House of Commons
Monday 2 March 2015
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Academies: Exam Results
This year’s key stage 4 results are the first since crucial reforms to our qualification and accountability systems, which were designed to raise the bar for our children, came into force. Overall, the proportion of pupils achieving A* to C grades including English and maths in state schools fell across all types of school. There has been a 71% increase in the number of pupils taking the key academic subjects that will prepare them better for life in modern Britain.
That was a bit of a non-answer. If an academy is successful, parents are happy and so am I, but what if an academy is getting bad results and is on the way down? What powers are there for local people to enable them to have any influence whatsoever on the future of that academy?
I do not think that saying that 71% of pupils are taking the more academic subjects most highly valued by employers and universities could be described as a non-answer. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I am sure that as the local Member of Parliament he will be working closely with the regional schools commissioner, the head teacher, the teachers and the governors of that school. What we all want at the end of the day is the best possible education for our young people.
I was able to see for myself at Kennington Church of England junior academy on Friday the benefits of academy status in improving a school that has had serious weaknesses in the past. Does the Secretary of State agree that academy status increasingly benefits not just secondary schools but primary schools?
I agree very much with my right hon. Friend. He will want to know that the first wave of sponsored primary academies, which opened in September 2012, has seen the proportion of pupils achieving levels 4 and above in reading, writing and maths increase by 9 percentage points, double the rate of improvement in local authority-maintained schools over the same period.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the Grace academy in Coventry. She facilitated a meeting with one of her Ministers and we are grateful for that, but she will understand—and I hope will therefore follow it up closely herself—that the proof of the pudding will be in the effective action taken to deal with the situation. We have no indication that it is improving and the career prospects of 1,000 young children are being put at risk.
I was pleased to facilitate the hon. Gentleman’s meeting with the Minister in question, one of my excellent team of Ministers. We will of course always maintain a close watch over all academies and their results. He might like to know that secondary converter academies perform well above average, with 64% of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs in 2014 compared with 54% in local authority schools.
Late last week, it was announced that Pendle primary academy in Brierfield has been rated as good with outstanding features and outstanding behaviour by Ofsted, a big turnaround for a school deemed to be in need of major improvement just two years ago, before it became an academy. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the principal, Mrs Burnside, all the staff and the outstanding Nelson and Colne college, which sponsors Pendle primary academy?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is an absolute pleasure to congratulate the head teacher, Mrs Burnside, and all the staff, governors and pupils on their hard work in achieving those spectacular results. I greatly enjoyed my recent visit to schools in Pendle.
Care Costs: Disabled Children
This Government have introduced the biggest reforms to special educational needs and disabilities provisions in 30 years, reforms that enjoy cross-party support. Every disabled child, like all other three and four-year-olds, is entitled to a free 15 hours of early education, and the situation is the same for disadvantaged two-year-olds. In addition, when tax-free child care is introduced, parents of disabled children will get double the allowance of other families at £4,000. The disabled child element of universal credit is £4,300, on top of all the other benefits parents of disabled children receive.
The cross-party parliamentary inquiry into child care for disabled children found that 92% of parents with disabled children reported difficulties in finding suitable child care for their children. As child care costs overall continue to rise, particularly for disabled children, that figure can only continue to grow. What is the Minister doing to ensure sufficient places for disabled children?
On the cost of child care in general, let me point out that the Labour party left us with the highest child care costs in the OECD; they went up by 50% when it was in government. This Government have been helping parents with the cost of child care, particular parents with disabled children, whom the hon. Lady mentioned. Local authorities have a legal duty to secure sufficient child care for working parents in their area. As far as free entitlement is concerned, local authorities that set the rate they pay for free entitlement can pay for additional hours, on an hourly basis and tailored to individual children, from the dedicated schools grant.
The Minister’s words to parents of children with disabilities are just that. Can he explain the reality of the situation for families who have a child with a disability when the proportion of local authorities reporting that they have sufficient places for children with disabilities has fallen by seven points in just one year to only a fifth? That is the reality for parents of children with disabilities. Can he please explain what happened last year?
Of course the cost of child care for children with disabilities is high, because the ratios are higher. They often need one-to-one care, and sometimes more. When children have really complex needs, staff need additional training in order to provide that care. The reason tax-free child care has been doubled to £4,000 from the £2,000 for every other family is to give parents the additional financial power they will need to provide more child care. It has also been extended from age 12, so the parent of a disabled child can now access tax-free child care until their child is 17. That also applies to specialist care regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
The law prohibits the establishment of new grammar schools, but we fully support the right of all good schools to expand, and that applies to grammar schools too. What is most important is that all children have access to a good local school, and we are committed to delivering that through our academies and free schools programmes.
I know that the hon. Gentleman’s party says that it has a clear policy on grammar schools—that is a relief, because at least it has a clear policy on something. Does he agree with his party’s leader, who said that the party was not going to publish its manifesto until as late as practically possible? May I suggest 8 May?
I am well aware of that issue, which has been raised in a Westminster Hall debate in recent weeks. We fully support sixth forms and want to see them continue, but the hon. Lady will be aware of the economic condition in which her party left this country.
The hon. Lady might have misheard my answer to a previous question. This Government are in favour of expanding all good schools. I think that she will want to recognise that we have 1 million more children in good or outstanding schools as a result of this Government’s education policies.
13. May I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement on extending grammar school provision in Kent? Does she agree that grammar schools are an important part of the diversity in our education system that gives parents the best possible choice of the kind of school that suits their children? (907796)
I agree with my hon. Friend that parents being able to make the right choice for their child is exactly what we want to see, because they know their child best. I should make it clear that the Department is currently considering the proposals that have been put to us by a school in Kent, and I expect to reach a decision in due course.
Property Data Survey
Through the priority school building programme 2, we have used the property data survey to allocate £2 billion to rebuild and refurbish buildings in the worst conditions at 277 schools across the country. We have no plans to publish a ranking of surveyed schools.
The previous Secretary of State said that Calder high school was one of the worst he had seen in England. Similarly, when the Prime Minister came to Todmorden, he pledged money for the rebuilding of Todmorden high school. Despite those assurances, so far neither school has received any money. Will the Minister pledge to do as was initially intended and make transparent the priority listings of all schools surveyed under the property data survey programme so that we can see how robust they are?
I know that my hon. Friend is a champion of the schools in his constituency, including the two that he mentions. In addition to the priority school building programme phase 2 funding, we recently announced £4.2 billion of funding for the improvement and maintenance of school buildings over the next three years, and his local authority is able to draw down on those moneys allocated to its area for the schools that he mentions. On the ranking of schools, we have no plans to publish a ranking list of surveyed schools, which could be misleading without taking into account other information supplied by schools and local authorities with their PSBP 2 bids.
Teacher Work Loads
The Secretary of State and I engaged with teachers associations and unions in the discussions about teacher work loads, most recently through the work load challenge. I welcome their contribution to the debate, including through the programme of talks at the Department for Education.
The Government’s own figures show that the average primary teacher is working 60 hours a week. Teachers in Bristol tell me that their work load is at an unsustainable level and that the accountability system in particular has reached absurd levels and demonstrates a profound lack of trust in teachers. Teachers are too often unsung heroes, under-appreciated and overworked. When is the Minister going to let them just get on and do their job?
The work load burden on teachers, which has been present for some time in this country, including under the Labour Government, is precisely the reason that we established the work load challenge. The hon. Lady will have seen the comprehensive and detailed plan that we published, which we believe will help over time to drive down the unnecessary work load of teachers.
As a former teacher, may I say that teacher work load really matters? The 10% increase that was shown up in the work load survey, which the Minister published only after being hounded for some considerable time by the Opposition, is contributing to low morale and to a looming teacher training and recruitment crisis. The response from the Government that he mentioned has been roundly rejected by teachers, thousands of whom have taken the trouble to tell Ministers of the negative impact of Government policy on teacher work loads. Do we not need a new beginning for teachers, with a Government who take seriously the impact that work load pressures are having on teacher morale and on children’s learning?
