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Mr. Pound: "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out, out, out."

Mr. Sheerman: I have not tried that; it is a good one. I do not know whether I will try that when I am jogging her up and down on my knee, but I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion.

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We must talk about tackling the language barriers, about which the Minister was reticent. If a child cannot speak the language, bad behaviour can be a problem as students can become very frustrated. We have been too politically correct for too long about the absolute importance of insisting that new arrivals to this country learn English, which will open up their full potential in their education and in their working lives. For too long, we have been too deferential, saying that it is up to the individual to learn the language. I do not think that the rights and responsibilities of our country should be enjoyed until people can speak the language of this land. In Denmark and Sweden there is an insistence on children and their parents learning English. In Denmark, if immigrant parents do not learn English they do not receive the full benefits.

Mr. Pound: English?

Mr. Sheerman: They do not have all the benefits taken away, but they do not get all of them if they cannot show that they are trying to learn the language of the country. I feel strongly that learning English is important, and it is linked to behaviour.

Mr. Willis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Sheerman: No, I shall not give way, because this is a debate on behaviour. The hon. Gentleman was badly behaved last week, and I am excluding him from intervening on my speeches until I have an apology from him.

Families take their children away from school at particular times in their education, sometimes to disrupt it. Young girls of 13 are taken to Pakistan for long periods, and their language and education are disrupted. That is not good for their education. We need a consistent policy. I ask the Minister to consider language and how difficult it is for schools.

Those of us who are interested in education visit many schools, and we know that there are high pupil turnovers, especially in inner-city schools—not in the leafy suburbs or at Eton, Harrow and Winchester. Those high turnovers are to be found in areas where, according to the statistics published this morning, there are high levels of street crime. In many schools, teachers tell me that they do not know who they will be teaching when they walk into school in the morning. A batch of new pupils has come in and another batch has gone out. What sort of education can be provided in those circumstances, and what behaviour can we expect when students are struggling to understand the lessons because they have poor English? We have underestimated the importance of knowing the language and understanding and communicating better. We need a holistic approach: not short-term, one-off measures, but a policy over years that is much better than the present one.

I do not want to speak for much longer, but I cannot deal with better classroom management in isolation. Good classroom management is as important as good school management. There is a dramatic difference between a classroom in which the teacher understands good classroom management and has been taught the relevant skills, and a classroom in which the teacher does not have those skills. We have an excellent, wonderful teaching

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profession. It is important to give teachers good classroom management skills. For too long, we have taken it for granted that it is enough for someone to be a good maths teacher, a good physics teacher or a good language teacher. Only late in the day did we understand that classroom management skills were vital to an understanding of how to regulate and manage behaviour.

There should be dialogue with parents. I was not condemning parents in my earlier remarks: I was just saying that some parents have great problems, which they inflict on their children. Children often have problems at home, but is there anything the school can do to help? Is the link between the school and the parents good enough? Is there enough counselling and support networks for parents? Some of the measures that the Minister told us about are interesting, but some teachers feel that they cannot cope with so many initiatives.

I want to emphasise the quality of teaching. Ofsted has just published an interesting report. It showed that the weaker teachers are given the 11 to 14 year group. It is good to see my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) in the Chamber. The Government are particularly interested in 11 to 14-year-old students, as is the Select Committee on Education and Skills. We are considering that age range because that is when bright kids come out of the primary school system and their interest in education and their attainment reach a plateau or decline. That transitional age is a real problem, because it is when behavioural problems commonly tend to set in.

We must consider closely Ofsted's report last week, which suggested that some of the weaker teachers or supply teachers are shifted into 11 to 14 education. Poor behaviour starts somewhere, and if Ofsted and other experts have identified that 11 to 14 is the crucial age, we must ensure that those children are stimulated and that their interest in education is maintained.

Good management and good teaching are the key to our multifaceted approach, but so is consistency. I make a plea to the Minister and to the Government to ensure that policies are consistent and are carried through. I do not mind initiatives, but I want them to build one on the other and to be consistent over time. Governments owe it to schools to be consistent in their management and policies. Ofsted has shown that successful schools are consistent in their plans and policies, and do not chop and change in short-term programmes. Children must have stability, and need to be supported by effective, long-term policies.

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Two areas need particular attention: the 11 to 14 age group and ethnic minority pupils, especially black boys. At a recent seminar with the Select Committee that was held in the House of Commons, Professor David Gillborn said that the behaviour of black children can be misinterpreted and read as aggression, resulting in their being placed in low sets, well below their real ability. Assessing ethnic minority children on the right basis, rather than on the basis of prejudice, is very important. Ofsted says that in black culture what really works is emphasising respect for every pupil.

