House of Commons
Monday 9 June 2014
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on her conduct regarding the Government’s action on preventing extremism.
The Government take the threat of extremism—non-violent extremism as well as violent extremism—very seriously. That is why, in line with the Prime Minister’s Munich speech in 2011, I reformed the Prevent strategy that year, and it is why, in response to the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby, the Prime Minister established the extremism taskforce last year.
The Prevent strategy we inherited was deeply flawed. It confused Government policy to promote integration with Government policy to prevent terrorism. It failed to tackle the extremist ideology that undermines the cohesion of our society and inspires would-be terrorists to murder. In trying to reach those at risk of radicalisation, funding sometimes reached the very extremist organisations that Prevent should have been confronting. Ministers and officials sometimes engaged with, and therefore leant legitimacy to, organisations and people with extremist agendas.
Unlike the old strategy, this Government’s Prevent strategy recognises and tackles the danger of non-violent extremism as well as violent extremism. Unlike the old strategy, the new strategy addresses all forms of extremism. Unlike the old strategy, there is now a clear demarcation between counter-terrorism work, which is run out of the Home Office, and the Government’s wider counter-extremist and integration work, which is co-ordinated by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Unlike the old strategy, the new strategy introduced explicit controls to make sure that public money must not be provided to extremist organisations. If organisations do not support the values of democracy, human rights, equality before the law and participation in society, we should not work with them and we should not fund them.
Turning to the issue of the unauthorised comments to the media about the Government’s approach to tackling extremism and the improper release of correspondence between Ministers, the Cabinet Secretary undertook a review to establish the facts of what happened last week. As the Cabinet Secretary and Prime Minister concluded, I did not authorise the release of my letter to the Education Secretary. Following the Cabinet Secretary’s review, the Education Secretary apologised to the Prime Minister and to Charles Farr, the director general of the office for security and counter-terrorism. In addition, in relation to further comments to The Times, my special adviser Fiona Cunningham resigned on Saturday.
The Education Secretary will shortly make a statement about Birmingham schools, but last week the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary turned this instead into a public blame game about the Government’s approach to tackling extremism. There are important questions about the oversight and management of these schools, which the House will debate shortly. There are also real and separate concerns about the Government’s failure to work with communities on preventing extremism and about the narrowness of the Home Secretary’s approach.
Both issues are complex and require a thoughtful, sensitive approach and for Ministers to work together, just as Departments, communities, parents, local councils and the police need to do. Instead of showing leadership on working together, the Home Secretary and Education Secretary chose to let rip at each other in public, making it harder to get the sensible joint working we need. That is why the Home Secretary needs to answer specific questions about her conduct in this process, particularly about the letter she wrote to the Education Secretary, which the Home Office released and which has made it harder to get that joint working in place.
The Home Secretary has said that she did not authorise the publication of the letter on the Home Office website, but why did she not insist that it be removed, rather than leaving it in place on the website for three days? She wrote that letter and sent it after she had been advised that The Times newspaper had briefing from the Education Secretary. Did she write that letter in order for it to be leaked, and did she authorise its release to the media? Section 2.1 of the “Ministerial Code” makes it clear that
“the privacy of opinions expressed in Cabinet and Ministerial Committees, including in correspondence, should be maintained.”
Did she and her Department breach the “Ministerial Code”?
Secondly, the Home Secretary made it clear in her letter that she disagreed with the Education Secretary’s approach. She said:
“The allegations relating to schools in Birmingham raise serious questions about the quality of school governance and oversight arrangements in the maintained sector”.
Does she stand by her claim that the oversight arrangements for Birmingham schools under the Education Secretary were not adequate?
Thirdly, the Home Secretary’s strategy on preventing extremism has been criticised from all sides—not just by the Education Secretary—for failing to engage with local communities and for having become too narrow, leaving gaps. She now needs to focus on getting those policies back on track, because it matters to communities across the country that there is a serious and sensible approach to these issues and joint working at the very top of the Government.
The reason why the Home Secretary needs to answer these questions about her decisions last week is to assure us that she and the Education Secretary will not put their personal reputations and ambitions ahead of making the right decisions for the country. We cannot have a repeat of the experiences of last week. It is shambolic for the Government, but it is much worse for everyone else.
On the specific allegations of extremism in schools in Birmingham and the wider question of how we confront extremism more generally, there are very important issues that I will come on to, but I should perhaps first remind the shadow Home Secretary of a few facts.
Under this Government, foreign hate preachers such as Zakir Naik and Yusuf al-Qaradawi are banned from coming to Britain. Under her Government, they were allowed to come here to give lectures and sermons, and to spread their hateful beliefs. In the case of al-Qaradawi, he was not just allowed to come here; he was literally embraced on stage by Labour’s London Mayor, Ken Livingstone.
I have excluded more foreign hate preachers than any Home Secretary before me. I have got rid of the likes of Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada. The Government do not give a public platform to groups that condone, or fail to distance themselves from, extremism. For the first time, we are mapping out extremists and extremist groups in the United Kingdom. We make sure that the groups we work with and fund adhere to British values, and where they do not, we do not fund them and we do not work with them. None of these things was true when the Labour party was in power.
The shadow Home Secretary asked about the “Ministerial Code”. I can tell her that, as the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister concluded, I did not break the code. As she has no evidence for suggesting I did, she should withdraw any allegation of that sort.
The right hon. Lady asked about the letter, its presence on the website and why action was not taken, but action was taken immediately, because the Prime Minister asked the Cabinet Secretary to investigate, and he did.
The right hon. Lady referred to schools in Birmingham. I am afraid she will have to wait for my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary to make his statement; he will do so shortly, and answer questions about school inspections and oversight arrangements.
I would just say this to the right hon. Lady: I am responsible for the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy and, within that, the Prevent strategy, but she seems to misunderstand how the Prevent strategy works, so I think I should perhaps explain it to her. The Home Office sets the Prevent strategy and it is up to the rest of Whitehall, including the Home Office, as well as the wider public sector and civil society, to deliver it. There is always more to be done, things we can improve and lessons we can learn, but we have made good progress under this Government. Yes, we need to get to the bottom of what has happened in schools in Birmingham, but it is thanks to this Education Secretary that the Department for Education has, for the first time, a dedicated extremism unit to try to stop this sort of thing happening.
The shadow Home Secretary repeated her complaint that Prevent has become too narrowly drawn under this Government, but she does not seem to realise that we took a very clear decision back in 2011 to split Prevent into the bit that tackles non-violent extremism as well as violent extremism and counter-terrorism, and the Government’s integration strategy, which is quite consciously run out of the Department for Communities and Local Government. If what she is suggesting is that Prevent and integration work should go back to being together and being confused, she needs to think again because her Government’s approach was damaging and caused a lot of resentment among many British Muslims.
As the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the former Home Secretary, said at the time we made that change, it follows
“the eminently sensible objective of keeping the ‘prevent’ strand of counter-terrorism separate from the ‘integration’ initiatives of DCLG.”
“I completely agree with what the Home Secretary has said about Prevent.”—[Official Report, 14 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 1011.]
The shadow Home Secretary should listen to her right honourable colleague.
What has happened in Birmingham is very serious indeed, and the Education Secretary will set out his response in due course. We need to do everything we can to protect children from extremism and, more generally, to confront extremism in all its forms. The Government are determined to do that. However, it is quite clear from what the shadow Home Secretary has said today that on extremism, like on so many other things, the Labour party would take us backwards, not forwards.
I am very pleased that the Home Secretary focused on the substance, rather than on the pointless process questions that the shadow Home Secretary focused on. I welcome what the Home Secretary said about the changes to Prevent. Is it not better to have our approach, rather than the last Government’s? The Communities and Local Government Committee said that the Labour Government’s Prevent strategy was wasting money
“on unfocused or irrelevant projects”.
I agree completely with my hon. Friend. That was an early decision by this Government. It was absolutely right to separate the two strands of work of the Prevent strategy: the counter-terrorism work and the integration work. It is right that the integration work is now under the remit of the DCLG. I repeat what I said in my response to the shadow Home Secretary: I suggest that Labour Members listen to the words of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle in this respect. He agreed absolutely with what the Government have done.
The Home Secretary is at her worst when she seeks to patronise. These are extraordinarily difficult and sensitive issues, and they are certainly not funny. Whether we agree or disagree about the previous Prevent strategy, what measures do she and the Education Secretary together intend to take to reach out to the Muslim community in Britain and engage them in a positive dialogue, to ensure that we do not sink into a strategy of “They did it, we did it, other people have done it and therefore we are against you,” which can only lead to divisions in our urban communities and great dangers for our country?
Across the Government, we are absolutely clear that we need to reach out to and work with people in Muslim communities in the United Kingdom to ensure that we address the real issues of potential radicalisation and extremism, which many people in those communities are as concerned about as we are. That work is led by the DCLG through its work on integration at a local level. It is also work that we, as constituency Members of Parliament, can take forward. Last Friday, I was talking with a group of Asian women from my constituency about their experiences, what they wanted to do and how they wanted to work with the local council and others to ensure that people in Muslim communities feel able to be true to their Islamic faith and play a full part in British society.
There are many issues on which the Home Office has to work with the Department for Education: extremism, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, gangs, drugs and many more. Will the Home Secretary be able to work with the Education Secretary to ensure that there is compulsory personal, social, health and economic education for everybody, including sex and relationships education?
The hon. Gentleman has worked hard to get that issue into a statement about extremism in our schools. The Education Secretary and I talk about those issues, and our Departments work together on them. We are constantly looking to ensure that what we do in our schools provides the right education for our children, and one that helps them to tackle a range of issues that might make them feel pressurised, including the important one—extremism—we are talking about today.
