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The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Ms Tessa Jowell): The award- winning Employment Service Direct has demonstrated its effectiveness by placing 130,000 people in work since its introduction in January 1999; up to 231 of those people are in my hon. Friend's constituency. The service's effectiveness is shown by the fact that it has helped us to deliver the lowest unemployment for 25 years.
Mr. Fitzpatrick: I thank the Minister for that answer. I pay tribute to Employment Service staff in east London for the excellent job that they are doing. Will the Minister advise the House how Employment Service Direct fits into the broader proposals for the use of more advanced technology further to improve overall service provision both for employers and for job seekers?
Ms Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Employment Service Direct is part of a £400 million programme of modernisation, including worktrain, job banks and 9,000 touch screens in jobcentres, enabling unemployed people throughout the UK to have access to about 400,000 vacancies at any time. That supports the Government's drive to end long-term unemployment. I hope that the Opposition, too, will congratulate the Employment Service on this great effort.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Has the Minister seen the note from the House of Commons Library, dated 19 January, which concluded that, since the Government came to power, 300,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector, whereas under the previous Conservative Administration there was a net gain, with the creation of 70,000 jobs? Does she agree that her Government have failed manufacturing industry and those who have lost their jobs in it?
Ms Jowell: I will certainly study the note, but I also remind the House that, during the 18 years of Conservative government, 2.5 million jobs were lost in manufacturing. The scars remain in the parts of the country that were hardest hit. Under the Labour Government, long-term unemployment is at its lowest for a generation.
Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): My right hon. Friend will be aware that Employment Service Direct in Doncaster is complemented by the pilot jobpoints scheme. Even though the pilot scheme has been running for only three weeks, it is already proving to be extremely successful in helping people to find work. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that an assessment will be made
Ms Jowell: I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that jobpoints will be available nationally. Their effectiveness is judged through their success in getting people into work. I visited the Birkenhead scheme on the day it was launched. Job seekers like it. Employers are looking for people to fill vacancies. Jobpoints will get people into work more quickly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith): Ofsted collects information about the percentage of taught time for each subject when inspecting schools. In January, the Prime Minister announced an entitlement of two hours of physical education and sport, during and after school, for all children. We will consult and work with all interested parties on how that can best be achieved and monitored. Furthermore, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will shortly produce guidance for schools on how to achieve two hours of physical education a week.
Mr. Russell: The Minister is obviously reluctant to give the figure, because she well knows that, at best, only 25 per cent. of children receive that amount of physical education within the school curriculum. Is it not about time that we stopped the unhealthy obsession with academic league tables, when the health education unit of Exeter university has produced evidence to show that regular exercise helps children to do better? Does the hon. Lady agree that there should be more physical education within the school curriculum? Does she agree with Sport England's view that it is important to revitalise school sport?
Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman is wrong. All students receive physical education within the national curriculum from the age of five to the age of 16, but I agree that we need to do more to develop a good experience in sport for our young people. That is why the major investment in sport, pledged in September 2000, includes £750 million to improve and strengthen our sports facilities. It is why £130 million has already been allocated to local education authorities, which are planning proposals to provide facilities for sports and arts in our primary schools. It is why we are pledged to increase the number of sports colleges, such as Colne community school in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, to at least 150 by 2004. It is why we already have 143 school sports co-ordinators in place, with 660 primary link teachers. Yes, we need to do more to ensure that our children have the sporting opportunities that we all want them to have, which is why the Government are making such investment and why they will ensure that it is delivered.
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend takes a close interest in ensuring that we have high levels of swimming tuition in our schools. As I told her during a recent Adjournment debate, we have set up an advisory group to find out how we can improve the already good standard of swimming teaching, especially for children at key stage 2; how we can ensure that swimming is included in the £750 million investment announced by the Prime Minister to improve facilities; and how we can ensure that the small number of children who do not gain the required standard by the end of key stage 2 are enabled to do so. I share my hon. Friend's wish to emphasise the importance of swimming. We will continue to work to ensure that swimming teaching is maintained and improved in all our primary schools.
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): My right hon. and hon. Friends and I hold regular meetings with representatives from the university sector. We introduced the new funding arrangements for students and for repayment precisely to avoid the universities levying additional charges.
Mr. Heath: Just before the 1997 election, the then Leader of the Opposition said that he had no plans to introduce tuition fees, yet that was done within two months of Labour's coming to office. The same formulation is being used now; we are told that there are no plans to introduce top-up fees. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that he did not favour top-up fees. Will the Secretary of State now give us a clear assurance? Will he categorically rule out top-up fees for the lifetime of the next Parliament? That question has only two possible answers--yes or no. Which is it?
Mr. Blunkett: I am really sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. I have made my position clear during the past two years: I am against the levying of top-up fees. I can now make the Government's position clear. If we win the next general election, there will be no levying of top-up fees in the next Parliament.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 282, and congratulate the university of London students union on its campaign in the capital against top-up fees? If any university went off on a tangent and introduced top-up fees, what would he say to that university and what action would he take against it?
Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend is right--there was a vigorous campaign, and understandably so. I assure him that the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 permits us to rule out top-up fees. The power to do that is in the
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): Is not it interesting that Ministers are so far out of touch that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), has already told the House that participation in higher education by socially disadvantaged groups is increasing when the facts show that the welcome advances of the last 10 years of the Conservative Government have been stopped in their tracks? The figures from UCAS--the Universities and Colleges Admission Service--show that the numbers from such groups fell by 168 during the first two years of the Labour Administration. Given those circumstances, are we not confronted with an Administration who do not so much believe in widening participation as in widening waffle on these matters?
In view of the breach of Labour's past pledges and the implausibility of Labour's present pledges, will the Secretary of State make it clear to the House, now that he is ruling out top-fees, whether he has any similar commitments to make in relation to what, in shorthand, I call "mainstream fees"? Has he any proposals to increase the total amount of mainstream funding to meet the deficiencies in university funding that many universities have already identified?
Mr. Blunkett: Between 1989 and 1997, there was a 36 per cent. cut in the unit funding per student under the previous Government. We have for the first time since the early 1980s reversed that trend, with an 18 per cent. real-terms increase in university funding over the lifetime of the two spending reviews. The figure is £1.7 billion.
I am fortunate in that I am in possession of the actual facts on the number of disadvantaged students attending university, so I shall give them to the hon. Gentleman. From 1996 to 2000, there was an uplift of 12 per cent. in the number of students from unskilled, manual backgrounds going to university. Although the total is abysmal, there was an uplift in the number from 4,900 to 5,500. That is not a drop; it is an increase. The new excellence challenge, the opportunity bursaries and efforts to reach out to raise the expectations of parents, pupils and schools will, over the years ahead, reverse a legacy of which none of us can be proud.