House of Commons
Wednesday 17 July 2013
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before questions
Queen’s Speech (Answer to Address)
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That Her Majesty, having been attended with its Address of 8th May was pleased to receive the same very graciously and give the following Answer:
I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament.
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 8th July, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Anthony Hugh Burton Hobman to be an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 1 January 2014 for the period ending 31st December 2017, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Department for International Development has three key priorities in Bangladesh between 2011 and 2015: improving the provision of basic services, supporting private sector development and helping to reduce risks to development, including from natural disasters. Over the coming year, DFID will also focus on improving working conditions in the garment sector and supporting free, fair and credible elections.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Will she add to it by saying what our Government might be able to do to help people in Bangladesh achieve decent basic minimum wages for work and safer working conditions, and to enable poor people to receive the finance they need, either for their families or to start businesses so that they can succeed?
We have a range of programmes to help improve livelihoods. Most recently, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of State visited Bangladesh, he announced an £18 million UK-funded programme to help people, particularly factory workers, to develop skills. We are taking a range of measures. I should add that we also work with international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation to improve workers’ standards and drive workers’ conditions upwards.
As the Secretary of State may know, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh was in London last week. I discussed with her the high level of diabetes in Bangladesh, which has one of the highest levels of any country in the world. What health projects do we have in Bangladesh specifically to help to reduce diabetes?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s question. DFID has health programmes and general programmes to lift people out of poverty, but also to ensure that they have access to services like health care that can help them get on with their day-to-day lives. I will write to him with a fuller update on whether we engage in any direct diabetes-related programmes, which I hope will be helpful to him.
The overall programme is about £200 million a year, which is split across a range of activities. Part of it is for basic services like health and education, as I have said; part of it is for economic development; and part of it is to address humanitarian conditions and disaster prevention, readiness and resilience. The final part of the programme is for governance programmes, as I said in my initial answer—these support the Electoral Commission and free and fair elections in Bangladesh—and supporting people so they can access the services and the welfare protection that they deserve.
Humanitarian actors are working tirelessly throughout the region, dealing with 1.7 million refugees now outside Syria and 4 million internally displaced people still inside Syria. Improving co-ordination and access is absolutely critical, which is why on 3 July I hosted a meeting with donors and key UN agencies in London to map out some steps on how we continue to up our game. Last week I also visited Lebanon.
Yes, I do. It is projected that Lebanon, a country with a population of 4 million, will have 1 million refugees by the end of the year. If the same proportion of refugees were to arrive in the UK, the figure would be upwards of 15 million. We need to do everything we can to support not only the refugees but the host communities that they are going into.
The UNICEF ambassador Eddie Izzard recently returned from Syria. He said that
“missing from these discussions are the Syrian children, who are not made of steel, and who are facing desperate and harrowing conditions.”
He specifically drew attention to the lack of education for children there. What conversations has DFID had about providing schooling for children in Syria?
This is something that DFID has particularly focused on. We have given funding directly to UNICEF to support educational facilities—when I was in the Zaatari camp in Jordan, I saw school facilities that had recently been built—and to support counselling. I would like to look more carefully with the United Nations agencies at what we can do to provide trauma counselling for children and their parents, because many of them have gone through awful experiences before ending up in the refugee camps.
When King Abdullah of Jordan was in London recently, he told us that there was a massive problem with crime, violent assault, rape, prostitution and trafficking involving women who had been displaced by the violence in Syria. What action are we taking to ensure that those women and girls can be protected, because currently they are not?
We do our best work with the UN agencies, which are co-ordinating much of the relief to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that about 75% of the refugees leaving Syria are women and children, so this is incredibly important. Alongside that work, we clearly need to work in the host communities in places like Jordan to ensure that they are able to cope with this huge influx of people who are placing added pressure on their services, which can often cause tension leading to the kind of trouble that he has mentioned.
The United Nations reports that the refugee crisis in Syria is the worst since that in Rwanda, and that 6,000 people—over half of them children—are fleeing the country every day. What does the Secretary of State intend to do to protect the health and education of those children in what is becoming a catastrophic humanitarian disaster?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the comments of António Guterres, who is heading up the refugee operation. As I said earlier, we are particularly focused on what we can do to support the most vulnerable, and that includes children. We are doubling our support to over £300 million in the coming months, and I can assure him that we will put the appropriate amount of that into helping children cope with what is happening to them and ensuring that they are still preparing for the rest of their lives through education.
14. Britain is leading the way in providing humanitarian relief, but some of our international partners are perhaps doing less well. Given that many refugee camps are still suffering desperate shortages of basic amenities, will the Secretary of State apply more pressure on her international partners and encourage them to step up to the plate? (165597)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We played a leading role in galvanising donors at the Kuwait conference earlier this year, and I regularly raise this issue with donors and with the UN. I will continue to do that at the UN General Assembly in September. It is critical that, when countries come to a donor conference and make pledges, they should honour them. It is also critical that the region itself should take steps to ensure that it, too, is playing its full role.
The UN emergency relief co-ordinator, Valerie Amos, has highlighted the need for cross-border access for international agencies so they can provide appropriate medical and other help to refugees. What progress has been made in the UN Security Council towards obtaining such access without requiring the consent of the Syrian Government?
The short answer is not nearly enough. Access to Syria is still overly restricted, particularly by the regime, and we are seeing attacks and violence against humanitarian workers and convoys. That is totally unacceptable, and we will continue to raise our concern about it at the highest levels of the UN.
Global Health Fund
The UK provides support to the fund, both financially and through membership of its governing board. We are the fund’s third-largest donor. Through DFID country offices, we provide a range of complementary funding and support to national health plans and global fund-supported programmes.
Ministers have consistently suggested that the UK would be willing to consider doubling its contribution to the global health fund. In view of the fact that the fund has made major changes and is under new leadership, will the Minister advise the Secretary of State to stop dithering and confirm the UK’s increased contribution before the summer recess? That would incentivise other countries to step up to the plate and ensure that not one more day is wasted in the fight to defeat AIDS, TB and malaria. Will the Government please get on with this?
What we are doing is the absolute opposite of dithering. We have stepped up to the mark: we are providing £1 billion as promised and ahead of schedule. The hon. Gentleman is right inasmuch as the global health fund has made serious moves towards reform and has overhauled its strategy and governance. We want to look at it strategically, and we need to look at the “mini-MAR”—multilateral aid review—the International Development Committee response, the National Audit Office report and the HIV provision paper. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want us to spend money inappropriately. We will lead, we are leading and we intend to carry on leading.
Stop TB UK described the Government’s response on malaria as a model aid agency response, but it is worried that TB is a poor relation of the three diseases. It hits the poorest hardest, but interventions to stop TB are very cost-effective. Will the Minister meet Stop TB UK to discuss its concerns?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met Stop TB UK, and I have just returned from South Africa, where I convened a round table on TB, particularly on the theme of TB and HIV in the mines. This is such an important issue that we want to move forward on it. Spending money to stop TB in other countries helps us to stop TB in this country.
DFID is scaling up its agricultural research work in developing countries, particularly programmes that address the slow pace of agricultural innovation in sub-Saharan Africa.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and congratulate her on the recent announcement of the £7 million international trade centre and the £57 million trade support package for Kenya and Uganda. Does she agree with me that trade is the best form of aid and that integrating our aid and trade missions, particularly in the field of agricultural technology, is the best way to drive really sustainable development?
My hon. Friend is right, which is why I am very pleased that DFID is a central part of the agri-tech strategy that is shortly to be set out by the Government. It is absolute clear that we have an important role in helping poor countries to improve their agricultural systems and, in doing so, to help develop trade both domestically and internationally.
Will the Secretary of State also commit to working with the scientific community in this country and abroad to explore the myths on both sides of the argument about the use of genetically modified food and agriculture in developing countries so that the UK can take an evidence-based position?
The hon. Lady will know that ultimately it is up to each individual country to work out how it wants to deal with the issue of GM foods. She will have been pleased to see that at the recent G8 event on nutrition, science and accessing scientific experts was a key part of our nutrition push over the coming months and years.
Natural Disasters (Resilience)
5. What steps her Department takes to reduce the impact of natural disasters by increasing the resilience of communities. (165588)
Resilience means equipping communities better to withstand disasters and giving them the means to recover afterwards. DFID’s programmes include investments before disasters, such as in flood defences and setting up systems to give people early warning. We also help people bounce back after the event, for example by setting up insurance schemes and by providing income support.
My right hon. Friend will know of the devastating impact that natural disasters have on developing countries and the role that Devonport-based ships play in sorting out disaster relief. What is his Department doing to build the capacity of state institutions in the developing world to deal with the impact of these natural disasters?
My hon. Friend is right. Navy ships such as those from his constituency have been crucially important in the past—for example, three years ago in Haiti. He is also right about the importance of a country’s capacity. We help in that regard through, for instance, pre-earthquake planning in Nepal and flood preparedness in Bangladesh.
As the Minister knows, DFID has a deservedly high reputation for helping in disasters, but is there not a case for making some programmes last longer than they have been in the past? We want to move not just from disaster to aid, but from disaster to development.
That is absolutely true. We need long-term preparation in advance, and a longer-term response following any disaster. Those were the conclusions of a review conducted at the beginning of the current Parliament, whose recommendations we are implementing as best we can.
People who live in poverty are indeed the ones who suffer most as a result of natural disasters, which pull them into a cycle of debt, illness and thence even deeper poverty. Investing in measures to help communities to cope with disasters protects lives and livelihoods, and safeguards investment in a country’s development.
