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As has been my experience over the past four and a half years, the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Over the past few days and weeks, we have seen examples of local authorities and others using central Government as an excuse for their inability to run services in their communities. We need to be vigilant
about local authorities that point the finger-most of them, I am afraid, happen to be Conservative authorities, as he will be aware-and that are prayed in aid by ill-briefed spokespeople for Her Majesty's Opposition, whether for the Department for Communities and Local Government or the Department for Transport.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Can the Minister assure me that the Highways Agency, which he controls, will properly prioritise parts of our national roads? For example, the A5 at Hinckley next to my constituency is extremely dangerous on the Sketchley bends, but other stretches, further down, are not. Will he ensure proper prioritisation?
Mr. Khan: I undertake to get back in touch with the hon. Gentleman about the example that he raises. One of the key things that we need to do is ensure that the roads for which either the Highways Agency or the highways authorities are statutorily responsible, of which there are more than 150, are covered.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): De-icer deliveries are vital to airports, as are deliveries of heating oil to homes and businesses throughout the north of Scotland and elsewhere. Driving restrictions have been relaxed, which I very much welcome, but the deadline for some of those restrictions is coming up. Will the Government review those restrictions, with a view to allowing those vital deliveries to continue?
Mr. Khan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The latest relaxation for de-icer products to airports was issued at 4 pm on Friday 8 January, and we know that it will run out imminently. We keep such matters under review and we have ensured that we relax EU directives whenever that is required. We shall of course take on board the various needs of the drivers, as well as the needs of the wider community.
Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Last week I received a clear assurance at Prime Minister's questions that there would be sufficient salt supplies to meet the needs of local authorities, yet today most of the pavements and residential roads in my constituency are still treacherous and, in some places, impassable. What went wrong between last Wednesday and today, meaning that Hampshire county council has still not received the salt deliveries that it needs?
Mr. Khan: I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is suggesting that all the pavements in her constituency and her county should be gritted. As I have said a number of times this afternoon, and as has been said by others too, Salt Cell advises salt suppliers on which parts of the country need the salt the most. It is for local authorities to decide how that salt is used.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con):
On Saturday I congratulated a couple of gritters who had visited Cow Ark near Clitheroe, a hamlet that had been isolated since before Christmas. We know that the gritters cannot do every village straight away, but I understand that in the past the network of farmers was used to clear the roads. However, we are now told that they need NVQs in health and safety. Is that correct? If so, as the Minister has relaxed some rules, can he now make
absolutely certain that local authorities can ask farmers to get out there with the equipment that they know how to use and clear those roads?
Mr. Khan: I have referred all afternoon to the importance of common sense and generosity of spirit. What the hon. Gentleman describes is news to me. I shall get back to him on the points that he has made, because it seems that people who can help to clear pathways, and who want to use their common sense and demonstrate their generosity of spirit, are being deprived of the opportunity to do so. That should not be the case.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): In that spirit, let me tell the Minister of the excellent work done by the work force of West Sussex county council, Mid Sussex district council and the town councils in Mid-Sussex, and of the heroic efforts of many other snow heroes, who used their common sense and tried to keep the place going. Does he agree that the lessons learned from the past few days will be extremely important for the future? Will he take the trouble to get examples of best practice from councils all over the country, so that the guidance issued is truly useful?
Mr. Khan: I cannot disagree with anything the hon. Gentleman has said. I shall merely add that one reason why the UKRLG was asked to produce its review following the February experience-the worst weather for 18 years-was that we could learn the lessons from it. We are now experiencing the worst weather for 29 years. We have a habit in this country of criticising ourselves and what we do when times are bad. However, when we compare what is happening here with the experience in northern Europe, where the weather is equally bad, we find that we have coped a lot better than France, Germany and elsewhere. The examples that the hon. Gentleman gave demonstrate the generosity of spirit and common sense of the people in Sussex and in other parts of the country.
Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD):
I am grateful to the Minister for his efforts over the weekend to ensure that the working hours rules for drivers delivering heating oil to households across the highlands were relaxed. I understand that that relaxation will expire at midnight tonight, but there is still a significant backlog of heating oil deliveries. This will particularly affect needy families in rural areas, where it would be a disaster if energy supplies were to run short. Will he look urgently into continuing the
relaxation of the working hours rules in the days to come, to ensure that the backlog can be cleared?
Mr. Khan: I have heard the hon. Gentleman's request, and I have read the three texts that he sent me this morning. I will ensure that, when the relaxation of the rules expires tonight, we make the right decision, to ensure that his constituents, and those in the wider community, get the service that they need.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): You will be astounded to learn, Mr. Speaker, that my local council gritted the access to the local Conservative club but totally refused to grit the access to a doctor's surgery, which is long and dangerous for elderly and frail people. It is still refusing to do so. How can we get some common sense in how local councillors prioritise using their grit?
Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): My constituents want to know who audits the lack of performance by local authorities, many of which have a considerable number of executives who earn more than the Prime Minister. That obviously does not include the Health and Safety Executive, because I reported Lancashire county council to the HSE last year for its blanket non-gritting of side roads and pavements. This year, the Conservative leader of Lancashire county council has berated me for wanting all the bus routes gritted. In fact, he proudly told local radio listeners that he would not do that. This is my question to the Minister: is this what we have to look forward to?
Mr. Khan: I pay tribute to the Local Government Association for the leadership that it is trying to provide in giving the right guidance to local authorities. Unfortunately, however, it cannot make local authorities do the right thing. My hon. Friend has given examples from her community of the council not providing the service it needs to provide. Councils such as hers are using central Government or Salt Cell as an excuse for not providing the right level of service. They should be prioritising roads that buses use, because that would allow people to catch buses and thus leave their homes. She and I need to ensure that we highlight the parts of the country in which councils have not provided the service that they should have done.
[Relevant documents: The First Report of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, School Accountability, HC 88-I, and the Second Report of the Committee, The Review of Elective Home Education, HC 39-I.]
The Children, Schools and Families Bill is vital to meet what I believe is our moral imperative to help every child and young person to make the most of their talents and to ensure that no barrier is allowed to hold them back. But, as well as that moral imperative, we face an economic imperative to ensure that all our young people get the skills that they need and that businesses are demanding, so that our country can thrive and succeed in the 21st century global economy.
As we debate the Bill today, 750 education experts and more than 70 Education Ministers representing 1 billion children in 80 countries around the world are meeting here in London on the other side of Parliament square, at the learning and technology world forum-the largest education and technology event of its kind in the world. They are here both because the UK is a world leader in technology for education and because our Government and every Government around the world face these twin moral and economic imperatives.
As a result of our sustained record of investment and reform over the past 12 years, we have gone from below average to well above average in the world, but our ambition is to get to a world-class education system, in which every child, and not just some, gets all the help and support they need to make good progress, and every parent, and not just some, has the choice of a good local school. That is why the Bill sets out the next steps that we will take to achieve our ambition by providing a guaranteed route to a good qualification for every young person, a promise of guaranteed extra catch-up support for every child who falls behind, more power for parents, a boost to the status of the teaching profession and further backing for local leaders to ensure that every school is a good school with stronger back-stop powers for the Government to step in as a last resort if schools are not being turned round.
Those measures are essential for a strong economy and a fair society. They are now possible only because of our sustained investment and reform over the last decade and they are also all actively opposed by the Opposition parties, particularly by the Conservative party, which is proposing instead a costly and unfair free-market free-for-all that will be paid for only by huge cuts to existing schools.
Before I move on to the details of those measures, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the former Member for North-West Leicestershire who sadly died on Boxing day and whose hugely well attended funeral took place on Saturday. He was a strong campaigner on behalf of children in this country and regularly made significant contributions to our education debates. He will be sorely missed in this House.
Ed Balls: My hon. Friend says from a sedentary position that David Taylor was opposed to academies, which is quite right, but he was also deeply committed to investing in and reforming our school system in order to deliver for all children, which was a regular part of his contribution.
To ensure that every young person can develop all the skills they need and that employers want, we have already introduced historic legislation to raise the education and training age to 18, to fund fully our school leavers' guarantee, to expand apprenticeships and to introduce diplomas. Through this Bill, we are now legislating to implement Sir Jim Rose's review of the primary curriculum from September next year so that teachers have more space and flexibility to decide what to teach while retaining a strong focus on basic literacy, numeracy and information communications technology. We will also put PSHE-personal, social and health education, including sex and relationship education and financial education-on a statutory footing for the first time and guarantee for the first time that all young people receive at least one year of sex and relationship education.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I speak as a governor of a Church of England primary school in my constituency, which has always taken tremendous care to involve parents in the sex and relationship education taught to their children in the school. What assurances can the Secretary of State give me that in future the ethos and culture of the school and the wishes of those parents will be respected, as I can tell him that there is worry across the House about this issue?
Ed Balls: I can give him an absolute assurance on that. I consulted in detail both the Catholic Education Service and Church of England education leaders as well as more widely before coming forward with this proposal. The decision to make sex and relationship education statutory is, I think, supported by all political parties, but it is essential that it is taught in line with the ethos, including the faith, of the school. That is clear in the legislation: it is clear that parents as well as school governors will have a say in how the subject is taught, while there is also a parental opt-out, which will apply to pupils until they are 15. I can thus give the hon. Gentleman the complete assurance that the school will be in charge of how to teach SRE, but the fact of teaching it will be in law and guaranteed to all children.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Secretary of State seems to have the impression-he is certainly trying to give the impression-that everyone is in favour of making this a compulsory part of the national curriculum, but he knows that in September the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency published details of responses to the consultation it carried out, showing that of 6,433 responses, only 32 per cent. agreed with the proposal to make PSE a statutory part of the national curriculum. The right hon. Gentleman is still going ahead, despite the fact that on the basis of information from his own agency, most people are actually against it.