The Home Secretary is right to remind the House that she alone has overall responsibility for counter-terrorism in the Cabinet. In the past three years, the Home Affairs Committee has conducted two major inquiries into extremism, but no Minister from any Department has given us written or oral evidence to suggest that there was a problem with Birmingham schools. She was correct in writing to the Education Secretary, and she raised four important, indeed critical questions. Has she received a reply to the questions in the letter she sent last Tuesday, and does she agree that the Prevent strategy is always capable of improvement? We do not need just to prevent; we need to engage with communities to rid ourselves of extremism.
The right hon. Gentleman is right, in that, of course, there is a spectrum of activity that we need to be involved in. At one end, some of that is about actively working to prevent people who want to undertake or plan terrorist acts against us from doing so. But at the other end there is obviously the wider integration work with communities, and in many cases helping to support communities to address issues of extremism and radicalisation, should they see them in their streets and local institutions. On the first point, the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will make a statement at the end of this urgent question on what has been happening in schools in Birmingham, and I suggest he waits for that.
In danger of being lost among the regrettable froth over this issue is that for four years, my right hon. Friend has presided over a team of officials who deal with these issues and who have worked extremely well in developing a globally leading policy, and in adjusting in a dynamic policy environment. We as a nation should be grateful for how well we are served, and for the leadership the Home Secretary has given.
I thank my hon. Friend, and he is right to point out that the strategies we have adopted are looked to with respect around the world. Of course there is always more for us to do, which is why we look constantly at the work we are undertaking to ensure that we are doing as much as possible and learning any lessons from the past. We have a good record on the strategies we have put in place. Yes, we can look to do more, as I have said, but we should not lose sight of the fact that Contest and Prevent are looked at with respect around the world.
I spoke last week to Muslim leaders in my constituency, and I recognise that the vast majority of the Muslim community are extremely concerned about the activity of extremists, not least because they know that their sons and daughters are some of those most at risk. They want to know that they are being backed to keep their families and communities safe. Will the Home Secretary therefore explain why she cut the anti-extremism programmes’ support for community action from £17 million for 93 local authorities to £1 million for 30 local authorities?
First, it is indeed important to reach out to and work with communities, as I have said in response to a number of questions this afternoon. I am sorry to repeat the point I made to the shadow Home Secretary, but we have changed the way that various parts of what was the last Government’s Prevent strategy are delivered. We therefore cannot look at Home Office figures and say that there has been a cut in funding, because the Home Office has changed, and we are funding activity that is much more focused than it was. Two Departments are responsible for the different elements of the Prevent strategy, and the reason for that is simple: it is precisely Muslim communities who were getting concerned about the way the strategy operated under the last Government, and its mixing of the counter-terrorism strategy with communities integration work. We responded to that.
Does the Home Secretary agree that combating extremism and building trust in communities will work only if there is action in communities consistent with the rhetoric in this place? Denouncing organisations from the Dispatch Box is not good enough; we also have to end funding to extremist organisations in communities.
My hon. Friend is right and that is why, as part of the revised Prevent strategy, we put in place explicit procedures to try to ensure that funding does not go to organisations that have extremists within them or that do not respect the values we all hold dear. This Government put that new strand into the Prevent strategy because we saw the importance of not funding extremism.
If the Home Secretary’s case is so convincing, why did she not manage to convince the Secretary of State for Education? Is it because there is an alternative agenda in the Tory party, which is that, post-election, the nasty party is getting ready for a succession battle and the Home Secretary is battling with the Secretary of State for Education? That is what is really happening—that is the truth. She might not like it, but that is what the people out there think.
May I remind my right hon. Friend that, after the general election, practically the first meeting the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government attended was at Lambeth palace, where all the nation’s faith leaders were present? He committed the Government to fund and support the Near Neighbours programme, which enables faith communities throughout the country to work together to promote integration and tackle extremism. If this “duff up the Home Secretary” urgent question has achieved nothing else this afternoon, it will at least, hopefully, better explain to the Opposition and others where the division of responsibilities lie in government for counter-terrorism on the one hand and community integration on the other.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is right to draw attention to the excellent work the Department for Communities and Local Government has been doing under the leadership of my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State. Indeed, my right hon. Friend, the noble Baroness Warsi has been doing very important work to bring communities together, particularly faith communities, to share their experiences and increase understanding between them. That is a vital part of the integration work that I would have hoped we all, across the Chamber, accept is necessary. We should support it wherever we see it.
While we are on the subject of extremism, will the Home Secretary update the House on the whereabouts of the two control order suspects who escaped following her decision, and the Prime Minister’s decision, to remove the relocation power in the previous regime, which had prevented abscondences for many years? Does she know where those suspects are, and do they still pose a threat to the public?
Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the best ways to prevent the development of extremist views is through the work of interfaith groups, such as the Bury Muslim Christian Forum in my constituency, which provides a platform to explain the implementation of the Prevent strategy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is right to promote and recognise in this House the good work being done by the Bury Muslim Christian Forum in his constituency. It is exactly that sort of work at community level—people coming together to increase their understanding of each other—that is so valuable in the work of integration of our communities.
In December 2009, when I was Minister with responsibility for higher education, a young man, Abdulmutallab, boarded a plane between Amsterdam and Detroit intent on bombing that plane. There were, as the Home Secretary would imagine, intense conversations between the Department with responsibility for universities and the then Home Secretary. Those conversations never made their way into the public domain. Given the seriousness of what has happened, and with the attack in Pakistan just yesterday, should the Home Secretary not come to this House and apologise, like the Secretary of State for Education, for what has happened in the past few days?
First, the right hon. Gentleman does well to remind us of the terrible incident that has taken place in Pakistan. Our thoughts should go out to all those who have been victims of that terrible attack. Pakistan has suffered more loss of life through terrorist acts than anywhere else. That is a fact I have recognised on a number of my visits to Pakistan and it is a fact we should recognise in this House. As to other matters, the question of those who go and preach, and attend and speak at universities is important, and is one that I discuss with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. We ensure that Prevent co-ordinators are there to be able to support universities in the necessary work they are doing to help to support those on their campuses.
My hon. Friend is right in that this issue is one where we would hope that people would work across the House to ensure that we provide the support that communities need to carry out the necessary work referred to by a number of Members today. This is an important issue. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will make that clear in the statement he is about to give. This Government take seriously the issues about what has been happening in Birmingham schools, just as they take seriously issues relating to extremism in any form wherever it appears.
Given the Home Secretary’s very punchy response about this Government’s commitment to combating radicalism, engaging with communities and supporting and integrating our communities so that they can tackle extremism in their midst, will she confirm, following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), that she has only £1 million left from the £17 million budget to do that?
I have to say to the hon. Lady that the Opposition’s assumption that they can look at figures relating to the Prevent strategy, which has been split, and quote them as somehow indicating what this Government are doing wrong is a path that she should not be going down.
Following the robust and clear answer from the Home Secretary, the only urgent question for the House to consider today is the misjudgment of the shadow Home Secretary. As part of the Prevent and counter-terrorism strategy for which my right hon. Friend and her Department are responsible, will she reinforce the importance of the work that the National Crime Agency is doing in countries in west and north Africa, which, as I see with my own eyes, is having a significant effect, albeit with quite small resource, to help prevent further terrorism taking place in this country as well as abroad?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. In looking at the work done against terrorism, we increasingly see across the world linkages between organised crime and terrorism. It is exactly in this way that the National Crime Agency, with its work on organised crime and how it feeds into terrorism, is so important. The NCA takes this issue very seriously, and I am pleased to say that, since it was set up, it has done some real and important work, as my right hon. Friend says, particularly in a number of countries in north and west Africa, with which he is familiar through the work he has done for the Prime Minister.
Order. Mr Lucas, I understand your frustration, but I have told you before that your apprenticeship to become a statesman still has some distance to travel. You must not holler from a sedentary position. Allow the Home Secretary to respond, and others will have their opportunity.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s track record on actions speaking louder than words, as she has excluded more hate preachers than any predecessor and has achieved successfully the legal deportation of Abu Hamza and the review of the Prevent strategy—a strategy that the former Chairman of the Select Committee referred to, as my right hon. Friend may be aware, as lacking
“clear-sighted and consistent ministerial leadership”—[Official Report, 10 July 2006; Vol. 448, c. 1123.]
under the last Government.
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding us of that quotation from the Chairman of the Select Committee. It would appear that Opposition Members have forgotten what was said by a Committee of this House about the strategy that applied under the last Government. We have changed that strategy and made it more effective. We in the Home Office are focusing more clearly on the counter-terrorism aspects, and, as we have heard, the communities integration aspects are being dealt with by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
It appears that the Home Secretary has just blamed her special adviser for the unauthorised publication of her letter to the Education Secretary. Given that she said in her statement that she had acted immediately, why did it take a whole three days for that letter to be removed from the website? Does she not need to get a grip on her Department?
The hon. Gentleman is getting his quotations mixed up. I made it absolutely clear in my statement, and in my response to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), that the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister concluded that I did not authorise the release of the letter. Following the review, certain things took place in relation to the Education Secretary, and in relation to further comments that were made to The Times, my special adviser Fiona Cunningham resigned on Saturday.
Does the Home Secretary share my surprise, indeed astonishment, that it had to fall to her to impose bans on hate preachers and to set up an extremism unit, and that those things were not done under the last Labour Government?
My hon. Friend has attributed to me an action to which I referred earlier and which was actually taken by the Education Secretary, namely the setting up of an extremism unit in the Department for Education. However, as I said earlier, I have banned more hate preachers than any other Home Secretary. That is because this Government take the clear view that we want to deal with not just violent but non-violent extremism, which is clear from the actions that we have taken.