North and West Africa (Population)
The United Nations released revised population projections on 13 June. The population in north Africa is projected to increase from 200 million in 2010 to 319 million in 2050, while in west Africa the projected rise is from 305 million in 2010 to 815 million in 2050.
The region is already experiencing substantial instability and extremism, and the likely outcome is that millions of young men and women will have bleak economic prospects. Given that no country has emerged from poverty without first addressing its levels of population growth, will the Minister give the region priority in her population programmes?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. West Africa has particularly high rates of population growth, and there is much less take-up of family planning there. DFID’s work involves not only family planning—which is a complex issue—but the delaying of first pregnancies, access to economic assets for girls, getting girls through secondary school and preventing violence, all of which contribute to making the population richer and more successful.
Remittances are indeed very important. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met the head of Barclays to discuss the issue, with the aim of ensuring that remittances can be sent back to a country when they have the potential to increase that country’s GDP.
I am ramping up my Department’s economic development efforts to ensure that we adopt a more systematic and structured approach in order to unlock more trade and investment. That includes embarking on a new relationship with the CBI, meeting representatives of the extractive industries and engineering companies, and starting to work with United Kingdom retailers to drive up standards.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that poverty can only be reduced in the long run through economic development, and that DFID can play a major role in helping companies to grow and get people into work so that they can raise their own tax revenues to fund their own services?
Last week, I visited Lebanon, where I announced that the UK will allocate a further £50 million to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Lebanese people in host communities. I also visited Tanzania and Pakistan, and hosted donors and United Nations agencies in London to map out steps on aid co-ordination. Following my visit to Rwanda last month, I would like to inform the House that although the latest assessment of the partnership principles has shown some welcome progress, our overall assessment remains that it is not right to release general budget support, and we will re-programme the payment of £16 million to support specific education and poverty alleviation programmes.
In 2010, the UK provided much-needed help to the people of Haiti following the outbreak of cholera. However, an NGO has recently raised concerns that five of the seven recommendations of a UN report on the epidemic have been either only partially implemented or not implemented at all. Will the Secretary of State urgently investigate those concerns?
I had the chance to visit Haiti earlier this year, and I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. The report he is talking about has not yet been formally endorsed by the UN or peer-reviewed, but I can assure him that the UK’s contribution to tackling cholera in Haiti has been substantial since 2010. We have provided support for more than 1.3 million people.
Members on both sides of the House will be extremely concerned at the latest outbreak of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The DRC needs better political leadership, and an army and police force worthy of the name. It also requires the Secretary of State to provide effective leadership, so will she confirm to the House that UK budget support will be reinstated to the Government of Rwanda only if they cease all support for the M23 and militia activities in eastern DRC?
T3. What indications has my right hon. Friend received from fellow G8 development Ministers that they will also meet their commitments on providing 0.7% of gross national income, given that the money is also needed to maintain the impressive gains made in tackling the scourges of maternal and child mortality? (165601)
T2. HIV/AIDS is a devastating illness affecting 34 million people worldwide, 69% of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa. This week, the White House published its HIV/AIDS strategy, so when will the Government commit to publishing one for the UK? (165600)
We are in the middle of reviewing our HIV position paper. I have just returned from a round table meeting in South Africa that examined this issue. It is an important issue and we are on it.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. We will continue to work with the new Government on stability in border areas. I am sure the House will be delighted to hear that I agreed a tax package with Pakistan’s Government that will see Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs going in to help them broaden their tax base and improve their tax collection.
T4. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what assurances the Burmese President has given the UK about respect for human rights in Burma, and, specifically, the treatment of Rohingya community, during his recent visit to Britain? (165602)
I had a chance to meet the Burmese President earlier this week, when I did raise those issues, particularly the importance of access for humanitarian support. I hope I managed to get his assurances that the Burmese Government will work with us as we try to improve the lot of those people and will play a leadership role in reducing ethnic tensions.
T7. The UK contributes £30 million a year to the Palestinian Authority’s general budget. Does the Secretary of State agree that the pooled and general nature of that budget means that it is impossible to track how all donor money is actually spent? (165605)
UK funding to the Palestinian Authority is used specifically to pay civil servants’ salaries, and that is subject to audit. It is absolutely right, and essential for peace, that we continue to support the Palestinian Authority.
T5. In a Westminster Hall debate on 4 July, the Minister of State, who has just left the Front Bench, said that he would take on board my concerns about workers in debt bondage in Pakistan. Will he undertake to get the DFID office in Pakistan to write a plan of action over the summer and then to make a written statement when the House comes back in September? (165603)
I am sure that I can speak on my right hon. Friend’s behalf by assuring the hon. Gentleman that we will follow up his comments in that Westminster Hall debate. We have a close working relationship with the new Pakistan Government and it will involve improving the lot of workers.
The Prime Minister was asked—
People using Scunthorpe general hospital today are asking for reassurance. Given that Sir Bruce Keogh says that now is not the time for hasty reactions or recriminations, will the Prime Minister commit the resource and support—as well as setting the challenge—to ensure that the hospital delivers high-quality care across all its departments?
First, let me echo what the hon. Gentleman says about the Keogh report. That good report says that even those hospitals facing these challenges that have been investigated have many instances of excellent care. On resources, the Government are putting the money in—£12.7 billion extra over this Parliament—and we are going to help the hospitals that are challenged to ensure that they provide the very best that they can in our NHS.
I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will be as delighted as I am that unemployment in Watford has fallen once again—to its lowest level since the end of 2009. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is a good example of how the Government’s policies are working for small businesses, because those businesses were the ones providing the 1,000 jobs and apprenticeships that were shown at the Watford jobs fair two weeks ago?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that today’s unemployment figures are welcome. They show a very large fall in the claimant count—20,000 in the past month—and encouraging signs of employment growth, some of which is due to the extra resources that we put into apprenticeships. We can be proud of the fact that more than 1 million people will have started apprenticeships in this Parliament, and I hope that the fall in unemployment is welcomed across the House.
The vast majority of doctors and nurses working in the NHS perform to a very high standard day in, day out, but everyone in the country will be worried that some hospitals are letting people down. Sir Bruce Keogh’s excellent and important report found
“frequent examples of inadequate numbers of nursing staff”.
Will the Prime Minister tell the House what he is doing to ensure that there are adequate numbers of nurses in the health service?
First, let me agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the Keogh report is excellent. When there is a problem of relatively high mortality rates in some hospitals, it is right to hold an investigation to get to the truth, and then to take action to deal with the situation.
The right hon. Gentleman asks what steps we will take. We are putting £12.7 billion into the NHS and, over the course of the past year, we have seen an extra 900 nurses in our NHS, which backs up the 8,500 extra clinical staff in place since this Government came to office.
But the reality is that there are 4,000 fewer nurses than when the Prime Minister came to power. Nursing staff was one of the issues raised in Sir Bruce’s report, and that was also reflected in the Francis report with regard to benchmarks for nursing staff numbers. Given that there are 4,000 fewer nurses, will the Prime Minister say whether that is helping or hindering the process of sorting out the problems?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a link between the 11 hospitals that have been put into special measures and nursing numbers, but he might be interested in the figures. Eight of those 11 identified hospitals have more nurses today than in 2010. For instance, although Scunthorpe hospital is on that list of 11 hospitals, an extra 100 nurses are working there compared with three years ago. In addition, 10 of those 11 hospitals have higher numbers of clinical staff. The Francis report did not support mandatory nursing numbers, but let me say this: all well-run hospitals will have the right number of nurses, doctors and care assistants. One of the purposes of these reports is to ensure that hospitals are better run.
The reality is that the Prime Minister’s reforms are diverting money from patient care and that across the health service the number of nurses is falling. Let me turn to one of the biggest health problems the country faces: deaths from cancer. The Government planned legislation on plain cigarette packaging but changed their view after the Prime Minister hired Lynton Crosby, who also happens to work for big tobacco in the shape of Philip Morris. Are we really supposed to believe that is a coincidence?
First, it is clear that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to have a proper conversation about the health service and that he has not done his homework on nursing numbers. He asks about plain packaging for cigarettes. Let me be absolutely clear about this: the decision not to go ahead for the time being was made by me and the Health Secretary. If the right hon. Gentleman does not agree with that decision, he can attack me for making it. Funny enough, it is the same decision the previous Government made. I have here the letter that the former Labour Secretary of State for Health wrote to another Minister, the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell), explaining why he was not going ahead. He said this:
“No studies have shown that introducing plain packaging of tobacco products would cut the number of young people smoking… Given the impact that plain packaging would have… we would need strong and convincing evidence”
in order to go ahead. He did not go ahead. Let me summarise: if the Leader of the Opposition’s attack on me is that we are not doing something he decided not to do, I suggest a different line of questioning.
Once again the Prime Minister does not know his facts, because in February 2010 my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), in his tobacco strategy, set out quite clearly that he was in favour of plain cigarette packaging, and that quote is from before then. Here is the difference: my right hon. Friend moved to that position in February 2010; but the Prime Minister used to be in favour of plain cigarette packaging and then changed his mind. Can he now answer the question that he has not answered for weeks: has he ever had a conversation with Lynton Crosby about plain cigarette packaging?
I have answered the question: he has never lobbied me on anything. If the right hon. Gentleman wants a lobbying scandal, why does he not try the fact that the trade unions buy his policies, buy his candidates and even bought and paid for his leadership? That is a scandal, and he should do something about it.
