|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
It was with some bemusement that I learned that the Opposition wanted to debate employment today, but it has been good to get some of the facts out. We have had a very wide-ranging debate with many thoughtful contributions, and I should like to take some time to pay tribute to those who have made them. First, of course, I have to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who gave
his maiden speech. It was, as I think all Members would agree, a fine, assured speech and in the very best traditions of the House. His constituents have in him a strong voice who clearly understands the issues, and he will certainly find a place here as an advocate of the Norfolk way, turnips or no turnips.
As I said, the debate has been wide-ranging, but my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) summed it up when he said that this Government have inherited a horrendous financial situation. This is a financial crisis that Labour knew was coming, which was why it had already identified the need for 20% cuts in Government budgets. Yet again, the shadow Secretary of State refused to identify where those cuts were going to come in her Department when she was challenged by the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). She really will have little credibility until she answers that question-or did she think it would be right to continue to leave this country with the economic instability that debt creates?
The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) made a very thoughtful contribution and spoke at length about the importance of nurturing business, something in which we have a common interest. She was a lecturer at Cranfield School of Management and I worked in business for 17 years. Sometimes, theory and practice can be very different, but we both recognise that confidence is important when it comes to creating a stable business environment. That point was echoed by the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern). Such confidence will come if we can show businesses in this country that we have Government debt under control and financial stability, and that we do not have the threat of a hike in job taxes, such as the Labour Government so clearly put forward.
The hon. Member for Wakefield raised a number of questions that I cannot go into in detail on now, but if there is anything she wants me to cover in more detail, perhaps we can speak later. She particularly mentioned Jobcentre Plus staff, and I can assure her that the head count will be reduced by freezing external recruitment and not extending fixed-term contracts when they come to an end.
A number of hon. Members mentioned apprenticeships, which are an important element of our strategy for tackling poverty and worklessness. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Mr Heald) talked eloquently about the role of apprenticeships in his constituency, and particularly the business-facing educational institutions in Hertfordshire that are pivotal in delivering the lowest level of NEETs in the country.
The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) also talked about youth unemployment. I should perhaps remind him that we now have 1.4 million unemployed or inactive under-25-year-olds who are not in full-time education either, which is 250,000 more than in 1997. However, that is an issue we will address. He also talked about apprenticeships, which the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford discussed in her speech. She needs to have a bit more faith in British industry. Apprenticeships are at the heart of British industry. There are already 240,000 apprenticeships, and we are talking about raising that by 50,000 among small and medium-sized enterprises. That is an opportunity being delivered by this coalition Government, which I know people in my constituency are crying out for.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) also raised the issue of apprenticeships, talking about the importance of getting young people back into work and the debilitating effects of worklessness. I know she will understand the importance of the Work programme in delivering for the people in her constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) talked about the role that debt-fuelled growth had played in the past 13 years, and the fact that regional development agencies had not been held to account rigorously enough on the returns they had delivered for the investments made. Those were points that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) also picked out in his thoughtful contribution. He pointed out that the future is local; I absolutely agree.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) also talked about regional development agencies. It was refreshing to hear that he understood that they have not always been successful. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) talked about them as well. Perhaps I might point out to her that over the past eight years since they were created, the imbalance between the regions has got worse. Replacing regional development agencies will give us an opportunity to address that inequality through local enterprise partnerships, regional growth funds and all the policies we have already announced to try to reduce the inequalities that we see between the regions.
We have again had a great deal of discussion today about the future jobs fund, which was raised by the hon. Members for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith). We therefore need to be clear again: we are not, contrary to what Opposition Front Benchers might assert, cancelling the future jobs fund, and they know that only too well. We are committed to delivering on the contracts that have already been awarded, but we will not award more contracts because the facts show that the future jobs fund does not work. It has not delivered the number of jobs it was intended to deliver. I fear that some of those who are crying foul on the issue are perhaps more concerned with putting a positive gloss on their legacy than with helping those who need help most.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) talked about myths, although I would challenge her on that and say that some of the things she talked about tend to fall into the category of myth themselves. After 13 years of Labour, the true fact is that the proportion of working-age people in a job is now lower than it was in 1997, while the figure for those unemployed is more than 400,000 higher. Those are facts, not myths, and I hope she will take account of that in her further contributions in this House.
We have had a number of excellent contributions to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) talked about the importance
of closing the gap in health inequalities. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) talked about the importance of getting Britain working and the need to streamline benefits. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) talked about job creation from green policies in a low-carbon future and intrinsically sustainable employment options, which I know he will champion well.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) talked eloquently about the important role that manufacturing has to play in this country. As the granddaughter of a skilled tool-room worker from not too far from his constituency-the black country-I understand the passion with which he speaks. Our challenge is to ensure that UK manufacturing is competitive in the 21st century.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), in her usual eloquent and clear style, spoke graphically of the inflexibility of the employment programmes developed under Labour. I know she will join me in advocating the Work programme for its simplicity and for the support it will give to unemployed people. We have set out a clear plan to get Britain working. The Work programme will replace the hotch-potch of piecemeal welfare-to-work schemes that have so badly let down the hardest to help with an integrated package of personalised employment support.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) advocated a similar approach in her contribution today. Providers will be paid by results, not promises. If they do not deliver people into sustainable work, they will not get paid. This will cut waste, and it will cut failure. No longer will benefit claimants have to wait until an arbitrary period of time has elapsed before they can receive more intensive support. No longer will they be denied the dynamism and ingenuity of private and voluntary sector organisations helping them into work.
No longer will people be forced to turn down work on the basis that they would gain little more from employment. We aim to roll out the Work programme by next summer, and until then the Government will ensure that support is in place for unemployed people.
