George Freeman – 2015 Speech on NHS Innovation


Below is the text of the speech made by George Freeman, the Minister for Life Sciences at the Department of Business Skills and Innovation and also at the Department of Health, on 3 September 2015 in Manchester.

The challenges

Our health system is facing enormous challenges:

  • an ageing population
  • health inequalities
  • the need for rigorous discipline in public finances
  • a medicines bill of over £13 billion in 2014 to 2015 with spending in this year expected to rise
  • the ever increasing public expectations of what healthcare can deliver

We are also facing a number of public health challenges in obesity, diabetes and dementia with dementia alone costing the UK £26 billion per year.

All of this means that the NHS faces complex and difficult decisions in every area of its work.

Research and innovation in the NHS are critical for addressing these challenges. We need to harness the best of our clinical, research, academic and industry expertise to meet and address these challenges.

At the same time there is a gap between our ability to innovate within the UK and turn these innovations into health benefits for the population and to grow and generate the wealth from our £56 billion life science industry we need to pay for our rising healthcare costs.

As the UK’s first Minister for Life Sciences – jointly at the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – I want to see the NHS embrace innovation and become a true early adopter of new technology to help tackle the urgent productivity challenge of delivering better health outcomes for every pound.

The Prime Minister has charged me with accelerating the uptake of transformational technologies in 21st century medicine – principally informatics and genomics.

And, to do that in a way that attracts inward investment to the UK in research and innovation, creates new companies, drives growth and prosperity and raises revenues that pay for the healthcare we are going to need more of as an advanced society.

The opportunities

With our world leading science base and the world’s only fully integrated health system, we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of a new age of 21st century healthcare.

We have a strong platform from which to do this. I’m amazed by the sheer breadth of our dominance in global health – antibiotics, DNA structure, cloning.

Health will be the booming industry of the 21st century. The emergence of advanced digital technologies and the widespread use of smartphones opens up unprecedented opportunities for treatment and prevention.

In addition to the wide array of wearable technologies, there are no less than 100,000 health apps easily available to download allowing people to take more control of their own health and wellbeing.

Despite almost 60% of adults in the UK owning a smartphone we know only 2% of the population has had some kind of digitally-enabled interaction with NHS.

The range and sophistication of technologies offers us the potential to provide a more tailored and patient-centred approach to care.

Simple use of SMS messages can remind patients about appointments, medication and self-testing as well as allowing them to instantly update their records on key vital signs such as blood pressure or glucose levels.

There is opportunity here for productivity and growth. The UK’s digital health industry is set to grow by nearly £1 billion in the next 3 years.

The UK has particular potential in health apps, spurred on by initiatives such as Tech City in London and in health analytics.

We are investing further to cement this advantage through initiatives such as Health North’s Connected Health Cities.

I am delighted to announce today that the Department of Health and NHS England have committed £650,000 to a new innovation prize to accelerate the development and scaling of high-quality, evidence-based and safe digital tools that improve mental health outcomes.

Mental health disorders are the single largest cause of disability in the UK, affecting 1 in 4 people with an estimated cost to the economy of £105 billion per year. Digital technology could transform mental health service delivery by making effective interventions available to more people.

I am really proud that the global demand for UK know-how continues to gather pace; Healthcare UK has supported six international delegations to visit this Expo in Manchester to learn from the Best of British Innovation. I hope you will join me in wishing them all a warm welcome.

I will also showcasing the UK’s excellence and capabilities in the healthcare and life sciences sector on a global stage at the ‘The Future of Health’ at Milan Expo at the end of September.

This will be a great opportunity for the UK and overseas healthcare and life sciences leaders, innovators and opinion formers to discuss the serious challenges facing healthcare and the life sciences sector and to develop partnerships that can address these challenges.

How we will deliver

NHS England’s Five Year Forward View is a vision for the transformation of the NHS that all of us can get behind. It sets out how NHS England and its partners will commit to driving improvements in health through developing, testing and spreading innovation across the health system.

I want to tell you about some of the key programmes that I hope will deliver this ambition.

1. Data and Digital Health

First, unleashing the power of data in the NHS to improve individual care, system monitoring and performance and research.

We’ve got to keep people out of hospital, get better at preventing disease, diagnose earlier, reward healthy lifestyles, and have fewer people with long term chronic conditions filling up the most expensive place on earth – advanced western hospitals. Data and digital health are key. We have set up the National Information Board to drive the digital transformation of the health system.

We are determined to use digital and data interoperability to continue to drive the integration of our health and care system.

Something we are working on, is an integrated patient record which can be updated in real time and shared by all health and care professionals involved in your care, as well as seen and updated by you.

I think this would really transform the quality of care in the NHS. That’s why I championed the Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Act last Parliament which, from the 1st October will mandate the use of the NHS number as a single patient identifier across all services as well as introduce a legal duty to share information, so that people’s care can be coordinated across the system.

We heard at this morning’s National Information Board Leadership Summit about the hugely successful first year of operation of the new Spine – the technological backbone of the NHS.

It provides improved, functionality and flexibility and has already delivered £21 million of savings over the old system and meant that the NHS is saving 750 hours every single day.

This is a compelling example of how technology can save the NHS resources in terms of both money and staff time thus freeing up staff to deliver better patient care.

2. Genomics

Second, I am proud that we are leading the world by using cutting edge technology in the form of whole genome sequencing to transform healthcare and health research. NHS England is a key delivery partner for the 100,000 Genomes Project alongside Genomics England, Health Education England and Public Health England.

This ambitious initiative is shining the spotlight on science and technology in its broadest sense across healthcare – not just genomic and clinical genetic services.

It is driving advances in informatics and data standards and integration, in molecular pathology and other clinical laboratory sciences and across the diagnostic services that are vital to the overall characterisation of disease and assessment of its severity.

The reason the NHS is able to make this huge jump forward, more than anywhere else in the world, is the unique ability to combine genomic sequence data with the lifetime of phenotypic data in an individual’s NHS medical records.

It is the insight and learning from the analysis of genotype and phenotype side-by-side that will really drive the discoveries and advances from genomic medicine.

All of this work is moving the NHS to a new model of diagnosis and treatment based on an understanding of the underlying causes and drivers of disease rather than deduction from symptoms and individual tests.

The move to personalised medicine should identify certain groups within the population that respond well to particular treatments – opening the door for new pharmaceuticals or treatments.

Alternatively this may allow industry to revisit pharmaceuticals or treatments that weren’t sufficiently effective across all of society, but might be particularly good when targeted to individual groups.

In establishing a unique collaboration between NHS Genomic Medicine Centres, industry and academia for analysis of the genomic dataset, this project is also contributing to economic growth and establishing the UK as a leader in this sector. The aim is to grow the industry from £0.8 billion in 2015 to at least £1.2 billion in 2018.

There is a 100,000 Genomes Project stand here at Expo which is being run by colleagues from across the health service and delivery partners and Illumina and I would encourage you to go and find out more.

3. Test beds

Third, we need to understand better how these novel technologies and approaches work in the ‘real-world’.

The NHS presents an exciting opportunity to innovators that until now has been greatly untapped.

The test bed programme is a big opportunity to unlock the potential of the world’s only fully integrated health system, using it as the ultimate platform for assessing the real value of innovations.

Test beds will partner global innovators with NHS organisations to trial digital technologies, including Internet of Things technologies, at scale and in a real clinical setting. Our global call to innovators generated a huge response with 376 expressions of interest submitted.

Over the summer global innovators & health leaders have been joining forces at matchmaking events to form partnerships and identify solutions to local health challenges.

I am excited at the prospect of the needs of healthcare and the creative energy of industry coming together to speed the implementation of digital technologies for patient benefit and to promote economic growth.

4. Academic Health Science Networks

Fourth, NHS England has established the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) which connect academics, NHS, researchers and industry to accelerate the adoption and diffusion of innovation helping to catalyse economic growth at the same time as driving improvements in the quality and efficiency of care.

AHSNs are working with partners locally and nationally to develop innovation eco-systems right across the NHS, so that innovation is championed by all – from patients to CEOs.

Nationally, they are core to the delivery of the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI), National Innovation Accelerator programme and test beds – 3 fundamental national delivery platforms for innovation.

And there are also many good examples of where AHSNs have led the diffusion of innovation in their geographical areas, to meet local clinical needs.

Greater Manchester AHSN’s Innovation Nexus connects small to medium sized companies with the NHS to help strengthen their technologies and make them relevant to NHS needs. In 6 months, the Nexus has leveraged £1 million additional funding to support company growth and supported 60 companies: 12 are now receiving further intensive support; 5 have set up offices in the region; 2 have secured their first NHS contracts.

AHSNs also working all round the country to create the local infrastructure to allow innovations to thrive from supporting a remote monitoring system for women with gestational diabetes in Oxford to a light therapy mask for the prevention and treatment of diabetic retinopathy in the South West.

5. Accelerated Access Review

And last but not least, I have launched the Accelerated Access Review, independently chaired by Sir Hugh Taylor. The review will look at the journey innovative products take, from clinical trials or proof-of-concept, right through to wide-spread adoption in the NHS.

The pathway to adoption in the NHS is long and incredibly complex. It’s difficult for innovative things to get to patients.

And for some products, especially med tech and digital, the pathway is not just complex but there isn’t really a pathway at all.

This review will explore how we can speed up patient access to innovative medicines and medical technologies by capitalising on innovations in digital, genomics and personalised medicine; taking time and cost out of the development pathways for new products; and, making best use of existing NHS assets to create the best system in the world in which to design and develop innovative medical products.

Closing remarks

Meeting the challenges to our health and care system through these exciting initiatives needs a team effort.

We need your help to create a culture across the health and care service that values and promotes innovation.

One of the ways you can do this is by engaging with the Accelerated Access Review. I encourage you to visit the online portal and provide your comments by 11 September. By listening to patients, service users and professionals, the review is able to gather an in-depth knowledge of how this could be achieved and to find out what’s working well and what needs to be improved.

The ultimate challenge is one of changing culture so we need to help one another look at new things from a different perspective. If we are to unlock the full potential of our health services, we need to nurture professional communities that prize innovation together.

I take a great amount of reassurance from the fantastic work you are showcasing at this Expo that we are heading in the right direction.

Working with new transformative technologies towards a more innovative NHS that delivers better value. That’s what we should all be working for.

Nick Gibb – 2015 Speech on Teaching


Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, a Minister of State at the Department for Education, at a research conference in London on 5 September 2015.

It is a privilege to be attending an event attended by over 700 teachers, all spending their first weekend of a new term educating themselves about classroom research, to be participants in a conference of teachers with so much potential to transform this country’s educational landscape.

In 1999 Douglas Carnine, a Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, wrote a short but pungent paper entitled ‘Why Education Experts Resist Effective Practices’. Carnine was, and still is, a strong advocate of Direct Instruction. He was frustrated at the education profession’s unwillingness to acknowledge the empirical evidence in favour of a teacher-led classroom. Carnine wrote that a defining feature of a ‘mature profession’ – for example medicine or the law – was a willingness to engage with research findings.

Since I became Shadow Minister for Schools in 2005, I have seen the teaching profession make strides towards Carnine’s ideal of a ‘mature profession’. No event indicates this better than ResearchED. Now in its third year, and crossing 3 continents, ResearchED is a remarkable example of a grassroots movement, driven not by worthies on high, but by teachers on the ground, united by a desire to know how they can improve outcomes for their pupils.

Tom Bennett created ResearchED, but central government can make some small claim for having provided the spark. In 2013, the government invited Ben Goldacre to write a report explaining how the education sector could make better use of evidence. We were shocked by Goldacre’s exposure of un-evidenced practices in his 2009 book ‘Bad Science’, exemplified by now legendary pseudo-science of Brain Gym. I hope we have all been rubbing our ‘brain buttons’ in anticipation of today’s event…

The Goldacre Report was published by the Department for Education in March, 2013. It promoted much discussion, and following a Twitter conversation involving Ben Goldacre, the gauntlet was thrown down in the direction of Tom Bennett: ‘can you organise a grassroots movement amongst teachers campaigning for better use of educational research?’ Tom was asked. 3 years later, the answer appears to be ‘yes’.

Like all great institutions, ResearchED formalises a wider movement, or culture-change, that has been taking place within education. Some classroom practice, which until 5 years ago was endemic in the profession, has been held up to scrutiny and found wanting. I have already mentioned Brain Gym, but alongside it we can place learning styles, multiple intelligences, discovery learning, and the 21st-century skills movement as hollow shells of their former selves.