The Home Secretary seems to be using the word “immediately” instead of the words “after three days”. No wonder my constituents are panicking about getting their passports on time. Can she explain why she allowed her letter to remain on the website for three days? Did she not know about it? Was it with her authorisation? Has she any sense that three days is far too long in relation to something that was supposed to have been removed immediately?
I have answered that question on a number of occasions. I did make reference to immediate action that was taken. I made reference to that in response to the shadow Home Secretary. The Prime Minister initiated an investigation by the Cabinet Secretary, and that investigation was concluded at the end of last week.
I am very concerned about some of the language that has been used today. We are here to listen to statements which, I remind the House, have been prompted by what has been deemed to be the inappropriate behaviour of governors in some schools in Birmingham, yet the Home Secretary’s statement began with a reference to Lee Rigby. Is it right to use the same word, “extremism”, to cover both forms of activity, and, if so, are we going to replace the term “devout Catholics” with “extremist Catholics”, or change the term “committed Christians” to “extremist Christians”? How can we have a sense of proportion if we are using the same word to cover such a vast range of behaviour?
I think that when my hon. Friend looks at the record of what he has said in Hansard, he may regret the tone and approach that he has taken. I did make reference to the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. That murder was a terrorist attack. It took place just over a year ago in this country. It was one of two terrorist attacks that took place in this country last year. I referred to it because I wanted to refer to the extremism taskforce, which the Prime Minister set up following that murder. The taskforce reported at the end of last year, and the Government are acting on its recommendations.
The Home Secretary has said on more than one occasion that the last Labour Government were somehow funding extremist organisations, yet she, as Home Secretary, cut funding for the Quilliam Foundation. Is she implying that the foundation is a pro-extremist organisation?
I spent many of my early years being educated in south Birmingham. May I say to my right hon. Friend and to other hon. Members that the pressures on young people from the south Asian diaspora are intense and powerful and can come from community leaders, religious leaders and even from the extended family? The crucial issue is that, if we are to make progress, we must move away from the focus on counter-terrorism towards integration, where young people can have their own identity, but within the context of British values.
The Home Secretary’s special adviser had to resign—it was right that she did so—although, after what the right hon. Lady said, we do not know whether that is related to the letter. The Education Secretary, rightly, was disciplined for breaching the ministerial code. Does the Home Secretary feel that she bears any responsibility for “certain things” that have happened?
The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the progress of what happened in relation to the Cabinet Secretary’s investigation of last week’s events. The investigation took place at the request of the Prime Minister. The Cabinet Secretary did that swiftly and a number of actions resulted from it.
In terms of effective cross-Government working, the Home Secretary has told us that she has reformed the Prevent strategy. She has told us that the Education Secretary has set up a dedicated extremism unit and that excellent community cohesion work is being led by the Communities Secretary. Will she assure the House that that cross-Government work will continue effectively?
My hon. Friend is right. That work will continue. Indeed, other Departments are working with the Home Office under the aegis of the Prevent strategy: for example, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That Department has responsibility for universities, and I referred earlier to the issue of speakers at universities. The Ministry of Justice is also working with the Home Office under that strategy in relation to what happens in prisons and the work of the National Offender Management Service. Other Departments are involved in the strategy with the Home Office. This is genuinely a cross-Government approach to deal with extremism in all its forms.
On the Prevent strategy and the work that the Government do on extremism, as I said earlier, there is always more work that the Government can do. It is imperative that we look constantly at what we are doing to ensure that it is delivering the results that we need. However, as I have already said, it was last year, following the appalling murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, that the Prime Minister set up an extremism taskforce to bring all Departments involved across Government together and to look at whether more could be done. A number of recommendations came out from that and we have been working on them.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the last Government completely failed to promote the integration of religious and ethnic minority groups into mainstream British society? It is within these insular and isolated communities that radicalisation and extremism can take root and prosper.
The public row between the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary is deeply disturbing when it is on a matter of national security. What will she do to restore trust among the British public, especially law-abiding British Muslims who feel targeted because of the appalling rhetoric in the media? We need to ensure that people can trust the Government to work in their interest to build cohesion and prevent extremism.
The concern about the impact that Government work has on the British Muslim community was precisely why we decided when we came into government to separate the integration strand of Prevent from the counter-terrorism strand. We felt that there was a concern about Prevent’s operation precisely because of its counter-terrorism element. Therefore, the integration elements were not looked at as positively as they should have been.
What do we need to do as a Government from this point? My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will indicate what action he will be taking in connection with schools in Birmingham and related matters. All of us need to operate collectively at the grassroots level to make sure that we are reaching out to British Muslim communities and others and are undertaking the work that some of my hon. Friends have mentioned in Bury and elsewhere to bring faith communities in particular together.
As somebody from a Muslim background whose father was an imam, may I ask the Secretary of State whether she agrees that one of the major failings of the previous Government was that they failed fully to integrate communities? The previous Government looked at integration through the narrow prism of counter-terrorism, which led to a major breakdown with the Muslim communities around the country, and we must address that. Linked to that, does she agree that we have to address the issue of extremism and radicalisation on the internet, which poses a grave threat to our country?
On the first point, my hon. Friend is absolutely right and that is precisely why we took the decision to separate the strands of the Prevent work. On the second point, he is also right in that we need to work on addressing the material on the internet. The police’s Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit has been set up—to be fair, it was set up at the beginning of 2010, so before this Government came into office, but we have accelerated its work, and in recent months, following the extremism taskforce identifying this as a particular issue, an increased number of items have been taken down from websites because of terrorism content.
Birmingham city’s council and national strategies were raising concerns about these issues in Birmingham schools with the Department for Education in writing in 2010. When did the Secretary of State become aware of these concerns in relation to Birmingham schools?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is one of the reasons why when the Home Office looked at Prevent funding and dealing with Prevent and its counter-terrorism strand, we said that we should be focusing the money not according to the number of Muslims living in a community but according to the risk of radicalisation, because that was the issue we were addressing. I am sorry to say it has been reported that the shadow Home Secretary suggests that was a false move, which implies that she thinks money should be spent just on the basis of how many Muslims are living in a particular community. I do not agree with that. I think it gives the wrong message about people in our Muslim communities. We should be focusing on where we believe there is genuine radicalisation.
The Home Secretary will be aware of the recent case of Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche, a former university student in Wales who was recently held in Sudan in connection with a bombing of a bus station in Abuja by Boko Haram, which killed over 70 people. Given the serious concerns rightly raised about the co-ordination of Government policy in this instance, will the Home Secretary assure the House that there is co-ordination of policy in relation to universities, and not just schools?
Yes, we take very seriously what might be happening on university campuses. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science has spent a lot of time looking at this issue, and we are constantly working with universities to ensure that action can be taken on their campuses to try to stop the sort of radicalisation and the extremist preachers that have been on some campuses in the past.
The Home Secretary has today repeatedly denied that she authorised the placement of the letter on the Home Office website, but equally, she has repeatedly refused to say who did authorise its placement. Do special advisers in the Home Office have free access to the Home Office website, so that they can post things on it, and to the general communications strategy of the Home Office?
The Labour party is focusing on whether the Home Secretary should personally micro-manage websites, but is not the real issue the fact that under this Government the Prevent strategy, which confuses the Labour party, has been properly split between communities and counter-terrorism? That is the way that it should be. It is one of the many areas where Labour got it wrong but we are getting it right.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the core is the question of how we deal with extremism, which is what the Prevent strategy is about. We took the right decision on that strategy, and it is a pity that the Opposition do not seem to understand the implications of that.
I apologise—I did not quite catch the beginning of the hon. Gentleman’s question. We look closely across the board at how the Home Office budget is spent. We also look closely at the Prevent funding, and we have introduced measures, which were not there under the last Government, to ensure that we can ascertain not only how much is being spent on a particular project but the effectiveness of the spend. The last Government did not seek to find out whether they were spending public money effectively.
Does the Home Secretary share my concern that there have been too many occasions when the battle against extremism has been hampered by European human rights? Does she agree that human rights reform will enable us not only to take the battle to extremists but to promote integration and make our communities safer and more secure?
My hon. Friend returns to a topic on which he has questioned me in the past, and on which I have made a number of statements in the House. In the cases of the extradition of Abu Hamza and the deportation of Abu Qatada, there were certainly delays due to the operation of the European Court of Human Rights. I have also made it clear in the House that the Conservative party is committed to going into the election with policies relating to the reform of the Human Rights Act 1998 and of our relationship with the European Court.
Does the Home Secretary agree that the vast majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom despise hate crimes, extremism and terrorism, and that we in this House all have a duty to do what we can to promote inclusion within our own communities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that everyone in the House has a duty to promote inclusion. He is also right that the majority of people in Muslim communities despise hate crimes. Sadly, too many people in Muslim communities are themselves the victims of hate crimes; we should not forget that.
The Home Secretary has made it clear that she herself did not authorise the publication of the letter, but she has implied that her former special adviser might have done so. Her former special adviser has lost her job, but has she apologised to the Home Secretary for the error?
Integration is not just about preventing young people from engaging in extremism; it is also about reintegrating them into their communities when they have been radicalised. What steps is my right hon. Friend’s Department taking to reintegrate people who have strayed in that way?
Within the Prevent strategy is the important Channel strand which works with people who are perhaps at risk of being radicalised—who are particularly vulnerable—to help ensure that they do not move down that path of radicalisation. Of course we also work with the National Offender Management Service on dealing with people who have been prosecuted and imprisoned under the terrorism legislation when they return to their communities.
I have answered quite a few questions in responding to this. [Interruption.] Opposition Members can ask the question as many times as they like, but they will get the same answer. I also have to say that it is a bit rich getting so many questions about special advisers from the party of Damian McBride.