There has been a great deal of discussion today about the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts. Again, we need to set the record straight. Growth in employment of 1.3 million is forecast over the next five years because of our plans. That figure is backed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. The previous Government's plans were unsustainable, but we will ensure that our plans go on to provide more jobs into the future.
These are real measures to tackle systemic unemployment. They tackle its causes, they are efficient, and they are better calibrated towards challenging the indignities of dependency and worklessness. The changes will not be top-down, piecemeal or half-measured, and they will not be characterised by a pilot here or a trial there. The Work programme will be robust and comprehensive-an integrated package tailored to meet
the needs of each person and responsive to their requirements. That is what people who do not have a job and want to work need.
I should like to thank Opposition Members for this opportunity to outline the way in which we will take this country out of the quagmire created by Labour. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell said, we have the support of many businesses, charities and providers of support services, as well as of many of those trapped on benefits. We have a governing coalition of two parties, united by our commitment to the role of work in tackling the causes of poverty, and by our deep disappointment with the lack of progress under Labour. This is the Government's plan for jobs and our plan to increase employment. We will get people into work. That is what is good for Britain and for the people of Britain, and I have to say that it is about time too.
That this House welcomes the emergency budget which will tackle the unprecedented legacy of debt over the next five years by reducing borrowing from a projected £149 billion this year to just £20 billion in 2015-16; notes the Office for Budget Responsibility's projection that unemployment will fall in every year of this Parliament as a result of the Government's policies to stimulate private sector employment by reversing the damaging increase planned for employer national insurance contributions, introducing a £1 billion Regional Growth Fund, reducing the corporation and small profits tax rates and increasing the Enterprise Finance Guarantee, resulting in the creation of a projected two million new private sector jobs by 2015-16; further welcomes moves to implement a single work programme that will provide personalised support to help people move into sustained employment, to introduce a £1,000 increase in income tax personal allowances which will incentivise work, to reform the benefits system to ensure that work pays and to provide 50,000 new apprenticeships and 10,000 new university places for young people, thus stimulating growth, delivering jobs and creating a fairer society for all.
The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to apologise to you and to the whole House for the way information accompanying my oral statement on Monday was provided to all Members.
During my statement a list of schools affected by our plans to review capital funding was placed in the House of Commons Library. I wish to apologise to you and to the whole House for not placing that list on the Table of the House and in the Vote Office at the beginning of my statement, as you reminded me page 441 of "Erskine May" quite properly requires. I further wish to apologise for the inaccurate information on the list I was supplied with and which I gave to the House. [Interruption.]
Michael Gove: A number of schools were miscategorised, and for that I apologise. In particular, there were schools that were listed as proceeding when, in fact, their rebuild will not now go ahead. That confusion caused Members of this House and members of the public understandable distress and concern, and I wish to take full personal responsibility for that regrettable error.
I also wish to apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House for any confusion over the manner of my apology today and any related media speculation. In responding to press queries earlier, my Department confirmed that I was writing to those affected by these mistakes, and it was my intention then to come to the House with as accurate a picture as possible of the exact errors and to apologise for them. I have placed a revised list of schools in the Vote Office and am writing to all Members affected. I would be grateful if any Members who are concerned that schools may have been wrongly categorised were to contact me personally, so that I can ensure, with them, that the information we have been supplied with is as accurate as possible. Once again, Mr Speaker, I am grateful to you and to the whole House for granting me the opportunity to make this statement and, once again, to apologise unreservedly.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): May I thank the Secretary of State for finally coming to this House to make an apology for the serious errors made in his statement on Monday about the cuts to the school building programme? It is right that he apologising to this House, but he should also apologise to all the pupils, parents and teachers expecting new buildings, who have now had them cruelly snatched away.
The chaos and confusion around this announcement is frankly astonishing. First, during the statement on Monday the Secretary of State had a list of the more than 700 school building projects that he was axing, but no list was available to any other hon. Members during the debate. Does the Secretary of State agree that this must not happen again and that, in any other statement he makes, timely and accurate information will be made available to all hon. Members?
We then find out that this list of school projects to be cut by the Government was inaccurate and that schools who thought they were safe have, in fact, lost out. A second list was published on Monday night, followed by a third list yesterday afternoon, and we now believe a fourth list may be coming. A total of 25 schools had wrong information: nine schools previously listed as going ahead have now been told they will be cancelled; seven schools previously listed as unaffected have now been told they are "under discussion"; and five schools which are under review or have been axed were not even on the list at all. These are schools in Sandwell, Northamptonshire, Bexley, Doncaster, Greenwich, Peterborough and Staffordshire. Can the Secretary of State explain how this possibly could have happened?
It is good that the Secretary of State has finally been dragged kicking and screaming to this House to apologise, but the real apology should be directly to the more than 700 communities up and down this country expecting new schools, who now will not get them. The real apology should be to the teachers, pupils, parents and governors from every area who have had the prospect of new buildings and new facilities cruelly snatched away. Will the Secretary of State now apologise to the country for shattering the dreams and hopes of so many pupils and schools across the country?
Michael Gove: I thank the shadow Minister for his questions, and I understand the passion with which he speaks; it is entirely understandable in the circumstances. May I also apologise-quite rightly-to those in the borough of Sandwell and all those other boroughs that were most affected by the inaccurate way in which I made my announcement? I entirely agree with him that it is parents and teachers in those schools, who believed that they were spared and found out 24 hours later that their schools were to be closed, who were the most badly affected. It is their feelings that I am most affected by. He is absolutely right to invite me to apologise, and I am more than happy to underline how sorry I feel towards the parents and teachers involved.