This is not to say that such ideas are no longer at large within schools – far from it – but the intellectual underpinnings of such methods have been challenged: a vital first step in reversing the damage they have done.

What is so noticeable about this movement is that it has not emerged from our universities. Many university academics, it appeared, were too much invested in the status quo to provide any challenge. Rather, the challenge came from classroom teachers, burning the midnight oil as they tweeted, blogged and shared ideas about how to improve their profession. According to the veteran teacher blogger Old Andrew, there are 1,237 active education blogs in the UK and many of them, I can testify, have directly influenced government policy. Education provides a case-study in the democratising power of new media, providing an entry point for new voices to challenge old orthodoxies.

And publishers have taken note. The bookshelves of any enquiring teacher have expanded significantly over the last few years. The titles of such books indicate the scale of the challenge to the prevailing education orthodoxies that is taking place:

‘Teacher Proof’
‘Seven Myths about Education’
‘Progressively Worse’
‘What if everything you knew about education was wrong?’
Each book listed has been written by a classroom teacher, sending – in the words of 1 review – a heat seeking missile to the heart of the education establishment.

This wellspring of free thinking teachers convinces me that there has never been a better time to become a teacher than now. The statistics are encouraging: in 2010, 61% of trainee teachers had an undergraduate degree at level 2:1 or above. This year, that figure is 73%. Crucially, in 2012 the proportion of trainee teachers with a 2:1 or above surpassed the national average of that year’s graduating cohort for the first time, and the annual initial teacher training census shows us that the proportion of new teachers holding a first class degree is at an all-time high. The best graduates are going into teaching. Year on year, the prestige of the profession is growing.

I recognise that it is challenging to recruit new teachers in the context of a recovering economy and strengthening graduate labour market. However, the challenges we see in certain priority subjects, such as physics, maths and modern foreign languages, are not a new phenomenon.

This year we have already exceeded our target for primary school teachers and we are making sustained progress in the secondary sector – including key subjects such as English, maths, physics and chemistry, where we are ahead of last year’s performance. Contrary to the widely made claim that only 50% of teachers are teaching 5 years after qualifying, that figure is in fact 72% – a respectable figure for any profession.

Our policy to make the EBacc compulsory from 2020 onwards has significant staffing implications for schools, and that is why we are developing significant measures to meet them. At the end of last year, we pledged £67 million towards a scheme to recruit more maths and physics teachers for English schools.

I hope that today’s trainee teachers are increasingly aware of evidence-based practice. But, it remains important to ask why so many poor ideas were sustained for so long within schools. To answer such a question, we must not forget the role played by central government. To give just one example, in 2006 the Department for Children, Schools and Families formed the ‘Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group’. Their subsequent report, entitled ‘2020 Vision’, threw its weight behind ‘personalised learning’, explained as:

‘Learners are active and curious: they create their own hypotheses, ask their own questions, coach one another, set goals for themselves, monitor their progress and experiment with ideas for taking risks…’

2020 vision suggested that the school of 2020 should pursue: ‘learning how to learn’; ‘themed project work’; and ‘using ICT to enhance collaboration and creative learning’. Lots of talk about learners learning, but almost nothing about teachers teaching.

In the same year that she wrote ‘2020 Vision’, the chair of the 2020 Review Group became Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools. The inspectorate became geared towards imposing its preferred teaching style upon the profession. Research undertaken by the think tank Civitas last year revealed that as late as 2013, over half of Ofsted’s secondary school inspection reports still showed a preference for pupils learning ‘independent’ of teacher instruction, and nearly 1 in 5 criticised lessons where teachers talked too much.

This ‘Ofsted teaching style’ directly contradicted the common sense of thousands of teachers, not to mention much empirical evidence about effective teaching. Recently, I was reminded of Ofsted’s reign of error by David Didau’s new book. Buried in a footnote, Didau provides a remarkable anecdote about this period. He writes:

‘Once in an exam analysis meeting, a school leader who taught in a particular department said that the reasons the exam results of that department were so poor was because of their outstanding teaching. They concentrated on independent learning and refused to ‘spoon feed’. This obviously meant kids did less well in the test.’

You do not have to be George Orwell to recognise the double-think contained in that story, or the assault on the very meaning of the word ‘outstanding’ that Ofsted created. For so many schools, the means of pupils working independently became more important than the ends of pupils actually learning.

We have worked with Ofsted to ensure that inspectors no longer penalise teachers who teach from the front, and Ofsted is continuing to reduce the burden that inspections place on schools. Ofsted guidance was reduced last year from 411 to 136 pages, and this year guidance has been further reduced despite the increased reach of the common inspection framework. From this month, there will be shorter inspections every 3 years for schools already rated as ‘good’. Through their ‘mythbusting’ document published last October, Ofsted are combatting some of the myths surrounding inspection that still circulate the profession, such as the need to provide a written plan for every lesson. Ofsted have also sent a clear message that schools do not need to prepare for inspection, and need only focus on helping pupils reach their full potential – this is a message we fully support.

2020 Vision was just one example of the hundreds of reports churned out by a bloated panoply of quangos and ancillary bodies prior to 2010: Becta; the GTC; the NCSL; the SSAT; the QCDA – a whole industry of unfounded advice, leading teachers up the garden path and towards the false dawn of informal teaching methods.

Common amongst each of those bodies is that they all, since 2010, have either been disbanded, merged or had their government funding curtailed. This is because we believe that teachers teach best when government steps back.

Here’s one example. In 2005, the National Audit Office reported that the government had, from 1997, spent £885 million on measures to reduce truancy, during which period cases of unauthorised absence remained stable. The measures in question were classic cases of Whitehall knows best: attendance advisor support, national truancy sweeps, reward schemes and alternative curricula adjusted to be more ‘relevant’ to the interests of pupils.

This government has not pursued such measures. Instead, the government made schools and parents more accountable for the attendance of their children, but left it up to them to solve the problem. As a result, the number of persistent absentees has almost halved from 433,130 in 2010, to 233,815 in 2014.

This belief in autonomy explains why we have made academies and free schools a central component of our reform agenda. This government does not believe that all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools.

But, through granting unprecedented freedom to individual schools, we are creating an educational eco-system in which new ideas can flourish. Be it the emphasis on Russell Group universities pioneered by the London Academy of Excellence; or the remarkable teaching at King Solomon Academy – which as a school with over 60% of pupils on free school meals has just achieved 93% A* to C for the second year running, with an astonishing 75% of pupils achieving the EBacc – school autonomy allows excellence to emerge. Such schools have startled the profession, setting new, higher expectations about what can be achieved within the state sector.

School autonomy was not a government invention. In Lord Adonis’ book ‘Education, Education, Education’, he recalls how encounters with ambitious and successful heads, who wanted to replicate the success of their schools more widely, convinced him to pursue the academies programme. Adonis mentions meeting heads such Kevin Satchwell at Thomas Telford Academy; and Sir Daniel Moynihan at Harris CTC, who 15 years later is in charge of a federation of 36 academies. They were, and still are, inspiring leaders who knew if given the opportunity they could transform our education system.

The great Victorian constitutionalist Walter Bagehot wrote that ‘policies must ‘grow’; they cannot be suddenly made’. This is true in the case of education, where our best policies have always grown out of the profession. Our emphasis on phonics, for example, would not have been possible without the work of individuals such as Ruth Miskin, and teacher organisations such as the Reading Reform Foundation.

I look upon the next 5 years with great excitement, anticipating the new practices that will emerge due to greater school autonomy, which will in turn influence government policy, leading to a virtuous circle of innovation and improvement.

The work of teachers has allowed the Education Endowment Foundation to make great strides since we founded the organisation in 2011. To date, it has awarded £57 million to 100 projects working with over 620,000 pupils in over 4,900 schools throughout England. It has published 45 individual project evaluation reports – all available to teachers for free online. The thirst for quality education research, which is so evident at this conference today, has begun to change how decisions are made within schools. According to a poll commissioned by the Sutton Trust earlier this year, 48% of secondary school leaders and a third of primary school leaders now use the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit when making decisions about classroom teaching.

But, there is still a long way to go. We created the EEF due to a belief that high-quality, robust research could empower classroom teachers, and I firmly believe it can. But, such teachers need to strive to make their voices heard.

If anyone here still has to include learning styles in their lesson plans, please direct your senior leaders to Harold Pashler’s comprehensive literature review which lays bare the want of evidence to support learning styles. If you are criticised by colleagues for implementing frequent factual recall tests – so often characterised as ‘mere regurgitation’ – please direct your colleagues towards the work of Robert Bjork, which shows that frequent testing strengthens long-term memory. If your performance management is still based on termly do-or-die lesson observations, direct your senior leaders towards the work of Rob Coe which shows such observations are not just stressful, but provenly imprecise. And if your school still practices Brain Gym, then God help you.

Improving the quality of research is an easy first step: converting such research into practice is a far greater challenge.

But, we should never see research as a panacea for all of education’s ills. At an event such as this, it is worth surveying the parameters of what research can actually achieve. The analogy between the teaching and medical professions, which both Douglas Carnine and Ben Goldacre employ, should not be stretched too far.

Research can inform us about effective ‘means’, but it can never decide for us what our ‘ends’ should be. Within the medical profession, it is normally clear what the ‘ends’ are: keep the patient healthy, and where possible, alive. But, in education, there is not and nor should there be a settled consensus on the purpose of school. This is a passionate and sometimes fierce debate, which research may inform, but will never answer.

For this reason, I am mistrustful of those who disdain lively debate, and defer all opinion making faculties to that omniscient being ‘the evidence’. ‘The evidence’ provided by the EEF suggests that school uniform has no impact on pupils’ performance. Should we abandon school uniform? I would argue no, because pupil performance is not the sole aim of a school. Fostering a collegiate ethos, preparing pupils for the world or work, and ensuring no pupils need feel inadequate through their clothing, are all important ends in their own right.

Through the reformed national curriculum and English literature GCSE, we have stipulated that every pupil should study at least 3 Shakespeare plays during their secondary school education. But what ‘research’ attests to the benefits of studying Shakespeare? What ‘research’, for that matter, proves that pupils should know about diverse ecosystems, computer coding, or the Industrial Revolution? Such questions cut to the core of what it means to be an educated person: a question no number of effect sizes, meta-studies or randomised controlled trials can answer.

Many who disagree with our vision of an educated person have taken issue with this government’s emphasis on the EBacc, which will be compulsory for all pupils entering secondary school this month. We believe all children are entitled to learn a language and 3 sciences; that all children require a basic level of mathematics and English to thrive; and that all children should be initiated into the world through a study of either its history or its geography. Some in education do not share this belief.

I was reminded of such fundamental differences whilst watching the BBC documentary ‘Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School’. In this documentary, 5 teachers from China taught 50 teenagers from an English school for 4 weeks. This was no disadvantaged school in a deprived area of the country: it was an Ofsted ‘outstanding’ school in the well-heeled rural town of Liphook, Hampshire.

The Chinese teachers were nevertheless shocked by the behaviour and attitude of English children. More worrying still, in my view, was the reaction of the school senior leadership to Chinese teaching methods. The evidence which shows the effectiveness of Chinese teaching methods is unequivocal: according to the PISA tests, 15-year-old pupils in Shanghai are 3 years ahead of their English counterparts in mathematics. Whilst our pupils are in their first year of GCSE, Chinese pupils are doing A level work. In mathematics, the children of the poorest 30% of Shanghai’s population are outstripping the children of our wealthiest 10% in England.

One would think this would incline a headteacher to learn from Chinese methods. Quite the opposite. The headteacher stated in the first episode: ‘No educational approach or policy is going to turn back the British cultural clock to the 1950s. Nor should it seek to.’ By the second episode, the headteacher criticised Chinese teaching as ‘tedious’ and hoped the Chinese teachers in his school would ‘fail, and fail by a margin’, as to him they represented the ‘dark ages’ of teaching.

By the end of the third episode, a whole year examination had shown the pupils taught by Chinese teachers outperform the control group in all 4 of the subjects studied – yet the headteacher was still reluctant to acknowledge the advantages of Chinese teaching methods.

