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The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made practically no reference to the Gracious Speech. I understand why he overlooked it. Even after the four years that the Government have had to consider what might need doing to tackle the country's problems, Her Majesty was not given a very ample speech to read from the throne.
Returning to the House at the start of this new Parliament is a little like turning up on groundhog day. Four years on, and after four weeks of hectic electioneering, the party balance is almost identical to that which we faced in 1997. A Labour Government with a large majority are telling us that the state of hospitals and schools is poor, that something ought to be done about it, and that they might get round to tackling those issues. Did we not hear all that four years ago? After four years of government, are they not mainly responsible for the state of our schools and hospitals? Would not a little more humility on the part of those who had to struggle and scrape for every vote that they garnered have been a good idea?
Before Labour Members spring up to say that the Conservatives did not do well on 7 June, let me say that I fully accept that; of course we did not do well. We are heeding and learning from that experience, and in the next few days and weeks we shall have an interesting contest in which new ideas are set out and we choose the new leader we think we need. However, all Members should express a little humility about the fact that 41 per cent. of the electorate decided that it was not worth voting for any party or any candidate, and that for the first time in living memory a Government have a majority with positive support from only one quarter of voters--a massive 16 percentage points less than the proportion of voters who abstained altogether.
Collectively, we have a serious problem. The audience is leaving the political theatre, walking away from the offerings of all the main political parties. Almost every candidate and Member of Parliament who is honest will admit that, in the four weeks preceding 7 June, they had to struggle to retain the votes of those who had supported their party in previous elections. Labour's vote was almost 3 million down on the number of votes it achieved in 1997, which, in turn, was less than the number achieved in 1992 by John Major, the former right hon. Member for Huntingdon, who was then Prime Minister. He got rather more votes, but a rather smaller majority, than Labour achieved in 1997.
The Queen's Speech should address the issues and the style of politics that have caused people to walk away from the offerings of all the major national political parties and that have, through that massive abstention, hollowed out the democratic consent that upholds all Members of Parliament. On the doorsteps in my constituency and in others, whether represented now by a
If a group of politicians constantly parrot the same refrain week after week, month after month, with no differentiation, no dialogue, no progress and no understanding of the fact that the public do not always agree with them, the public, instead of being impressed by that, say, "We simply don't believe you. We would like to see more genuine debate and greater nuance. We want you to understand that everything is not perfect, and to evince some recognition of the fact that mistakes have been made by Governments of all persuasions. We would like you to understand our concerns and problems." I think that that means that we have to forge a new style of politics based on campaigning around the local and national aspirations of individuals and communities, which we, as their representatives, can pick up.
We have to be keener to hold the Executive to account, whether we are Opposition Members or Government Back Benchers. Many of the Labour Members of Parliament elected or re-elected to this Parliament will not sit on the Treasury Bench, but they all have a duty, with Opposition Members, to hold the Government to account--to remind the Government of what their electorates want and to tell the Government why they are failing--[Interruption.] The Minister of State, Scotland Office keeps scoffing. He is not seriously interested in the problems of this country or the electorate. He obviously did not knock on enough doors during the general election to understand the problem that affects his party, mine and the others represented in Parliament. The audience is walking away in droves.
During the general election campaign, many people in Labour constituencies as well as Conservative ones did not want to come to the door and talk at all if they thought a canvasser was outside. They stayed indoors because the television soap was more interesting. [Hon. Members: "That is what happened to you."] I am talking not about my experience, but about that reported by canvassers operating in a wide range of constituencies, both those in which there was a chance that the seat would change hands and those in which there was none.
Labour Members are deluding themselves if they do not understand that 3 million people staying at home sends a serious message to them as well as to us. There are some common elements in the problem we face. If Labour Members do not understand that centralised spin machines churning out messages that people do not believe is a turn-off, they had better think again, because their actions are helping to destroy belief and trust in Parliament and politics. If they believe that a Government repeating that schools are getting better will solve the problem, when people want a Government who engage in the detail of why local school standards are not rising, why the money is not getting through to teachers, why teachers are not being recruited, and why a circular a day does not motivate a teacher more strongly, but turns him or her off, they have not got the message of the general election.
