%; and health visitors, 6%. Lower income families are more likely than higher income families to mention health visitors or doctors' surgeries as their sources of information. That suggests that health services may be a particularly good way to provide these groups with information about child care and early years education. Will the Minister, therefore, consider specific plans to use health services to provide disadvantaged groups with early years information?

The 2008 child care and early years survey of parents revealed that families living in deprived areas were less positive about the quality of child care provision than those in affluent areas. That is interesting as, according to the latest 2009 Ofsted report, the quality of early years provision is lower in areas of higher deprivation: the more deprived the area, the lower the number of good and outstanding providers. That raises the possibility that parental perceptions may reflect real geographical variations in quality. Of course, only settings assessed by Ofsted as "good" or "outstanding" were allowed to be used in the pilots for two-year-olds. I hope that in future, standards of settings will still be important criteria. It is vital that the quality of early years education is as good in deprived areas as it is in others.

In some instances, local authorities can also deliver the free entitlement through child minders, who have to be part of a child-minding network and accredited. For example, if a child has specialist needs and requires a higher level of one-to-one care, or a family needs flexible hours to fit in with a particular situation such as shift work, helping to match those families' needs to a particular type of child care may help to improve the take-up of the free entitlement.

As I said, the clear message from the Stockport pilot was the success of the amount of support work with families. Offering places is not enough. I suggest to the Minister that perhaps one way forward is for the Government's pupil premium, which recognises disadvantage, to be introduced earlier for three and four-year-olds, enabling that work to be done with disadvantaged families. That would enable local authorities to intervene earlier and work with families at the earliest possible stage. Although it would cost money now, it would save money in the long run. It would also help to target those children who are not classed as the 15% most deprived, and so would not have benefited from the offer regarding two-year-olds, but who are still disadvantaged and are not taking up places for three-year-olds.

The report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, endorsed by the Prime Minister, said that we must ensure that today's poor children do not become tomorrow's poor adults. He said:

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I agree: we must not allow cycles of deprivation and failure to be handed on from one generation to another. The only way to prevent that is to ensure that those children, who, through no fault of their own, are born into disadvantaged homes, are helped. One intervention that we can make is to ensure that all children who are entitled to these very important early years education places are given the opportunity to take them up.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's proposals and ideas to ensure that all disadvantaged three and four-year-old children, who do not currently take up their free early years entitlement, are actively encouraged to do so.

12.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) on securing the time for this important debate. I agree with the vast majority of everything she has said. As she knows, I had the opportunity to go to Stockport in October when I spent a week as a social worker on the front line. I also visited some schools in a child protection context. I saw the excellent services and dedicated professionals that she has in her authority. I applaud the trailblazing in many areas dealing with children in Stockport, to which she alluded.

The hon. Lady raised a couple of specific questions to which I will respond, and made one point about extending the pupil premium. I am delighted that she has embraced the pupil premium so early. It is very early days to say how we might extend or adapt it, given that the details were announced only yesterday. I will take that on board, but I do not think we will be adapting it straight away. She makes a fair point: to ensure that it is useful as early as possible for all the reasons she mentioned.

The provision of free early education is an area where we have broad cross-party agreement, perhaps because the case for investing in the early years has never been more compelling. This debate is timely: yesterday we announced details of the new early intervention grant that brings together funding for universal as well as specialist services, and will be worth £2.212 billion in 2011-12 and £2.297 billion in 2012-13.

Local authorities have built up considerable expertise and experience in the early years. They understand the impact that Sure Start children's centres have on communities, and they have shown considerable commitment to raising the quality of early years settings. It is that experience that gives me confidence that local authorities are best placed to decide what is best for the families in their communities. The early intervention grant will give local authorities the freedom and flexibility to do that.

Early education is at the heart of our vision to support disadvantaged families. We know, as the hon. Lady says, that it improves children's school readiness and longer-term cognitive and social development, which can especially benefit the most disadvantaged, helping to improve social mobility and break out of inter-generational cycles of poverty. The recent review on
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poverty and life chances published by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), mentioned by the hon. Lady, underlined the importance of investing in the early years, and ensuring young children are not disadvantaged from birth. The review by the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) into how early intervention programmes can improve the lives of vulnerable children is continuing and doing valuable work.

Although more five-year-olds are achieving well, there is still a 14% achievement gap between those in the most disadvantaged areas and the rest. We need to close that gap. While 95% of children are benefiting from free early education, as the hon. Lady mentioned, among the 5% not currently taking up free places are children from lower income families, those whose mothers do not work, and children from families experiencing multiple disadvantage. The hon. Lady also mentioned families from BME backgrounds and others. She is absolutely right to ask how we can raise the level of awareness and promote the information. Having given a commitment to that 15-hour offer for three and four-year-olds, and having now brought in that additional offer for the most disadvantaged families for two-year-olds as well, it is key that we make it work and ensure that we access the families at which it is most targeted.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide information to parents about early education, and we must ensure that they are living up to that. I also believe there is a greater role for Sure Start children's centres to promote and reach out, particularly to support disadvantaged families more effectively. The hon. Lady also mentioned health visitors. We propose increasing the number of health visitors working out of Sure Start children's centres by 4,200. They will be going across the threshold before birth, and intensively after birth. They will work particularly with new parents, to check on their parenting skills, to give them support in those early days and to make them aware of what other services are available. That will include the free entitlement. The hon. Lady is right to say that we need to promote it more.

As an example-I have discussed this with the hon. Lady-I visited a family in Stockport. They were in desperate circumstances, living in a run-down house with hardly any furniture and no carpets, and literally no food. There were four sons under the age of 12, from three fathers, and a loving but rather inadequate mother. I visited the house with a very good social worker, who had been working intensively with the family. The social worker and various other professionals had been in and out of that house, but still things were not right. I asked why those children had not been taken into care, although doing so would raise all sorts of other problems. However inadequate, that mother doted on her four young boys. However inadequate, those four young boys doted on their mother; they relied on her and needed to stay with her. If they had gone into care, I fear that the family would have been split up, with all sorts of ramifications.