Amongst some in the profession, a romantic aversion to formal teaching will forever trump the evidence which shows its effectiveness. For them, it will always be more important to have engaged pupils who are not learning, than seemingly ‘passive’ pupils who are. Like the 2 women Samuel Johnson famously witnessed screaming at each from their windows across an alleyway, I fear they will never agree, as we are arguing from different premises.

One’s most fundamental beliefs in education will ultimately always be informed by values. So let me tell you what this government’s values are.

we believe that children across the country are entitled to a basic academic education up to the age of 16, because – in the words of 1 of the teachers featured on Chinese School – ‘knowledge changes one’s destiny’
we believe that all children should leave school with the skills that allow them to thrive in the workplace
we believe the most effective teaching methods should be pursued to achieve this, irrespective of whether some find them ‘tedious’
we believe that schools should be civilised and civilising institutions which foster good character, because children do not always know best, and sometimes require the benevolent authority of an adult
lastly, we believe in a socially just Britain, where the benefits of such an education are available to all, irrespective of background or birth
That is the vision that I, and this government, are dedicated to achieving. Research will guide us in the means by which these ends can be achieved, but ultimately it is teachers – and teachers alone – who will realise it.

Tony Benn – 1951 Maiden Speech to the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made to the House of Commons by Tony Benn on 7th February 1951.

As this is the first occasion on which I have ventured to address the House, I must ask for the usual indulgence and sympathy of hon. Members. I am sure that all hon. Members realise that the hesitancy of a maiden speaker is a very real thing indeed; hesitancy, one might almost say, is an understatement of the way a maiden speaker feels. Conscious of the traditions of this occasion, I have chosen to speak in this very non-controversial debate. I have been inspired by hon. Members on both sides of the House in their appeals for unity at this time, and I believe that a great deal of unity of opinion is possible on both sides of the House over a great many of the issues we have to discuss this evening.

I detect in the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition three distinct ideas. First, it is a fundamental challenge of the wisdom of the last Parliament in passing the Steel Nationalisation Act. Secondly, it suggests that fresh evidence has come to light which should lead this House to reconsider its decision. Thirdly, in the wording of this Amendment, in which I note a trace of pained surprise, there is an implication that the Government have somehow or other behaved rather badly in this matter. I would like to deal, if I may, as non-controversially as I can with those three propositions.

I do not want to deal at any great length with the main case of hon. Members on this side of the House for nationalisation, for the arguments are well known to all hon. Members. However, it is necessary to recapitulate them briefly so as to be able to see whether, in fact, the fresh evidence adduced in this Amendment is likely in any way to alter the necessity for this decision. Curiously enough, it is on the basic issues of nationalisation that the greatest agreement is possible on both sides of the House. Hon. Members on this side and hon. Members opposite are united in their agreement that this is a basic industry, that the health of this industry, the investment policy of this industry, the development of this industry in the future are absolutely fundamental to our economic life and to our standard of living. There can be no disagreement about that.

Nor, I submit, can there be any disagreement on the nature of the present organisation of the industry. I do not want to press this point too much. I do not want to use the word “monopoly” in reference to this industry, because I do not want to be controversial. But I do think that hon. Members on both sides must agree that in the past this industry has shown a marked aversion, to put it mildly, to the workings of the competitive market both at home and abroad, and that it could hardly be described as the sort of industry which would make the classical economists smile with pride—if classical economists were ever known to smile. On these points, then, I submit there is universal agreement: it is an important industry and the control of it is in a limited number of hands. The point on which we disagree is the way in which this power should be controlled.

It is significant—significant, I would suggest, of the result of five years’ political education since 1945—that nobody in the House today has suggested that there is no need for any control whatsoever. To do so would be to suggest that there was no likelihood of any divergence of interest between the industry and the people of this country. Certainly such a suggestion involves an optimism which it would be hard to justify. On the contrary, hon. Members on both sides have stressed that there is a need for some degree of supervision. In accepting that, the point is immediately made that there may be in the future, as there has certainly been in the past, a divergence between the interest of the industry and the interests of the nation. Our problem tonight—indeed, the problem which was being considered throughout the last Parliament when this Measure was under consideration—is how such a supervision can be made effective.

I realise that analogies are dangerous, but there is one analogy which is as simple as it is instructive when we are considering the question of making supervision effective. It is the analogy with the present Parliamentary situation. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench are making sustained efforts to supervise the policy of the Government. They find this supervision difficult because the political power in the country rests with my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. Similarly with the iron and steel industry, it is difficult to organise effective supervision over an industry when the real power lies, as in this particular case, with the shareholders. I would suggest to hon. Members opposite, if I may be so presumptuous, that the solution of their Parliamentary difficulties lies in a return to power at a General Election. There could be no dispute on the solution of their difficulties in that case, and there can be no dispute on the solution of our difficulties in this matter. If we are to make supervision effective, we must have control over the sources of the power in the industry, and this lies with the shareholders in the industry.

So much for this substantial case. I apologise to the House for recalling it, except that it is worth keeping it in mind when considering the fresh evidence adduced in this Amendment. The first piece of fresh evidence adduced is the record production in the industry. I, along with many of my hon. Friends, regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition did not devote more attention to the efforts of the steel workers in this connection. There are, however, many hon. Members on this side of the House who are better able to speak of that than I am. The point I want to make is a simple one: that the steel industry since 1945 has been working in what it is quite fair to call a sunny economic climate.

In this connection I should like to say a word about my predecessor, Sir Stafford Cripps. No one did more than he to bring about the economic recovery of this country since 1945. He, and those who worked with him, brought this country through the difficulties that faced it without many of the instabilities which arose from different policies, both in the United States and in Western Europe.

One of the major reasons of the success of the steel industry since 1945 was that it enjoyed, in the opinion of our British businessmen, a sustained justification for optimism about the future. I would, of course, only take this information from businessmen themselves. Hon. Members who doubt this, have only to read the annual reports of the company chairmen—that is, the business parts of their reports, and not the political parts—to see that the industry as a whole has benefited immensely through the sound economic planning of the Government. I do not underrate the value of American help—how could I when I am married to an American girl?—but I suggest that the success of the steel industry is much more a vindication of the Government’s economic policy than a measure of the soundness of the present basis of ownership.

The second piece of evidence adduced was on rearmament. The part that the industry has to play in the rearmament drive simply underlines its importance, and therefore we on this side, to say the least, have every right to argue that as the industry is likely to be even more vital in the years ahead. We have even more right to believe that it should be in public hands. Also there are specific problems involved in rearmament, and it is upon these that I should like to focus the attention of the House.

First, there is the fact that the high demand for the products of the industry would tend to push considerations of costs and efficiency into the background if the industry were in private hands. The interests of the shareholders in this respect would be likely to diverge from the interests of the Government. We saw after the First World War—I say “we saw,” but that is a politician’s phrase: I was not born at that period—a similar situation, and we cannot afford to allow the demands made on the steel industry at present to result in its getting behind with its modernisation and development projects. Coupled with the need for a balanced programme is the need also for a proper system of supervision, which, I have tried to suggest, can be achieved only by public ownership.

There is also an important psychological factor. Owing to the curious nature of the industry, the fact that its units of production are of widely differing degrees of efficiency, and because of the complications of the price structure in the industry, there is at least the possibility that high profits will be made in the years during which the rearmament programme is under way. At a time when there is a very real threat to our standard of living, it would be psychologically disastrous to have an iron and steel industry which was doing very well indeed from a business point of view. [Interruption.] That was put badly. I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I submit that the point itself is valid.

The last point with which I should like to deal is the implication in the Amendment that the Government have in some way behaved badly. We on this side are a Socialist Party—we have been for some time. We have never made any secret of the fact. In 1945, when our election programme was published, we made no secret of it, and if any members of the electorate failed to read our election programme, they had only to listen to the Leader of the Opposition to realise that we were a Socialist Party. Everyone on this side pays tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his valiant work in informing the electorate of the intentions of the Labour Party.

The Bill was introduced in Parliament in 1948, and was debated throughout the following year. After some disagreements in another place, a compromise was agreed which seemed, to say the least, to be very fair to the critics of the Bill. Finally, the Bill was enacted. The people and their steel were married, after what, I suggest, was a long period of not very reputable cohabitation—if I may misquote the marriage vows—”For better for worse, for richer or poorer, until the advent of the Conservative Government doth us part.” Moreover, it should be remembered that “That which Parliament hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” This, surely, has some relevance to the Amendment which is before the House. That is the case which we put from this side.

We have learnt some lessons from this controversy. We have learnt that when one is up against the steel “bosses” it may not be as easy to get one’s way as was thought. I believe that the whole history of this controversy is a final justification for our refusal to accept mere control. We have also tasted the political ambitions of economic power, and we shall not forget that either.

There seem to me to be two ways of dealing with the industry. One is an entirely new way, which nobody has actually suggested but which, I believe, is implied in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition; that is, for an entirely new form of public accountability, based on a constantly postponed plan of nationalisation, in which the work of the industry would be regularly surveyed by Parliament on Motions of Censure. That is one way in which it has been suggested that we could retain our ideological security and hon. Members opposite could retain their position of power. I do not think it is a very satisfactory solution, and therefore, with continued diffidence but with no hesitation now, I ask the House to reject the Amendment.

Hilary Benn – 2012 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of a speech made by Hilary Benn to the 2012 Labour Party Conference on 4th October 2012.

Good morning Conference.

I want to begin by thanking Dave Sparks for his leadership of our LGA Group.

Our great CLG team in Parliament – Jack Dromey, Helen Jones, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Chris Williamson, Paul Blomfield, Nic Dakin, Bill McKenzie and Jeremy Beecham for everything that they do.

And I want especially to thank – as I am sure you will too – our 6,000 Labour councillors, including the 824 elected in our great victories this year, who do such an outstanding job in cities, towns and villages up and down the country flying the Labour flag.

As we come to the end of our Conference, the message we take home with us has to be one of hope.

Why? Because at a time when people are really worried about what all this economic uncertainty means for them and their family’s future, the biggest threat we face is not the scale of the challenge.

No. It is that too many people feel that too many decisions are being taken too far away from them.

It is that people may lose faith in the capacity of politics to do something. To change things. To transform lives.

Now we know that it does. And we know that when you transform one life, you start to transform a community.

And why do we know it. Because our history teaches us so.

Just think what we have achieved as a country, as one nation. Look back 200 years to when poverty, disease and slums scarred our land. What changed that here in Manchester? Social conscience, civic pride, collective endeavour – people who did something extraordinary.

They brought gas and electricity, and schools and hospitals.

They opened the first public parks.

They built homes.

They provided the clean water and the sewers that did more than anything else to defeat disease and increase life expectancy.

And a century ago in David Cameron’s constituency – and I bet he wouldn’t know the answer to this question about British history – the Workers’ Union set up a new branch in Witney, not to campaign for a cut tax for millionaires, but for a fair deal, a living wage: the Just Reward of Our Labour.

And none of these peoples waited to be told what to do by Whitehall. They looked around them, saw the problems, decided what needed doing and they got on with it.

And that’s exactly the spirit of Labour in local government today – a spirit we should celebrate.

Now let’s face it, these could not be tougher times for councils.

They have been singled out for cuts in funding that are unjust and unfair, and in true Tory style the poorer the area, the bigger the cuts.

All in this together, Mr Cameron? You’ve no idea what that means, do you?

Now while Labour councils are fighting for a fair deal for their communities, they are also facing impossible, agonising choices.

But with a quiet and steely determination, they are making those choices not because they don’t care, but because they do.

To choose is to express our Labour values and to show that we can make a difference to people’s lives.

And so, while Labour may not be in government nationally, we are in government locally and we’re gaining more councils.

By winning the public’s trust.

By showing the Labour difference.

By proving, however tough it gets, that we don’t write people off. We stretch out a hand and pull each other up.

One thing we did in Government to pull young people up was our Educational Maintenance Allowance . The Tories and the Lib Dems scrapped it.

I’d like to welcome Cllr Nick Forbes, Labour Leader of Newcastle, to tell us what they are doing to help the young people affected in their city.


[Cllr Nick Forbes, Labour Leader of Newcastle City Council:

Educational Maintenance Allowance was just one of the many socially progressive measures introduced by Labour. It helped thousands of young people to stay longer in education, meaning they could improve their skills and increase their job prospects. And, because it was targeted to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, it helped with social mobility.