The hon. Gentleman asks me to ensure that this will not happen again. It will always be my aim to ensure that timely and accurate information is provided to the House, and I apologise once again for the inaccuracies in the information given. He mentions that two lists were supplied; they were, indeed. One listing was by local authority and one listing was by parliamentary constituency. We have sought to ensure that the list that is now supplied is as complete as possible and as accurate as possible, and I repeat again that I am apologising to all Members who may have been misled, inadvertently, by the information that was supplied on Monday. For those Members who wish to contact me personally, I hope to be able to talk to all of them and reassure them about the future of the building projects in each constituency affected
Tony Baldry: Banbury school in my constituency is one of those where my right hon. Friend has had to cut the funding, and, actually, I think that all my constituents understand that, given how the Opposition left the cupboard absolutely bare, it really does not lie in their mouths to complain that we have had to take the action that we have. I have no hesitation or problem in going to the teachers and parents of pupils at Banbury school and explaining the realities of life as they are.
Michael Gove: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. On Monday I explained to the House why I had to take the regrettable decision that we took. Today is a day for me to apologise for the inaccuracy that accompanied my statement. I am grateful for the generosity of his support, but the important thing that I would like the whole House to appreciate is that I am apologising today, and the only person who should apologise today is me.
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): Mr Speaker, I can assure you that there is nothing synthetic about the anger felt in Sandwell. The pupils in Sandwell have seen what the new politics is: they have seen the attempt to sneak out a half-spun, half-apology on the BBC, and they have seen the Secretary of State come here humiliated for the second time this week to apologise to them. He can embarrass himself, he can disgrace his party, but what is intolerable is that he has cynically raised the hopes of hundreds and thousands of families. You're a miserable pipsqueak of a man, Gove. You have-
Mr Speaker: Order. Before we go any further, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the term that I think he used. I think I heard the term, "pipsqueak". The hon. Gentleman must withdraw that term. It is not appropriate- [ Interruption. ] Order. I know what I am doing. Members should leave this matter to me.
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question; it gives me the opportunity once again to apologise to his constituents and to other parents and teachers in Sandwell for the confusion that was caused by the mistake that I made on Monday. I understand the passion that he brings to the issue, and I understand how hard he fights for his constituents. I shall be very happy to go to West Bromwich and apologise to those who have been misled by the mistake that has been made. I am more than happy to do so. As I said earlier, the mistake was mine and mine alone, and I am happy to acknowledge it.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD):
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement here this evening, because one school that has been wrongly classified is the St Helena school in my constituency, which by some happy coincidence is the one that I used to go to. However, will the Secretary of State have words with Conservative-controlled Essex county council, which, notwithstanding his statement, still proposes to shut two secondary schools in my constituency? They were
going to be shut if Building Schools for the Future money had been forthcoming. There is no money, but the council is still going to shut them-despite the fact that 96% of my constituents do not want them shut.
Michael Gove: I know exactly what my hon. Friend means; I am very well aware of the situation in Colchester; and I know that the situation to which he alludes is one that now, as a result of the decision that was taken on Monday, we can freely and, I hope, constructively discuss.
Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that his statement today will have done nothing to assuage the anger in Coventry at his continued ignoring of the situation in Coventry? I understand that not a single one of its schools, even on the revised list, is to be given the go-ahead. That is a degree of neglect and irresponsibility on his part which, frankly, we did not expect of him.
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Once again, I expressed my regret on Monday, and I underline it again today, that we are not in a position to go ahead with 50% of the projects under the Building Schools for the Future programme. My reason for coming to the House today was to apologise for the 25 or so schools that were wrongly categorised in the 1,400 or so about which we made an announcement. However, I do understand the particular sense of regret that many-he and his parliamentary neighbours-will feel across Coventry and I am sorry that the decision that I announced to the House on Monday was forced on us because of the regrettable financial legacy that we inherited.
Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for the clarity that he has provided today on a very thorny issue. Rather than focusing on the synthetic anger of Labour Members, I welcome his offer to apologise to the schools affected, but ask him to ensure that he writes not only to the local education authority but to the individual headmasters. I have spent today on the phone having to deal with disappointed parents and headmasters who are uncertain of what the situation is. I welcome his apologies; can he please ensure that they are transmitted to the headmasters in my area and the other areas affected?
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I understand that the Secretary of State has apologised for errors in the list, but why did the list not come to the House in the first place? Was it because he did not think that other Members of this House should see it, or was there some other reason?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. No, absolutely not. I wanted to make sure that Members had as much information as possible. In the course of my statement, I outlined the criteria by which I had been guided and the fact that we were going to terminate those projects which had not reached financial close, with the exception of some projects which were at the so-called close of dialogue stage. The fact that the list was placed in the Library, and not on the Table of the House and in the Vote Office, is something that I deeply
regret and for which I should like to apologise once more. The hon. Lady's question provides me with an opportunity to say, once again, that I am sorry, to her and to other colleagues.
Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): The whole House welcomes the Secretary of State's gracious apology. However, is not the real deceit the more heinous because it was intentional-the one perpetrated by Labour Members who ran around the country during the election campaign promising school rebuilding programmes that they knew the money was not there to supply? That is a disgrace.
Mr Speaker: Order. Let me say very gently that, in so far as one can hear everything that was said, the hon. Gentleman has made his point, and made it very clearly, but the Secretary of State is not responsible for the policies or for the behaviour of other parties. He might, however, wish very briefly to reply.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State understand not only the anger but the confusion of the young students from Copland school and Alperton school, who, at the very moment when he was at the Dispatch Box making his original statement, were receiving an award from the organisers of Building Schools for the Future for their contribution to the design of the new schools that they then heard him announce were not going ahead?
