The right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) asked a substantial range of questions, all pertinent and many born of his considerable experience, not least as

21 Jun 2011 : Column 43WH

police Minister in the previous Government. His point about cross-border and cross-departmental considerations was fair. I am the lead Minister on the subject in the Westminster Government, liaising particularly closely with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, as well as with the Department of Health and beyond.

This crime, however, does not respect borders and I am aware of some unjoined-up gaps in our links with the devolved parts of the United Kingdom, which I aim to plug. Once we have a grip on the action plan that we are developing and will publish later this year, I will also have conversations with colleagues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The problem also goes beyond the borders of the United Kingdom. I am only too well aware of problems we had in West Sussex, with young girls being brought in as unaccompanied asylum seekers from west Africa—Nigeria and Sierra Leone, in particular—only to be trafficked out of the country and ending up in the sex trade in north Italy.

Mr Hanson: May I ask that, as part of the development of the action plan, the Minister formally consults with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly before publication, to see if there are areas in which joined-up government can operate effectively to tackle the issue?

Tim Loughton: I think that is essential. In the same way, the inter-ministerial group on trafficking, which the Minister for Immigration chairs and on which I represent the Department for Education, has provided links. Our meetings have included counterparts from the other parts of the United Kingdom, physically and by video conference. Such discussions are essential, and officials are already having them, but I want to have them at a ministerial level as well, and that input is needed for the action plan. That is absolutely right. Of course, organisations such as the NSPCC and ChildLine, which we have funded, are UK-wide as well. It is important that we learn from that experience throughout the UK, too.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about funding and how the new arrangements from 1 July would work. I am not the relevant Home Office Minister, but some of the services that CEOP will provide in the future are currently provided by the National Policing Improvement Agency missing persons bureau, and associated funds will therefore be reallocated from the NPIA to CEOP to reflect those new responsibilities. The new set-up will add to the provision of educational resources and training for the police, supporting police operations through targeted research and analysis, providing operational support for forces dealing with missing children by extending the CEOP one-stop shop to include online missing children resources, and ensuring that co-ordination arrangements and capability are in place to manage complex or high-profile missing children cases.

A lot of preparation has gone into this work, and as the hon. Member for Stockport saw on her visit, CEOP is very well placed to deal with these issues. It has very

21 Jun 2011 : Column 44WH

competent people, including Peter Davies at its head, who really understand this problem and are very keen to take it on.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) mentioned the action plan—the fact that it needs to be a plan that results in action. The right hon. Member for Delyn cast a slightly difficult googly about how I would assess whether it had worked or not. Good guidance was published as part of “Working Together to Safeguard Children” back in 2009. The problem was that there was not an associated action plan. It is a very good piece of guidance—on a shelf, in a manual. I am absolutely determined in this area, as in many other areas of child protection, that we should not just write something down but pick it up and run with it and ensure that everyone is doing their bit towards it. That is why, through the Munro review and associated activity, I want to ensure that all the players in this are being monitored and are contributing, to make sure that the action plan produces results. That is essential.

We do need to get the statistics right. I think that it was the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) who made the point that I am thinking of in this regard. All colleagues present from Northern Ireland contributed and all made very good points, so I apologise if I get confused about which hon. Member made which point. With regard to the problems in relation to data, several hon. Members—I will come on to this in more detail—have slightly confused apples and pears. The data count different things. We have referred to different aspects of the data. They are not comparable, as they are different. The nationally collected data are specific to children missing from care for over 24 hours and do not include, for example, repeat disappearances by the same child, whereas local data do and may include children who have only just gone missing. There is no attempt to cover up, but we do have different sets of data. That reinforces to me the need to ensure that we know which sort of data we are applying to which problem. That is a problem, and one of the things that must come out of the action plan is all of us knowing where we are coming from on that.

I think that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned the problems with residential homes. Of course, only a small proportion of children in care are in residential homes, but we do need to do much better in terms of how they liaise with local police in particular. I know that from personal experience. I think that in Worthing, which is partly in my constituency, there are now no fewer than 10 independent children’s homes, and there have been a lot of problems with children running away and the police getting involved.

Many points were made about data collection, and CEOP was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), who is no longer here. It is very good to see the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) here again, contributing in a debate on children’s issues, as she and I did for many years in opposition. She made a lot of well informed and sensible points. She was right to start by saying that the politician’s job is never finished. We have to keep at this. It is not just a question of producing the booklet, producing the glossy brochure, producing the action plan and ticking the boxes. We have to keep people’s feet to the fire—one of my hon. Friends would always use that phrase. Practice is patchy, and I want to

21 Jun 2011 : Column 45WH

ensure that every local authority and agency is working to the standard of the best and using the same rulebook and manual so that we all know what we are talking about and the precise problem that we are trying to tackle.

I mentioned the problem of recognition of data. Part of the difficulty is lack of recognition of the problem, so that it is not a priority in certain areas. That must stop.

The hon. Lady mentioned another point that she and others have made before, about the duty to co-operate. We could have a whole debate just on that subject—and indeed that debate is happening on the Education Bill currently going through Parliament. However, under other education legislation—I think, from memory, the Education Act 1996 and the Education Act 2002—schools of all types have a duty to safeguard, watch, maintain and promote the welfare of the children in them. Schools are an important part of local safeguarding children boards. I want the groups in question to come together not because they must, but because they want to in the best interests of the children they are responsible for, and because they can get the best results by sitting at the same table, and acting and talking together.

On the hon. Lady’s other point about children over the age of 18, the transition issue is a particular one for children in care, those with learning difficulties and those who are just not grown up enough, who are more likely to be exploited. With children in care, of course, “staying put” pilots are going on. They are a good thing, and will inform the process by which we can better look after children who happen to hit their 18th birthday; their problems and vulnerability do not suddenly disappear when they become adult. The hon. Lady makes a good point again, but it is a problem across the piece.

I shall return to my speech and try to whizz through it in the remaining nine minutes, Mr Havard. I want to say a little about how the Government’s approach to the problem of runaways and missing children will pan out. Most missing children cases are dealt with well at local level by police forces, who see such cases as a clear priority. However, the Government recognise that there is a case for national capability to add value by ensuring that police are trained and equipped with the right understanding to identify and respond when children go missing. That is why the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, announced last month that from 1 July the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre would assume national responsibility for missing children’s services. I was very pleased to hear the hon. Member for Stockport welcome that. As I mentioned, she visited CEOP recently, and I am sure that she will have been as impressed by its work as I was on my recent visit.

Making CEOP responsible for missing children’s services is an extremely important development. It means that for the first time in this country there will be a dedicated team of experts at national level focused solely on missing children issues. The fact that that capability will exist within CEOP means that they can bring their considerable child protection expertise to bear on this problem. However, of course, as the hon. Lady made clear, the problem of young runaways, and missing children more generally, is not something that the police

21 Jun 2011 : Column 46WH

or CEOP can solve alone. There must be a multi-agency, partnership approach, involving local authority children’s services, the police and the important charity and local voluntary sector—as well as, of course, families and parents. Local safeguarding children boards have a key role to play in co-ordinating and ensuring the effectiveness of the work of their members. That needs to cover raising awareness to try to prevent child sexual exploitation taking place—because, as the hon. Lady observed, prevention is better than cure—but also responding to it when it does.

Before going further, I should perhaps respond to the hon. Lady’s points about the collection and evaluation of data, building on the reference that I made just now. Knowing the extent of the problem is an important step in being able to address it. The hon. Lady referred to the differences between my Department’s statistics on children missing from care and local police data. The fact is that those statistics will be different because different things are being counted. In addition—the hon. Lady alluded to this—many children are reported missing from care as soon as their absence is noted, and, fortunately, are located within 24 hours. The Department’s figures record only children who are missing from their placements for more than 24 hours. Of course, that is not to say that any of them may not be a risk to themselves or others during the period that they are absent.

To complicate the matter still further, the local authority that is responsible for a particular child’s care is the one that reports their absence in the statistics of the Department for Education. The fact that an authority is shown as having only a small number of missing children is not the same as saying that only that number went missing from care in that authority, because some authorities have many looked-after children placed from other authorities within their boundaries. That is a particular problem in Kent. The result is that if a child from, say, Southwark, goes missing from a care placement in Kent and is reported to the Kent police, the child will appear under Southwark and not Kent in the Department’s data. There are thus some problems; but we need to sort that out to make sure we know exactly the extent of the problem.

