House of Commons
Monday 15 June 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—
Before I begin, Mr Speaker, I welcome you back to your Chair. I also congratulate one of the Clerks of the House of Commons, Jacqueline Sharpe, who was awarded a CBE in the honours list at the weekend for her service to Parliament. It is a pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) to his place in this House.
It is clearly unfair that a school in one part of the country can attract over 50% more funding than an identical school elsewhere. That is why the Conservative party committed to making school funding fairer in our manifesto, and we will come forward with our proposals in due course.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. She will recall from our discussions when she visited Mellor primary school in April that the school receives £1,000 less than the national average per pupil per year. What assurances can she give to parents and schools in my constituency that she will do all she can to address this unfairness and bring about greater fairness to school funding arrangements?
I was delighted to be able to visit Mellor primary school in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I particularly welcome his contribution, as a former primary school teacher himself, to debates on education in this House. It was a very enjoyable visit, and I am glad that perhaps it played a little part in his overall victory. I went to see the work that was going on to paint brand-new classrooms, the larger school hall, and the new library. As I said, I am committed to fairer funding for schools so that schools such as Mellor primary have the right resources to allow all their children to achieve their potential.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the down-payment of £319 million on fair funding achieved in the previous Parliament. Does she agree that for my constituents who see similar schools nearby in other authorities with much higher rates of funding, this is a matter of transparency and fairness?
I am well aware that my hon. Friend and his colleagues in Staffordshire have long campaigned for fairer school funding. They have made a strong argument, and we will continue to listen to them. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools looks forward to meeting them shortly. I am committed to making funding fairer, as set out in our manifesto. These are complex issues that we have to get right, so we will consult extensively the sector, the public and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and set out the detail of our plans in due course.
I am very pleased with the progress that the previous coalition Government made in this regard, and we in Shropshire are benefiting from £10 million extra as a result of the changes. However, as she has already heard, there are significant differences in funding between areas, and I hope that she will give us the assurances requested that more will be done during this Parliament to redress that.
As my hon. Friend rightly points out, Shropshire received over £10 million of additional funding from the reforms made in the previous Parliament. I particularly pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) for his work on fairer funding. I have absolutely no doubt that he will continue that work admirably in his new role. Pupils, parents and teachers in Shrewsbury will see the big difference that the £10 million funding will make, but I am committed to building on this first step and, as I have said, making the funding system fairer.
Good value for public money is arguably as important as the funding formula. Does the Secretary of State accept that earlier this year the Public Accounts Committee produced a damning report on the deficiencies in the oversight and accountability system in our schools, made much worse by the headlong rush to academies? What steps are there in her Education and Adoption Bill to deal with the long list of flaws in the system?
We do not accept the conclusions of the Public Accounts Committee, as we made clear in the evidence that was given to it at the time. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we should put to one side the issue of fairer school funding. It cannot be right that children in one part of the country are receiving less per head than those in other parts of the country. That is not fair on schools. The formula has been flawed for a long time, and this Government have committed to ensuring that funding is fairer.
Mossbrook primary school, a special educational needs school in my constituency, cannot put drawing pins in its walls for fear of disturbing asbestos, and it cannot access the condition improvement fund because it is not an academy. Will the Secretary of State consider opening up that fund to non-academy schools?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and welcome her to the House. Before the last Parliament was dissolved, the Government published a report on asbestos. There are other programmes available to schools in relation to school building improvement funds, but, if the hon. Lady wants to write to make the case for that particular school, we will, of course, look at it.
Trafford is a relatively wealthy local authority, but there are areas of serious deprivation, and schools in my local authority are funded to a much lower level per head than those in neighbouring authorities. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that schools with high levels of deprivation among their intake are covered by a fair funding formula?
As I have said, we will consult extensively among not only Members but members of the public and schools in relation to a fair funding formula. The hon. Lady is right to say that there are inequities of funding right across the country. The last Government introduced the pupil premium, spending billions of pounds on the most disadvantaged pupils, and this Government have made a commitment to continue that funding at the same level.
21. Will my right hon. Friend agree to receive a delegation from West Sussex, a county that has been significantly badly treated in local settlements? Is she aware that, during the general election, a number of headteachers asked to see Members in Mid Sussex, and it is clear that, unless there is a move towards a national funding formula, schools in Mid Sussex and West Sussex will continue to be significantly badly treated? (900315)
I am, of course, always pleased to discuss those issues with my right hon. Friend and his fellow Sussex MPs. He captures very well the reason we can no longer afford to sit back and allow the formula to work as originally designed—the inequities in funding across the country. We have made a clear commitment to tackle the issue and I look forward to working on it with my right hon. Friend and other Members.
Even within an area there can be inequalities of funding. May I use this opportunity to draw the right hon. Lady’s attention to a letter written by a number of north Staffordshire Members requesting a meeting so that we can discuss urgently our concerns about funding for local schools?
I shall certainly look out for that letter; it has not crossed my desk yet, but I will ask officials to look out for it. Whether the meeting is with me or with the Minister for Schools, who is working on the detail, I think that the hon. Gentleman and hon. Members on both sides of the House will continue over the next few months to set out why this inexorable funding cannot continue.
Academy Sponsorship Programme
Since 2010 the Government’s academies programme has ensured that more than 1,100 of the worst-performing schools have been taken over by successful sponsors or headteachers. Regional schools commissioners, working with headteacher boards, continue to encourage and invite new sponsors so that more pupils have the opportunity to benefit from the transformation that great sponsors can bring.
Is the Minister aware that the successful academy in my constituency, Springwood high school, has recently taken over the academy sponsorship of St Clement’s high school and that the results are already showing huge improvement? Will he join me in paying tribute to the executive headteacher of West Norfolk Academies Trust, Andy Johnson, and his team? Will he also agree to visit this huge local success story in the near future?
I would be delighted to add my tribute to Andy Johnson. The vision of the West Norfolk Academies Trust is to produce world-class standards of student achievement, and it is the application of that vision that has resulted in its approach improving other schools in the area. I shall be delighted to visit schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency as soon as he invites me to do so.
When a school has been rated inadequate by Ofsted and is therefore subject to an academy order, the Government say there will be no requirement to consult on conversion to academy status. With that in mind, what are the merits of removing the right of parents to be consulted, and how does that sit with the Government’s rhetoric on accountability to parents?
