This site is entirely free to use and we are adding hundreds more speeches every year. If you find the site useful, please consider donating £1 to help us cover the overheads of running the site.
Below is the text of the speech made by Anne Milton, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, at the Sixth Form Colleges Association conference on 17 January 2018.
Thank you Bill for that very kind introduction, and for giving me the opportunity to speak here today. The work that you and your colleagues do to transform the lives of young people is so important for them and for the country. You change lives.
As I have said before, I am determined to see the sixth form sector get the recognition it deserves. Indeed it is well earned – the work you do transforms lives.
It probably should go without saying that I value the key role that Sixth Form Colleges and 16-19 academies have to play in post-16 education and I want to work with you to achieve so you can deliver outstanding outcomes for everyone. But I am saying it anyway! I think it is important to restate.
Our shared vision of a sixth form sector that includes great colleges and academies with excellent teachers, embedded in communities, can only be reached if we work together. I will always be your advocate in Government. That’s what Ministers are there for. I know you have brilliant support from your local MPs whatever political party they belong to. If you have that don’t underestimate it.
It is not just about great places to study, it’s also how you, as educators of sixth formers, respond to the social and economic challenges that we face as a country today: helping to tackle disadvantage, increasing social mobility and training our future leaders.
We have significant challenges and there is a focus on the introduction of T-levels and apprenticeships. But, that shouldn’t and doesn’t eclipse how crucial the curriculum you deliver to a significant number of our children is. We want all post-16 education to be prestigious and you are the key leaders in providing consistency and continuity up to and beyond the introduction of T-levels, encouraging pupils into the direction that is right for them and allowing them to be achieve their potential.
You know, and I know, how powerful the education and the college environment you provide is for social mobility. Social mobility is dependent on education. A few succeed without it – we all know of exceptions – but for the vast majority of us, social mobility doesn’t happen without education. You are there for young people who wish to pursue further education, particularly in academic subjects, and who are ready to study somewhere that is not school.
That is also at the heart of the Department’s work: extending opportunity, giving a real choice to young people and unlocking ambition for everyone.
Our recently published Social Mobility Action Plan – Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential – talked about a high quality post-16 education choice for all young people.
We have more people going to university than ever before, including more disadvantaged young people, but we need to expand access further to the best universities. We need rewarding careers and jobs that develop the potential of everyone.
In December, I was very pleased to launch the Government’s careers strategy. It sets out a long-term plan to build a world-class careers system that will help young people and adults choose the career that’s right for them. This was a long time waiting for an announcement. For me the front cover says it all. Skills is the largest word. The strategy aims for every school and college to have an excellent dedicated Careers Leader and you can play your part working alongside schools, FE colleges, universities and other local organisations.
For me, meeting the challenge of both making sure people are, and feel, they can change the direction of their lives – becoming socially mobile – is at the core of why I do this job. I will be your champion within government, ensuring your contribution and that drive for social mobility is understood.
You have a key role in helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds do well at university. And, by working together on this shared purpose, we are more likely to succeed. I try very hard never to use the word partnership, as it goes in the category of political clichés. But working together in a meaningful, constructive, dynamic and effective way matters. It can make a difference.
At the Association of Colleges Conference, I spoke about changing the way we work together. I want to continue that discussion with you, both directly and through the Sixth Form College Association about your particular challenges and discuss any upcoming opportunities and how we can work together differently.
There are three key areas that matter.
The first of those is support: from Government, for the sector. Money matters, I know, but there are also other issues that can make a difference.
Wherever we can, we want to harness capacity to improve from within the sector through collaboration, rather than relying on competition to achieve improvement.
That’s what we are doing through the new Strategic College Improvement Fund and with the new National Leaders for Further Education programme.
I am pleased that out of the six applications approved for the pilot phase of the Improvement Fund, two are from sixth form colleges. We have recently recruited the first of our new cohort of National Leaders and I am pleased that this includes Peter McGee from the outstanding St John Rigby Sixth Form College. He will work to help improvement in colleges. And for those of you that are academies, we have recently extended the Strategic Schools Improvement Fund so that it also covers all post-16 institutions. I said we want to harness capacity from within the sector through collaboration, but where that capacity doesn’t exist we will invest with these funds in programmes such as the Strategic College Improvement Fund and the National Leaders of Further Education.
I know there is widespread concern about the level of funding for 16-19 year olds and in particular for those young people who will continue to follow academic programmes rather than taking new T-levels.
When we made the commitment in the 2015 Spending Review to protect the base rate of £4,000 per student per year until at least 2020, that did set spending plans for the next few years and we are still operating within that Spending Review plan. You would like more, I know. With more you can do more.
However, we have announced additional money as an incentive to grow participation in level 3 maths, with an extra £600 per year for those above the baseline. Again, there is potential here for sixth form colleges to benefit. Yes, we will always return to the question of funding in the longer term and will want to continue to talk to the sector about how to secure the high quality education all our young people need, but to do this in an sustainable and affordable way. Sixth form colleges undoubtedly have a key role in this.
It would be another cliché for me to say “we also want and need to play an active role in ensuring everyone in society reaches their fullest potential.”
But I think you will agree that none of us can develop the best response to many of the biggest challenges we face if any of us work in isolation. Only by working together, will we realise our shared ambition of world class sixth form provision for everybody. Richard Atkins’ work as FE Commissioner is an example of this.
You will know that I have recently extended his role to include sixth form colleges. As well as supporting sixth form colleges to overcome quality or finance issues, he will now step in to support colleges earlier to prevent quality or finance becoming issues in the first place. Richard has an outstanding record, raising standards and improving outcomes for learners, and his unique viewpoint has been of benefit to many colleges. As principal at Exeter College, Richard ensured the college delivered high quality A Level provision giving him insight into the challenges and benefits that come with that. For those of you that lead 16-19 academies, Regional Schools Commissioners play a similar role.
The area review programme has also helped colleges to think differently. For example, Priestley College in Warrington, Cheshire was a trailblazer, converting to academy status as part of the newly formed The Challenge Academy Trust. Formalising some of the partnerships that emerged as part of the borough wide work during the area review, the Trust brings together existing academies and maintained schools.
If we are to produce world-class provision, every educator in a region must work together for the good of their learners and local communities. Priestley College, at the centre of their learning community, is a shining example of this.
The third area I want to touch on is the role you have to play within the local communities you serve, going further in looking outwards to your local communities.
We should all strive to do more, to reach out to new ideas, to new relationships. We should not remain parochial, but always be looking for new ways to do things, such as innovative ways to make use of your collective resources for learners in your communities or being flexible and reaching out to other organisations and providers. Stale does not work. I am constantly looking for better ways of doing things. No wholesale change. But have we missed an opportunity? Could we extend the reach of good colleges? What about the children who find academic work a challenge? This is why I wanted to be an Education Minister – your Minister. Being open to new ways of thinking, being flexible around how we provide learning opportunities and having a learner centred focus will only improve what we are doing and what we are providing.
As members of an increasingly diverse organisation, you being here today, continuing long-standing collaboration and beginning new ones with each other, will ensure that high quality post-16 education choice for all young people becomes a reality.
As Ministers we are fortunate to have very helpful officials who draft us our speeches. And like many draft speeches, I read the conclusion ended with the words that “this is a hugely exciting and challenging time”. What does that mean? It is possibly political speak for the fact that the challenge is money.
But I guess it is exciting too. Exciting because with the government focus on social mobility clear, we have a choice to change people’s lives.
Without you – we cannot do this. Your hard work, your commitment and your belief in what you are doing will make that government focus on social mobility become a reality.
Below is the text of the speech made by Greg Hands, the Minister of State for Trade Policy, on 17 January 2018. The speech was originally made in German.
It is a pleasure to join you today, especially in such an inspiring setting.
I am particularly delighted to give this speech in German – it is a language very close to my heart.
Indeed my home is filled with the German language. When I finish my day job as Minister for Trade Policy, I go home to my family: my German wife and our 2 children, both of whom can speak German better than me!
I must say my children know how to take advantage of being both British and German.