I appreciate that those technical considerations do not make it easy to form a clear and consistent picture of the extent of the problem. However, it is not a question of either the police data or the Department’s statistics being wrong. They are just counting different things. The important thing is that local police forces and local authorities work together to form the clearest possible picture of the number of young runaways and missing children in their area, whether from care or from home. That data is not collected centrally.

The hon. Lady also expressed concern about some local authorities not adhering to the “Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care”. I can tell her that my Department is currently reviewing a range of guidance with the aim of reducing unnecessary bureaucracy. We will look at the guidance she mentioned as part of that wider review. We want—as I know she wants—guidance to be easily accessible and, most importantly, helpful for schools, local authorities and children’s services.

On the specific issue of child sexual exploitation, we know that the great majority of missing children incidents are repeat cases, with the same children going missing—

21 Jun 2011 : Column 47WH

running away from, or towards, something. Such children are vulnerable. They face serious risks while they are missing, and we know that there are clear links with child sexual exploitation. As I have said before, the sexual exploitation of children is a truly appalling crime, which can of course affect children whether or not they have ever run away from home. It is an extremely serious form of child sexual abuse. The sorts of experiences to which some children and young people are subjected are unspeakably shocking, involving rape, severe sexual assault and, often, chilling intimidation. We have heard of many such cases from hon. Members who have spoken today. Anyone perpetrating such crimes must be brought to justice. I am glad to say there have been some high-profile cases recently—some still going on—where that sort of justice is being brought to bear. However, as I have said, it is the tip of the iceberg.

The victims of sexual exploitation—and their families—need understanding and support. Support may be needed over many years, involving a range of expertise from across the statutory and voluntary sectors. Let us be in no doubt: the victims of such sexual exploitation are vulnerable children. As with any other vulnerable children, all our instincts should be to protect and support them.

The hon. Lady referred to Barnardo’s “Puppet on a string” report, as did other hon. Members. I want to place on the record my praise for Barnardo’s hard-hitting report. It made it uncomfortably clear to us that child sexual exploitation is a much bigger problem than many people ever imagined. It is not exclusive to any single culture, community, race or religion. It happens in all areas of the country. Stereotyping offenders or victims is quite simply a red herring and unhelpful. It is important, therefore, that every local authority and every local safeguarding children board in town and country, city and rural areas, assumes that sexual exploitation is a problem in their area and that they take action to address it.

The hon. Lady referred to research by the university of Bedfordshire, early findings from which suggest that many local authorities are not following the “Safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation” statutory guidance, which was issued in 2009. I know that many professionals are, like her, concerned that some local authority areas have yet to develop a satisfactory response to child sexual exploitation. I share that concern; it must improve.

As lead Minister, I have been urgently considering, within Government and working with national and local partners, what further action needs to be taken to safeguard children and young people from sexual exploitation. In April, I chaired a round-table meeting with senior representatives from a range of organisations. At that meeting, we identified a wide range of issues to

21 Jun 2011 : Column 48WH

be addressed, from awareness-raising and understanding to effective prevention and early detection, the challenges of securing prosecutions and the need to support victims and their families. We are committed to working with partners to develop over the summer an action plan to safeguard children and young people from sexual exploitation. The hon. Lady said that she welcomed this work and I am grateful for her support, which I am sure will be ongoing.

We are still in the early stages of developing the action plan so I cannot announce details today. However, I can say that it will build on existing guidance and our developing understanding of this dreadful abuse, including through local agencies’ work around the country. It will include work on effective prevention strategies, identifying those at risk of sexual exploitation, supporting victims and taking robust action against perpetrators. A key element of the action plan will be ensuring that the wide range of work currently taking place on child sexual exploitation is complementary and comprehensive. The action plan will take account of CEOP’s thematic assessment of on-street grooming, which will be published shortly. It will also reflect the recently announced two-year enquiry into child sexual exploitation to begin later this year, which will be conducted by the office of the Children’s Commissioner.

There is also the university of Bedfordshire two-year research project, which I just mentioned, funded by Comic Relief—a worthwhile use of its funds—and due to be published in October, on preventing the sexual exploitation of children and young people. I expect there to be a good deal of learning in each of those projects, and in others taking place around the country, such as the Safe and Sound project in Derby—I pay tribute to Sheila Taylor MBE who is now chairman of the National Working Group on sexual exploitation—Barnardo’s 22 sexual exploitation services, and the work being carried out by the Coalition for the Removal of Pimping.

Underpinning much of this is the Munro review of child protection on which we had a very good debate in the House only the other week, in which the hon. Lady took part. I was pleased that Professor Munro specifically mentioned in her report the issue of child sexual exploitation, and the important role of local safeguarding children boards. The report stresses the importance of re-focusing the child protection system on the needs and experiences of children and young people. Professor Munro’s fundamental analysis is that the system has become too focused on compliance with unnecessary rules and procedures, and professionals have spent less time actually helping—

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Order. That was breathless, Minister, if not breathtaking. I am sure that you will write with any important information that has not been covered. We will now move on to the next debate.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 49WH

Leeds United

12.30 pm

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): It is a pleasure, Mr Havard, to serve under your chairmanship today.

This debate is focused on the case of Leeds United, but it is relevant to the governance of football in general and in particular to the rules regarding the insolvency of football clubs. I believe that the case of Leeds United should compel the Government to press the football authorities to provide greater clarity on the administration of the rules on club ownership. I also believe that a formal review should be conducted into the unanswered questions concerning the insolvency and administration of the club, and its ultimate takeover by Ken Bates.

The business failure of Leeds United was a cause of great distress to the fans of the club, costing millions of pounds in unpaid tax and leaving local businesses out of pocket. And yet former players, such as Danny Mills, were able to claim in full for more than £200,000 in unpaid wages while west Yorkshire’s ambulance authority received only a few pence in the pound for its debt, which was worth nearly £9,000. That is because of the football creditors’ rule, which even the chairman of the Football League says he cannot “defend the morality of”. Nevertheless, the rule continues to exist, and those of us who are members of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport have pressed vigorously, as part of our report into the governance of football, for it to be reviewed and ultimately got rid of. It has no place in the modern game.

There is also the question whether it is right that a great football club, such as Leeds United, can be sold between two Nevis-registered offshore companies without anyone knowing how much money was paid, where the money came from and, in the case of one of the companies, who was actually selling the club. Despite the denials, however, there can be few people in football who privately do not believe that Ken Bates has effectively been in control of the club for most of the past six years. The answers given by the club to questions about its ownership during that period stretch credibility, to say the least.

Leeds United is a great football club, which only makes the story of the last eight years all the more distressing. A roll-call of its players contains many modern greats, from Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner to Eric Cantona and Rio Ferdinand. The club’s history includes great success under the incomparable Don Revie; the famously brief tenure of Brian Clough; and Howard Wilkinson’s champions of England in 1991-92, which was the last time the English title was won by an English manager. Now, in Simon Grayson, Leeds has one of the best-regarded young managers in England.

Like most fans of English football, I want to see Leeds back in the premier league, where the club belongs. The decline and fall of Leeds from being Champions League semi-finalists in 2001 to experiencing administration and relegation to the third tier of English football just seven years later contains many lessons for those in charge of the governance of English football. Leeds are not the only club to have had difficulties, but there remain many questions of legitimate public interest about its exit from administration and about the ownership

21 Jun 2011 : Column 50WH

of the club during the last four years. Although the identity of the club’s owner is now clear, no fans should ever be in the position that Leeds fans were in for some time, when they simply did not know who owned their club. That must never be allowed to happen again.

In fact, the Leeds United Supporters Trust issued a statement yesterday supporting this debate and my call for an inquiry into the ownership and administration of the club. The trust stated:

“We also hope that this inquiry is able to uncover the whole truth and provide the answers Leeds United supporters deserve for it is they who suffered the 15-point deduction hardest, they who have paid heavily to support the club through the turnstiles home and away during this time and it is they who will still be supporting the club with their hearts and their wallets in the years to come regardless of who owns the club.”

The statement continued:

“The Leeds United Supporters Trust welcomes knowing the whole truth for its members, for all Leeds United supporters and for the good of the future of our great club and we look forward to the findings of this inquiry providing that truth and allowing Leeds United to move forward on the pitch and in the hearts and minds of all those involved.”