The new Education and Adoption Bill is designed to ensure that those groups of people who are ideologically opposed to academisation are not allowed to disrupt or delay the process of academisation for those schools that have been letting down pupils year after year. This is about social justice and ensuring that every child, regardless of their background, has a good quality education. I hope the hon. Lady will support the Bill.
The Government have powers to issue pre-warning notices to a trust, demanding urgent action to improve, and ultimately a warning notice can be issued by the Government to change sponsors. We have in fact changed the sponsors for 69 academies. The academisation programme is delivering higher standards across the board. Schools that have been academies for four years are improving their GCSE results by 6.4%, and there are similar high improvements in primary schools that have become academies. This is about improving standards across our school systems, and I expect the hon. Gentleman to support this approach.
In the last Parliament, we protected the schools budget, gave more then £5 billion to tackle Labour’s school places crisis and spent £18 billion on school buildings—more than Labour spent in their first two terms combined. In this Parliament, we will again protect the schools budget, and we plan to invest a further £19 billion on school buildings, of which £7 billion will be spent on school places.
Colne Park high school is in desperate need of funds to improve the state of its building, but it is receiving inadequate support from the local county council. Will my hon. Friend consider meeting the school’s leadership team to help to find a way forward?
I appreciate that the school will be disappointed that its application to the second phase of the Priority School Building programme was unsuccessful. The programme was highly over-subscribed, and we had to prioritise the buildings in the worst condition. However, Lancashire’s indicative allocation to maintain and improve its schools is £34 million for 2015-18, and I expect it to consider carefully the needs of all schools in its area. I will do what I can to support my hon. Friend with that.
May I congratulate the Minister on his reappointment? I remind him that this is not just investment in buildings, but the facilities around buildings. Last Friday, I accepted a petition from 300 parents of the Krishna Avanti school and St Paul’s Catholic school about the lack of crossing facilities in Spencefield Lane. Can we look at that as part of the budget?
The budget is not just for school buildings. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, it is also for improving the facilities of school buildings. If there is a specific issue in his constituency that has not been dealt with, he can by all means write to me and I will look at it.
I have been campaigning with a secondary school in my constituency, King’s Oak academy, as part of its bid for the Priority School Building fund. Unfortunately, the school was unsuccessful in relation to the last tranche of that fund. Will the Minister update the House on what future opportunities there will be for schools that were unsuccessful in the last round to re-bid for this funding?
I know that the Secretary of State visited the school in question and recognised its brilliant leadership. Of course, as we go through the spending review and set the budgets for this Parliament, there will be other opportunities to look at the Priority School Building programme.
At the start of the last Parliament, the Government set out their plans for the Priority School Building programme for 537 schools. To date, 25 have been completed. Would the Minister describe his Department’s performance as failing or just coasting?
I will describe the Government’s performance as getting great value for money: the build cost for a number of schools was halved during the course of the last Parliament. We will make announcements this autumn about how Priority School Building programme 2 will be rolled out.
I of course recognise that we have to look at the issue of nursery places. In the past few years, 230,000 places have been created in early years nationally. However, the biggest way in which we can create nursery places is to support the early years sector. We have committed to increasing the average funding rates that providers are paid for the free entitlement so that the sector can grow substantially.
I can confirm that a cross-Government review of the cost of providing childcare is under way to inform decisions on the funding required to secure sufficient quality childcare provision at good value for money to the taxpayer and consistent with the Government’s fiscal plans. I am today launching a call for evidence to inform this review, which will report and be published in the autumn.
I am delighted to welcome my hon. Friend to the House. His victory in Labour’s No. 1 target seat carved the first letters in Labour’s electoral tombstone and ensured that the ridiculous “Ed stone” did not make its way into Downing Street.
As the Prime Minister announced on 1 June, we are pressing ahead with reforms to increase the childcare support that is available to hard-working families. We are bringing implementation forward to 2016. The Childcare Bill was one of the first Bills we introduced in this Parliament. I have just announced the funding review. Further to that, there will be a consultation with parents and providers so that we can implement this policy.
I welcome the Minister to his place, and I welcome the UK Government’s decision to follow the Scottish Government’s lead in expanding free childcare to 30 hours for three and four-year-olds. How much additional funding will be made available for the planned childcare expansion?
I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. The Government are making more support available for childcare than any previous Government. We set out in the general election campaign our plans to fund. We expect to make savings from tax-free childcare and from universal credit. The policy will therefore be funded to the tune of about £350 million.
24. On Friday, I visited St Cuthbert’s Church of England infant school in Wells, where the head and her staff are doing a fantastic job not only in educating the children but in providing before and after-school care for them. Will the Minister share with the House his plans to give the teachers of that school the resources they need to provide that vital service for working parents? (900318)
Local authorities have a duty to provide sufficient childcare and we are supporting them to deliver that. We are very supportive of breakfast clubs and after-school clubs. We are also liberalising the childminding sector to allow childminders to operate for 50% of the time off domestic premises. They should therefore be able to support schools to expand that sort of care.
I urge the Minister to talk to the National Day Nurseries Association, which is based in my Huddersfield constituency, because it is very worried. Members all around this House want there to be more affordable childcare, but the NDNA is worried about the cost implications, because the money does not add up; about the pressure on building new facilities; and about the recruitment of staff. Those are real concerns, so will he talk to the NDNA?
I talk to the NDNA all the time. I am very much aware not only of its concerns but of the concerns of other players in the sector. We were the only party to commit to a review of the funding rate in the general election campaign. Today, I have announced that the review is under way. We will consult the sector and get its views not only on the exact rate, but on how to implement the 30 hours policy.
Business and Work Experience
Ensuring that young people leave school or college prepared for life in modern Britain is a vital part of our plan for education. We have put more emphasis on mastering vital skills and on more respected qualifications, and we have given employers greater influence over the content of courses, so that young people have the skills that universities and employers value. One reason I am delighted to continue as Secretary of State is that I can continue to make progress with the new employer-led careers and enterprise company, which will help young people access the best advice and inspiration by encouraging greater collaboration between schools, colleges and employers.