I would gently make two points. First, let us look back at some of what has been said by the teacher unions about the Government’s response. The National Association of Head Teachers said that it believes that
“the proposals for better planning and greater notice of changes are a step in the right direction. They could do a great deal to improve the quality of education”.
Secondly, I do not think the Labour party is in any position to give any lectures about Government communications with teachers. After all, the hon. Gentleman’s boss, the shadow Secretary of State, was recently contacted by one parent teacher group to ask about Labour policy and he replied with eight words:
“Stop moaning. Read the speeches. Do some work.”
That was the Labour party’s response—hardly constructive engagement.
Record numbers of students are taking mathematics and the sciences at A-level—15% more students took physics in 2014 than in 2010. Maths is now the single most popular A-level, with an increase of 13% since 2010, but more needs to be done. We need even more young people to take these subjects at A-level. That is why we are supporting the Your Life campaign headed by Edwina Dunn of Dunnhumby, which aims to increase the numbers taking maths and physics A-level by 50% over the next three years.
When I visit engineering companies in Redditch, I find that one of their main issues is attracting apprenticeships or graduates, especially women. Does my hon. Friend agree that along with the take-up of STEM subjects, we need to encourage students to see that careers in engineering are a great choice for all?
Indeed. We want all young people to have the right careers advice so that they take informed decisions about their future and so that they are aware of all the options available—including, as my hon. Friend said, apprenticeships—and of the advantages that studying maths and the sciences to A-level can bring.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating students from the William Allitt school in my constituency, who have been shortlisted as finalists in the national science and engineering competition, The Big Bang UK young scientists and engineers fair at Birmingham NEC from 11 to 14 March? This is the UK’s biggest celebration of technology, engineering and maths for young people.
I am pleased to add my congratulations to students from the William Allitt school. The national science and engineering competition, which receives £350,000 of funding from the Government, is an excellent example of a positive initiative that helps to promote and to recognise achievement in STEM subjects. I wish my hon. Friend’s constituents every success in the final stage of the competition, and I look forward to attending the Big Bang fair next week.
Recent research found that more than a third of schools in Newcastle do not offer triple science at GCSE. Newcastle has a thriving digital and information and communications technology hub, and a history of fantastic scientific achievement such as the recent mitochondrial breakthrough. What is the Minister doing to make sure that every pupil in Newcastle can access triple science if they have the talent to do so?
I share the hon. Lady’s desire that every school should offer three separate sciences at GCSE; that is very important. That is why the EBacc is such an important measure. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have seen a 70% increase in the numbers taking those core academic subjects, which are vital to keeping opportunities open for young people.
The Minister says that he wants more young people to be taking maths and science subjects, but does he acknowledge that there is a chronic shortage of teachers applying for STEM subjects? Why has that happened, and what action are the Government taking to reverse this serious problem for young people and for the wider economy?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. That is why the Prime Minister recently announced a new £67 million package of measures over the next five years to increase the skills and subject knowledge of 15,000 existing maths and physics teachers and to recruit an additional 2,500 teachers over the course of the next Parliament. As the hon. Gentleman will know, bursaries of up to £25,000 are available to trainee teachers with high degrees in maths and physics. As he will also know, some 17% of teacher trainees now hold a first-class degree and 73% of current trainee teachers hold a 2:1 degree or higher.
The excellent new curriculums for computing and for design and technology can do much to inspire young people to take up STEM subjects, but further to the Minister’s last answer, can he reassure me that we recruit enough teachers to teach these important subjects?
There have been many outstanding achievements during this Parliament, but I particularly highlight our reforms to raise standards in schools as a key success. This has led to more children than ever before—as I said, almost 1 million pupils—attending a school rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.
We currently have the fastest expanding economy in the western world, which is obviously extremely welcome, but the improvement in standards in our schools has come about because of recruitment of the best possible graduates into the profession. What more can the Government do to ensure that these graduates come into our schools, particularly those in rural and coastal areas?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We now need to see excellent teaching right the way across the system in every school. Every child’s life chances are only as good as the quality of teaching they receive. That is why the Prime Minister recently announced that our manifesto would include a national teaching service to encourage more good teachers to enter the profession and to be represented in all schools right across the country.
Any reputable organisation evaluating its success employs external consultants or impartial people, or at least consults its consumers. When I go round schools in this country, as I do very regularly, I find a devastated landscape. Does the Secretary of State agree? I find unaccountable schools, a top-down culture, a restricted curriculum, and a very low regard for this Secretary of State.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his most charming remarks, but no, I completely disagree about the landscape that he finds. I find excellent schools up and down the country; brilliant, highly qualified teachers working incredibly hard; rigorous academic standards; and a tough but worthy new curriculum that is introducing subjects such as coding and computing, as we have heard. Now our task is to make sure that excellence is spread right the way across the country.
School sport partnerships were scrapped very early on in 2010 and have been replaced with various measures, which I am very pleased to welcome. May I have an assurance that something has now been set, that it will continue and that we can build back to where we were with the excellent partnerships?
The introduction of the sport premium means that we have given substantial funds directly to heads and teachers to spend in their school. The number of sports and the amount of time that pupils are spending on physical activity are going up each week. The Prime Minister has made a commitment to keep that funding until 2020. On a school visit last week, I saw that a fantastic co-ordinator was being employed to get all the young people moving.
In 2010 the Conservative party manifesto promised to
“close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest”,
so can the Secretary of State tell the House whether, over the past two years, since the roll-out of coalition policy, the attainment gap between pupils on free school meals and their better-off classmates has narrowed or widened?
Oh dear, it is yet another reprimand for the Secretary of State from the UK Statistics Authority, because the attainment gap is widening on her watch. According to Teach First,
“things are getting worse for poorer children, instead of better.”
When it comes to education, at the end of this Parliament this Government have failed. There are more unqualified teachers, failing free schools, chaos and confusion in the school system, falling youth apprenticeships, a teacher recruitment crisis, class sizes rocketing and too many pupils taught in schools that are not judged good. Is that not the reason that, come 8 May, we will have a Labour Government ready to clean up this mess, invest in and reform our schools, and offer every child an outstanding education?
It might have helped if the hon. Gentleman could have said any of that with a straight face, but he could not because he knows it is all utter drivel. We see fewer unqualified teachers, more children educated in schools rated good by Ofsted and the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged children falling. As we saw with the Labour party’s tuition fee policy announcement last week, Labour’s education policies are a farce, like scenes from “Nuns on the Run”.
Troops to Teachers Programme
Service leavers have a wealth of skills and experiences that are transferable to classrooms, including teamwork, leadership—[Interruption.]
Order. There is very discordant noise in the Chamber. A very respected Minister, Mr Timpson, is endeavouring to answer a question and I think pupils in the average classroom around the country would behave rather better. I remind the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), in all gentleness and charity, that he is something of an elder statesman in this House and we look to him to set an example to other colleagues.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Anyone would imagine that there is an election on the horizon.
There are 84 trainees on the Troops to Teachers scheme and the expansion of the programme allows even more talented service leavers to make an important contribution to our children’s education.
I absolutely agree. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently visited Bristol to see for herself the latest cohort being trained, and she was hugely impressed by both their calibre and their commitment. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), I strongly encourage schools in Gosport and elsewhere to contact the university of Brighton to secure a trainee for this September and benefit from the next tranche of Troops to Teachers.
The new curriculum requires all maintained primary schools to teach a foreign language to pupils from the age of seven. The number of entries for a modern language GCSE has increased by 20% since 2010 due to the introduction of the English baccalaureate performance measure, a major step towards remedying the enormous damage to foreign language teaching in schools caused by the previous Labour Government’s 2004 decision about the curriculum.
“Ya khochu govorit’ svobodno po-russki”, possibly means “I want to speak Russian fluently.” For somebody of my age, it is an ambition I might hope to reach before I die, but youngsters tend to be more adept at learning foreign languages. Could we do more to encourage even more youngsters to learn Russian, Arabic and Mandarin not only to open doors in their minds, but to make their worth even more attractive in the employment market?