I know how important it was to young people in Newcastle, because they marched through our city centre in their thousands when it was scrapped.

We were determined to do something to help. So we worked with our local schools – this one, Benfield, is just one of the many schools rebuilt by the last Labour Government – and introduced our own version of EMA, which we called the Newcastle Bursary. Let me tell you about some of the people it has helped.

Lucy was knocked down in Year 9 and has suffered extensive and on-going surgery ever since. She did quite well at GCSE and is determined to go to university, and would be the first to do so in her family. She is progressing well academically with good AS grades and the bursary has helped her with travel and study costs.

Jamie lives with his granddad in Byker. They really struggle financially. He did not do well at GCSE with a few E and F grades but in Sixth form he has not missed a single lesson! The bursary has allowed him to carry on with his education; without it he would not have been able to stay on. He passed his BTEC last year and is now studying ICT at A level, as well as progressing with English and Maths qualifications.

Our bursary has meant that these young people, and hundreds like them, can afford to stay in education. I am proud to say that this is a real difference that we have been able to make.

Because we believe no one should be overlooked, no one should be left behind. And no one should be denied opportunities simply through the circumstances of their birth and upbringing. That’s the difference a Labour council makes, and how we are doing our part in rebuilding Britain.]

Thanks Nick.

There you are.

Practical help to bring out the future talent of our country – the next generation. That’s the Labour difference.

Now once those young people have completed their studies, what awaits them? Youth unemployment over a million. No experience, no job. No job, no experience.

So in my city Leeds, council leader Keith Wakefield has brought together the City College, Jobcentre Plus and local employers to help 600 young people get their careers started. By offering them what they really want – advice, training and, most of all, work experience.

And in November they’ll be launching the Leeds Apprenticeship Agency. Why? Because the council listened to small businesses who said: we want to take on apprentices, but we’re worried about employment liabilities and all the administration.

So the council said, ok, we’ll create a company to take on those responsibilities, so your company can take on those apprentices. A Labour council working with small businesses to make a big difference.

Now, one area where jobs have been badly hit is construction.

House building is falling. Because of the Government’s failed economic policy, people can’t get mortgages. They can’t raise deposits. And so developers aren’t building.

And it’s all very well Nick Clegg talking last week about wanting to build lots of new homes but where was he when his Government slashed the affordable housing budget by 60% and the number of affordable housing starts collapsed by more than two-thirds.

Now you’ve started saying sorry – how about apologising for that Nick ?

But while the Government is cutting, Labour is building. Let’s hear now what Labour Islington is doing about it from Cllr James Murray, Executive Member for Housing and Development.

[Cllr James Murray, Islington Council:

Conference, if you’ve been to any fringe meetings about housing this week you will have heard lots of speakers saying our country needs more homes.

That is certainly true in Islington. But, for us, it is vital that if we’re building more homes, they need to be the right kind of homes. They need to be decent, secure, and affordable homes.

And in Islington, a desperate need we have is for more social housing.

We have 3,000 families living in overcrowded council housing.

Take the example of Leslie Hynes, who lives and works near the Arsenal tube. He was living with his wife and four-year-old daughter in a one-bed council flat above some disused garages that were just a brick wall onto the street.

But after Labour won control of Islington Council in 2010, we got on with converting the ground floor garages under his flat, and the space at the ends of his block, into 23 new council homes.

And so this summer, through our local lettings policy for new council homes, Leslie and his family moved the short distance from their overcrowded flat upstairs, to a new 2-bed flat downstairs with a garden.

Their daughter now has her own room, and the family is now living in a new high-quality home with a secure tenancy at a social rent.

This is just one of the projects we’ve been working on. We are building new council housing now, and have plans for hundreds more homes over the coming years.

And we are working with housing associations to bring the number of new affordable homes well into the thousands. We have a plan where we give them land and then they build homes for social rent.

The Tories and Liberals in government want to raise social rents to near-market levels – that would triple the cost of the average council 2-bed in my borough. We’ve said no to this. That would be no use to Leslie and his family. That would destroy the mix of housing that Islington needs to work socially and economically, and that makes the borough fairer.

So, we are stepping in where we can: we know what Islington needs, we are confident how we’re going to get there, and we know we are making a difference.]

Thanks James for helping the Hynes family. They now have a place they can really call home this Christmas.

That’s one Labour difference in housing. Here’s another. Many older people wouldn’t mind moving into a smaller home, but they don’t want a one bedroom flat. Why? Because they might need a carer to come and stay with them or they want their son or daughter to come and visit.

So Labour Sandwell listened. ‘Fair point’ they said, and so now they are building 2 bedroom bungalows on the same estates – this one is in West Willows, Great Barr – so that residents can move there and still have someone to come to stay over. And because of that they are releasing 2, 3 and 4 bedroom properties to let to families on the waiting list. Good idea eh?

And what are the Tories doing? Taking away people’s housing benefit if they have a spare bedroom. A shameful attack on families, carers and people with disabilities, whose homes have been adapted.

Now Conference you’ve been telling us “Build more homes”. We hear you.

When you’re in recession the best way is to build yourself out of it.

And that’s why this week we’ve said: use the money from the 4G auction to build 100,000 new affordable homes to take people off the waiting lists and thousands of unemployed building workers off the dole queue.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

But we also need an economy that is fair.

When households are feeling the squeeze, it’s hardest for those on low pay.

I’d now like to invite a guest to speak to us Conference.

Not a Labour councillor, but someone who is benefiting because of a choice made by Labour councillors.

Will you please give Elaine Hook a warm welcome.

[Elaine Hook:

My name is Elaine Hook. I am a cleaner employed by Birmingham City Council. I take pride in my work. And I work hard. I love my job.

Labour took control of Birmingham City Council in May. The very first thing they did was to introduce the living wage. No council worker now earns less than £7.20 per hour. That’s a big difference from the minimum wage of £6.08 per hour.

It’s made a real difference to me. It’s made it easier to pay the bills. It’s really helped improve my quality of life. And there are over two thousand five hundred lower paid workers like me. My colleagues who benefited are dinner ladies, catering staff and street cleaners.

So, I’d like to thank the council and the Labour Party for helping me and other workers like me – who now get a decent wage, a living wage. Thank you.]

Thank you very much Elaine and thanks to Albert Bore and his team in Birmingham for making that difference.

And you know what Conference?

People like Elaine are benefiting up and down the country because it’s not just Labour Birmingham that’s paying the Living Wage; it’s also Labour Preston, Oxford, Lewisham, Islington, Camden, Lambeth, Hackney and Glasgow.

And more Labour councils are on the way. So let’s applaud all of them for making that Labour difference too.

So that is the difference.

The Tories got rid of EMAs. Labour Newcastle steps in to help.

The Tories put youth unemployment up. Labour Leeds provides apprenticeships.

The Tories slashed the affordable housing budget. Labour Councils are building new homes.

The Tories punish people for having a spare bedroom. Labour Sandwell provides one for its pensioners.

Rail fares and heating bills are up while the Tories want to drive wages down by paying council cleaners in one part of the country less than someone doing the same job elsewhere.

Shameful. What are Labour Councils doing ? They’re trying hard to pay a living wage.

Who said politics doesn’t make a difference. Who said we are all the same. Not true.

And when people ask us ‘what would you do?’, look them in the eye, and reply ‘Look at what we are doing’.

So let’s be proud, let’s celebrate the difference that Labour is making in local government.

That’s the message we’ve got to take into next May’s County Council elections.

Now one of the places we are fighting hard to win is here in Lancashire.

Please welcome our last contributor Jenny Mein, the Leader of the Labour Group, who is going to tell us about the difference she wants to make.

[Cllr Jenny Mein, Lancashire County Council:

It is a privilege to speak to Conference about our campaign in Lancashire to regain control of the County Council.

I want to talk about the difference that a Labour Lancashire will make and just how important our County Council campaign is.

The Tories in Lancashire are letting people down.

Our young people have seen cuts to the youth service, our disabled have seen the cost of their day care services increase by 700 per cent and our older people are being priced out of community centres.

Lancashire is being let down by a Tory government in Westminster and the Tory county council is hurting our residents.

Lancashire was once a place where everybody mattered and Lancashire Labour want to make it that way again.

A Labour controlled Lancashire will work with local businesses, the third sector, trade unions, schools and colleges to stop a generation of our young people from being thrown on the scrap heap.

A Labour Lancashire will give every young person a chance in our County and our priority will be to tackle youth unemployment.

As one of the largest employers in the County, Lancashire Labour needs to take the lead in ensuring a living wage economy, and a Labour controlled Lancashire will deliver a living wage for its employees.

We believe in the power of the living wage and will use our influence across the County to improve the living standards of thousands of Lancashire residents. We congratulate colleagues in Birmingham and as Elaine shows, we can make a real difference.

To achieve this, we know that we must work hard and campaign harder than ever before.

We have made over 100,000 contacts already this year and have delivered over 1/2 million pieces of literature for our Operation Red Rose campaign.

But we still need to do more.

So, if you’ve got any spare time over the coming months we would love to extend a warm Lancashire welcome to you all!]

Thanks Jenny. I’ll come. Conference will you?

So, as we leave here today we’ve got counties to win next year and a mayoral election in Bristol this November so that Marvin Rees can introduce a living wage there too.

But Conference, while we do so, remember this.

Everything we’ve just heard about is a testament to local ideas. Local commitment. Local action.

We need more of it, and yet too much power in England is still wielded in Westminster, and if we are honest we have been too wedded to that way of doing things in the past. That needs to change. We really need to change.

And do you know what? There’s nothing to fear and there’s everything to gain.

Because our job is to give people locally the tools they need to do their job.

Decisions taken closer to the people, by the people.

And there’s so much that needs doing. Just look around us.

Improving people’s health so that life expectancy doesn’t fall with income.

Making sure that broadband – the artery of economic development in our century – is available everywhere.

Generating renewable energy on our roofs to help reduce people’s bills and look after the planet.

Caring for a growing elderly population, so that we can remain independent and be looked after in our own homes, as Sandwell is doing.

Building decent affordable homes for families like Leslie Hynes’, as Islington is doing.

Helping more people like Elaine by paying a Living Wage, as Birmingham is doing.

And as we do all these things, as we give people hope, so confidence will build in us and in Labour politics.

200 years ago the circumstances may have been different, but our mission – what we are about – has not changed.

And we will stand shoulder to shoulder with you as – together – we get to work.

Hilary Benn – 2011 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn to the 2011 Labour Party conference on 29th September 2011.

Good morning Conference. Can I begin by thanking my team Helen Jones and Paul Blomfield – Paul it’s great to see you back fit and well – and all our MPs for the work they do taking the fight to the Government in the House of Commons.

Ed’s great speech on Tuesday reminded us that politics – like life – is about the choices we make. It’s about the values we uphold. And nothing matters more right now than the economy.

Where we got it wrong – like on bank regulation – we’ve held our hands up. But everyone else got it wrong too. George Osborne used to complain not that we weren’t doing enough on the banks but that we were being too tough on them. He was wrong then and we’ll take no lectures from him.

And he was wrong again when those frightened people were queuing up outside the branches of Northern Rock to ask for all their money back. Now when that happens – your banking system is on the point of collapse.

And the real test of politics is not what you do when times are easy but the choices you make when times are tough. And we made the right choice. I rang my father up that day and said “Dad, you know you always told me that we should nationalise the banks. Well I’ve got some news for you”

And why did we do it ? Because we made a choice to protect people’s savings, to protect people’s jobs and to protect people’s homes, and for that we should never apologise.

And it’s exactly the same choice we face today when a new crisis threatens. Do you act or do you stand on one side. And whose side on you on?

Every day in the House of Commons we face a Tory Government kept in office by the votes of the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg.

They’re not a happy bunch.

Tim Farron wants out, and Chris Huhne is after his boss’s job. He thinks Nick Clegg should go off to be an EU Commissioner – indeed he’s so keen on the idea that he’s offered to drive him to Brussels himself.

And why are they unhappy? Well we know why.

Cancelling the loan to Forgemasters, not backing Bombardier in Derby where British skill and British engineering has been building trains for 170 years, and tuition fees. Nick Clegg made a promise. He broke it. And that’s why people will never trust the Lib Dems again.

Now, beating the Lib Dems is pleasure – and we should thank them for the help they’re giving us – but Conference beating the Tories is business.