That sounds all fine and dandy, but the Government’s dropping of mandatory work experience from the school curriculum has not helped the small businesses I speak to in Blackpool, which want to take young people on. Nationally, the British Chambers of Commerce found that three quarters of employers were worried about a lack of work readiness. Will the Secretary of State make a fresh start and bring forward substantial initiatives to improve work experience, thereby making apprenticeships more accessible to 16 to 19-year-olds?
I am afraid I will not be changing course. We are focusing on high quality and meaningful work experience post-16. The blanket requirement to provide work experience at key stage 4 and under had fewer and fewer employers willing to accommodate young people. They were worried about health and safety, red tape introduced under the previous Government and, exactly as the hon. Gentleman says, being without the work readiness skills that this Government are focusing on to ensure our young people are ready for life in the world of work.
Children in Care
Every child deserves a happy and fulfilling childhood, including those who cannot be brought up by their birth parents. To ensure that for the many thousands of children every year waiting to be adopted, the Education and Adoption Bill will increase the scale at which adoption services are delivered by introducing regional adoption agencies to work across council boundaries. That will help to provide a greater pool of approved adopters with whom to match vulnerable children successfully into loving and stable families.
I welcome my hon. Friend and neighbour’s interest in this important issue. In 2013, we set up the first ever national adoption advice and guidance service, First4Adoption, which to date has had more than 416,000 of what I am told are called “unique users”. The NHS website also has information on all the options to consider in the circumstances my hon. Friend describes, and makes specific reference to adoption. This is a very sensitive issue and we need to tread carefully. I am happy to discuss it further with my hon. Friend to make sure we get the balance right.
I thank the Minister for visiting Holmer Lake primary school in Telford earlier in the year to hear about the excellent child safeguarding work being done for year 6. With increasing numbers of children entering the care system, and with rates in my constituency significantly above the national average, what will the Minister do to ensure that all alternatives to adoption are fully explored before children are put up for adoption, resulting in permanent family break-up?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election; I am pleased to hear that my visit was not only helpful but did not prevent her from getting over the finishing line.
A key principle of the Children Act 1989 is that children are generally best looked after within their families, save where that is not consistent with their welfare. That was reiterated in the Children and Families Act 2014. Of course, where concerns arise it is right that the local authority takes the appropriate action, but the point of having an independent court system is to ensure that that is proportionate and that in children’s upbringing their welfare and their best interests are the paramount consideration. That should remain at the heart of all the work we do with vulnerable children and I am happy to work with my hon. Friend to achieve that.
Despite what the Minister says, local authority cuts have had disastrous consequences for children’s social care services. Ofsted is now reporting that independent reviewing officers are so stretched that poor planning and delays for the most vulnerable children are going unchallenged. What will the Minister do to defend the service from further cuts?
It is wonderful to see the hon. Lady back. She was extremely vocal on these issues in the previous Parliament, and very effective in raising them to the profile they deserve. They are often missed at local, as well as national, level. The truth about children’s social care is that, at a time when it has been difficult for local councils, good decisions have been made to protect spending on children’s safeguarding. That is something I hope they will continue, while considering how they can be more effective and efficient in delivering those services. That is one of the reasons why the adoption Bill, which the House will soon be discussing, considers how they can work more closely together to achieve better services for children wherever they are from in the country, so that we have greater consistency everywhere.
The Education and Adoption Bill will presumably mention adoption, but will it contain provision for improving the quality of fostering, residential children’s homes and kinship care, which in the past the Minister has agreed are incredibly important opportunities for children? This is about finding the right way forward for children, not necessarily adoption for all.
The hon. Gentleman is right that, whatever the route to permanency a child has, we must ensure they have the right support and that the best decisions are made in their interests. The Bill, which we will be discussing in the next few weeks, will deal with the post-decision issue and ensure that we can access a wider pool of adopters to get children matched more quickly. At the moment, we have over 3,000 children in care waiting to be adopted, half of whom have been waiting for more than 18 months. We need to address that, but I agree that we need to do better to ensure that foster children and those with residential or kinship care arrangements get better deals.
I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Will the Minister comment on the Government’s intention to expand the outsourcing of children’s social care services to third-party providers involved with children in the care system and adoption? He has just announced that they will no longer be regulated and inspected by Ofsted. How will he ensure quality of care for these particularly vulnerable young people?
I pay tribute to the role that my hon. Friend has played in keeping these matters fairly and squarely at the top of the national agenda, but we have not just announced that. These services will still be inspected. In the past, I have alluded to the social work practice in Staffordshire that was outsourced by the county council and which was inspected by Ofsted and received a “good” rating.
We want to ensure the best possible services on offer to children across the country, and we should not get too tied up in thinking about delivery and who will be ensuring the services are the best they can be. Let us get quality at the heart of everything we do and make sure that that is what we inspect.
I welcome the Minister back to his post. I had entertained the idea that we would swap places—but what will be will be. I am pleased he has retained this portfolio and I genuinely wish him well for the future.
Will the Minister give an assurance that nothing in his adoption proposals will have an adverse impact on smaller voluntary adoption agencies, which often specialise in finding families for harder-to-place children—a group the Government say the proposals are designed to help?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his post. He and I have an interesting electoral history, but I see he managed to increase his majority at the last election, so he is doing better in his own constituency than he managed in Crewe and Nantwich in 2008.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have an array of extremely competent, professional and dedicated voluntary adoption agencies across England and the wider United Kingdom, and we need to ensure that they are fully part of the new adoption landscape that we are creating. I made that point when I spoke at the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies conference only last week. We will make sure that they are central to the vision going forward.
8. What steps her Department is taking to raise educational standards in failing schools. (900302)
At the heart of the Government’s commitment to delivering social justice is the belief that every child deserves an excellent education and that no parent should be content with their child spending a single day at a failing school. The Education and Adoption Bill introduces new measures to tackle failure by speeding up the process for converting failing schools into sponsored academies. It also includes measures to tackle coasting schools for the first time. This will speed up the process by which the worst schools are transformed in order to bring about rapid and sustainable improvements.
Suffolk county council has rightly identified education and improving educational standards as its top priority. With 80 schools in the county requiring improvement or rated “inadequate”, with what specific support can my right hon. Friend provide the council in order to raise educational standards?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to his work as a Health Department Minister in the past two and a half years.