What struck me more than anything is that the mother needed almost to be taken by the arm and marched down to the children's centre to be told about good parenting skills-let alone, if it had been earlier, about the free entitlement to ensure that her kids were getting good quality care in the nursery-and marched down to the supermarket to be told what sort of food she should be buying for her children. There is scope for social workers working with such families, with health
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visitors becoming involved earlier and with children's centres helping to promote the scheme. The hon. Lady was right to mention it. Our aim is to intervene early in order to close the gaps that I have mentioned and to ensure that every child has a fair chance of succeeding. We want to focus particular support on those disadvantaged families that can benefit most. There are a number of ways in which we propose doing so.

First, all families value choice and flexibility, yet we know that disadvantaged families have less choice of provider and are more likely to cite lack of availability of free places as a reason for not taking up their entitlement. We are working with providers to explore ways of reducing the administrative burden and making it easier to establish business, particularly in disadvantaged areas. We will consolidate and substantially reduce the 200 pages of early-education guidance to local authorities, to help free up local early years markets.

Local authorities will be able to encourage new forms of provision. The Localism Bill, which was published yesterday, will give people new rights to bid to run local services. We seek to identify a national organisation that will be able to equip providers with the skills needed to run their businesses more effectively. The national implementation of the early years single funding formula will ensure that local funding decisions are more transparent. We will use the forthcoming education Bill to clarify the position of maintained nursery schools and other nurseries in schools in being able to charge for additional nursery education beyond the free 15 hours, to help increase choice for parents.

Secondly, despite an extremely difficult fiscal position, we have fulfilled the commitment that we made to early education in our programme for Government, by retaining a universal entitlement to 15 hours of free education a week for all three and four-year-olds, as I mentioned earlier. We did so not only because it was the right thing to do but because evidence shows that nursery education that is free at the point of delivery is the best way to ensure that disadvantaged families do not face barriers when trying to access it. Indeed, the experience of the pathfinder local authorities shows that the increased time and the increased flexibilities that come with it have been successful in attracting more families. On average, 2% more three-year-olds accessed their free place for the first time; and those families who previously did not take full advantage of it increased the number of hours that they took by 1.8%.

From April, we will ensure through regulation that all local authorities include a deprivation supplement in their early years single funding formula, which will mean that all disadvantaged children will attract a higher level of funding. As a result, money will be provided for those children who need it most, as well as incentivising providers to offer free places to those families. When children start school, the pupil premium will follow them from reception year onwards, and as I said earlier we will consider whether it should be extended to nursery education over time.

Thirdly, all the evidence shows that only quality provision can have a real impact for young people. We want to work with local authorities and providers in supporting it, and we will focus relentlessly on ensuring that all children are able to access their free provision in a quality setting. Central to a quality setting is a quality work force. We are committed by March to announcing
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a strategy to improve the quality of the early years work force and the development of a new generation of leaders for that sector. Local authorities such as Stockport are experienced in offering free places for two, three and four-year-olds, and they understand well the connection between quality and the outcome for children. I anticipate that they will want to draw on this expertise when making decisions about places.

Finally, despite the extremely challenging fiscal position, we have been able to commit ourselves to extending free nursery education to all disadvantaged two-year-olds by 2013. By getting this support earlier to those families that will benefit most from it, we are confident that it will help to increase participation at the ages of three and four. Local authorities like Stockport have shown that starting even earlier can have a significant and positive impact on language ability and on the parent-child relationship. The expansion will start quickly. Subject to the approval of Parliament, measures in the education Bill will enable Ministers to introduce an entitlement to 15 hours of free provision a week for all disadvantaged two-year-olds.

In response to the hon. Lady's concern about funding, I am happy to confirm that we will provide £64 million next year to enable local authorities to continue funding places for two-year-olds. In addition, the Department has set aside £4 million for 2011-12 to trial new approaches to delivering the entitlement. Although funding for the early intervention grant is not ring-fenced, and although decisions will be made locally, there will be a statutory entitlement for two-year-olds to access this education from 2013. Extending entitlement to disadvantaged two-year-olds is a key strategy for increasing take-up at the age of three. Total funding will rise to £223 million in 2012-13 to enable local authorities to build towards that entitlement. Funding will rise further, with an additional £300 million by 2014-15.

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The lessons learned from the two-year-old pilot will be central to that expansion. Outreach will be critical. As shown in Stockport, the most disadvantaged families are far less likely to pick up the phone and ask, or to turn up at children's centres. The pilots showed that the most effective way to engage families was to go out and find them, knock on their doors and then support them into a setting. We want Sure Start children's centres to play a prominent role in this work, helping to ensure that the most challenged families take advantage of the free entitlements, alongside other family support. Taken together, we know that they can make a huge difference to children's outcomes.

Our reforms place early education squarely at the centre of the Government's efforts to combat child poverty and increase social mobility. This week's announcement on the early intervention grant will have started the process of spending reviews in local authorities across the country. The strength and growing maturity of the sector means that it is well placed for the next stage. Early years professionals will be able to take part in these reviews confident in the knowledge that they have the full backing of the Government; confident that, in local authority members and officers, they have an audience that recognises their achievements and is proud of them; and confident, above all, that what they do really works.

I am enormously grateful for the support that the hon. Lady has given to this agenda today. She has raised some important concerns, and I hope that she is happy that the Government echo them. The steps that we have taken underline the importance of early education in getting the most disadvantaged members of society to gain access to early years education for their children. The Government have made a substantial financial commitment. We wish to ensure that it is taken up and that it works, because it is the right thing to do.

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Sentencing (Green Paper)

12.58 pm

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh. I thank Mr Speaker for being kind enough to grant me a debate on the Green Paper entitled "Breaking the cycle: effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders".

Crime and the punishment of criminals is important for my constituents. Although I appreciate the Government's good intentions, I am not sure that the Green Paper hits the appropriate nails on the head. Importantly, it says some constructive and helpful things. For example, it says that prisons should become places of hard work and industry and that community sentences should punish offenders and make them pay back to society and the taxpayer. It wants offenders to make a greater financial reparation to victims and the taxpayer, and victims to engage with the criminal justice system on their own terms. It would also like offenders to get off drugs for good and to pay their way in prison, and to prevent young people from offending.