Michael Gove: As the hon. Gentleman might know, I have visited Copland school and know that its facilities are less than adequate, so I appreciate the frustration that the staff, pupils and parents of that school will feel. I underlined on Monday the regrettable fact that the economic circumstances that we inherited meant that we could not go ahead as we might have wished with the school rebuilding programme. I also stressed that the manner in which Building Schools for the Future had been organised did not seem to me to guarantee the best value for money. We are reviewing how capital is allocated in order to ensure that we get value for money so that those schools across the country that do need rebuilding and renovation will receive that money in a more timely and efficient manner in future.
Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): To my ears, the Secretary of State's apology is sincere. One school affected is the Eastbourne technology college, which is under consideration. So that I can reassure the head and the staff, can my right hon. Friend give me some indication of exactly the time line for the decision on whether the building will go ahead?
Michael Gove: We hope to make the decision in respect of the school to which my hon. Friend refers before the House rises for the summer, but I will obviously seek to talk to him after this statement in order to clarify exactly the position that his school is in.
Mr Speaker: Order. Just before there is a growing enthusiasm for participation in the statement-people are standing up who were not standing up before-perhaps I can just emphasise to the House that the statement is about the manner in which matters were handled, and indeed to an extent about the inaccuracy of lists. We are not having a re-run of Monday's statement, when the Secretary of State, if memory serves me, was available for one hour and 20 minutes. We are not going through all of that again.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his dignified statement, and I have a deal of sympathy for him, but may I ask for a little more than sympathy for the people of Cardinal Wiseman high school in my constituency, who have been told that their case for a rebuild under BSF is under further discussion as a sample school? Can he give the House some indication of when he will make a decision on that, because they desperately need to know the facts?
Michael Gove: Ealing is one of those local authorities in that stage prior to financial close called close of dialogue. As the hon. Gentleman quite rightly points out, several schools in each of those local authority areas are called sample schools. Those schools are thought to be in the most urgent need. For that reason, we wish to do everything possible to try to ensure that they will receive funding as quickly as possible. As I mentioned in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), I hope to be able to provide clarity by the time the House rises for the summer recess.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): I should like to thank the Secretary of State for his apology. I am sure that not one person in the Chamber has not made a mistake at some stage. I also imagine that few in the Chamber would be able to apologise to the House with such dignity and humility, and I thank him for that. However, will he explain the reason for the list that was released, and the reasons for the cuts that we are seeing? The fact is that there simply was no money-it was promised and never delivered. Will he explain why the list was released in the first place?
Mr Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman should sometimes beware the entreaties of his friends, and I know he will be conscious of that. I have just made the point that we cannot rehearse all the arguments behind the announcement. I will leave it to the judgment of the Secretary of State briefly to respond.
My hon. Friend refers to the list. The list was furnished to me by those involved in the Building Schools for the Future project, but it was my responsibility to check it before it came to the House. I was anxious to do so in as rigorous a way as possible. The fact that the list contained inaccuracies when it came to the House is
my responsibility alone. It was for that that I wished to apologise, and I underline that apology thanks to my hon. Friend's question.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Surely the Secretary of State owes the House an explanation as to why he brought wrong information to it. We do not seem to have had such an explanation. Just for the record, given that the list is now elsewhere and not available to hon. Members in the Chamber listening to the statement, could he reassure us about and explain the decision that has been made on the Staffordshire schools?
Michael Gove: I would like to make two points in response to the hon. Lady's question. I sought as quickly as I could to bring to the House a statement explaining the future of Building Schools for the Future. That is why I made the statement on Monday. There had been a great deal of speculation about the future of the project, and to allow it to proceed would have meant that whichever schools were built, unnecessary additional administrative costs would have been incurred. That is why I sought the fullest possible information, and sought to bring it to the House in a statement at the earliest possible stage. I know that the hon. Lady is a Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent. One announcement that I was able to make on Monday was that Stoke-on-Trent, as a local authority that has reached financial close, will see all the schools under Building Schools for the Future rebuilt or refurbished.
Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that the other piece of important factual information he presented on Monday, the expansion of the Teach First programme, is in fact accurate, and that the numbers were presented- [ Interruption. ]
Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry; I respect the hon. Lady's enthusiasm, but the short answer is that the Secretary of State cannot go into that, because it is way beyond the terms of the statement today. If I know the hon. Lady, she will save it up for another day, and we look forward to hearing it on a subsequent occasion.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) has gone to the heart of the situation, and the Secretary of State has markedly failed to answer her searching question. When the Secretary of State delivered his statement to the House, he presented the image of a man who had spent 24/7 examining the Building Schools for the Future programme and had at his fingertips absolutely every issue relating to it, yet we learn today that he did not have that knowledge. He should apologise to the House for his failure as a Secretary of State, and for failing markedly to be on top of his brief.
Michael Gove: I hear what the hon. Lady says, and I remember also her passionate intervention on Monday. I take note exactly of what she said, and I can only underline again that I apologise for the fact that the information I presented to the House was inaccurate.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab):
It is extraordinary how this list was produced and put before the House. Let us recall what happened on Monday: the Secretary of
State was cuddling the list as if it contained secret information, and he slipped bits out only as they were forced from him in response to questions from Opposition Members. Therefore some of us on the Opposition Benches suspect that the Secretary of State knew that the list was not complete and that there were errors in it when he was delivering it in the House- [Interruption.]