The whole country will have heard the same weasel words that the Prime Minister is sticking to. He cannot deny that he had a conversation with Lynton Crosby about this issue. Even by the standards of this Prime Minister, this is a disgraceful episode. His own hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) described it as
“A day of shame for this government.”
He is the Prime Minister for Benson and Hedge funds, and he knows it. Can he not see that there is a devastating conflict of interest between having a key adviser raking it in from big tobacco and then advising him not to go ahead with plain packaging?
All this on a day when this Government are doing something the Labour party never did for 13 years: publishing a lobbying Bill. Let us remember why we need a lobbying Bill. We had former Labour Ministers describing themselves as cabs for hire, Cabinet Ministers giving passports for favours and a Prime Minister questioned by the police over cash for honours. They are in no position to lecture anyone on standards in public life. Is it not remarkable that on a day of a massive fall in the claimant count, a fall in unemployment and a rise in employment the right hon. Gentleman has nothing to say, and is not this the reason: last year he said that
“next year, unemployment will get worse, not better, under his policies. Nothing that he can say can deny that”—[Official Report, 18 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 739.]?
Is it not time he withdrew that and admitted he was wrong?
The reality the Prime Minister cannot admit is that against the advice of every major public health organisation he has caved in to big tobacco. That is the reality about this Prime Minister and he knows it. It is Andy Coulson all over again. He is a Prime Minister who does not think the rules apply to him. Dinners for donors, Andy Coulson, and now big tobacco in Downing street—he always stands up for the wrong people.
The reason the right hon. Gentleman’s leadership is in crisis is that he cannot talk about the big issues. We are getting to the end of a political session when the deficit is down, unemployment is falling, crime is down, welfare is capped, and Abu Qatada is back in Jordan. Every day this country is getting stronger and every day he is getting weaker.
I know that the Prime Minister will want to thank all the fantastic NHS staff who are rolling up their sleeves and doing everything they can to reduce avoidable early deaths. They are asking the Prime Minister for minimum unit pricing in order to help them do their job and stop people falling into addiction in the first place. Minimum pricing is sitting nervously on death row. Will the Prime Minister give it a reprieve, at least until we know the outcome from the Sheffield report and the Scottish courts?
We will be able to introduce something that the last Government never did, which is to say that it should be illegal to sell alcohol below the price of duty plus VAT. That is something, with all the binge-drinking problems we had under Labour, that they never managed to do.
Q2. In February I asked the Prime Minister if he thought it was fair that Mr and Mrs Goodwin, both of whom are registered blind, should pay the bedroom tax. He promised to look into the case. Mr and Mrs Goodwin’s family wrote to the Prime Minister but did not receive a reply. Why does he not keep his word? (165610)
I will look urgently at this case, because I reply to hon. Members’ correspondence right across the House, and I always will. We have put in place very fair rules on the spare room subsidy, whereby it does not affect pensioners and does not affect people who need to have that spare room. Perhaps when I do write back there is one question I will not be able to answer, which is that we still do not know whether Labour is going to replace this, because they will not give us an answer.
Q3. Will the Prime Minister assure me that while Labour Members are in Blackpool this summer on their Unite beach towels his Government, free both from weak leadership and from Len McCluskey, will not put into law welfare benefits as a human right? (165611)
My hon. Friend makes a good point, because last week there was a rare piece of candour from Labour Members. They now have a welfare reform they are in favour of: they want to make welfare a human right. That is the policy of the Labour party. They opposed the welfare cap, they opposed the reforms to housing benefit, they opposed getting the deficit down, and now they want to make it a human right to give people benefits.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Will the Prime Minister join me in wishing a speedy recovery to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), who was injured when seeking to resolve problems in his constituency during the recent unacceptable disturbances? Will he also join with many in Northern Ireland who want to see the initiative headed up by Dr Richard Haass from the United States of America, which will require considerable effort and good will to resolve all the outstanding parading issues, which have been plagued by violent opposition for far too long?
Everyone across the House will have been very concerned to hear the news about the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) being knocked unconscious at the protests in his constituency. Everyone wishes him well and I gather he is now improving. We look forward to welcoming him back to this House.
On the issue, it is very important that we see responsibility on all sides in Northern Ireland and that we take steps, as the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) suggests, to make sure that these marches can go ahead in a way that respects the fact that communities must be good neighbours to each other. That is what is required in Northern Ireland and I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will help in any way she can.
Foreign National Prisoners
Q4. How many foreign national prisoners (a) are in prison and (b) were in prison in May 2010; and what steps are being taken to send them to secure detention in their own countries and to negotiate compulsory prisoner transfer agreements with high-volume countries. (165612)
Overall, over 4,500 foreign national offenders were removed from the UK in 2012 and the annual removal rate has remained broadly consistent since then. However, the number of foreign nationals in prison in England and Wales is still far too high, and while it is lower than at the election, we can do more. That is why the Justice Secretary is working to secure compulsory prisoner transfer agreements with those countries with the highest populations of foreign offenders. The Government will make it clear in the immigration Bill this autumn that foreign national offenders will be deported except in exceptional circumstances. I think that everyone in this House can celebrate the removal of one foreign prisoner, Mr Abu Qatada, who has returned to Jordan, and I congratulate the Home Secretary on her hard work.
Now that my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary have deported Abu Qatada—something the previous Government completely failed to do—will he do all he can to send foreign nationals in prison in our country back to prison in their own country, which would save British taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on this issue and the fact that it requires real drive from the centre of this Government. That is why we have held a National Security Council meeting on it and why we are trying to sign compulsory prisoner transfer agreements with countries such as Albania and Nigeria. I make sure that all Ministers raise these issues in all their meetings with other countries where there are foreign national prisoners to be returned to. We should not rule out any steps, including in some cases helping countries such as Jamaica with their own prison regime so that it is easier to return people. This is a major priority for the Government and I want us to do better.
Q5. The Prime Minister claims that he did not know that Lynton Crosby worked for big tobacco, yet Crosby is at the heart of Tory party policy and strategy. Why is the Prime Minister developing a bad habit—perhaps an addictive one—of turning a blind eye to who his advisers actually work for? (165613)
Q6. In my Welsh constituency, patients have to wait 36 weeks for elective treatment, while the figure in the English constituency of Shropshire next door is 18 weeks. What lessons does the Prime Minister believe the Government can learn about how the NHS has been managed in Wales over recent years? (165614)
There is a very clear lesson, which is do not vote Labour, because people can see what is happening in Wales, where Labour is in control of the NHS. It cut the budget by 8% and as a result Wales has not met a single waiting time target since 2009. Meanwhile, in England we are increasing spending on the NHS. The shadow Chancellor keeps pointing at the shadow Health Secretary, but the fact is that the shadow Health Secretary is the man who said it would be irresponsible to increase spending on the NHS. I have a summer tip for the leader of the Labour party: if you want to do better, you need to move the two people next to you and you need to do it fast.
Will the Prime Minister study the precise meaning of the word “question” and the precise meaning of the word “answer”, and consider the need for a link between the two following the record number of unanswered questions and pre-prepared party-political jibes last week at Question Time, which was a demeaning spectacle that shamed him and his office? Will he make a start by giving me an answer to this question that is both relevant and courteous?
That question was a bit complicated for a Whip’s handout, so the hon. Gentleman probably did think of it himself. This Government are far more transparent than any of our predecessors in the information that we publish and the public spending data that we provide. We are far more transparent than the last Government.
Q7. I am pleased to say that unemployment in Northampton North continues to go down. Does the Prime Minister agree that today’s jobs figures prove that the Government’s economic policy has not led to “the disappearance of a million…jobs”, which was the forecast of the Leader of the Opposition? (165615)
It is extraordinary that on a day when there has been a fall in unemployment, the Leader of the Opposition had nothing to say about it. In fact, I have done a bit of checking and he has not asked a full set of questions about the economy since February, because he knows that our policies are working and Britain’s economy is mending. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the forecast was made that we would not make up for the loss of public sector jobs with jobs in the private sector—[Interruption.] I know that Labour Members are shouting. They are shouting because they do not want to hear good news about falling unemployment, but people want to hear about more jobs, more businesses and progress in our economy.
The top rate of tax will be higher in every year of this Government than it was in any year under the previous Government. Let me explain how it works in the hon. Lady’s party: the trade unions give Labour money and that buys the policies, it buys the candidates, it buys the MPs and it even buys the leader. I am not surprised if they are worried about the product that they have ended up with.
Q8. Enfield has had the early advantage of a welfare cap for the past three months. With jobseeker’s allowance claims in Enfield falling at twice the rate of claims in the rest of the country and with youth unemployment in Enfield at the lowest level since early 2009, will the Prime Minister ensure that where Enfield leads, the nation follows? (165616)
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the people in Enfield who have found work. Not only is the welfare cap right because it would be wrong for people who are out of work to be able to earn more than the typical family that is in work, but it is working because the figures show how many people, seeing that a welfare cap is coming down the road, are getting out there, looking for work and finding jobs. That is good news for them and good news for our economy.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks as a member of Unite and someone who receives £6,000 for his constituency party. Adrian Beecroft produced an excellent report on encouraging enterprise, jobs and wealth creation. Let me explain the big difference one more time. The trade unions that give money to the Labour party can pick the candidates and vote for them, pick the leader and vote for him, and pick the policies and vote for them. I was elected by a one member, one vote system; the leader of the Labour party was elected by a trade union stitch-up.
Any Government should of course be able to introduce a reasonable cap on very high claims for taxpayer-funded benefits. However, if we are all in it together, why are the Government resisting the introduction of a cap on the taxpayer-funded benefits amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds and, in some individual cases, more than £1 million that go to the largest and wealthiest landowners in the country through the farm support system?