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): It is very interesting to hear about the Leeds United Supporters Trust. Does my hon. Friend agree that such organisations, including Kidderminster Harriers Independent Supporters Trust, perform a very important function in holding the management and those in charge of the governance of clubs to account on behalf of the supporters?

Damian Collins: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Supporters’ trusts play an incredibly valuable role in giving a voice to fans, particularly in clubs that are going through difficult times financially. We saw that at Kidderminster, which my hon. Friend has mentioned, and we have also seen it recently at Plymouth Argyle, which has a link to Leeds, in that Peter Ridsdale, the former chairman of Leeds, has been involved in advising Plymouth Argyle, although I am not entirely sure what on.

I want to comment on the events that led to Leeds entering administration. Following the collapse of the Monte Carlo or bust strategy pursued by Ridsdale, which saw the club try to sustain a massive increase in expenditure on playing staff, the club was sold in 2004 to the Yorkshire consortium of Gerald Krasner, Melvyn Levi and other business men. The consortium sold and leased back the Elland Road football ground and the Thorp Arch training ground, and it settled more than £95 million of debts, but the club was relegated from the premier league in May 2004 and the consortium could not keep it financially solvent.

Investors represented by Ken Bates, as the chairman, took over Leeds in January 2005. The ownership vehicle was Forward Sports Fund, which was registered in Nevis and administered from Geneva. From the beginning, it was said that it had no connection to Ken Bates and that he owned no shares, but FSF had appointed him as a director and as the chairman of the club. It is a curiosity that the record of FSF’s incorporation in Nevis shows it was incorporated on 27 January 2005—six days after the Leeds takeover. If the company had not even been formed, where did the £5 million to buy Leeds come from in the first place? That question has never been answered.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 51WH

Bates and FSF could neither salvage Leeds financially, nor prevent its being relegated from the championship in 2007 and entering administration in May 2007. In administration—I hope colleagues will forgive me if I go through some technical numbers—FSF had an outstanding indebtedness of £2.4 million. Astor, another offshore company, claimed to have an outstanding indebtedness of £12.8 million, while Krato claimed to have an outstanding indebtedness of £2.5 million. Those last two debts were consolidated, and the total owed to Astor when the club was sold back to FSF in July 2007 was stated to be £17.6 million.

When Bates and his co-directors put Leeds into administration in May 2007, the total debts were said to be £37.5 million. The debt to HMRC was said to be £7 million, and HMRC opposed the company voluntary agreement under which FSF would buy the club back, because it disputed the debt claims made by Yorkshire Radio, which was owned by Leeds, and those made by Astor. However, the administrator sold Leeds directly to FSF, with Bates as the chairman, for £1.8 million. Leeds then had 25 points deducted by the Football League—10 for going into administration and 15 for emerging with no company voluntary arrangement.

The mystery here is Astor’s offer to waive its debt if FSF, with Bates as the chairman, was given control of the club, even though it was not connected to FSF or Bates. Astor insisted that its debt had to be included with that of the other creditors to be repaid by any other bidder if FSF and Bates were not given the club. Even though there was no connection, Astor would not waive its debt, unless Bates was given control of the club and FSF was made the owner.

At the time of the sale in July 2007, the total owed to creditors stood at £30 million. All other bids would have had to pay a proportion of that, but Astor’s decision to waive its £17 million meant that FSF and Bates had to pay only £12.5 million. Other bidders offered more money, but they lost to FSF. One offered £3.5 million immediately; one offered £7 million; and another offered £5 million, once Leeds’s participation in the Football League was assured. FSF offered only £1.8 million, but with Astor’s £17.6 million not included, the FSF bid was accepted as the highest proportionate dividend to creditors, giving l1p in the pound. The taxman therefore received about £750,000 of the approximately £7 million he was owed—a loss of £6 million. The administrator stated that Astor and Krato were “unconnected” to FSF. The significance of that was that Astor’s votes counted in the administration vote, where it had more than 50% of the vote, when 75% was required for a decision to be taken.

Ken Bates swears on oath that he does not know who the new owners—the FSF investors in the club—were at the time and that he has never known. In his affidavit to the Jersey court, he said:

“Having made due inquiry, neither I, Mark Taylor or Shaun Harvey are aware of the ultimate beneficial owners of the participating shares, save to say that each of us can confirm that we have no interest in the participating shares.”

The judge, Sir Charles Gray, referred to Astor, waiving the £17.6 million that it was owed and that it was not connected to FSF. He said, “I am exceedingly puzzled” about why Astor would “kiss goodbye” to so much money if it had no connection with Bates and FSF.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 52WH

Bates replied that he could only “presume” that Astor wrote off its £17.6 million because

“there would be the option for business in the future”

if he and FSF remained in control of the club. It should be noted for the record that no such future business has ever been transacted between Astor and Leeds.

Moving on to the Select Committee inquiry, we looked at the unanswered question of the ownership of the club and the challenge that that gave to the football authorities. How could the FA and the Football League enforce their own rules on club ownership of the fit and proper person test, if they did not know who the ultimate owners of the club were? Following our evidence hearing with the Premier League, it was clear that it would require disclosure of this information if Leeds were to be allowed to compete in its competition. At the time of the hearing earlier in the year, there was still a possibility that Leeds United would be promoted. Lo and behold, on Tuesday 3 May, Leeds announced that Ken Bates had bought the club. The club statement said:

“The scaremongering arising out of the football governance inquiry has not been helpful and, whilst the board were always confident that there were no issues, they recognise the concern the unknown outcome of any Premier League questions may have on our members. To address this issue and in the hope that this brings an end to the speculation, the chairman Ken Bates has completed the purchase of FSF Limited for an undisclosed sum.”

Why would the company feel that it had to sell a club that was on the brink of being promoted to the premier league?

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): As a Leeds United supporter myself, I agree with my hon. Friend’s opening statement that Leeds United is a great football club and that the fans deserve answers. That is crucial, and it is welcome that he has secured today’s debate. Given what has happened with Leeds United, is not the problem the fact that there is not enough openness in the process and that too much is decided behind closed doors? Football clubs are part of the community, and the community deserves the answers that we are not getting at the moment.

Damian Collins: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why the issue of the rules concerning the ownership of clubs is so crucial here. Fans have the right to know who owns their clubs. It was incredible that the FA and the Football League maintained a situation in which they did not know who the ultimate owners were. Such information is the least that the football fans should expect. I have no objection to overseas investors bringing in money to English football, but we have a right to know who they are and where that money comes from.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I will give my hon. Friend a breather from all those murky statistics that he has been firing at us. As a Huddersfield Town fan, I feel lucky that our chairman, Dean Hoyle, is a self-made millionaire. He has been a Town fan all his life and is doing a fantastic job. Some businesses in my Colne Valley constituency, such as a balloon company down the road from me, suffered and were owed money when Leeds United went into administration. I have been working closely with the Huddersfield Town Supporters Trust, and we have been

21 Jun 2011 : Column 53WH

talking about having supporters’ representation on the boards of football clubs. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be a good step forward, because it would allow more transparency, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) has mentioned?

Damian Collins: Supporters’ representation on the boards of clubs can be a good thing. Clubs should create a model that works best for them. A template model may not be appropriate for all football clubs. At the heart of the problem that my hon. Friend raises is the football creditors’ rules on which I touched earlier in my remarks. Until those go, it does not matter how many supporters there are on the boards of clubs, because clubs are still free to run up debts. They have to pay back debts not to local businesses but to former players who may have left some years ago or to a football club at the other end of the country with which the community has no direct relationship. That is morally wrong, which is why the rule must go.

Moving on from the statistics of the Leeds transactions to the simple bread and butter issues around why FSF would seek to sell the club at a time when the club’s value was rising, why would there not be marketing around the world for such an asset and an opportunity for bidders to come in? Where indeed did the money come from for Ken Bates to buy the club from FSF? We do not know how much that sum was, but there must have been some sort of a transaction. If it was a nominal fee, it would bring into question the relation between Ken Bates and FSF. Those are questions that the club will not answer, so will the Minister ask his colleagues at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to contact the authorities in Nevis to try to resolve these issues about where the supply of money came from for the purchase of Leeds United?

In the words of the judge, it remains “exceedingly puzzling” that Astor and FSF were unconnected. No rational explanation has ever been given for why Astor would waive its £17.6 million on condition that Bates and FSF, which were responsible for its losing all that money in the first place, were given the club back. FSF was not even incorporated when Bates took over as chairman of the club, so who were the investors and where did their money come from? Who were the owners of Leeds United for the six years in between? The identity of FSF’s beneficiaries has never been disclosed to the football authorities or anyone, not least to the club’s fans.