Although the Green Paper contains laudable aims, the mood music behind it does not hit the right notes for my constituents, who believe that there is a proper place in society for prison and that prison works. Prison did not work as effectively as it might under the previous Government, largely because far too many prisoners lived in overcrowded conditions and far too many sentences were too short. Basically, my constituents are of the view that prison works when it is managed properly.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I welcome this opportunity to say what my constituents think, which is, of course, that they want law and order. They recognise that the prison system is there to deal with the worst offenders. Surely it is right that we tackle reoffending, which is one of the key thrusts of the Green Paper. Does my hon. Friend not agree that the Secretary of State for Justice has outlined a strategy that is consistent with that objective?

Mr Hollobone: No, I do not agree with my hon. Friend. Yes, it is right that reoffending rates are far too high and that we face a real problem in tackling them. None the less, when prison works effectively, it reduces reoffending rates, and I shall come back to that later.

Neil Carmichael: We have twice as many people in prison as the French. Do you think that we are twice as naughty or that our system is not quite good enough?

Mr Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. I do not think anything. You must refer to the hon. Gentleman.

Neil Carmichael: My apologies.

Mr Hollobone: I am grateful for that intervention. I have some statistics that I shall use later about how we do not have enough people in prison in this country, which relates to the point that my hon. Friend has just made.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not agree that we have to look at overall sentencing in three respects-punishment,
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rehabilitation and deterrence? Given what the previous 13 years have left us, I completely agree with him-criminals have had it far too easy in prison. The Government's payback proposals will ensure that prisoners go out and work. When a compensation order is passed in court, they will no longer be able to say, "We haven't got the money; we are on welfare." The Secretary of State's proposal will ensure that they have to work, earn their keep and pay back the money. That must be a good thing.

Mr Hollobone: My hon. Friend is right about that, but prisoners need to work more in prison. On page 9 of the Green Paper, I am pleased to see the coalition Government say:

I say, "Hear, hear" to that.

Neil Carmichael: The Secretary of State for Justice has indicated that that is one of his intentions. I have also taken him to Stroud where we looked at a payback scheme, which was highly effective. He spoke to people there and he got the impression, as we all did, that the scheme was definitely working. Does my hon. Friend agree that that type of scheme should be pursued?

Mr Hollobone: It should be pursued, yes, but not for persistent and prolific offenders. Far too many nasty people commit all sorts of horrible crimes and never find themselves in prison. On page 6 of the Green Paper, the coalition Government say:

The document goes on:

Prison works but only when people are sent to prison for an appropriate amount of time. It is clear to all of us that short prison sentences do not work. My solution is to send these very nasty 16,000 people to prison for longer so that they can be rehabilitated before being let out into the community.

Rehman Chishti: With regard to short sentences, is it not the case that a prisoner who is on six months will do three months and be transferred from one prison to another and then another? Therefore, there is no effective rehabilitation within the system. If the prisoner stays in one prison, he will have management and structure rather than being pushed from one prison to another. Does my hon. Friend not agree that that must be changed?

Mr Hollobone: That is an excellent point with which I entirely agree.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not agree that there is a danger in just looking at statistics, in that we do not know or understand the level of criminality that lies behind them? If we look at the figures and then the length of sentences, we can see that they refer to prolific, but low-level offenders. The Green Paper seeks to address the situation of those
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criminals who are not the serious criminals-serious criminals will continue to be sent to prison for a long time. This is about short-term sentences of under 18 months. That is why I commend the Green Paper-or I will do in due course-to the House and to my hon. Friend.

Mr Hollobone: I disagree with my hon. Friend. I understand that we are not talking about serious offences. None the less, it is very serious to my constituents that someone can be convicted 75 times. That person is very nasty and is committing lots of very low-level crimes and they deserve to spend a long time in prison.

Anna Soubry: Let us take that example. That could be someone who is, for example, committing shop thefts on a regular basis. The maximum sentence for something such as that would be around 12 months at the most, or 18 months if they were very unfortunate. This is a persistent but very low-level offender. Clearly, in the example that my hon. Friend puts forward, prison is not working, because the person keeps on committing crimes and keeps on going back to prison. It is to end that revolving door that we are doing the things that have been laid out in the Green Paper. That person is not necessarily a nasty person; they are not violent otherwise they would go away for a lot longer. Those who steal from shops are exactly the sort of people that we are addressing.

Mr Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. Interventions should be shorter.

Mr Hollobone: I am sorry, but that person is a nasty person. Just because someone is not violent does not mean that they are not nasty. I contend that the reason that they are reoffending is that they never serve their sentence in full. Even if someone is sentenced to 18 months for shoplifting, no one in this country will ever serve such a sentence. They might be sentenced to that, but the chances are that they will be out reoffending within six months. My contention is that such people need to be in jail for at least a year to enable proper rehabilitation to take place.

Rehman Chishti: My hon. Friend is spot on in terms of what went on from April 2007 to April 2010 when some 80,000 prisoners were let out on early release. That was absolutely shocking. When a sentence is passed, we must ensure that it is fully complied with.

Mr Hollobone: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The previous Government made an almighty mess of this. Even though I disagree with the main thrust of this Green Paper, I commend the coalition Government for taking an organised and proactive interest in trying to address this issue sensibly, which the previous Government did not do.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): My hon. Friend has been extremely generous in giving way. The fact that four Members have already contributed to this debate from the Back Benches shows how important the issue is. Prison officers came to my surgery and said, "What we need, Mr Bone, is not these short sentences
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of a year. We put them on community service for a couple of occasions, but when they come back the third time, we should put them away for five years so that they can get the proper training and education that they need in prison." What would my hon. Friend say to that?

Mr Hollobone: I would say that my hon. Friend is spot on. He has provided me with a helpful link to the next part of my speech which is about the length of sentences. In 2006, the Home Office report "Re-offending of adults" concluded that

It is worth repeating those figures; prisoners with sentences of up to one year had a reoffending rate of 70%, while in the case of prisoners with sentences of more than two years the reoffending rate dropped to 49%. The report also showed that for people who had spent more than four years in prison, the reoffending rate was merely 35%. Looking at those figures, my constituents would say, "Well, that says to us that we need to put these nasty people behind bars for longer, so that they can be rehabilitated properly before being released and being at large again".