Ed Balls: I shall not fall into the trap of assuming that if those on the Opposition Front Bench support a policy the hon. Gentleman will support it, or vice versa. The fact that the hon. Gentleman does not support this policy and Opposition Front Benchers-I believe-do support it is probably fairly true to form.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there was an organised campaign as part of the consultation, but we also commissioned opinion polls, in both qualitative and quantitative terms. We published the findings at the time, and they showed overwhelming support from parents for making this statutory. I think that if the hon. Gentleman talks to parents and teachers, including head teachers, he will find a widespread consensus that-consistent with a school's ability to make its own decisions about method, content and the parental opt-out-this is the right thing to do, it is probably overdue, and it will help us to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancies and encourage a culture of mutual respect among our young people.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): May I urge my right hon. Friend to avoid another trap? Will he ensure that discussion of the teaching of social and emotional behaviour, which is fundamental to all learning at primary and secondary level, is not narrowed to one tiny sliver of the argument about SRE, and that the Government's life skills package, which is widely supported throughout the House, is seen in perspective? It seems that one or two of our more exuberant colleagues want to discuss only one tiny aspect of that broad package.
Ed Balls: I agree with my hon. Friend, and wish him a very happy birthday. The fact that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) almost certainly calls such classes "happy classes", and opposes them, contrasts starkly with what I believe to be the general view-that this is a very important part of our school system. Through sex and relationship education, through financial education and, more widely, through SEAL-social and emotional aspects of learning-we are teaching our children in primary and secondary schools resilience, character, respect and the ability to make their way in the world with pride and confidence. I think that schools that provide such teaching consider it to be an important part of the curriculum, and it must not be narrowed in the way described by my hon. Friend.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I do not think that, in the 12 years of the current Government, it has given me so much pleasure to vote for a Second Reading as it will give me to vote confidently with the Government tonight-in contrast to the Conservatives, whose views on education are striking terror into the heart of every teacher and parent, especially in the poorer parts of Britain.
During the Bill's Committee stage, will my right hon. Friend look particularly at clause 26, on home teaching? There are genuine concerns about that, and my constituent Mr. Mike Dalby has written to me about it. Will my right hon. Friend be prepared to consider the clause flexibly so that we can get it absolutely right?
It is important that we discuss the details of the home education provisions, and I shall say something about them in a moment. It is great to have my right hon. Friend's support for our Bill. It would be very nice
to have a cross-party consensus in favour of it, but unfortunately it seems that although guaranteeing one-to-one catch-up tuition for children who fall behind is a priority for our party, it is not a priority for the Opposition parties.
Daniel Kawczynski: The biggest problem is the huge difference in funding across the United Kingdom. The average Shropshire child receives about £3,300 per annum for his or her education, whereas in other parts of the country the figure can be as high as £9,000, £10,000 or £11,000. What is there in the Bill to redress that huge difference in funding levels?
Ed Balls: As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are currently conducting a review of the schools funding formula, and I hope that the subsequent report will enable us to make some progress in making the system fairer. Let me also point out that it is the hon. Gentleman's party, not our party, that is proposing a cut in the schools budget in 2010-11, which will only lead to greater unfairness.
I know that people in Shropshire, which contains the hon. Gentleman's constituency, are waiting for Building Schools for the Future to produce school building plans in wave 7. As the Chancellor announced in the pre-Budget report, we shall be proceeding with wave 7 in the coming months. It is the hon. Gentleman's party that has promised to cut £4.5 billion from the school building programme, which in his constituency would put 22 potential new building projects at risk. That is something about which he may wish to speak to his party's Front Benchers before raising the issue of schools funding with me in future.
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): The Secretary of State says that the schools budget will increase if the Labour Government are re-elected. For the sake of clarity, will he explain precisely what that means in the context of the overall DCSF budget? Does it mean only the dedicated schools grant, or does it also include the school standards grant and school development grant? Does it, perhaps, include the standards fund, too, and all the Partnerships for Schools school capital spending? Does it include the Training and Development Agency for Schools budget for teachers, and the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services budget? Will the Secretary of State make it clear which budget lines will receive an increase, and by how much?
Ed Balls: I am happy to do so, because this was all set out at the time of the pre-Budget report. In 2010-11, our schools budget will rise as set out in the spending review, plus we will provide the additional money for the September guarantee for school leavers-we will provide that, but the hon. Gentleman, despite 12 chances to match that school leavers guarantee, will not do so.
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