Does the Home Secretary agree that her reforms to split Prevent funding between Departments were essential, as the only result of the previous Government’s attempts to promote integration through the prism of counter-terrorism was to stigmatise law-abiding Muslim communities in constituencies such as mine and give succour to the British National party?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the problem with the way the previous Government dealt with the Prevent strategy was that the integration part—the inclusion and communities work—became, in the eyes of many people in Muslim communities, tainted by its relationship with counter-terrorism. That is why it was absolutely right to split those two parts of the strategy and have them addressed under two Departments—the Home Office on counter-terrorism and the Department for Communities and Local Government on communities and inclusion.
The reason people keep asking the Home Secretary questions along the same lines is that she is refusing to answer them: she refuses to say who authorised the publication of that letter, and she refuses to say when she first found out about extremism in Birmingham schools. Will she at least tell us when she found out that the letter had been published and what action she took at that time?
My constituents will have been reminded today of the serious errors made under the previous Government in funding extremist groups. My right hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of inclusion, but will she join me in paying tribute to the officials in the Home Office and the intelligence services who work day in, day out to keep people in this country safe?
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding us of the very important work done day in, day out, not just by officials in the Home Office but by individuals in our security services and law enforcement bodies to keep us safe. They have to work at that minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day doing the valuable work that they do. We should record our thanks to them once again—it is their work that helps to keep the public safe.
I am going to press the Home Secretary again on the nature of the unauthorised correspondence. It was on the website for three days. She said that the Cabinet Secretary launched an investigation. Did she therefore make the judgment at the start of that investigation not to take down the correspondence from the website? Did she wait for the Cabinet Secretary to tell her to take it down?
Rather than obsessing over process, the Home Secretary is right to talk about learning the lessons of the past. In trying to reach out to the groups most at risk of radicalisation, did funding from the previous Government sometimes reach groups that were extremist in their views and organisations that should not be funded in that way? What is she doing to prevent that situation from recurring?
My hon. Friend is right that what we saw, sadly, was that it was possible for funding to reach organisations that had extremists within them, that had some form of extremist intent or that had links to extremism. We have put in place a proper process within the funding arrangements that means that we look at organisations and require them to be clear about how they share British values in the way that they operate to ensure that Government are not funding extremism.
Does the Secretary of State accept that open warfare between her and the Education Secretary is completely undermining public confidence in this Government to engage with communities and to be tough on terrorism and the causes of terrorism? We need to get rid of the turf war shambles and replace this Government with a new Labour Government.
Given the advocacy by the shadow Home Secretary of an alternative, broader Prevent strategy, does the Home Secretary share my concern that we could go back to a time when public funds are used to support groups and individuals who support segregation, not integration, which does nothing to diminish the extremism that everyone, on all sides of the House, wants to see expunged from this country?
My hon. Friend has made an extremely serious point. It is important for us all to work towards inclusion, integration and full participation in society and in no way to attempt to enforce a separation of groups. Indeed, the danger of the previous Government’s Prevent strategy was that it was not able to work effectively on inclusion precisely because of the way they had set it up.
A couple of years ago, I visited a Buddhist centre in my constituency, and the Abbott told me how, before the last general election, the members of the centre were driven out of their Birmingham base by radical Muslim extremists. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, sadly, there are elements of the Muslim community who are extreme? These extremists put fire bombs and excrement through the letterbox of the Buddhist centre. Is it not right that this Government should target their efforts to ensure that that sort of extremism is stamped out?
I deplore the actions that my hon. Friend has described today. Nobody should be driven out of their home or their centre by such actions. It is absolutely right that we address extremism; we need to address it in all its forms. We have changed Prevent so that it deals not just with violent extremism but with non-violent extremism and extremism in all forms. I mentioned earlier that there were two terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom last year. I have referred to one of them, which was the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. We also saw a far right extremist murder Mohammed Saleem. We must never forget that extremism can take many forms.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on schools in Birmingham.
Keeping our children safe and ensuring that our schools prepare them for life in modern Britain could not be more important; it is my Department’s central mission. Allegations made in what has become known as the Trojan horse letter suggested that children were not being kept safe in Birmingham schools. Ofsted and the Education Funding Agency have investigated those allegations. Their reports and other relevant documents have today been placed in the Library. Let me set out their findings and my actions.
Ofsted states that
“headteachers reported...an organised campaign to target…schools...in order to alter their character and ethos,”
“a culture of fear and intimidation.”
Head teachers who had
“a record of raising standards”
reported that they had been
“marginalised or forced out of their jobs.”
One school leader was so frightened about speaking to the authorities that a meeting had to be arranged in a supermarket car park.
Ofsted concluded that governors
“are trying to impose and promote a narrow faith-based ideology in what are non-faith schools”
specifically by narrowing the curriculum, manipulating staff appointments and using school funds inappropriately.
Overall, Ofsted inspected 21 schools. Three were good or outstanding; 12 were found to require improvement. The remaining six are inadequate, and are in special measures. Let me explain why. At one secular primary school, terms such as “white prostitute”, unsuitable for primary children’s ears, were used in Friday assemblies run exclusively by Muslim staff. The school organised visits to Saudi Arabia, open only to Muslim pupils, and senior leaders told inspectors that a madrassah had been established and paid for from the school’s budget. Ofsted concluded that the school was
“not adequately ensuring that pupils have opportunities to learn about faith in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony between different cultures”.
At one secular secondary school, staff told officials that the call to prayer was broadcast across the playground on loud speakers. Officials observed that lessons had been narrowed to comply with conservative Islamic teachings. In biology, students were told that
“evolution is not what we believe”.
The school invited the preacher Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman to speak, despite the fact that he is reported to have said: “Give victory to Muslims in Afghanistan... Give victory to all the mujaheddin all over the world. Oh Allah, prepare us for the jihad.” Ofsted concluded that
“governors have failed to ensure that safeguarding requirements and other statutory duties are met”.
At another secular secondary school, inspectors described “a state of crisis”, with governors reportedly using school funds to pay private investigators to read the e-mails of senior leaders, and Ofsted found that there was a lack of action to protect students from extremism. At a third secular secondary school, Ofsted found that students were
“vulnerable to the risk of marginalisation from wider British society and the associated risks which…include radicalisation”.
At a secular primary, Ofsted found that
“pupils have limited knowledge of religious beliefs other than Islam”
“subjects such as art and music have been removed—at the insistence of the governing body”.
Inspectors concluded that the school
“does not adequately prepare students for life in modern Britain”.
Ofsted also reported failures on the part of Birmingham city council. It found that the council did not deal adequately with repeated complaints from head teachers. School leaders expressed “very little confidence” in the local authority, and Ofsted concluded that Birmingham had not exercised adequate judgement. These findings demand a robust but considered response. It is important that no one allows concern about these findings to become a pretext for criticism of Islam itself—a great faith that brings spiritual nourishment to millions and daily inspires countless acts of generosity. The overwhelming majority of British Muslim parents want their children to grow up in schools that open doors rather than close minds. It is on their behalf that we have to act.
There are critical questions about whether warning signs were missed. There are questions for Birmingham council, Ofsted and the Department for Education. Today, I have asked Birmingham council to review its history on this issue, and the chief inspector has advised me that he will consider the lessons learned for Ofsted. I am also concerned that the DFE may not have acted when it should have done. I am asking the permanent secretary to investigate how my Department dealt with warnings since the formation of this Government in 2010, and before. We must all acknowledge that there has been a failure in the past to do everything possible to tackle non-violent extremism.
Let me make it clear that no Government and no Home Secretary have done more to tackle extremism than this Government and this Home Secretary. In the Prime Minister’s Munich speech of 2011, in the Home Secretary’s own review of the Prevent strategy, and in the conclusions of the Government’s extremism taskforce last year, this Government have made it clear that we need to deal with the dangers posed by extremism well before it becomes violent. Since 2010, the DFE has increased its capacity to deal with extremism. We set up Whitehall’s first ever unit to counter extremism in public services, with help from former intelligence and security professionals. That unit has developed since 2010, and we will continue to strengthen it.
Ofsted now trains inspectors to understand and counter extremist Islamist ideology, and inspections of schools at risk, like those in Birmingham, are carried out by the most senior inspectors, overseen by Michael Wilshaw himself.
There is, of course, more to do, and today’s reports make action urgent. First, we need to take action in the schools found to be inadequate. Academies will receive letters saying that I am minded to terminate funding agreements; in local authority schools, governors are being replaced. We have already spoken to successful academy providers who are ready to act as sponsors.
We need to strengthen our inspection regime even further. The requirement to give notice of inspections clearly makes it more difficult to identify and detect the danger signs. Sir Michael Wilshaw and I have argued in the past that no-notice inspections can help identify when pupils are at risk. I have asked him to consider the practicalities of moving to a situation where all schools know that they may receive an unannounced inspection. I will also work with Sir Michael Wilshaw to ensure, as he recommends, that we can provide greater public assurance that all schools in a locality discharge their full statutory responsibilities, and we will consider how Ofsted can better enforce the existing requirement that all schools teach a broad and balanced curriculum.
I have talked today to the leader of Birmingham council and requested that it set out an action plan to tackle extremism and keep children safe. We already require independent schools, academies and free schools to respect British values. Now we will consult on new rules that will strengthen this standard further, requiring all those schools actively to promote British values, and I will ask Ofsted to enforce an equivalent standard on maintained schools through changes to the Ofsted framework.
Several of the governors whose activities have been investigated by Ofsted have also been active in the Association of Muslim Schools UK, which has statutory responsibilities in relation to state Muslim faith schools. So we have asked AMS UK to satisfy us that it is doing enough to protect children from extremism, and we will take appropriate steps if its guarantees are insufficiently robust.