Look at what they’re doing to the economy. Growth is flatlining. Unemployment is rising. And that’s going to make it harder to pay off the deficit.

Look at their broken promises.

David Cameron promised to protect Sure Start. But Sure Start centres are closing.

He promised that ministers who came up with cuts to the front line would be sent packing, but instead it’s 16,000 police officers who are going.

He promised no top down reorganisation of the NHS, but now he’s wasting billions on doing just that.

And he actually wants to be able to fine your local NHS hospital up to 10% of its turnover for something called anti-competitive behaviour even though he can’t explain what that means.

That’s the Tories for you. They actually do think that our hospitals are no different from banks or phone companies. Well we know they are different and that’s why the British people will never trust the Tories on the NHS again.

This is a government that’s got rid of EMAs and the Future Jobs Fund at a time when one in five young people can’t find a job.

We have a No 10 adviser who wants to get rid of maternity leave.

A schools Secretary who seems only to be interested in the education of some of our children, when he should be interested in the education of all of our children.

A government department that’s sending out letters to people who are terminally ill warning them that their benefits could be cut in April even though Parliament hasn’t yet approved these changes.

And a Prime Minister who at the same time as taking away childcare tax credits from working mums, wants to abolish the 50p tax rate.

All in in together? No, they’re just interested in a few.

And that’s why people will be looking to us to help them. And so as we head back home let’s be proud of who we are and of how our politics can change things. Just look around this great city of Liverpool to see what we can do.

It’s quite easy to have a go at politicians – and sometimes we deserve it. And yet being an MP or a councillor is an honourable job. It is a privilege to serve the public.

And that’s why all these boundary changes are so wrong and so damaging. For the Tories it’s all about trying to gain party advantage, but for the rest of us they will destroy the relationship between places and communities and their MPs, and we will fight them as hard as we can.

And we won’t allow millions of people to be thrown off the electoral register because of individual registration. Aung San Suu Kyi reminded us this week just how precious the right to vote is. And that right must be protected for all our citizens.

And if anyone says to you – ah, you’re all the same, what’s the point, nothing ever changes – remind them of Labour’s NHS, forged in the aftermath of a world war. Remind them of Labour’s minimum wage and the winter fuel payment. Remind them of the schools and hospitals we built. Remind them of Tom Watson and Chris Bryant’s courage in standing up against Murdoch. Remind them of Ed Miliband’s belief in a something for something society.

And then ask yourself: what would things be like without them ? Do we make a difference? Of course, we do.

And then go out there – ignore the cynics – and look people firmly in the eye and say: we are here to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in your community, and in your workplace, and in our Parliament as together we face the future.

And do you know what matters more than anything else? Confidence. Having confidence in ourselves as a nation. Yes, the challenges are great, but if you look around you can see that we have all the skill, passion, innovation, inventiveness, creativity and determination we need.

And when we put the power of our politics at the service of the people, then together we can transform lives and build something better.

Conference, we are now going to hear from someone for whom what we did in Government to support families really made a difference, but also about how her life and her family have been affected by this Government’s dismantling of the help we put in place.

It is a moving story about why politics matters.

She comes from Stone in Staffordshire. It is her first time at Conference.

Will you please welcome Catherine Gregory.

Hilary Benn – 2011 Speech to the Local Government Information Unit


Below is the text of a speech made by Hilary Benn to the Local Government Information Unit on 28th October 2011.

Thank you for your kind invitation.

It is good to be back in local government, so to speak, after all these years. Quite a few things have changed, and some things haven’t; in particular I find myself once again in opposition with a Conservative Government in Westminster.

My time as a councillor in Ealing – and my experience in Leeds – has made me a passionate believer in local government and what it can do to help people to solve their problems and to realise their hopes and aspirations for a better world.

I say that because – as you know better than anyone – communities are at the heart of society. They are shaped by the places we live in and the relationships we have one with another. And what councils do makes such a difference to people’s lives. Localism is much talked about these days but what I find missing from the Secretary of State for Local Government is any apparent enthusiasm for local government. I don’t think what you do is appreciated enough, and one of the things that I want to do in this job is to stand up for local government.

Now these are very difficult times for councils and for the country. People are worried about their jobs, the rising cost of living and the affordability of housing. You are worried about implementing the huge reductions in funding – unprecedented in my political lifetime – that have been forced upon you, and unfairly and unevenly distributed.

This localism is about devolving responsibility for cuts that are hard and difficult – as you try to protect statutory services and decide where the axe will fall.

Yes, the deficit has to be dealt with, and no I am not here today to say that if you hang on for another three and a half years – and if there is a change of government – normal service will be resumed.

But the Chancellor does face a choice about economic policy, and the one he is pursuing clearly isn’t working. Confidence is plummeting. Unemployment is rising. Growth is grinding to a halt.

Nothing like enough private sector jobs are being created to replace those being lost in the public sector, including by councils – although we were promised that this would happen.

And, worst of all, in the face of this failure the Government has no plan to put it right.

The nation needs a plan, and local government needs a plan too. We have to get the economy going again. And that’s why a temporary reduction in VAT, a 5% VAT rate on home improvements, a NI tax break for SMEs taking on workers, a repeat of our bankers’ bonus tax to help 100,000 young people to find work and build 25,000 affordable homes and bringing forward long-term capital investment would all help to do that.

And councils should be at the heart of a plan for growth, doing what so many of you have done so successfully over the years – promoting the economic development of your area. Thinking ahead. Responding to profound changes rather than become prisoners of that change.  Making sure the right infrastructure and the right skills are in place.

Supporting economic growth of the right kind is really important, but the current mess that is planning isn’t going to help.

Some policies are very hard to understand.  I cannot fathom why the Government has scrapped the brownfield first policy – and very successful it was too – and I cannot understand why it has created so much uncertainty about the transition to the new Framework and where this will leave councils and communities in relations to developers.

The truth is that ministers have a long way to go to reassure people who fear that green England is under threat, and a long way to go to persuade us that we won’t see more appeals and more arguments about what the words of the new National Planning Policy Framework mean.

Some policies are contradictory. The localisation of council tax benefit, with a 10% cut and protection for certain groups, is likely to end up hitting people who work but are on low incomes; the very opposite of what the DWP says it is trying to do to make work pay.

Others haven’t been thought through. The localisation of business rates is fine in principle as long as there is real incentive, that councils don’t lose out financially and there is a fair mechanism for redistribution that recognises disadvantage. But so far even those who favour the idea don’t think much of the proposals.

Some are plain incoherent. When money is tight, and CLG has faced huge cuts, to suddenly find £250m to try to bribe councils into changing decisions they themselves have made  – in the spirit of localism  – about how to collect  people’s rubbish is bizarre and smacks of Whitehall knows best.

We have a housing crisis; a crisis of supply and a crisis of affordability. The housing budget has been slashed, the number of new homes built in England last year was the lowest for decades, and plans for 200,000 new homes have been abandoned since the election, in part because of the chaos over planning.

And some are plain unfair. As any of you who have seen the map that Newcastle City Council has produced will know, this show that the most deprived communities are being hardest hit. The most deprived 10% of single tier authorities will see their total spending power reduce by nearly four times as much as the least deprived 10%. So much for not balancing the books on the backs of the poorest.

So we have:

An Economic crisis

Less money

Significant changes with the Localism Bill, in health, education and policing, with police commissioners, coming, that local government is going to have to work with, and through, in future.

And a continuing debate about the balance between the local and the national.

The charge that all oppositions are localisers and all governments are centralisers has more than a grain of truth in it. The Whitehall machine is naturally centralising, and we have to recognise that when things go wrong locally – the failure to protect a child, for example – there is very powerful pressure on ministers to do something. And we accept that there is a case for central oversight and the inspection regime that goes with it.

So, first it would help if we were clearer about where responsibility should lie for what nationally, locally and in neighbourhoods and communities.

Some national responsibilities are obvious. Defence, benefits, health, and the framework for entitlement to social care, for example.

Education is currently a mixture of all three, although I find the continued use by some of the phrase local authority control of schools rather mystifying as there hasn’t been much of that since local management of schools came in. But even with all the changes that have taken place, there is still a role for local authorities in ensuring a sufficient supply of school places, in providing support services, and of course in working with schools as they contribute so much to the wider community.

At the local end, we have, for example, the number of libraries, or traffic calming, or parks and recreation.

It seems to me that reaching a measure of agreement – finding the right balance – would help us in the relationship between the community, the local and the national, and will be especially important in the new financial circumstances that local authorities find themselves in.

Secondly, we need to encourage the process now underway in which councils are looking at different way of doing things. There is a case for doing this because of the cuts and there is case for doing this anyway in the interests of providing a better service.

Earlier this week I met the co-operative councils network and learned about the interesting things they are doing. Rochdale mutualising its housing stock. Lambeth’s work on devolving youth service spending and decision-making. And co-op trust schools in Oldham. Or look at the bringing together of back office functions and some front-line services by Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster.

As Sophia Parker puts it: “an increasing number of councils are recognising that slicing existing budgets ever more thinly is not enough in today’s world, and that competition and outsourcing alone will not do the trick. An altogether bolder approach is needed.”

Thirdly, I think there is a very strong case for taking the principle of coming together and sharing things and applying it much more widely outside of local government. I am talking about the Total Place approach. The argument for this way of looking at things is overwhelming.

You only have to reflect on what we have now and ask yourself – if we had been starting from scratch – would the duplication and overlap between local authorities, and health, and police, and probation and other services have seemed a sensible thing to do.

It also means for local government that it can have a bigger say in how other public services are provided in their communities.

What the Worcestershire pilot showed was that of all the public spending in the county, only around 20% was attributable to the 6 district councils and the county – and what was directly controlled was about half that once you took out schools. In other words most of it was elsewhere, but when you bring people together round a table to discuss how to spend the pot all sorts of new ways of doing things emerge and become possible if there is the will.

I think we should be naturally wary of turning the whole system upside down for the sake of it – we have all seen a lot of that – but I favour a radical approach in this area allied to the right kind of incremental change [Fabians]. Pooling budgets to look at all the needs of an area and sharing data on, and working together with, the same people or families that lots of different agencies are dealing with makes a lot of sense. Making the best use of the public estate – school buildings, housing offices, job centres – makes a lot of sense.

And from a resident’s perspective, if several different local and national agencies are undertaking the same financial assessment of you and your circumstances, then doing it just the once seems pretty sensible too.

The argument for a total place way of doing things is even stronger in the context of the cuts, not least because it enables us to see the cumulative impact of what would otherwise be different decisions taken by different bodies and to ask the obvious question – is it fair and are we all working in the same direction?

Fourthly, I am a very strong supporter of neighbourhood management and neighbourhood budgets; what we might call ‘local place’. Before the boundaries changed, I represented the Halton Moor estate. It had its troubles and the Halton Moor Residents Group came together to say “we don’t want to put up with this any more”.

So we set up a neighbourhood management group, the ALMO provided support, and we got all the different services round the table, including the police, and set to work trying to sort things out. It didn’t cost a penny more – apart from the ALMO’s contribution – but it made much better use of the pounds that were being spent, and gradually the local residents told us that things had got better. And one sign of that was that some new houses for sale built where only a few years before perfectly good semi-detached houses had been knocked down were all sold before the last one was completed.

That experience taught me what was possible in doing things differently and what communities can do for themselves if they are given the chance.

Doing a better job for those we represent is what we are all interested in; it is outcomes for citizens that really matter. And citizens are really interested in the services they receive from local authorities; for them whether their needs are met is what matters.

When our children are of school age, what we want is a good local school and we don’t think much about structure or arguments about accountability.

When your 85 year old Dad needs support to stay in his own home, it is the help the council can give him that we rely on.

So we all need to assess how we are doing, and I do worry that with the abolition of the audit commission, we may lose some of the comparative data which would allow people locally and society nationally to see how councils fare in comparison to each other.

Finally, I know you’ve discussed lots of different approaches today about how councils can do the best in the tough circumstances you face. But you remain the defenders of your local communities. You are their voice in speaking to other public services. But the most important resource you have is the essential vitality of local government.

What history teaches us and what we can see around us is that with political will, and good leadership, and determination and confidence you can achieve an enormous amount.

Local government has always been an ocean of innovation. Victorian Britain saw people of civic mind and civic virtue lead the way. They brought gas and electricity to communities. They created the first public parks. They built homes. And they provided the clean water and the sewers that did more than anything else to beat disease and increase the life expectancy of our forebears and our ancestors.

