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Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman raised an important point about the contribution of diverse communities to public life as a whole. I was involved in running a cross-government diversity programme aimed at increasing the contributions from all communities to our public boards. Does he agree, however, that the focus has to stay on increasing diversity in Parliament? According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, our Parliament ranks joint 49th in the world when it comes to the number of women in Parliament. Should not all parties try to maintain our goal of making our Parliament more representative of Britain as a whole?

Paul Maynard: I thank the hon. Lady for that thoughtful contribution. It brings me back to what I said earlier—that it is for each party to find its own path towards the greater diversity that we all wish to see. Conservative Members will have their path; the hon. Lady and her party will no doubt have their path—but we all want to get to the same destination.

My bigger concern is that in 10 years’ time, a Speaker’s Panel will be aiming not for a more representative Parliament, but for a Parliament of people who are not independently wealthy. My big fear is that what is really happening in politics at the moment is that people from ordinary backgrounds, like me, who have struggled to fund their own campaigns and to make ends meet are going to be excluded. I am not trying to say that I am poor by any means, in view of my salary, but I was a candidate who lost his job before the election and was not quite sure what to do. It was a genuine struggle to make ends meet. Thank God I had a credit card!

We have a problem. There will increasingly come a time when unless candidates are of independent means, having made their money before they chose to enter politics, politics will not be a practical option for them—no matter what their family circumstances, no matter what their skills and no matter what minority or political party they seek to represent. We will have a much narrower democracy. That is why I welcome the internship scheme that the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles mentioned. That is why, in Blackpool, I am trying desperately to explain to people why Parliament is relevant to them. It is also why I want more schools to come here. I am delighted that next week the first primary school from my constituency will be coming. It has been a battle, but at last the schools are starting to come down to Westminster. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), I go around schools trying to explain what I do, and I get more pleasure out of my politics every time someone comes up to me and says “I would never dream of voting for you—I cannot stand your party—but I like what you are doing as a human being.”

I want the general public to see in their MPs people who they feel are just like them. That, to me, is the most crucial thing of all.

5.10 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I slightly disagree with the last remark made by the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). If we are honest, we are all a bit weird, are we not? After all, by definition, we wanted to come here. The hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) is pointing at me. That is not

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very kind. I could point back, because I do not think that she is any less weird than I am.

There are two fundamental principles. The first is that we should never judge people according to the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexuality, the school that they went to or the accent with which they speak. We should only ever judge people according to the strength of the convictions that they hold, the strength of their personal character, and whether they are able to see their convictions through in their lives. Surely the political system should embody that principle.

The second principle is that, broadly speaking, Parliament should look like the country that it is meant to represent. There are several reasons for that, some of which have already been given today. First, it makes Parliament more effective and efficient, and we end up with better legislation. People can spot some of the holes in an idea that is being advanced because they know from their own lives whether it works or not, and how it affects them. The advent of women in Parliament undoubtedly meant that a whole raft of legislation was improved, because, frankly, men simply did not know what they were talking about. I can see hon. Ladies thinking that perhaps that happens all the time generally.

Secondly, Parliament is more likely to embrace the people’s priorities. Rather that its being obsessed with a few things that might have interested a self-chosen elite, the views of the whole of society are expressed on its Order Paper and on the agenda for political action, and that must surely make it better.

Thirdly—this has not been mentioned yet—it is all very well in politics to legislate, to pull a lever, but if the legislation has no effect out in the country because it has no public support, it will have no real chance of effecting change. A Parliament that looks more like the society that it is meant to represent is able to carry that society with it more effectively, and that means that can effect change more convincingly.

We are, I think, nowhere near being able to meet either of those two principles. A number of Members have reminded us today that for many centuries no women were allowed to vote or to sit in here. Of the first two women who were allowed to sit in here, one was a countess and the other was a Lady—not that I have anything against Ladies, or against Dames, who seem to be multiplying on the Opposition Benches, or even against pantomime dames. Similarly, I believe that two of the first women to arrive in the House of Lords were the daughters of viceroys, and that one was married to a viceroy. The change needs to be far more substantial.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) for what he said about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Members. It is significant that we now have more out gay Members of Parliament than ever before. Indeed, sometimes when you go into the Strangers Bar you feel as though you are in Rupert street. It is virtually a gay bar now, and my husband sometimes worries about whether I should be allowed in there any more.

Even the numbers that we have, however, do not come near matching the numbers in the country in terms of the percentage of the population. It is a great sadness to me that there are still only two out lesbians in

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Parliament, because two prejudices have been, as it were, tied together to form one. I pay tribute to those who have come out. That is difficult however, as not every gay person wants to be out, and I do not think they should have to be. I disagree with what the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South said about role models. I hope to God nobody will ever think of me as a role model in relation to anything whatsoever at any time.


The hon. Gentleman says that I should not worry about that, because nobody does. That is very generous of him. I was once described in the

Daily Mail

as an ex-gay vicar; I just want to point out that I am an ex-vicar, but my gayness is extant.

Turning to disabilities, it is important to remember that not every disability is visible. There have been disabled MPs for many centuries, including Philip Snowden, Labour Chancellor in 1924, and the first Earl of Salisbury, who was profoundly disabled and a Secretary of State. The barriers for many people with disabilities are still great, however, such as in terms of this building itself and the way in which we do our business—the way we vote and so forth.

As the Member of Parliament for the Rhondda, I would also like to point out that the biggest difficulties of all face working-class people who may want to enter the House. That is partly because of finances, as standing for Parliament is prohibitively expensive. Ironically, there is now also a problem at the other end of the scale, in that the pay and conditions in Parliament seem prohibitive to people in professional jobs who expect to earn £100,000, £120,000 or £150,000.

This issue is not just about being representative; it is also about representing, and we should do that with courage and determination.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Five Members still wish to speak, and we have just over 15 minutes left, so according to the maths if each of them speaks for about three minutes everybody will get in—a bit of moral blackmail there.

5.16 pm

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): First, I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) on securing the debate, and on the important contribution that she makes to this whole subject area.

The main parties have each in their own way done a great deal to reduce discrimination in the candidate selection process. The difference that the Labour party made in 1997 was phenomenal. Although I do not agree with all-women shortlists, I certainly do not have a closed mind on the subject when I see what they have achieved for the party. The difference for Conservative women just between 2005 and 2010 has also been amazing. In 2004, when I was applying for a seat in Berkshire, I was given an interview and told in a letter that were I to make the final round, I would be welcome to bring my wife to drinks beforehand—and I do not think that its authors were so forward-looking that they were taking into account future gay marriage legislation.