Mr Speaker: Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. I would not want to misunderstand the hon. Gentleman, but I am gaining an impression that he is suggesting that- [Interruption.] Order. I am gaining an impression that he is suggesting that the Secretary of State was engaged in a knowing deception. [Interruption.] I really do not believe that to be so, and to my knowledge there is certainly no evidence for that, and I cannot have a Member accusing any other Member of knowing deception-of deliberately misleading people-unless that can be substantiated.
Clive Efford: I did say that some of us suspect that that is the case, Mr Speaker, and if you ask me to withdraw that, I will obviously do so, but I think there is something that needs to be investigated further in the way that the Secretary of State treated the House. [Interruption.]
Mr Speaker: Order. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that I have given a ruling and I think it is a fair one. I asked the hon. Gentleman to clarify his position, but it has not moved me, if I may say so. However, he is a very experienced parliamentarian-he and I came into the House together-and if he wants to table questions or write letters or both, and to engage in all sorts of other activities that satisfy him in relation to this subject, I do not think he will require any encouragement from me to do so.
Michael Gove: In the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's question, I mentioned in response to a previous question that two lists were furnished on Monday afternoon. One list was supplied to Members, which listed schools by constituency, and another, which listed schools by local authority, went on my Department's website. The aim was to be as candid as possible with all the people raising queries about the number and location of affected schools. I had sought to satisfy myself that the list I had was as accurate as possible, and I had ensured that the people who supplied me with it knew the importance of providing accurate information to the House. The fact that inaccurate information was supplied to the House is, however, my fault, and my fault alone. The fact that the information did not reach the hon. Member in the most accurate and timely way possible is my fault, and my fault alone, and I apologise unreservedly.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab):
We must take the apology for what it is, but the Secretary of State must now deal with the consequence of that, which is that he failed to give an opportunity to Back Benchers to question him on the implications of, in the case of my
constituents, losing 20 school-building programmes. My constituents go to 20 of these schools. The Secretary of State will remember that he referred to Phoenix school as an excellent school. Its head teacher, Sir William Atkinson, told the Evening Standard, "It is devastating news". He has lost £25 million. He has buildings with concrete crumbling, iron pipework that has been fractured, lots of leaks and flat roofs that are leaking. Will the Secretary of State therefore give parliamentary time, or meet me and Sir William and the other heads, to discuss what we do now?
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I am sure that the Secretary of State will understand the massive anger in my constituency over what has happened, particularly as the permanent secretary to the Department for Education has now clarified the fact that the money for this programme was there. Is the Secretary of State aware of the following type of error, which happened in my constituency? A school that was proposed for closure was told in the literature given out by his Department that that had been stopped. If that is another error he was not aware of, how many more might still be out there, and what is he going to do about that?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. In my statement, I made it clear that I would be grateful if hon. Members would ensure that any information they had that pointed to inaccuracies was put to me, and I am very happy to discuss that. Following the questions and points of order that have been raised by Opposition Members, my Department has insisted on looking at all the information that has been placed in the public domain in order to check it for accuracy. That is why I have come to the House today to make this statement. I believe that about 25 schools were miscategorised. I think that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), indicated in the question that he asked that that was around the figure that he had identified as well. With other schools that were listed, there were clerical errors-for example, the date of opening was not accurately recorded-and for that I apologise.
Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I am not really sure about this, Mr Speaker, but is the Secretary of State saying that the list that was put in the Vote Office this afternoon is not accurate? I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) that a school that is listed as in her constituency actually is not in it.
Michael Gove: It is my belief that the list we have placed in the Vote Office is accurate. I know that there was particular confusion regarding schools in Durham in the first list that was issued on Monday, but we have sought to clarify that and I believe that it is now correct.
That the draft Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2010, which were laid before this House on 23 March 2010, in the previous Parliament, be approved. -(Mr Goodwill.)
That, notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the intervals between stages of Bills brought in upon Ways and Means Resolutions, more than one stage of the Finance Bill may be taken at any sitting of the House. -( Mr Goodwill.)
Mr Speaker: Mr Mark Williams will now present a public petition. [ Interruption. ] Just before Mr Williams gives the detail of his petition, I appeal to hon. and right hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly, because we want to hear what he has to say.
The Petition of the people of Ceredigion,
Declares that the Petitioners believe that the Government should take all actions within its power to end the blockade of Gaza.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to condemn the blockade on Gaza and Israel's attack on peace activists in international waters; and urges the Government to demand of Israel the release of all activists detained and to urge all international institutions, including the UN, the EU and human rights agencies and organisations to work towards ending Israeli impunity.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): Thank you for allowing this Adjournment debate, Mr Speaker, on the future of British Waterways. May I also thank the waterways Minister for his presence here tonight?
This topic might seem a rather limited one, of interest only to narrowboat enthusiasts, barge owners, dog walkers and lock-keepers, but it is of profound importance not only for canal-side communities in villages, market towns and cities across the country, but for the intellectual validity of this Government. For what we have before us tonight is a test case for the big society in action. That, in case you missed it, Mr Deputy Speaker, is the Conservatives' big idea: a commitment to society, not the state, and to people power, not market dogma. My message to the Minister is very simple: we are here to help him. As he begins his grand battle with the Treasury on the future of British Waterways, I want him to know that he has my support against the plunderers and privatisers who work alongside him.
We are an inland nation as much as an island nation; a country shaped as much by our great rivers and historic canals as by our by encircling seas. Take, for instance, my own wonderful constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central. In Simeon Shaw's 1829 classic, "History of the Staffordshire Potteries", he writes of how
"in the vale below Burslem, July 26, l766, the first clod was cut of the Trent and Mersey Canal, by the late Josiah Wedgwood, Esq., then recently appointed Potter to the Queen Consort of George III."