They didn’t wait to be told what to do. They looked around, they saw the problems, and they got on with it.

And it is just as true today. Look at Leeds’s success in building a diverse economy and a thriving city centre.

Look at the regeneration of the former coalfields.

Or Camden’s work on services provided to and with people who have mental health problems.

Or Kent’s social innovation lab.

Or York’s plan to provide free wi-fi in the city centre; the 21st century equivalent of gas and electricity, powering the new economy.

And then think of the new challenges of our age.  Climate change. A population that is growing and ageing.  Obesity – the 21st century epidemic. Finding a way to live sustainably.

And then ask yourself this. If we can do extraordinary and visionary things in one place – and you have shown that you can – then we can do them anywhere.

And that’s why – despite the difficulties and despite the really tough choices that councils are confronted with – we have to hang on to that sense of optimism about what we can do to shape our future together.

And I really look forward to working with you as we do.

Hilary Benn – 2009 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn, the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to the 2009 Labour Party conference on 28th September 2009.

I would like to thank Michael Cashman and the policy commission for everything you do, and also our great ministerial team at Defra – Jim, Huw, Dan and Bryan. Thanks very much.

Many of us who came down to Brighton by train would have caught a wonderful glimpse of the South Downs.

Formed over millions of years by nature’s hand, the glorious western weald and the chalk hills are one reason why Clem Attlee’s Labour government did something unique in our history.

From the ashes of World War Two, they founded the National Health Service, created the Welfare State, and built new homes and towns amid the rubble of the old. But they also had the vision to legislate to preserve beauty.

Drawing inspiration from William Blake, the Kinder Trespassers and many others, they passed the National Parks Act into law 60 years ago this year.

And as we commemorate what that Labour government did two generations ago, so this spring were many able to celebrate – after a long, hard campaign – our decision that the South Downs will now become our fifteenth and newest National Park.

We made a political choice to preserve and protect this landscape for future generations.

For everyone. For ever.

And why?  Because we know that the quality of our lives, our health, our happiness are shaped not just by our families and the work we do, but also by the places in which we live and by how we treat each other.

It was this Labour Government that has opened up the countryside for everyone to enjoy with the right to roam.  We’ve passed the first all-embracing animal welfare act for a century, and in just over two years’ time battery cages for chickens will be no more.

And we will now preserve and protect our seas and coastlines with the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. The first stretch of the new Coastal Path around England will open at Weymouth Bay  – site of the 2012 sailing competition – in time for the lighting of the Olympic flame.

But now that we’ve fulfilled the original dream of the National Parks’ creators, our next task is to enrich and link together more wonderful places where wildlife, bees, flowers and trees can flourish, and we can enjoy them as they do.

So I will now ask a group of people passionate about our countryside to come up with a plan to do just that so that we can realise another long-held dream of all those who care about our wild places.

We also need our countryside to produce more food.

Our farmers and farmers around the world will have another 2 to 3 billion mouths to feed in two generation’s time.

That’s why I want British agriculture to produce as much food as possible today as we protect the soil and water on which our ability to grow more food tomorrow depends.

We’re working together to protect the environment, beat animal diseases, and tackle climate change.

Our farmers – at the heart of our rural communities – are ready for the challenge. And we should support them in the great job they do.

But conference, in our hearts, we know that we are living in a time of change that will affect all our lives.

How best can we deal with it ?

Well, Charles Darwin – that genius of science who transformed the way we think about ourselves and our place in the world – gave us this advice.

He said:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. Rather, it is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

And that’s why we must adapt to the changes we can see all around us.

We need banks that value the next generation rather than the next bonus. An economy that creates the low carbon jobs of the future.

We need to make sure our air is clean, including in London which needs to get on with improving air quality.

We need to value and use everything around us.

We’re now recycling more than four times as much household waste than we did a decade ago. But we can do more. It doesn’t make sense to dump thousands of tonnes of aluminium in landfill every year when someone will buy it and recycle it into new cans, using 90% less energy.

It doesn’t make sense that we throw way a third of the food we buy – costing us money and most of it ending up rotting in a tip, producing greenhouse gases – when instead we can turn it into clean renewable electricity to power our homes.

So we need to stop thinking of these things as rubbish, stop sending them to landfill, and start making the most of everything.

Our changing climate is already affecting those least able to cope from the deltas of Bangladesh to the parched lands of Kenya, and the remotest places on earth like Antarctica. Our natural world  – as well as giving us inspiration beyond price – also helps give us clean air and water, soil, plants, food, and medicines on which human existence depends.

We have a moral responsibility to look after both.

We need especially to value water, and protect ourselves from too much of it by investing in flood defences.

Now, some churches, sports clubs and youth groups have been hit by huge increases in their water bills for surface drainage. It isn’t right. So I can tell you today that we will legislate to allow water companies to run concessionary schemes for these organisations so they can get on with the great job they are doing instead of worrying about unaffordable bills.

When you look at things this way, you can see the choice we have. Whether to leave people and landscapes to fend for themselves or to act together to seize this moment in human history and build the green society in which the low carbon will inherit.

Life is about the choices we make, and that’s why the choice at the general election will matter so much.

The Tory choice is a return to fox hunting, cutting inheritance tax while cutting Sure Start which has done so much for my constituents in Leeds.

The Labour choice is to build more homes, help people into work, make sure we come out of the recession stronger, get that deal in Copenhagen that Gordon and Ed and all of us are working so hard to achieve and together create a more sustainable way of life.

But we have to be honest. In this generation, some wonder whether we can do all these things. Whether the future will be as good as the past. Whether our children be able to afford a home, get a job and a decent pension. What kind of climate will we bequeath to them by the middle of the century.

And they ask – will our damaged politics be capable of dealing with all this?

We have to show that it can.

By sorting out what’s gone wrong.

By standing up against the cynics who decry politics, because every time they do so they undermine our ability to change things for the better.

By standing by our beliefs – fairness, justice, equality, opportunity, the helping hand, the window on the world that education gives us,  a sustainable environment – beliefs that have changed our lives for the better.

And by having confidence.

In ourselves. In what we’ve done. And what we have still to do.

That’s why Roosevelt – a great leader who charted a way through the depths of the Great Depression – looked people in the eye and said: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”

He was right.

So let’s take the fight to the Tories. Let’s stand up for what we believe in.

And let’s remember that the greatest thing we can do is to give people hope.

Because – as our history has taught us – it is with hope that we can – and we will – change the world for the better.

Hilary Benn – Why Natural Environment Matters


The speech below was given at the Barnes Wetland Centre, 21st July 2008.

Thank you all for coming, although I must admit that today is a subtle ruse on my part to enable me to visit the Barnes Wetland Centre.

And what a wonderful setting. I used to come to Barn Elms every week when I was at secondary school to play sport. Little did I think then what this place would become. Or that I’d be back here one day to make this speech.

My wife and I were discussing yesterday what I should say about my interest in the natural world. She said. “Tell them about our oak trees”.

We’ve been planting oaks from seed, and ash, and silver birch on a nature reserve – 8 acres of former farmland in Essex – for some 20 years now. The tallest oak is 15 feet or so, and the trees we have planted and those that nature has brought share the land with adders, foxes, and lots of lots of brambles that I go and do battle with whenever I can. It is my idea of relaxation. It’s a lot easier than doing this job! And every time I walk down the path, and wend my way through the narrow opening into the reserve, I feel the same sense of anticipation.

And why do we feel like this? Because nature is part of our soul.

I use the word ‘soul’ because this is a fundamental part of all of us. Of our identity. Of where we come from.

There are few things that can lift the spirit, or inspire a sense of freedom, as time spent – however fleetingly – with nature.

A glance out of the window of a train. The first crocus of spring. Even if you have spent your entire life in a city and have never before seen the mountains or the downs – looking out for the first time across the still waters of the Blackwater Estuary as dawn breaks, or gazing up at Scafell Pike from Great Moss, or catching a glimpse of the Seven Sisters from Birling Gap, or hearing the buzz of a bumblebee jumping from flower to flower, who would not feel a sense of awe and wonder at the astonishing biodiversity of landscape that this small island reveals unto us?

To be disconnected from nature is to be disconnected from the earth itself. It is not simply self-preservation that urges us to confront the threat of climate change. It is also our love for the soil from which we came and to which we will – one day – all return, in my case under one of my oak trees.

Of course, the natural environment provides us with the essentials of life which we take for granted. But the truth is that we cannot take it for granted any longer, and so our task is to rebalance our relationship with the natural world.

And that is what I really want to talk about today – where we are now, how we got here, and what we must aim for in future.

We have a long history in these islands. For better or worse, the natural environment we see around us today is a product of the relationship between humankind and nature. And it is constantly changing.

We have been managing the land for some 6,000 years since Neolithic farmers began keeping cattle and sheep and started cultivating cereals.

Over time we became more sophisticated. We dug ditch boundaries, we grew hedges, and we found ways to store food and manage woodland. We created fields and improved drainage.

The enclosures, the industrial revolution and the consequent growth of our towns and cities transformed everything, as the relationship changed. And we began to feel the consequences of failing properly to take account of the environment.

In 1848, 14,000 people died from Cholera in London because of contaminated water. The epidemic forced the government to pass the Public Health Act.

A decade later, following the ‘Great Stink’, which was killing the river Thames, making life in the capital intolerable and shut down Parliament, the government gave the go-ahead to Bazalgette’s plan for a new sewerage system.

A century after that, as a result of the ‘Great Smog’ of 1952 in London – which asphyxiated the cattle at Smithfield market and is thought to have killed around 4,000 people in just 4 days – the Clean Air Act was passed.

A little earlier – in 1949 – the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act became law. The minister who took the Bill through the House of Commons, Lewis Silkin, said during the Second Reading:

‘Now at last we shall be able to see that the mountains… moors… dales… and tors belong to the people as a right and not as a concession. This is not just a Bill. It is a people’s charter… With it the countryside is theirs to preserve, to cherish, to enjoy and to make their own.’

It was by this Act that we have conserved some of the most important and iconic of our landscapes. The National Parks now cover 8% of England, and over 90% of people say that the Parks are important to them.

Why? Because we like green places – and we want them to be near to where we live as well. It was pressure from communities that lead to public parks being created in our major cities.

Today we are a more urbanised country, and there are more of us. 50 million more than when the first census was carried out at the height of the industrial revolution, and 10 million more than when Parliament passed the National Parks Act.

And so, inevitably, our natural environment has changed. Its story is the story of human development. And the question for us now is how we can have both and keep both in balance.

We shouldn’t, by the way, over-romanticise life as it was. There are some things we have left behind that should stay in the past.

In 1800 life expectancy was just 37 years of age. It is now pushing 80, and we have been adding around three months a year for the past few decades.

Of course, we don’t want to turn back the clock on advances in education, medicine, technology, transport, science, or in overcoming poverty, but we do want to maintain the natural world around us. And to do so we must recognise its true value.

The natural environment does more than just nourish the soul. It provides us with the very essentials of life: clean air and water; food and fuel; it regulates our climate; it stems flood waters; and it filters pollution. It is the very foundation of our economic and social well-being.

And at a time when – as a nation as well as a world – we are increasingly thinking about the security of our food and of our energy, we should also be asking: how secure is our environment ?

Climate change is showing us what happens when we gets things out of balance. And if we do not manage what nature has given us sustainably, our children will be faced with consequences the scale of which we do not yet fully understand

Of course climate change and the natural environment are inextricably linked.

Many of the impacts of climate change will be felt by nature – from sea level rise and flooding to drought and desertification. So we need to manage the natural environment in a way that enables it to adapt to the effects of climate change and contribute to our efforts to halt it.

So how are we doing ?

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – led by our very own Bob Watson – looked at the global picture on the natural environment. Its findings were bleak; two thirds of ecosystems are in decline. It also concluded that environmental degradation is a real barrier to defeating global poverty and so to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Time to shout not just ‘more aid, and drop the debt’ – but also ‘save the ecosystem’.

Natural England’s latest ‘State of the Natural Environment’ report says that the natural environment in England is “much less rich than 50 years ago.”

Pavan Sukhdev’s groundbreaking work is showing us that the economic consequences of the loss of biodiversity are potentially severe. He talks of there being three types of capital; human, financial and environmental.