I should also tell you that as MP for Chelsea and Fulham, football is a big thing in my constituency.
Before the last World Cup, I asked my son, “Which country are you going to support in the tournament?”
“Papa,” he said, “I will split my loyalty in the tournament 50:50 between England and Germany. I will support England for the first half, and then switch to Germany”. He is a clever boy.
We have a home in Germany too, and almost every year I visit the party conferences of both the CDU and the CSU. I may even have more friends in each of them then they have with each other.
My ties to Germany go back beyond my career in politics. I lived for much of the years 1985 – 1988 in what was then called West Berlin.
I discovered the particular Berlin dialect –Berlinerisch – while working as a Bädewarter in the exotic location of the Sommerbad Kreuzberg, and working at whatever holiday jobs I could find, such as a the Kaufhaus des Westens (or KaDeWe), and even McDonalds.
During this time my love of German culture, people and language really took root.
That is why today I am pleased to have been asked to speak to you about the special and enduring partnership that exists between Britain and Germany.
If I achieve anything today it will be to impart to you the enthusiasm with which I and my ministerial colleagues believe in this partnership, and in the opportunities for us to work together in the years ahead.
In June 2016 the people of Britain made a democratic decision to leave the European Union.
More votes cast for Brexit than Prime Ministers Thatcher, Blair or Cameron ever managed to achieve. 1.3 million more people voted to leave than to remain.
The instruction from the British people to their politicians, including those who had campaigned on the side of remain such as myself, was crystal clear.
We are now more than a year on from that historic vote and things have changed. We are no longer a country defined by how we voted, but instead by our willingness to make a success of the result.
I believe in the success that Brexit can be, if negotiators on both sides get it right.
I am optimistic about Britain’s future as an independent trading nation and optimistic of the new partnership we will form with Europe and with Germany.
As Prime Minister Theresa May has clearly stated, we want to be the EU’s strongest friend and partner. For us to thrive side by side.
The British people chose to leave the European Union. We did not choose to leave Europe.
Indeed we want to maintain and where possible strengthen our ties around trade, security, law enforcement and criminal justice cooperation.
In 2016 the UK imported goods worth £242 billion from the EU.
Conversely, the UK exported £145 billion worth of British goods to the EU in 2016.
That amounts to a £97 billion goods deficit for the UK with the EU.
That is why it is to both sides’ advantage that we secure the greatest possible tariff and barrier free access to European Markets, whilst offering the same access to the UK market.
While the statistics I quote are rightly impressive, they fail to demonstrate the cultural and ideological ties that unite us and that underpin our trading relationship.
Like Ludwig Erhard, we believe in the power of free trade to strengthen our economies, improve the lives of citizens and vitally to help build a more secure world.
As Erhard said himself –
As one’s economy grows, the value of human labour increases.
Leaving the European Union is not a move away from this desire for improvement.
Instead, we are becoming a more vocal champion.
Before the decision to leave the European Union was taken, the department within which I am a minister, the Department for International Trade did not exist. Trade did not have a seat at the cabinet table and had not done for many years.
Trade is now at the top of our agenda. Both as we move to a new, deep and special partnership with Europe but also as we look out to the world.
We must both be passionate advocates for free trade at a time when the cause needs champions. The need to resist the tide of protectionism is an endeavour that unites Britain and Germany.
As the Prime Minister has clearly set out- we are not looking for an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution. Instead the UK and European Union have the opportunity to build a new, bold and ambitious future economic partnership.
This is of course an ambitious vision, but to quote Ludwig Erhard once more,
In my experience small things fail too easily, but big plans are filled with a fascination that touches people and that in itself constitutes success.
I was at the CDU party conference last year and was struck by Angela Merkel’s speech about how the largest demonstration in Germany in recent years was not against Putin, Assad or even Trump, but was against TTIP.
Championing free trade will of course extend to our support of the EU’s trade agenda. While we remain a member, we will continue to support on-going trade negotiations with third countries. After we leave, we will continue to argue for trade liberalisation at the EU level.
We want prosperous free trading neighbours on our doorstep; it is in our national interest and, we believe, the route to a safer world.
Of course, we cannot talk about economic security without reference to the mutual defence interests that exist between the UK and Germany.
To keep our people safe and to secure our values and interests, we believe it is essential that, although the UK is leaving the EU, the quality of our cooperation on security is maintained.
Such cooperation is vital not only because we face the same threats, but because we share the same values, of peace, democracy, and the rule of law.
I believe that we can use that same spirit of cooperation and mutual trust to inform our commercial and political relationship.
There are few countries in the world that already share such a close economic relationship as Germany and UK.
We are natural and long standing trading partners.
Germany accounts for 13% of total UK imports – no other country in the world sells us more. That means around 1 in every 8 pounds spent in the UK on imports goes to Germany.
A similar story is true on investment. In 2016 the UK invested £21 billion in Germany. And now around 240,000 people in Germany work for British companies based here, making us your third biggest investor.
For those people, the individuals working for Allianz insurance in Guildford Surrey or their counterparts working for Rolls Royce in Brandenburg, not far from where my family and I own a home, the partnership between the UK and Germany is part of their daily life. It is a natural and easy union.
We want to protect this in the years to come.
Touching briefly on the financial services sector as I know this is the topic of the next session.
We need to think creatively about the options, but we believe we can find a positive solution, using our unique starting point of regulatory alignment to ensure that your businesses continue to have easy access to what will remain by far the largest concentration of financial services expertise and liquidity in Europe, even when the UK is outside the EU.
So it is not the case, as some have suggested, that Brexit is an attempt to undermine the institution of the EU or the prosperity of its members.
That would be an inconceivable act of self-harm for the UK. As the Prime Minister has stated to hope for anything but success for our neighbours would be truly perverse.
Therefore, I look forward to seeing a creative solution to a new economic relationship that can support prosperity for all our peoples. And I am glad that we have now made sufficient progress to move onto the second phase of negotiations.
The guidelines published by President Tusk for the next phase of negotiations point to the shared desire of the EU and UK to make rapid progress on an implementation period, with formal talks beginning very soon. This will help give certainty to the business community that we are going to deliver a smooth Brexit.
The council has also confirmed that discussions will now begin on trade and our future security partnership.
An implementation period means that both businesses and public services will only have to plan for one set of changes in the relationship between the UK and the EU.
Most of all, the significance of the UK as a trading partner for the European Union should not be underestimated.
Of course, we need to preserve our productive and open trading relationship. What is more, what kind of message does it send to the rest of the world if we didn’t?
This is at a time when free trade is being questioned in many parts of the globe. If friendly and trade-liberal powers like the EU and the UK can’t reach a free trade agreement, then what message does that send to Washington, Beijing and Delhi?
I told you earlier that my rather smart son has opted to support both England and Germany. Well I agree with his approach – maybe not when it comes to football – but when it comes to our shared prosperity and mutually dependent future.
It is only by working together that we can hope to meet some of the challenges facing our societies and economies in the coming years and that we can truly thrive.
Below is the text of the speech made by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to the Holocaust Educational Trust on 16 January 2018.
Last October at the Holocaust Educational Trust Appeal Dinner, I sat next to a man named Harry Spiro.
Unfortunately, Harry couldn’t be here today but he was just 8 years old in 1939 when war broke out in Poland.
By 1945, aged just 14, he was the only member of his family to still be alive.
That evening, Harry told me his story.
In 1942, Harry was working in a factory in his home town of Piotrkow, when the call came from the Nazis for the workers to gather outside the nearby synagogue.
Harry didn’t want to go, but his mother – anticipating that things were about to get much worse – insisted.
As she pushed him out, she said: “Hopefully one of us will survive.”
Tragically, she – and the rest of Harry’s family – were murdered at Treblinka.
But her words – and their message of hope and endurance through the darkest times – live on.
They live on through Harry, who survived a death march that killed 2,300 of the 3,000 who set off.
Her words live on through Harry’s children and grandchildren.
And through Harry’s exceptional work on Holocaust education, work for which he has just been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list.
An honour he shares with Freda, another extraordinary survivor, who has just spoken so movingly.