Ken Bates said on oath and to the football authorities that he did not know who the investors were and stated that they were not connected to him. The Government should satisfy themselves that no regulations regarding the payment of tax or the purchase of companies were compromised in the case of Leeds United. The football authorities need to review the administration of their rules on club ownership and how they best apply the fit and proper persons test.

That situation must never be allowed to happen again in relation to the purchase and ownership of a major English football club. We are critical of how FIFA has recently tried to enforce its own code of ethics and its own inquiries into its own people, and of the farce we saw yesterday, where the FIFA ethics committee dropped its case against Jack Warner in return for his agreeing to

21 Jun 2011 : Column 54WH

leave FIFA. There will be no investigation or declaration of all the serious allegations of corruption that were made against him.

We cannot truly have a voice of authority on all those issues around the world, as we should do considering that we are one of the world’s great footballing countries with some of the greatest football fans in the world, until we resolve all the domestic issues. The unanswered questions around Leeds United—both financial ones and those that affect the governance of football—are crucial to our setting our own house in order.

12.46 pm

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Thank you, Mr Havard. May I say how nice it is to be responding to the debate under the chairmanship of someone who has, throughout his parliamentary career, been a great fan and supporter of sport in the House?

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): If not the financing of it.

Hugh Robertson: Indeed.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) on securing the debate and on his considerable research. Crucially, he and other members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee have done invaluable work into football governance and the regulation of professional football clubs. Their work has proved invaluable in taking stock of a range of issues that affect the way that football is run and in ensuring that our national game is in the best possible place to make the most of its strengths and weaknesses and to address the challenges it faces.

With reference to this morning’s debate, it is worth reassuring my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe that a number of Culture, Media and Sport Committee members have approached me about a range of things that disturb them across football. I know about their experience at Leeds, where I understand that the Committee was unable to find out who the owner of the club was at that stage, which appalled people in a way that little else has.

I look forward to receiving the Committee’s report and recommendations next month, after which, within the statutory time period, I will set out the Government’s official response. Without prejudicing that too much, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to outline the Government’s current thoughts on the regulation and governance of football clubs and specifically on the issues that he has raised around Leeds.

It is worth repeating—this is really important—that the starting point is that the Government do not want to run football or micro-manage its future. All sport, including football, is best run by sport governing bodies. However, those bodies must prove that they are strong, effective, independent, transparent and, crucially, accountable organisations. The Government’s role, and my role as Minister, is to challenge the FA and the organisations that run the leagues—the Premier League and the Football League—and to ensure that the game and its governance arrangements are capable of responding to the challenges and opportunities. Of course, that is the background to the current Select Committee

21 Jun 2011 : Column 55WH

investigation. It worth saying in that regard that I do not particularly want to legislate, but football should be in no doubt whatsoever that if it does not react to what the Government lay out after the Select Committee report, we are prepared to do so, if necessary.

Leeds fans will of course be pleased finally to know who owns their club. However, the whole episode signals the complete disconnect between the supporters’ legitimate expectation of knowing who owns their club and the requirement to publish that information. The football authorities deserve some credit for the rules that they introduced in recent years on financial regulation and club ownership. They include a new means and abilities test, which requires proof of funds of prospective new owners as well as strengthening the rules on owners and directors. However, the situation that my hon. Friend has outlined shows how much more needs to be done.

Touching on a point made earlier, football clubs are not investment banks. They are part and parcel of the community. I often refer to them as businesses with a social conscience. It is not unrealistic, therefore, for supporters to have higher corporate expectations of the owners of their club than they do of some local businesses. Supporters at every club have a right to know, with certainty, which person or people own their football club, whether they own it outright or in shares of less than 10%.

The football authorities need to work with the clubs to make full disclosure a priority and to ensure that appropriate inquiries about the identity and circumstances of potential buyers are always carried out with due diligence, and that needs to be done before ownership is allowed to change hands. This is not me, as a Minister, hammering football clubs once again; it is a requirement for all good businesses. Furthermore, the necessary checks should continue to be made throughout a director’s or owner’s tenure at a club. Club owners have a responsibility of stewardship. Supporters need to have trust in them and to know that they will not jeopardise the long-term future of the club. Under no circumstances should the owners take the fans for granted or deliberately or inadvertently misrepresent the position in relation to their club.

It is for the football authorities to take a hard look at whether they should tighten their rules. The inquiry with which my hon. Friend is involved will clearly play a big part in that. My preference is that the two should be done together—that the findings of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee are discussed with the football authorities, so that we can agree a way forward collaboratively. That should happen under the leadership and direction of the sport’s national governing body, the FA. It remains to be seen whether that is achievable, but I am encouraged by the strong statements made to the Committee by the chairman of the FA, David Bernstein, about the importance of transparency.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 56WH

I do not wish to prejudice the Committee’s findings, but as my hon. Friend has mentioned the matter, it is worth saying a little about the football creditors’ rule and HMRC. I would rather not give an absolute answer on the creditors’ rule until I have seen the results of the Select Committee’s investigation. Indeed, I have tried not to provide a running commentary on it, as it would not help the Committee or the Government. However, it is clear that the football creditors’ rule has probably had its day. The moment when people in football said that it was morally indefensible was the moment when everyone felt that a considerable corner had been turned. I await the Committee’s findings with interest.

If my hon. Friend sends me the details I will happily pass them on to HMRC. However, he will know that although it is a governmental body, it is independent of Government. It would be worth the Committee Chair writing to HMRC on behalf of the Committee, given the strength of feeling that was evident following its investigation into Leeds.

Damian Collins: With specific regard to the case of Leeds United and HMRC, based on the information that has been gathered and the unanswered questions that remain, particularly on the purchase of Leeds United from FSF by Ken Bates, is my hon. Friend prepared to write to ministerial colleagues suggesting that there may be grounds for HMRC considering the matter?

Hugh Robertson: The simple answer is that I am perfectly happy to write, which my hon. Friend can do equally easily. The bigger point is that I have a sense that after the Select Committee’s visit to Leeds, the Committee was unusually disturbed by what it found. Normally speaking, that would be a good moment for the Chair of the Select Committee to write directly to HMRC on behalf of the Committee. That would be powerful, but I am also happy to write, if he wishes to do that through me to a Minister.

In conclusion, I understand my hon. Friend’s desire for an inquiry into what has happened in Leeds’s case. His speech was powerful and convincing. However, with a Select Committee report due in the next month, I would rather wait until then to decide what needs to be done, simply in order to achieve the best use of time and resources. The exact detail of what has happened is not clear, but the overall lessons most certainly are, and those lessons should inform what happens next. My intention, as part of the wider process of the inquiry’s recommendations, is that the FA will be able to make any changes to the issues highlighted by today’s debate. If not, the FA should be in no doubt that the Government will legislate to ensure that such things do not happen again.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): That concludes the debate. We now move, slightly early, to the next debate.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 57WH

Early Years Assessments

12.56 pm

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to be under your chairmanship once again, Mr Havard. I also take particular pleasure in welcoming the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), to Westminster Hall today, because I have the chance to put on record my thanks to her and her officials for the tremendous help I have had with the two reviews on early intervention that I was asked to do by Her Majesty’s Government. I am very pleased with the personal and the official co-operation, which have made my job much easier. My first report was on what an effective early intervention strategy is and my second report, which is due out shortly, is on how we pay for it.

Early intervention is about giving every baby, child and young person the social and emotional capability—the bedrock—that we all need to lead effective lives, so reducing the massive costs of failure to the individual and to taxpayers. All of us in this Chamber, I imagine, are early interveners. We were either intervened upon early by our own parents or, almost naturally and unconsciously, intervened early with our children, but many families do not do that, and in our debate we want to assist those people.

Today’s debate is about assessing the social and emotional capabilities of the nought to five-year-olds. The issue is as close to the Minister’s heart as it is to mine. Such assessment is key to early intervention. If we do not have that knowledge, intervention is much more difficult, and we therefore intervene only when problems have become deep-rooted and much more intractable. Assessment is also the key to the concept of school-readiness, which has thankfully gained favour recently.