Like my hon. Friend, the Government want every child in Suffolk and throughout the country to receive an excellent education. The regional schools commissioner, Tim Coulson, is in regular dialogue with Suffolk County Council, and the Department is offering support, including introducing five new strong academy sponsors, encouraging the local authority to use its intervention powers, and making Suffolk a priority for national programmes such as Talented Leaders and Teach First. I hope my hon. Friend will support those measures.
Schools standards are the responsibility of Ofsted. As anyone involved in running schools knows, there are gross inconsistencies in how Ofsted inspects between schools. Does the Secretary of State agree, and if so what will she do to solve the problem?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I am not entirely in agreement with him that school standards are the responsibility of Ofsted. School inspection is carried out by Ofsted—school standards are the responsibility of Ministers and the Department, and of schools, local authorities and sponsors. I agree with him about the inconsistencies and that concerns have been expressed by school heads. The head of Ofsted—the chief inspector—is bringing inspectors back in-house, and therefore they will be much more under the control of Ofsted. That will mean many more consistent inspections, but I am always open to receiving reports when schools are concerned about what has happened in an inspection. We will always take those up with Ofsted.
One common area of concern related to failing schools in my constituency is the level of churn and English-as-an-additional-language pupils—63% of primary school pupils in my constituency have English as an additional language. What concrete steps is my right hon. Friend taking to address that pressing and challenging problem in Peterborough and across the country?
My hon. Friend is right that that is an issue, but schools up and down the country respond magnificently to the language demands placed on them by pupils. We see over the course of an education that having English as a second language does not hold pupils back, but I agree there is pressure on primary school children and the Department is looking at it. There are schemes, and measures such as pupil premium funding can make a difference.
With respect to failing schools, the Secretary of State has insisted that Uplands junior school in the Spinney Hills part of my constituency should convert to an academy. Down the road in the Eyres Monsell part of my constituency, the Samworth Academy has the worst GCSE results in the whole of Leicester—the results have gone down again—the chair of governors has resigned and there have been problems with senior staffing. Why does the Secretary of State insist on an academy in one part of my constituency, and yet is seemingly complacent about an academy in another part?
There is no complacency on the part of the Department. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), has already set out the action the Department can take—the swift intervention—when an academy is failing. That can result eventually in an academy being rebrokered. Uplands junior school had 17 months to appoint its interim executive board and turn things around, but progress has not been sufficient. That is very unfair on the children in that school.
We are determined to create 3 million apprenticeships in the next five years, building on the 2.2 million created in the past five years. We will be requiring all public sector bodies to employ apprentices, and will legislate to protect the term “apprenticeship” against misuse.
Figures from the House of Commons Library show that there were 440,000 apprenticeship starts in England in the last academic year, but almost 40% of those starts were made by over-25s, and starts made by under-19s have declined as a share of total starts since 2010. Why is the Minister not doing more to help young adults into apprenticeship schemes?
The Government do not share with the Opposition the obsession with the idea that, somehow, anybody over the age of 25 doing an apprenticeship is wasting their time or the Government’s money. We absolutely agree that we want as many young people as possible to have the opportunity, but that includes people aged between 19 and 24, and over-25s. We want the entire programme to expand, which is why we are investing in it. We will deliver 3 million apprenticeships to people of all ages over the next five years.
Five years ago, Staunton community sports college in the Leigh Park area of my constituency had one of Britain’s worst GCSE records. Following its conversion into Havant Academy, it is now one of Britain’s most improved schools. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the Government’s free schools and academies programme is transforming the lives of young people?
Let me—grudgingly, but sincerely—welcome the Minister back to his place.
For all that the Government have said about apprenticeships, the barriers that prevent far too many companies, especially smaller ones, from taking on apprentices remain too high. What more will the Government do for those small businesses? In particular, how will the Government deal with the fear felt by many that they will put all their resources into training a young person, only for that young person to be poached by one of the big boys further up the supply chain once he or she is qualified?
I hope that it will not destroy the hon. Gentleman’s chances in his new position if I say that I cannot imagine anyone with whom I would rather be debating over the next few years, because I rate him highly both personally and professionally. Not surprisingly, he has raised a very important point. It is extremely important for us to make the apprenticeship programme attractive and easily accessible to small as well as large companies. There are specific grants for small employers, but we need to make the system much easier for them to navigate. It is possible for businesses to place some restrictions on people who complete apprenticeships for which those businesses have paid, although not many people know about or take advantage of them. If someone leaves very soon after qualifying, a business can receive back from that person some of the costs of his or her training.
We shall have to wait and see, Mr Speaker.
Further education colleges have an important role in the training of apprentices. In view of the recent announcement of reductions in the education budget, will there be any reductions in the budget for the education and training of those aged 16 to 19?
On that point, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Further education colleges do indeed have a vital role in delivering the training for apprenticeships, and I wish more of them would do more of it. I can confirm that the allocations for the education of 16 to 19-year-olds in the 2015-16 academic year that were announced in March remain in place, and we are not planning to change them.
Sure Start Centres
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I note that he is already making friends in the right places: the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) described his maiden speech as “socialist to the core”.
In November 2014, 2,800 children’s centres were open, and there were 674 additional sites offering children’s centre services. Obviously, the most important thing is not the number of buildings but the number of people whom we reach, and I am pleased that more than 1 million parents and children are using our centres.
I thank the Minister for his reply, and for his mention of socialism.
The Government have already cut half a billion pounds from the early intervention grant since 2010, and funding has been cut by 30% in real terms in Leeds. More than 700 Sure Start centres have closed. Can the Minister assure parents in my constituency that their centres will not be threatened with closure or further cuts?
I assure the hon. Gentleman, first, that the funds for children’s centres have not been cut—in fact, the overall pot grew from £2.3 billion in 2012-13 to £2.4 billion in 2014-15—and, secondly, that there is a presumption against closure. Local authorities have a duty to consult when they plan to change their children’s centre provision.