Q10. In order to save the Prime Minister a little time, I have been a member of the Unite union since I joined at the age of 16 as an engineering apprentice. I am happy to debate who spent their youth more productively. On 26 June, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) on Tory dinners for donors, the Prime Minister said that he would be happy to publish the Gold report. Is the reason he has not done so because he is ashamed of the fact that his party has had more donors than a late-night kebab shop? (165618)
It is that time in Prime Minister’s questions when we ought to remember the donation of Mr Mills, the man who gave £1.6 million to the Labour party and got advice about how to dodge his taxes. When we get an answer to when the Labour party is going to pay that money back, I will answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question.
While still hoping that the Prime Minister will agree with the CBI and me and withdraw support for HS2, he will remember last November giving me an undertaking that people disrupted by this project would be fairly and generously compensated. Is he aware that on phase 1, HS2 Ltd has not yet rerun the basic consultation on compensation, and on current plans will not do so for two or three months? Will he please intervene and speed up this process before those constituents, and others whose lives are affected, are totally ruined by this flawed project?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this matter. We will be setting out further consultation later this year, as we have previously announced. We are committed to a very generous and fair compensation scheme. Matters relating to compensation are very important, which is why we have to consider them carefully and make sure that we get the decisions right. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will be happy to meet her and discuss her constituents’ concerns.
Q11. The Prime has been helping Jersey-registered companies with their exports. Perhaps he could tell the House whether the reason he took Petrofac’s Ayman Asfari with him to Kazakhstan was because he had donated £300,000 to the Tory party. (165619)
First, let us remember which Government made sure that Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and all the others paid taxes properly—it was this one. I will tell the hon. Lady directly why I took Ayman Asfari to Kazakhstan: Petrofac is a company that employs tens of thousands of people in this country. It is investing billions in the North sea and is a major British energy company. I am proud of the fact that we fly the flag for British energy companies, so when I have finished taking them to Kazakhstan, I will be taking them to India, to China and to Malaysia. We are not embarrassed about business, industry, enterprise and jobs on this side of the House—we want more of them.
During my right hon. Friend’s friendly discussions with Chancellor Merkel, did they examine the evidence that the existence of the European single currency is a major cause of the despair now sweeping across southern Europe, threatening the democracy of Portugal, Spain and Greece?
When I meet Chancellor Merkel we often discuss the single currency. It is important, whatever one’s views about the single currency—I never want Britain to join—that we respect countries that are in the single currency and want to make it work. At the same time, I believe that there is an opportunity for Britain to argue that the European Union needs to change. We need to make this organisation one that both members of the single currency and members who are not in the single currency can be comfortable in. I think Chancellor Merkel understands that. I also think that Prime Minister Letta from Italy, whom I will be meeting straight after questions, understands that point too. That is why I think getting a better settlement for Britain is achievable, and one we can consider in a referendum by the end of 2017.
I have to say, the Whips have been very active with the hand-outs this week. What we need to know is when we will get back the taxpayer money from Mr Mills’s donation. Never mind a donation that happened 20 years ago; this happened about 20 weeks ago.
One of the first acts of the Government was to agree a request to fund security measures in Jewish voluntary-aided, maintained and free schools. Parents in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) were paying for these additional security measures from their own pockets, because the last Government refused to help. As this funding arrangement ends in 2015, will the Prime Minister support my campaign for the Education Secretary to continue the scheme?
I will look very carefully at what my hon. Friend says. I am a strong supporter of free schools and of the Community Security Trust, which I think has provided a lot of security for schools in his and neighbouring constituencies. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will be very happy to look at this issue to see how we can continue to give them support.
Q13. Given the scandal of price fixing in the oil and gas industry currently being investigated by the EU, does the Prime Minister agree that it is important to be absolutely transparent about the oil and gas companies Lynton Crosby’s lobbying firm has represented? (165621)
Really, have they got nothing to say about unemployment, improving education or capping welfare? It pains me to point this out to the hon. Lady, but she has received £32,000 from affiliated trade unions. Let me explain the difference: the Conservative party gives Lynton Crosby money to help us get rid of Labour—that is how it works—whereas the unions give Labour money. She said on her website:
“I am a member of Unison and Unite…and regularly raise trade union issues in parliament.”
They pay the money in, they get the results out—that is the scandal in British politics.
Q14. Many water companies in England have paid huge dividends to their shareholders, have avoided paying tax and are not properly accountable, and in this region are proposing an annual increase of £80 a year on water rates. Will the Prime Minister ensure that no public subsidy is given to Thames Water or any other water company that puts its profits and shareholders ahead of the interests of ordinary ratepayers and taxpayers in his constituency and mine? (165622)
First, let me be clear: I have always said that companies should pay the tax they owe. I do not want to comment on an individual company’s business, but that is the case. Any support from the Government must be targeted to benefit customers’ bills and to provide value for taxpayers. There is merit in the Thames tunnel proposal, and we need to look at that carefully, because it would benefit London, including the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents and everyone else living in London, but I can assure him that we will use every tool at our disposal to get the best deal for London, bill payers and taxpayers.
We can run through this one again; let me have another go at explaining. Right, it works like this: the Conservative party gives Lynton Crosby money and he helps us to attack the Labour party, right? The trade unions give money to the Labour party—the other way around—and for that they buy your candidates, they buy your MPs, they buy your policies and they even give you this completely hopeless leader.
My constituent, Kelly Bridgett, was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 25 when she had her first smear, and sadly she had to have a hysterectomy. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Kelly on her “Drop your pants to save your life” campaign to raise awareness of cervical cancer, and will he talk to the Health Secretary about Kelly’s wish to bring the age at which young women can have a smear down from 25 to 20?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to his constituent for their bravery in raising this campaign and speaking so frankly about it. The screening programmes we have had in the NHS under successive Governments have been one of its greatest successes in terms of early diagnosis of cancer and saving lives. We should always be asking what the latest evidence is for the screening programmes, and when they should start. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will want to talk to my hon. Friend about this campaign.
We are today announcing the launch of our consultation on primary assessment and accountability, alongside a significant increase in the pupil premium for primary schools. This is about delivering a step change in aspirations and attainment in primary education, and these proposals are among the most important that our Department has announced since the formation of the coalition Government. We want as many children as possible to be ready for secondary school by the time they leave primary school, and the reforms we are announcing today are designed to ensure that pupils are well prepared for the next stage of their education, and that schools do not allow pupils to fall behind. We are confident that primary schools and pupils can and will rise to that challenge.
We want to see a step change in attainment at the end of primary school. In the past, the achievement bar was set too low and too few pupils cleared that bar. Our ambition is for all pupils—excepting some of those with particular learning needs—to be ready for secondary school at age 11. That means we need a higher measure of what success looks like. We are already raising the threshold for the percentage of pupils to be ready for secondary school from 60% to 65%, but we know that many schools and teachers have already raised their game way beyond that level. For that reason, in the future we will expect a high proportion of pupils—85%—to reach the new, higher secondary readiness threshold for a school. Since we know that both children and schools can achieve that, it is right that we set it as a minimum standard.
Our new national curriculum is designed to give schools genuine opportunities to take ownership of the curriculum. The new programmes of study, published on 8 July, set out what pupils should be taught by the end of primary education. Teachers will be able to develop a school curriculum that delivers the core content in a way that is challenging and relevant for their pupils. Statutory assessment in core subjects at the end of key stages is designed primarily to enable robust external accountability. We will continue to prescribe statutory assessment arrangements in English, maths and science. National curriculum tests in English and maths will continue, and will show whether pupils have met a demanding secondary readiness standard, which will remain the same from year to year. We propose to report pupils’ test results as a scaled score to ensure that test outcomes are comparable over time. At the moment, pupils are ranked by levels. In future we will report each pupil’s performance relative to their peers nationally, as well as their levels of progress. This is key information for parents: it will help them easily to see how their child has performed compared with the national cohort of pupils.
It is vital that we set high aspirations for all schools and pupils. Our new expectations will prepare children for success. At the moment pupils are being asked to reach a bar that too often sets them up for failure rather than success. Indeed we know that over half of pupils who currently reach just the 4C benchmark standard fail to secure five good GCSEs including English and maths. So that all children, whatever their circumstances, can arrive in secondary school ready to succeed, we are giving significantly more money to primary school pupils eligible for the pupil premium. That will support the step change in ambition we are announcing today.
We introduced the pupil premium in 2011 to help schools close the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils. In 2014-15, total funding through the pupil premium will increase by £625 million to the total of £2.5 billion pledged by the coalition in 2010. We will use the extra funding in the year ahead to increase significantly the level of the pupil premium for primary schools to £1,300 per pupil, compared with £900 in the current year. This 44% rise in the pupil premium next year is the largest cash rise so far. That should enable more targeted interventions to support disadvantaged pupils to be secondary ready and achieve our ambitious expectations for what pupils should know and be able to do by the end of their primary education. Early intervention is crucial: the more disadvantaged pupils who leave primary school with strong literacy and numeracy, the greater their chances of achieving good GCSEs. We will fix the level of the secondary pupil premium in the autumn, but it will rise further, by at least the level of inflation next year.
We also want to treat schools fairly by acknowledging the performance of schools whose pupils achieve well despite a low starting point, even if that does not reach the very ambitious attainment targets we are setting. We will therefore look at how we can introduce a robust measure of progress that we can take into consideration when holding schools to account. A school that does not achieve the attainment threshold will not be judged to be below the floor standard if its pupils are making good progress. The progress measure will also help identify coasting schools, whose pupils do not achieve their full potential and should be doing much better even if their school is meeting the attainment targets. Ofsted will focus its inspections more closely on schools below and just above floor standards, and inspect schools with good performance on these measures less frequently.