I have spoken to the National College for Teaching and Leadership, and we will further strengthen the rules so that from now on it is explicit that a teacher inviting an extremist speaker into a school can be banned from the profession.
I will, of course, report in July on progress in all the areas that I have announced, as well as publishing the findings of the report of Peter Clarke, who is investigating the background behind many of the broader allegations in the Trojan horse letter. The steps we are taking today are those we consider necessary to protect our children from extremism and to protect our nation’s traditions of tolerance and liberty.
The conclusions of the reports today are clear. Things that should not have happened in our schools were allowed to happen. Our children were exposed to things that they should not have been exposed to. As Education Secretary, I am taking decisive action to make sure that those children are protected. Schools that are proven to have failed will be taken over, put under new leadership and taken in a fresh new direction. Any school could now be subject to rigorous, on-the-spot inspections with no advance warning and no opportunities to conceal failure. And we will put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school has to deliver for children. What we have found was unacceptable, and we will put it right. I commend this statement to the House.
The events in Birmingham reveal an education policy in disarray, a Government more concerned about warring egos than school standards and a Prime Minister unable to control his Cabinet. But while Ministers carry on their briefings, sackings and apology, the education and safeguarding of children in the great city of Birmingham must be this House’s priority.
I appreciate the anxiety which parents and pupils are feeling in the midst of this debate. Our focus now has to be on ensuring successful futures for the schools identified today, because what the recent weeks have shown is that the Education Secretary’s vision of controlling every school from behind a desk in Whitehall does not work; that Ofsted has to think much more carefully about the nature of its inspection system; that Birmingham city council has, as Sir Albert Bore acknowledged, some tough questions to ask of the quality of leadership in its children and young people’s directorate; that current systems of schools governance are open to abuse; and that there is a broader debate to be had about education and faith, underperformance among minority ethnic groups and the limits of communalism in multicultural Britain. In an age of multiple religions, identities and cultures, we need to be clearer about what a state education means for children of all faiths and no faiths.
Having read the Ofsted reports, Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter and the report of the Education Funding Agency, for advance notice of which I thank the Education Secretary, I share the Education Secretary’s concerns about the provision of education and the safeguarding of children in certain schools in Birmingham. It cannot be right that children have been at risk of marginalisation from mainstream society, cultural isolation or even radicalisation. Similarly, the focus on narrow attainment at the expense of students’ personal and social development is a cause for concern. Some of the other Ofsted reports highlight invitations to inappropriate speakers, the downgrading or elimination of sex and relationship education, gender segregation, staff intimidation and a failure to prepare pupils to live in a multicultural society.
Sir Michael reports governors
“trying to impose and promote a narrow faith-based ideology in what are non-faith schools.”
“They do not ensure that a broad and balanced curriculum equips pupils to live and work in a multi-cultural, multi-faith and democratic Britain.”
This is an issue for faith schools as well as non-faith schools. We cannot have such situations in any English schools, and the report by the Education Funding Agency on the culture, ethos and governance of Oldknow academy has raised similar concerns about a restricted curriculum and the furtherance of conservative Islamist views.
We now have at least four investigations into what is occurring in Birmingham schools and today the Education Secretary has announced yet another, but this is an attempt to evade his own responsibility as Secretary of State. It seems to be everyone else’s problem—the Home Secretary’s, Charles Farr’s, the city council’s—but not his own. The truth is that if he had been in charge of the management of his Department, these issues would not have arisen in recent years. The Secretary of State has said that he has acted with speed on the issue, but the truth is that Ministers have been ignoring it for four years. In 2010, the respected Birmingham head teacher Tim Boyes made a presentation to the Department for Education highlighting the risk of a radical agenda infiltrating Birmingham schools, but nothing was done.
Will the Secretary of State confirm today which Ministers were present at Mr Boyes’s presentation, when he was first informed of the details of Mr Boyes’s presentation, when Ofsted was informed of the details of Mr Boyes’s presentation and when the Government’s extremism task force met to discuss Mr Boyes’s presentation? Or, as the Home Secretary has put it, is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010 and, if so, why did nobody act?
We do not need another massive review by the permanent secretary. Mr Boyes has provided the Department with information on his 2010 meeting and we need to know what steps the Ministers took and why the Secretary of State did not act. We need those answers here today, because the Labour party’s answer is absolutely clear. We need a local director of standards and accountability.
We know that Park View Educational Trust, the academy chain essential to the controversy, had a free school application turned down in 2013 on security grounds, yet the Secretary of State allowed the trust to take over Golden Hillock the same year. Can he explain why the trust was unfit to set up a free school but was still allowed to take over the Golden Hillock school, despite those security concerns? Who made that decision and what due diligence was undertaken?
The truth is that events in Birmingham point to a strategic failing in the Government’s education policy. The Secretary of State’s agenda has been an ideology of atomisation and fragmentation: teachers without qualifications; every school an island; a free market of provision; and an attempt to oversee it all from behind a desk in Whitehall. Birmingham has shown that that model is bust. Sir Michael Wilshaw speaks of successful schools in Birmingham having
“too few opportunities to share their successful practice with others.”
That is because of Government policy, and Sir Michael recommends a review of the education funding arrangements for auditing governance in academies and free schools, but the Education Secretary’s mantra of centralism and secrecy remains. He has learned nothing from this event. He says that he will personally look at funding agreements, once again from behind a desk in Whitehall, when what we need are local systems of oversight and accountability, with a system of local checks and balances.
The dramatic change in Ofsted rankings from outstanding to inadequate has also brought into sharp focus the need for inspection criteria that look beyond the exam factory model of recent years. We need young people to excel in their academic and vocational attainment, but to come out of school career-ready, college-ready and life-ready. That is why the Opposition welcome Sir Michael Wilshaw’s request to have a broad and balanced curriculum added as a further criterion to the inspection framework. We think that it should go further, to look at the development of character, resilience and grit in our school system. The Labour party believes that sex and relationship education should be a part of that.
The events in Birmingham have brought to light a desperate weakness in Government thinking. On the one hand, there is an education policy designed to fragment and divide, isolate without oversight and increase the risks of radicalisation—
The Education Secretary speaks of requiring all schools to promote British values; all well and good. Among the greatest of British values is an education system that welcomes and integrates migrant communities, builds successful citizens in a multicultural society and secures safety and high standards for all, and the Education Secretary is failing to do so.
I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) for his comments and I agree that we need to focus on successful futures for these schools. I also agree that we need a broader debate, to ensure that all schools—faith and non-faith—make sure that children are integrated into modern Britain. But I regret the fact that in his comments he was not able to let us know the Labour party’s position on no-notice inspections. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) for stressing that he believes that no-notice inspections are right; I am also grateful to the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) for stressing that. But I am still none the wiser about the position of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central. I am afraid that I am also none the wiser about his position on whether or not it is right to promote British values in schools and right to take the other steps that we have taken.
The hon. Gentleman asks about meetings between the Department for Education and the Birmingham headmaster, Tim Boyes, in 2010. I can confirm that I was not at that meeting, nor was I informed about its content. That is why I have asked the permanent secretary to investigate, and I have also asked him to look at other occasions before 2010 when warnings were reportedly given. The hon. Gentleman has previously alleged that I was warned by Mr Boyes in 2010 and did not act; that is not the case and I hope that he will make it clear in the future, and withdraw that allegation.
The hon. Gentleman asks about local oversight of all these schools. It is important to stress that when Tim Boyes raised these issues in 2010 all these schools were facing local oversight from Birmingham city council, and as Sir Michael Wilshaw has concluded, Birmingham city council failed. As Ofsted makes clear, repeated warnings to those charged with local oversight were ignored. Indeed, it was only after my Department was informed about the allegations in the Trojan horse letter that action was taken, and I thank Birmingham city council for its co-operation since then.
The hon. Gentleman asks what action was taken overall since 2010. It would be quite wrong to allege, as he does, that the Department has taken no action on extremism since 2010; the opposite is the case. As the Home Secretary pointed out, we were the first Department outside her own to set up a counter-extremism unit. Unreported and under-appreciated, it has prevented a number of extremist or unsuitable organisations from securing access to public funds.
The hon. Gentleman asks about academies and free schools, and the autonomy that they enjoy. First, I must correct him: none of the schools that Ofsted inspected are free schools and all the evidence so far is that free schools in Birmingham are proving a success. I must also correct him on the matter of oversight of academies. Academies are subject to sharper and more rigorous accountability than local authority schools. They are inspected not just by Ofsted but by the Education Funding Agency.
The hon. Gentleman also asks about curriculum inspection. Let me stress that it is already a requirement that schools have a broad and balanced curriculum; the question is enforcement. That means giving Ofsted the tools it needs, such as no-notice inspections and suitably qualified inspectors.
The problems identified today are serious and long-standing. They require us all to take action against all forms of extremism. I have been encouraged throughout my career by support from Opposition Members—the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr, among others—for a non-partisan approach to fighting extremism. I hope that, after his comments today, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central will reflect on the seriousness of these charges and recognise that this is not an appropriate vehicle through which he should make wider criticisms of the school reforms with which he and his party disagree. I hope that, in the future, we can count on him and others working across party boundaries to keep our children safe.
Beneath all this froth of what letters were written, by whom and to whom, is not the essential point this: at last we have a Secretary of State—the first—who is prepared in our state secular schools to take on Muslim sensibilities, or the sensibilities of anybody else, to ensure that all religions and all people are treated with equal respect?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Let me stress again—his question gives me the opportunity to do so—that there are exemplary Muslim faith schools and that the contribution of Britain’s Muslim community is immeasurable, and immeasurably for the good. But one of the things that both the Home Secretary and I have sought to do is ensure that in schools or other civic institutions the dangers of extremism, violent or non-violent, are countered head-on.