25. Cuts to council funding—the abolition of a series of grants and credits by the coalition—mean that Sure Start centres in my constituency are providing more basic services than ever before. I am hearing now of children in Kirklees coming to centres on a Monday morning having not had a hot meal since the previous Friday, yet Sure Start budgets in the north of England have been cut by 39%. Does the Minister share my assessment, and that of the London School of Economics and the Centre for Analysis for Social Exclusion, that even the most dedicated of Sure Start children’s centres will not be able to withstand further cuts? (900319)
As I have said previously, it is down to local authorities to consult when they plan to change their children’s centre provision. Just to be clear on the number of children’s centres, only 142 have closed and eight new centres have opened since 2010. We must move on from the lie being perpetrated. [Interruption.] In some cases children’s centres have merged. [Interruption.] When they have merged, they have not closed. [Interruption.]
We have many plans to support hard-working families with the cost of childcare. In addition to the 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds which we are introducing in this Parliament, we have legislated for free childcare to give parents 20% off the cost of their childcare up to £10,000, and the childcare element of universal credit will be going up from 70% to 85%.
That is an excellent question, because the debate often focuses on affordability and availability of childcare, but obviously quality is vitally important, too. We are focusing on quality by ensuring that we raise the status of the early-years workforce. That is why we are raising the standards of literacy and numeracy of the level 3 people entering the profession, and we are also raising the early-years bar through the Ofsted accountability framework so that nurseries have to perform that bit better.
There was widespread welcome among High Peak residents for the 30 hours of free childcare pledge at the general election. However, I will be meeting a group of providers in the constituency on Friday who are concerned that there may not be enough funds to cover their costs. Can the Minister provide me with some reassurance which I can pass on to them that there will be enough money to meet their costs?
In the last Parliament we increased the amount of money going into free entitlement by 50%, from £2 billion to £3 billion. There are issues around how the money actually gets to providers, and some local authorities top-slice the funding. Also, different local authorities have different policies in terms of whether they support maintained providers versus private and voluntary providers. I would ask my hon. Friend to encourage his providers to engage with the call for evidence I launched earlier today and to let us know exactly what problems they are experiencing.
Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said, details of the Childcare Bill, which receives its Second Reading in the other place tomorrow, remain extremely thin on the ground and we still have little or no clarification of things such as funding or eligibility. Therefore, to help parents gain more clarity, will the Minister confirm that there are no provisions in the Bill to allow parents to spread the overall amount of free hours they receive over the full year, or perhaps even over 48 weeks, rather than just the 38 weeks as at present?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. I think she is the third shadow childcare Minister I have faced in the nine months that I have been in post. She asked how the number of hours would be spread over the year. I would advise her not to pre-empt the consultation that we will carry out with parents and providers to find the most flexible way of implementing the scheme so that it works for them.
It is a great honour for me and all the Ministers on the Front Bench this afternoon to have been asked to continue as Ministers in the Department for Education and to implement our manifesto commitment to build a Britain that gives every child the best start in life. It is right to pay tribute to our coalition colleague, the former right hon. Member for Yeovil, David Laws. We did not always agree, but I hope that the House will appreciate the impact of his hard work and his dedication to raising standards in England’s schools.
In this Parliament, we will continue with our plan for education, which has led to higher standards, to discipline being restored, to expectations being raised and to 1 million more children attending good or outstanding schools. Our mission is to provide world-class education and care that allows every child and young person to reach his or her potential.
On Friday, I had an urgent meeting with Victoria Bishop, the principal of Sir Christopher Hatton Academy, which has just been given outstanding status by Ofsted. It wants to become a teaching academy—[Interruption.] This is particularly pleasing as the intake is from a multi-ethnic, multicultural part of my constituency. Would it be possible for the Secretary of State to meet Mrs Bishop as soon as possible?
Fear not, Mr Speaker, I heard my hon. Friend very clearly. He spoke of a school in his constituency that has been rated outstanding, and I know that that was the result of hard work by the school leadership and no doubt by everyone else working in the school. I am delighted to hear about such achievements and I hope that I will have an opportunity to visit the school in due course.
Let me congratulate the right hon. Lady on being reappointed Secretary of State for Education. Let me also, on behalf of the Labour party, extend our thoughts to Mr Vincent Uzomah, who was stabbed last week while simply carrying out his job as a teacher at Dixons Kings Academy.
No parent wants their child to attend a failing or coasting school. As we approach the Second Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill, I am sure the whole House will support any measure that is shown to raise standards in our schools. In 2012, the National Audit Office condemned the cost of the Government’s Academies Act 2010 that had resulted from poor ministerial planning, but it looks as though we are now facing a similar scenario. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to set out her legal definition of a coasting school, and tell us what measures her Department is taking to prevent another black hole in the Department for Education budget?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. He is also right to pay tribute to the teacher from Dixons Kings Academy who was stabbed last week. Members will be relieved to hear that his injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Education and Adoption Bill. I am sure that he will have seen the answer to the written parliamentary question tabled by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), which stated that we intend to publish the definition of “coasting schools” when the Bill reaches its Committee stage. I am glad to hear that he wants action to tackle failing schools, and I wonder whether he stands by the comments that he made in February 2011, when he said:
“I think when a school is not delivering for its pupils it’s quite right that you have a change of governance.”
I hope that he will remember that as he supports our Bill.
I will be very pithy, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State does not have a handle on her own Bill. One week before we are being asked to vote on the Bill, she cannot explain the first words of the first clause on its first page. She cannot tell us what the words “coasting schools” mean. It is great, inspiring teachers who turn around coasting schools, but teacher vacancies in crucial subjects are soaring. If she cannot tell the House what her Bill means, will she listen to the headteachers when they tell her that the Tories’ teacher recruitment crisis is undermining the efforts to turn around coasting schools?
The hon. Gentleman clearly does not know the meaning of pithiness. I have explained when the definition of “coasting schools” will be published. He has admitted that he failed to convince his former leader of the merits of campaigning on education policy, and I am beginning to understand why he is so failing in his persuasiveness.
T2. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a local education authority should not be allowed to give itself planning permission to build a school on green-belt land, in breach of the local core strategy? That is exactly what Dorset County Council is proposing to do in Marsh Lane, Christchurch. If the Secretary of State cannot answer today, will she have a meeting with me to discuss this important matter? (900286)
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The national planning policy framework contains clear guidelines on building on green-belt land, and of course he, like others, has the opportunity to call in any planning application for determination by the Secretary of State. If he wants to give us further details, I am sure we will follow them up.