We will continue to report on the progress pupils make during primary education. In order to measure pupils’ progress, we need to measure how each pupil’s end of key stage 2 test results compare with the results of pupils with similar prior attainment. This is an opportunity to reconsider the structure of statutory assessment early in primary schools. In particular, we are consulting on when we should have a baseline test or assessment to measure pupils’ progress. Currently the baseline against which we measure progress is at the end of key stage 1. We could continue to keep the baseline at this stage. Alternatively, we could introduce a similar teacher-led baseline check early in reception, which would help teachers understand the stage the child has reached and allow the crucial progress made in reception, year 1 and year 2 to be reflected in the accountability system. Many schools do that. Our consultation will seek views on which is the better option.
Finally, we recognise that teachers are professionals, and we want to give schools more freedom over the way they measure assessment. We have already announced that we will remove the current system of national curriculum levels and level descriptors, which imposes a single system and prescribes a detailed sequence for what pupils should be taught. That will leave schools free to decide how to track pupils’ progress. Ofsted will expect to see evidence of pupils’ progress, but inspections will be informed by the pupil tracking data that schools choose to keep.
Taken together, this combination of measures will ensure that pupils are ready for success in secondary education, and a better start in secondary school will ensure a better start in life. This country is now moving from an education system that served the needs of a minority to a system of high expectation and high standards for every single pupil. Today’s announcements are a key step in that continued journey. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister of State for advance notice of his statement.
When Labour came to power in 1997 we inherited a sorry state in the education system. From day one we gave priority to primary education. In 1997 only 59% of 11-year-olds reached the expected level of attainment in maths and 65% in English. By 2010 these figures had risen to 79% and 80% respectively. That was huge progress, but I agree that we need to build on this success. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the hard work of heads, teachers and support staff in primary schools across the country.
It is right that we have high expectation for all children in all schools, raising aspiration and unleashing potential. We will engage constructively with this consultation. We know from outstanding primary schools such as Cuckoo Hall primary in Enfield and Westfield community primary school in Wigan that all children can realise their true ability when they receive an excellent education. On leaving primary school, children need to be prepared with the knowledge, the skills and the resilience to take on the secondary curriculum. Despite massive progress, there are still too many children who are ill-equipped when they begin their secondary education.
Ensuring that all children reach at least the expected levels in maths and English is crucial. High standards of numeracy and literacy are vital; so, too, is a broad and rich curriculum that promotes creativity, enrichment, citizenship and resilience. I worry that the Government’s approach to the curriculum is too narrow and risks selling children short. What assurances can the Minister give that the Government’s changes to the accountability system will promote breadth and depth of learning, as well as literacy and numeracy? He has set out a new floor target of 85%, but that target is for an assessment that the Government have yet to define. Surely that is putting the cart before the horse. Would it not make for better policy to define the learning outcomes first? My worry is that this is another classic case of policy making on the hoof.
Similarly, the plan for ranking 11-year-olds has all the hallmarks of such an approach. To rank 11-year-olds runs the risk of removing year-on-year consistency, because children will be benchmarked against their peers in their current year, rather than against a common standard. Does the Minister agree that this risks damaging standards by not ensuring consistency over time?
The Government have sent out confused signals about attainment and progress. On the one hand they are scrapping level descriptors, which heads and teachers tell me are crucial for monitoring progress between assessments, yet on the other hand, the Minister is rightly emphasising progress measures today. That is very confusing. I ask the Government to think again about the abolition of level descriptors.
On the baseline measure for five-year-olds, there is sense in developing policy about how best to establish prior attainment to provide both teachers and parents with a clear indicator at the start of primary school. The devil will be in the detail, so it is vital that there is full consultation on that.
Finally, on the pupil premium, additional funding to support the progress of disadvantaged children is welcome. I have seen many schools that have made excellent use of the pupil premium. In his statement, though, the Minister said, “Early intervention is crucial”, and I agree with him. However, how does that sit with the fact that the biggest cuts in spending in his Department have been in early intervention funding? Can the Minister assure the House that additional funding really does mean additional funding?
I worry that the Minister may—to coin a phrase—be robbing Paul to pay Paul. The Chancellor announced in the spending review that the Government are moving to a national funding formula. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that this move could hit schools with large deprived intakes. Can he reassure the House that this really is new money and not simply giving money to schools with a lot of disadvantaged kids today, which is welcome, but taking it away in a couple of years when the national funding formula comes in?
It certainly is new money—I will comment on that in greater detail in a moment.
I welcome the sensible and constructive approach that the hon. Gentleman has taken. I particularly welcome the fact that he has said that he is prepared to engage with us in dealing with some serious and important issues, such as the baseline for measuring progress. It encourages me that we can have a sensible consultation process that genuinely listens and designs a system that will be better and will last for the long term.
Let me respond briefly to five points that the hon. Gentleman made in his response. First, on the Government’s inheritance, I accept that progress was made under the previous Government, particularly in some parts of the country such as London. However, our inheritance of aspirations at the end of primary level was, frankly, hopelessly low. Even today, we allow schools potentially to pass their floor targets when one third of their pupils or more fail to achieve a basic level of English and maths. Worse still, our very measure of achievement—the 4C measure—leads to more than half the youngsters who achieve just that level failing to get five good GCSEs. In other words, we have been sending out a message about what success looks like at the end of primary school which is totally wrong. Indeed, some of the best schools in the country—including St Joseph’s primary school in Camden, which the Deputy Prime Minister and I visited this morning—have already moved well beyond 4C and in many cases are aiming at much higher levels, such as 4A, 5C and so forth. The Government need to catch up with those schools, which are leading the debate in education.
The second point was about the broadness and richness of the experience in schools. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, although the concentration on English and maths is important, we do not want that to lead to a dramatic narrowing of the curriculum. The other subjects that people take, both academic and vocational—arts, music and sport—are incredibly important. However, no one can succeed in secondary education if they cannot read and add up. No one can enjoy the opportunities in all the other subjects if they are not equipped with those basic skills. I would also refer the hon. Gentleman to the changes we have already announced in the secondary measures of accountability. We will be incentivising schools to take not just five but eight GCSEs, and we will allow that to include vocational as well as academic subjects.
The third point that the hon. Gentleman made was about whether 85% was the right level and whether we were right to set such an ambitious target now, in advance of the precise measures being introduced in 2016. I think we are right to set out those principles now. The schools that he and I are familiar with, from inner London and elsewhere, are already setting levels of aspiration of 85%, 90% or 95%, at an even higher level than 4B, which I talked about in a speech a couple of months ago, so I think that we are right to raise expectations now. For too long we have had expectations set by very low levels, which are more about the levels set for school intervention than about reasonable aspirations for all schools.
On the ranking of 11-year-olds, let me make it absolutely clear that we are not talking about publishing information about individual students at a national level. That would of course be totally wrong. What we are talking about is something that I think virtually every parent in the country will welcome, which is more information—and more meaningful information—about how their children are doing. At the moment, apart from a few people in the Department for Education and around the House, level descriptors frankly mean nothing to the average parent. Having a mark, a measure of progress and a clear sense of where their pupil is versus the rest of the cohort is only sensible. Parents could do that at the moment through the levels process, if they could actually understand that process, which is so complicated. What we are doing will help parents, but we will listen to the messages that come back in the consultation.
Finally, let me turn to the hon. Gentleman’s point about money and early intervention. What we are announcing is about doing a lot more through early intervention. The additional money for the pupil premium that the Government have delivered, even in these times of austerity, is something of which the coalition can feel incredibly proud. The levels we are setting today will mean that the additional money going to pupils from the pupil premium from their time in primary school will be £8,000 or £9,000 per pupil. That is a massive amount to help schools across the country, particularly in disadvantaged areas, to bring children up to a reasonable standard.
As for early years, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), who leads on early years and child care, and the Deputy Prime Minister have announced a two-year offer, which extends early-years support to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, going way beyond anything the previous Government were able to deliver. This Government have a huge amount to be proud of, in offering schools this money to support such ambitious aspirations.
The Select Committee on Education had some outstanding head teachers before it this morning, talking about the possible setting up of a college of teaching. One point they all made was about their desire for greater continuity in policy making. I therefore congratulate the Minister on making the offer to the Opposition, and the Opposition on their response in turn, to ensure a common policy that gives stability to education. With the increase in funding for the pupil premium, will he say what role he sees for subject specialists at primary level to help to raise attainment not just in English and maths, but across the broad swathe of subjects to which he has referred?
I welcome the comments of the Chairman of the Select Committee. He is absolutely right that we need to aim for greater continuity in education policy. After all, we are talking about young people who, even individually, will take a considerable number of years to go through the education system. We want to ensure as much cross-party consensus as possible on some of the changes, so that they last.
My hon. Friend is also absolutely right that the additional money will give primary schools the opportunity to bring in greater subject specialism, which will help to boost the quality of teaching not just in English and maths, but in all the other subjects, which are so crucial and which the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) mentioned earlier.