In that context, one of the most important things we will see in the next year or two will be the Government proposals on the early years foundation stage, which I understand might even be published before the recess. That statement will be of immense significance, and I wish the Minister well in getting those judgments right, because they will impact on every child and their life chances and for the rest of their adult lives. Getting it right for the nought to fives also means—a bonus for the Minister—that she will probably do more to reduce the structural deficit in this country than any host of Treasury Ministers, by attacking the massive, multi-billion-pound costs of failure, such as educational underachievement, low work aspiration, lifetimes on benefit, high crime levels, poor parenting, drink and drug abuse and teenage pregnancy. All of those are reduced by effective early intervention. The evidence now, not least in my report for Her Majesty’s Government, is absolutely incontrovertible: those consequences flow from effective early intervention. The Minister would not be the person I know her to be if she did not have a long list of useful items on which the gigantic pool of savings could be spent when we can monetise and realise those savings in due course.

It is possible to wait. We can wait until school begins, and we can have a booster programme, but I believe that a far better approach is to help children to achieve the milestones as they grow, giving a little extra help as it is needed, rather than just before going to school.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 58WH

Therefore, regular and effective assessment of nought to five-year-olds is crucial. It should not be necessary to say this, but I am not asking for babies to sit examinations or any of the other tripe that people misinterpret in some lower-grade newspapers. Assessment should be gentle, and not intrusive. It should gauge levels of attainment and school-readiness much earlier in the life of a baby, child or young person, and identify and then support those who are not school-ready.

Just as we can barely believe that tiny children were once sent up chimneys, I believe that in years to come future generations will be aghast that we let children enter school when they were not ready, and often subjected them to 11 years of humiliation and underachievement before spending billions of pounds picking up the pieces. Now, with what we know, we no longer have an excuse. We know that it is much cheaper and more effective to provide an alternative: evidence-based programmes that produce real results. They are available to all of us, and will help to overcome the barriers that have become commonplace in many constituencies, including yours, I suspect, Mr Havard, and mine. They put in the early filters that good parenting normally puts in so that our public services and voluntary sector are not swamped with a tsunami of dysfunction, but can focus on the really tough problems that people thought they had become teachers, local beat officers, doctors or health visitors to deal with. We must filter out the vast majority of people whose needs are not as serious and can be dealt with by early intervention.

The key to doing that is for the Department for Education and Department of Health, who separately do so much excellent work on this issue, to work together, and I know that the Minister is working extremely hard on making those connections and working with ministerial colleagues. If we can do that, and create a single strategy for nought to five-year-olds, instead of one that breaks off or changes criteria halfway through, we will have effective assessment, and be able to identify the individuals who need it.

In my first report, I recommended that all children’s development should be regularly assessed from birth up to and including the age of five, with a focus on social and emotional development so that they can be put on the path to school-readiness, which many, not least those from low-income households, would benefit from. Accountability is confused and divided, policy is incomplete, and there is an unnecessary separation between the healthy child programme reviews and the early years foundation stage assessments. It is timely that several external reviews have taken place, and that a more integrated programme of assessments for all children should explore the opportunities for national measures based on those suggested not only in my first review, but in the almost identical proposals in the reviews of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and Dame Clare Tickell, as well as Professor Eileen Munro.

There have been four serious and significant reviews in this area. This issue is one of the many—I would argue that it is the most important issue—on which all four independent reviewers agree. The culture of early rather than late intervention should be central to the policy not just of the present Government, but of all future Governments. This is an intergenerational problem. It is not the property of one party or one Government. We all have to sign up to this. I am very grateful to the

21 Jun 2011 : Column 59WH

Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for their kind words in support of my first report and the kind words that they have allowed me to attach to the second report, which will be in the public domain shortly.

The Government have the opportunity to act swiftly to ensure that the nought to fives are helped at the earliest and most cost-effective point in their lives, so that they can develop that social and emotional bedrock and thrive. I hope very much that that is the direction that we will see from the Government in the early years statement, which I believe is to be published in the not-too-distant future.

My next point is about evidence. I do not want to go into that in too much detail. There is lots of it around now. There is a great deal of it in my own review and the other reviews. However, there is one important connection that I want to raise with the Minister. It is of concern to many of us, not least, if I may say so, the Deputy Prime Minister. I am referring to social mobility. If we are to have the levels of social mobility that all parties would subscribe to, it is vital that the groundwork is put in place as early as possible. Schemes that are produced late on in the life cycle are very gallant but highly ineffective when compared with early intervention. The Department for Education’s internal analysis of the national pupil database underlined that when it said that children who perform badly at the start of school tend to perform badly throughout and that a good start in life is hugely important to later educational attainment.

There are those who say that this is a choice; we have only so much money and we have to figure out whether we spend it on this, that or the other, because there are discrete, hermetically sealed primary results, secondary results and further and higher education results. Nothing could be further from the truth, as underlined by the Department’s own findings.

If we can give the little ones a great start, we are giving them the most fantastic advantage. We all know from our constituencies what the response is when we say to a secondary head, “Why aren’t your numbers better? Why aren’t your people getting more GCSEs?” They say, “You ought to see the people who come to us at age 11. Some of them can’t read and write.” If we ask a primary school head why their children aren’t doing quite so well, they say, “You should see the children when they arrive. They are not potty-trained. They can barely speak. They think a pencil is an implement to inflict pain on their nearest neighbour; they don’t understand that it’s used for writing. They can’t speak in a sentence. They don’t recognise letters or numbers.”

All the things that I have just mentioned are from Ofsted reports about schools in my constituency. Let us get this right early on, and those kids will then be open to all the fantastic potential that Governments of all political colours have created throughout the education system. However, they need to have the social and emotional bedrock in place first, or nothing else can go forward. That, too, remains a key to social mobility.

Assessment is vital, but there are two key points about assessment. First, it must be regular and comprehensive. Secondly, the content of the assessment must measure the right stuff. That has to include social and emotional capability—not just how much baby

21 Jun 2011 : Column 60WH

weighs or whether baby looks as though he or she is thriving, but some of the measures of social and emotional capability that we have the science to do now. That way, we will ensure that individuals who need help can be found and helped. We can then track their progress and as soon as the young person, child or baby is back on track, we can leave them alone. They are self-starting and they will do well in life. Then we are out of their life.

People sometimes talk about the nanny state. There is no bigger nanny state than not giving people help when they need it, because later on there will be the mega-nanny state of policing, drug rehabilitation, drink abuse, magistrates courts, a lifetime on benefits, welfare advisers and remedial teaching. You want nanny state? That is what we have now, whereas early intervention can actually free people to make the best of themselves and free parents to make the best of their children. So I get a bit annoyed about people who say that early intervention is part of the nanny state. It is actually the opposite of the nanny state and the response to too much state intervention, too late, in someone’s life, when it is not effective.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this incredibly important debate.

I have spent a lot of years in education, some of them at the hard end of the scale with the young people that my hon. Friend is talking about—the young people who will cost the state millions of pounds throughout their lives. And yet, whenever I go into nurseries, and I still go into nurseries, nursery teachers will tell me exactly—well, not exactly, because things do intervene, but generally—which children, in years to come, will be the children who will be excluded from school, who will be part of the prison system and who will cost the state a fortune. It is incredibly important that we can move things forward so that we can identify those children early on. Whenever that has happened, it has happened successfully. It is just about shifting the resources down to those children and at the earliest point, even below the age of three.

Mr Allen: My hon. Friend speaks with great personal experience and she deserves to be listened to with great respect. I imagine that the Minister would not disagree with the sentiments that she has just expressed. In many ways, the arguments about early intervention have now been won. We all now “talk the talk.” What will be very important about the paper in the summer will be seeing what the Government will do. Having said that, they will need the support of the Opposition Front Bench too. I hope that there will not be sniping about this issue. I hope that this is an issue about which people will say, “This is so important that we all have to get behind this and we all have to go forward together”, because it is about inter-generational change rather than a quick snapshot and a quick media opportunity. That is why the Government statement will hopefully contain some things that my hon. Friend and I will relish.

At the moment, there is the early years foundation stage framework for assessment, which is very useful, and the healthy child programme, which is also very useful. However, they have to be combined and they must go further. I hope that the Minister will take that point on board.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 61WH

Clare Tickell, in her report, strongly recommended that the Government work with experts and services to test the feasibility of having a single integrated review between the ages of two and two and a half. I think that my report goes a little further than that.