My warmest congratulations to them both.
And now stories like Freda’s and Harry’s are inspiring a whole new generation through the work of fantastic young HET ambassadors, like Georgia (Adkins).
Thank you for everything you’re doing to keep these stories, these words, alive.
They matter immensely.
We know, particularly from the world of instant of communication on social media how words can entertain us, educate us, unite us, and uplift us.
But, also, how they can wound and divide.
How they can inflame prejudice in echo chambers where ignorance goes unchallenged.
How they can drive people towards hatred and even violence.
So it’s fitting that this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day asks us to consider the power of words.
The Holocaust Educational Trust has never shied away from teaching young people where hatred, intolerance and misinformation can lead.
The way we use words and language is key to this.
Which is why the government has been proud to support HET’s vital work through initiatives such as the Lessons from Auschwitz programme.
This programme has enabled thousands of children and their teachers to understand a little of what it meant to live through.
What Harry Spiro described to me, as “hell on earth”.
In 2011, I was privileged to accompany a group from my constituency to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.
The hateful inscription on the gate might be familiar, but there are no words to convey the feeling when you walk inside.
Of imagining all the men, women and children who perished there and whose cries were silenced forever.
Cries – against hatred, intolerance and misinformation – that we must ensure are heard.
We all have a duty to speak out in their memory.
Of course, Holocaust education is not the only answer.
But it remains one of the most powerful tools we have to fight bigotry today.
That’s why I am delighted to announce today that my Ministry – together with the Department for Education – will fund a new strand of the Lessons from Auschwitz programme.
A new initiative, proposed by HET and the Union of Jewish Students, to tackle antisemitism, prejudice and intolerance on university campuses.
I know this is something that the Trust has been keen to get off the ground.
And Karen – as anyone who knows her well will agree – is someone you do not turn down or disagree with!
So I hope this will be welcome news.
And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Karen and everyone at the Trust for their tireless dedication to Holocaust education.
The programme will invite 2 Sabbatical Officers from each university to visit the death camps.
Vice-Chancellors will also be encouraged to take part.
I look forward to seeing how this work proceeds and the difference it makes.
HET’s work is invaluable and I’m honoured to be associated with it.
Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because I have seen it works.
I remember Harry telling me about a visit to a school in London’s East End.
When a pupil refused to attend his Holocaust presentation because he didn’t want to, in the words of that pupil, “hear from Jews.”
Harry refused to deliver his talk unless the young man was present.
And so he was persuaded, reluctantly, to attend Harry’s talk.
That same young man later wrote to him and said it was one of the most moving experiences of his life.
So much so, he was inspired to become a passionate champion of greater tolerance and understanding among his peers.
So our efforts to tell stories like Harry’s, to challenge antisemitism wherever it exists, are absolutely crucial.
Not just now, but for future generations.
This is the thinking behind our commitment to build a new national Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre.
Its presence, right next to the Houses of Parliament, will ensure that the testimony of survivors will never be forgotten in Britain.
That the message of hope and a better future…
…whispered from a mother to son all those years ago…
…serves as a beacon for centuries to come.
Below is the text of the statement made by David Lidington, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, in the House of Commons on 15 January 2018.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement to update the House on the situation relating to Carillion Plc.
Today the directors of Carillion concluded that the company is insolvent and that it is going into liquidation. The court has appointed the official receiver as the liquidator. It is regrettable that Carillion has not been able to find suitable financing options with its lenders, and I am disappointed that the company has become insolvent as a result. It is, however, the failure of a private sector company and it is the company’s shareholders and lenders who will bear the brunt of the losses; taxpayers should not, and will not, bail out a private sector company for private sector losses or allow rewards for failure.
I fully understand that both members of the public and particularly employees of companies in the Carillion group will have concerns at this time, and the Government are doing everything possible to minimise any impact on employees. Let me be clear that all employees should continue to turn up to work confident in the knowledge that they will be paid for the public services they are providing. Additionally, in order to support staff—and in this instance this will apply to staff working for the private sector as well as for the public sector contracts of the Carillion group—we have established a helpline using Jobcentre Plus through its rapid response service.
The Government are also doing everything they can to minimise the impact on subcontractors and suppliers who, like employees, will continue to be paid through the official receiver. The action we have taken is designed to keep vital public services running, rather than to provide a bail-out on the failure of a commercial company. The role of the Government is to plan and prepare for the continuing delivery of public services that are dependent on these contracts, and that is what we have done.
The cause of Carillion’s financial difficulties is, for the most part, connected not with its Government contracts, but with other parts of its business. Private sector contracts account for more than 60% of the company’s revenue, and the vast majority of the problems the company has encountered come from these contracts rather than the public sector.
Our top priority is to safeguard the continuity of public services, and we have emphasised that to the official receiver. We are also laying a departmental minute today notifying the House of a contingent liability incurred by my Department in indemnifying the official receiver for his administrative and legal costs. The official receiver will now take over the running of services for a period following the insolvency of the company. The Government will support the official receiver to provide these public services until a suitable alternative is found, either through another contractor or through in-house provision. The court appointment of the official receiver will allow us to protect the uninterrupted delivery of public services—something that would not have been possible under a normal liquidation process.
The official receiver is also under a statutory duty to investigate the cause of failure of any company. He is under a duty to report any potential misconduct of the directors to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. My right hon. Friend has asked that the investigation look not only at the conduct of the directors at the point of the company’s insolvency but also at that of any previous directors, to determine whether their actions might have caused detriment to the company’s creditors. That includes detriment to any employees who are owed money. The investigation will also consider whether any action by directors has caused detriment to the pension schemes.
Carillion delivered a range of public services across a number of sectors, including health, education, justice, defence and transport, and in most cases the contracts have been running successfully. We have been monitoring Carillion closely since its first profit warning in July 2017, and since then we have planned extensively in case the current situation should arise. We have robust and deliverable contingency plans in place. These are being implemented immediately to minimise any disruption and to protect the integrity of public service delivery. Other public bodies have been preparing contingency plans for the contracts for which they are responsible. The majority of the small number of contracts awarded after the company’s July profit warning were joint ventures, in which the other companies are now contractually bound to take on Carillion’s share of the work. For example, the Kier group, one of the joint venture partners for HS2, confirmed this morning in a release to the stock exchange that it had now put in place its contingency plans for such an eventuality.
I recognise that this is also a difficult time for pension holders. The Pensions Advisory Service has set up a dedicated helpline number for staff and pensioners who have concerns about their pensions. Those who are already receiving their pensions will continue to receive payment from the various pension funds, including the Pension Protection Fund. For those people who have started an apprenticeship programme with Carillion, the Construction Industry Training Board has set up a taskforce to assist apprentices to seek new employment, while also working with the Education and Skills Funding Agency to find new training placements. The official receiver will be in contact with all apprentices. Companies and individuals in the supply chain working on public sector contracts have been asked to operate as usual. Normally, in the event of a company going into liquidation, the smaller firms working for it move across to the new contractor when it takes on the work.
The private sector plays an important and necessary role in delivering Government services—something recognised by this and previous Governments of all political parties. Currently, 700 private finance initiative and private finance 2 contracts reflecting capital investment of up to approximately £60 billion are being delivered successfully, and we also have a number of service provision contracts being delivered successfully by a range of companies. Such contracts allow us to leverage the expertise of specialist providers and to deliver value for money for taxpayers. I would like to reassure the House that we are doing all we can to ensure the continuity of the public services provided by Carillion and to support an orderly liquidation of the company.
I shall write to all right hon. and hon. Members today to summarise the situation and to inform colleagues of a helpline for the use of Members and their staff to provide answers in the fastest possible time to any constituency problems that may arise. Along with other ministerial colleagues, I shall keep the House updated on developments as the official receiver starts to go about his work. I commend this statement to the House.
Below is the text of the speech made by Bambos Charalambous, the Labour MP for Enfield Southgate, in the House of Commons on 15 January 2018.