T3. On 3 June, during an interview on “BBC Breakfast”, the Education Secretary was asked five times, “How many academies are inadequate?” She has had two weeks to find the answer, so how many academies are failing, and what is she doing for children who are being let down in those schools? (900287)
T7. Many parents in Rugby have told me of their concerns about the dangers posed by congestion around school gates as they drop off their children for school. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to encourage more children to walk and cycle to school? What discussions has she had with other Departments about enforcing parking restrictions around school gates? (900291)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue, because we have the same problem in my constituency, too. The local authority is responsible for enforcing parking restrictions around schools, and it should do that. The authority must also promote sustainable travel and transport, in order to reduce the number of car journeys to schools.
T4. May I declare a yet greater interest in the education of the nation’s children, as I became a grandfather when our first grandchild, Molly O’Neill, was born on Saturday morning? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.] Thank you very much. May I also press the Secretary of State on the issue of coasting schools, as it does cause great concern and uncertainty, and this would be the ideal opportunity to send some reassurance to parents and grandparents as to exactly what she has in mind? (900288)
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on becoming a grandfather and I wish him and his family, including his new grandchild, all the very best of success.
I have been very clear that the right time to publish the definition is when the Bill reaches the Committee stage. It is significant that the Labour party appears to be rowing back from wanting high standards for all children in all schools.
T8. Will the Minister welcome the new apprentice teaching sports assistants coach programme put on by Gillingham football club in my constituency, which is working with primary schools to get more sports coaches into primary schools? (900292)
I can do that. It is always encouraging to hear of programmes such as that being run by Gillingham football club, which bring the expertise of community sports clubs into schools. The quality of expertise that coaches provide in schools is of paramount importance, and it will be supported by our physical education and sport premium—£150 million that goes direct to primary schools every year to make sure that every child gets the best possible PE and sport on offer.
T5. I have worked with lots of children who have suffered domestic violence, rape, grooming and exploitation, and I have seen the damage it does to their lives. When will the Government respond to the Education Committee’s fifth report from the last Session and the recommendation that the Department for Education should “develop a workplan for introducing age-appropriate…SRE—sex and relationships education—as statutory subjects in primary and secondary schools”? (900289)
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I am grateful to him for his support. I was delighted to visit his constituency and hear more about the Berkeley Green University Technical College. Free schools are accountable to me, through their funding agreement, for operation, governance and finances. They are responsible through the Ofsted inspection framework for the quality of their education and they work closely with their relevant regional schools commissioner.
T6. I am absolutely delighted that the brilliant headteacher at Ellowes Hall school in Dudley, Andy Griffiths, was honoured with an OBE at the weekend. Popular and successful schools such as his have to turn away countless children every year because they do not have enough space. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the discussions that he and I had with her predecessor and Lord Nash about putting parents in charge, thereby enabling well run over-subscribed and financially sound schools to provide the places that are needed and to pay off the loans with the revenue that the extra pupils will bring? (900290)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I too welcome the honour awarded to the former headteacher of Ellowes Hall sports college. He and I have discussed that matter already; we want to look at it again. Academies can apply for loans for capital works as part of the condition improvement fund. I understand that the college did not apply for such a loan in the last CIF round, and it is something that we will consider further.
Spending a third year in sixth form can be vital for some students, particularly if they have suffered from mental or physical illness or have come from challenging backgrounds. Will my hon. Friend tell me whether he has any plans to review the funding rate for 18 to 19-year-olds, which is currently 20% lower than for those in the 16-to-18 group?
My hon. Friend asks a very good question. We had to make a difficult decision about whether to continue to fund particularly heavy programmes more generously, which meant making savings elsewhere. The cut in the funding rate for 18-year-olds was the saving on which we decided. I accept her argument that there are some individuals for whom that third year is vital. All of those things will be considered in the spending review, but for this financial year, the funding rates will be as announced.
T10. On 5 June, the Chancellor, rather unusually, announced amendments to the budget for further education. I do not think that we have yet had full details of how that will affect those 14 to 18-year-olds in further education. Perhaps the Minister could update the House on that matter. (900294)
If I am right in understanding that the right hon. Lady wants to know whether the 16-to-19 funding rate will remain as was announced in March, I believe that I gave an answer in a reply to an earlier question. I am happy to restate that the funding rate for 16 to 19-year-olds for the 2015-16 academic year will remain as announced in March.
Last year, Dorset schools welcomed £3.1 million in additional funding, and Poole schools £3.2 million in additional funding. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give me and schools in Poole and Dorset that this was but a downpayment for fairer funding for our underfunded schools in Mid Dorset and North Poole?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I welcome him to the House. As I said in reply to an earlier question, I recognise the need to look at all aspects of school funding in the round, and we will take further decisions on fairer funding and implement the fairer funding commitment in our manifesto after extensive consultation with parents, schools, local authorities and any other interested parties.
The apprenticeship programme is demand-led, because we require employers to create jobs. That is what apprenticeships are under this Government, unlike under the Government the hon. Lady supported, when they took place at college full time. We have seen a dramatic expansion in the apprenticeship programme, and we will see a further expansion. I would have thought that she welcomed that. I am absolutely sure that one reason she is sitting on the Opposition Benches rather than on the Government Benches is the success of our apprenticeship programme.
Schools such as Tuxford Academy near Newark, which were built under poorly worded private finance initiative contracts, are finding it expensive to maintain their buildings because the maintenance costs set out in the PFI agreements are higher than school funding. Will the Minister look into that and come back to me?
We have touched several times on failing academies. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that Grace Academy in Coventry should rigorously enforce and increase standards in the interests of pupils and of their parents?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I am not aware of the circumstances that surround that individual school, but he can rest assured that the Government’s determination to raise standards for all pupils extends as far as all schools in Coventry, too.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will no doubt be aware that on Friday the Independent Police Complaints Commission announced that it would not be investigating the allegations of serious misconduct against South Yorkshire police regarding the events at the Orgreave coking plant in 1984 and suggested that doing so would require a Hillsborough-style public inquiry. In response, the Home Secretary made a statement to the media but not to Parliament. Given that the victims of Orgreave have been waiting for more than two years for this decision from the IPCC, is there any way you can encourage the Home Secretary to make a statement to this House and can you give guidance on how else I can raise this issue with the Government as a matter of urgency?