The second thing that I mentioned about assessment is content. There is a vast range of other possible means of assessment out there, which can make assessment more effective. Rather than taking time in this debate today, I will write to the Minister separately about those means of assessment. But they include assessments of infant attachment behaviour; the assessments of the incredible years programme; the assessments of the social and emotional aspects of learning, or SEAL, programme, although I know that programme starts at primary level; the parental attitudes surveys; and the ages and stages questionnaire. There are lots and lots of other possible assessments from which inspiration can be drawn for a light-touch but none the less effective set of regular assessments.

So what next? First, I welcome the Government’s commitment in this area. I particularly welcome the recruitment of 4,200 extra health visitors. I also welcome the extension of the family nurse partnerships and the fact that developmental checks will be made on children at six weeks, six months, one year and two years. What I would press the Minister on, in the most friendly way, is to ensure that those checks are reliable and standardised, and that they include social and emotional checks, not just those for physical well-being. That includes a check at six weeks to assess the degree of attunement between parents and baby—the interactivity and development of empathy upon which all social relations form a base—and an assessment of the relationship between the parents. It is a tragic statistic or fact that most domestic violence and child abuse often begins in this very early period of a child’s life.

At six months and one year, there should be another check on the attunement and attachment between parent and child, and at two to three years there should be a check on parent-child interaction, warmth, authoritativeness and the child’s level of personal, social and emotional development, as described in Clare Tickell’s review, supplemented by the questionnaire on strengths and difficulties at the age of three. At the age of four, there should be a light-touch assessment of how the child is doing and how they might be helped to be school-ready and to make the best of themselves. Will the Minister also confirm that, at five years, there will be an assessment of a child’s level of personal, social and emotional development, as described in the Tickell review?

I also press the Minister to confirm that data on children’s personal, social and emotional development at age two, three and five will be available to hold Government, local authorities and children’s centres to account, as recommended by my fellow reviewers, Clare Tickell and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). I understand that some in government might not want to collect or use data from the review of ages two and three, because they see it as too prescriptive or as requiring bureaucracy, but I hope that my tirade earlier about the nanny state will expunge any remaining view that this is part of some immense bureaucracy. This is actually designed to defeat and

21 Jun 2011 : Column 62WH

counter that sort of bureaucracy and to reduce the need for any state intervention in someone’s later childhood or adult life.

Pat Glass: I want to support what my hon. Friend has said. When we have assessed the academic capability, particularly in things such as maths and science, of the many young people aged 14, 15 or 16 whom I have worked with, we have found that they are age appropriate. However, when we look at their personal and social development, we see that they are in the P scales, well below what we would expect a child to have at two and three years old. If we could tackle those things at three, four and five years old, before allowing those children to get to 15 or 16 without being able to talk to one another or hold a conversation without hitting each other, and without being able to go into a shop without causing trouble, we would make their lives, and our own, much better.

Mr Allen: Again, I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. I am sure that the Minister also agrees with, and will respond positively to, her sentiments. Time is running out, so I will move on quickly and put down markers about the new health visitors. I hope that the early implementer sites for delivering health visitor commitment will be able to test some of the things that I have talked about. My final marker is about children’s centres. They already provide very good and effective outreach and family support, and I hope that the Minister will be able to ensure that they include the social and emotional development along the lines recommended by the Munro review.

Rather than continuing and taking up the Minister’s time, I would like to repeat my thanks to her and her officials for all the support she has given this issue during her time in office. It has made a difference and I hope that it continues to do so. The forthcoming review provides the Minister with an opportunity, which I am sure that she will seize, to make a difference to the lives of not only someone we meet on a casework basis or some group, but literally millions of children, babies and young people. She can help them realise their potential and see what they have to do to make their lives much more rounded and capable, and not many of us in this place ever get a chance to do that. It is a fantastic opportunity that has fallen to the Minister, and it could not fall to a better person.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Minister, you have nine minutes to do all of that.

1.20 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Sarah Teather): Thank you, Mr Havard. May I begin by welcoming you to the Chair? I understand that it is your first time in the Chair. This is the civilised end of the House of Commons.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): I have been up the other end.

Sarah Teather: Okay. It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) on

21 Jun 2011 : Column 63WH

securing this really important debate, which he finished by saying what a great privilege it is to be able to do this job.

The hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), who is also present, takes a real interest in this area. We are all united by this sense of wanting to make a difference to many future generations. I know that that is why the hon. Gentleman was keen to do this piece of work on early intervention for the Government. We were very grateful to him for his work and we look forward to his second report. We are particularly grateful to him for championing the issue of emotional and social development. As he said, such development is a vital part of school-readiness, which Dame Clare Tickell took up in her review of the early-years foundation stage. She made it clear that school-readiness is about being able not just to hold a pen but to form relationships. As the hon. Gentleman said, if a child has not acquired those skills, they could have 12 years of misery ahead of them and a lifetime of difficulty in forming the kind of relationships that they need to in order to get on in school and work.

There is already a huge amount of evidence on the importance of this area. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that given that we are still awaiting his second report and that we are about to produce our own publication on our vision for the foundation years, I am limited in what I can say today in response to his questions. However, I can assure him that all of his questions are issues with which we are still wrestling and that he is absolutely in the right area. I will not be able to give him any details until we respond formally. When we do, we will be responding to the outstanding recommendations from his first report and to Dame Clare Tickell’s review of the foundation stage, and we will be holding a formal consultation on that. I hope that we will be able to produce those publications this side of the summer recess, so there is not long to wait. Some of that detail is still being thought through.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about a number of issues, including attachment, the assessment processes, the need to have an integrated process and the importance of focusing on the early years for social mobility. It is important to stress that early intervention is wider than just early years. It is a concept of intervening before a problem becomes so unmanageable that it requires people at different stages in their life to be rescued. It is to enable people to put the pieces of their life back together again and to move on. Although it is wider than focusing on nought to five, those early years are a critical part of an early intervention philosophy. A wide range of evidence shows that sound social and emotional development is absolutely critical to a child’s success. It helps them to form positive relationships and to understand the emotions of others, which the hon. Member for North West Durham mentioned. It also helps to create the resilience that is necessary to be able to deal with the challenges that life throws at everybody at different stages. Without the strong parental attachment and bonding that happens in the first few weeks, months and years of life, it is difficult for young people to grow up to be able to cope with the difficult things that unfortunately befall most of us at some stage in our lives.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 64WH

We know that poor parenting and, in particular, harsh, inconsistent and neglectful actions lie behind many of the child behaviour problems that last into adulthood and are common in young people who find themselves within the criminal justice system. Such children are often much more disruptive in the classroom and much more likely to be excluded from school. It is important that we support parents early before that cycle sets in and becomes so entrenched that there is nothing we can do about it.

There are many different ways in which we can support parents. I will speak a little about some of those things in the last few minutes and address the points made about assessment. It is not only the Government’s role to support parents. Many other organisations, including those in the voluntary sector, do an absolutely vital job in supporting parents to form close attachments with their children. There are parent and toddler groups, often run by faith groups, in my constituency and I suspect in many other constituencies as well. They perform a vital role in supporting parents to understand good parenting behaviour and to learn from one another.

Arrangements for assessment in the early years have been strengthened by the early-years foundation stage, which Dame Clare Tickell has just reviewed for us. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that a lot more can be done, in particular to try to integrate health and early years. That is why I have been working very closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), the Minister with responsibility for public health and child health, on the statement that we will be producing before the summer recess, as well as working closely with the sector. We are determined to try to ensure that we draw from the best of good practice from health and integrate that with the best of good practice that already exists in many early-years settings.

There are already regular health checks for children in their first year, which offer parents an opportunity to raise any concerns they have at a very early stage. A key principle of the early-years foundation stage is that early-years practitioners should undertake ongoing assessment and discuss children’s progress regularly with parents and carers. However, Dame Clare Tickell made recommendations that I hope will make the process more transparent for parents. They focus on three key areas, including the area that the hon. Gentleman wants us to focus more on—emotional and social development. They will create clarity in the conversation that early-years practitioners are able to have with parents and will focus on how children are developing.