Spasibo, Mr Speaker. The number taking Russian GCSE has increased from 1,500 in 2010-11 to about 2,000 in 2013-14. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of languages for the economy, and for learning about other cultures. According to a report by the CBI published in 2014, 65% of businesses say they value foreign language skills, most importantly for building relations with overseas customers.
On the subject of businesses and foreign languages, what work is the Minister doing to get companies more closely involved with secondary schools to make learning foreign languages relevant, and to put the business application and the real-life experience together?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The careers and enterprise company recently announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing precisely that—inspiring schools and young people to engage with business in considering their future careers. The importance of that has been shown by other surveys. The Economist this week points to a 2012 British Chambers of Commerce survey of 8,000 British companies, reporting that 96% of them had no foreign language speakers. In a country like Britain—an international trading nation—that is a disgrace and something we are working hard to remedy.
I agree with my hon. Friend that that should be possible, and we are doing everything we can to encourage more young people to study a foreign language. The problem is that a decision was taken by the previous Labour Government in 2004 to remove the compulsory nature of taking languages to GCSE, and that has had a devastating effect on the numbers doing so. We have reversed that trend.
We have supported the creation of new sixth-form schools, such as Exeter Mathematics school, the London Academy of Excellence in Newham and Sir Isaac Newton sixth-form school in Norwich, but we do not currently plan to promote the establishment of more sixth-form colleges.
The Minister will have seen the statistics showing that sixth-form colleges outperform other providers of 16-to-18 education on every measure of academic success and in value for money. Does he not therefore agree that an intelligent Government would seek actively to establish many more sixth-form colleges, instead of allowing their numbers to reduce?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s support for and admiration of the work of sixth-form colleges, which are generally fantastic institutions producing great results, but I disagree with him on this obsession with particular forms and structures. I agree with him that schools that are dedicated to teaching 16 to 19-year-olds in sixth forms do very well, which is why we have supported the creation of so many sixth-form schools, but whether they are schools or colleges is a second-order issue.
I can assure my hon. Friend that in the Sixth Form college in Farnborough we have one of the finest structures in the country. However, sixth-form colleges are facing a challenge because they are eligible for VAT, unlike sixth forms in mainstream schools. Will my hon. Friend do something to remedy that anomaly because it is really having an effect on not only my sixth-form college but many others around the country?
We absolutely recognise this “anomaly”, as my hon. Friend calls it, which also applies to further education colleges. It goes along with other freedoms that schools and academies do not have—sixth-form colleges have the freedom to borrow in a way that academies do not—but we nevertheless recognise that this issue is of concern to a lot of sixth-form colleges, and we are actively discussing ways in which we might ameliorate it. However, to get rid of the problem entirely would cost many tens of millions of pounds, which would require us to identify savings that we cannot find at the moment.
I understand that the Minister, who recognises this “anomaly”, has in his rather amiable way when visiting sixth-form colleges been encouraging some of them to consider going for academy status. When that happens, however, his noble friend Lord Nash says, “This isn’t on mate”. Which is right? Can colleges go for academy status or not?
Lord Nash and I are not only great friends but we agree entirely on this issue. It is legally possible under existing provisions for a college to convert to academy status, but there are issues around how the VAT will be dealt with, and how any debt that it has already amassed will be dealt with on its balance sheet. Those issues are tricky, but we are looking at them.
Successive rounds of cuts to sixth-form and further education colleges are having a devastating effect. One principal of a college in the west country—a college recently judged by Ofsted as outstanding and a beacon college—recently told The Times Educational Supplement that
“cuts have taken us to the edge”,
and added that any further cuts would threaten the services the college offers.
Will the Minister commit to Labour’s pledge to protect the education budget in real terms?
I will not commit to a pledge that is as unfunded as every pledge that Labour has made since 2010. Labour Members think that they will pay for all this out of a tax on bankers’ bonuses that has so far been used about 27 times. There was no money left according to the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and that is because Labour has absolutely no idea how to run a budget.
College of Teaching
Nothing in schools matters more than good teaching, and we are proud to have so many dedicated professionals in our classrooms. An independent professional body could play a valuable part in raising the status and standards of teaching, and give teachers vital support. Our consultation, “A world-class teaching profession”, outlined our commitment to offer support to those seeking to establish such a body, independent of Government, and we will publish our response to the consultation shortly.
The Government’s offer of funding to help a college start up is welcome, but can the Secretary of State reassure me that it will come with no strings attached so that teachers themselves can drive what the college is, and that she will not seek to impose things such as teacher licensing schemes top-down, before this fledgling college has even left the nest?
If my hon. Friend knows anything about me she will know that I am not in favour of anything that is top-down, and I agree that the proposed body must be established and owned by teachers for teachers. To be successful, a college of teaching must be free from Government control. Our recent consultation made a commitment to offer support—whether financial or otherwise—if that would be helpful, but the independence of the college from Government remains our overriding concern and our support must not compromise that.
Teacher Work Load
Reducing unnecessary work load is a priority for this Government. In October 2014, we launched the Workload Challenge, asking teachers for views on how to tackle unnecessary work load. On 6 February, we published our response with a comprehensive programme of action.
Teachers across Bolton West are telling me that they love teaching but are thinking of leaving the profession because they cannot tolerate the work load any longer. Will the Minister set a target for the reduction in work load and limit working hours, rather than just monitoring them?
The risk of that is picking out an arbitrary number, but we are clear that we want to see consequences for the actions we are putting in place, and reduce figures for unnecessary work load. We are commissioning biannual surveys to measure the effectiveness of the policy. I hope that the Labour party will sign up to some of the measures included in the conclusions of the Workload Challenge, including the protocol that would set out minimum lead-in times for significant changes in curriculum qualifications and accountability, which has been very much welcomed by teachers.
We encourage all schools to involve former students in advising young people about career opportunities and the course choices that can lead to them. Future First does excellent work in helping schools to do this.
St Peter’s school in my constituency is in one of the most deprived communities in the country, yet it has produced the current head of performance engineering at the Williams Formula 1 team and the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). Does the Minister agree that such alumni can play a valuable role in raising aspiration in the next generation?
I agree with my hon. Friend absolutely. It is hard to know who I admire more: my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells or the other gentleman he refers to. One of the key tasks of the new careers company being set up by Christine Hodgson is to help every school in the country to have an enterprise adviser, a current or recently retired local executive, who can help the school and the students identify opportunities in the area for their future career.
Sex and Relationship Education
Sex and relationship education must be taught in all maintained secondary schools; we believe that most secondary academies and many primary schools also teach it. Any school teaching SRE must have regard to the Secretary of State’s “Sex and Relationship Education Guidance”. The guidance makes it clear that all sex and relationship education should be age-appropriate, and that schools should ensure that young people develop positive values and a moral framework that will guide their decisions, judgments and behaviour.
Will the Minister consider that the ongoing revelations over child sexual exploitation, the explicit content on new technologies widely available to children, and the warnings of the deputy Children’s Commissioner and the Education Committee among others together make an overwhelming case for the urgent introduction of mandatory age-appropriate sex and relationship education, starting at primary school?
We are considering the report of the Education Committee very carefully and will respond to it in due course. We believe that all schools should teach personal, social, health and economic education and, within that, SRE. Indeed, the introduction to the new national curriculum makes that explicitly clear. What is important is not whether PSHE is statutory, but the quality of the teaching. That is our focus, and we are working with the PSHE Association and other expert bodies to ensure that teachers have the best resources to teach these very sensitive issues.
Teacher Recruitment: Armed Forces
There are currently two cohorts of former service leavers on the Troops to Teachers programme, totalling 84 trainees. The university of Brighton is proactively working with the Department for Education and the Ministry of Defence to promote the expansion of the scheme through a targeted marketing and recruitment campaign, including attendance at recruitment fairs and MOD resettlement centres, as well as promotion through a variety of online and other publications.
Those who served in Her Majesty’s armed forces represent Britain at its very best. Getting these individuals into our schools needs to be a key priority for any Government. Can the Minister supercharge this policy and put rocket boosters under it so that many more troops are turned into teachers?