The first is rising because of education; the second is rising too, although it can go down as well as up; but the third is in decline. And yet he estimates that the benefits of global investment to protect ecosystems could outweigh the costs by 100 to 1.

So can we do anything or is everything lost ? I am a great believer in looking at what can be done, and in celebrating our successes.

And there is much to encourage us, because raising awareness, campaigning, institutional change, and politics have achieved a great deal for the natural environment in recent years.

Pavan Sukhdev gives the example of the Panama Canal, where insurance firms and shipping companies are financing a 25 year project to restore forest ecosystems along the canal.

This will result in less erosion and a more controlled flow of freshwater into the canal, reducing insurance risks and resulting in lower premiums for shipping companies.

Our own analysis shows that Sites of Special Scientific Interest in England are doing well, with 80% now in a favourable or recovering condition.

In the tradition that led Clem Attlee to create the National Parks, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 finally gave legal expression to the ‘right to roam’.

The Marine Bill will open up our coasts and improve the conservation of our seas, creating a network of Marine Protected Areas by 2012.

In Lyme Bay, off the South West coast, we have recently banned the most damaging types of fishing to protect the area’s rich marine life and habitats.

We’ve created the first new National Park for over forty years in the New Forest. And we are looking at the creation of another one in the South Downs. The public inquiry has recently finished and I am awaiting the Inspector’s report. I look forward to taking a decision.

And although the EU target to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010 may never have been achievable in its entirety, it has served as a call to arms. We as a nation have made some progress:

  • by substantially reducing upland overgrazing and inappropriate moorland burning
  • by stemming the overall decline in birds compared with 40 years ago, and significantly increasing the number of wintering wetland birds
  • by improving sewage treatment to reduce the pollution of sensitive water bodies
  • by launching a plan to tackle invasive non-native species in England, Scotland and Wales, and
  • by introducing a new biodiversity indicator to measure the performance of local authorities

Farmers, who manage three quarters of England’s land and mould its distinctive character, have now signed up to 35,000 Environmental Stewardship agreements covering more than 5 million hectares.

Agri-environment schemes have helped more than 18,000 miles of hedgerow to be restored or newly planted – that’s about the distance from the north pole to the south pole and halfway back again.

And I see Graham that, partly with the help of Environmental Stewardship, Martin Smith, from Burnham Wick Farm, has won your Eastern England Nature of Farming Award for what he has done to attract corn buntings to his land.

To build on this success, I am pleased to confirm today that Natural England will introduce an uplands strand to the Entry Level Stewardship scheme from 2010, replacing the Hill Farm Allowance so that we can help maintain and improve the biodiversity and historic landscape of England’s uplands.

And as we reform the Common Agricultural Policy in the years ahead, we need to make sure that we secure the public funding needed to pay for these environmental benefits which the market does not reward.

We have also made progress on water quality in recent years. Today the Government is publishing its response to the consultation on proposals to revise the Regulations implementing the Nitrates Directive.

Nitrate pollution is expensive to remove from drinking water sources and it harms biodiversity.

So we will put a number of new measures in place to tackle it, including creating further ‘nitrate vulnerable zones’ and putting tighter limitations on when manure and fertiliser can be spread.

There’s some of the progress, but there’s still much more that we need to do especially in our towns and cities. The more disadvantaged a neighbourhood is, the worse the environmental conditions are for the people who live there. In deprived areas there’s more air pollution, less green space, fewer trees, more derelict land and less bio-diversity. And a poor environment can lead to poor physical and mental health.

By contrast, research from across Europe shows that people living in greener environments are three times more likely to be physically active and 40 per cent less likely to be overweight or obese. So nature is good for our health.

A recent study for the RSPB investigated the evidence that not only do green spaces promote more physical activity, but they also have an economic impact. So nature is good for the economy too.

Both reasons why I want to see more people visiting our National Parks, the countryside and farms. There are about 75 million visits to National Parks every year, and nearly 17 million to National Nature Reserves. Through environmental stewardship, approximately 800 farms provide educational access visits, free of charge, for over 100,000 schoolchildren.

I visited one in Kent a couple of months ago, and the commitment of the couple who run the farm to passing on their accumulated knowledge and love for the land was simply inspiring.

That’s about bringing the countryside within reach of the many, but what about bringing green spaces within reach of our many towns and cities?

In London, with the 2012 Olympics, we will be creating the biggest new public park for a century.

We also need to use the green spaces that we have better. ‘Walking the way to Health’ – a joint initiative by Natural England and the British Heart Foundation – aims to get more people walking where they live. Hundreds of walks now take place across the country every month.

Green roofs can provide a haven for wildlife especially in urban areas. In winter they can provide insulation, and in the summer they help to cool the building below.

Gardens accounts for up to a quarter of the land surface in our towns and cities. Paving over them contributes to global warming, reduces biodiversity, and causes flash flooding.

We’re taking steps to tackle the latter by changing the planning rules so that we’ll need permission to pave over our front gardens in future, unless we use permeable paving. So why not let the soil breathe again and plant something while you’re at it?

This is just one example of the pressures that human development has created. And we need to be honest with each other about what’s happening.

Pressures from a rising population, unsustainable development, increasing urbanisation, the need to produce more renewable energy, demand for water, our desire to drive and to fly, and from deforestation.

None of them new, some of them made worse by climate change, and many of them intensifying in pace and scale.

In the face of these, protecting the natural environment will require us to make it central to our decisions and not an afterthought. That’s why, for the first time, we have a natural environment Public Service Agreement.

We understand now that the environment has a value that we must account for – as individuals, in businesses, and in government. It’s not a choice between the economy or the environment; as Bill Clinton might have said, it’s both, stupid.

Take homes. We need a lot of them to meet the rising demands of a population that is both increasing and ageing. Where is everyone going to live and how will they afford to do so? We have a target to provide three million more homes in England by 2020. But we have to work together to make sure we build them in a way that is sustainable and in communities where people will actually want to live.

That’s what the Sub-National review – which we have debated a bit – will have to do. It’s a chance to show how the regions will ensure sustainable development – both through helping us meet our carbon targets and through protecting and enhancing the natural environment.

It’s a chance to make sure that our plans are based on the best evidence of the environmental threats and opportunities; which is why Natural England and the Environment Agency have agreed to work to identify the environmental pressures in each region.

To do this we will need to develop a better understanding of our natural environment – so that we can be more clear and consistent in how we value its benefits and pay for public environmental goods in the long-term.

So I have decided that Defra will commit half a million pounds over 2 years to funding an ecosystem assessment for England.

This will pull together what we know about the state of our natural environment so as to improve our awareness and understanding, and think about what might happen in the future.

We will be consulting on the nature and scope of the project in due course and I look forward to hearing your views.

There is one other thing we must value too. And that is the means by which we can do all this – and more. The things which cannot be achieved by Government alone.

Whether it is a thriving, environmentally sustainable farming industry, or more parks, and woodlands and forests, or creating marine conservation zones, or more children having the chance to visit farms or national parks to learn about the natural world, or every family having a pleasant green space to exercise in and enjoy, or planning decisions taken with sustainability in mind, or planting more trees in our streets – and celebrating them as the green lungs they are rather than inspecting them as health and safety hazards – we depend on one another.

We would not have got as far as we have without you.

The thousands of volunteers in wildlife organisations. The farmers who are proud stewards of the land. The people locally fighting to create a bit of green space or protect a vast wilderness. The campaigning might of the natural environment movement. The professional expertise of Natural England, of the Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency, the JNCC and many others. The ability of our politics to listen and to act and to lead – and to change things.

I want to thank all of you for the work that you do, and ask – not that you need asking – that you continue to play your part.

The great truth is simply this.

We have always known that the natural environment sustains our souls, but we have now come to understand that it also sustains our very existence.

That’s why it matters.

And that’s why, in the words of William Blake, we should seek each of us to “hold infinity” in the palm of our hands.

Thank you.

Hilary Benn – 1999 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Hilary Benn in the House of Commons on 23rd June 1999.

I rise with some trepidation, as I am sure is customary among Members making maiden speeches. There is, however, nothing customary in what I wish to say about my predecessor, Derek Fatchett. His tragic death just six weeks ago left us all the poorer. His family lost a much-loved husband and father; the House lost a fine parliamentarian; the Government lost a first-class Foreign Office Minister; the trade union movement lost a committed advocate of the rights of working people; and, above all, the people of Leeds, Central lost a friend as well as a Member of Parliament.

Derek served his constituents with passion and with distinction. People liked him as well as respected him. That is why his passing is still deeply felt by many, and why he is and will be greatly missed by all who knew him. As the new Member, I am proud to serve the constituency that he served.

Over the years, the strength of the city of Leeds and the source of its prosperity have been both its diversity and its capacity to change with the times. That diversity is reflected in the constituency. Starting from the north, it covers two universities and two hospitals, “Jimmy’s” and the Leeds general infirmary. It takes in the West Yorkshire playhouse. It then runs down across a thriving city centre, and on to a large area of manufacturing—to Holbeck, Hunslet and Beeston, which welcomed the first Kosovar refugees to this country. From Cottingley in the west to Richmond Hill in the east along the York road, each part is a unique community with its own characteristics and traditions. Let me add that the warmth of its people is matched only by their plain speaking.

The constituency contains two other great institutions: the Hunslet Hawks rugby league club, in its splendid stadium in south Leeds, and, of course, Leeds United football club at Elland Road. I shall always have a special affection for Elland Road, because that is where my selection conference took place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) can readily testify, as he was present, it was a colourful scene that night as the votes were counted. The ballot box was pitch black. The voting slips piled on the table were a very pale shade of pink—no political significance whatever should be read into that! The faces of the candidates were, to put it mildly, a little grey. But, resplendent in their traditional white, gazing down at us from their picture frames on the wall, were those two great heroes of Leeds United teams gone by, Gordon Strachan and Johnny Giles. I knew at that moment that there was something special about the constituency, and so it has proved.

There is, however, something else about Leeds, Central, which is why I wanted to contribute briefly to this debate. It contains some of the poorest parts of Leeds, and some of the most deprived communities. It has the highest unemployment in the city. For many of the people who live there, social exclusion is not a theory, but their life experience. These are people whose faith in the capacity of the democratic system to produce real and lasting improvement is tested daily by crime, poor housing and social decay.

Perhaps not surprisingly in view of that, Leeds, Central had one of the lowest turnouts in the country at the last general election: only 55 per cent. Just a fortnight ago, only 20 per cent. of the electorate voted in the by-election, under the first-past-the-post system, and in the European elections, under proportional representation. Such a low turnout must be a matter of concern to all of us; but perhaps there is a deeper message than one just about electoral systems. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not comment today on the relative merits of those systems, let alone the complexities of the d’Hondt system. I do not even understand the Lewis-Duckworth rule when it comes to rain delay in one-day cricket. However, I believe that the link between a Member of Parliament and his or her constituency is very important.

While there are steps that can and should be taken to make voting easier, I believe that the deeper message is this. The true test of our democratic system—and of the House, in the eyes of those who put us here—is whether we can demonstrate in practice to people in a constituency such as Leeds, Central that they can use this place to make a difference to their own lives.

As the community police officer for Lincoln Green said to me last Friday, when I was talking to him about the area which he knows very well and cares about so passionately: People are looking for a sign that things will get better. That statement summarises why the ballot box has to be an instrument of hope as well as of democracy, a means of economic and political progress, and a way out of poverty and despair.

It was that instrument of hope that, at the end of the second world war, created the national health service, and, under the current Government, created the minimum wage and the new deal, of which we are justly proud. I believe that it is that instrument of hope that remains our best chance of meeting the challenges of the new century that will shortly dawn.

Leeds, Central is special, if not unique, in one other respect: the potential of the people who live there to find a voice for themselves. As I travelled round the constituency during the by-election, time and again, I was impressed by the people I met who were not waiting for us to do something, but were trying to do something for themselves.

At the Holbeck community forum, for example, which I visited, 40 people turned out on a Wednesday evening simply to talk about how they could improve the community in which they live. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I visited a supported housing scheme on a tenant-managed housing estate that was providing supported living—and advice, help and a shoulder to cry on—to young people who could not, for whatever reason, continue to live with their own families. The elderly care project based in the Woodhouse Road community centre, which has raised 80 per cent. of its own funds, is now providing a hot breakfast every day for those in the community who might not otherwise get a square meal.