I welcome the focus on primary education in the statement, which is a good thing. It is time we had that focus. I also welcome the extra spending on primary education, but I am worried about the proposal for national examinations at the age of three as well as at 11. May I urge the Minister to drop the exams for three-year-olds? As someone who represents a town where most of the pupils already do the 11-plus, let me tell him that the consequences for children—as well as for parents—of knowing that they are at the bottom of the list need to be examined. It breaks my heart every year when I have children in my constituency surgery—hauled in by their parents—who do not have the bicycle for passing the 11-plus and are going to a school that they never applied to as a result.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the early comments she made. I should point out that what we are talking about is on entry to school, not at a ridiculous age. [Interruption.] Frankly, many schools—to which I would be happy to take the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who is shouting from a sedentary position—are already doing that type of assessment. They are doing it to inform their education and also to measure progress. We have descriptors at the moment that classify some young people as the lowest performers. That information is available at the moment; it is just very difficult for anyone to understand. Why should we impede parents in understanding more what their pupils are doing in schools?
I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, who leads for the Labour party on these issues, for being pragmatic. Although I quite understand the concerns about assessing youngsters at an early age, the logic of measuring progress, which is not in dispute in this House or among head teachers, teachers or parents, means that it is rational to measure progress right across the educational experience. It is not rational simply to pick an arbitrary date at the end of key stage 1 and to measure progress only from there. That is why we think it is sensible to have this debate.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement today, and particularly on the abolition of the meaningless and distorting levels in key stage assessment. Does he agree that the substantial rise in the pupil premium will mean that every school should now be able to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, will be fluent readers and fluent in arithmetic—including long division, long multiplication and fractions—by the time they leave primary school? Does he also agree that there will no longer be any excuse for an attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is reassuring to be able to visit schools with very large numbers of disadvantaged youngsters, such as the one I mentioned earlier, and to see that the attainment gaps have now been extinguished. This shows schools across the country that it is possible to close that gap, and that that is not just the perspective of some DFE Minister but the experience of schools across the land that are achieving that. The huge amounts of money that we are now putting into the pupil premium and other disadvantage funding for schools with disadvantaged youngsters will remove what were legitimate excuses 10 or 20 years ago about the absence of the resources necessary to achieve these big changes. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who did so much in his time in the Department to champion higher standards and to pave the way for much of what is in today’s statement.
Early intervention is certainly the key to the future for the hundreds of children in my constituency who have a much tougher start in life than most people. How will the Minister ensure that the pupil premium is targeted specifically on individuals rather than being swallowed up by the wider school budgets, and how will he hold head teachers to account for looking after those individuals?
That is an absolutely crucial point. The Department is not going to go back to the fashion under some previous Secretaries of State of micro-managing individual schools and telling them what interventions they need to deliver. Schools have a better understanding of the interventions that will work for the school and the individuals than we will ever do, sitting in a Department in London. However, we are going to hold schools to account for ensuring that whatever interventions they use are successful. We have worked closely with Ofsted to ensure that this is a key part of the accountability process for schools, and that there is a much greater focus by Ofsted on narrowing the gap. The chief inspector has made it clear that schools will no longer be ranked outstanding if they are failing in this key area, and there will be a requirement on schools that are not delivering a good standard to commission support from key leaders in education, such as national leaders of education, to bring advice into the school when it is failing to narrow the gaps. We have also recently appointed the widely respected John Dunford, who has great experience in education, to serve as a champion of the pupil premium and to spread the message about best practice to schools across the country.
Picking up on best practice, the primary school in the poorest ward in my constituency, Newington, has seen a 40% increase in standards in English and maths. The head teacher puts that down solely to the pupil premium so, locally, people will be very pleased with this suite of measures. One measure that seems to be being misinterpreted is the assessment of three-year-olds. Responsible teachers will make an assessment of the young people coming into their school so that they can put the right measures in place. It is not an exam, as has been suggested by some Opposition Members.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many schools are already using baseline assessment on entry to school; that is the rational thing to do. It is also the most rational way of measuring progress, rather than doing it over an arbitrary period. I also agree with her that the additional money for the pupil premium and the additional accountability and focus will be crucial to narrowing the gap. The huge amounts of money going into schools with large numbers of pupil-premium pupils will result in some dramatic and impressive progress over the next few years in improving the lot of young people from those backgrounds.
What the Minister is saying reveals nothing other than his lack of understanding of small children and of child development. What is appropriate at 16, at 14 and at 11 is not appropriate at five. For five-year-olds, learning should be enjoyable, pleasurable and fun. Does he not understand that if he formalises these assessments, he will produce anxious teachers, anxious parents and anxious children?
I am afraid that the mood of consensus has come to an end. The hon. Lady is completely wrong. These assessments are already being completed in schools up and down the land, and most pupils do not even know that they are going through some great baseline assessment process. They just think that they are doing the sort of things that children do in schools. What is the logic of measuring progress, giving it huge status and talking about its importance, which we all do, if we then say that we will measure progress only from halfway through primary education? That does not make sense.
I greatly welcome the statement, not least because of the powerful point that Sir Michael Wilshaw made in his “Unseen Children” report recently. That report provides full justification for the measures that my right hon. Friend has announced. Will he reassure the House that the thrust of the measures will also tackle schools in rural and coastal areas, given the clear underachievement that has been identified in them?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The reports by Ofsted and others highlight the real risk of focusing only on schools with large numbers of disadvantaged youngsters. Of course those schools are important, and they will get the largest amount out of the pupil premium, but the schools with only a modest number of such youngsters will no longer be able to hide behind high overall attainment figures. Our focus on progress will ensure that the schools that are getting high levels of attainment but not delivering enough for all their pupils will be obliged to do so. The accountability measures will also ensure that we pick up any large gaps in performance between disadvantaged pupils and the rest, whether they are in our inner cities, the leafiest parts of the country or our coastal communities.
I welcome the additional resources for the pupil premium. The Minister said that this was additional funding. Perhaps he could tell us exactly where it is coming from. Also, he avoided answering the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on the national funding formula and the possibility that the campaign by Conservative Back Benchers to narrow the gap between well-funded and less-well-funded schools would inevitably undermine the pupil premium.
The money is coming from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the money coming into the DFE does, and it is additional money. This is a fantastic settlement for schools in a time of incredible austerity in the public finances. Whichever party was in government at this time would have to grapple with difficult decisions. The fact that we have built this programme on a protected schools budget is fantastic news for schools. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that when I go round the country to schools, especially those with large numbers of disadvantaged youngsters, they are really conscious of the additional money and they positively welcome it. On the national funding formula, I can assure him that we are determined to introduce a fairer mechanism of funding across the country, and we will ensure that we do it in a way that does not undermine the strong focus on funding disadvantaged areas that we have adopted while we have been in government.
I congratulate the Minister on his announcement on the pupil premium. This is another promise from the front cover of the Liberal Democrat manifesto at the last election that we have delivered in government. However, not every school I visit has been able to tell me how its pupil premium money is being spent. Does he agree that, if the pupil premium is to deliver on the ambition that we share for it, the parents of all disadvantaged pupils should be told how that money is being spent to help their children?
I agree with my hon. Friend on both those points. Schools already have a duty at the very least to put on their websites the ways in which they are spending that money and to be as clear as possible with parents and pupils, rather than simply putting broad statements on their websites. The schools that have so far not realised what the money is for—if there are such schools—or that are not spending it effectively will soon find that they have no choice other than to focus on what the money is designed for, because this is now a key part of the Ofsted inspection framework. In my experience, the one thing that teachers and head teachers pay very close attention to is the chief inspector of schools.
Primary school teachers in Newcastle do tremendous work, maximising the educational opportunities of children often in very challenging circumstances. They will welcome this additional money, but to justify that welcome, will the Minister confirm whether this is additional money to what has already been announced in the comprehensive spending review?
It is the allocation of the last tranche of pupil premium money, which is additional money. What that says is that having announced almost £1.9 billion of pupil premium money so far, we have taken the very deliberate decision for the final tranche of extra money that we have allocated in the last year to go predominantly to primary schools to support this intervention. It is additional money.
Children arriving in reception classes without basic speech and language skills face additional challenges, as do their teachers, in working towards secondary transfer. Will the Minister encourage schools to promote public library membership for very young children, as is happening in the London borough of Havering, which has introduced automatic enrolment for reception children and support packages for parents so that children are introduced to books and can take them home to enjoy all the benefits that flow from them?
The hon. Lady makes a crucial point. I think schools should encourage pupils to access libraries. In my experience, many schools are already doing very good work these days in school to make sure that young people are encouraged to read and enjoy books, but the hon. Lady is quite right to point out that we have a very effective public library service, which should also be used by schools.
The money is there to be spent on those disadvantaged youngsters who would otherwise be highly likely to have poor performance. Schools must understand that that is the purpose of the money and why they are getting it. They are free to decide how to spend it, but they must spend it to narrow these gaps and focus on pupils who are the priority for the premium.
I welcome this statement and I will focus on the pupil premium. One of the regrettable reasons why Peterborough local education authority languishes at the bottom of the league table for educational attainment for disadvantaged children relates to the issue of English as an additional language. I shall meet the Minister in September to discuss these issues. Will he look again at incorporating in the methodology for awarding the pupil premium the important issue of English as an additional language, which is significant for the allocation of resources and will drive up educational attainment in Peterborough and across the country?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point—that youngsters with English as an additional language often face challenges, particularly when they go into school. As he will know, however, they often make extremely rapid progress, performing above the level of young people who have English as their first language. We will take the opportunity provided by the review of the national funding formula to make sure that we get proper support for young people with English as an additional language so that schools have the right amount of money for the right amount of time to help these children to perform well.