One of the main reasons why still not enough MPs are women or from minority groups is that they do not come forward for selection in adequate numbers. There are many reasons for that, several of which have already

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been mentioned. I would add that the personal, and sometimes sexist, coverage of women MPs in the media is also a factor, as is the general level of aggression in some aspects of political debate. Moreover, the opprobrium that is heaped on MPs who make a misjudgment or get something wrong is often out of all proportion to the seriousness of the supposed offence. We have already seen that this year in respect of one hon. Member. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is another factor, but I will not dwell on that.

Those factors put many people off entering public life, but they put off a higher proportion of women and people from minority groups. There are certain things we can do, and some of them are in the gift of the Prime Minister. I was delighted to hear that he is intent on having one third of his Government made up of women by the end of this Parliament. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) has drawn attention to some of the many Departments that have no woman Minister. It is breathtaking that not one of the 15 Ministers in the Departments of State that face the outside world—the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development—is female. What message does that give to women who are struggling for the most basic human rights in the developing world?

Returning to the broader issue of diversity, I want to place on the record my gratitude to the Prime Minister and the previous but one Prime Minister for the amazing progress made since the turn of the century in the area of gay equality. The number of openly gay MPs in my party increased sixfold or sevenfold, as we have heard, at the last election. That is testimony to the legislative changes introduced by the Labour Government under Tony Blair, and to the cultural change in the Conservative party brought about by the present Prime Minister. I would not be standing here today without them, and I am deeply grateful to both of them, and to others such as the chairman of the Stourbridge Conservative association when I was selected, Councillor Liz Walker. These people have made possible a journey that I embarked on at the age of 16, and I am deeply grateful.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I am introducing a three-minute limit, just to focus people’s attention.

5.21 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I believe that when political parties are selecting candidates, what most people want to see is that they are selected purely on merit and not according to a given particular characteristic, be it gender, faith, disability or what sort of relationship they may be involved in. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to apply to become a candidate, and by all means, we should be encouraging as many people as possible to come forward for selection. However, personally, I do not want to see the imposition of quotas, which in reality mean fixing the result of the selection process before it has even begun. By their very nature, the use of all-women shortlists, for example, discriminates not just against men as a whole, but, by extension, against men belonging to a group under-represented in the House, such as those from a working-class background.

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It is entirely wrong that those who seek to remedy what they perceive as discrimination against women should adopt as their solution the practice of all-women shortlists, which discriminate against men. We should oppose all forms of discrimination and not seek to legitimise it, as happened with the passing of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002.

Good candidates will always rise to the top. As has been mentioned, Margaret Thatcher became leader of our party, and Prime Minister, without the need for any special help. As she said in her book “Statecraft”,

“the use of quotas applying to the appointment or promotion of individuals because of their collective identity or background is an unacceptable incursion on freedom, however well-intentioned the motives. Nor does it help those who are its intended beneficiaries. Individuals from these groups may well feel patronised; their professional reputations in posts which they would anyway have attained on merit are diminished, because they are thought to occupy them by special privilege; and they are likely to become the targets of resentment and possibly even ill-treatment.”

The report of the Speaker’s Conference stated:

“at present few people think that members of Parliament understand, or share the life experience of the people they represent (their constituents). Building and restoring public faith in Parliament is of crucial importance to the future of our democracy.”

One certain way to alienate voters up and down the country is to put forward as candidates to be their potential representatives people chosen on the basis not of merit but of their gender.

5.24 pm

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) and the Speaker’s Conference for reminding us of the importance of this issue by holding this debate. The comments made by hon. Members from across the Chamber have shown that this is about improving our democracy and recognising the contribution that a more diverse group of Members can make to this Chamber.

I want the focus of my few remarks to be the issue of women. The issue of female representation arises not only in Parliament, but in the boardroom, where the level of representation is just 15%. In addition, the level of female entrepreneurship is less than half of that for men, so there is still a lot of work to be done. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), I watched the scenes from “The Iron Lady” this week and I can tell the House that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) said, role models are important. The first female British Prime Minister inspired me and many others to get into Parliament, as she showed that women can believe in themselves and achieve the highest office. We have made a difference, because whereas female MPs made up 3% of this House when Margaret Thatcher came to power, the level is now 22%. So some progress has been made and, although there is room for improvement, a third of coalition female MPs have a Government role, including Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Defence has been mentioned, and we certainly have a great PPS in defence with my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry).

In the world rankings in this area, the UK comes 49th in the national Parliaments list, below Cuba, Uganda, Afghanistan and Iraq. That puts things in perspective

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and it is why I set up the all-party group on women in Parliament. It is important that this House reflects the vitality and modernity of our democratic processes.

Margot James: On the international point that my hon. Friend makes, does she accept that in some of those countries a lot of the women who fill those quota places are, sadly, place women and often they are not there on any particular merit other than their connections to—mostly male—members of the establishment in those countries?

Mary Macleod: I agree with my hon. Friend. There is certainly more work to be done in communicating with Governments elsewhere about what else they can do to increase female representation in their Parliaments, and not necessarily by using things such as women-only shortlists, with which I do not agree.

I wish to make a point about the importance of media coverage in politics, a subject that has been mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye and for Stourbridge (Margot James), as it does play a part in the perception of women. How can we increase the number of women in Parliament? We have to start with people who are at a very young age; it is about teaching politics in school, and engaging these young people in community projects and on local issues. We need to show them that they can make a difference, even as a young person, to their local communities. The hon. Member for Aberdeen South talked about the importance of making a continuous rather than a one-off effort. The Conservative party is maintaining that approach by continuing the encouragement and support of female candidates, stretching out and finding new and great people who can represent our country in the future.

In conclusion, we might in future need to examine the challenge of the “gang”, hostile culture in the Chamber. I sometimes think that it would not be accepted in the classroom or the boardroom, so why is it accepted in the Chamber? Women are a growing force in employment and in public life, and it is incumbent on each of us to encourage and inspire the next generation of people in this country, from all backgrounds, to shape the future of our country.