It was quite breathtaking to hear in the talismanic remarks at the end of the comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton the statement that the Government must do something about all those bureaucracies. Many of them were set up over many years by Labour councils, or have recently been set up and strengthened by the Labour Government, who were extremely good at appointing officials, bureaucrats and spin doctors, but very bad at appointing real doctors and real teachers and giving them the power and the tools that they would need to do the job.
I am glad that the Government have changed their mind, but we cannot welcome that as a sign that they will now give us a better education system. We shall not be able to do so until we know that they will repeal the legislation that still threatens grammar schools, as proof that they now genuinely understand that diversity and choice are the way to achieve higher standards.
When will the Secretary of State for Education and Skills come before us to repent of all the mistakes of her predecessor, who sent out virtually a circular a day, to the point where teachers in schools in my constituency were saying, "We can't take any more circulars. We are spending too much time reading them and not enough time is left to teach. We are spending too much time completing ridiculous corporate plans, and we don't have time for the extra-curricular activities, such as sports and the setting up of clubs, that children need if they are to have a more rounded education." I guess that that has happened in most other Members' local schools, too.
Too many teachers are saying, "I didn't come into teaching to write corporate plans, read Government circulars and do the Government's work in responding to the surveys that they wish to be completed." Teachers came into teaching to teach, and they are discovering that a meddlesome and interventionist Government are getting in their way when they try to do so.
Instead of promising vague pieces of legislation, when will the Government sort out the issue of teachers' pay? In my part of the world, and in the constituencies of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, it is difficult to recruit and retain teachers with current national pay scales. The problem has become considerably worse over the past four years. There has been some good growth in competing private sector wages, and many younger people are saying, "I have a degree and I have prospects. I could get £5,000 a year more with shorter hours or easier conditions if I took a private sector job and didn't go into a state-run school."
I urge the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, as she plans an education Bill, to welcome diversity and higher standards and to understand that those will be more quickly brought about by sorting out teachers' pay in areas of scarcity and shortage, both by subject and geographically. The issue would be more quickly sorted out by rapid repeal or withdrawal of many of the proposals and documents that were hurled at the education sector, and which it received all too unwillingly, over the past four years by the Secretary of State's predecessor.
It is interesting that her predecessor has been given promotion for what he did in his previous office. I hope that he is not planning to do to the police what he so clearly did to the education system, thereby damaging the morale of, and the incentives for, all those who are most important in delivering the service.
I am all in favour of parents and voluntary bodies raising additional money for schools--that is easier in richer areas than poorer ones--and many of them do it willingly. However, I hope that a great deal of senior teacher time will not be diverted into scrambling around for industrial and commercial sponsorship, when schools should get reliable sources of money to pay teachers' salaries and buy the books and equipment that they need from the substantial sums that are collected from taxpayers and that, undoubtedly, are voted for in the general education budget.
I recommend to the Government the Conservative policy that was proposed in the election. It was a well-kept secret because the media decided to concentrate on other issues, but it was the good policy of routeing much more money for pupils--£540 more on average for each pupil--directly into schools. We believe that the head teacher and the board of governors are better able to judge the range and value of services that they need, and could use for educational purposes some of the money currently being spent on services, bureaucracy and administration.
How will power be decentralised? I should be delighted if my local hospital had more power to make its own decisions, compared with the organisation of the local bureaucracy, but I should also like it to have more of the money that we vote for health service purposes generally. I must tell the Government that, in the fast-growing area of the Thames valley, the money going to Royal Berkshire hospital is simply not adequate for the large number of people who wish to use its services. The hospital is currently a building site--which, I trust, means that there will be good news when the building is completed. However, we still do not have the money that is needed for extra nurses, consultants and beds.