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The Minister for Lifelong Learning (Margaret Hodge): Thirteen years?

Mr. Green: For the benefit of the hon. Lady, there are 13 years between 1984 and 1997.

Margaret Hodge: They were born in 1984.

Mr. Green: Yes. I am interested that Government Front-Bench Members do not believe that education starts at birth or that parents have anything to do with their children's education. That is an insight into Government Front Benchers. They believe that parents neither have nor should have anything to do with their children's education. Never has new Labour so exposed itself.

I also congratulate the Secretary of State on her unblushing ability to describe the Bill as deregulatory when it centralises power in her hands more completely than any previous education measure. Only Wales partially escapes her all-embracing clutches. The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) made a good a point when he suggested that, rather than seizing all power instantly, she might care to wonder whether that was wise.

I was fascinated when the Secretary of State said that there might be bad boards of governors, bad local education authorities and bad schools and that she wanted the power to intervene in all cases. It does not appear to have occurred to her or her colleagues that there may be bad central Government politicians who should not be allowed to intervene. Not only are Government Front- Bench Members so arrogant that they do not want parents to have anything to do with education, but they believe that they are the only repositories of wisdom on the subject. Such hubris will be greeted, as always in the long run, by nemesis.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones : The point that I was making earlier was that we should look at the evidence, and I apply that to those on the Opposition Benches as well as my own. Part of the evidence, which compares Welsh school funding with English school funding, suggests that there is a great deal more funding within the schools in England, possibly because of ring fencing, but I would simply ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the evidence.

Mr. Green: Looking at the evidence is usually a good thing before legislating. One of the many problems with the Bill is that it will be impossible for the House to look at the evidence, because so much is reserved for secondary legislation. I shall return to that and to the issue of over-centralisation in a moment.

It is worth while pointing out the sheer irrelevance of the Bill to the many crises facing our school system. I know how sensitive the Government are to having the teaching unions quoted at them, so I apologise if I offend their sensibilities when I cite today's briefing from the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, which states:

That seems exactly right. I do not always agree with the NAS/UWT, but that seems to be spot on.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): Has my hon. Friend noticed that, for example, in Danetre school in my

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constituency, the cost of recruitment of new teachers has risen tenfold over the last three years to £10,000 a year? Does he agree that that is not only a sign of the times, but a dead loss to resources that would otherwise be available to the school for the teaching of children?

Mr. Green: My hon. Friend makes a characteristically sensible point. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will find that that experience is repeated all over the country. It is a severe problem, and one of the many that schools are facing. We know that hard-working heads and dedicated teachers are applying day-to-day solutions to those problems, and we should all pay tribute to them.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the provisions in the Bill to pay off the loans of students who become teachers is a positive inducement for new recruits to the teaching profession?

Mr. Green: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that clause 180 is one of the few good bits of the Bill. I was going to talk later about the bits of the Bill that I do not find particularly damaging, and I am happy to say that that clause is one of them, so I have previewed that part of my speech.

Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Does my hon. Friend agree that that provision is a bit rich coming from a Government who forced those loans onto students in the first place?

Mr. Green: My hon. Friend is right. I was suggesting—in a spirit of generosity to the Government, as I feel that most of the Bill is lamentable—that I was happy to acknowledge one of the few of the 211 clauses that was not too bad.

The Government have many crises to address. In health care, the patients waiting on trolleys are the visible signs of the crisis. The crisis in our schools is more subtle and quiet. Today's Ofsted report, to which the Secretary of State referred, warned that improvements in literacy and numeracy were stalling. Despite the right hon. Lady's attempts to deny it, the chief inspector said this morning that the main reason for that was a shortage of teachers. Teachers say that the main reason for that shortage is that too many teachers are leaving the profession because there is too much red tape and not enough power to discipline disruptive pupils.

The tests that the House should set the Bill are: will it encourage a single extra teacher to stay in the profession; will it cut the red tape that is driving teachers out of the classroom; and will it improve discipline in our schools? The answer to all those questions is a very clear no.

If, as I suspect, the Government are not keen on the NAS/UWT, let me quote the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, who has said that the Bill is

So, if the Government want to have a row about how relevant the Bill is to the real problems in schools, they are going to have to have it with the people who work day to day in them, and they will lose that argument.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde): I understand that the Conservative leader's flagship policy to solve the

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very problems that the hon. Gentleman is addressing is to give children vouchers that would take them from state schools to private schools. Does he support that policy and will he table amendments to further it after the Bill receives a Second Reading?

Mr. Green: The hon. Gentleman's idea of the Conservative party's policy review process is fantastically misconceived, so I suggest that he reads more about it before intervening again.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green: I have been generous in giving way in the past few minutes, but I must make progress. I shall give way in a moment.

The Secretary of State paints a rosy picture of the Bill and the state of education. She is decent and sincere and I am sure that she means it. Indeed, I now think that the whole Government, some of whom are rather less decent and sincere, believe it as well—the Chancellor pointedly ignored education in last week's pre-Budget report. In their panic over the health service, the Government seem to have forgotten that the Prime Minister used to say that education was his first priority. How quickly panic overtakes principle in the world of new Labour today.