Until five months ago, I was oblivious to the existence of the drug Xanax. It was only after I was contacted by a concerned mother that I became fully aware of the problem that is going on right under our noses. I am holding the first debate about Xanax in Parliament to raise awareness about a problem that could be widespread.
Xanax, or alprazolam, is a sedative from the benzodiazepine family of drugs. It is physically and psychologically highly addictive. Its sedative effects start 15 minutes after consumption and can last for between 10 and 20 hours. When it is taken with alcohol, the impact is multiplied, and one of the side effects is memory loss.
Xanax is licensed in the UK, but it is not prescribed on the NHS. It can, however, be prescribed privately by a doctor. Unsurprisingly, it is hardly ever prescribed in the UK, but it is widely available and prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks in the United States of America. It is reported to be the eighth most prescribed drug in the USA. Popular culture is glamorising the drug and creating curiosity and demand in the UK, and the drug is available online for as little as £1 a pill. It is causing a problem that seems to be spreading. That brings me back to my initial interest, which was the result of some casework I picked up in my constituency.
A concerned mother told me about how her 14-year-old daughter—I will call her Zoe for the purposes of this debate—had become a regular user of Xanax and how this had, in just five months, resulted in a downward spiral leading to Zoe’s permanent exclusion from school. This is Zoe’s story.
Zoe was a bright and popular girl and had a wide group of friends when she started at a local secondary school in 2013. As is sometimes the case with early teenagers, Zoe had some fallings out with her group of friends and was eager to do exciting things. In July of last year, Zoe and her best friend were approached by an older girl at school and introduced to an ex-pupil whom they started hanging out with, together with a group of slightly older people, some of whom were adults. Zoe and her friend started going to private raves with the crowd and to parties in houses across north London where, swept up in the whirl of the excitement of this new lifestyle, Zoe was introduced to Xanax.
Throughout July and August, Zoe and her best friend would be out regularly with this crowd, taking Xanax, mixing it with alcohol, and getting sedated and into a zombie-like state. On some occasions, Zoe would come home from a night out with marks and bruises on her arms and legs, and no recollection of how she got them. At best, she had a hazy notion as to what had happened. One of the side effects of Xanax is amnesia, and there is always a risk that users become extremely vulnerable to abuse when under the influence of the drug, and although there was no certainty about whether Zoe was sexually abused, the concern was there.
Over the summer Zoe had completely transformed. Her mother, like most parents, was absolutely horrified at the change in her daughter since she started hanging around with this new crowd. She started rowing with Zoe. On one occasion, with Zoe under the influence of Xanax, she tried to stop Zoe going out. Another side effect of Xanax is aggressive behaviour, so, in addition to the normal behaviour that teenagers express when rebelling against their parents, in this instance Zoe physically and violently attacked her mother, leaving her with bruises on her arms and legs. Zoe then ran out of the flat. Zoe’s mother was desperate and frightened, and had no option but to call the police to restrain her daughter. At the same time, she rushed out barefoot into the street to make sure that Zoe came to no harm, and watched in horror as Zoe stepped out in front of cars and a bus. The police came quickly and arrested Zoe, which seemed to calm the situation down; no charges were brought. The next day, after spending a night in the cells, Zoe had no recollection of what had happened, nor of her arrest.
The problems continued. Zoe’s mother discovered that Zoe and her best friend were visiting various houses across north London where kids were taking drugs and drinking. Zoe’s mother then found out some of the names of the older people Zoe was mixing with. It transpired that some of those people were known to the police. With the help of the police, Zoe’s mother managed to get abduction warning notices served on six people so that they could be arrested if they were found to be associating with Zoe. An even more worrying discovery by Zoe’s mother were some baggies—small plastic bags used by drug dealers for neatly holding small amounts of drugs—hidden in Zoe’s bedroom. Zoe was now hiding things for her new friends.
In conversations I have had with the NSPCC, its staff have told me that Zoe’s behaviour is typical of someone who is being groomed. Zoe had been cut off from her school friends and had been warmly embraced by this new crowd, who promised excitement. Having been initiated, she was now doing favours for them. Zoe was now at risk of being exploited by people who were drug dealers, whom she regarded as her new friends.
Despite Zoe’s mother’s heroic efforts, Zoe continued to find ways of accessing Xanax. Things took a turn for the worse when, in September, Zoe and her best friend were found to be high on drugs in a zombie-like state, with dishevelled clothes and messed-up hair, on the school premises. As anyone who has a connection to a school will know, being drunk or intoxicated by drugs on school premises leads to a permanent exclusion. Despite this and after being implored not to exclude Zoe, the school allowed her to stay on and some support services were provided for her.
The pressure on Zoe’s mother was unbearable. She was so desperate and struggling to manage that she asked the local council if it could step in and find temporary foster parents for Zoe. Zoe was placed in foster care for just over a week. Although that seemed to shake her up, she was soon back to her old routine when she returned home. Despite Zoe’s mother and the school trying their best to help, Zoe was still able easily to get hold of Xanax, which was being peddled by a dealer from a booth in a McDonald’s restaurant two minutes away from the school. At £1 a pill, it was well within what is affordable to some young people. To make matters even starker, the McDonald’s is next to a police station. All the information that had been pieced together was passed on to the police. Following pressure from the school, Zoe’s mother and me, in December the police arrested three people on drug-related charges. This was not, however, before Zoe and her best friend were found to be drunk on school premises and then permanently excluded from school.
Zoe’s case is not the only one of its kind. On researching the subject, I discovered that on 9 May 2017, some 20 15-year-olds and 16-years-olds were taken ill in Salisbury, Wiltshire and received medical treatment after taking Xanax. A further eight young people were hospitalised in Sussex over the Christmas period after taking the drug, and in Scotland in the past month there has been an unconfirmed cluster of deaths from people injecting Xanax. Since securing this debate, I have been informed by hon. Members of further cases of Xanax abuse that have resulted in the hospitalisation of teenagers. Data about how widespread the misuse is of Xanax is patchy at best.
Last week, I met King’s College London’s emeritus professor of clinical psychopharmacology, Malcolm Lader OBE, who has over 50 years’ experience of working in this field. He told me more about the effects of Xanax. He said that Xanax was a powerful benzodiazepine which, if overused, could lead to a constantly dazed, zombie-like state and cause amnesia, depression, psychiatric disorders, rage and aggression. Taking it with alcohol would result in faster metabolism absorption of the drug and an amplification of the symptoms. He added that it was highly addictive—more difficult to come off than heroin—with prolonged psychological and physical reactions of muscle tensions, tremors, and perception disorders in relation to light, sound and noise. He added that in serious cases of overdose, it could lead to death due to slowing down of the heart and breathing problems.
So why has Xanax become so popular recently? Apart from being cheap—I mentioned that it is being sold for £1 a pill in my constituency—and just a click away on the internet, it has been glamorised in American rap music. The rapper Future has referred to Xanax in songs such as “Xanny Family” and “Perkys Calling”. Lil Uzi Vert has done the same in his song “XO Tour Llif3”, also known as “Push me to the edge”, which, as of today, has been viewed 147 million times on YouTube. The artist 6ix9ine, who has over 1.5 million Instagram followers, often makes references to Xanax in his songs, as does Lil Wayne, such as in his song “I Feel Like Dying”. The list of rap songs mentioning Xanax, or “Xannies”, is endless. I wish to thank my nephew Alex for enlightening me about rap music.
Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
This is not a new issue. Body Count, rapper Ice-T’s rock band, sang in their 1997 song, “Dr K”:
“Need some (X)anax…want some pills..I want the grim reaper as my guest!”
Ice-T’s social commentary was a way of getting to the heart of the issue 20 years ago. Does my hon. Friend agree that some rappers, like Ice-T, do not glorify Xanax but give the grim reality?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am about to come on to how some rappers have been dealing with the issue of Xanax in a very different way.