I also want to address this myth that we have too many people in prison in this country. In terms of absolute numbers, yes, we have a relatively high prison population, but we are a relatively highly populated country. If we look at the number of prisoners that we have for every 100,000 people, we are nearer the average but still quite high. However, the only meaningful measure of the size of the prison population is how many prisoners there are in relation to the number of crimes committed. On that measure, I would suggest that the evidence is startling-we do not have the highest prison population in the western world, but the lowest. Compared with the US, Canada, Australia and the EU as a whole, the UK has the lowest prison population of all. For every 1,000 crimes committed in the UK, we have approximately 13 prisoners, compared with approximately 15 in Canada and Australia, well over 20 for the EU as a whole and a whopping 166 in the US.

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that sentencing and the number of people in prison should be determined by the sentences rather than the ability of the Government to house those prisoners, and that it is the responsibility of Government to ensure that suitable premises are available if sentences are passed?

Mr Hollobone: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Frankly, it is a national scandal that we do not have enough prison capacity. When we have troops living in tents in theatre in Afghanistan receiving money per meal that is less than the money per meal provided for a prisoner in a UK jail, it is a disgrace that we are not making better use of the redundant military facilities that we have in this country to house a bigger prison population. With a bit of imagination and, frankly, some political backbone, we could achieve a lot more.

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Mr Bone: That is the very point that I wanted to address today. My constituency neighbours my hon. Friend's and it contains Her Majesty's Prison Wellingborough, which now appears to be under threat of closure. HMP Wellingborough is under market testing. However, the market testing has been abandoned or put back. HMP Wellingborough has gone from being a rather poor prison to being the best category C prison in the east midlands. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not be considering closing that type of prison?

Mr Hollobone: I agree with my hon. Friend. However, prison conditions are far too luxurious. I think that it is 1,500 prisoners who have Sky TV in their cells. I have lots of constituents in Kettering who cannot afford Sky TV. It is a scandal that prisoners receive a bigger allowance for their daily meals than our troops in Afghanistan. In many cases, prison accommodation is too comfortable.

On the other hand, I accept that when a prison is overcrowded it makes rehabilitation more difficult and it is appropriate that we have the right number of cells for the prisoners whom we need to house. However, there must be a limit on the quality of the accommodation on which we are currently spending lots of money.

The other point that I wanted to draw to the House's attention is the fact that the country with the lowest prison rate-the UK-has the highest crime rate. Is that a coincidence? I do not think so. We have more than 10,000 crimes for every 100,000 people. The country with the highest prison rate, which is the US, has the lowest crime rate; it has about 4,500 crimes for every 100,000 people. Canada, which is the country with the second lowest prison rate, has the second highest crime rate. The EU has the second highest prison rate and the second lowest crime rate. That is not a coincidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has done a lot of very good work in this House in highlighting these statistics, which I think blow apart this namby-pamby approach to having soft community sentences to tackle the behaviour of some very nasty people.

Rehman Chishti: I wanted to make a point with regard to community penalties. I have been at the criminal Bar and prosecuted and defended many cases. Is it not the case that the Green Paper should be welcomed, because community penalties will be tied in with greater use of curfew orders? We should give offenders hard work during the day, make sure that it is done and that it is hard work, but we must also ensure that their liberty on Friday and Saturday nights is completely curtailed, so that rather than have them committing crimes, going out until the early hours and making a nuisance of themselves, we should make greater use of curfew orders, which is what this Green Paper is all about.

Mr Hollobone: I agree with my hon. Friend that if we must have these community penalties, they need to be tough and unpleasant. Frankly, the gangs that I have seen taking part in these sort of activities have not been that disciplined, were not working that hard and I very much doubt the utility of the work that they were doing.

Neil Carmichael: Does my hon. Friend not recognise that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has said that there is a place for prison, people should go to prison and that, if they have committed a
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serious crime, they should go to prison for a long time? We need to get this issue into perspective, because we are actually talking about reducing the prison population by 3,000 and not, as my hon. Friend suggested, about simply having a namby-pamby approach to prisons.

Mr Hollobone: Yes, but my contention is that there are some unpleasant people out there who will commit crime unless they are prevented from doing so by being put in prison. When half the crimes committed in this country are being committed by 10% of the offenders, those 10% of offenders do not need to be out there doing good works on the street; they need to be behind bars so that they cannot reoffend.

The concluding part of my remarks is that although I recognise the good intentions of the Ministry of Justice in trying to reduce reoffending-I do not doubt the Ministry's efforts in that regard-the obvious thing to do to reduce prison numbers is sort out the 11,500 foreign national prisoners in our jails. The number of such prisoners doubled under the previous Government.

I have raised this issue time and time again on the Floor of the House and frankly we are not getting very far. One of the countries that has a high number of its nationals as prisoners in our country is Nigeria. When I last looked at the figures, I saw that there were something like 752 Nigerian nationals in prison in our country. Effectively, we are paying £30 million a year for incarcerating those individuals. The Nigerian National Assembly has been looking at this issue since 2007. Why are we not hauling in the Nigerian ambassador or speaking to the Nigerian President to get this arrangement sorted out, because sending 752 Nigerians back to Nigeria would go a long way to freeing up the 3,000 prison places that my hon. Friend the Minister wants to find?

Rehman Chishti: I fully endorse what my hon. Friend has said with regard to foreign nationals. Linked to that point, what must change is the procedure that is applied to removal orders and the time that it takes for somebody to be removed from this country. At the moment, there is a disjointed approach and that must change, so that once someone has been through the courts, their removal must be swift.

Mr Hollobone: As usual, my hon. Friend is quite right. However, now we have the Prime Minister launching a campaign on the front page of the Daily Mail to say that repatriating foreign national prisoners is one of his top priorities. Please can we have a joined-up approach across this Government-across the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Office and the Home Office-to ensure that we actually get these people back to their own countries? Then we will create the space in prison that we need to rehabilitate people properly, reduce the overall prison population if need be and stop people reoffending.

1.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this debate on the Government's Green Paper "Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders", which my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice laid before Parliament last week.

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Given the brevity of this debate, the many and varied contributions that we have had from hon. Members have all been very helpful and show the complexity of some of the issues that we are dealing with. The Green Paper's proposals are the initial conclusions of the wide-ranging assessment of rehabilitation and sentencing that we announced in our programme for government back in May. We are now consulting widely on the proposals set out in the Green Paper and this debate is a welcome opportunity to discuss some of those proposals.

I shall start with the point about foreign nationals that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, and about which he has long been concerned. I can confirm that as we take forward the Green Paper proposals, we will consider what more we can do to reduce the number of foreign national offenders.