The hon. Member for Nottingham North said that he hopes the Government will take seriously the need for better assessments. Obviously, we need to balance different factors. We need to have more information for the right people to ensure that we can intervene, but the assessment should not be so burdensome that it takes away from practitioners’ being able to spend quality time with children and helping them with their development. That is the balance that we are seeking to strike as we think through our recommendations in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s report as well as the report of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), Dame Clare Tickell’s report and the Munro review.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 65WH

Dame Clare recommends a written summary assessment when a child is aged between two and three, building on the current requirements of the EYFS. That chimes with much of what the hon. Gentleman was recommending. She suggests introducing that in a phased way, reflecting the development of policy over the next few years as we roll out the extra health visitors and ensure that the healthy child programme is available to all children. So in the first phase the summary assessment should inform the health visitor review wherever possible, but be done by early-years practitioners and be a key factor for helping parents to understand their child’s development. In the second phase, Dame Clare suggests that there should be a single integrated joint review by health and early-years practitioners at around two, once the healthy child programme is fully implemented.

I am going to run out of time, because I have only one minute before I need to sit down, but I will say to the hon. Gentleman that the Government absolutely understand the need to focus on early years and the importance of early years in getting this right. It is the reason we have extended free early-years entitlement to disadvantaged two-year-olds, subject to Parliament’s passing the Education Bill, which is being debated in the other place at the moment. It is the reason why we are focusing on making sure that Sure Start children’s centres do more on evidence and trialling payment by results to address the points that the hon. Gentleman raised. We will respond fully to his report as soon as the Government receive it. I must now sit down, but I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to debate this issue today.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 66WH

Wicksteed Park

1.30 pm

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard, and I wish you well in your career on the Panel of Chairs. I am delighted that the Minister with responsibility for culture, heritage and tourism is here to listen to the debate, and I thank Mr Speaker for allowing me to hold it. The debate is fundamentally about celebrating the 90th anniversary of Wicksteed Park in Kettering.

Wicksteed Park is a combination of a country park and a leisure park in the town of Kettering in Northamptonshire, and it is right in the middle of my constituency. I often speak of the Kettering constituency as being middle England at its very best, and Wicksteed Park represents the very best of Kettering. It is a park of some 147 acres, with about 40 different rides, activities and amusements, and everyone in the town, most people in Northamptonshire, and hundreds of thousands of people from the east midlands and further afield will at some point have spent time enjoying themselves there. It is a huge honour for the town and for the borough of Kettering that the park is now celebrating its 90th anniversary.

Wicksteed Park is named after its founder, Charles Wicksteed, who was an engineer by trade. He was born in 1847 and was a man of great energy and vision who, in his business career, invented lots of different machines. He was primarily involved with steam ploughs but also got involved with making gearboxes for early motor vehicles, and later in his life he invented a hydraulic hacksaw that would cut through steel at an extreme speed—perhaps his biggest success. He came to Kettering, married a Kettering girl and settled down, and in 1913 he started to purchase land where Wicksteed Park now is, to develop an amenity space for local people.

Kettering in those days was very much a boot and shoe town. There were lots of factories, and many of the workers helped to make the boots and shoes in the little outhouses of their own terraced properties. There was no leisure space, in the modern sense of the word, even though there was lots of farmland because Northamptonshire is a very agricultural area, so Charles Wicksteed had a vision to create an amenity space, a park that could be enjoyed by Kettering residents and their families. He purchased the 147-plus acres along the River Ise, and with the first world war starting in 1914 and with the land fit for heroes when the war was finished, his vision came into its own. He invested a great deal of his own money in the park, creating a man-made lake some 30 acres in size—Wicksteed Park lake—and the park was first opened to the public in any proper sense 90 years ago in 1921.

Wicksteed Park was the first theme park—in the modern sense of the word—in the country. It has other unique features, including the largest free children’s playground in the United Kingdom. In the water chute ride, opened in 1926, it has the oldest working ride in any amusement park in the country, and the railway that goes round the park attracts some 200,000 passengers every year. It is the biggest commercial narrow-gauge railway in the country. My point is that in the middle of Kettering we have a unique asset, of national importance.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 67WH

Wicksteed Park is not Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Drayton Manor or Chessington World of Adventures. It could go down that route, becoming all-singing, all-dancing, commercial and multimedia, and attracting all sorts of leisure interests. There is nothing wrong with that, but Wicksteed Park has chosen another route because of its special status. Charles Wicksteed had the vision to establish not only Wicksteed Park, but also the Wicksteed Village Trust, to carry on the development of the park and his work after his death. Sadly, he passed away in 1931, but the trust continues to this day and its chairman is Oliver Wicksteed, the great-grandson of Charles. I pay tribute not only to Oliver but to all the other trustees on the trust board for their work, which is volunteering in action.

Kettering people are proud that the park was effectively left to the people of Kettering and the wider area to enjoy. They are proud of the fact that the park is run by a trust. It is different from a commercial outfit or a local authority-owned park. As such, Wicksteed Park is the ideal recipient of the funding that is now available through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Heritage lottery funding is there to do what it says on the tin: to preserve and enhance the heritage of our great nation. We have in Wicksteed Park an important part of our nation’s heritage—a visionary combination of a country park and a leisure park, which exists not to be all-commercial, but to provide recreational and amenity facilities for local families, and in particular children. What Wicksteed Park needs is investment to preserve the heritage of the park, and to encourage its educational use. There is a huge opportunity for the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund to make a difference to a little bit of Britain’s heritage, in the middle of the best of England.

The Wicksteed Trust was established by Charles Wicksteed in 1916 to carry on his work after his death. The objectives of the trust are to provide

“free access to open spaces conducive to health”.

The open spaces in the park of 147 acres comprise gardens, an arboretum and the general park land. The operation of the leisure park is carried out through a wholly owned subsidiary company called Wicksteed Park Ltd. The leisure park is situated within the wider Wicksteed Park. As a charity, the trust cannot attract commercial investment or operate on fully commercial lines. It is not local authority-owned or funded, despite the fact that Wicksteed Park provides the main recreational park facility in the borough of Kettering. Understandably—this is not a criticism—the park does not benefit from resources from the local authority, of which I am honoured to be a member, or direct Government funding. As such, I believe that it ticks all the boxes in terms of where Heritage Lottery Fund money should go.

The park has applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a “Parks for People” grant of approximately £2 million, which will help to restore the park, and present its social history in an interesting, educational and imaginative way. I am delighted that it has got through the first phase of that process, and now proceeds to the second phase. There is a huge local community buy-in to the success of Wicksteed Park, and if a local asset ever enjoyed huge local community support, it is surely Wicksteed Park.

21 Jun 2011 : Column 68WH

Wicksteed Park is not reliant on funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, but it would make a huge difference. It would make a huge difference to the increasing range of educational activities undertaken in the park. It has all sorts of assets that the community can enjoy. Not only are there acres and acres of open spaces, mainly grassland, there are nature trails, a fishing lake, the arboretum that I mentioned, and platforms on which productions may be staged, songs may be sung and plays may be delivered. There are many buildings that can take a large number of people. The main pavilion is big enough for more than 1,000 people, and I believe that it is the largest social event space in Northamptonshire.

The park wants to maximise its income through innovative activities such as Asian weddings. It is one of the main venues in the country for such weddings, and attracts newly married couples from throughout the east midlands and further afield. All sorts of attractions can be held in the park and its facilities. As for educational activities, it recently held a “one world, one people” event for Northamptonshire schools, when local schoolchildren came along to celebrate the different attributes of nations around the world. They became Chinese dragons, played the didgeridoo, did maypole dancing, and of course had a big, grand parade at the end.

There are Victorian theme days when schoolchildren are encourage to undertake a project, and to imagine that they are going to the seaside as a Victorian schoolchild, making use of the train in the park, and dressing up in Victorian costumes. That gives children a really wonderful experience outside the classroom. “Stories in the park” is an event when stories are read to children under the trees outside, in a different setting from their normal school classroom. Perhaps the highlight is the now annual Bastille day, when children come along to learn about the importance of learning modern languages. All the signs in the park are changed from English to French, and everyone is encouraged to speak a foreign language. That gives pupils, just for a day, a sense of what it might be like to live in another country, and to communicate in another language.

The park’s facilities offer local schoolchildren huge opportunities to enhance their classroom experience. That is why Wicksteed Park is unique. From Charles Wicksteed’s original vision of providing people with a place of recreation that gives them an objective in life and their children a safe and happy playground, we now have an increasingly modern facility that is adaptable and flexible to the needs of modern families and their children.

Wicksteed is also important to the local economy because it employs between 100 and 350 people, depending on the time of year—there is obviously a lot of seasonal employment there. Perhaps the best-known employee is Wicky Bear, the park’s mascot, who, along with his friends Charlie the dog, Pong the panda and Kerry the koala, regularly entertains local young children.