Some rap artists have even allowed themselves to be filmed in a zombie-like state, after claiming to have taken Xanax, before they eventually lose consciousness. But even in the world of American rap, things are changing. On 15 November 2017, American rap artist Lil Peep bragged about taking six Xanax pills on camera. Hours later, he was found dead on his tour bus as the result of an overdose. The clip of him bragging is still available for all to see on YouTube and other social media. Following the death of Lil Peep, the rapper Lil Pump, who previously had a song called “4 Xans” and other songs with references to Xanax, and who had posed for a picture with a Xanax cake to celebrate achieving 1 million followers on Instagram, announced on new year’s day that he would no longer be taking Xanax. Three-time Grammy winning artist Chance the Rapper has also been candid about his addiction to Xanax up until 2014. He told his 6 million Twitter followers—I am paraphrasing—that Xanax was the new heroin and not to be fooled. He has gone on to do interviews where he talks about the damaging effects of Xanax on him and his recovery from addiction.
Whether this is a matter of art imitating life or of life imitating art, the problem is certainly a real one in the UK. Having questioned adults over the age of 30, I found that very few had heard of Xanax, yet those who are younger, ranging from 12 to 24 years of age, had heard of it and would sometimes mock my ignorance and that of their parents. At the older end of the range, users are self-medicating with Xanax to ease their anxiety.
The truth is that there is a cultural and age divide, and whatever the reason, the fact remains that Xanax is certainly the drug of choice for some young people. It may be because it helps to numb the pain, because it is a fashionable drug, or because it is cheap and easy to get hold of—I can only speculate—but what I do know is that not enough is being done about the problem, which I believe is likely to get worse. Xanax is the drug of choice for the young generation. If steps are not taken now to tackle the problem, we will suffer the consequences both in the cost to the NHS and in personal tragedies.
Although it is pleasing to find that Xanax is the No. 1 news item on the Government’s “Talk to Frank” website, which is designed to be accessed by young people, much more needs to done. In the United States of America, abuse of Xanax is endemic and even some of those who were legally prescribed Xanax are dependent on the drug.
There is widespread ignorance of Xanax among the general public. There is very little, if any, research into or data on the misuse of Xanax and the reasons people use it, and very little is being done for those dependent on it. There are also enormous pressures on children’s and young people’s mental health services. There is a mental health crisis in our classrooms, and funding for child and adolescent mental health services has been cut. There is a window for early intervention, and that is key because half of all mental health problems are established by age 14 and three quarters by age 24.
If the Government want to do something about the problem, I would strongly suggest that they do three things. First, they should be running campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of misusing and abusing Xanax to inform the public. The lack of knowledge about Xanax and its side effects is startling. Secondly, they should be providing more support, via specialist drop-in centres, for young people who develop a dependency on Xanax. They should not be relying on existing addiction centres because adult drug and substance misuse services are not appropriate for young people. Children and young people’s mental health services also need to be better resourced to cover this need. Thirdly, the Government should commission, carry out and publish research into the prevalence of Xanax use and its effects. We do not know how big this problem is nationally, yet we know that young people are attending local A&E units suffering from the effects of Xanax.
Those three actions will go some way to help to alleviate some of the immediate problems caused by Xanax. They will not help Zoe, who has been robbed of six months of her life with potentially life-changing consequences, but they may help others, and that is something that we should all be striving to do.
Below is the text of the statement made by Nick Hardwick, the Chairman of the Parole Board, on 16 January 2018.
I believe public bodies should be open to scrutiny and accountable for their decisions.
So, I would welcome a decision by the Lord Chancellor to judicially review the Parole Board in the Worboys case and we will not stand in the way of such a review taking place. I hope such a review will provide assurance that the Parole Board itself has acted in accordance with the law and the evidence.
Public concern about the Worboys case is completely understandable and it is right that the anguish of his victims should be heard.
The Parole Board considers nearly 25,000 cases a year. Almost every one of those cases involves horrible offences with victims’ lives changed forever. There will be victims of offences that did not go to trial or result in a conviction and there will be others indirectly but painfully affected such as family members, witnesses and those who have to deal with the crime. The ripples from serious offences spread very wide.
That is the reality of the Parole Board’s work.
For prisoners like Worboys, once they have served the ‘tariff’ or the punishment part of their sentence set by a judge, they will be referred to the Parole Board by the Secretary of State and the Board must then determine if they are safe to release. The test that Parole Board’s 250 members must apply in deciding whether to release a prisoner is that ‘it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that they should be detained’; in other words, the burden is on the prisoner to demonstrate they are safe to release, not the panel to demonstrate they are too dangerous to do so.
The law governing the Parole Board’s decisions is quite clear. We have to make decisions about future risk. We cannot re-assess the prisoner’s guilt or innocence or whether the original sentence was appropriate even if we would like to do so. The decision about future risk will be informed both by evidence of how the prisoner has changed and the robustness of plans to manage him or her in the community.
I do not make decisions on individual cases, but I have observed many hearing and am struck by the careful and sensitive way panels make their decisions. Do they always get it right? No. Less than one per cent of those we release commits a serious further offence and each is a terrible incident. But I would not be honest if I pretended risk could be eliminated completely. Parole Board members need to be confident a prisoner will not reoffend – but they cannot be certain. If certainty is required that needs to be reflected in the length of the original sentence.
The Parole Board Rules prohibit the Parole Board from disclosing details of individual cases. I do not think this is right. Justice needs to be seen to be done. If the parole system is closed and secretive we cannot complain if people do not understand it.
I welcome the government’s review of this area and hope it will be radical.
I don’t say this will be easy. Some victims tell us they want to put the offence behind them and fear that opening the system up would put them through the media mill again and expose them to prurient public interest.. So, while looking at all the options we should proceed carefully and make sure we do not do more harm than good.
Although we are prohibited from revealing details of the Worboys case I will say something about the processes followed.
First, I share the concerns that victims say they were not kept informed or consulted about licence conditions.
The law says victims do not have a say in whether a prisoner is released on parole or not – that happens at the original trial when the tariff is set – but they should have an opportunity to ensure the panel understands the impact the offence had on them and have a say in the licence conditions that apply after release. They can make a written statement, attend the start of a hearing to read their statement in person or say nothing at all.
Other than receiving and carefully considering their statements, the Parole Board has no role in contacting or liaising with victims. That is undertaken by the Victim Contact Service, part of the National Probation Service, on behalf of the Secretary of State. The Parole Board sought and received assurance on a number of occasions that victims who wanted to make a victim statement had the opportunity to do so and were informed about the outcome of the hearing.
There are very serious allegations that some victims who should have been kept informed were not and victims and the public deserve to know exactly what happened. There should be an independent investigation by someone outside the Parole Board and Ministry of Justice into this specific issue and I call on the Secretary of State to initiate this.
As for Worboys’ hearing itself, it was a three-member panel chaired by one of our most experienced women members. One of the other members was a parole board psychologist. The panel considered a dossier of 363 pages and heard evidence from four other psychologists, and prison and probations staff responsible for Worboys. The Secretary of State was represented at our request. Worboys himself was questioned in detail. The panel considered a written statement from one victim.
It is particularly concerning that other victims now state they did not have an opportunity to give their views. I know that some victims are frightened. The licence conditions are very detailed but can be varied. The probation service must now ensure that even at this stage victims have an opportunity to have any concerns about licence conditions considered and should apply to the Parole Board for licence variations where this is appropriate.
Finally, let me say this. The Parole Board is in effect a court. We should be open to legal challenge but I hope when people think about it, they will agree it is right we resist political interference in our decisions. Like any court, the Parole Board members must make independent decisions in accordance with the law and on the basis of evidence. It would be a bad day for us all if people’s rightful abhorrence of Worboys’ crimes or even justified concern about a Parole Board decision allowed these basic principles of justice to be overturned.
Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Daniel Zeichner, the Labour MP for Cambridge, in the House of Commons on 8 June 2015.
It is a pleasure to follow that inspiring speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). It is also a pleasure to hear so many initial contributions from so many fine hon. Members.