Wedgwood's interest in canals was driven by profit rather than pleasure. He had already petitioned this place in 1763 for a new system of turnpike roads to allow for the easy carriage of the raw materials needed for his Etruria pottery works as well as the safe delivery of his finished ceramics, but still the road network let him down. So in 1765 he personally subscribed £1,000 for a new canal to connect the Trent with the Mersey and to allow his firm to export both nationally and internationally. The great engineer James Brindley was commissioned for the task and soon his entire network of canals criss-crossed the country, with Staffordshire as their box junction.
To allow for the transport of limestone and coal into Stoke-on-Trent, a new canal was added-the Caldon canal-that stretched from Etruria up into the surrounding moorlands. All that underpinned the boom days of the Potteries. "Pro patria populoque fluit"-it flows for country and people-was the Trent and Mersey's motto, and the money certainly flowed for Wedgwood.
"diminishing the expence of carriage",
"the remote parts of the country more nearly upon a level with those in the neighbourhood of the town".
As a vehicle for the investment of new provincial capital flows and for easing the transport of goods, canals were an essential feature of the first industrial revolution, but by the 1840s, the canal boom had given way to railway
mania. Indeed, the consequence of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation meant that the canals and waterways of Britain were soon in danger of becoming open-air sewerage systems.
"a flood of liquid manure, in which all life dies, whether animal or vegetable, and which resembles nothing in nature, except perhaps the stream thrown out in eruption by some mud-volcano."
"a narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream...out of whose depth bubbles of miasmatic gases constantly rise and give forth a stench that is unbearable."
Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I understand the hon. Gentleman's general point about railways taking over from canals, but does he accept that because the Glanusk estate refused to have the dreaded railway across their land, the Mon and Brec canal persisted for a lot longer than most canals?
Tristram Hunt: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I bow to his superior knowledge on the specificities of that point and I agree with it. However, there was a broad concern about the control railways had over canals in the late 19th century, which led to their being run down and to a collapse in infrastructure. Tonnage levels fell, canal miles collapsed and locks crumbled.
Eventually, the tide turned. The first stirrings of preservation can perhaps best be traced back to L. T. C. Rolt's masterpiece, "Narrow Boat", which described a journey taken in 1939 and expressed a terrible fear that
"if the canals are left to the mercies of economists and scientific planners, before many years are past the last of them will become a weedy, stagnant ditch, and the bright boats will rot at the wharves, to live only in old men's"-
Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend speaks eloquently about the history of canals. Does he not agree that the Olympic legacy in east London involves a future for our waterways and that the future of British Waterways, among other bodies, is therefore very important in ensuring that the renaissance of canals continues into the next century?
Tristram Hunt: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I do so as I shunt towards the future and get away from the past. Having seen the Prescott sluice along the Lea valley, I know the wonders of the valley.
Unfortunately, in the mid-19th century, the Government failed to rise to the task of looking after the future of the waterways. A cash-strapped British Transport Commission could not provide the investment needed to open up the waterways and still focused on freight traffic, rather than on the leisure potential of the waterways. Only with Barbara Castle's great Transport Act 1968 was British Waterways given a specific mandate to focus on exploiting the enjoyment potential of our rivers and canals. Since then, of course, the transformation has
been dramatic. All hon. Members will have witnessed in our constituencies the transformation in water quality and amenities brought about by the new British Waterways strategy. In Stoke-on-Trent, the Caldon canal has been rescued from closure and now provides a stunning route from the urban gothic of the Potteries to the stark beauty of the Staffordshire moorlands. Indeed, we even have our very own Hanley regatta based on the canal.
By the early 2000s, some 200 miles of new and restored waterways were added to the 2,000 mile network-a faster expansion than at the height of the industrial revolution. Moreover, we now have an unprecedented 34,900 licensed boats on the network and some 11 million people visit its waters and banks every year. According to Her Majesty's Treasury, out of the £330 million total value of inland waterways managed and owned by British Waterways, the amenity and recreational use amounts to £230 million and the use for freight £700,000-but that £700,000 is not to be sniffed at, and it was with great pleasure that we learned that Tesco has begun to move much of its wine stock by canal.
Yet a revived canal network has also proved a highly effective vehicle for some £10 billion-worth of urban regeneration. Whereas once we in this country sought to deny our industrial inland heritage, with buildings jutting up to the canal edge, offering no space for waterside walks or civic space, canals are championed today as placemakers and urban signifiers.
Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing such a fascinating topic to the Floor of the House. I am delighted to listen to the eloquent things that he says about the value that canals bring to our localities. In my case, the Kennet and Avon is the longest in-water canal in the country-if I may make that proud boast-but I submit that its restoration had much to do with the volunteer activity of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, plus a hefty dose of lottery money, delivered not coincidentally under the last Conservative Government. Of course, British Waterways had a part to play in that, but it is much more a reflection of the local love, enthusiasm and energy that the volunteers in my constituency feel for such an important asset.
Tristram Hunt: I am in full agreement with the hon. Lady. The wonder of canals is the civil society, the volunteering and the ethos around them. I was a trustee of the Heritage Lottery Fund in a previous life and followed with interest the Kennet and Avon's progress. We have seen in all sorts of communities along the Kennet and Avon the regeneration aspects brought by canals.
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this important issue before the House. Does he agree that British Waterways has had most success in promoting regeneration when it has brought its own property, land and buildings to the table with partners and has led those partnerships, and that, if it were to lose control of that property and land and those buildings, it would be very much enfeebled in its ability to promote regeneration?
I am in full agreement with my hon. Friend, who brings me to the dark spectre of Her Majesty's Treasury, which is where we fear that forces
are at work that want to access that property in not the most progressive manner. The capacity of British Waterways to use volunteering, to bring in all sorts of other funders and to have that property asset inspires regeneration.
Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the way in which he is introducing the debate. As a former waterways Minister, may I tell him that what is striking is the nature of the cross-party consensus in respect not only of canals as a vital part of our heritage, which he has illustrated so well, but of their importance to tourism, regeneration and the environment? Will he invite the Minister to embrace the proposal made in the last Parliament to create a national trust for canals, to secure their long-term future and viability, using the assets to which he refers for the benefit of the long-term future of the canal network and therefore balancing the strengths of the system with the resources to deal with the repair and maintenance requirements, without which the canals will not be much of a heritage for long?
Tristram Hunt: I am in full agreement. First, I would like to say what the Minister should not do, which is listen to the Adam Smith Institute, which is keen to privatise British Waterways, and in the process hopes to realise £400 million-a rather low price, I think, for the centuries of heritage as well as the property assets.
There is no doubt, however, that a change in governance is needed. Currently, the nation is underspending by around £30 million a year on its waterways, and, in the words of the British Waterways chairman,
"without the required spend on canal maintenance and repairs the overall physical state of Britain's waterways will once again go into decline."
"to consider alternative models for the British Waterways business as a whole, such as mutual or third sector structures."
That is what my right hon. Friend has described as the National Trust model, whereby British Waterways' property endowment will be placed in a charity-locked mechanism to fund future maintenance. But this means more than just establishing an effective financial footing. It also means mutualising the governance system by extending democratic control to waterway licence holders, employees, volunteers, partner organisations such as local charities and the lottery, as well as members of the general public. That third sector model will give energy, activism and public buy-in to the sector. We in the Labour movement call it the co-operative principle.
"will support the creation and expansion of mutuals, co-operatives, charities and social enterprises, and enable these groups to have much greater involvement in the running of public services."
I was equally impressed by the Minister's statement on 21 June where he highlighted the role of civil society in creating what the Government call the big society, and his commitment to look at a third sector model for the future of the waterways.
Meg Hillier: Does my hon. Friend, like me, tremble at the thought of the alternative to the model that he proposes-that this asset will be sold off and thereby, once and for all, be out of public control and away from where it should be, which is in the hearts of the public?
Tristram Hunt: I am in full agreement. We do not know what would happen were British Waterways to be privatised, in terms of fees, uses and common access, and that sense of heritage, of a past coming down to us. The worry is that the Minister has decided to take no decisions until after the forthcoming comprehensive spending review. My worry is that by the time we reach the CSR, his colleagues in the Treasury might have decided that flogging off the property portfolio was too good an opportunity to miss. We might find ourselves in the awful position of watching the Chancellor stand at the Dispatch Box and sell our national heritage down the proverbial Kent and Avon, in the classic Treasury manner of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): In my constituency, I have a huge swathe of the Grand Union canal, with fantastic marinas such as Braunston and a huge interest of the populace, who spend much of their leisure time around the canals. Given the hon. Gentleman's analogy that the dark spectre of the Treasury is lurking all around, will he remember that in the dark days of the last Labour Government, when European fines were levied on the Government, money was moved away from the British Waterways budget into other areas to cope with that funding black hole? I would like to think that there is definitely cross-party agreement on the idea of mutualisation in the future.
Tristram Hunt: The hon. Gentleman confirms the point that the traditional model of funding is really no longer credible, not least under this Government's rather aggressive approach to the public finances.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we are in some form of agreement, and that is why we have come together this evening to support the Minister in his lonely pilgrim's progress against the big beasts of Whitehall. He might call it the big society, we might call it the co-operative spirit, but what we must seek to establish is a modern national trust for British Waterways, and a financially secure, democratic and sustainable future for the inland waterways that made our wealth and now help to shape our national identity.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon):
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) on securing this debate. After such a tense afternoon in the Chamber, it is nice to be able to find a subject on which there is a large degree of agreement across the House. He is well known for having a keen interest in the heritage and history of this country, and I also know that he combines this passion with representing with pride the constituency that has more miles of canals than any other in England. I take similar pride in the canal-the Kennet and Avon canal in west Berkshire-that runs in part through the constituency I have the honour of representing. I am
old enough to remember when it was in large parts just a ditch. It was restored with the hard work, love and what the Americans call emotional capital of local people, with the backing of British Waterways and lottery money, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) pointed out. That has created an asset of unique value.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the added value of the canals. We must not be concerned purely with quality of life and recreational value; they are of course a financial asset because of what they provide through tourism and the local economy, particularly in rural areas such as mine. The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) attends debates on these matters assiduously. She feels passionately about the Regent's canal, just as so many of us feel passionately about our local canals. I have learned from the canal in her part of London the ability of canals to unlock regeneration, and to be a focal point for the local community in a way we cannot just ignore.
Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I am sure that the Minister agrees that the 23 canal reservoirs up and down the country are also of enormous value to this country. Many of them provide excellent wildlife reserves and, hence, recreation, and are assets for our tourist industry.
Richard Benyon: My hon. Friend touches on a very important point. Sir John Lawton is about to report on work commissioned by the last Government that this Government firmly supports. It examines the coherence between different natural sites around the country, and looks into corridors of biodiversity that can flow and allow species to increase in population in different parts of the country. Canals are a vital link in our natural environment, and I am keen during my tenure in this post-however long it lasts-to bang that drum as hard as I can.
I do not care whether our modern canals structure is based on the writings and teachings of Friedrich Engels and is considered part of the co-operative movement, or whether it can be considered the inheritance of Edmund Burke and his little platoons. What matters is that canals are properly managed and have a sustainable long-term future.