Lots of events are held at Wicksteed every year. For example, there is the crazy hats fundraising walk, which raises tens of thousands of pounds for local cancer charities. In this 90th anniversary year, the park is holding a number of themed events, such as “Wicksteed at War”, to commemorate the contribution of Kettering and Northamptonshire in the second world war; “The

21 Jun 2011 : Column 69WH

Way We Were”, which goes back to the 1950s and 1960s; and a 1970s and 1980s weekend. In September, the Abba tribute group Björn Again will perform an outdoor concert. Lots of imaginative things are going on in the park to get people to come along.

With 1 million visitors every year, we can see how important Wicksteed Park is not only to Kettering, but to areas further afield. Kettering is very proud of Wicksteed Park. It is important not only to Kettering, but to Northamptonshire and the wider east midlands that the park continues to be a success. With heritage lottery funding, we could make a real difference to the park as it approaches its centenary in 10 years’ time.

Wicksteed Park is a facility of national importance, and it would be a huge shame were it unable to build on the good work it has done. Its fundamental problem is that it is asset-rich and cash-poor. Charles Wicksteed had a vision of a superb amenity for local people, but the park does not have the endowment to keep it going every year. With heritage lottery funding, the imagination of Oliver Wicksteed and the rest of the trust board, the large number of visitors who come along every year and the good will and support of people in Kettering and further afield, Wicksteed Park has every chance of becoming even stronger as it approaches its centenary in 10 years’ time. I very much hope that the Minister shares my ideals.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): I call Mr Penrose. I am glad to see you have not brought your didgeridoo.

1.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (John Penrose): No didgeridoos, but I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Mr Havard. I understand this is one of your first outings, so I am delighted to be here when you break your duck, as it were.

I must confess that I almost did a double take when I walked in, because I am slightly more used to seeing my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) sitting in the Chair, but this time he is representing his constituents in his usual enthusiastic fashion. I congratulate him on securing the debate, because it is all too infrequent that we have a chance in this place to celebrate a notable local success, and my hon. Friend has demonstrated the value and importance of doing that. His enthusiasm, and that of the people of Kettering, has come across very strongly in his remarks, and I thank him for that.

I am dredging the mists of a rather distant memory, but I have a feeling that I may have been to Wicksteed Park. I fear it was quite a few years ago, when I was a child, but I am pretty sure I was taken there by my godmother or a family relative. I suspect that, just as one knows one is getting old when policemen start looking younger, one must be getting old when a childhood play area one has been to starts to qualify for heritage lottery funding—that must be the definition of getting ancient.

I was fascinated by the news that Wicksteed Park was one of the first examples, if not the first example, of what I will call a theme park, although it is not only a theme park, but a leisure park and a country park, as my hon. Friend has rightly said. However, it is one of the first examples, if not the first example, of such a

21 Jun 2011 : Column 70WH

facility being created anywhere in the world. It struck me that where Kettering leads, Disney follows, and there is much to be admired in that.

It is fascinating to see the way the park concept has developed, because, as my hon. Friend has rightly pointed out, it is a mixture of a leisure park and a country park. Obviously different, newer examples of the form have gone down different routes, but Wicksteed Park is one of the originals of the form. The park shows the social background in which it was created at the time and, based on what he has been saying, it has managed to remain true to those roots and to its function of serving the local community—a great many ordinary municipal parks have also tried to do that. The park is a fascinating blend and mix of that.

It is great to hear that the affection Kettering holds for this local amenity is clearly so strong. The park is a good example of the kind of big society volunteer support that a community is willing to provide and produce when it takes a facility such as this to its heart. People are willing to volunteer their time and sometimes their money in order to ensure that somewhere they themselves have played as a child is available for their children and grandchildren as well, which is clearly what is going on here.

My researchers have been hard at work and got very enthusiastic because they found what they told me is some fantastic old footage on the BBC website of people having a great day in the park many years ago. That was part of a report recently done by the BBC to highlight the anniversary, and it includes some comments from those who have had very happy memories of their past visits. The briefing note from my researchers says, “Catch it if you can, before it disappears.” Clearly the footage is worth seeing, and I commend it to everyone. For anyone who has not been to Wicksteed Park—I think that I did many years ago—that footage captures not only its historical essence, but its modern context.

More broadly, the park is an example of the kind of heritage asset—I am using a small “h” at the moment because I do not want to prejudice what I will say in a minute about the Heritage Lottery Fund—that is unusual in its own right. There are lots of different examples of other kinds of heritage asset in pretty much every hon. Members’ constituency dotted right around the country. They are vital for telling the local story of an area and illustrating a facet of the history of a local community. Some of those heritage assets are important from the context of the grand sweep of our national history. There are many examples of large ruined castles, stately homes or whatever. Many heritage assets are not so grand, but they are, none the less, tremendously important from the point of view of the local story. The park is clearly a heritage asset that is tremendously important from Kettering’s point of view, but there are many others around the country.

I urge hon. Members and, indeed, anyone else reading the debate to go to the English Heritage website and look at the new list for England, which is effectively a database of all the national listed buildings, including parks, gardens, battlefields, protected shipwrecks and scheduled monuments. All those things have been gathered together in an easily accessible database, which was launched last month or the month before, so it is still very new. That database gives amazing background, depth of vision and detail about the reasons why, in this

21 Jun 2011 : Column 71WH

case, Wicksteed Park—it might be any other asset in any other constituency—is tremendously important to that community. The database gives a wealth of interesting detail and, for anyone who is interested in heritage, local history, archaeology or any of the related fields, it is already proving to be an invaluable local resource. I hope that that database will serve to burnish some of the local pride that my hon. Friend has made clear is felt in Kettering.

I also want to make a few remarks on my hon. Friend’s comments about the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is important for Wicksteed Park. My hon. Friend has been in this place for as long as me, so I am sure that he appreciates why I must be careful in what I say. Ministers are quite rightly not allowed to intervene on or interfere with individual funding decisions by the lottery distributors. It would be a slippery slope, if any Minister—past, present or future—tried to move down that road, creating an open door for political favouritism and accusations of bias. Rightly, the lottery distributors, ever since they were set up, have jealously and carefully guarded their independence from anyone in Parliament telling them what to do.

The application for Wicksteed Park will therefore have to travel under its own steam and survive on its own merits. However, I am sure my hon. Friend has done its chances no harm by securing the debate and by making such a passionate and well informed case for its importance. The application going, as I think he has mentioned, from phase 1 to phase 2 of the “Parks for People” programme might therefore be worthy of serious consideration. I will have to leave the matter at that point, or I would be crossing the line that I have just drawn for myself and others, but I am sure he has done Wicksteed Park a huge favour by putting the case so clearly.

As I walked into the Chamber, my hon. Friend was kind enough to give me a map of Wicksteed Park, which includes the various facilities that he has described—

21 Jun 2011 : Column 72WH

boating lakes, aviaries and all the other bits and pieces. Featured in the bottom left-hand corner is a rather sweet picture of Wicky Bear, whom he has described as the park mascot. A picture of Wicky Bear is also hidden somewhere on the map, but I must confess that for the life of me I could not find it during his speech. I am sure that, given a lot more time and a microscope, I could, but perhaps he will point it out to me afterwards. The map demonstrates the depth and variety of facilities available in Wicksteed Park, which the local community clearly values hugely.

I will not go on too long, but I am entirely sympathetic to my hon. Friend’s comments. It is wonderful that there are such facilities around the country, in all their variety, and we must remember that the rather dry phrase, “heritage assets”, describes not only ruined or even roofed buildings, such as gorgeous palaces of one kind or another, but buildings in all shapes and sizes, and Wicksteed Park is one of the more fun shapes and sizes. I am delighted that Wicksteed Park exists, that it is being so carefully looked after and that it is so greatly valued and loved by its local community. I wish it every great success not only for the next 10 years, as it goes from its 90th anniversary to its centenary, but with any luck for the 90 years after that and beyond. Given how it is regarded by local people, it is set well to survive, so with any luck the hon. Gentleman’s successor but two—which will not be for many years, I know—will be able to stand up in this place and to lay out for the then House of Commons just how successful Wicksteed Park has been in the intervening 90 years of its career.

With that, I do not propose to delay anyone any longer. I am delighted to be here and to respond to the debate. I am sure that I speak for everyone when I wish Wicksteed Park an excellent and happy 90th birthday, and I look forward to many more.

Question put and agreed to.

1.57 pm

Sitting adjourned.