May I pick up on the Secretary of State’s previous point? Does he accept that in my constituency, where 30%-plus of the population are of the Muslim faith, there are plenty of schools—faith schools or secular schools—where 100% of pupils might be Muslim but that so far we have been able to avoid allegations of extremism of this kind? That is true elsewhere across the country. If we are to get the overwhelming majority of followers of the Muslim faith on board, it is crucial that we distinguish between those who are devout, but who embrace British values, and those who are extreme. We need to concentrate on those who are extreme and see them isolated.
I absolutely agree. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the work he has done to ensure that state-funded schools can provide children and parents in Blackburn with an Islamic faith education that equips them for the 21st century. Let me emphasise that there is a key distinction, which this Government have drawn, between perfectly respectable religious conservatism, whatever the faith, and extremist activity. It is vital that that distinction be maintained. [Interruption.]
Is not a key issue that might give rise to extremism and the rejection of British values a cultural one: namely, the unwillingness or inability among some communities to speak English? Is not it important, therefore, to give appropriate financial support in those areas where we need to tackle potential exclusion, and even ghettoisation, for the teaching of English at the earliest stage?
My hon. Friend is, as ever, absolutely right. A key element of the Prime Minister’s 2011 Munich speech was an insistence that we do everything possible to ensure that everyone who grows up in this country can speak English fluently, and that is one of the principal aims of our education programme.
At times over the past month or two, I have thought that this day would never come. These reports have been kept under wraps, hidden in full from parents, while they have been leaked in part left, right and centre. Parents, who should have been the first to know, have been the last to know about the contents of these reports. I am sure that the Secretary of State will want to apologise to the House for the contempt with which parents have been treated in this debate. Secondly, he knows that I have been at the forefront in calling for this Ofsted process. I am glad that Sir Michael Wilshaw has today said that there is no evidence of an organised plot to radicalise our children or introduce extremism into schools, but four out of the six academies—
Order. I do not know with what frequency the right hon. Gentleman contributes from the Back Benches—[Interruption.] Order. I recognise that these matters are of extreme salience to his constituents; I do not need him to tell me that. The simple fact is that his question, which is not yet a question, is far too long—[Interruption.] Order. We must leave it there for now.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the points he makes. It was vital that we ensured that the schools concerned had an opportunity to read the Ofsted reports before they were published and to let us know whether, in their view, there was any factual inaccuracy. It was vital—indeed, he made this point to me in a private meeting—that we did everything possible to ensure that these reports were bullet-proof against challenge. I absolutely share his desire to ensure that we do everything possible to reassure parents. The parents who have spoken out and have contacted Ofsted and the Department for Education want action to be taken, because, as is clear from the reports, the behaviour of certain governors, as reported, is unacceptable.
My right hon. Friend’s statement is extremely important. His ability to find the right line in reassuring parents across the country that this is not happening everywhere and answering the question, “How did we get where we are?”, regarding some of these schools will be very important. Bearing in mind the possibility of any links outside the United Kingdom, will he assure me that if any information has come to light in the course of the investigations that might link with any other inquiry that has been held in the United Kingdom, or identifies any links to any organisations abroad that might, through their work, be threatening us, it will be made available to the appropriate authorities?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, whose knowledge of these issues as a former middle east Minister is unparalleled. Peter Clarke will use his expertise to marshal and gather all the information necessary to see whether there is any influence, untoward or otherwise, from outside this country.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that this inquiry will not tar all the Muslim community in Birmingham, other than a few individuals who took it on themselves to lead with this issue and try to wreck the whole community and its reputation? Will he also confirm that the schools will be put back to normal as soon as possible and that whatever structural changes are due are made quickly so that in September children return to a proper education?
Absolutely: I can provide assurances on both those points. May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has been outstanding in his efforts to ensure community cohesion in Birmingham? He has been one of the first and clearest voices in this House warning us about the dangers of extremism, and his commitment to his constituents is second to none.
Does the Secretary of State agree that there is uncertainty among many parents about what their children are entitled to be taught in school? Would it not reassure parents if the Government introduced a minimum curriculum entitlement that all state-funded schools would teach?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Schools are, of course, already required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. I hope that in the weeks ahead we can have an informed debate about the correct balance between the autonomy that schools and head teachers properly enjoy in order to innovate and to have their professional expertise respected and a guarantee to parents that their children are being taught in a way that conforms with the values that we both share.
British values, which the Secretary of State wants to promote, include the rule of law. I am therefore quite troubled by the part of his statement where he said that governors
“are trying to impose and promote a narrow faith-based ideology in what are non-faith schools”,
specifically by narrowing the curriculum, manipulating staff appointments and using school funds inappropriately. Surely that is unacceptable, whether the school is secular or a faith school. It needs to be made clear that these standards must apply to schools universally.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Let me stress that prior to the publication of these reports and of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s covering letter, some questioned whether these investigations were worth while. I pay tribute to her for emphasising how important it is that we deal with the findings. I also pay tribute to the shadow Secretary of State for making it clear that Sir Michael Wilshaw’s integrity is unimpeachable.
I thank the Secretary of State for the opportunity to see the papers in advance, there being two schools affected in my constituency. The National Association of Head Teachers has expressed concern that the system of investigation and inspection is rather inchoate and suggested that a more coherent system of investigation of allegations is needed. I agree—does the Secretary of State?
It is absolutely right that we review how we investigate the problems that have been identified. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) pointed out, it is clear that Ofsted has uncovered a number of unacceptable practices. It is also clear that the Education Funding Agency has additional powers in relation to academies that have been incredibly useful in this regard as well. I am entirely open to considering how, in future, we can provide parents with guarantees that their children are safe.
It is clear from the reports published today that the central charge that there has been an organised plot to import extremism that has radicalised children in Birmingham has not been met. What there has been is unacceptably poor and bad governance, which has let children, parents and staff down, and which must be tackled. Those two things are not the same. Does the Secretary of State therefore regret the tone of the debate, which has sent a clear message to Muslim parents in Birmingham and beyond that the education of their children will be viewed through the prism of national security?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to make two points. She is absolutely right. When the allegations were raised in the original Trojan horse letter, it was important that they were investigated, and the findings we have today are the findings that Ofsted and the Education Funding Agency are competent to deliver.
Peter Clarke is also looking into some of the broader allegations. One of the reasons he was chosen is that if people have been unfairly alleged to have taken part in activities of which they are entirely innocent, there can be no more effective figure to exonerate them than Peter Clarke.
I would also emphasise that Sheik Shady al-Suleiman spoke at one of these schools and his comments are now on the record of the House. I think that anyone listening to those comments would recognise that such a speaker in a school is exposing children to the dangers of extremism.
Amid the general hysteria that has been whipped up over these anonymous allegations, does the Secretary of State accept that there are many decent, good, hard-working school governors in Birmingham who give up their time freely? One of the schools mentioned, Golden Hillock, is right on the edge of the adjoining constituency to mine and many of my constituents’ children go to it. They cannot understand the picture that has been painted of its governors, including the chairman, Mohammed Shafique, and others whom I know, who have been at the forefront of fighting radicalism and terrorism in local communities.
The Secretary of State has rightly said that it is important that there is community cohesion. Could he therefore explain why Ofsted removed the requirement in the Ofsted inspection to demonstrate what steps schools were taking to address community cohesion? Did Ofsted do that off its own back, did the Secretary of State give his approval, or did he tell Ofsted to remove the obligation?
Ofsted clearly has the capacity to detect when schools are not adhering to the responsibility to deliver community cohesion, as the reports published today clearly demonstrate. I will not be drawn into the question of individual governors, but let me take this opportunity to underline the broader point the hon. Gentleman makes that there are many who are committed to state education in Birmingham who are doing a superb job, including governors, teachers and school leaders. I should add that maintained schools, faith schools, academies and free schools in Birmingham are all contributing to the renaissance of state education in that city. That only makes it more important that we deal with those schools that are failing to protect children and failing to prepare them for the 21st century.
I know at first hand how seriously my right hon. Friend takes the issue of extremism in our schools. Does he agree that there is a sharp contrast between the speed with which he and his Department took action to tackle failing schools and to investigate extremism and the lacklustre approach of Birmingham city council? Will he therefore investigate what oversight Birmingham had over Saltley science college, a community school where Ofsted has just reported the governors spent tens of thousands of pounds of school funds on private investigators, private solicitors and meals in restaurants, and where, according to Ofsted, governance is inadequate and staff are intimidated?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Department for Education has been faster to react to concerns expressed about schools and to deal with failure than many local authorities. The case of Saltley, a local authority maintained school, is shocking, but let me stress that Birmingham city council is now fully seized of the importance of dealing with this problem. Let me pay tribute to Sir Albert Bore, whom I met earlier today, who now understands fully the vital importance of working with central Government to deal with it. Local government has failed in the past. We need to ensure that central and local government work together to deal with this problem.
May I first welcome the fact that we seem to be moving inexorably towards a national curriculum that is applied nationally? That is progress.
In the spirit of the Secretary of State’s last answer, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to delve into the Home Office archives for a research report of 10 years ago—funded by the Government—which examined the cultural isolation of, and the lessons to be learned from, schools in Burnley and adjoining Blackburn? The report was counter-intuitive, but it would now be extremely helpful in going forward.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I think that he is referring to the Cantle report, which we have looked at in the past. Certainly, there is a body of work that helps us to understand some of the challenges of separate communities and of how to secure better integration.
On the question of the curriculum, the one thing I would say is that I am confused about Labour’s position on the national curriculum. Labour Members seem to want to extend it to all schools, but the shadow Secretary of State has said that all schools should have the ability to opt out completely from it. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has the benefit of experience and that the shadow Minister does not, but until we get a consensus view from the Labour party I will listen to Sir Michael Wilshaw.