Foreign national prisoners make up 13% of the prison population, and the figure has doubled over the past 10 years. That is not an effective use of expensive prison places if foreign nationals could be removed from the country. There is, however, a balance to be struck. Foreign nationals who commit serious offences should be punished by prison sentences; victims of crime would expect nothing less. But when foreign national offenders do not need to be in prison, or when they could spend some of their prison terms in prisons in their own countries, we should do everything we can to ensure that they are not a burden on our prisons.

With that objective in mind, we are looking to expand prisoner transfer agreements with other countries, so that a prisoner can serve some of their sentence in their home country whenever possible. We are also looking to divert some foreign nationals-for example, those who commit immigration document offences-away from the criminal justice system altogether, if they agree to be removed from the United Kingdom. We are considering other options, and would very much welcome further ideas in response to the Green Paper.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor made it clear last week that the current criminal justice system does not deliver what really matters. Society has a right to expect the system to protect it. We all expect offenders to be punished effectively, but we should also expect criminals to be reformed, so that when they finish their sentences they do not simply return to their life of crime and create more misery for victims.

Despite record spending, the criminal justice system falls short, in that about half of released offenders go on to reoffend within a year-and the reoffending rates for young people are even worse, with three quarters of offenders sentenced to youth custody reoffending within a year. Those high rates are unacceptable to this Government. If we do not prevent people, especially young people, from offending, they will become the prolific offenders of the next decade.

The Green Paper sets out how we propose to break that destructive cycle of crime and to ensure that offenders make amends to victims and communities for the harm that they have caused. That requires a radically different approach-a system that protects the public by punishing the guilty and reducing reoffending, makes offenders face up to their responsibilities and pay back to victims and society, and makes punishment hard work, both in prison and in the community.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering referred to the mood music of the Green Paper, so let me make it clear that prison is the right place for serious and dangerous offenders, and that we will ensure that sufficient prison places are always available. I shall come to the detail in due course, but we do not propose in the Green Paper to reduce the ability of any sentencer to send a serious offender to prison, nor do we propose to introduce, as the previous Government did, any new early-release schemes.

We want offenders to be suitably punished for their crimes. Through both the tough discipline of regular working hours in prison, and more strenuous and demanding work in the community, we aim to ensure that offenders work hard and that there is greater use of tough curfew requirements.

We want prisons to be places where offenders learn about the life of work and about the routine of getting up in the morning and doing a full day's meaningful work. Too many offenders lead chaotic lives, and too many of them have never done a day's work. By giving offenders the experience of work, we can put order into their lives, better prepare them for life outside prison, increase their job prospects and reduce the likelihood of their reoffending.

We also want offenders to pay back to their victims. The Green Paper includes proposals for increased reparation to victims through a greater use of restorative justice, under which an offender can make good the wrong he has imposed on others. We want restorative justice to be victim-led and not offender-led. Restorative justice can benefit both parties. It can provide reparation to victims and help offenders face up to the realities of their crime and its impact on victims-and, as a result, prevent them from offending in future.

We also want to implement the Prisoners' Earnings Act 1996 to ensure that more offenders directly compensate the victims of crime through deductions in prisoners' wages. For lower-level offences, we want to increase the use of fines and compensation orders, so that offenders make greater financial reparation to both victims and the taxpayer. An increased use of compensation orders would mean that more victims would receive financial compensation directly from the offender.

We also want to take a new approach to offender rehabilitation, getting more offenders off benefits and into honest work. That is partly about the routine of work, but crucially it is about taking action to get offenders off drugs so as to break the cycle of offending to feed a drug habit. The Government are committed to rehabilitating offenders from drug dependency to drug-free lives. We want prisons to be places where offenders tackle their drug misuse, not places where their problems get worse, and we are therefore working on preventing drugs from getting into prisons. We are also working with the Department of Health to reshape drug treatment. Within prisons, we will pilot recovery wings, which will link more effectively with community services, and we will focus more on supporting offenders to be drug free.

We also want to look at the number of offenders in prison who suffer from a mental illness. For some people with mental health issues, prison is simply not an appropriate place. In some cases, better outcomes can be achieved by diverting low-level offenders into intensive treatment for mental health problems in the community. We are working with both the Department
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of Health and the Home Office to ensure that front-line services identify such people. We have proposals to create a more effective and robust community sentence, with greater flexibility for the provisions of mental health requirements. If we can get treatment right, we can help to reduce offending.

The Green Paper signals a transformation in rehabilitation financing and delivery. Significant amounts of public money have been spent on trying to rehabilitate offenders, without properly holding services to account for their results. We will reward independent providers for achieving a reduction in reoffending, and will pay for that with the savings that they generate within the criminal justice system. We will introduce more competition across offender management services, to drive up standards and deliver value for money for the taxpayer. We will increase the freedom for public service providers and front-line professionals to innovate in their work with offenders. The payment-by-results system will be trialled in at least six new projects over the next two years, and the principles will be fully rolled out by 2015.

I turn now to sentencing, which is an issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering mentioned. We know that a sentencing framework must provide courts with a range of options for punishing and rehabilitating offenders and protecting the public. The problem is that the current framework has been developed in an ad hoc fashion over the past 10 years, leaving it overly complex and difficult to administer. We should not underestimate how complex the law has become. The Court of Appeal spends a significant amount of time on cases in which sentencing law is unclear. If the law is often difficult for judges to understand, it is not surprising that the public have considerable difficulties.

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Rehman Chishti: Does the Minister agree that it is completely and utterly wrong that in the past 13 years we should have had more legislation than in the past 100 years? Does he also agree that we should make legislation only when it is necessary, rather than for the sake of it?

Mr Djanogly: I do. The figure of more than 3,000 new offences comes to mind. We had the situation in which a new offence was being created before the previous one had commenced.

We want to simplify the sentencing framework and make it more comprehensible for the public. We also want to enhance judicial discretion, to allow the judges and magistrates who hear the cases to make the most appropriate decisions on sentencing within the legal framework set by Parliament.

I accept that some people, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, want to see longer sentences, but we need to be proportionate. We could not accommodate the much longer sentences that he suggests without raising taxes to build more prisons.