I shall do my best to deal with many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central and others. However, I would caution him on his view of the Treasury. In my experience, it consists of cuddly souls, warm-hearted and full of understanding on these matters. I do not share his deep pessimism.
Alun Michael: The Minister has an almost unique experience of the Treasury. However, I encourage him to make the case that a model that engages the public and makes them feel a part of the ownership and running of the canals might make sense financially to the Treasury, too.
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is in the Chamber for the debate, as he is a notable chairman of the all-party group through which
I hope we can continue these debates. I hope that what I am about to say will satisfy his concerns, if I have the time.
I am well aware of the concerns of Members from all parties about the future of British Waterways. I made a statement to the House on 21 June in which I explained our intention to move British Waterways to the civil society, subject to the outcome of the spending review. I again had the opportunity to set out the Government's position to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central and others during oral questions two weeks ago, and I welcome this further opportunity.
I fully understand the important role that volunteering and the civil society have played over many years. Volunteering on the waterways has a long tradition, and many enthusiasts give freely and generously of their time to help re-create and restore our waterways. Without that, many historic canals would no longer be in operation and the network that we have today would be much poorer for it. I firmly believe that civil society has a valuable role to play in delivering public services, and as I recently announced, we will therefore continue to look in detail at such a model for British Waterways. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, that is a good example of the big society we are trying to create.
I assure hon. Members that that would not be a privatisation of British Waterways. I hope the hon. Gentleman and others will get the message across to some of their colleagues on the Opposition Benches that that is not what we are about. We want a mutualised product for the waterways, dependent on three clear objectives. First, it must have a clear purpose and robust governance arrangements that protect waterways assets and the public benefits that they bring, both now and in the future. Secondly, it must ensure that all users, local communities and other stakeholders can hold the new body to account. Thirdly, it must ensure that the waterways are placed on a more sustainable footing for the longer term while reducing the ongoing cost to the taxpayer.
Roger Williams: I am very encouraged by the positive way in which the Minister is responding to the debate. I can see how such a model can deliver sustainable maintenance of the waterways, but on the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, for example, we had a breach that cost £1 million to repair. How would such a model deal with those emergency situations?
Richard Benyon: I was shown a photograph of that breach by the chairman of British Waterways at my meeting with him last week. It is expensive to maintain the waterways, and I hope that what I am about to say will show that we can provide the means to ensure that whatever organisation emerges has access to funding-probably never enough, but at least enough to deal with major problems such as that.
Sir Peter Soulsby: I very much welcome what the Minister is saying about the future of British Waterways, but does he accept that if it is to have the sustainable future that he talks about, it is vital that it takes with it its assets and its current property, and that they are not ripped out by his friends in the Treasury before the transfer takes place?
Richard Benyon: I am conscious that this will not work unless that happens. The scale of that asset transfer is probably above my pay grade, but I am absolutely conscious that it has to be done in a way that enables the organisation to operate just as any other organisation of the type I am about to describe could. That is absolutely vital and a given.
As part of that work, we are considering including the Environment Agency's navigations. I have an open mind on that and want to understand the pros and cons, but my initial view is that it, too, might be suitable for a civil society rather than a Government body to run. That would help to ensure that we had a coherent vision for the main inland waterways of England and Wales.
I know from meetings I have already had with waterways stakeholders that they have concerns, which they have expressed passionately, about two questions: what will happen to British Waterways' property assets-the point just made by the hon. Member for Leicester South (Sir Peter Soulsby)-and can they influence decisions on the governance model of any new body? It is clear that British Waterways would need to retain its property assets for a viable civil society model. On the second issue, much work has yet to be done on the appropriate governance structure. One model is for a national charitable trust. I recently received a letter that was co-signed by a number of representative waterways bodies, including the Inland Waterways Association and the Angling Trust. The letter welcomed such a model, subject to decisions on governance arrangements and the level of ongoing Government support.
Meg Hillier: I do not wish to detain the Minister, but having been a Minister seeking advice on setting up social enterprise mutuals and the like, I would caution him to be alert to any advice that he might receive from within the civil service about setting up a mutual. I would also ask him where else he might be seeking advice from, because it is important that any model be properly drawn up.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is absolutely right. It is vital that we are extremely
careful to ensure that we receive the best advice and get the correct model. I can assure her that officials in my Department are working hard on the issue and are committed to it, although we shall have a difficult time ahead with the comprehensive spending review, which I shall talk about in a moment.
We would have to have a completely new board or council that would shape its own future. It would not be British Waterways by another name, but a new structure, in different hands altogether. We do not aim to impose a particular model for a new civil society body, so we will work up different options in partnership with stakeholders, through workshops, forums and other engagement mechanisms. It is vital to understand the views of all interested parties if we are to reach a successful conclusion to our work on an alternative model for the future management of our waterways. As part of that engagement, I am considering a suggestion recently made to me to include representatives from waterways user groups on the current British Waterways board. We need to be ready for the big change in culture involved in the possible move to civil society.
As the House will be aware, very tough decisions need to be made in the coming months that will affect public expenditure for the next four years. That will inevitably affect the resources available for inland waterways spend in British Waterways and the Environment Agency.
Finally, let me make it clear that I believe strongly that the inland waterways are a vibrant resource that can provide a wide range of benefits and opportunities for individuals and communities across the country. Although we may find ourselves in extremely challenging times for public investment, in the longer term, the potential of our waterways can and will be realised if we all embrace the possibilities at all levels. I believe that moving British Waterways out of Government control to civil society has the potential to make a significant and innovative contribution to the long-term sustainability and resilience of the waterways, by providing additional income and greater engagement of all users, volunteers and local communities in waterways management. We will therefore be exploring all possibilities-