5.28 pm

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I recognise the merits of a diverse Parliament, both in the quality of what we do and in the perceived and actual relevance to the country of our work. However, I do not think that being middle aged, middle class, white or male are disqualifications for this job, any more than they are recommendations. I am not in favour of all-women shortlists or quotas. If I were, perhaps I would be asking today why we should just stop at measures focused on would-be candidates and why we should not just ask half the white male MPs to vacate their seats at the next election. I think that would strike most people as unfair, but it is no less unfair than a measure that seeks to remove prejudice on the basis of skin colour or gender by denying a generation of candidates their chance because of the particular colour of their skin or their particular gender. The only sort of under-representation about which we should be concerned is the under-representation of talent.

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As we have heard, the three things that principally stand in the way of the talented minority candidate are money, prejudice and process. For example, a friend of mine who was a would-be candidate was lucky enough to get through to the latter rounds of several constituency selection panels, but unfortunately for her they were all on the same weekend. She had to spend in excess of £700 to transport herself and her husband around those meetings and on child care, so Members can imagine her despair when she received the ironic feedback that she had not been selected and that the only blemish on her impeccable score sheet was that her husband had not bought a raffle ticket. Even worse than such petty reasoning is open prejudice. The way to tackle any instinctive opposition to female, BME or other candidates is not to deny local associations their liberty to chose or to constrain them to pass over a generation of talented men in the name of all-women shortlists, but to bring the process out from the dusty backrooms and into the light of day. There should be much more training, advice and education for selection panels on how to score candidates against one another properly.

Parties must also recognise that candidates cannot fund themselves to the nth degree. Travel and other reasonable costs incurred by candidates seeking a seat should be paid from central party coffers. That would not only encourage the less well-off to come forward but focus the minds of those who decide who makes it on to the approved lists. In tackling that financial burden, the central parties should also assume responsibility for co-ordinating selection meetings. Local associations should be able to choose their agendas, but they should have to fit in with a national grid on which all associations should block their selection meetings. For example, a prospective candidate with a caring responsibility who was therefore tied to a particular geographical location might be unable to take up the handful of opportunities to be selected for such a seat because all the selection meetings had been scheduled on the same morning. A bit of basic organisation would substantially increase that person’s opportunities.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I call Simon Hughes, who has until 5.33 pm.

5.31 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make what might be my shortest speech for a long time, which might be a consolation to many people.

A friend of mine called David Buxton, who stood to be a councillor, was the most profoundly deaf person ever to become a councillor in England. He taught me a long time ago how difficult it is for someone who comes from a disadvantaged position to be treated equally and given equal opportunities. The debate has shown phenomenal consensus in Parliament and between the political parties about where we go next. The messages are clear: a more diverse Parliament gives us better decisions, better debates, better information, better credibility and more interest in Parliament. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who made that point so effectively.

We need to send out an appeal: in this House we need more young people, more old people, more women,

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more people from the black and minority ethnic communities, more people with disabilities, more people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and more people from the faith minority communities. We also need more people from working class backgrounds, council house backgrounds and lower income groups. We need to go on with that agenda until half the House is made up of women and until we reflect fully the ethnic minorities of our country.

I promised that I would sit down at 5.33 pm, so let me end with the following point. Above all, we must ensure that every one of our political parties has a membership base in its constituencies that reflects the constituency and a councillor base that reflects the constituency, too. If we have a proper base, we can have a Parliament, chosen from the people, of whom we can be proud in the years to come.

5.33 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): It is a pleasure to respond to a debate which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) said, has been characterised by so much harmony. Across the board, beginning with the welcome opening speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), we have seen a recognition that a Parliament that is unrepresentative of the make-up of the country is, by definition, a failure of democracy. Although we can all be proud of the progress that has been made, no one can doubt that we still have a great deal to do.

Important points have been raised by hon. Members across the House about party processes and procedures for encouraging, preparing and selecting parliamentary candidates. Important points have also been made about the experiences of Members and their staff in carrying out their parliamentary duties and about the barriers that might need to be dismantled. I hope to touch on a number of the comments on those areas, which were addressed in the recommendations of the Speaker’s Conference. The recommendations covered party practices and processes to promote diversity among candidates, issues to do with meeting the costs of candidacy, on which a number of hon. Members have rightly commented, and ways of working in Parliament.

Let me start by picking up on comments about the processes to encourage more women to apply to become parliamentary candidates on the all-women shortlists. I am proud that Labour introduced all-women shortlists and I am proud of the significant improvement in female representation that we achieved as a result. I am also pleased that we took the opportunity in the Equality Act 2010, at the end of the previous Labour Government, to extend to 2030 the possibility of parties’ using all-women shortlists. However, I remind hon. Members that that is a choice for political parties and there is no sense of imposing on any party the use of all-women shortlists within the political process. None the less, it is undoubtedly a tactic that has produced a significantly improved outcome not just for my party but in setting the tone that other parties have been able to pick up and follow in seeking to meet the success we have had.

I am proud to have been selected on an all-women shortlist for my constituency. I have never felt that I needed to apologise for that or that it suggests I am in

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some way less capable of doing the job than any other parliamentary colleague. Indeed, I strongly suspect that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, few Members would be able to identify which women had been selected through an all-women shortlist once they were in this place.

There has been progress in other areas, as well as on improving the diversity of the membership of this House, and I pay tribute to the House administration for the improvement we have seen there. I particularly welcome the establishment of the workplace equality networks, which are proving effective and successful for parliamentary staff and visitors to Parliament. Other hon. Members have commented on the work of the Select Committee on Procedure in consulting on parliamentary hours and the parliamentary calendar, and I was very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) pointed out that even the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has done its best to be more supportive. I pay tribute to a number of hon. Members in that regard, including the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), who has done a great deal to encourage IPSA to take a wide-ranging and imaginative view of the family responsibilities that hon. Members face.

There has been progress, but there is much that we need to do to offer to MPs and their staff a working environment that bears greater resemblance to the normal working world outside Parliament. I am often told, and by no means just by those who have spent many years in the House, that that is not an apt comparison, but I strongly beg to differ. An unhealthy, dysfunctional and non-family-friendly working environment is not good for hon. Members or for our effectiveness and it is simply off-putting to many people outside Parliament who might otherwise aspire to join us. It provides a poor exemplar of good, modern behaviours and practices in employment more generally and I am very pleased that the Speaker’s Conference took notice of that specific issue.

I want to spend a couple of minutes discussing the recommendations of the Speaker’s Conference that deal with stimulating and supporting individuals from a diversity of backgrounds to come forward and be successful in seeking selection—a subject that a number of hon. Members have touched on this afternoon. The motion is right to highlight concerns about the impact of the Government’s planned changes to parliamentary constituency boundaries. I hope that all political parties and Parliament itself will take the opportunity to conduct an audit of the impact of that change so that we can be informed collectively about the steps that might need to be taken in light of those changes to secure and promote the greater diversity that might be at risk as a result.