As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) said, these findings would be unacceptable in any school—secular or faith, state or independent. This affront to British values may well extend to other schools outside the area that Ofsted has already inspected. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is no hiding place in any part of the British education system for the misogyny and homophobia that underpin so much of the religious fundamentalism in some of our schools?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Inevitably, there was only so much I could say in the time allocated about the weaknesses in the schools identified. She homes in on one problem, which is that children who are at risk of being exposed to extremist views are often at risk of being exposed to views that are fundamentally offensive to those of us who believe in the equality of all human beings. Therefore, if there are concerns—anywhere in this House or outside—about children being exposed to those views or at danger of being exposed to those views, I hope that individuals will feel able to contact Ofsted using the new whistleblowing framework outlined by Sir Michael Wilshaw to ensure rapid investigation.
All faiths should subscribe to universal human values and universal human rights, including equal treatment of men and women. Where there is clear evidence in our schools of unacceptable practices, as there is in the case of a small minority of schools in Birmingham, it should be dealt with decisively. However, does the Secretary of State accept that it is important for politicians to act responsibly, and that it is wrong to use inflammatory language or to take steps that send the wrong message? To that end, what were the grounds for appointing a former of head of counter-terrorism to investigate Birmingham’s schools, and was it wise to do so?
It was absolutely wise to appoint Peter Clarke to his role as commissioner. It is important to stress that he is looking at some of the wider allegations that were raised in the Trojan horse letter. Some of the allegations in the letter appear to be unfounded; others appear to be supported by the evidence that we have gathered. We need to make sure that Birmingham city council and every agency have the capacity necessary to keep children safe.
It is important to recognise that Peter Clarke has not just the investigative capability but the experience of working with the Charity Commission to ensure that public funds are properly used and that the public are properly protected. If the hon. Gentleman has any concerns about the integrity, probity or authority of Peter Clarke, he should please bring them to me. The time has come to recognise that the situation in Birmingham is sufficiently serious that a public servant of Peter Clarke’s skill is exactly the right person to investigate.
I listened intently to the lengthy contribution of the shadow Secretary of State. I worry that he has developed political amnesia. As we have heard, the roots of the issue in Birmingham run deep and include Birmingham city council. Will the Secretary of the State assure the House that Peter Clarke will look fully at the allegation that the previous Government failed to act on a report of an attempted hard-line Muslim takeover of a school in Birmingham as far back as 2008?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I will stress two things. First, the permanent secretary will look to see exactly how the Department responded to warnings before and after the formation of this Government. Secondly, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, before 2010, a number of individuals who were associated with extremist views and organisations were supported by public funds or invited to advise the last Government on anti-extremism. That does not happen under this Government as a result of her leadership. It would be gracious of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central to acknowledge the leadership that the Home Secretary has shown and the improvement in our counter-extremism strategy as a result.
I have no objection to no-notice inspections. They have worked in other areas. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there is no evidence before him of this kind of activity taking place in other areas of the country, and that his support of faith schools remains unshakeable? May I also put to him the question that the Home Secretary asked me to put to him? Has he replied to her letter of 3 June and answered the four important questions that she put to him?
I believe that my statement today provides a full response to all the concerns that were raised in the letter in respect of Birmingham city council’s failure in the past, on which Sir Michael Wilshaw has reported, and the warnings that my Department was given in 2010. I am also delighted to reinforce my support not just for faith schools, but for free schools that have a faith ethos, such as the outstanding Krishna Avanti primary school in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which I had the pleasure of opening. I underline the request for him or any other Member of the House who has concerns about extremism in any part of the country to please bring them to my attention and the attention of Ofsted. The hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) has brought concerns to my attention about issues in Bradford. I am pleased to say that the Labour local authority in Bradford is currently dealing with those.
We are hearing about the despicable things that have happened in Birmingham and it is quite right that they should be investigated, but I have a slight concern. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have some of the best education in faith schools of all religions across this country, and that we must not condemn all faith schools just because of something that might have happened in one area?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is one of the pleasures of my job to visit voluntary aided schools and schools with a faith ethos that do an outstanding job of respecting the religious beliefs of children and making sure those children are fit for a life in modern Britain. It is important to stress that none of the schools that we are talking about are faith schools. One of the issues is that they are secular schools that governors have sought to turn into faith schools of a particular narrow kind in a way that is unacceptable.
Since the Secretary of State took on his job, he has limited local accountability and Ofsted oversight, and has fought attempts to publish the costs and funding agreements of schools and to reveal who is advising those schools and his Department, and on what basis. Given that he has fought openness and transparency from his Department tooth and nail, will he tell us, following the recent appalling events, whether he understands the importance of transparency to education and whether his Department will operate on a completely different basis from now on?
I understand the hon. Lady’s point. She has taken the opportunity of this statement to raise one or two other questions. I believe absolutely in the importance of openness and transparency. I also think that it is important that the advice that is given by officials in confidence to shape ministerial decisions is protected as a safe space. I also agree that it is vital that when we discover things that have gone wrong in the education system, as is shown by the reports today, we publish in full.
As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Islamophobia, may I say that we have heard time and again from the community about its desire to tackle extremism? We have also heard evidence that the news coverage of issues such as this one, if they are reported wrongly, can increase feelings of insecurity, suspicion and alienation. In some instances, the wrong type of language has been used. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to do everything we can to help the community, and that accurate reporting of the established facts is really important?
I could not agree more. We must proceed on the basis of facts and evidence, and ensure that that evidence is rigorously assessed and judged fairly. My hon. Friend makes an important point about Islamophobia. I tried in my statement, and I will try on every platform I am given, to emphasise the fundamental difference between Islam as a great faith that brings spiritual nourishment to millions and inspires daily acts of generosity by thousands, and the narrow perversion of that religion, which is extremist Islamist ideology.
The Government fund Prevent co-ordinators in 30 local authorities where there is a perceived view of extremism. What work does the Secretary of State expect those co-ordinators to do in local schools? Over the past year how many reports were made by those co-ordinators to his Department?
I salute the work of Prevent co-ordinators. Immediately after these concerns were expressed, Birmingham city council sought funding from the Home Office for an additional Prevent co-ordinator to work with schools, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary authorised. A Prevent co-ordinator from east London has now joined Ofsted to ensure that all Ofsted inspectors who deal with issues of this kind are trained to deal with the signs of extremist, Islamist ideology. I am, of course, more than happy to work with the hon. Lady and others to ensure that we augment the good work of those Prevent co-ordinators who have been successful in dealing with problems of that kind.
The Secretary of State began by describing keeping children safe and preparing them for life in modern Britain as his Department’s central mission. Is he satisfied that he has the means to ensure that that happens, whether or not their school is funded by the taxpayer?
That is a very good point. Today we have outlined that we plan to consult on independent school standards, so that schools that are not funded by the taxpayer must meet basic standards of promoting British values, or the Education Secretary will have the capacity to close them down. We are also taking steps to work with the Association of Muslim Schools UK to see what more can be done.
The Education Secretary either omitted or did not get the opportunity fully to respond to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) about Park View. For the sake of clarity, will he explain why Park View was not allowed to open a free school but was allowed to sponsor Golden Hillock to become an academy?
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, in particular his commitment to put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school must deliver for children. Does he agree that the reason this country has been able to offer sanctuary to people from around the world of different races and faith for so long is precisely that of a simple covenant of citizenship: “Come here, speak our language, respect our heritage and values and you are welcome”?
I absolutely agree. One strength of the United Kingdom is that it has provided a safe and warm home for people of every faith over hundreds of years. It is critical that we ensure that our traditions of liberty and tolerance are protected so that everyone, whatever their background, can feel that sense of pride in this nation and allegiance to other citizens, which all of us would want to celebrate as the best of British.
Thousands of schools report directly to the Secretary of State with no formal opportunity for local oversight. Will he accept that what happened in Birmingham shows how important it is to have full local oversight? That is the only way to look after the interests of all children and young people in our schools up and down the country.
I agree that local representatives, whether in local authorities or as local MPs, should play a part in helping to ensure that children are safe. It is also important to recognise that the local authority in this case failed in the past, and that when the specific allegations in the Trojan horse letter were shared with the Department for Education, it was rapid in seeking to deal with those problems and ensuring that appropriate inspection and action was taken.
I welcome the decisive action taken by the Secretary of State today and the consultation on the promotion of British values. Does he agree that a very clear British value is that young girls and women should be seen and heard in the classroom, not relegated to the back of the room? Will he consult specifically on whether we will be teaching them the communication skills and confidence they need if they are hidden, in our schools and colleges, behind a niqab or burqa?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. One of the concerns raised in several reports was what appeared to be unacceptable segregation in the classroom. Another point I would make is that there are real questions about how sex and relationships education was taught in some of these schools. It is vital that schools should be places where young girls find their voices, rather than feeling that they are being silenced.
As a former teacher, I welcome the Secretary of State’s defence of faith and faith-based schooling. However, I believe that the atomisation of our schooling system is a problem. Does he not concur that a greater form of solidarity between local schools would help to self-police this type of extremism?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We are seeing a level of collaboration between schools—through teaching school alliances, academy chains and informal partnerships—that is a very powerful driver of improved standards. It ensures that individual teachers, who may have concerns about what is happening in their own school, have access to a wider network of professionals who can help them to deal with the challenges they face.
On specific concerns about specific institutions for under-16s that do not fall within my remit, I infer from that that the hon. Gentleman is thinking about independent schools or even, possibly, supplementary schools. As far as independent schools are concerned, we are consulting on toughening independent school standards, as I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames). In respect of supplementary schools, sometimes known as madrassahs, we will shortly publish a code governing how madrassahs should operate. At the moment, the plan is that the code should be voluntary, but I am, of course, open to debate and contribution in the House on how to make it as effective as possible.
Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the opening of the new Langley Green mosque in my constituency, which was a multi-faith event. Does the Secretary of State agree that that illustrates the importance of inclusivity, which the vast majority of the Muslim community want in our education system, both in Birmingham and across the country?
In an education landscape of university technical colleges, free schools and academies run directly from Whitehall, will the Secretary of State’s welcome review of what the Department has to learn include a thorough analysis of weaknesses in the current accountability system?
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I think one of the things that is clear from the action that has been taken in schools today is that academies, and, for that matter, free schools, are subject to a higher level of accountability than local authority schools. One of the things I will be looking at is how we can ensure that local authority schools are held to a similar level of accountability in the future, not least for the discharge of public money.
Will the Secretary of State tell us whether what has been discovered in Birmingham is confined to Birmingham? He will know of rumours of links between Birmingham schools and Bradford schools. Will he tell us whether it is sheer coincidence that Feversham college, a Muslim girls’ school that is one of the highest performing schools in the country, has been notified today that it will have an Ofsted inspection tomorrow?
I would make two points. First, the original Trojan horse letter, which as we know contained a number of facts and allegations that proved to be unfounded, was allegedly a letter sent to individuals in Bradford. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support in alerting me to some potential concerns. I know that Bradford council has taken them seriously, and I look forward to remaining in touch with Bradford—and, indeed, any other local authority that has concerns. The Department for Education is there to support and help if, for example, governors need to be removed and an interim executive board put in place. Secondly, as for what he tells me about Feversham college, I have no prior warning of any Ofsted inspections, which are quite properly an operational matter for the chief inspector unless I specifically request an inspection because of information that has been passed to me.
The Secretary of State’s failure to pinpoint these problems sooner makes it absolutely clear that he cannot micro-manage schools from Westminster. Will he now consider adopting a policy akin to Labour’s proposal for local directors of school standards, which would enable schools to be more accountable locally and would help to flag up these types of problems a lot sooner?
Noting that Ofsted has already put the spotlight on the quality of school leadership and management as part of the inspection, and recognising the Government’s focus on the skills of governing bodies rather than just on stakeholder representation, does the Secretary of State agree that that, combined with further accountability to the regional commissioners, will strengthen the resolve of councils to get rid of failing governors and is a step in the right direction?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who has shown brilliant leadership on the issue of improving governance. As well as all of his important points, there are some specific recommendations on strengthening governance from Sir Michael Wilshaw that recommend themselves to me.
The Secretary of State will have heard my earlier question to the Home Secretary—one of many questions that she failed to answer this afternoon, so I am going to ask him the same question. We know of the correspondence between his Department and other agencies about these issues in 2010. When did he become aware of it, and what has gone so wrong in his Department that it has taken an anonymous letter in 2014 to get action on something that it knew about in 2010?
The Secretary of State has reported Ofsted’s concern that governors are trying to impose a narrow faith-based ideology on what are non-faith schools, but that is also not in the public interest in faith-based schools, and surely it is part of the purpose of faith schools to deliver a faith-based ideology. Since we have had three decades of unhappy experience of violent division in Northern Ireland being reinforced by state-funded, faith-based education, is it not now about time that we asked people, if they want to exercise the freedom to have a faith-based education for their children, not to expect the rest of us to pay for it because it is not in the public interest?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his point. In the light of what has been revealed, it is important to have a debate about the proper place of faith in education, but I have to say that I respectfully disagree with him. I think that the role of a number of faith institutions from a variety of faiths in education has been all to the good.
Of course we must draw an important distinction between devout conservatism—whether it be Catholic, evangelical, Christian or Muslim—on the one hand, and extremism on the other hand. But has not all of this shown that the Achilles heel in the Secretary of State’s education policy is that there are more and more schools now in which there are fewer and fewer means of preventing fundamentalist indoctrination?
I do not accept that that is the case. If we look at the problems identified, I believe that they arose well before this Government were formed, and that it is as a result of this Government—and, in particular, as a result of the higher level of accountability that exists in academies and free schools—that we were able to take the exemplary action that we did.
In Birmingham and across the country, thousands of men and women are giving valuable voluntary service to act as school governors. Will my right hon. Friend explain what happens if there is a suspicion that a school governor is promoting extremism and what statutory powers there are in those circumstances to remove a school governor from an LEA-controlled school or an academy?
We are consulting on how we can ensure that we can remove governors if there is any suggestion that they have been involved in extremist activity in independent schools, and also extend that power in order to bar them from serving as governors in any local authority schools in the future.
The Secretary of State has provided a welcome clarification today by stating that he was not at the 2010 meeting at which Tim Boyes gave his presentation, and I am sure that he can extend the same clarification to any of his ministerial colleagues. However, as a former Minister, I know that action points will have been made at that meeting. Given the importance of this matter, will the Secretary of State now agree to publish those action points—without jeopardising the integrity and confidentiality of individual civil servants—and reveal what arose from them? Was any action taken?
That is a fair question. Let me say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, I have asked the permanent secretary to look at our responses to all the warnings that the Department has received, and I think that it would be premature for me to release anything before he has finished his report. Secondly, I have described—both in my statement and in my response to what was said by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central—some of the actions taken by my Department which have provided it with a more robust set of tools to deal with extremism than have been available before.
The Secretary of State has described some shocking behaviour—shocking not only to Muslim parents, but to all parents. Does he agree that the failure of Birmingham city council to deal with this problem over a long period demonstrates the importance of the academies programme, which takes powers away from politicians and bureaucrats and hands them to teachers?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. Some of the most outstanding schools in Birmingham are currently academies and free schools. Indeed, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central has previously praised Liam Nolan, the head teacher of Perry Beeches school, who runs an academy chain and has opened free schools. I think that the hon. Gentleman’s attempt to conflate the growth of academies and free schools—and the consequent improvement in school standards—and a risk of extremism constitutes an attempt to jump on an opportunistic bandwagon, which, sadly, is becoming a characteristic of his approach to opposition.
On 6 June, Labour’s police and crime commissioner for the west midlands, Bob Jones, issued a press release on Trojan horse which many believe ignores the dangers of extremist teaching in schools. Given that, under Mr Jones’s leadership, the West Midlands police have been criticised by Ofsted for consistently failing to attend more than 50% of child protection meetings—indeed, at one stage attendance was down to 9%—does my right hon. Friend agree that that is one example of local oversight and accountability that certainly needs to be improved?
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. I have been disappointed by some of the comments made by the west midlands police and crime commissioner. I hope that today, following the publication of the reports, the commissioner will have an opportunity to reflect, to think again, and to discharge his responsibilities more effectively.
On Friday, in my constituency, I was approached by some Muslim parents and, indeed, Muslim teachers who were very concerned about the tone of this debate, and who felt that the Muslim community were being branded as extremists. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that all of us who are involved in the debate should be cool-headed and avoid using incendiary language such as “Islamist plots”—when such plots do not appear to exist—and “draining the swamp”? Does he also agree that many state schools with a high proportion of Muslim students, and indeed Muslim faith schools, offer a good, well-rounded education?
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made a very fair point about faith schools that want to teach conservative religious values. How do the Government distinguish between such schools and schools in which extremism is happening?
Clear requirements apply to all voluntarily aided faith schools. They are, of course, allowed to make provision for appropriate worship and for freedom of conscience, but they must also offer a broad and balanced curriculum, as has always been the case. They must also respect British values, and, as a result of the proposals on which I intend to consult from today, they will always be required to promote those values actively in the future as well.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the findings of these reports demonstrate the need to ensure that there is a breadth of views on school governing bodies? One way of achieving that is to ensure that there are governors of different faiths on governing bodies and that they are encouraged to take a proactive role so that pupils receive a balanced education.
I welcome what the Secretary of State is doing in this area. I was appalled by some of the report’s findings, particularly the comment by Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, where he distorted the concept of jihad and linked it to Afghanistan, which is often used by extremists to recruit people to radicalisation. Linked to that, does the Secretary of State agree that Sunday schools at places of worship should also be encouraged to teach British values and that sermons should be taught in English and not simply in Urdu or Arabic, to ensure that distortion is tackled?
My hon. Friend makes a number of important points. He is right that the concept of jihad in Islam is a complex one and that it is possible to talk about it as a form of internal struggle. However, in the reported comments of Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, it is clear that he is not using jihad in that context. My hon. Friend raises broader questions about how we deal with supplementary schools and Sunday schools in madrassahs. We will consult on how to deal with those.
I understand that my right hon. Friend has already introduced standards that allow the teaching of extremist views to be barred. Will he also advertise whistleblower lines more widely, so that teachers and parents can contact the Department for Education directly?
Debate on the Address
Debate resumed (Order, 5 June).
Question again proposed,
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
The legislative programme presented to Parliament last week by Her Majesty the Queen builds on four years in which we have not shirked our duty to the British people to restore confidence in disastrous public finances; to lead the country from the deepest recession since the second world war to the strongest growth in the G7; and to implement a plan that secures our long-term economic future. As part of that programme, we have been following a long-term plan to transform our NHS and help it to meet the challenges of an ageing population. However, we must remember that without the difficult decisions made to restore faith in our public finances, the NHS would have been in a very different position.
In Ireland, the health pay bill was slashed by 16% because it ran out of money. In Greece, health spending was cut by 20%. In Portugal, the public were asked to double their personal contribution to the cost of health care, but in England difficult decisions meant that we were able to protect the NHS budget, unlike the Labour party, which plans to cut it in England, and did indeed cut it by 8% in Wales, with disastrous consequences. Labour made the wrong call on the economy and the wrong call on NHS finances. Because we made the right call, the NHS is now doing extremely well in very challenging circumstances.