My hon. Friend’s long-standing support for this policy is extremely gratefully received. He will be pleased to hear there has been a huge interest in the latest cohort, which will take up its training in September this year. It is our intention to do what we can to expand the programme in the future for the very good reasons my hon. Friend has given.
Teach First Scheme
Teach First has made a real difference to the education and life chances of thousands of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas in our country. Since the Government came to office, we have more than doubled the number of trainees on the programme and spread its reach to every region in the country. For 2015-16, we have expanded the programme again. Funding has been allocated for 2,000 trainees, 33% up on last year. More than 50% of the secondary allocation will focus on priority subjects: maths, science, modern languages, computing, and design and technology.
I thank the Minister for that comprehensive answer. On a recent visit to the absolutely splendid Grove academy in Watford, it was brought to my attention that it can be difficult for the school, and for Watford schools in general, to attract staff because 2 miles down the road, with London weighting as it is, people receive £2,500 a year more for the same job. Given that Watford is demographically and occupationally similar to most London suburbs, will the Minister look at London weighting in this respect, so that Watford jobs become more competitive with London jobs next door?
My hon. Friend raised these issues when I visited Watford and a number of schools there recently. The pay reforms we have introduced over the last two years have given schools greater flexibility to decide how much they can pay a teacher and how quickly pay progresses. Our reforms are providing schools with the discretion they need to address any school-level recruitment and retention problems they may have. However, as my hon. Friend also knows, decisions about the definitions of inner and outer London and the London fringe area are ultimately a matter for the independent School Teachers Review Body.
As this is the last Education Question Time of this Parliament, I thank colleagues in all parts of the House for their questions, though I particularly thank all staff and governors at the thousands of schools up and down this country who work so hard every day to prepare our young people for life in modern Britain.
In this Parliament, the Government have established more than 4,200 academies, 255 free schools, 37 studio schools and 37 university technical colleges. More than 100,000 more six-year-olds are able to read because of our focus on phonics, and we have introduced the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion this year. Our plan for education is working.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but one thing that the Government have not done is introduce a holistic approach to education for life. If we are talking about positive values and life skills, is it not time that first aid training was made a requirement in the school curriculum?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for spotting one of the things that we have not yet achieved in this Parliament. I agree with him that first aid skills are very important, and I was discussing that only this morning with Natasha Jones, who has been named Tesco community mum of the year for setting up a baby resuscitation project. We also welcome the work of expert organisations such as the British Heart Foundation to support schools in this aspect of teaching and we have been working with the Department of Health on helping schools to procure defibrillators at a reduced price.
T7. Today is national secondary offer day, yet 24% of the country’s secondary schools are full or over capacity. Given that this Government have wasted £240 million on free school places in areas without any real need for them, what does the Secretary of State say to parents whose children are being crammed into schools that are over capacity? (907814)
What I say to the hon. Lady, and therefore to anyone who wants to ask questions about this, is that when her party was in government, it stripped 200,000 places at the time of a baby boom and allowed uncontrolled immigration. At the last national offer day—[Interruption.] I suggest that she waits to find out what the offers are this year, but at the last national offer day, 82.5% of pupils were offered a place at the highest preference school and 95.5% were offered a place at one of the top three; and of course, seven out of 10 free schools have been opened in areas of basic need.
T2. Little Fatima at Fonthill school in Southmead made two years’ reading progress in just 16 weeks thanks to the “Read on. Get on” scheme. What support are the Government giving to reading recovery schemes such as this? (907809)
One of the purposes of the phonics check, which we introduced in 2012, is to identify early on those children who are still struggling with the basic reading skill of decoding. We expect schools to focus their resources on helping those children, which is why they retake the check at the end of year 2 to ensure that no child slips through the net. As a result of our policy on reading and the introduction of the phonics check in 2012, 102,000 six-year-olds are today reading more effectively than they would otherwise have done had Labour stayed in office.
Given that two secondary academies in my constituency have recently been judged inadequate by Ofsted—one having previously been judged as outstanding, the other as good—the Secretary of State will understand that many of those parents would like to see her working closely and quickly with those schools to get them back to where they need to be. What action is she going to take to ensure that those children in Stockport and in Tameside receive the life chances they deserve?
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that a good education is exactly that: it is all about enhancing the life chances of all the young people at those schools. If he wants to let us have the names of those schools, I am of course happy to follow the issue up with DFE officials and the regional schools commissioner, as well as working with the heads directly.
T3. On that subject, does the Secretary of State agree that improving the links with local businesses and schools is key? Will she therefore welcome the interest that David Nieper Ltd has shown in sponsoring Alfreton Grange arts college? (907810)
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s points, and I would like to congratulate the company he mentioned on its sponsorship. Professional standards of governance in schools are vital, and we want to make sure that governing boards are focused on recruiting people with the skills for the role. People from business have valuable transferable skills and benefit from board-level experience. I want to see more employers encouraging and supporting their staff to volunteer as governors. This is something I have discussed with the CBI.
Why does the Conservative party not value education? Why is the Secretary of State happy to see her budget slashed under any future Tory Government? Why will she not make a commitment, as the Labour party has done, to protecting the education budget in real terms rather than delivering a 10% cut to schools over the next Parliament?
T4. All Durham’s secondary schools were rated good or outstanding in 2013, and there was such a surplus of places that one school closed. That school became the home of the Durham free school, and I noticed that the Secretary of State was in Durham confirming its closure just last week. Why does she think her Department allowed this waste of taxpayers’ money, and what lessons has it learned? (907811)
I was pleased to meet some of the parents from the Durham free school, and we discussed various interests. I made it clear to them that my Department operates on the basis of putting the interests of children absolutely first. We will of course look at all the lessons to be learned from the way in which the application was processed and considered in the first place. Nevertheless, 24% of open or free schools have already been judged outstanding by Ofsted, and more have been judged as good. This is a successful programme, but there will inevitably be some issues, and we have taken swift action to deal with problems in this case.
What help can the Minister give to the Archbishop Sumner primary school—a school in my constituency that has been rated outstanding by Ofsted—which has been trying to become a two-form entry school for some years? Lambeth seems to have taken against that idea, despite it not affecting any of the local schools. Will the Secretary of State get involved in this issue?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising the matter with me. I would be happy to take a look. We can take further details, arrange a meeting and work out ways to raise this issue with the local authority. On the basis of previous conversations, I think both she and I want the same thing, which is for all young people to get the best possible education to set them up for life.
We have some of the best schools in the country in my Windsor constituency—and perhaps one or two of them are slightly over-represented here in the House of Commons! I speak, of course, of Windsor Boys’ school. Will the Secretary of State commend Windsor Girls’ school for forming a joint academy status with Windsor Boys’ school?
Does the Secretary of State agree that all our children should have a full chance of exploiting all their talents in our educational system? If so, why is she cutting further education again when FE is so important to the less privileged in our country? Why has nothing been mentioned in this Question Time about special educational needs or autism or about the fact that so many parents in this country have no chance of help?
The hon. Gentleman raised an important point at the end of his question, but to be honest, I am here to answer the questions, not to ask them. It is up to hon. Members to raise the issues, whether they be about special educational needs, autism, disability or any other topic. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), would answer any such questions brilliantly, as he always does. On FE, I have already explained that this Government have had to take difficult financial decisions as a result of the legacy that we inherited. I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that the decision to prioritise spending on early years and on schools for children up to 16 is right because that will be of most benefit to our young people.
T5. We may not have Eton in the Ribble Valley, but all our schools are of an incredibly high standard. To make parental choice effective, we must ensure that parents are not stung when youngsters decide to go past their nearest school to a grammar, a faith-based school or, indeed, a non-faith-based school. They might want to go and learn Russian. Will the Secretary of State ensure that she talks to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government so that we make parental choice effective? (907812)
My hon. Friend has raised this matter before. I know that he has campaigned on it, and that he feels passionately about it. I should be happy to talk to Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I believe that faith schools play an important role in our education system, and I support them. As my hon. Friend is aware from discussions that we have had, I want to encourage all local authorities to arrange school transport flexibly, creatively and innovatively, and to make the best possible use of any gaps in their existing school bus provision.