Even if that is not a worry, the continuing under-representation in Parliament of minority and protected groups must concern us. As many parliamentary colleagues have said this afternoon, the legitimacy and effectiveness of Parliament depend on its diversity and representativeness. Political parties, parliamentarians and Parliament itself must therefore pay attention to how we attract future parliamentary candidates. As others have said, for many people in our country, the idea that they could ever enter Parliament is simply unimaginable. The consequence is that we have a Parliament that still looks too much like a place for a narrowly drawn and privileged elite.

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That is the case for all political parties. It is not to say that we lack empathy or that we are not doing a good job, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South said in her opening remarks, we all bring our life experiences to Parliament. Perhaps the most eloquent contribution we heard this afternoon, which highlighted why that is important in the way we act as legislators, was the speech of the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). He showed us powerfully how important it is that a diverse range of life experiences is reflected in the House. If those life experiences are not adequately reflected, if they are too limited, we shall inevitably have less insight. We risk making poor and poorly informed decisions, and we shall lack credibility as legislators. I hope that careful note will be taken of the recommendations of the Speaker’s Conference which will help to make entry to Parliament a real option for people from a much greater diversity of background.

In that context, I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough about education and citizenship. There is an opportunity to do more in schools and, as the Speaker’s Conference recognised, with social and community groups. Like others, I suggest that it is important that we get in early and work more proactively with young people. In that regard, I am pleased that we continue to welcome the Youth Parliament to the Chamber—I do not think that has been mentioned this afternoon. It is a great opportunity to open up to more young people the concept of representative democracy and the possibility of being part of this Parliament. I hope we continue to do that in the years to come.

I endorse the points alluded to by both the hon. Members for Blackpool North and Cleveleys and for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) about what is going on in other legislatures and Chambers. What we do in Westminster should serve as a model for local government, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, for the election of police and crime commissioners, for our MEPs and, for that matter, for the Youth Parliament. Indeed, as the hon. Lady pointed out, in some cases they are already outstripping us, which is not something we should be proud of.

I want finally to say a couple of things about money. Hon. and right hon. Members are right to refer to the substantial barrier it presents to people coming into this place from not just low but typical incomes. Like other Members, I very much welcome the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles in establishing the parliamentary placements initiative; it is a great opportunity for us to bring more people from low-income backgrounds into Parliament at an early age.

There are many other financial obstacles to be faced by those seeking selection, so I hope that in her response the Minister may be able to update us on the Government’s intentions in relation to the recommendation that a consultation should take place during this Parliament on the proposal for the introduction of a scheme enabling local parties to apply for funding linked to their receipts from membership subscriptions. As others have said, I also hope she will tell us what progress is being made on looking at the possibility of a public fund to support disabled Members.

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This has been an important debate. We all bear responsibility for making progress on the issue. Others have commented on the old saying that what gets measured gets done, which is why the publication of diversity data, as highlighted in the motion, is important. Perhaps we could add that what gets debated gets done, so I am very pleased that we have been able to hold this debate and I pay tribute to every hon. Member who has taken part.

5.44 pm

The Minister for Equalities (Lynne Featherstone): We have had a fulfilling debate. It makes one proud of the House when all the contributions—every one, across the Floor—work in the same direction. We might work in different ways, but there is not a single person who does not believe that we would be much better off if we were more reflective of society and the people we represent. I assure the House that equality is at the heart of the Government’s agenda, and it is central to building a strong economy and a fair society. If we are to achieve that, as so many have said, it is vital that our democracy is representative of the people we serve.

Although this might be the most diverse Parliament ever, it is clear that there is some way to go. That is why the Government welcome the report of the Speaker’s Conference and support the broad thrust of its recommendations. We have, to date, implemented the provisions in the Equality Act 2010, which enabled political parties to use positive action, should they wish. As was pointed out, it is not mandatory but optional, because clearly there are different views in different parts of the House. The measure is there to be used by those who want to make a difference in that way, to encourage participation in politics among under-represented groups. Obviously, within that, all prospective candidates should be considered on their individual merits. I add that because, whatever the selection, it is quite obvious that one should select the person with the most talent, but if the group of people in question is not diverse, by definition it is not the best group to choose from.

We have extended to 2030 the ability to use women-only shortlists, a point made by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). I sat here this afternoon and listened to points being batted to and fro. Members on opposite sides of the Chamber say, “We are fantastic, but they are dreadful.” That is the whole point. Political parties can choose to become more representative in their own way. I congratulate Labour on its all-women shortlists. That caused a step-change that was admirable. I congratulate the Conservative party on its methodology, which has certainly delivered results. Had we won what we thought were the winnable seats in which we had women candidates, I would be able to congratulate the Liberal Democrats, but we did not win them.

Following last year’s consultation, we have announced our plans to support disabled people in accessing elected office, and I hope shortly to announce a detailed plan of action, including new funding. I shall go into that in a moment. We have made a start, but there is much more to do.

Three areas are crucial to achieving equality: young people, political parties and the public sector. Hon. Members mentioned young people, and those in all parts of the House are doing a good job, going into

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schools to spread the message that politics is life and that we are human beings, which is a good start.


The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is not sure about that. He says that we are weird. I think that we are all human, and it would be a good thing for the House if we showed a bit more of our human side and a bit less of our automated side. I shall now go into automated-speak.

Engaging young people is central to increasing diversity in Westminster. Without that, we miss a vital opportunity to change the political landscape. We have to look to the future and inspire the younger generation. We hear people complaining that young people are not engaged, but I do not think that is true. The hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) was present the evening I spoke to the girl guides. The 2011 results of Girlguiding UK’s annual survey of girls’ attitudes showed that they are perfectly aware of global events. They care about them hugely; they are passionate about them. However, the survey highlighted that they often feel powerless to be part of world events. Representation here is part of empowering those girls to feel that they have a voice and a place. As I said to them that night, “Be a person. Speak up for yourself, in politics or out of politics. That is what counts.” We must encourage today’s young people, girls and boys, to have aspirations and confidence in themselves.