Sentences have, however, got longer and longer over the past couple of decades, and for many years offenders have not spent their sentence in custody. We do not propose to make fundamental changes to determinate sentences. At present, offenders serving a determinate sentence spend half of their sentence in custody and half on licence in the community. If an offender breaches the condition of their licence, they may be returned to prison. We recognise-

Mr Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order.

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School Sports (Colchester)

1.30 pm

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Although school sport partnerships are nationwide, I wish to concentrate on just one partnership in my constituency as an example to highlight how important they are for every school and every child in the country. I will first set out the national scene. The Government want to save £162 million by scrapping the highly successful school sport partnerships. That is a significant sum, but in the context of the nation's total public spending it is not, and cutting it would be a false saving.

The sum is equivalent to about half the combined wage bills for the two premiership football clubs that played last night-Manchester United and Arsenal. The total wage bill for all the premiership clubs, boosted by the vast sums they receive from television, comes to more than £1.3 billion, according to research conducted by Deloitte and kindly provided to me by the House of Commons Library.

Are we seriously saying that the well-being of around 8 million school children in their developing years and, perhaps more importantly, their prospects for better health in adulthood, are considered to have such a low priority that cutting that money from the education budget is acceptable?

I propose that, in the spirit of joined-up government, the Government should get a grip on the mismanagement of football in this country. Professional football is awash with money, but it is being squandered on grotesque salaries and on the huge amounts of money that are lost from the game and find their way to parasitic agents who contribute nothing to football and instead bleed it.

I urge the coalition Government to introduce a football school sports fund-FSSF-by placing a 10% levy on the turnover of premiership football clubs. That would comfortably cover the £162 million needed to fund the school sport partnerships. After all, many of the young participants will be wearing replica shirts of clubs such as Manchester United and Arsenal. In that way, at least some of the huge sums of money sloshing around the premiership would be put to more beneficial purposes than lining the pockets of the few. It would fund the future fitness, health and sport prospects of every child in the country. It would support the many, rather than being kept by the very few.

I urge the Minister to take forward my suggestion as a means of saving the school sport partnerships at nil cost to the public purse. I am confident that my proposed FSSF would be widely welcomed by our schools and by those responsible for the nation's health and sports development. Cross-departmental determination involving the Department for Education, the Department of Health, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury could quickly bring that to fruition by the time the £162 million is due to be cut from the education budget. I shall personally bring the proposal to the attention of the Prime Minister.

Before speaking about the Colchester academy sports hub and the seven primary schools it covers, I will conclude the national overview by quoting in full an excellent article by the award-winning journalist Mr Patrick Collins, chief sports writer for The Mail on Sunday, who wrote in his column two days ago:

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Mr Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he should not refer to the Secretary of State by name. He should refer to him as Secretary of State or by his constituency.

Bob Russell: Mr Chairman, I am fully aware of that, but I am quoting from a newspaper article, so those are not my words. They are the words of wisdom of Mr Patrick Collins, who continued:

Other than giving the Secretary of State the courtesy of putting the title "Mr" before his name, I agree with every word of what Mr Collins said. I disapprove of the manner in which the Secretary of State was addressed in the article, Sir, but I was quoting from it.

It is also worth noting how the proposals to axe school sports funding are viewed by Wenda Donaldson, the director of community sport at the Australian Sports Commission, who observed:

Well, they have not yet been lost; hopefully, today's debate will help to save them.

From the world stage, let me now concentrate at a truly grass-roots local level. There are 12 sport hubs in the area covered by the Colchester-Blackwater school partnership, involving 86 schools, the majority of them in my constituency of Colchester. I will concentrate on just one sport hub, the one centred on the Colchester academy under the inspirational leadership of school sport co-ordinator Zoe Ford, and the seven primary schools that it serves. They are: from the Greenstead estate, St Andrew's Infants school and St Andrew's Junior school, and Hazelmere Infants school and Hazelmere Junior school; from the St Anne's estate, Willow Brook primary, a fresh-start school formerly known as St Anne's primary; Parsons Heath primary; and Roach Vale primary.

Last month, I visited Roach Vale primary to meet some of those involved in the school sport programme and witnessed the wonderful sight of youngsters playing
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football after school with two sports coaches, assisted by volunteers. I sensed that I was watching the big society in action. What I saw clearly showed the success of school sport partnerships.

From Mrs Ford, Mr Tom Evans, who is the assistant partnership development manager of the Colchester-Blackwater school sport partnership, and Mr Barry Hersom, principal of Colchester academy, established in September this year from the former Sir Charles Lucas arts college, I have been provided with the following information: it is a record of success, success, success, and of achievement, achievement, achievement. It would be extreme folly-an own goal, no less-for the coalition Government to end funding for school sport partnerships.

Four years ago, the average time spent on high-quality physical education in the Colchester academy family of schools was 118 minutes, but it is now 147 minutes. Mrs Ford, as is the case with school sport co-ordinators working for the other sport hubs, has worked alongside teachers in primary schools to increase their subject knowledge and confidence in teaching sport and physical education. That is of great importance when looking at the holistic approach to education.

I am advised that, as a direct result of the higher quality of sport on offer and more time spent on PE, there have been large improvements in the quality of teaching; that pupils' attainment has increased and the quality of their learning has improved; that they are more physically active; and that they are adopting healthier lifestyles. Those are four positive points.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this timely and prescient debate. What he has described is, as he said at the beginning of his speech, a microcosm that reflects the macrocosm of what is happening across the country. I can speak from personal experience because in Scunthorpe I appointed a further education sports co-ordinator who was part of the network of school sports co-ordination that helped to move things forward. I applaud the hon. Gentleman for the way he is bringing the matter forward.

Bob Russell: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, because he had personal experience of the issue before entering the House. He can see how the partnerships have been a great success story-not only in his constituency and mine, but across the country. They have brought the education family of different schools and different age groups together in a way that I have not witnessed previously.

Clearly, the point I made before the intervention has significance for the NHS. Could the Minister state what discussions were held with the Secretary of State for Health before it was announced that school sport funding was to be axed, and what discussions were held with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport?

In addition to what happens in schools, the leadership shown by school sport co-ordinators has led to improved links with local clubs. This follows on from the point made by the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). Coaches have been invited to provide taster sessions for pupils, and that has led to two-way improvement for the pupils and the clubs.