What is very encouraging—the head teacher of the primary school that the Deputy Prime Minister and I visited this morning spoke to us about it—is that many schools nowadays are not simply sitting back and waiting for parents to engage and shrugging their shoulders when they do not. Many of the best schools in the most deprived communities are going out to engage with reluctant parents and they often have considerable success in persuading those parents that education is important for their young children’s future. This can be a way of engaging parents who might not have had good educational experiences themselves, potentially enriching their own lives by contact with the school. I would encourage head teachers and teachers with parents of the type that my hon. Friend describes to visit some of the schools that are doing this work very well, as I think they could learn a tremendous amount from them.
It was a great pleasure to welcome the Schools Minister on his visit to Seven Fields primary school. The school’s transformation was due to a combination of inspirational leadership, greater freedoms and the pupil premium. How should we share this best practice so that all schools can benefit from today’s announcement?
It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and he was quite right when he wrote to me to highlight the fantastic achievements of this school, which sits in a disadvantaged community and could easily be languishing and struggling, but actually sets incredibly high aspirations, showing that it is possible for schools to deliver. The Government have recently started to publish tables of similar schools, where we look at schools with a similar composition of pupils and look at their performance against other similar schools. That process should encourage schools across the country that are not performing well to look at other schools with a similar intake that are doing a lot better, perhaps visiting them, talking to teachers and finding out what works. This type of school-to-school improvement should be enhanced by the additional measure of information that we are publishing.
I am sure that every Member will welcome the £400 increase in the pupil premium that will benefit primary schools in every single one of our constituencies. With this extra money, however, comes the need for added accountability, as has been mentioned. The Minister says that some schools have closed the gap entirely. When it comes to outcomes for the future, does he view it as the ultimate ambition for every school to have no gap whatever between the achievement of pupils entitled to free school meals and those who are not?
Yes, because the best-performing schools across the country have shown that there is nothing inevitable about those gaps. Many schools have closed the gaps very considerably. The important thing is to make sure that the accountability system is an intelligent one, as it would be possible to close the gap but at a very low level of attainment, while some of the schools that we wrote to this year had high levels of overall attainment but large gaps, so they should have been doing better for their youngsters. Our attention was drawn to schools where there was no gap, but where the attainment of disadvantaged youngsters was not good enough. The accountability will be for the gap, but also for the progress made by disadvantaged youngsters and the level of attainment of disadvantaged youngsters in a school compared with the national average. There will be no hiding place for schools that might otherwise have a small gap but at a very modest level of attainment.
I warmly welcome the increase in the pupil premium and thank the Minister for visiting Grangetown primary school in my constituency to see the difference that it is making. I ask for the reception assessment system to recognise that children can be almost one year apart in a given cohort. Will the data be used to help address the attainment gap at the younger end of the cohort that tends to persist through school?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, and I very much enjoyed my visit to Grangetown primary school in his constituency. The pupils left us with a rather large picture, 6 feet tall, which is currently hanging in my office. That school, as I recall, will be a massive beneficiary of the pupil premium investment, as something like 80% of its youngsters are entitled to the pupil premium. In a very challenging environment, the school has noticed that the additional money makes a massive difference to this school’s ability to deliver for its youngsters. My hon. Friend is right to say that, particularly in the context of an early baseline test, we need carefully to consider the impact of measuring youngsters’ achievement at a very young age and the impact of their age on their likely attainment. That important point should be properly considered.
Pupils, parents and teachers across the Kettering constituency will warmly welcome the 44% increase in the pupil premium for primary school pupils. Will the Minister recount some of the best examples he has encountered of how the pupil premium is used? How can best practice be best disseminated across our schools?
Some of the best practice relates to one-to-one tuition, and a whole series of interventions, about which we are publishing information, have come from research institutions, including the Education Endowment Foundation. What we want to ensure is that the evidence of what works does not come simply from politicians, but from educational experts. It should be available for schools to look at and should not be politicised in any way, as sometimes happened in the past. We are appointing a pupil premium champion in Dr John Dunford, who will go out to schools, draw attention to what works and ensure that best practice is spread right across the country.
Primary schools in my constituency—which contains some of the most deprived wards in the country—will warmly welcome the focus on improvement versus absolute attainment and the increase in the pupil premium, which does an enormous amount of good in Worcester. However, will my right hon. Friend note an early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey) and signed by eight Liberal Democrat Members, which urges him to consider broadening the pupil premium rather than simply increasing it, and draws attention to the good that that could do in many parts of the country where the money may not be reaching all those for whom it is intended?
I would be the first person to be pleased if we were able to fund a widening of access to the pupil premium. As my hon. Friend will know, we have already funded one considerable widening of entitlement by including pupils who had been receiving free school meals at any point during the previous six years. That has increased take-up of the premium to nearly a quarter of the cohort, which is a very considerable coverage. There are some other youngsters whom it would be useful to benefit, but that would depend on funding. In the meantime, I think that many of the schools to which my hon. Friend refers will be pleased to hear about the national funding formula for which he has campaigned so strongly, because it has the potential to give underfunded areas additional resources.
I try to visit a school in my constituency every Friday morning. This Friday I shall visit Helme school, and I know that the increase in the pupil premium to £1,300 per pupil will be very welcome there. However, will the Minister keep in mind special educational needs funding for smaller schools which find that an increasing number of their pupils have statements?
I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend regularly visits schools in his constituency. We can learn a great deal from that, and I hope that he receives an even warmer welcome than usual when he turns up this week to celebrate the additional pupil premium moneys. He is right to point out that the needs of some young people are such that they require additional funding beyond the pupil premium, and we will ensure that those special needs are properly met.
There is a well-known problem of learning loss over the summer, particularly among pupils who are between primary and secondary school. In the light of work done by the Education Endowment Foundation in that connection, does the Minister intend some of the extra resources to be spent on addressing the problem? Will he also say a brief word about the level of the service pupil premium, which is very important to a number of schools in East Hampshire?
The importance of learning over the summer must not be underestimated. We are aware that in some parts of the country, particularly among the more disadvantaged communities, young people can slip back during the summer months, and we will continue to fund the summer schools that help to bridge the gap. We are also seeking to provide additional flexibility which would allow some schools that want to change their hours and holiday periods to do so. Some may wish to introduce shorter summer holidays to prevent pupils from falling back.
We will certainly maintain and protect the service pupil premium, which has been valued in many parts of the country.
Does my hon. Friend believe that schools that have experienced a real surge in performance and transformation in attainment, such as Ash Grove school in Macclesfield, have an important role to play in helping other schools to bring about a similar transformation in their own attainment and aspiration levels by means of vehicles such as teaching alliances?
I entirely agree. As I said earlier, we shall be publishing tables that will enable weak schools to learn from what is happening in stronger ones with similar intakes. I suggest that some outstanding institutions, such as the one to which my hon. Friend has referred, should also look at those tables, and should consider offering services and advice to schools in their areas that are not performing despite having very similar intakes. School-to-school improvement of that kind is often extremely effective.
My right hon. Friend has rightly concentrated on the benefit of the pupil premium to disadvantaged children, but I was not sure from his earlier answer whether the dozens of service children who attend primary schools in my constituency, which is home to 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, would receive the additional pupil premium or whether their pupil premium would remain at the same level.
Pupils who are entitled to the pupil premium in and of its own right because, for example, a parent has been out of work for a period during the preceding six years will receive the full uplift. We are protecting entitlement to the service premium, but those who receive it will not be affected by the uplift.
Alcohol Strategy Consultation
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the Government’s response to the alcohol strategy consultation. Today we are publishing an analysis of responses to the consultation, along with a “next steps” document. Copies of both are available in the House Library.
Drunken behaviour and alcohol-fuelled disorder can make towns and cities effective no-go areas for law-abiding people, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. In nearly 50% of the incidents of violence that took place in 2011-12, the victim believed that the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption costs the taxpayer huge amounts of money: alcohol-related crime and health harms are estimated to cost society about £21 billion every year. The Government therefore have a role in seeking to curb excessive drinking. We have already increased duty on alcopops, and have introduced a wide-ranging set of reforms to tackle binge drinking.
We want fair and effective policies. We are not in the business of making laws that do not work. For that reason we have consulted widely, and have taken time to consider carefully the representations that we have received and all the relevant arguments. Our response identifies three kinds of action that are necessary. The first is targeted national action: the Government must deal with cheap alcohol, and the alcohol industry must strengthen its voluntary commitments to reduce alcohol-related harms.
There has been much speculation about the Government’s plans in relation to minimum unit pricing. That policy will remain under consideration, but it will not be proceeded with at this time. We do not yet have enough concrete evidence that its introduction would be effective in reducing harms associated with problem drinking—this is a crucial point—without penalising people who drink responsibly. We will tackle the most egregious examples of cheap alcohol by banning sales of alcohol below the level of alcohol duty plus value-added tax. That will come into effect in England and Wales no later than the spring of 2014, and will stop the worst instances of deep discounting that result in alcohol being sold cheaply and harmfully. It will no longer be legal to sell a can of ordinary-strength lager for less than about 40p.
We have decided not to ban multi-buy promotions. There is still a lack of convincing evidence that it would have a significant effect in reducing consumption. It would not be reasonable for us to introduce a ban, especially at a time when responsible families are trying hard to balance their household budgets. We will, however, make current mandatory licensing conditions more effective. We will enable tougher action to be taken to deal with irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs, and will promote responsible drinking by raising customer awareness of the availability of small servings.
Our decision not to proceed with the introduction of minimum unit pricing at this stage gives the alcohol industry an opportunity to demonstrate what more it can do to reduce the harms associated with problem drinking. Our challenge to the industry is to increase its efforts, building on what has already been achieved through the public health responsibility deal. That includes improving education to promote safer drinking, reducing the availability of the high-strength products that cause the most harm for problem drinkers, and responsible marketing and product placement.