Yes. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, and I congratulate her on her ingenuity in raising a point of order so early in her tenure. The question of whether a Minister chooses to make a statement is a matter for the Minister, not for me. That said, her remarks are on the record and will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. In response to her specific inquiry about advice about what mechanism she might use to highlight this matter, I would suggest that she goes to the Table Office. There are debates that can be had that would enable her to highlight the matter not just momentarily but very fully. I feel sure that she would be encouraged and supported by a number of her colleagues in so doing. I should say that the Table Office is a friendly place for Members and I encourage them to use it, just as they would want to use the Library. They will not find it unprofitable.
[1st Allocated Day]
Considered in Committee
[Mr Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 37, page 1, line 7, leave out “is recognised as” and insert “shall be”.
Amendment 17, page 1, line 7, leave out “recognised as”.
Amendment 58, page 1, leave out lines 7 and 8 and insert—
‘(1A) The Scottish Parliament is a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitution.
(1B) Subsection (1) or (1A) may be repealed only if—
(a) the Scottish Parliament has consented to the proposed repeal, and
(b) a referendum has been held in Scotland on the proposed repeal and a majority of those voting at the referendum have consented to it.”
This amendment is to ensure that the Scottish Parliament can only be abolished with the consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people after a referendum.
Amendment 38, page 1, line 8, at end insert
“and may not be abolished without the consent of the Scottish people given effect by an Act of the Scottish Parliament”.
Amendment 18, page 1, line 12, leave out “recognised as”.
Amendment 59, page 1, leave out lines 12 and 13 and insert—
‘(1A) The Scottish Government is a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitution.
(1B) Subsection (1) or (1A) may be repealed only if—
(a) the Scottish Parliament has consented to the proposed repeal, and
(b) a referendum has been held in Scotland on the proposed repeal and a majority of those voting at the referendum have consented to it.”
This amendment is to ensure that the Scottish Parliament can only be abolished with the consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people after a referendum.
Clause 1 stand part.
Amendment 89, in clause 11, page 13, line 42, at end insert—
‘(2A) In paragraph 4 of Schedule 4 (protection of Scotland Act 1998 from modification), insert new sub-paragraph—
“(5A) This paragraph does not apply to amendments to Schedule 5, Part II, Head A, Section A1 insofar as they relate to:
(a) taxes and excise in Scotland,
(b) government borrowing and lending in Scotland, and
(c) control over public expenditure in Scotland.”
This amendment would enable the Scottish Parliament to amend the Scotland Act 1998 to remove the reservation on taxation, borrowing and public expenditure in Scotland, with the effect that the Scottish Parliament could then legislate in these areas to provide for full fiscal autonomy in Scotland.
New clause 2—Constitutional convention—
‘(1) The Prime Minister shall establish a Constitutional Convention within one month of the day on which this act is passed.
(2) The Chair and Members of the Constitutional Convention shall be appointed in accordance with a process to be laid before, and approved by, resolution in each House of Parliament.
(3) The Chair of the Constitutional Convention is not permitted to be a Member of Parliament or a member of a political party.
(4) Members of the Constitutional must include, but not be limited to, the following—
(a) members of the public, chosen by lot through the jury system, who shall comprise the majority of those participating in the convention;
(b) elected representatives at all levels;
(c) representatives of civil society organisations and, in an advisory role, academia.
(5) The Constitutional Convention shall review and make recommendations in relation to future governance arrangements for the United Kingdom, including but not limited to the following—
(a) the role and voting rights of Members of the House of Commons;
(b) democratic reform of the House of Lords;
(c) further sub-national devolution within England;
(d) codification of the constitution.
(6) The Constitutional Convention shall engage in widespread consultation across the nations and regions of the UK, and must provide a report to both Houses of Parliament by 31 March 2016.
(7) The Secretary of State must lay before both Houses of Parliament a formal response to each recommendation of the Constitutional Convention within four months of the publication of the final report from the Constitutional Convention.’
This New Clause provides an outline for a Constitutional Convention selected from the widest possible number of groups in society to analyse and design future governance arrangements for the United Kingdom, and to report by 31 March 2016.
New clause 3—Transfer of reserved matters—
‘(1) Schedule 5 (which defines reserved matters) to the Scotland Act 1998, has effect with the following modifications.
(2) In Part I (general reservations) omit paragraph 6 (political parties).
(3) Part II (specific reservations) is omitted.
(4) Insert Part IIA (UK pensions liability) as follows—
UK Pensions liability
The consent of the Treasury is required before the enactment of any provision passed by the Scottish Parliament which would affect the liabilities of the National Insurance Fund in respect of old age pensions.”
(5) In Part III (general provisions) the following provisions referring to Part II of the Schedule are omitted—
(a) paragraph 3(2);
(b) paragraph 4(2)(c).’
This Amendment would allow the Scottish Parliament to make provision for the registration and funding of political parties, but would otherwise retain the Part I reserved matters covering the constitution, foreign affairs, public service, defence and treason. It would entirely remove the remaining reservations over financial and economic matters, home affairs, trade and industry, energy, transport, social security, regulation of the professions, employment, health and medicines, media and culture and other miscellaneous matters. The consent of the Treasury would be needed for any changes in old age pensions which would affect the liabilities of the National Insurance Fund.
New clause 6—Constitution of Scotland—
‘(1) The 1998 Scotland Act shall be cited as The Written Constitution of Scotland.
(2) A standing Scottish Constitutional Convention shall be convened jointly by the Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers to conduct reviews and to make recommendations to the Scottish Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom.’
The New Clause renames the Scotland Act 1998 and introduces a standing Scottish Constitutional Convention.
New clause 7—Application of the Parliament Acts to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government—
‘(1) The Parliament Act 1911 is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection 2(1), after “other than a Money Bill”, insert “or a Bill amending sections 1 or 2 of the Scotland Act 2015.’
The New Clause entrenches the permanence of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government by ensuring that changing Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill once enacted would be possible only with the consent of both Houses of Parliament.