All those people have very high expectations of us, and rightly so: there is much more that we need to do. But those examples—and there are many others—give me hope, because they are a living demonstration that, where a community finds a voice for itself, it is in a much stronger position to tackle the problems about which it knows most. I also believe that, when that happens, our job as Members of Parliament is made that much easier, because we can then add our voice to theirs. If, by doing that, we can together make a difference, we shall be able to demonstrate not only that the House is the servant of those who elect us but that it is something worth voting for.

Henry Bellingham – 2007 Speech on Legal Aid

Below is the text of the speech made by Henry Bellingham on 12th January 2007.

I declare my interest as a barrister who did legal aid work in the past. I welcome the debate in Government time, although it is regrettable that it is not in the main Chamber. There are 25 Members here, which is I suggest probably many more than are in the Chamber for the debate on social exclusion.

Everyone agrees that action is needed to control the criminal legal aid budget, and I want first to discuss criminal legal aid in general terms, before considering civil legal aid. The cost is up 37 per cent. from 1997 to more than £2 billion, as the Minister pointed out, and I want to consider the drivers of that increase. Lawyers’ fees are certainly not responsible, because standard and non-standard fees, taken together, are up 1.7 per cent. since 2001. I suggest that the increase in the legal aid budget is largely due to the increased volume of cases, changes in procedure and changes in the rules of evidence. Of course, there has also been a very big increase in the number of criminal offences on the statute book. Indeed, in a speech made by the Minister herself in 2005, when as a Back Bencher she secured an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall, she pointed out that 700 new offences had been created since 1997.

In fact, June Venters QC pointed out in a recent speech that since 1997 there have been 3,000 new criminal offences. That obviously puts great pressure on the criminal system, because the Government go on legislating.

Defendants must of course have justice. Indeed, in a speech on October 24 2006, June Venters said:

“Legal aid is there to ensure that vulnerable and disadvantaged people are not denied access to justice because of their inability to pay”.

The Lord Chancellor in a speech the other day to the Law Society said:

“Free access to justice for those who need legal aid is as integral to the welfare state as the NHS or state education.”

I think that we would all agree.

I shall quickly consider the impact of means-testing on magistrates courts. It is ironic that the drivers behind the increases in the legal aid budget do not come from the magistrates courts, but mainly from the Crown court. However, the means-testing arrangements are having an impact on the magistrates courts as we speak. That is a matter for concern. Most solicitors support the principle of means-testing, but they have always stressed that the new means test must enable legal aid to be granted or refused quickly. That manifestly is not happening.

I recently received a letter from a large firm of solicitors in Sheffield—Howells, the Citizens Solicitor. The firm made it clear that the new arrangements for means-testing are extremely bureaucratic and cumbersome. I shall not go into detail, Sir Nicholas, as you have told us to make progress, but it points out that the Department for Constitutional Affairs did not take account of representations made by the solicitors who deal with such cases day in, day out at the sharp end.

The Minister talks about the most vulnerable, and in her press release this morning she made it clear that vulnerable people would not be affected. The New Policy Institute report headed “Means testing in the magistrates’ court: is this really what Parliament intended?” was published on 5 December. It highlighted the case of a lone parent with a child aged 10. The parent was working full-time at the minimum wage of £5.35 an hour but will not be eligible for criminal legal aid because of a boost to her family income from tax credits. If that is not affecting the vulnerable, I really do not know what is. That is exactly the sort of person who we should be trying to protect and help. Is that what the Minister intended? Is it what she meant today in her press release?

The result, as we have heard, is that many firms will close or amalgamate. Many of the firms in my constituency are not in criminal legal aid to make money; they are doing it through conviction, as a service, because they believe in the ethos of trying to protect those in society who have real problems and crises. That was very much the message that I received from those firms. There will certainly be legal aid deserts, especially in rural areas.

Furthermore, in my judgment, there is no question but that the bidding process and the best-value procedures will lead to bigger firms, and the consolidation and closure of small firms. We should not be in any doubt that the larger firms will cost more. It is the smaller more focused firms with dedicated partners who historically and traditionally offer the best value for money. For instance, in 2005 and 2006, Otterburn Legal Consulting carried out two large surveys of criminal firms, and it concluded that the smaller firms with lower overheads and dedicated staff who work long hours offer the best value for money. The larger firms cost more, and ultimately they will cost the Government more in criminal aid. That is ironic.

I take on board the points made by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and the hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Khan) and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) about the black and minority ethnic firms. Many are small businesses, but they have a great commitment to the communities that they serve. By definition, they probably do not want to consolidate or merge or even expand; they want to remain small and to serve their communities in their inimitable way. I also take on board the points made about legal aid advice centres.

If you do not mind, Sir Nicholas, I shall quote a colleague. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) has recently been very ill. He suffered an unpleasant stroke, but mercifully he is now much better. I spoke to him by telephone last night. He asked me to tell the House that, in his judgment, the supplier base for legal aid on the Isle of Wight is threatened by the current proposals. He said that if the base is eroded too far, there will be no choice, which will create further serious problems, with conflicts of interest. The problem affects all areas, but it will have a particular impact on the island, given the logistical difficulties of getting people over from the mainland—or the high cost that his poorer constituents will face in getting to the mainland. He pointed out the risk that under the Government’s proposals the Isle of Wight will become an advice desert. It is important that his comments are taken on board, particularly at this time.

The public defender service pilot schemes clearly show that the cost of the PDS is between 40 per cent. and 90 per cent. more than the cost of private law firms providing the same criminal defence services to the public. I find that a matter of concern, and it illustrates that big is not necessarily beautiful.

When considering criminal legal aid, I wonder whether the Minister’s reintroduction of means-testing with such a bureaucratic system is really how the Government want to help the vulnerable. I am sure that she does not need reminding that, during an Adjournment debate in October 2005, she argued cogently and passionately that the budget for criminal legal aid cannot be capped. I know that she has taken the Queen’s shilling and gone native, but, for goodness sake, does she not trust her instincts—or is she just doing what her boss is telling her? I leave it to others to draw their own conclusions.

I turn to civil legal aid. We heard this afternoon that the proposal for a single national fixed fee for advice work in each legal field will lead to many problems. The Government say that it will be cost-neutral, but I put it to the Minister that the picture in civil legal aid is pretty grim. Civil practitioners received a rise of 2.5 per cent. in 2004 in legal aid fees. There was no increase in 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999 or 2000. It is a matter of great concern that the number of offices with civil legal aid contracts fell from 4,301 in March 2004 to 3,632 in March 2006—and the number is falling fast.

Lord Carter proposed a graduated fee scheme for solicitors doing family and welfare related work. Why did the Government not take Lord Carter’s advice? Why did they not listen to what he had to say? Standard fees are obviously are very different. Although I welcome the Government’s decision to reconsider and delay the introduction of standardised fixed fees in relation to family, immigration and mental health law, fixed fees will definitely be introduced for others areas of social welfare law, including housing, employment, welfare benefit, debt, community care and education law in October—in a few months.

I ask the Minister to consider her Department’s regulatory impact assessment. It confirms that a standard fixed fee will mean a loss of income for 38.6 per cent. of providers. The Law Society’s document on the subject is a pretty comprehensive survey of the various points of view put by different organisations. It makes it clear that 82 per cent. of family practitioners believe that their firm is less likely to undertake publicly funded work in future; that 78 per cent. of mental health practitioners are considering whether to continue to represent publicly funded clients and believe that the quality of service will decline; that72 per cent. of immigration practitioners say that their firms are less likely to undertake legal aid work in future, and 67 per cent. thought that the quality of the service would decline; and that 95 per cent. of civil aid practitioners believe that the proposed fixed fees would make their work non-viable. That is pretty staggering.

Is it any wonder that virtually every organisation out there that has lobbied MPs and expressed opinions is telling us of its dismay? People are very concerned and a range of organisations are involved. First, the Access to Justice Alliance—an organisation that is very well briefed—has said:

“To survive on the proposed fixed fee we would have to exclude some of those most in need whom we currently help. There is unlikely to be another supplier to take them on, so they would simply not receive the help they need”.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, an organisation that we all know and love has made it clear that it is gravely concerned about the potential loss of expert legal advice for family law cases resulting from the cuts in legal aid. It says:

“There is already a serious risk regarding the future availability of family legal aid lawyers; the situation will only get worse if the government fails to provide proper support”.

The NSPCC outlines a very distressing case of a young girl called Tracey. She was a heroin addict suffering from post-natal depression and social services tried to remove her baby from care. It was a complex case and I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) that many of those cases are becoming increasingly complex and difficult. In the case I have outlined, many hours were put in by the solicitor concerned at a substantial loss to the law firm. The solicitor was eventually paid about £9,000 in legal aid money, which may sound a great deal, but it certainly was not anywhere enough to cover the time put in. The bottom line is that Tracey is now off drugs and her life is back on track. That is exactly the type of case that her solicitors believe they would not be able to take on today. The cost of social care and of interventions from other agencies to help Tracey would be far more than the legal aid paid out to her solicitor.

Other organisations involved in this issue are Shelter, Mind, Action Against Medical Accidents and the Mental Health Lawyers Association, which has been lobbying very hard indeed. It sent me an e-mail the other day in which it made it clear that it is not at all happy with what is happening. It states:

“The problem that the Government faces, is that it has squeezed mental health lawyers so hard…there is no slack in the system…The Government faces a potential ‘meltdown’ situation in October. This is not industrial action it will simply be members finding they just cannot do the job”.

The Minister recently said:

“Matters connected with mental health lawyers are going to be looked at again, in connection with practitioners. They have no concerns at all.”—[Official Report, 19 December 2006; Vol. 454, c. 1280.]

However, Richard Charlton, the chair of the Mental Health Lawyers Association, made it clear that that was not the case given his references to ‘meltdown’ and ‘no slack in the system’. If the Minister thinks that that represents ‘no concerns at all’, she should think again.

The citizens advice bureaux have been extremely active in briefing us. I have many letters from CABs and I will not got through all of them. However, I want to flag up that my local CAB in west Norfolk and the one up the road from me in Boston have grave concerns. In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) the Boston CAB’s bureau manager, Maggie Peberdy, said:

“As you will know, Boston CAB holds a contract with the Legal Services Commission to provide debt and benefits advice. We strongly believe that the proposed changes will have a damaging impact on our ability to provide essential legal aid services to people with complex welfare benefits or debt problems, and that this in turn will harm the most vulnerable in our community.”

She goes on to list many of her concerns. The Minister kindly attended a meeting of the all-party citizens advice group the other day. At that meeting, the CAB passed on a number of very complex case studies that involved a whole range of factors—for example, those dealing with complex clients suffering from mental illness who require the assistance of outside agencies and third parties including local authorities. Those cases take a long time to resolve.

The Minister should look again at what the CAB has said and at the views of the Association of Lawyers for Children, the Family Law Bar Association and a large numbers of individual firms. I met a firm in my constituency the other day, which is a growing and expanding partnership that is doing well. However, there is a real problem with that business as a number of dedicated partners and lawyers, some of whom do criminal and legal aid and family work, are concerned about whether the firm will be able to carry on offering the same level of public service. They were kind enough to bring in a family law barrister who expressed exactly the same concerns and who is acting for different solicitors up and down the region. Day in and day out, he expresses in court his very grave concern about whether many of the smaller firms will be able to carry on with this type of work.

I shall conclude now as I know that you, Sir Nicholas, wish to call other Members to speak. However, I am concerned about the black and minority ethnic firms in relation to civil legal aid as the present system is nearly at breaking point. It is already becoming increasingly difficult to find a legal aid solicitor and the Government’s plans will only make that worse. The Minister talks about trying to help and make life easier for the vulnerable, but she should listen to what the experts are saying and trust the judgment and instincts that she so eloquently expressed in the debate on 26 October 2005.

As the shadow Attorney-General said earlier, what is the role of the Lord Chancellor in this? First of all he has downgraded his own job—we gather that was done on the back of an envelope—and has then spent ten of millions of pounds on a new supreme court. He has rewarded his Ministers with a sell-out to the Treasury or has the Treasury rewarded him for not managing his Department properly? The conclusion that I draw is that some of the most vulnerable people in our constituencies and communities will suffer. That is what concerns us and it is why I very much hope that the Minister will start listening to the people who really know what is going on.