I understand that the Minister recently visited Shanghai to look at the education system in China. In this respect, the Chinese are more successful than we are in many ways. What is the key difference that makes China’s socialist state system so much more successful than our system, in terms of classrooms, culture and teaching methods, and what did the Minister learn from that?
In maths, 15-year-olds in Shanghai are three years ahead of 15-year-olds in this country in the programme for international student assessment tables. We look very carefully at international evidence, which is why we sent 71 teachers to Shanghai to study teaching methods there. Now 30 Shanghai teachers are in 20 primary schools in this country, teaching our teachers how to improve their maths teaching. They have a mastery model. Pupils face the front, learn their tables, concentrate for 35 minutes, and use textbooks. We are learning from the best in the world.
T6. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to maintaining a focus on social justice and rooting for those who do not go to university? Will he reject out of hand a policy that has been described by the New Statesman as “dire”, by Martin Lewis as “financially illiterate”, and by The Times as Labour’s worst policy? Tuition fees cuts amounting to £2.7 billion would subsidise the very richest at a time when we need to do more for the very poorest. (907813)
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. We are taking money from the welfare budget to pay for apprenticeships that will set our young people up in life, while the Labour party is taking money away from pensioners in order to fund a misguided policy on tuition fees. According to the vice-chancellor of my own university, Loughborough, that policy would make 500 people redundant. Which 500 people in Loughborough does the shadow Secretary of State think should be made redundant?
I have had a letter from the head teacher of the excellent Baylis Court secondary school in my constituency, pointing out that the cost of payroll changes involving, for instance, national insurance will be £222,000 next year, without funding. Moreover, the education support grant is to be cut by £53 a head. What difference will that makes to the girls’ learning?
As we have seen during the current Parliament, schools have been able to raise standards at a time of straitened budgets. I have every faith in them. I believe that they will continue to raise their standards, and that all the young people in that school will benefit.
The Secretary of State has been very supportive of the protection of schools against terrorism attacks, and my constituents and I are very grateful for that. Will she update the House on progress in the funding of counter-terrorism measures at independent Jewish schools?
My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point. I do not want any young people to feel frightened of attending school or of their journey to and from school, and, sadly, that applies particularly to members of the Jewish community at present. I have had discussions with a number of Jewish organisations about the funds that are required and the estimates that they have provided.
Given that 30% of Birmingham’s population are under the age of 15, there are enormous pressures on school places, which will continue. However, there is no correlation between teacher training places and demand in regions where that demand will increase. Will the Secretary of State address the problem, and ensure that the availability of teacher training places matches regional demands?
That is a very interesting point. I shall need to look into exactly how the teacher supply model is calculated each year, but I can tell the hon. Lady that, during the current Parliament, the Government have invested £5 billion to create new school places, and that, because we continue to recognise that there is pressure on the system, we have announced further funding up to 2021.
We were delighted to see the Orchard special school in Newark added to a list of 16 schools in Nottinghamshire to which funding was provided last month for classrooms. Those of us who know the Orchard school believe it may be beyond repair; this school really is in bad condition. Will the Secretary of State agree to review this case and get back to us?
I was delighted last month to be able to announce £6 billion of investment in school buildings for school blocks in the worst condition, but of course, sadly, demand always outstrips supply. If my hon. Friend would like to send me further details, I shall ensure that I or one of the Ministers respond, and perhaps meet him to have a chat about it.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement that she is against top-down imposition. Will she therefore admit that her predecessor made a huge mistake when he ordered the decoupling of AS and A-levels, and put that right before it is too late?
I like the hon. Gentleman very much indeed, but I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with him on this, because the evidence shows that having linear exams, where students have much longer to study the subject, benefits them as they understand the subject in depth. This is an important reform and I wait to see the progress it makes.
This Government have protected school budgets, yet those at the secondary school in my constituency who wrote to me last week say that they are facing a cut of nearly 3% in their funding next year. Is that a result of the long-standing unfair budget formula, is it because of an imbalance between secondary and primary schools, or is it because of decisions taken by Somerset county council locally?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I suspect that it is a combination of factors, and I am sure that Ministers will be happy to look into this further, but he makes an important point about the need to push on with restoring the national fairer funding formula. Too many areas and too many authorities in this country have suffered from funding falling back over many years. We are making progress—small progress—in this Parliament and we hope to make greater progress in the next Parliament in restoring that fairness.
Counter-Terrorism: Conflict Zones
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the Government’s counter-terrorism policy and implications for individuals travelling to the Iraq/Syria conflict zones.
As the Government have made clear repeatedly, the threat we face from terrorism is grave and is growing. The House will appreciate that I cannot comment on operational matters and individual cases, but the threat level in the United Kingdom, which is set by the independent joint terrorism analysis centre, is at severe. This means that a terrorist attack is highly likely and could occur without warning.
The Government have consistently and emphatically advised against all travel to Syria and parts of Iraq. Anyone who travels to these areas is putting themselves in considerable danger, and the impact that such a decision can have on families and communities can be devastating.
The serious nature of the threat we face is exactly why the Government have been determined to act. We have protected the counter-terrorism policing budget up to and including 2015-16, and increased the budget for the security and intelligence agencies. In addition, we have provided an additional £130 million to strengthen counter-terrorism capabilities and help address the threat from ISIL, and we have taken significant steps to ensure that the police and the security services have the powers and capabilities they need.
Last year, we acted swiftly to protect vital capabilities that allow the police and the security services to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to clarify the law in respect of interception for communications-service providers. This year we have introduced the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. This has provided the police with a power to seize a passport at the border temporarily, during which time they will be able to investigate the individual concerned—and I can confirm that this power has already been used. It has created a temporary exclusion order that allows for the managed return to the UK of a British citizen suspected of involvement in terrorist activity abroad. It has strengthened the existing terrorism prevention and investigation measures regime so that, among other measures, subjects can be made to relocate to another part of the country, and it has enhanced our border security for aviation, maritime and rail travel, with provisions relating to passenger data, no-fly lists, and security and screening measures.
Since its national roll-out in April 2012, more than 2,000 people have been referred to Channel, the Government’s programme for people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism, many of whom might have gone on to be radicalised or to fight in Syria. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 has now placed Channel on a statutory basis. It has also placed our Prevent work on a statutory basis, which will mean that schools, colleges, universities, prisons, local government and the police will have to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. Already since 2012, local Prevent projects have reached more than 55,000 people and have helped young people and community groups to understand and challenge extremist narratives, including those of ISIL.
In addition to this work, alongside the checks we already conduct on a significant number of passengers who leave the UK, we have committed to reintroducing exit checks, and arrangements to do so will be in place by April 2015. These will extend our ability to identify persons of interest from a security, criminal, immigration or customs perspective. And as the Prime Minister stated last week, the Transport Secretary and I will be working with airlines to put proportionate arrangements in place to ensure that children who are at risk are properly identified and questioned.
The Government are taking robust action, but we have been clear that tackling the extremist threat that we face is not just a job for the Government, the police and the security services; it needs everyone to play their part. It requires educational institutions, social media companies, communities, religious leaders and families to help to protect people vulnerable to radicalisation and to confront this poisonous ideology. If we are to defeat this appalling threat and ideology, we must all work together.
An estimated 600 British citizens have now travelled to join the conflict in Syria, from extremists with a terrorist history to 15-year-old schoolgirls. The whole House will share a revulsion at the barbarism of ISIL, a determination to tackle extremism and strong support for the vital and unsung work of the security services and the police to tackle the threat here and abroad. Members on both sides of the House have also recently supported further legislation to tackle the terrorist threat. However, there are specific areas in which we need answers about Government policies and decisions.
First, we need answers on the handling of a west London network of terror suspects. In 2011, court papers described a network including three individuals relocated on control orders, 10 other named individuals and further unnamed individuals based in west London who were
“involved in the provision of funds and equipment”
to terrorism and the
“facilitation of individuals’ travel from the UK”
to join terrorist-related activity.