The notion that schools are not taking part in team games or inter-school competitions is wrong. The figures show that, four years ago, 56% of pupils in the Colchester
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academy family participated in inter-school competitions; the figure is now 100%, with 67% competing in at least three or more competitions each year.

The number of competitions and festivals has increased from six in 2005-06 to 18 in the current academic year. Every pupil in the Colchester academy family will attend the academy at least once for a tournament or festival in the course of the year. A virtual multi-skills athletics competition-that is how it was described to me-has been developed which allows schools and individual pupils to compete with each other without leaving their own school site, and with relatively little equipment. It has proved popular with all school years, from 1 to 6.

I am assured that greater competition has increased confidence and enjoyment in physical activity. Festivals have provided pupils with a broader and extended curriculum through the introduction of new sporting activities. I am further told that the extra competition has helped pupils develop their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. I know that the Secretary of State for Education and the Prime Minister would approve of that.

With the 2012 Olympics less than 20 months away, the sports hub has enabled all schools to link their curriculum to that major world event. There are further statistics to prove the value, in every meaning of the word, of this school sport partnership-I am sure that this is true across the country. A big bonus has been the increase in the number of pupils in each year group who have participated in one or more community sports, dance or multi-skills clubs with links to the particular school. For the Colchester academy family, in 2006-07, it was 21% of pupils; last year, it was 51% of pupils. That would never have happened without the school sport partnership.

It is also significant that non-sporty pupils, to coin a phrase, have become involved in an activity that they enjoy. There are greater links with community clubs, therefore helping to promote community cohesion-a further example of the big society in action. Another astonishing statistic-a direct result of the Colchester academy school sport partnership-is that currently 97% of pupils are actively involved in sports volunteering and leadership; five years ago, the figure was 28%.

My concluding observations, which were put to me in advance of today's debate by the Colchester academy school sport partnership, are contained in the document, "Colchester Blackwater School Sport Partnership". Pupils feel greater self-worth and make a positive contribution to the school and wider community. Classes are more cohesive as pupils work together as a motivational team. I am tempted to say that perhaps all political parties in the House of Commons might want to engage such services.

The leaders' programme helps with the transition between infants and junior schools, as leaders provide excellent role models for younger children. There is better social cohesion as young pupils mix with old, pupil-organised activities result in improved behaviour at lunch time and pupils' moral and social development improves.

Abandoning school sport partnerships would be a huge mistake and would affect today's young people, including my two grandsons who are currently at primary school and my granddaughter who will be starting
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school in the year of the Olympics. I recognise the state of the nation's economy, but I would argue that we should find ways of ensuring that we do not lose the highly successful school sport partnerships.

I opened this debate with a suggestion as to how funding could be provided in future years, and I urge the Minister to discuss that with colleagues across the Government.

1.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): It is a pleasure to serve for the second time today under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh. This debate is very different from the earlier one.

I ought to start by saying to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) that we must stop meeting like this. This is the second time in the past couple of months that I have responded to an Adjournment debate that he has instigated. I congratulate him on securing this important debate. He opened it and kept the flow going with his usual colourful language. Never let it be said that he is a man who only brings problems to this House, because he started his speech with an interesting solution that would involve the football premiership in the cost of school sport partnerships. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and the Olympics will read that practical suggestion in the record, and I am happy to ensure that it is brought to his attention.

The hon. Gentleman's speech was also quite original. Not only was he described as being timely and prescient-I believe that that was how the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) described him-but he was also an unashamed plagiarist, in that he used a large part of his speech to quote from yesterday's Daily Mail. If only making speeches were that easy.

Bob Russell: May I correct the Minister? It was Sunday's paper, not yesterday's.

Tim Loughton: I am grateful for that. We would not want the good burghers of The Mail on Sunday not to get credit for the piece.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is a committed campaigner in his constituency and in this House, and it is clear from his speech that he believes passionately in the work of the Colchester-Blackwater school sport partnership, which is also known as the Thurstable school sport partnership. Among other flowery references that he quoted from the article in The Mail on Sunday, he quoted a phrase that suggested that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education considers sport to be

May I make it clear again today, as I did in a debate last week on school sport, and as the Secretary of State himself made clear, that he and I and this Government are absolutely committed to the promotion of sport among the population in general and among our school-age citizens in particular? We want them to be involved with sport, particularly high-quality competitive sport, as early and as intensively as possible, and, most importantly, we want that involvement to be sustained through the school years and into adulthood. Too often, the experience
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in school drops off a cliff when children leave school. We must engender the ethos of the good of sport in children of all ages, and that must be carried forward into adulthood.

As the hon. Gentleman said, sport is good not only for physical health but for mental agility, its socialising benefits, the community engagement that it brings about, teamwork experiences and the personal development of children. It is not a question of being in any way against sport or in any way trying to undermine it. We want more sport, better quality sport and more sustained sport in schools. It is a question of how, not if, and it is important to make that absolutely clear. That underlies the changes that we are looking to make in how sport is delivered.

We are aware of the good work being done in many school sport partnerships, which have played an important part in helping to re-establish physical education and sport as a central part of school life. The Thurstable/Colchester-Blackwater partnership is a good example of that.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and I pay tribute to the work of Adam Finch, partnership development manager at the Thurstable/Colchester-Blackwater partnership, and his team for the excellent work that they have done improving the standards of PE and sport for their young people. I was especially pleased that an impressive number of young people are taking part in intra-school sporting competitions. However, although that partnership is performing well in a number of areas, in some year groups it is still not delivering inter-school competition at a level that the Government would like to see and the numbers taking part in competitive sport, which we would like to be better promoted, have fallen slightly below the national average in years 6, 7 and 8.

Bob Russell: Did I understand the Minister correctly? Do those figures relate to what was happening within what we call the Colchester-Blackwater school sport partnership? If what he has said is correct, does he accept that those figures are still vastly better than they were four or five years ago, before the partnerships started, and that removing the partnerships will do considerable damage to the figures that he has just quoted?

Tim Loughton: In terms of the participation and rates and where the information has come from, the hon. Gentleman gave those figures. One does not deny that. I am saying that the experience and the figures are patchy in different parts of the country and in his constituency. Some partnerships appear to be achieving a great deal more than others. I am not trying to take away from where progress has been made. We question the level of competitive sport, the quality of the sport and its sustainability and whether partnerships are changing the ethos of sport in schools, which is what we need to do.