There must be leadership by political parties. More than ever, political parties need to reach out to young people, engaging their interest and encouraging them. There are simple things that we can do to achieve that. I note what has been said about internships, which are fantastic. I shall go on to praise the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears). A recent report by the Institute for Government found that one of the factors that helped to encourage women and other under-represented groups to stand for election was simply being asked to stand.

That was my own experience. I wandered late into politics. I am a sort of accidental politician. Somebody said to me, “You should think about standing for Parliament.” I said, “Who, me?” That sparked a thought and, gradually, a belief that perhaps I could do that, although I did not go to university, do not have a degree and do not have “the right background”. Somebody had a belief in me; they saw something and said, “You can do this.”

The report also pointed to the need to make the selection process more transparent and make it easier for people to understand how to become an MP. My officials will hold a round-table meeting with representatives of the political parties later this month to see how best to do this, and that will include a voluntary approach whereby the parties would publish data on the diversity of their candidate selection. I know that the Liberal Democrats do that, but I think that the parties need to work together on this. Someone called for central control and command, but I am not sure that we need that and think that ultimately the parties must move forward first.

Lastly—I want to get on to responding to Members—the Speaker’s Conference rightly pointed to the importance of leadership by public sector organisations. Public bodies must lead by example, which is why we now

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require them, through the public sector equality duty, to publish equality data every year and set equality objectives.

There have been many thoughtful contributions, not all of which I will be able to respond to, but first and foremost I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), who gave a tour de force on this agenda. I am pleased to be able to pay tribute to the work she has done for the Speaker’s Conference and in her own way, fighting for things and being seen in a wheelchair in Parliament. Although Members have said that they do not want to represent what they are or are seen to be physically, those role models are nevertheless vital. When a person sees that someone who looks like them can do it, that changes the world.

The hon. Lady asked about diversity data. The Government support the principle that parties should publish diversity data but believe that in the first instance we should pursue a voluntary approach. As I have said, we are holding a round-table meeting on that.

The recommendations of the access to elected office for disabled people strategy—a number of Members referred to access to public office—are being taken forward. The public consultation ran from February to May 2011 and sought views on a range of policy proposals. The Government published their response on 13 September, setting out our intention to take forward five of the six proposals. We are currently working with political, disability and other stakeholders to take forward the proposals, which include: the establishment of a dedicated fund to help individual candidates with disability-related costs; new training and development opportunities; proposals to raise awareness; and work with political parties to share good practice on disability and explain legal obligations. We will make a further announcement relatively soon on how the funding is to be distributed.

A number of Members referred to the boundary review and the impact it will have. The motivation behind the boundary changes was to create fairness in numbers, because there is a huge differential between some constituencies. For example, Arfon in north Wales has around 40,000 voters, but East Ham has more than 90,000. It would be a terrible irony if, in our efforts to introduce fairness in what our votes are worth, we suddenly found that we were being unfair in other respects and that our diversity representation was getting worse as a result. I simply say for the record that I would expect all political parties to look at this most carefully when the dust settles on exactly where the boundaries will be, look at the impact in their own parties, take note and, more importantly, take action to ensure that we do not, ironically, increase unfairness in that area.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who also gave a tour de force on this agenda, referred to section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983. The Government support the proposal in principle and on 3 February 2010 announced our intention to repeal that section, which sets out the process by which an MP’s seat is vacated if they have a mental health condition and are authorised to be detained under mental health legislation for six months or more. The Government supported Lord Stevenson of Coddenham’s private Member’s Bill, the Mental Health

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(Discrimination) Bill, at its Second Reading on 25 November, but we wish to retain the option to introduce a Government amendment at a later stage. Given the timing of the Bill’s Second Reading, it will be extremely difficult for the measure to gain Royal Assent in this Session, so if necessary Lord Stevenson intends to reintroduce his Bill in the next Session, in which case the Government will be pleased to support it.

The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) is no longer in her place, but she raised some really important points, with which I agree wholeheartedly. She said that women—my attention is on women at this point—need to get their hands on levers, on budgets and on power in order to deliver real change, and she highlighted the lack of women Ministers in the Government ranks. I can say without declaring an interest, as I am already in the Government, that such change would only be of benefit—and is promised by the end of this Parliament. I am sure that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are listening very carefully and taking note as I speak.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) referred to the stigma that still exists subliminally in political parties: we say things, but then push comes to shove. In political parties, probably across the board, we will have all encountered the nod, the nudge, the wink—that sort of thing—and we all must work to eliminate it.

I pay tribute to and congratulate the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles on her internship scheme, which is hugely important. Recently, the Deputy Prime Minister called for all internships to be advertised to stop the “who you know” culture, because some have been about not just access, which is absolutely right, but the idea that if one knows somebody one will be given an internship, and it is vital that internships are open to all.

In my constituency office, I have another way. I take part-time interns, some even for one day a week, so that they are able to work the rest of the week and, therefore, support themselves, because not everyone has parents who can help them, and not everyone is from London.

Hazel Blears rose

Lynne Featherstone: I do not know whether the right hon. Lady wants to intervene, but I have only one minute left—unless it is something new.

Hazel Blears: I am not looking for any praise at all for the scheme; I am looking for a Government commitment. They praised the scheme in their social mobility strategy, so I should like the Minister to say whether that will result in the Government providing some support.

Lynne Featherstone: I apologise. I forgot about the funding, which was the right hon. Lady’s essential point. I am sure that she is being listened to, and I shall find out whether there is any such intention in the Government. I have no inkling at the moment, because it has not been discussed—with me at least.

We obviously have Government internships, too, with which we are progressing. The right hon. Member for

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Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) asked how well we are doing with our equality agenda in Departments, and that is a very important aspect. Last night I was at the Stonewall employer of the year ceremony, and—




I cannot talk any more, but—the Home Office came second, and was first last year.

5.58 pm

Dame Anne Begg: The hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) summed the issue up extremely well when she said that what we in this House should be concerned about is the under-representation of talent. For decades, talented individuals who would have made excellent MPs have not made it into the House, either because it was never suggested that they would be very good at it, or because the barriers were too high for them to overcome. We do not get the best person for the job if the best person does not even apply for it.

It has therefore been important today to reflect on the fact that political parties have to have a mechanism to encourage people of talent to come forward and make it into this place. For the Labour party, all-women shortlists have certainly worked and created a critical mass; for the Conservatives, it has been their A list, their support and mentoring and the changing of party members’ attitudes. But the mechanisms have been put in place.