The Home Secretary’s decision, against advice, to abolish control orders and cancel relocations was implemented in 2012, meaning that no one could then be relocated, despite the continued police view that relocation was one of the best ways to disrupt terrorist networks. One of those who had been relocated absconded in a London black cab; another associate absconded wearing a burqa. Other men from that west London network have been reported in the media as subsequently leaving for Syria and becoming involved in brutal violence. The Home Secretary has finally restored the relocation powers within the past few weeks. Does she believe that her decision to remove those relocation powers made it easier for that west London network to operate, recruit and send people to Syria? Will she now ask the independent terrorism reviewer or the Intelligence and Security Committee to consider the details of that west London network and to assess whether Government policy made it easier for it to operate and harder for the police and the Security Service to disrupt it?
Secondly, we need to know about the Government’s policy to prevent young people and children from travelling to Syria, in the light of the distressing story of three schoolgirls from east London travelling there. I have not had a reply to my letter to the Home Secretary of last Wednesday, so will she tell us now whether the Government had an agreement in place with the airlines to raise alerts over unaccompanied minors travelling on known Syrian routes? If not, why not? And will she put such an agreement in place now? The girls flew out on Tuesday, but they did not leave Istanbul bus station until late Wednesday. It is reported that the police contacted the London embassy on Wednesday, but when were the Istanbul authorities alerted, and when were checks made at the main airports and train and bus stations in that city?
One pupil from Bethnal Green academy is reported to have left for Syria before Christmas, and it is widely known that recruitment is taking place through friendship groups and social media. What training and support was given to the teachers and parents of other children at Bethnal Green academy to prevent further recruitment, grooming and radicalisation? What community-led Prevent programmes is the Home Office currently supporting in Bethnal Green?
When the Home Secretary came to office and changed policy to end relocation orders and to remove community work from Prevent, she claimed that previous policies had failed to tackle extremism and she promised:
“We will not make the same mistakes”.—[Official Report, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 52.]
We need answers from her now about the mistakes that have been made under this Government, so that we can all work together to strengthen counter-terrorism policy in the face of these serious threats.
The shadow Home Secretary has raised a number of serious issues. She asked about Prevent and on that I have to say to her that she needs to stop using the numbers she likes to quote. She tries to compare Prevent before the election with Prevent after the election, but in 2011 we took the very important decision to split work on integration, which is now the sole responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government, and Prevent. That was done for very good reasons, and if the right hon. Lady wants to securitise integration work again, I suggest to her that she has not learned from the mistakes made by her Government. I would like her to say, at some stage: whether she supports the changes we have made to Prevent; whether she supports the fact that Prevent now looks at non-violent extremism as well as violent extremism; and whether she supports the changes we have made to make sure that no public money finds its way to extremists, as it did under her Government.
The right hon. Lady made various comments about TPIMs, and has done so outside this Chamber, asking why I did not put certain individuals on TPIMs. I cannot comment on individual cases, but I think she should understand how TPIMs work and how control orders worked. I do not decide to put somebody on a TPIM; the Security Service makes an application to me for permission to put somebody on a TPIM and if it has made a strong enough case, I approve the application. If she thinks that the Home Secretary should be taking operational decisions, I suggest that she should study the history of our constitution.
The right hon. Lady raised the issue of control orders, but, as I have said at this Dispatch Box many times, control orders were being whittled away by the courts—they were not a sustainable system. TPIMs have, in contrast, consistently been upheld by the courts. She mentioned relocation, and, of course, the House has just passed the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which adds relocation to the TPIM regime. I understand that she told the BBC on Sunday:
“I think effectively—
that TPIMs and control orders are—
“the same thing if you bring the relocation powers back”.
That is precisely what we have done.
The right hon. Lady says the power to relocate has not always been there, but what she fails to say is that the cases that have been raised in the media date from the time when control orders and the power of relocation were in place. At no point has anybody from the police or Security Service said to me that if we had the power of relocation we would be able to prevent people from travelling to Syria. Indeed, at the weekend, Helen Ball, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said—and they have said consistently—
“short of locking someone up for 24 hours a day, you can’t eliminate the risk they pose.”
The shadow Home Secretary herself said yesterday about control orders:
“We can’t pretend it’s going to solve all of the problems.”
I agree with her, which is why we consistently look at the powers available to the police and the security services in dealing with this issue. But, as I made absolutely clear in the answer to her question, this is not just a question of government and the powers we give to the police and to the security services; this is about families and communities as well, and we all need to work together to ensure that we can defeat this poisonous ideology.
The Home Secretary should be wary of taking advice from Labour Members on control orders, because under the last four years of their regime seven of the so-called “control order” subjects absconded, in some cases, as we know, to commit jihad abroad. However, will she revisit the issue of using intercept evidence in court, as the best protection of the British public is provided by being able to prosecute, convict and lock up the people who are a threat to the British public?
I agree that the best way of dealing with these people who pose a threat is to prosecute them and lock them up. That view has been shared with the assistant commissioner with responsibility for counter-terrorism. Indeed the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, also made that point. On the question about intercept as evidence, that issue has been looked at on a number of occasions over the years. Most recently, it was considered by a cross-party Privy Council group, which reported some months ago and made it absolutely clear that, in the current situation, it was not appropriate to change the arrangements such that intercept should be used as evidence.
No one is suggesting that there is any range of measures that would completely eliminate the risk of people travelling to Syria and Iraq. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has certainly not done so. But since the Home Secretary has now reintroduced the power of relocation, does she not accept that removing that power in 2011 was a mistake?
We took the decision that we did in 2011 based on the situation at the time. We have now reviewed the measures that are available and put other measures in place. I repeat what I said earlier, which is that some of the cases that have been quoted in the press go back to a date when control orders with relocation were in place.
Does the Home Secretary agree that it is quite right that when the identity of some brainwashed, narcissistic psychopathic killer is exposed there should be wide media coverage of it? But does she also agree that a degree of self-restraint at some point should be necessary if we are not to build up these bogey men in precisely the way that they intend us to do?
I accept my hon. Friend’s point. Indeed, as others have said, including Helen Ball in her interview yesterday, there are other reasons why restraint should be applied, and they include when there are ongoing investigations and when there may be a risk to life involved.
I am sure that the Home Secretary has heard the anguished pleas of the parents of Shamina, Kadiza and Amira, the three London schoolgirls who have left this country. They left on the Tuesday, but the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey says that the Turkish authorities in Istanbul were not informed until three days later. I accept that the embassy in London may have been alerted, but this is something that should have gone straight to Istanbul. Will she look again at the circumstances so that we know exactly what the facts are, and will she look at a recommendation made by the Home Affairs Committee, which is that police spotters need to be placed in Istanbul, a destination of concern, so that immediate action can be taken if young girls disappear in this way?
I always look with great care at the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee. The Metropolitan police have been absolutely clear about the date and time at which they alerted the Turkish authorities to the girls going missing. There is concern over this matter. Sadly, we have seen, over time, an increasing number of women and girls going to Syria, alongside the men and the younger boys. This is an ongoing matter, which is why Home Office officials have been talking to Turkish airlines about these issues. I will meet the Transport Secretary to see whether further arrangements can be put in place to ensure that we do not see other families facing the same trauma and stress.
We are of course all concerned about radicalisation in the UK and people going to join ISIS, but I urge the Home Secretary not to give way to the authoritarian views of the Labour party as it was wrong on identity cards, wrong on 90-day detention without charge and is wrong now. Will she update the House on what progress she has made on implementing the Anderson recommendations, which are a far more sensible way to resolve this matter?
My hon. Friend will know that we did in fact take on board a number of Anderson’s recommendations in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. David Anderson is carrying out a fuller review for the Government on the question of the threat, the capabilities that are needed and the regulatory framework that needs to be in place to ensure that the police and the security and intelligence agencies have the necessary powers, and I look forward to his report.