Instead of the new money and the new ideas trailed before the pre-Budget announcement, we have the Bill—this rag-bag. Let me make it clear that Conservative Members would welcome genuine moves to give more freedom to schools to improve standards. During our period in office, we took steps to give schools precisely such freedom and many took those opportunities successfully, but I remind the Secretary of State that precisely those freedoms were taken away by this Government's last attempt at a flagship education Bill. On the charge of over-centralisation, she has much previous form and the Bill, for all the Government's bluster, is straightforward centralisation.

Many people recall the remark that sums up what a lot of us dislike about the Labour view of life—Douglas Jay's immortal saying:

What is less well known is that he was talking about education policy, so 60 years on I pay tribute to new Labour's modernisation. These days, it is the lady in Whitehall who really does know best; otherwise, nothing has changed in the Labour world.

For those on the Government Benches who still cling to the fond illusion that the Bill will give new freedoms to schools, I recommend that they read it and get as far as clause 2. They will find that they are to vote the Secretary of State power to give her favoured applicants

Any requirement imposed by any legislation may be ignored, but only at the whim of the Secretary of State.

I suggest a test for those on the Government Benches. Would they like that power to be given to a Secretary of State of whom they do not approve? If they think it too powerful a weapon in the hands of such a Secretary

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of State, will they consider doing their job as parliamentarians tonight—holding the Government to account and suggesting to Front Benchers that this is a step too far? I expect them to do that only privately—I am not unrealistic in my demands of Labour Back Benchers—but I hope that somewhere on those Benches are a few people who value the democratic rights of this place.

I also know that, on both sides of the House, there are those who think deeply about how to create a world-class education system, which is clearly what we all want. I hope that some agree that we simply cannot achieve it by driving everything from the centre. If every big decision has to go across the Secretary of State's desk, however good the advice she receives we shall achieve not innovation, but delay and political second guessing. Frankly, if the Archangel Gabriel were available to be Secretary of State for Education and Skills, we would still not give him the powers that the Secretary of State wants for herself.

This country needs remotivated teachers, schools that can think for themselves and local authorities that can take their own decisions, but we shall get none of those from the Bill. Of all the criticisms, this is unanimous. Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says:

David Hart of the National Association of Head Teachers says:

David Hart also said—I was enchanted by this—that the proposals were all spin and no substance, a phrase that many Conservative Members will recognise.

In case Labour Members are still disturbed by the range of opposition to the Bill from every teaching union, let me move away from trade unions and give them the view of a leading councillor—a leading Labour councillor, as it happens—Graham Lane, chairman of the Local Government Association's education committee. According to him:

The Secretary of State is completely friendless when it comes to centralisation, and I hope that she will reflect on that. She also appears to have no friends when it comes to her proposed treatment of local government. The Government are particularly keen to hide the Bill's effects on local education authorities. Notwithstanding their vehement attacks on Conservative proposals to scale down the role of LEAs before the election, that is precisely what the Secretary of State is doing now. The only difference is that we suggested devolving power down to heads and other teachers, whereas the Government are taking powers back to the Secretary of State.

The plans to give the Secretary of State new powers over local school budgets, and to create new tiers of bureaucracy with statutory school forums and admission forums, will effectively abolish LEAs by stealth and hand

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their powers to Whitehall. If the Government want to remove education powers from local government, they should be honest about it: the worst of all worlds is retaining the current structure as a facade after removing all the substance, which is precisely what the Government are trying to do.

I used the phrase "all the substance" advisedly. A copy of a most helpful document has fallen into my hands. The document is called "Education Bill 2001: a briefing for Labour MPs". There are many interesting facts about it. For instance, it is described as emanating from the Department for Education and Skills. I think that when my constituents pay their taxes, knowing that some are spent by the Department, they may hope that that portion is spent on schools, universities and pre-schools, rather than on political documents produced for Labour MPs to be helpful to the Government. I hope that the Secretary of State has considered the propriety of such action, because I am sure that others will.

Quite apart from the existence of this rather dubious document, its contents are fairly interesting. Page 14, which deals with LEAs, tells us:

Any education function? Can the Secretary of State say how she will exercise that power? Will she want to abolish single-sex or grammar schools? Will another Secretary of State want to get rid of voluntary-aided schools?

I remind the House that this explanation of what the Bill really contains does not come from Conservative central office; it has been handed out to Labour Members so that they can be helpful to the Government. If they do not understand it, the back of the document invites them to contact the Department's special advisers—on a telephone number that I shall refrain from giving in public—[Interruption.]

The Government have recent form in connection with the use of special advisers for improper purposes. I think that the Secretary of State has been caught out, like her right hon. Friend, in doing the same. If the Government think that Labour Members will be helpful to them now, it is already too late. The Local Government Association has a Labour majority, and it also usually tries to be helpful to the Government.

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