The Speaker’s Conference identified that the case for widening representation rests on three principles: justice, effectiveness and legitimacy. We have to keep up the pressure. Without that pressure, we could start to slip backwards. That is why I hope that the House will support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House welcomes the fact that there are now more women hon. Members and hon. Members from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities than in any previous Parliament; notes that the need for greater diversity in the House has been accepted by the leadership of the three main political parties at Westminster; is concerned that increased competition for seats at the 2015 General Election may leave under-represented groups more poorly represented among approved candidates, and in the House thereafter, unless mechanisms are employed to tackle continuing inequalities during candidate selection; and calls on the Government and political parties to fulfil commitments made in response to the Speaker’s Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) in 2010, including the commitment to secure the publication by all parties of diversity data on candidate selections.

Business without Debate

Business of the House (16 January)


That at the sitting on Monday 16 January paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) shall apply to the Motions in the name of Edward Miliband as if the day were an Opposition Day.—(Jeremy Wright.)

Draft House of Lords Reform Bill (Joint committee)


That this House concurs with the Lords Message of 20 December and that, notwithstanding the Resolution of this House of 23 June, it be an instruction to the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill that it should report on the draft Bill by 27 March 2012.—(Jeremy Wright.)

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Academy Status (Haringey)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—( Jeremy Wright .)

6 pm

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I am grateful for the chance to debate the decision of Ministers to force four primary schools in Haringey to become academies, against the wishes of their governors, parents and teachers. Those schools are Downhills primary school and Coleraine Park primary school in Tottenham, and Nightingale primary school and Noel Park primary school in Wood Green. I am sad to see the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) leaving the Chamber as I begin this speech.

Although this debate concerns those four schools primarily, Ministers have suggested that hundreds of schools around the country could be forced to convert into academies. Schools in Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Essex, Kent, Lancashire, Leeds and Northamptonshire could be next in the firing line, so this debate is of interest to Members throughout the country and on both sides of the House.

I will deal with three issues. The first is the absolute importance of standards in primary schools and the other interventions that could be made to drive up standards. The second is the fundamentally undemocratic way in which Ministers are taking this decision. The third is the need for collaboration, not confrontation in ensuring that our pupils achieve the maximum that they are capable of achieving.

My remarks will focus on Downhills primary school, but they apply just as strongly to the other three schools in Haringey that are affected by the Minister’s decision. I have known Downhills since 1975, when I first stepped through its doors as a pupil. The school has been serving the local community for more than 100 years. Last week, I received a letter from a gentleman who attended Downhills during the second world war, which stated:

“I have memories of an excellent education—I was even appointed School Captain. My primary education at Downhills led to later success. I was not alone there. We were encouraged to succeed. I hope your current efforts to secure the appropriate status for Downhills Primary School will be successful and that they will help present and future pupils to have a brighter future.”

It is not just me who shares that history and is angered by the Minister’s decision.

I want to make it clear that I do not oppose academies. I support academies that work with parents and the local community to raise standards. I am a pluralist in education. I supported the academies programme of the previous Government, of whom I was a member. However, just as there are good community schools and poor community schools, so there are good academies and poor academies. The Government’s attempt to force schools in Haringey to become academies assumes that academies are the only way to raise standards and that academies always raise standards. Neither is true. The Government’s actions also ignore the fact that schools perform best when central and local government work in collaboration with parents, teachers and governors, rather than against them.

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I will start by focusing on school standards. The Secretary of State has branded the parents, governors and teachers at these schools as

“ideologues who are happy with failure”

and “enemies of promise”. However, not one of us is an apologist for poor results. That is why Downhills is under a notice to improve, and we support that. It is worth looking at the Downhills governing body—the very people who are supposed to be opposing this action for ideological reasons. It covers the whole range of the community. It has a solicitor, a former nurse, a senior civil servant and a hedge fund manager, all working for free to make the school better. Is that not what the big society is all about? Should not those people be praised rather than removed? How will getting rid of all of them and imposing a sponsor make the school and society better?

The governing body and I know that if a pupil leaves primary school without the basics, they will struggle at secondary school and potentially struggle throughout their life. We had riots this summer that reminded us of that fact. We are at the coal face, and we do not need to be lectured by those who, frankly, have limited experience of the inner-city context.

We believe in supporting a school to improve, and that is exactly what we are doing at Downhills. Results from 2011 show that the school is above the Government’s floor target for English and maths. Some 64% of pupils achieved the national average level in both subjects, and among pupils who had been in the school for at least four years, 75% did so. More than 90% of parents are happy with the school. We are not resting on our laurels with that 64% figure, because it still leaves too many pupils who do not succeed, but the argument that the enormous upheaval being foisted on the community is justified by the results just does not hold water. Downhills is above the national primary school average. Will its improvements continue if the school is forced through the process of becoming an academy over the next few months, against the wishes of the entire community?

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for how he is representing his constituents in support of Downhills school, which is an improving school. Like many in the country, it is improving because of investment, people’s determination, parents’ support and teachers. Does he have any idea why Downhills and a couple of other schools in Haringey have been selected for this treatment, when other schools have not? Is there a process by which the Department for Education is threatening all primary schools in the whole country?

Mr Lammy: My hon. Friend raises a good point. It is not clear why, perhaps apart from political reasons, Haringey has been selected. I certainly want to know whether the Department intends to go after the 2,500 primary schools in the country whose performance is lower than that of Downhills. I will come on to that point.

At Downhills, 72% of pupils have English as a second language and more than 40 languages are spoken by the pupils. More than 45% of pupils are eligible for a free school meal—I mention that fact because I, too, was eligible for free school meals when I attended Downhills—and the number of families living in deprivation is

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double the national average. Enormous numbers of pupils join and leave the school during the school year, and it has one of the largest Roma populations in the country.

I raise those points not to make excuses for failure, but to point out that pupils from deprived backgrounds at Downhills actually do better than the national average. Speaking another language at home or being from a deprived background is absolutely not taken as an excuse for failure at the school, whatever the Secretary of State might think. We can just look at the results—they speak loud and clear.

Looking further into the figures, the capricious choice of Downhills becomes even more dubious. In 2011, 2,594 primary schools obtained worse results than Downhills primary. In the Secretary of State’s own education authority of Surrey, 26 primary schools obtained the same results or worse. In West Sussex, the area of the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), who will respond to this debate, another 26 schools obtained the same results as Downhills or worse. Does he propose—I hope he will answer this question—to force those 2,594 schools to become academies as well? If his answer is yes, we really will be seeing a revolution in education in this country, and it will certainly get him on the 10 o’clock news. Is that about standards, or is it about politics and ideology? I want to hear the Minister’s answer when he stands up. When we look at the results, we find that London schools do much better than schools in other parts of the country. That is not complacency; I am simply pointing out that if the Minister’s choice of schools to target was based purely on results, he would not be targeting schools in London to begin with.