May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)? I find it abhorrent that the media continue to use a photograph of a man who is a murderer, to name him and to give him an identity by giving him a nickname. That will probably reinforce the ideas of those who think that what he is doing is good and that he is some sort of modern Jesse James. I just find it abhorrent that our media continue to use this man’s name.
I will not comment on any individual case when ongoing investigations are taking place, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would not expect me to do so. What I will say is that we are all appalled and shocked at the horrific barbarism that is being shown by ISIL, and we expect that to be reflected in any reporting.
The Home Secretary spends a great deal of time trying to persuade us that there needs to be more surveillance of everyone and that more data need to be collected. Does she not agree that recent cases suggest that the biggest problem is the incapacity of the security services—although it is not their fault—to deal adequately with the data and information that they already possess?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that I am saying that the agencies should have different capabilities. It is right that as people communicate less by telephone and more across the internet, we should update the legislation on access to communications data. This capability is not about looking at the content of any messages that people are exchanging. It is an important capability that has been there for some time and that has proved valuable not just in counter-terrorism cases, but in serious crime cases. I believe that it should be updated and a Conservative Government would certainly do that.
It has been reported in the newspapers that one of the three poor girls was travelling on a false passport. Does that not indicate that there are severe shortcomings in the entry and exit checks by our immigration and nationality department and in the airline checks? Will my right hon. Friend commit a future Conservative Government to a root and branch re-examination of those systems?
Of course, we are reintroducing exit checks. A certain amount of advance passenger information is available from airlines. We are looking at other ports of departure and the information that can be available. As I said in response to the shadow Home Secretary, exit checks will be in place in April of this year.
I am not aware that the media have made a hero of the individual who has been mentioned today, but is it not important to make it absolutely clear from this Parliament, not just from the Government, that the person who is responsible for the beheading of kidnapped British citizens should be brought to justice in whatever form is necessary and however long it takes?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that we wish to bring to justice the individual who is responsible for the beheading of British hostages. There is an ongoing police investigation into that case and that is why I am not commenting any further on it. However, he is absolutely right that that individual should be brought to justice.
Will my right hon. Friend ignore any opportunistic criticism and continue to meet the difficult challenge of balancing the defence of our values and our security? Will she continue to ensure that our intelligence services and her Department learn from our experiences in this area, so that we continue to be among the best in the world at getting that balance right?
My hon. Friend is right, and of course that is what this Government have done. We have looked at the balance between people’s privacy and liberty and the need for our services to have the appropriate powers and capabilities to keep people safe. I believe that we have struck the right balance, but of course we must continue to consider the issue as matters develop and as the terrorists find new ways of communicating and of carrying out their terrible and horrific attacks. We must be ever vigilant on this matter and that is exactly what the Government have been.
The Home Secretary failed to answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) about airlines and airline checks. A number of Members from all parties have been raising this concern for some months; I raised it in relation to constituents of mine who had travelled to Syria, tragically, to fight. Will the Home Secretary explain whether specific arrangements are in place with commercial airlines flying to Turkey and Cyprus, specifically with Turkish airlines?
Has my right hon. Friend seen the comments made by activists from Cage, an organisation that receives charitable funds? What does she make of those comments, and will she take the opportunity to thank and congratulate in this House the security and intelligence services in this country for their excellent and brave work?
To take the latter point first, the shadow Home Secretary made that point and I am happy to do that again, as I have on many occasions in the past and as I did at the weekend. The men and women working for our security services do an excellent job for us. It is challenging work that they are doing unseen and unknown and without general praise precisely because they have to be unseen and unknown. They do an excellent job for us. As for the comments made by Cage, I must say to my hon. Friend in this House that there can be no excuse for the barbarism shown by those operating in the name of ISIL. I condemn anybody who attempts to excuse that barbarism away in the way that has been done by Cage.
May I ask the Home Secretary not to set her face completely against the potential the control orders might still offer? Will she give further thought to helping families to be more resilient, particularly when young members are susceptible to violent extremism? Will she give more support and encouragement to projects such as the JAN Trust, which are very helpful to people in that situation and certainly need to be encouraged?
The comment that has consistently been made about control orders concerns the power of relocation, but as the shadow Home Secretary said yesterday, TPIMs are effectively the same as control orders if we bring the relocation powers back, which we have done. The right hon. Gentleman is right that many good groups up and down the country are providing support for families. I launched a project by Families Against Stress and Trauma—FAST—last summer, which works with those families whose sons and daughters might have tried or might want to travel to Syria. I also commend the work of Inspire and Sara Khan, standing up with Muslim women throughout the UK against the radicalisation of young people.
“World at One” this lunchtime carried a discussion about the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 and its effect on radicalisation. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to send a clear message to universities about how they can play their part in addressing that?
I am happy to do so. It is absolutely right that we have included universities in the Prevent duty in the Act. Universities should have a duty of care for the welfare of their students. If radicalisation is taking place on their campus, they should be aware of that and willing to deal with it.
I would be grateful if the Home Secretary could answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) about what training and support has been provided to teachers and parents from the Bethnal Green academy since the teenager absconded at Christmastime. When does the Home Secretary expect to release the funds to schools and universities to take part in the Prevent programme?
I commend my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the diligence she has shown in introducing various Prevent programmes to Crawley. Gatwick airport is also in my constituency, so can she say a little more about passenger name record checks for intra-EU flights, not just for those coming from outside the EU?
The whole question of exchanging passenger name records for intra-EU flights is one that I and others have been putting forward in the debate in the European Union arena for some time now. I am pleased to say that other member states have recognised the need for an EU PNR directive. It was one of the issues referred to at the recent European Council meeting. I am clear that any such directive should include the exchange of PNR for intra-EU flights. Failing that, it is open to member states to undertake bilateral agreements to that effect.
Given that many of these terrorists represent a clear and present danger to our country, our national security and the security of individuals, is it not important that we offer our intelligence services more powers, particularly through human rights reform and a communications data Bill, to ensure that we can secure our nation properly?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the impact that human rights legislation has sometimes had, for example on our ability to deport certain individuals who pose a threat to us here in the UK. I am clear that we need to reform our human rights legislation and introduce a communications data Bill, and a Conservative Government after 7 May will do just that.
Why should members of the public trust for one second Ministers whose judgment was so utterly flawed that they thought terrorist suspects should be able to live wherever they want, mix with whoever they like and have access to computers and mobile phones? Is it not a fact that when we introduced relocation powers not a single terrorist suspect absconded, but when the Home Secretary got rid of them, lots of them did? [Interruption.] She can laugh all she likes, but the people out there do not think it is a laughing matter. Last week Lord Carlile said that if one of those people had been subject to a control order, they would not have been able to leave the country.
I am afraid that some of the facts that the hon. Gentleman suggests in his question are inaccurate. Control orders were being whittled away by the courts, as he knows, so we decided to introduce TPIMs. We have now enhanced TPIMs through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, and the ability to introduce a TPIM has remained available to the security services upon request to the Secretary of State.
Yesterday I attended an event in Pendle at which counter-terrorism and security were discussed. It involved the former Pakistani high commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the MEP for North West England, Sajjad Karim, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) and many more, all of whom reject the idea that the so-called Islamic State has any connection with the true faith of Islam. Does my right hon. Friend agree that dialogue with the vast majority of the law-abiding Muslim community in this country is the best way to avoid radicalisation, rather than stigmatising communities, as Labour’s failed Prevent strategy did?
I absolutely agree. We should make it very clear that the so-called Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state. One of the best ways to prevent radicalisation is for communities themselves to stand up and say that what is being done by terrorists is not being done in their name. I commend those imams and others from Muslim communities across the country who have responded to events such as the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, the beheading of hostages and recent terrorist incidents in Europe and elsewhere precisely by saying that it is not in their name and that it is not about Islam; it is about a poisonous ideology.
It should not have to be said that the people who were subject to control orders and those who are now subject to TPIMs are very dangerous people indeed. Does the Home Secretary not recognise that the changes that she instigated in 2011 to counter-terrorism laws, particularly the decision to remove the powers of relocation, did not help? I think she does recognise that, from the fact that she had to reintroduce them three years later. Will she say sorry?
