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The Government are doing nothing about the problem of bureaucracy and red tape facing head teachers today. The Government have been told for four years that they should be doing something about it, but they have failed to deliver. We have seen no evidence today or in the Gracious Speech that the Government have learned from
We want quality of standards, choice and discipline to be the objective of the Government's reform programme. I seek an assurance from the Secretary of State that the detail of her programme is as ambitious and far-reaching as we expect and the children of this country deserve. We now need to raise aspirations in too many schools, and one does not do so by burdening schools with red tape and constant Government interference; one does so by setting schools free, letting teachers get on with their jobs, widening diversity and increasing parental choice. We shall support measures that achieve such ends, but we will give the Government no quarter if their reforms do not live up to the expectations and ambitions of parents, pupils, heads and teachers.
The Government were given the benefit of the doubt at the election, but they will soon find that they have run out of excuses for failing to deliver. There is no more time for spin, gimmicks or initiative overload; now is the time for action.
Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): I welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris) to her post as the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. There could be no better exponent of our education policies than her, and I am delighted that she is where she is.
The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) would not want to accept advice from me, but if one has recently failed an examination--the Conservative party failed the exam badly--it is better to look at what one has got wrong rather than try to lecture those who have passed the examination on what they got wrong. We must have done something right to be returned with such a thumping great majority for the second time. I am delighted at that.
I have waited for many years--the recent general election was my sixth--for the Labour party to be returned for a second full term in government. It was vital that we achieved that, and it is vital that we deliver. In the past I have seen our party make the mistake of trying to solve all public sector and other problems quickly, and then lose because it has not struck the right balance in the economy. I am pleased to say that the roles of the Labour and Conservative parties seem to have been reversed and that it is now the Conservative party that is making such mistakes, which I welcome. It is vital that we get things right in this Parliament, just as it was in the previous one.
Three delightful incidents during the election campaign stand out in my mind. One was when I walked across an estate where many youngsters had been unemployed and a couple of young black kids gave me the thumbs up. I asked them what the Labour Government had done for them and they replied without any prompting, "It's that welfare to work; we've got jobs now and they're permanent." That made me feel good.
The second incident involved a pensioner who had previously received about £65 a week in income support--about 500,000 pensioners did not receive any pension at all because for one reason or other they had not paid into systems--but who now receives £92 a week.
We still have a lot more to do. For the best part of a century, this country has under-invested in its public services, for which we have paid an awful price. That is why I find it difficult to take all the Conservative party's criticisms of public services. Everything that it did during the 18 years in which I sat in opposition was designed not only to undermine the morale and confidence of the public sector but to cut investment in it.
There are a number of areas in which delivery will take a long time. The most notable one is probably transport. It will be extremely difficult to get transport right quickly. The recent high-speed rail link between Calais and Marseilles took the French 12 years to build. When one thinks that we have not even delivered a high-speed rail link to the channel tunnel yet, one realises how much further we must go before we can compare our public services with the more advanced services in many other European nations.
Similarly, I have no doubt that we have much further to go in the national health service, because that is about not just money but management. That brings me to the first of the problem areas of delivery about which I want to speak. I have no problem with bringing in the private sector--subject to certain conditions. It can be very useful in a range of public services. We should not approach the matter from the position that public is good and private is bad, or private is good and public is bad. We should simply ask which can deliver best and in what way. At the end of the day, it is the quality of services received by the people whom we represent that matters. That is what we are after improving.
There was one particularly important matter that we did not get quite right in the previous Parliament, and I am pleased that it is clearly in our manifesto this time. To deliver good public services, we need a well-paid work force whose morale is good. I emphasise that the work force comprises not only teachers, doctors and nurses but employees throughout the public sector.
Trade unionists and other public sector workers fear that private sector involvement will in some way lower standards of employment contracts, particularly salaries, hours, holidays, safeguards and so on, and that therefore they will lose out. That has happened in the past. Indeed, it was a major failing of the Conservative party when it was in government. It simply used privatisation or the introduction of private services to undercut the work force. It is not surprising, therefore, that the public sector work force was demoralised and run down over many years.
We must turn that around. That must be a priority for us, whether in the public or the private sectors, for employees at all levels in the health service, education, transport or housing. There is much room for improvement in housing, such as in the willingness of tenants to transfer to housing associations or other companies. All that must be predicated on an improved outcome for those who receive the service and a proper standard of employment and payment for the work force.