If the Minister were motivated solely by results, would he not have waited for the second Ofsted inspection into Downhills school, which will show how the school has raised its game since the notice to improve? I remind him that when Ofsted made its monitoring visit in September, it said the school was on the road to improvement and praised the senior management team, including the head. Why is the Minister casting Ofsted aside and saying from Whitehall, “I know best”? Can he explain that new approach to localism, which has emerged in the past few weeks?

The Minister must ask himself whether now is an appropriate time to cause upheaval in the Tottenham schools system following the riots of last September. I urge him to demonstrate the sensitivity that is required after a constituency has experienced what mine experienced—it was witnessed on TV screens not just by hon. Members, but by the rest of the country and internationally.

By focusing only on forced academies, the Government have ignored all the other tried and tested ways in which standards in primary schools can be raised. A relentless focus on teaching and learning, booster lessons, a renewed management team, federation with thriving schools and new buildings all contribute to improving standards in education. All could be tried, and many have been or are being tried, but they have all been cast aside and ignored by the Government.

At Downhills, six teachers have been replaced in a year. A new head was brought into Coleraine Park school to turn the school around 18 months ago, and a

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new deputy head was brought in from an outstanding school just a few miles up the road. The results show that those changes are working. The trouble is that the Government are ignoring the results and focusing only on forced academies. That approach ignores the fact that, just as there are good community schools and bad community schools, so there are good academies and bad academies. The last results for Marlowe academy in Ramsgate were even described by the former principal as “disappointing”. Mossbourne academy in Hackney is rightly held up by all as a vision of what can be done, but that goes to show that a one-size-fits-all approach to reforms in struggling schools does not work.

It is clear that those reforms need funding. I understand that times are tough, so this is not solely about spending, but it is right to put on record that the Government set up a free school in Muswell Hill last year that will cost the taxpayer £6 million. It has 30 pupils at the moment. For the Minister’s geography, Muswell Hill is a few miles up the road in the London borough of Haringey. The Secretary of State could have given £100,000 to every Haringey primary school and reached 30,000 children rather than 30. Given Muswell Hill’s demographic, the Minister will understand why my constituents are a little concerned and alarmed.

The Minister has remarked that Haringey’s primary schools are the worst in inner London. They are. So why does he not fund them at inner-London rates? Haringey has the same challenges as Islington, Camden and Hackney, but receives £1,500 less per pupil in schools than those areas. For Downhills, that underfunding is worth about £600,000 a year, which is equivalent to one extra teacher in every classroom. Where would Downhills primary’s standards be if we had the money in the London borough of Haringey that we deserve? The Minister’s account in the newspapers this week suggested that mine is an inner-city constituency, but one that has suburban funding. I hope he will say something about what he will do to redress that balance so that we can achieve the improvement we want.

The reforms are working, and the results are improving. Results and standards are vital, and although the Government might ignore the results, we will not. We say loud and clear that standards matter, and we do not tolerate poor results or low aspirations—I certainly do not, and there is no record of my doing anything of the sort in this House over my years as the MP for the area. Results have not been good enough, but they are improving, and we will be relentless—working, I hope, with the Department—in seeking to improve them further. People want the best for their children. This mixed community, which is represented by the governing body, but also by the wider deprivation demographics I mentioned, wants the best results for all its young people.

I am also concerned about the undemocratic way in which these things have been done. In 2010, the Secretary of State said that academies could become the norm, but that it was “down to individual schools” to make the decision, and I support that. Has he changed his mind, or was it always his intention that schools could decide their own destiny, as long as they chose the destiny he had chosen for them?

Two of the schools affected—Nightingale primary school and Noel Park primary school—are in the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green supports forced academies,

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but her party’s manifesto in 2010 promised to give all schools the freedom to innovate. It is a strange freedom that allows schools to innovate on the ground, but only so far as the Secretary of State will allow from Whitehall.

That freedom is not worth the name, and it is fundamentally different from the freedom the previous Government’s academy programme offered parents and pupils. The Labour academy programme took failing schools—schools that parents were running away from in droves, and where discipline had gone out the window—and gave them the freedom to innovate in the best interests of pupils, with the support and assistance of teachers and parents. That differs hugely from the current programme.

The Government talk the language of localism and pluralism, but when it comes to the crunch, we see something quite different, which is driven solely by mandarins in Whitehall. That is fundamentally undemocratic. There is no collaboration whatever. Given that the Department’s Ministers are so well educated, it is a disgrace that not even the elected MP was worthy of a phone call or a letter. That is not the way one would usually expect Ministers to behave when such massive decisions are being made. The Minister has not even sought to get to the school or to spend any time there. Indeed, there is no record of his having spent any time in a Haringey primary in Tottenham. That is of huge concern, given the decision he is about to make.

The proposals are a massive shift and a departure from the policy under the previous Government. The intellectually bankrupt idea that excellence is synonymous with only one structure is of huge concern, and it does not hold water. It should be abandoned, and I ask the Minister to give some contrite indication of a change of position.

6.18 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I know he has a close personal and constituency interest in the issue.

Last June we made it clear that our absolute priority is to turn around underperforming primary schools by finding new academy sponsors for them. Our motivation is simply to raise standards for children. We want to find lasting solutions to underperformance so that all children have the same opportunities in life—opportunities that are enjoyed by children in areas neighbouring Haringey.

The 2011 key stage 2 tests show that Haringey primary schools went backwards, dropping 4 percentage points and taking them below the national and London averages in English and maths. Haringey primary schools are the worst performing in inner London. They have the highest number of primary schools currently below the floor—

Mr Lammy: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Gibb: If I may, I should like to make some progress. The right hon. Gentleman has had plenty of chances to make his point—

Mr Lammy: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Gibb: I will give way very briefly.

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Mr Lammy: I must ask the Minister to correct his use of the term “inner London”. The Department does not categorise Haringey schools as inner London schools, and it certainly does not fund them as such. Will he also confirm that the performance of the Isle of Wight, the Medway towns, Peterborough and Norfolk are all below that of Haringey, and tell us whether he will be seeking to ensure that they, too, will be forced to have academies?