I can only repeat to the hon. Gentleman what I have said in answer to a number of questions on this matter from his right hon. and hon. Friends. Of course the background against which we are operating has changed over the past few years. We have taken the decisions that we believe were necessary and appropriate at the time.
It is right that we show compassion and sympathy for the families. It is every parent’s worst nightmare that their children should do as those young girls have done, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the approach of some in the media leaves something to be desired? I am thinking also of the Government’s YouTube videos, which could make more apparent the full horrors of what those young ladies have got themselves into, to try to deter young people like them from going to Iraq and Syria in the future.
My hon. Friend is right. It is important that we make very clear the dangers and the horrors of what can happen when people go to such countries. Even if people are going to Syria with the best of humanitarian intentions, they can find themselves caught up in horrific situations, including with terrorist groups. That message is important. We have consistently been saying to people that they should not be travelling to Syria and Iraq. If they wish to help and support the people of Syria who have been displaced by the actions of the regime in Syria, there are better ways of doing it. That is a message that we will continue to put out.
Returning to the point first made by the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) that some of these sick individuals revel in and feel rewarded by high-profile media, does the Home Secretary agree that when young girls like those choose to travel, apart from instances where their identity is needed, perhaps for the public to apprehend them on their route, it would be far better if the media were to report the facts in a more anonymised form, rather than naming those individuals and showing pictures of them time and again?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. A free press is obviously part of what underpins our democracy, but I would expect the media to be responsible in the way in which they deal with such issues in a number of ways. She mentioned the young girls travelling and whether their names should have been revealed. I say to the media that these are important issues. The families in that case are under considerable stress and trauma, suffering as a result of their daughters having gone to Syria, and I expect the media to respect that.
With Heathrow airport in my own patch, exit checks are very important to me. The whole House, including the shadow Home Secretary, has welcomed the improvements made to TPIMs and to other Prevent measures. On relocation, exit checks and the data and communications changes that we need, the Conservative elements of the Government have been pushing hard to put these in place sooner rather than later. To what extent has the Home Secretary been held back by the Liberal Democrats in coalition?
The reintroduction of exit checks was a coalition Government agreement; it was in the coalition Government agreement that we published at the beginning of this Government as one of the measures that we were going to introduce. The draft Communications Data Bill is a different matter. It is a matter of public record that our Liberal Democrat colleagues did not want the introduction of that Bill. That is why we have not been able to do it.
Speaking on the BBC yesterday, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said that the Metropolitan police have always thought that relocation powers were a valuable tool in disrupting terrorist networks. Is the Home Secretary saying that when she relaxed the control order regime, the Metropolitan police never made this clear to her?
With regard to the London schoolgirls going to Syria, is there not a mechanism in place whereby parents can apply for a parental watch on a young person’s passport so that if they undertake an airline ticket purchase or present themselves at the airport, an alarm goes off that the parents need to be contacted because the passport is being used without parental consent?
I know that parents up and down the country who are concerned about the possibility of their children travelling have removed their passports from them so that they are unable to access them in order to travel. In some cases, that has been effective in ensuring that young people do not travel.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; nobody has made the point that I am about to make. Many legitimate people are travelling from these troubled parts of the world, including students from the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, many of whom study at Huddersfield university. Will the Secretary of State assure me that these security measures will ensure that they are still able to travel to our country and enjoy a world-class education at our universities?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The assumption that has appeared to lie behind some of the points that have been made is that there should be security because any young person travelling is a matter of concern, but of course that is not right—there will be people travelling for perfectly legitimate reasons. In relation to travel to Turkey, I think that about 2 million British tourists go to Turkey each summer, so there is significant movement between the United Kingdom and Turkey, and that is an important part of the Turkish economy.
Point of Order
I seek your help, Mr Speaker. I received an e-mail from the Chancellor of the Exchequer engagingly entitled “Constituency courtesy”, which told me that he was proposing to visit my constituency on the following day—Friday—as indeed he duly did. However, this e-mail was sent at 9.17 pm on Thursday night, when I received it. That seems to stretch the concept of courtesy rather a long way. Could we not introduce some sort of training course or refresher course that we can send Ministers and their advisers on so that they have a full understanding of what these courtesies are?
I am bound to say that I think Members would benefit from such a course. I have known the right hon. Gentleman long enough to know that, perhaps unlike a number of colleagues in all parties, his own included, he himself would never be guilty of a discourtesy because he is among the most courteous Members of the House. I think that people ought to observe the spirit and not just the letter of the convention. Many people will feel that it is a discourtesy for him to be notified at such a late stage. I leave colleagues to consider whether that is worthy of somebody who occupies any ministerial office—notably, in this case, the occupant of the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think that people ought to rise to the level of events, if I can put it that way.
[2nd Allotted Day]
Department for Communities and Local Government
Devolution in England
[Relevant Documents: First Report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, on Devolution in England: the case for local government, HC 503, and the Government response, Cm 8998; and Third Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Session 2012-13, Prospects for codifying the relationship between central and local government, HC 656, and the Government response, Cm 8623.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2015, for expenditure by the Department for Communities and Local Government:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £752,206,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1019,
(2) the resources authorised for use for capital purposes be reduced by £607,860,000 as so set out, and
(3) the sum authorised for issue out of the Consolidated Fund be reduced by £1,092,985,000 as so set out.—(Damian Hinds.)
It is a great pleasure to introduce this debate on the report of the Communities and Local Government Committee entitled “Devolution in England: the case for local government”—which rather gives away the Committee’s findings and recommendations. I thank Professor Alan Harding from Liverpool university and Sean Nolan, an ex-local authority treasurer, who, as our specialist advisers, helped us through a great deal of technicality in trying to come to terms with the recommendations we made. I also thank Steve Habberley, our Committee specialist, whose hard work and diligence helped us through a very challenging report on which to reach conclusions.
The Committee decided on its inquiry not because of any specific Government legislation, but because of the widespread and welcome interest across all parties in localism, decentralisation and devolution. Despite recent reforms, the reality is that the United Kingdom, particularly England, remains one of the most centralised western democracies in terms of its arrangements both for expenditure and for tax raising, and that is still a matter of concern. Indeed, figures produced by the Mayor of London show that local authorities in London have to get 75% of their funding from central Government. In Tokyo the figure is only 7%, and in Madrid, New York and Berlin it ranges from 25% to 40%. In other words, all those capital cities get more than half their money from locally raised taxes, while in London only a quarter of it comes from such taxes.
The hon. Gentleman is correct about the importance of devolution to cities in England, but the counties make up about 50% of its population and about 85% of its land area. Does he agree that there is a very strong case for devolution to county government, which has a strategic and very strong democratic record?
Absolutely. The essence of our recommendations is that there should be a framework—a pathway—by which all areas of the country could achieve devolved powers. Some will probably go more quickly than others, but there is no reason for there to be a barrier to all areas joining in. That is very much in the spirit of the work of the Local Government Finance Commission, which has just been published by the Local Government Association and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. It has slightly different arrangements, although the essence is that, while some authorities will go quicker than others, they will all get there eventually.
I am a firm believer in the decentralisation of power, but does my hon. Friend recognise that decentralisation is not an end in itself and that we need to have accountability alongside it? Does he share my concerns that, under the Greater Manchester proposals, nobody in Greater Manchester other than the council leaders has been asked about what model of decentralisation they would like to see?
We looked at that issue and it is clear that there have to be proper governance arrangements if local authorities are to have not just large amounts of extra spending to control, but greater tax-raising powers, as we also recommend. We looked specifically at the combined authorities, which is the issue my hon. Friend refers to, and we have said that different government arrangements might be suitable in different areas. A directly elected mayor might be appropriate in some areas and a strengthened Public Accounts Committee could scrutinise the work of the executive of the combined authorities. In other areas an indirectly elected mayor might be appropriate, as is the case in Bologna and other places in the world. There are different models available, but no single one is necessarily the right one for every area. We should not say that devolution cannot happen until an area has a particular model of governance in place, but it is clearly right that they should get a proper model in place.