I think that all Labour Members--and, I hope, other hon. Members--realise the importance not only of the structure of local government but of councillors. We would do well to keep in mind one of the lessons that I learned in the 1980s when the Conservative party began to lose its councillors in droves. I remember that a group of about 18 Conservative councillors in west Oxfordshire stood down because of the then Government's policies on local authorities. That is an awful warning with regard to ensuring that our councillors have the ability to do the job and deliver the services that they want to provide for their people. Above all, recognition must be given to the jobs that they do and they must have a structure that enables them to provide funding themselves and to answer to the electorate.
Significant issues are involved in giving local councils more control, with the acceptance that that involves the responsibility to answer for the use of the money. If we get that right, we can revitalise local government in this country. Local government has always been one of the bedrocks of our democracy. Indeed, it was local government that led the industrial and public sector revolutions in the 19th century. It was local council members and mayors in cities who delivered the structure that made the industrial revolution work and that improved cleanliness, public health and a range of other concerns. We must return to that basis. I have long been a convert to the idea of regional government, on which I want us to proceed as fast as possible, but I also want us to revitalise and improve local government by giving more powers to local councillors and ensuring that they have the ability to raise the funding that is necessary for them to deliver.
I can think of few better examples of where we have still not got that right than housing benefit. When the Conservatives introduced the housing benefit system, it seemed almost designed to fail. I acknowledge, however, that it is also incredibly difficult to reform. If the housing benefit system throughout the country were to undergo a reform that worked in London, it would cost an arm and a leg. On the other hand, if a system were introduced in London that was predicated on what was done elsewhere, nobody would be able to afford to live in London. We have enough problems already in the London area in respect of lack of affordable housing, whether it be for teachers, nurses or other essential workers. I acknowledge that those difficulties are enormous in terms of the reform of local government, local government finance and housing benefit, but I point out that the way in which they knit together is profoundly important for the future of this country.
I should like to say a quick word about crime, as I have always felt that we still need to do more to support victims. I am thinking not so much about money as about the support that we give the victims of violence. I could not help but notice, as I think all of us have, the dreadful agony suffered by the Bulger family and how they coped with it. In a recent case in Norway, the family dealt with their experience very differently and did not have the same desire for vengeance. When one considers the way
As is fairly typical of the treatment of the families of victims of extreme violence in this country, the Bulger family were given little help in coping with their feelings. How on earth a person ever would cope with such feelings is beyond me, but practice in other European countries is ahead of what happens here. For example, I do not think that, in those countries, there would be any of the dreadful newspaper-driven attempts that have been made to expose the two children who committed the murder in the belief that pursuing them throughout their lives will improve the quality of life for them, society or the Bulger family. More help for victims, other than of a financial type, would be very useful.
I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary speak about the need to deal with the asylum issue, partly by recognising that the core of the problem is that this country does not have a proper immigration policy. One of the reasons why the problem has been so difficult to deal with is that, as we know in areas such as mine, many people who claim asylum are immigrants who wanted to emigrate to Britain for work. In a part of Ealing that is situated in my constituency, it is almost impossible to argue otherwise, as about the third biggest group of asylum seekers is from Poland. It is difficult to argue that people from that country are fleeing in fear of their lives; they migrate to get work. The problem is that we do not have a proper immigration system that would enable us to separate the people who are fleeing extreme violence and to give them the help and support that they need. I hope that we can make progress on that.
I do not wish to delay the House much longer. I know that it is not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to ensure that a foxhunting Bill is reintroduced, for which she is probably grateful, but we must ensure that that happens. It is a matter of trust. As long as there is a free vote on the various options in such a Bill, people will be satisfied, but it would be a serious mistake not to introduce a similar Bill to that which was considered before the election.
Finally, I want to speak about the reform of Parliament. I listened with great care to the comments made yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition. For the first time, I heard him make some very positive remarks. He will not be in his job for very much longer, but if those remarks were a genuine reflection of Tory party thinking, they are very welcome. We introduced a lot of reforms in the previous Parliament under my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), who is sitting to my left, and her successor, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. One of the biggest changes was the attempt to programme legislation so that it could receive proper, in-depth and detailed consideration, instead of being the subject of time-wasting speeches. The reform fell down largely, but not entirely, because the Opposition wanted to use programme motion debating time as another way of wasting time and keeping us here late into the night. That will stop in the next week or two because of the way in which we will address these issues in the near future.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke yesterday about the need to reform Parliament. Let me make an appeal to the Conservative party: ultimately, all major parties go into opposition and into government, and it is in nobody's