Let us remember that when the school sports partnership scheme was first funded from 2003, it was never intended to be a permanent arrangement; it was all about promoting sport from a low level and, hopefully, being able to set schools free to be able to carry that work forward. Seven years and £2.4 billion on, we cannot afford to continue that level of funding. We are questioning
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whether we are getting best value for money and whether we can get better bang for our buck, looking at alternative ways of providing sport in schools. That is what this is all about: not if, but how.

From figures on sports where participation has fallen and those relating to the number of schools offering particular sports, it is an indisputable fact that, after the commitment of £2.4 billion, the number of schools providing gymnastics, rounders, netball, hockey and rugby union has fallen. The number of schools offering swimming has not changed: it was 84% in 2003-04, before £2.4 billion was spent, and it is 84% now, still. There has been no increase in participation in a significant number of sports.

The taxpayer is entitled to better for the not inconsiderable sum that has been spent in the past seven years. That is why we feel that a new approach with a renewed focus on competition is needed to make an impact. To do this, the Government want to build on the good work already being done by schools to encourage more pupils to play competitive sport in their own school and against other schools.

Although school sport partnerships have helped schools to increase participation rates in a range of areas targeted by the previous Government, they have also locked schools into a rigid network while forcing them to achieve a series of targets that this Government feel impedes schools' ability to promote sport. The Government are concerned that, despite this heavy focus on targets, the proportion of pupils playing competitive sport regularly has remained disappointingly low. Only some two in every five pupils play competitive sport regularly in their own school and only one in five plays regularly against other schools. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has concluded that the existing network of school sport partnerships is neither good enough value for money, nor likely to be the best way to help schools achieve their potential in improving provision for competitive sport.

The hon. Gentleman asked what discussions have taken place with colleagues in other Departments, particularly with the Secretaries of State for Health and for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has had a number of meetings with those two Cabinet colleagues, particularly the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, as have I. I sit on the interdepartmental steering group on the schools olympics, which is one proposal being advanced by this Government. There has been considerable engagement between officials in all three Departments. I had responsibility for children's health in the shadow Health team, under the now Secretary of State for Health, where we had extensive discussion on this matter. We need to tackle not only what goes in but what comes out, in terms of the obesity problem and the activity underachievement. We need to take a two-pronged approach.

In lifting the many requirements placed on them by the previous Government's PE and sport strategy, the Government believe that schools will be able to use their new freedoms to enable more pupils to play competitive sport. I understand that this decision has not been popular in some quarters. I recently met a group of exceedingly impressive young ambassadors who voiced their concerns eloquently when delivering a petition last week. However, I am convinced that this decision is the
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right one to ensure that the next generation of young people enjoys and benefits from sport as never before, while laying the foundations for a lasting sporting legacy from 2012.

I have offered to meet a wider group of young sports ambassadors, after we announce our alternative proposals, to try to engage them fully in the way ahead.

Bob Russell: Will the Minister give way?

Tim Loughton: I will, although probably at the expense of being able to finish my speech.

Bob Russell: The Minister's response will not be recognised by the people in the Colchester academy family, whom I have met and on whose behalf I called the debate. Would he accept an invitation to meet people and see what happens on the ground? I think that he might be pleasantly surprised.

Tim Loughton: I am always grateful for invitations and the Secretary of State for Education is always keen to devolve invitations to his ministerial team. I have had a number of similar offers from many colleagues, not surprisingly, among the many letters that I have received on this subject. I have visited schools and engaged in physical activities in those schools. The hon. Gentleman is good at issuing invitations to Ministers to visit his constituency; he was good at issuing them to the previous Government and the previous Secretary of State for Education was good at passing them on to the Minister with responsibility for schools, who spent most of his time heading towards East Anglia. If I can make a diversion to take in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, I will endeavour to do so at some stage in future. In principle, yes; in practice, we will see how the diary pans out or I will never get any work done in this place and I will not be able to answer his frequent debates in the House.

The Secretaries of State for Education and for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, in consultation with experts in sport and alongside officials from both Departments, are considering how to take things forward in the best interests of schools and the pupils and parents they serve. One way of doing that will be launching a national Olympic and Paralympic-style sports event that I have already mentioned, which will form the pinnacle of a pyramid of school sport competitions. Other layers will include intra-school, inter-school, local authority or county level competitions. Every school, including mainstream and special schools, will be given the opportunity to get involved. I am keen to ensure that pupils with disabilities are fully engaged in the process. I am particularly keen to meet representatives from Paralympics and disability sports organisations. We intend to use £10 million of lottery funding, distributed by Sport England, to establish this competition for young people.

While I am on the subject, let me dispel the myth that competitive sport is elitist. Competitive sport inspires people to be the best that they can be and should be a vibrant part of school life for all pupils. Sport should be for everyone. That is why we want schools to set up sports teams that cater for players of all abilities. Anyone, from the most serious football player to the pupil who enjoys a kick-about for fun, should be given the opportunity
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to learn the values of competitive sport and to enjoy and benefit from that experience. We want schools to have not just first teams, but second, third and fourth teams, as there were when I was at school. Indeed, in 10 schools 100% of pupils were playing regular competitive sports against other schools and in 320 schools all the pupils are regularly taking part in intra-school competitions. That does not sound like elitism to me.

We want to see a sharp reduction in the bureaucratic burden on schools, leaving them free to focus on doing what is right for their students. The previous Administration's school sport programme was about telling schools what to do. First, it specified how many hours of sport were to be made available to pupils, by schools, each week, starting with 75% doing two hours by 2006, then 85% doing two hours by 2008, rising to all children doing four hours by 2010, reaching the ever-more prescriptive heights of five hours of sport for all five to 16-year-olds by 2011. A pupil who joined a secondary
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school in September 2004 would be expected to do two hours of PE and sport a week by 2006, four hours by 2010 and five hours by 2011. How can schools be expected to make decisions about the best needs of their pupils while trying to deal with the straitjacket of such central control?

Second, it created a new hierarchy of people to run the programme for schools, including competition managers and senior competition managers-a new hierarchy of people telling other people what to do. Every one of those people was committed to improving local school sport, but I fear that, at best, they enabled schools to leave sport to someone else and, at worst, they stifled schools' ability to provide an offer that was best for the needs of their schools and their pupils. That neither enables innovation-

2 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).

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