I speak today as the new Member for Cambridge, and let me start by saying a few words about my predecessors. Dr Julian Huppert is a knowledgeable scientist and a committed defender of civil liberties, who argued hard in this House and well in the Select Committee on Home Affairs, where he won many friends. He has been a passionate advocate for cycling and for environmentalism, and he is extremely well regarded in the constituency, having fought hard to improve the funding situation for our local schools and to raise the status of mental health. But my predecessors in Cambridge set a very high bar. Some here will remember David Howarth, another Liberal Democrat MP who was also very well regarded in this House. Before that, we had my dear friend Anne Campbell, a Labour MP from 1992 to 2005, who has been a source of huge support and great wisdom for me.
I suspect that not every Member gets elected to this House at their first attempt. For some it will take two attempts, whereas for others it takes three or four. I am on my fifth, but I am here at last. I suspect that those who have followed a similar course may well have reflected early in their career on the merits of enthusiasm and youth. As one’s career progresses, one recognises the benefits of experience and perhaps a little wisdom—one hopes.
I also suspect that many Members are full of enthusiasm and optimism when they are first selected—I was first selected to fight a rural seat in Norfolk—and find themselves writing their maiden speech. When I reflect on that speech from 20 years ago, I see that quite a lot of it is still valid today: I see a Conservative Government, a Labour Opposition and much talk of Europe. The biggest thing that has changed for me has been moving back to the fine city of Cambridge 10 years ago—it has been the biggest change in my life. What I have seen in Cambridge over those years is a city on the cusp of a technological revolution; the number of jobs in the knowledge-intensive sector is phenomenal. For me, there is the link with today’s discussion about Scotland and devolution, because what our hugely successful companies such as ARM and the Babraham Institute need are more flexibilities, and people in Scotland are arguing for the same. As someone who has argued for many years for devolution to the English regions, I think we need to sort these issues out in a sensible way, which is why I did support the idea of a constitutional convention, as proposed by the Labour party at the last election.
Cambridge is also, like so many other places, a tale of two cities; the challenges our city faces are partly the challenges of success, but we also have divisions. Our businesses need an answer to the traffic problems and the appalling housing crisis we have. A terraced house in Cambridge costs £450,000 and our average rents are double those in England for most homes. Our housing benefit bill has doubled in the past five years—why? It is because 12,000 people in the prosperous city of Cambridge are earning below the living wage—it is not always the way we imagine it. We need different solutions in different places.
I am glad to say that Cambridge now has a Labour council and it is trying to tackle those issues, but it is hard to do. The biggest issue is affordable housing, and I see fellow hon. Members here who have been involved in these debates with me over many years. The biggest problem we have is that although we have a valuable housing stock, we are not allowed to borrow against it. The city deal is welcome, but it is a drop in the ocean compared with what we really need to turn Cambridge into the economic driver that could so help our economy, right across the UK.
When we look at those issues, we ask: why can we not borrow? Some 18 months ago, there was a chink of light from the Treasury, when people began to talk about “tax increment financing”—I apologise for the jargon—or the possibility of borrowing against that value. What happened? The usual forces of conservatism in the Treasury won out yet again, as has happened to Governments of both complexions. I say to both Front-Bench teams: we need to think imaginatively if we are to solve these huge challenges facing not only cities such as Cambridge, but our whole country and our other nations as well.
Creating the kind of tolerant, diverse city that people in a place such as Cambridge want will mean balancing a range of complicated and difficult issues, and recognising that even within a city such as Cambridge there are many different Cambridges. Cambridge has not only the university we all know and love so much, but three other universities: Anglia Ruskin University, which is doing so well; the University of the Third Age; and the Open University—my mother was pleased to be one of the first people to go to it back in the ‘60s. I recall one moment earlier this year when Cambridge United played Manchester United in a rather unequal battle—perhaps—in the FA cup and we held those mighty people to a goalless draw at the Abbey stadium. That was a brief moment when people saw that other Cambridge. I suggest that in our communities right across the country there are other cities and other places, and we need to understand all of them.
I stand before you today as a Labour MP for Cambridge who will represent the buccaneering investors and high-tech gurus of our city who will create wealth. But most of all, I will be standing up and arguing for our public sector workers, who so often are forgotten, but without whom the rest of the city cannot do its job. I am proud to represent Cambridge and look forward to standing up for the city in the years ahead.
Below is the text of the speech made by Daniel Zeichner, the Labour MP for Cambridge, in the House of Commons on 10 January 2018.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing the House the opportunity to consider the important issue of the academisation of primary schools in Cambridge. I will talk primarily about the necessity of both transparency and accountability of academy trusts and about the academisation process itself. The debate is timely, because just a few hours ago there was a meeting at St Philip’s C of E Aided Primary School in Romsey in my constituency to determine the school’s future after many months of uncertainty. It was local parents raising with me that process and the issues around it that caused me to take a particularly close interest in the case. The more I have seen of it and the more people I have spoken to, the more concerned I have become—hence the request for today’s debate.
I start by thanking those who brought the issue to my attention, who include not only local parents but the many people involved in local schools and the local educational system who have spoken to me over the past few weeks to explain the consequences of the process for the education system in my city and the surrounding area. I particularly thank Rachel Evans of the National Education Union, who has worked hard and carefully with parents and staff to try to achieve the best outcome for the school and the wider community.
Right at the outset, I want to say that I make no criticism of those involved locally, because I believe that they have all been doing their very best for the school, but it is the process they have been put through that causes me concern, and it should also trouble the Minister. Whatever one’s view of academies in general—I will come on to that—there must be something wrong with a process whereby parents, staff and the local community feel that they are just being informed about significant changes to a key local institution, but not involved in any meaningful way. They feel that it is being done to them, not with them. Schools are not businesses and are not privately owned—not yet, anyway. Schools are a key part of the fabric of our local communities, and we all know that they do better when they are a part of their community, with close parental involvement.
Although I am not an educationalist or an expert in this area, I was, like so many of us in Parliament, a school governor for many years. I was the chair of governors for a voluntary aided junior school in a rural market town for almost 10 years. I have known St Philip’s for a number of years, and it is a not a school that I would have had serious concerns about. It did experience a serious dip in results a couple of years ago and also had a problem when there was too long a delay in replacing an outgoing headteacher. That should interest the Minister, because he may want to reflect on why it takes so long to recruit good headteachers, particularly in high-cost areas such as Cambridgeshire—it is no easy task. But, as has been demonstrated by the swift recovery in results, the school clearly has a bright future, and I emphasise that point. I commend the many positive comments that parents made in their considered responses to the recent consultation, in which a strong view emerged that the school has improved dramatically. That leads to a frequently asked question: if the school is so improved, why the need for further change that might, in itself, be destabilising?
I do not criticise the interim executive board, which has been following its understanding of the procedure, but what a flawed procedure it is. Parents were informed by letter of a consultation in which the outcome was assumed to be academisation, and there was no sense of any alternatives being on offer. When parents rightly asked what say they had in any of this, the response was pretty much, “Yes, you can express an opinion, but this is what is going to happen.”
Originally, only organisations in favour of academisation were invited to make presentations at today’s special meeting. Parents rightly protested, and I protested, and I am pleased to say that the IEB did invite people with differing views, including local councillors and a representative from my office. I do not know the outcome of the meeting, and I suspect parents do not know yet, either, but such protests should not have been needed for other views to be put. It still is not really clear what other options are being considered.
The apparently preferred option from the outset was joining the local diocesan multi-academy trust—the Diocese of Ely multi-academy trust, or DEMAT—but there is a question as to whether that is really the best way forward for a city school. Should the school be swallowed up by a sprawling organisation that covers a huge geographical area—I choose my words carefully, and I am sure the Minister understands what I am saying—and whose effectiveness by no means convinces everyone in the local area?
Also, what about the concerns of many in the school, which has a very diverse catchment, that a move to a diocesan trust poses real dilemmas? This is a voluntary aided not a voluntary controlled school, and parents are right to raise the distinction. It is notable that some who clearly express their Christian faith raise that very point. What consideration has been given to other, more local options—or, of course, the option, which the vast majority appear to want, that the school should be as it was before the dip, and is now, by staying with the local authority? To most people, the process did not seem to offer any of those choices, only a one-way path to academisation within one multi-academy trust.