Secondly, we intend to facilitate local action. Targeted action by pubs and clubs themselves has proved hugely effective in curbing irresponsible drinking. Best Bar None, National Pubwatch, Purple Flag and community alcohol partnerships are all good examples of what can be achieved when industry works in partnership with local areas. We will build on this by identifying a number of high-harm local alcohol action areas and work with them to strengthen local partnerships, improve enforcement and increase good practice of what works locally, including how areas can make the most of available health data as part of local decision making.
The third area is promoting growth, by freeing up responsible business and community groups from unnecessary red tape, while maintaining the integrity of the licensing system. We will make it quicker and easier for community groups and those wanting to sell small amounts of alcohol as part of a wider service to do so via the community and ancillary seller’s notice. We will increase the annual limit for the number of temporary event notices that can apply to a particular premises from 12 to 15, and free up businesses that provide late-night refreshment by removing the requirement to have a licence where there is no need for one. We will abolish the requirement to renew personal licences every 10 years. We also plan to consult on whether to abolish personal licences altogether.
Taken together, the Government’s response to the alcohol strategy consultation represents a proportionate approach to tackling the worst excesses of alcohol consumption without penalising law-abiding people or responsible businesses. That is the right balance, and I commend this statement to the House.
May I start by thanking the Minister for giving me advance sight of his statement? He told us that the Government’s policy on alcohol is on track, and I wondered whether that was why I was sent his statement with the track changes still in place. After several months of speculation, we finally have confirmation to Parliament that the Government have performed a U-turn on their flagship policy, abandoning their intention to bring in minimum unit pricing and a ban on multi-buy deals. However, the Minister appears to have added in his track change—the “at this time”—which did not appear in the original Home Office statement.
As we know, this was the Prime Minister’s personal policy, and it was a policy that the Home Secretary was so keen to introduce that she made minimum unit pricing the first major policy announcement in the House on a Friday for more than a decade. Now she sends her Liberal Democrat deputy to announce the U-turn. The Government may pretend this is not a U-turn, but the evidence is overwhelming. The consultation was never about whether or not to introduce minimum alcohol pricing; it was about what level that should be at, and the Government chose 45p to consult on.
Here is what the Home Secretary said to this House last year:
“We will... introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol…We will consult over the coming months on the level of the minimum unit price and will seek to introduce legislation as soon as possible.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 1071-1072.]
The Prime minister said:
“I know this won’t be universally popular. But the responsibility of being in government isn’t always about doing the popular thing. It’s about doing the right thing."
Perhaps the Minister could explain why, if it was the right thing to do then, it is not the right thing to do now. Will he explain what representations Public Health England has made to him about this policy U-turn?
Labour has been calling for a complete package of measures to tackle alcohol problems, including dealing with licensing, education in schools and giving public health a bigger role. Labour has said all along that several issues with minimum alcohol pricing had to be addressed before implementation. We argued that it could result in a windfall to supermarkets, and we were concerned that it may not be compatible with EU law and also that it was not the magic bullet the Government were claiming. But we also clearly offered to work with the Government to overcome those obstacles. They chose to ignore all those concerns and pressed ahead with their flagship policy on minimum unit pricing. So, of course, Lynton Crosby has now ordered a U-turn, to get the barnacles off the boat, and minimum pricing, along with most of the rest of the alcohol strategy and other important public health measures, has been scrapped. MPs have been left to read about it in the press over the weekend, while Cabinet members compete to improve their standing in the Tory party by briefing the press of their opposition.
Instead, we now hear that the Government want to introduce a ban on the sale of alcohol “below cost”. That policy was first announced in a written ministerial statement in January 2011, so we have taken two and a half years to return to exactly where we started. The Minister claims that that proposal will ban cheap supermarket sales, but research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that such a ban would raise the price of less than 1% of the alcohol sold in the off-trade, with most of that sold in discount stores, not supermarkets.
The Government put minimum unit pricing at the heart of their approach and have now abandoned it, and many other policies are just not working. The late-night levy has not worked. Will the Minister confirm that no local authority has actually introduced a late-night levy and that the estimates on how much additional revenue it would raise for cash-strapped police forces will not materialise? Nothing has been done on education in our schools or on advertising. The alcohol strategy was meant to be about changing the culture of excessive consumption, but the level of binge drinking among 15 to 16-year-olds in the UK compares poorly with that in many other European countries. Mentor, the drug and alcohol charity, says that 60% of schools fail to teach drug and alcohol education more than once a year. And why is there no mention here of the role for health and wellbeing boards, set up by this Government, and why is public health not a licensing condition? We are also still waiting for the Government to make up their mind on full cost recovery for licence applications for local authorities, which are struggling with reducing budgets and having to take enforcement action.
Given the measures in the statement on personal licences and temporary events, it seems to envisage that economic growth in this country will now be powered by the late-night drinking economy—is this the Bullingdon plan for growth? After attacking the Licensing Act 2003, it is curious that Ministers now want more late-night drinking. Do I detect traces of lobbying on the Minister’s breath? After a two-year Whitehall farce over the Government’s alcohol strategy we have ended up exactly where we started. On minimum alcohol pricing, the Prime Minister, like the Grand Old Duke of York, has marched us up the hill and back down again. This is a Government who could not organise an alcohol policy in a brewery.
If the people sitting on the Opposition Front Bench suddenly find the conscience to get into apology mode, they might reflect on the fact that they introduced the liberalisation of the alcohol sales sector because they thought it would increase economic growth.
Let me deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Lady. She said that I was trying to conceal something in the text, so let me read out what I said in my statement only a few minutes ago. On minimum unit pricing, I said, “This will remain a policy under consideration but will not be taken forward at this time.” I could not have been more explicit, but no doubt her textual analysis was exciting in some ways.
On the consultation process, she gives the impression that there was an overwhelming response in favour of minimum unit pricing. However, we consulted openly and I can tell the House that 34% of respondents agreed that a 45p minimum unit price was a targeted and proportionate level and would significantly reduce harm, but 56%—substantially more—disagreed with that proposition. So we consulted on it and we heard what people had to say. We are, of course, mindful, in a way that some Opposition Members may not be, that introducing a minimum unit price has significant impacts on people with low incomes. It does not affect the Labour elite in north London, but it does affect some of the people who have traditionally voted for them.
What is Labour’s position on the minimum unit price? I understand that Labour voted against a minimum unit price for alcohol in Scotland, but here in England and Wales the party does not seem to know whether it is for it or against it. I have announced what the Government’s position is, but it would help to hear from the Opposition. We are spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ Short money every year on giving them a chance to formulate some sensible policies, but so far they have not been able to come up with any at all.
The hon. Lady talked about the Prime Minister’s position, so let me remind the House of what the Prime Minister said. He said that
“we must deal with the problem of 20p or 25p cans of lager being available in supermarkets.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 307.]
What I said in my statement is that it “will no longer be legal to sell a can of ordinary-strength lager for less than about 40p”, which is higher than the 20p or 25p mentioned by the Prime Minister.
Let me make two final points in response to the hon. Lady. She says that nothing is being done voluntarily, but that simply is not true. The alcohol industry is making a substantial number of changes and taking products off the shelves that it agrees are irresponsible to sell.
I have never met Lynton Crosby and I have no idea of his views on this subject. The only impact that he had on my life was when he tried to stop me from getting elected to Parliament in 2005. I do know, however, that I have set out to the House a strong liberal package that promotes fairer competition, the deregulation of burdens on business and personal freedom.
Two people are admitted to hospital every minute as a result of alcohol, half of all crime is alcohol related and alcohol misuse costs England £22 billion a year. Canada has already implemented a form of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and scientific studies show that minimum pricing has a clear and positive impact on reducing alcohol-related deaths. Does not that show that today’s decision to delay minimum pricing leaves our public health policy dangerously lagging behind and that it will ultimately cost lives?
I do not accept my hon. Friend’s point for two reasons: first, it is perfectly possible—we are seeing evidence of this—to effect positive change regarding alcohol harm through local action and industry initiatives; and, secondly, people have to exercise some personal choice. I know that that is not the opinion of every hon. Member, but it is a legitimate opinion, because the Government cannot determine every choice that people make in their lives. If that was the approach, why stop at 45p and why not have a minimum price of £1.45? We must get the balance right, and we should not unfairly penalise people who behave responsibly.
The statement is a huge disappointment. On 23 March last year, the Home Secretary made a statement to the House in which she said that the Government will legislate—not “may” legislate—for a minimum price, which was in line with the recommendation made by successive Home Affairs Committees over seven or eight years. The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) cited a number of figures, and the £21 billion cost of alcohol-related crime that the Minister highlighted would fund the police service for two years. Will he tell the House how much time he will give the alcohol industry to drink at the last-chance saloon before he comes back with a firm proposal to initiate a minimum price for alcohol?
Again, I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s core premise. In response to the consultation, 34% of people favoured a 45p minimum unit price, but 56% disagreed with that proposal. The most commonly expressed concern was that such a policy would have an unfair impact on responsible or moderate drinkers. It is reasonable to make the point that a person who can afford to drink a bottle of Chablis every evening would not be affected by the right hon. Gentleman’s approach, yet a person without the means to buy Chablis, and who therefore had to drink a cheaper bottle of white wine every evening, would be affected. There are several reasonable considerations that we must bear in mind about the social impact of introducing minimum unit pricing.