These may not be all the answers, but I am conscious that a statement will be made at 11 o'clock. I shall end by making an appeal. Good management, policies over time and consistency are what the education system deserves from Ministers, the Government, teachers and heads. There are some good, well-intentioned people in the education sector. I hope that they will take those long-term views and values to heart.

10.58 am

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I was desperately hoping that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) would carry on for another two minutes.

I tried to intervene on him to help him in that mission. I congratulate the Minister on his opening speech. The Prime Minister was exceedingly wise when he chose him to take up this portfolio. His approach to the debate in covering a wide range of issues is a credit to him, and set a good tone for the whole debate. I thank him for that.

Mr. Pound: But.

Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman should not presume that there was to be a "but". I was about to say that I am delighted that the Government take the problem of homophobic bullying seriously. In 1990, I drew attention to the research paper by Ian Rivers "Social Exclusion, Absenteeism and Sexual Minority Youth Study", which showed that 72 per cent. of young lesbian and gay men and women had experienced extreme bullying at school. That issue is very serious, but has often been clouded by debates about whether advice should be given.

It being Eleven o'clock, Madam Speaker interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).

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11 am

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement about Gibraltar.

As the House will know, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and I had planned to be in Madrid this morning for a meeting, under the Brussels process with Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Pique. However, because of the Cabinet changes in Spain this week, the new Foreign Minister, Ana de Palacio, has asked us to postpone the meeting until after the summer, and we have agreed.

Some time ago, I undertook to report to the House before the summer recess on the progress of our talks. Had today's meeting taken place, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe would have made a statement early next week in my absence on a long-arranged visit to the far east. In view of the postponement of today's talks, however, I thought it right to take the first opportunity to report to the House myself.

There has been a dispute between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar for the last 300 years. As the House will be aware, in 1984 the then Conservative Government decided that the only way in which to make progress to resolve the dispute was to talk to Spain about both the practical issues of concern to Gibraltar and the sovereignty issue which mattered to Spain. The so-called Brussels process was thus born.

This Government decided last year to relaunch those negotiations. We did so because we had reached the same conclusion as our predecessors—that the status quo was damaging to Gibraltar, and also damaging to Britain. It is damaging to Gibraltar because Gibraltar will not thrive while the dispute festers and its people have to put up with everyday disruption: queues at the border, insufficient telephones lines, inadequate air services and much else. Moreover, Gibraltar has an uncertain future in isolation from the European Union's single market and the global marketplace, and as tax havens are phased out.

The dispute is also damaging to Britain's interests because we are trying to build a strategic alliance with Spain to help deliver the European Union that we both seek, and because Spain has repeatedly blocked European measures we want—measures, for example, to make air travel safer, flights cheaper and delays shorter.

Above all, the dispute affects the 30,000 Gibraltarians; but it also affects 60 million Britons. It needs to be solved for good. I know that there are those who think we should simply tackle the practical irritants faced by Gibraltarians, but that has been tried for decades and it has failed. The only way of securing a stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar is through a comprehensive and permanent settlement of the dispute, and that means an agreement with Spain on all issues including—as flagged up by the Brussels communiqué itself in 1984—sovereignty.

By taking the latter approach, we have made significant progress towards a solution. It may be helpful if I remind the House of the phases of the process on which we are embarked. In the first phase, the current one, our objective has been to agree the framework—the principles—of a new permanent settlement for Gibraltar. That is what we

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have been working on for the past year or so. If and when we were able to reach agreement with Spain on such a framework, we would publish it in a joint declaration—a statement of intent by the two Governments. Thereafter, in the second phase, there would be further detailed negotiations—in which the Government of Gibraltar would again be invited to participate fully—to produce a comprehensive package, including a new draft treaty, based on the principles set out in the joint declaration. The United Kingdom would ratify such a treaty only after securing the consent of the Gibraltarians in a referendum.

After 12 months of negotiation, we and Spain are in broad agreement on many of the principles that should underpin a lasting settlement. They include the principles that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar—[Hon. Members: "Sell-out!"]—including the disputed territory of the isthmus; that Gibraltar should have more internal self-government—[Hon. Members: "Sell-out!"]—that Gibraltar should retain its British traditions, customs and way of life; that Gibraltarians should retain the right to British nationality, and should gain the right to Spanish nationality as well—[Hon. Members: "Surrender!"]—that Gibraltar should retain its institutions—its Government, House of Assembly, courts and police service; and that Gibraltar could, if it chose, participate fully in the European Union single market and other EU arrangements. [Interruption.]

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