What would the Minister say to a parent who says, as parents have said to me, “I don’t want my child taught by unqualified teachers”? That is one of the freedoms available to academies. How does that parent get a say and, more importantly, how do they influence the decision? What if we discover every parent in the school shares that view? How would they get the decision changed? The answer is not obvious. Maybe the Minister can enlighten us.
The St Philip’s saga illustrates a wider problem with academies and multi-academy trusts. They take public money but are not democratically accountable to their communities. We all know that local authorities are also too often flawed, but they are by definition accountable—people can vote them out and get rid of councillors. Academies in multi-academy trusts do not have to have local representation on their boards, either of parent governors, local councillors or staff representatives. Indeed, I am told by one so-called emerging local multi-academy trust that, when it sought to include local authority representation on its board, it was told by the Department for Education that it could not. Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case and, if it is, why locally elected representatives are so excluded? The processes followed by these trusts are far from transparent, which inevitably leaves communities anxious.
Some multi-academy trusts in my area—in fact most of them—have boards full of impressive management and business figures, and my area is fortunate to have such people available, but the boards are singularly lacking in people on the frontline: parents, teachers and school meal supervisors. They are the people who actually know what is going on.
I mischievously suggest that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs takes a look at some of these boards. He might observe that the “blob” is more resilient than he thought. For a truly depressing session, I can heartily recommend that he browses the array of websites promoting MATs in any area, but for today’s purposes I shall limit myself to discussing Cambridge. As he looks, he will come across an array of mission statements and management gobbledegook, much beloved of corporate consultancies and full of joyless jargon, such as “pursuit of excellence”, “uniting with a common purpose” and “an outstanding education for all children is at the heart of our vision”. I know they have to do it, as that is the nature of the system—I even have sympathy with the poor people having to sit down to draft this drivel—but it is nonsense and we all know it. It may give us a chuckle when we are watching “W1A”, but this is the real world and it is not honest.
Honesty in times of really tight budgets, not Silicon Valley-esque, vomit-inducing fluff, would say something like, “Trying to make ends meet and retain teachers for more than 18 months in a high-cost area through being part of an inspiring community that works together.” Some people, of course, are trying to do just that, but we have to read between the lines of the waffle to even discern a hint of it. Nowhere on those glossy, newly branded websites do we find what we might want to know: how many unqualified teachers are being employed? What changes have been made to the terms and conditions of those employed? What changes have been made as the school moves away from the national curriculum? Surely that is what should be up there in lights—the truth.
There is a further problem that the Cambridge experience has highlighted. The complex structures of MATs and academies make local accountability through the local media extremely difficult. They are of course overseen by the regional schools commissioners, another extraordinarily opaque structure, largely invisible to parents and the wider world; they have a slightly curious role, given that this Government abolished regions. Never mind; regional schools commissioners exist, but they are technically civil servants and so do not talk to the media. Unsurprisingly, schools going through this process are also reluctant to speak to the media, so it is not much of a surprise that few people in the local community have any idea what is going on. That might suit the Government’s purposes, but it is a rotten way to run public services in a democracy and it will come unstuck. It also raises the question: what are the Government so afraid the public might find out?
In passing—this is rather topical—let me say that Cambridge people are suddenly waking up to the fact that, through these subterranean and opaque processes, Cambridge is to be the beneficiary of a new free school promoted by none other than Mr Toby Young. I think I can say with some confidence, given what the whole world now knows about him, that Cambridge will want none of that. Perhaps the Minister can also give us some guidance on how that can be stopped.
Why does all this matter? Because the system spends and allocates public money to educate children. Why should parents and communities not be able to simply and quickly ask questions and get answers? MATs are bound to release reports periodically, but they do not give the information that parents and local community members would like to see. As I have suggested, academies work to different rules from local authority-supported schools, so can we at least work out how this is going? I ask the Minister: how many unqualified teachers are there in each MAT in my constituency? How have terms and conditions changed, and what impact has that had on pupils’ education? I hope he will be able to answer, but if he cannot, why not, and who can? And why are parents and communities being kept in the dark?
Beyond those practical questions, there is the wider question of what schools are actually for. Of course, they are primarily there to educate children and to help them fulfil their potential and flourish, equipping them with skills and knowledge for their lives. However, schools are more than that; they are also community hubs that bring people together, allowing neighbouring families to have conversations and facilitating community events, and they are spaces that people can access in times of need. We have seen recently the excellent work that schools have done in communities that have been stricken by the consequences of austerity and the underfunding of councils. A recent press article highlighted the support that a school in Southwark gave to local refugees, far beyond the call of duty.
So we need to stop seeing schools in a vacuum of exam obsession, blinkered by assessment and rote, and see them as environments for growth and local development. Proper local representation on academy boards would help provide the longer-term vision needed for seeing through the development of a school beyond a single cohort, giving communities the means to hold schools accountable to the people they serve.
Furthermore, within the fragmented, opaque system I have described, there are costs as well. The emergence of multi-academy trusts has, of course, led to competition between trusts, which want to gather more schools into their organisations. Instead of organisations working collaboratively for the public good, we have trusts eyeing each other up, eager to pick up schools that may have had a blip—and it is even better if they have some financial reserves. Perhaps it should be like in football, with a transfer window so that schools can have some periods of the year when they do not have to fight off predators.
In my constituency, there are around eight different multi-academy trusts, all vying for increased growth. Each of those trusts will, to varying extents, have people working on marketing, management structures, brand development and logos, and they will be paying audit fees. As always, it is public money that is being spent. All this has resulted in a fragmented system of overlapping, opaque organisations that use the public purse in ways that no one understands locally.
It is all rather reminiscent of what happened to the national health service under the previous Conservative Government. I remember Frank Dobson having to come in and clear up the mess, and famously saying to competing NHS trusts that first and foremost they were all part of the NHS and that providing public healthcare needed to come first. Academy trusts need to be redirected to the purpose of education and the public good, not self-promotion.
As I have said, local education authorities were by no means perfect everywhere. Conservative-run Cambridgeshire certainly had and has its faults, but the professional support offered to schools was an important resource and should continue to be. I do not want to see a situation in which, by a process of attrition, it is no longer viable for such services to be available to schools.
I wish to draw my remarks to a close by looking forward. Fortunately, I think it is possible to adapt existing structures and improve local accountability and representation. By bringing a few of the trusts together, rebranding them as the education service and adding the voices of councillors, parent governors and trade union representatives, we could greatly improve the accountability of these organisations to the communities that fund them and that they should serve. In turn, we would increase transparency, which would rebuild public trust and embed our schools in their communities, instead of imposing new rules without consultation.
I must say that some of us saw all this coming, which is why in last year’s general election there was a different vision on offer—one that was much closer to the points I have just outlined. The Labour manifesto promised:
“We will…oppose any attempt to force schools to become academies.”
It also promised:
“Labour will ensure that all schools are democratically accountable, including appropriate controls to see that they serve the public interest and their local communities.”
In my view, those who work in our schools, send their children to them and support schools in their local areas are best placed to give insight into the ways that they should be run—a point that has been made frequently by the shadow Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner). I can say with confidence that that view is shared by many of the people I spoke to in Cambridge in preparing for this debate.
I hope that the Minister will give some assurances to parents and staff at St Philip’s, and those at other schools in and around Cambridge who are likely to find themselves embroiled in similar discussions in coming months. There is a new Secretary of State for Education, so there is an opportunity for a new start and for working with communities, rather than against them.
Sadly, this has been a debate about structures, when in so many ways it would be much better if were talking about standards and what is needed to support, encourage and inspire teachers, who we know are the real key to higher standards. We should also be talking about how to pay those teachers sufficiently so that they can live in high-cost areas such as Cambridge, and so that they stay, rather than go, as happens all too often. I hope they will hear that the Minister has listened, and that the message from the Government will be, “We will work with you and help you to improve.” I hope the message is not that the only way is academisation by one route or another, because that is what it has felt like in Cambridge and, I fear, in many other places as well.
Below is the text of the statement made by Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to the House of Commons on 11 January 2018.