Mr Gibb: On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, we agree with him that the funding system, which we inherited from his Government, is unfair and opaque. We want to increase its transparency, and we have put out a new approach for consultation. We will report on that in due course. We are taking action against all underperforming schools in the country. We are working co-operatively with local authorities that are co-operating with us. A different approach is being taken by Haringey, however, and that is why there is a difference in this particular instance.

Mr Lammy: I think that the leader and the chief executive of Haringey council would want me to place on record that they have been very co-operative with the Department in holding conversations about this matter. The Minister will know that the mainstay of resistance in Haringey has come from the schools themselves.

Mr Gibb: That is very good to hear.

I should like to continue with the point that I was making. Haringey has the highest number of primary schools currently below the floor, out of all London authorities, and 12 primary schools there have been below the floor for three or more of the past six years. Demographically similar local authorities such as Hackney, Camden, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets all outperform Haringey at primary school level.

The floor standard is a basic acceptable level of performance by a primary school. For the record, a school is below the floor if fewer than 60% of pupils are achieving level 4 or above in English and maths or failing to make average progress in English and maths. Insisting that schools educate their pupils to level 4 standard is not a huge objective; nor is it unachievable. Level 4 involves just the basics. To achieve a level 4 in reading, pupils need to be able to interpret and understand the meaning behind a simple story. In maths, all that is required is to be able to understand simple fractions and to add, subtract, multiply and divide without the help of a calculator.

It is unacceptable that so many children in Haringey are being let down. As the right hon. Gentleman said, if a child leaves primary school without the basics, they will struggle at secondary school and throughout life. Those pupils face real disadvantages when starting secondary school and have extreme difficulty in catching up later.

In my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s speech last week at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham college, he said that pupils cannot read to learn if they have not learned to read. They cannot begin to deal with more advanced mathematical concepts, or with physics or chemistry or any number of other subjects, if they have not grasped the fundamentals of arithmetic. No matter how good a secondary school is, there is a limit to the extent to which it can pick up the pieces. It is

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for that reason alone that we want to take action to secure sustainable improvements in a number of Haringey’s underperforming schools.

Mr Lammy: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Gibb: I will not, if the right hon. Gentleman does not mind, because I want to continue to make my argument and address the points that he has made.

Those are schools whose history of underperformance and ability to sustain improvements are causing us real concern. Downhills primary school was judged inadequate by Ofsted in 2002 and placed in special measures. It came out of special measures three years later in 2005, but improvements were not sustained, and in January 2010 it was again judged inadequate by Ofsted and required significant improvement. Key stage 2 results show that the school has failed to meet the floor standard since 2005. In 2011, 61% of pupils achieved level 4 or above in English and maths, with the other 39% of pupils failing to achieve that basic level. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is unacceptable for any school to have a large proportion of its pupils failing to achieve minimum standards year after year. We know that those standards can be met, however.

Mr Lammy rose

Mr Gibb: Let me make this final point before giving way. We know that that can be done. There are schools across London with intakes as challenging as those in Haringey, with proportions of pupils on free school meals and where English is not their first language, that are performing well above the standard. Let me cite one school I have visited in Tower Hamlets. In Osmani primary school, for example, 95.8% of pupils have English as an additional language and 58% are eligible for free school meals, yet that school has 88% achieving level 4 in English and maths. That is what we want to see happening in Haringey.

Mr Lammy: We all want to see that, but I say again to the Minister that in the boroughs that he prays in aid, each pupil is funded a great deal more than pupils in the London borough of Haringey. Why does he imagine that we do not need extra teachers and extra support to bring up those pupils’ standards, but that a structural change into an academy will fix that problem? Will he say something about why the structural change per se will fix that problem? Where there are academies that are failing—and there are—what will he do about it in five years’ time, given the autonomy that academies have?

Mr Gibb: I have to say that the academies programme was inherited from the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, as indeed was the funding system. Academies have made a tremendous difference in transforming underperforming schools, especially in secondary schools where this approach has been applied. The professionals have autonomy and new leadership is brought in. It has worked in practice.

Let me make one or two things clear to the right hon. Gentleman. First, no decision about any school in Haringey has been taken at this stage. Officials have met the local authority regularly since July and they have met the relevant head teachers and chairs of governors

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in October, offering to visit any school wanting a further conversation. At all stages we have been clear that our goal is school improvement, and that we believe that the best route for achieving that is through schools becoming sponsored academies. We have sought to work with the local authority and schools to find solutions on which everyone can agree, as we have done successfully in many parts of the country, and as we continue to do successfully throughout the country.

I agree about the importance of consulting the governing body, and this is why officials sought another meeting with each school in early December asking for their views on these proposals. The schools in Haringey have been given time to provide representations to the Secretary of State on his proposed action. Before giving us their views, we fully expect them to engage with the wider school community. We have already received a number of representations from parents, governors and the local community, both in support of and against the approach we are taking in Haringey, which we will take into consideration. When we have the representations from the schools, we will take a final decision and inform them. It would therefore be inappropriate and premature for me to comment further on the specific Downhills case until we have fully considered all those representations and the circumstances of the case.

Mr Lammy: Will the Minister confirm that the officials gave the governing body three weeks in which to find a sponsor—three weeks in which to go out and find some captain of industry to take over the school?

Mr Gibb: Discussions with the local authority have been going on in Haringey since July, and this is part of that process.

Let me say that this is not happening in Haringey alone. The last Government opened 203 sponsored academies and we have opened another 132 since the election. We are working with local authorities across the country to secure better outcomes for their pupils by transforming these underperforming schools. Over 300 schools have now opened as sponsored academies, a further 1,194 have converted to academy status, and more than 700 maintained primary schools are either open to becoming academies or in the pipeline. Those range from small rural primaries to large urban primaries such as the 843-pupil Durand school in south London.

I would like to assure the right hon. Gentleman that we recognise the real effort that the governing bodies and staff of schools are making to improve the standards of education at their schools in the most challenging of circumstances. We want to help schools that, despite the best efforts of the staff, are struggling to sustain improvements. We believe that substantially different solutions are required—solutions that will help the most disadvantaged pupils to succeed. Academy status led by a strong sponsor is the best way of providing quick and sustainable improvements in order to prevent more children from leaving the school without at least the basic literacy and mathematical skills.

Academy status has been very successful; it is a tried and tested model. A large body of evidence of pupil performance and independent reports show that the academy model—

6.30 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).