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Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman's final point is valid and we shall certainly bear it in mind. I am not aware of the specific distinctions that he makes in respect of patterns in Wales. The nature of his concern was not wholly clear to me--[Interruption.] I understood his point about inspections, but it was not wholly clear to me why the differences that he identified are arising, or in what circumstances. It may simply be that the people who would have been available are tied up with other matters. I shall certainly make inquiries into that.

On the hon. Gentleman's general point about the future of the farming industry, of course the Government have that under consideration. It is very much part of the discussions that are taking place about the farm recovery plan and the wider discussions that need to be had about the overall and long-term future of sustainable agriculture and of the rural and farming communities.


European Communities (Finance)

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Secretary Margaret Beckett, Secretary Clare Short, Mr. Secretary Byers, Mr. Andrew Smith, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Secretary Estelle Morris, Dawn Primarolo, Mr. Paul Boateng and Ruth Kelly, presented a Bill to amend the definition of "the Treaties" and "the Community Treaties" in section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 so as to include the decision of 29th September 2000 of the Council on the Communities' system of own resources: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 1].


Mr. Secretary Byers, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Milburn, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Ms Rosie Winterton and Ms Sally Keeble, presented a Bill to make further provision about the functions of local housing authorities relating to homelessness and the allocation of housing accommodation; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 2].

European Communities (Amendment)

Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer,

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Mr. Robin Cook, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Secretary Margaret Beckett, Secretary Clare Short, Mr. Secretary Hoon, Secretary Hewitt, the Solicitor-General and Mr. Peter Hain, presented a Bill to make provision consequential on the Treaty signed at Nice on 26th February 2001 amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related Acts: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 3].

Civil Defence (Grant)

Mr. Secretary Blunkett, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Hoon and Mr. John Denham, presented a Bill to replace section 3 of the Civil Defence Act 1948 in so far as it applies to authorities in England or Wales: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 4].

Point of Order

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When I returned home last night and listened to the BBC news for the south-east, Lord Whitty was reported as having announced that there will be a full-scale public inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak, whereas the Secretary of State cast some doubt on that in her statement today. First, through your good offices, Mr. Speaker, could I ask that accurate language is used when Ministers are talking about this sensitive and important matter? Secondly, if there is to be a full-scale public inquiry into the outbreak, could you use your good offices to ensure that the House of Commons hears about it first?

Mr. Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman could have put that matter to the Secretary of State when she was making her statement. I cannot be responsible for the Minister's words. I am sure that an appropriate announcement will be made about any public inquiry.

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Second Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [20 June],

Question again proposed.

Public Services

1.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your re-election. I apologise to you and to all Members for not being able to attend the end of the debate. I hope that the House will accept my apologies, and I shall enjoy reading the comments of new and not so new Members in Hansard.

I shall begin on a point of unanimity. I am pleased that the Opposition have chosen public services for today's debate on the Queen's Speech, because, from wherever we come, we now know that the delivery of public services is, as ever, of prime importance. In this Parliament, there will be an improvement in the delivery of those services. What makes that so important, especially to my Department, is that without good delivery of public services, so much else does not happen. They are the key to individual fulfilment and to people's life chances, and they make a real difference to the quality of life of individuals, communities and the nation.

I am conscious of the fact that we are all users of public services, but many people work in that sector and serve us well. I want to put on the record my thanks to the many hundreds of thousands of people who spend their working lives in public service and do an excellent job. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I particularly want to thank those in education from classroom assistants and nursery nurses to teachers, others who work in schools and those who work in further or higher education. What they do is much appreciated, and the quality of their work can determine whether as individuals we flourish and whether as a nation we succeed.

The Department for Education and Skills is a new Department that will play a crucial role in delivering change and improvement in a key public service. Our job is to ensure that people, at whatever age or stage in their lives, have access to learning and education of the highest quality. For politicians and certainly for a Government, there can be few more important challenges than to get education right. Our obligation to get it right starts with the very young and continues throughout their lives.

In the next few years, the Department will deal with and improve certain areas. We will start by providing good-quality early-years education and child care, and will go on to ensure that we teach the basics well in

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school, that we introduce children to a broad curriculum, that we celebrate the diversity in schools, and that we achieve a system that tailors schools to the needs of children and not the other way about. Beyond those compulsory years of schooling, there must be routes into learning that motivate people, that keep them going and that give them the chance to continue learning through further and higher education and in the workplace.

In all that, we must not forget that learning is sometimes for fulfilment and enjoyment as much as it is for employment. That is what our Department is about. If that does not seem a large enough task, on top of that we have the job of guiding education at a time when the system has to respond to a rapidly changing skills base in a world where information and communication technology has transformed the way in which we access information and learning. We have never before had such a challenge.

If we return to our own schooldays, we remember being given text books at the beginning of term. When we put our names in those books, we found that they had been used not just by students in the previous year but by students over the past 10, 15 or even 20 years. Now, day in, day out, the increasing number of information web pages provides a brilliant example of advances in the transmission of knowledge and in access to learning.

Ours must be an education service that does not forget the basics--that never forgets our obligation to reading, writing and number and to nursery education, while also being adaptable and flexible enough to meet challenges that have not faced earlier education services. Education is a key public service, which is why the Government are absolutely right to give it priority. The Queen's Speech made that clear.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Can the Secretary of State assure us that children with special needs will not be forgotten in the ambitious programmes that are being proposed?

Estelle Morris: I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this. He has been a keen attender of education debates and education questions, which is much appreciated.

I can give the hon. Gentleman such an assurance, but I am well aware that what is easy to say is more difficult to do. The pledge that I can give is that as we develop our range of policies covering all stages of education we will at all times consider the requirements of children with special educational needs, especially during the early years. All too often, tackling those requirements in secondary schools is tackling them too late. I believe that we will get it right if we build good-quality early-years identification into the system, followed by support for the children and parents involved. I am happy to undertake to do that, and to make progress in the current Parliament as we did in the last.

There is a great deal to do, and I am conscious that in this second Parliament there is much on which to build. Four years of Labour government has brought a real improvement in education, and in life chances. Next September, those who visit schools anywhere in the country--in villages, towns or cities--will not find five, six and seven-year-olds in classes of over 30. Four years ago, they would have found half a million in classes of

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that size. In every age range--key stage 1, key stage 2 and secondary--they will see better class sizes and better pupil-teacher ratios. Moreover, we are building on the best batch of literacy and numeracy results that 11-year-olds have ever achieved.

I know the difficulty that schools are experiencing with teacher recruitment. Nothing that I say diminishes it, or fails to acknowledge that a task confronts us. But there are more teachers in schools than there were four years ago, and the quality of those now leaving training is better than it has ever been. One million adults have individual learning accounts, and, thanks to the learning and skills councils, training opportunities and education are for the first time being brought together throughout the sector. After four years of Labour government, 88 per cent. of schools are connected to the internet.

Whatever those statistics tell us, however, I think that the real difference that we have begun to make to the education service is this. Over the past four years, we have started to make people believe that education success is not rationed: it is not limited to certain parts of the country and certain sections of society. That aspiration for all, that belief that we must not turn our back on failure, and that confidence that we have a nation whose members and groups all have talent, ambition and skills--regardless of the postcode into which they are born, of the ethnic minority into which they may have been born and of their gender--represent a cultural change that has begun over those four years. Above all, the progress that we have made has been in embedding that high aspiration and expectation in the system.

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