The UK has benefited from its membership of the European Atomic Energy Community since joining the EU and Euratom in 1973. The Government’s ambition is to maintain as many of these benefits as possible through a close and effective association with Euratom in the future, after the UK withdraws from Euratom, at the same time as withdrawing from the EU, on 29 March 2019. Our plans are designed to be robust so as to be prepared for a number of different scenarios including the unlikely outcome that there is no future agreement at all. Our number one priority is continuity for the nuclear sector.
Since the 1950s, when the UK launched the world’s first nuclear power station, this country has been a leading civil nuclear country on the international stage, with deep nuclear research and nuclear decommissioning expertise, and with nuclear power playing a vital part in our electricity generation mix. It is vitally important that our departure from the EU does not jeopardise this success, and it is in the interests of both the EU and the UK that our relationship should continue to be as close as possible. We recognise and understand the concerns that the nuclear industry has raised. We agree it is essential that projects and investment are not adversely affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and can continue to operate with certainty.
To achieve this outcome, the Government’s strategy is twofold: through negotiations with the European Commission we will seek a close association with Euratom and to include Euratom in any implementation period negotiated as part of our wider exit discussions; and at the same time, to put in place all the necessary measures to ensure that the UK could operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one.
Our strategy is therefore based on the following principles:
to aim for continuity with current relevant Euratom arrangements;
to ensure that the UK maintains its leading role in European nuclear research;
to ensure the nuclear industry in the UK has the necessary skilled workforce covering decommissioning, ongoing operation of existing facilities and new build projects; and
to ensure that on 29 March 2019 the UK has the necessary measures in place to ensure that the nuclear industry can continue to operate.
The Government have made good progress on separation issues in the last few months as part of phase one of negotiations with the EU. Negotiations have covered a set of legal and technical issues related to nuclear material and waste, and safeguards obligations and equipment. The next phase of discussions will focus on the UK’s future relationship with Euratom. We believe that it is of mutual benefit for both the UK and the EU to have a close association with Euratom and to ensure a future safeguards regime that will be equivalent in effectiveness and coverage to that currently provided by Euratom, including consideration of any potential role for Euratom in helping to establish the UK’s own domestic safeguards regime.
The UK’s specific objectives in respect of the future relationship are to seek:
a close association with the Euratom Research and Training Programme, including the Joint European Torus (JET) and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) projects;
continuity of open trade arrangements for nuclear goods and products to ensure the nuclear industry is able to continue to trade across EU borders without disruption; and
maintaining close and effective cooperation with Euratom on nuclear safety.
We understand the importance to businesses and communities, including those in the nuclear sector, of being able to access the workforce they need. Proposals for our future immigration system will be set out shortly and we will ensure that those businesses and communities, and Parliament have the opportunity to contribute their views before making any decisions about the future system.
Whatever the outcome of the negotiations with the EU, it is vital that Government pursue all options for providing certainty for the civil nuclear industry that it will be able to continue its operations, including that the UK has a safeguards regime that meets international standards by the end of March 2019 and that necessary international agreements are in place. Such elements are not dependent on the EU negotiations and the UK Government are well advanced in delivering this plan.
The UK is: establishing a legislative and regulatory framework for a domestic safeguards regime—the Nuclear Safeguards Bill will, subject to the will of Parliament, provide legal powers for the Secretary of State to establish a domestic regime which the Office for Nuclear Regulation will regulate; negotiating bilateral safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency; and putting in place bilateral Nuclear Co-operation Agreements with key third countries.
As set out by the Prime Minister, the UK Government are proposing a time-limited implementation period where we continue to have access to one another’s markets on current terms and take part in existing security measures. This implementation period would cover Euratom too. The exact nature of the period will be subject to forthcoming negotiations including on the issues outlined in this statement.
As discussions with the EU move onto the important issue of the future relationship, I shall report back every three months about overall progress on Euratom, covering the EU negotiations and other important matters covered in this statement, by way of further written statements to keep Parliament updated.
Below is the text of the statement made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to the House of Commons on 11 January 2018.
It is this Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. We have made significant progress but there is much more to be done. The 25-year environment plan that we have published today outlines the steps we propose to take to achieve our ambition.
Environment is—at its roots—another word for nature, for the planet that sustains us, the life on earth that inspires wonder and reverence, the places dear to us we wish to protect and preserve. We value those landscapes and coastlines as goods in themselves, places of beauty which nurture and support all forms of wildlife.
Respecting nature’s intrinsic value, and the value of all life, is critical to our mission. For this reason we safeguard cherished landscapes from economic exploitation, protect the welfare of sentient animals and strive to preserve endangered woodland and plant life, not to mention the greening of our urban environments.
But we also draw from the planet all the raw materials we need to live—food, water, air and energy for growth. So protecting and enhancing the environment, as this plan lays out, is about more than respecting nature. It is critical if the next generation is to flourish, with abundant natural resources to draw on, that we look after our and their inheritance wisely. We need to replenish depleted soil, plant trees, support wetlands and peatlands, rid seas and rivers of rubbish, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cleanse the air of pollutants, develop cleaner, sustainable energy and protect threatened species and habitats.
Previous Governments, here and in other nations, have made welcome strides and driven environmental improvement. Yet as this 25-year plan makes clear, there is much more still to do. We must tread more lightly on our planet, using resources more wisely and radically reducing the waste we generate. Waste is choking our oceans and despoiling our landscapes as well as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and scarring habitats. The success of the 5p plastic bag charge in reducing the use of carrier bags by 85% shows the difference which Government action can make, and demonstrates that protecting our environment is a job for each one of us. The plan outlines ways to reduce the use of plastics that contribute to pollution, and broader steps to encourage recycling and the more thoughtful use of resources. Over the lifetime of this plan, we want to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste.
The Government’s clean growth strategy—the sister document to this environment plan—sets out how we will deliver the clean, green growth needed to combat global warming. We will do what is necessary to adapt to the effects of a changing climate, improving the resilience of our infrastructure, housing and natural environment.
Population growth and economic development will mean more demand for housing and this Government are committed to building many more homes. However, we will ensure that we support development and the environment by embedding the principle that new development should result in net environmental gain—with neglected or degraded land returned to health and habitats for wildlife restored or created.
Most of our land is used, however, for agriculture not housing. The new system of support that we will bring in for farmers—true friends of the earth, who recognise that a care for land is crucial to future rural prosperity—will have environmental enhancement at its heart.
We will support farmers to turn over fields to meadows rich in herbs and wildflowers, plant more trees, restore habitats for endangered species, recover soil fertility and attract wildlife back. We will ensure broader landscapes are transformed by connecting habitats into larger corridors for wildlife, as recommended by Sir John Lawton in his official review. Our plan for a new northern forest, to which we are contributing more than £5 million, will be accompanied by a new review of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Planting more trees provides not just new habitats for wildlife—it also helps reduce carbon dioxide levels and can reduce flood risk. We will work with nature to protect communities from flooding, slowing rivers and creating and sustaining more wetlands to reduce flood risk and offer valuable habitats.
Beyond our coastlines, we must do more to protect the seas around us and marine wildlife. Leaving the EU means taking back control of the waters around these islands. We will develop a fishing policy that ensures seas return to health and fish stocks are replenished. We will also extend the marine protected areas around our coasts so that these stretches of environmentally precious maritime heritage have the best possible protection.
Internationally, we will lead the fight against climate change, invest to prevent wildlife crime, pursue a ban on sales of ivory, and strengthen partnerships to tackle illegal wildlife trade beyond borders, including investigating the feasibility of an anti-poaching taskforce.
We will underpin all this action with a comprehensive set of environmental principles. To ensure strong governance, we will consult on plans to set up a world-leading environmental watchdog, an independent, statutory body, to hold Government to account for upholding environmental standards. We will regularly update this plan to reflect the changing nature of the environment.
While this 25-year environment plan relates only to areas for which Her Majesty’s Government are responsible, we will continue to work with the devolved Administrations on our shared goal of protecting our natural heritage.
These actions will, we hope, ensure that this country is recognised as the leading global champion of a greener, healthier, more sustainable future for the next generation.