New clause 8—Scottish Parliament nomination of members of the House of Lords—
‘(1) The Scottish Parliament shall nominate members for appointment to the House of Lords, in a method to be determined wholly by the Scottish Parliament.
(2) The number of members of the House of Lords appointed in accordance with this section shall at any time be in broadly the same proportion to the total membership of the House of Lords as the population of Scotland is to the total population of the United Kingdom.’
The New Clause would require the Scottish Parliament to nominate members to sit in the House of Lords in proportion to Scotland’s share of the United Kingdom population.
New clause 9—Constitutional convention—
‘(1) Within one month of the day on which this Act is passed, a constitutional convention is to be held to consider and make recommendations on the constitution of the United Kingdom.
(2) The Secretary of State must make regulations to—
(a) appoint a day on which the convention must commence its operations,
(b) make fair and transparent rules about how the convention is to operate and how evidence is to be adduced,
(c) make further provision about the terms of reference prescribed under section 2, and
(d) specify how those who are to be part of the convention are to be chosen in accordance with subsection (8).
(3) The date appointed under subsection (2)(a) must not be later than 31 December 2016.
(4) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (2), if made without a draft having been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(5) The convention shall have the following terms of reference—
(a) the devolution of legislative and fiscal competence to and within Scotland and the rest of the UK,
(b) the devolution of legislative and fiscal competence to local authorities within the United Kingdom,
(c) electoral reform,
(d) constitutional matters to be considered in further conventions, and
(e) procedures to govern the consideration and implementation of any future constitutional reforms.
(6) The convention must publish recommendations within the period of one year beginning with the day appointed under subsection (2)(a).
(7) The Secretary of State must lay responses to each of the recommendations from the convention before each House of Parliament within six months beginning with the day on which the recommendations are published.
(8) The convention must be composed of representatives of the following—
(a) all registered political parties within the United Kingdom,
(b) civic society and local authorities of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.’
The New Clause would require the appointment of a convention to review the operation of the Act resulting from the Scotland Bill in the wider context of the Union.
Amendment 1, in clause 63, page 67, line 24, leave out paragraph (a).
This amendment provides that section 1 will not come into force on the day on which the Act is passed, in order to link the commencement of Part 1 of the Act (Constitutional arrangements) with the work of the Constitutional Convention, outlined in New Clause NC2, which would be required to report by 31 March 2016.
Amendment 2, page 67, line 26, at end insert—
‘(1A) Part 1 comes into force within one month of the publication of the report of the Constitutional Convention appointed under section (Constitutional Convention).”
This amendment provides that Part 1 of the Act (Constitutional arrangements) comes into force after publication of the report of the Constitutional Convention, as outlined in New Clause NC2, which would be required to report by 31 March 2016.
Amendments 16, 17 and 18 are essentially probing amendments, authored by the Law Society of Scotland. Subject to the response that we hear from Ministers and from those in other parts of the House, it is not my intention to seek to press them to a Division.
The amendments change the nature of clause 1 from one that recognises the permanence of the Scottish Parliament to one that declares it. The genesis of the clause was the Smith commission report, which required that there should be a statement in the legislation to follow it that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government were permanent institutions. The form of words in clause 1 was inserted by the draft clauses published at the end of January, which recognised that permanence. The permanence of the Scottish Parliament is to be found not in any amendment or statutory enactment, but in the will of the Scottish people. It is a permanent institution because, frankly, it is unthinkable that it would be repealed at this point. For that reason, and given the comments of the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, it is right that we should revisit the issue.
At the heart of this debate is the issue and the definition of sovereignty. The context is a classic Diceyan definition of sovereignty, which says that Parliament here is sovereign. Although matters have moved on somewhat over the years and although it remains the case that Parliament cannot bind its successors, it is undoubtedly the case that since the European Communities Act 1972 we have taken a different view of parliamentary sovereignty, one in which sovereignty is shared with the European Union, as it now is, in Brussels, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and even the London Assembly. It was the subject of considerable debate during the constitutional convention back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The view that was taken then, which as I recall was contained in the claim of right, was that in Scotland the Diceyan version of sovereignty—that Parliament is sovereign—has never been the case, and that sovereignty has always been vested in and remained with the people of Scotland. From that point of view, I see considerable merit in amendment 58 in the name of the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) and his colleagues in the Scottish National party, requiring that if there were ever to be a repeal of the Scotland Act 1998 it could be done only with the consent of a majority voting in a referendum. That honours and respects the view that sovereignty lies with the people in Scotland.
However, even that clause could be got around by a simple repeal, a consequence of the doctrine that Parliament cannot bind its successors. As long as we try to do these things by way of primary legislation, we will keep tying ourselves up in knots and any solution that we bring forward will lack permanence and will be unsatisfactory.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the former Member for Monklands East and leader of the Labour party, John Smith, said that the British constitution, which embraces the Scottish constitution, should not be a matter of judicial archaeology—that was the phrase he used—but should be put down plainly as a written constitution for all to see? Is that where his argument is going? I hope it is.
I have long held that view. I cannot remember a time in my conscious political being that I have held a view other than that. It is never going to be easy to get to that point, of course, and it will require a fundamental change in the way we do things. The reference to judicial archaeology is interesting, because it would render some of the things that were done in this place reviewable in the courts. As long as there is a proper separation of powers, I am quite happy with that.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says about amendment 58, and he is correct that Parliament cannot bind its successors, but if we put it into the Bill that there has to be a referendum of the Scottish people before there can be a change, that is a very powerful moral argument against this place, and the strongest we can make under the current constitutional settlement.
Indeed, and it is for that reason that I said that I saw some merit in the proposal. The hon. Gentleman would have to accept, though, that the point I have already made—that even that could be repealed by a simple vote in this Chamber and the other place—will always be a problem for any Government seeking to do that by way of primary legislation.
Does the right hon. Gentleman share my hope that English Members here will approach this change with a view to giving Scotland stability? Some of us very much hope to be discussing the English question later in this Parliament, and we will be asking Scottish Members to give us similar stability.
I actually agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that point. Indeed, I see the Bill as the start of a process that must continue, because we risk putting an intolerable strain on the Union if we proceed with constitutional change that relates only to Scotland and not to the rest of the United Kingdom, particularly in relation to the different parts of England. As far as the future of the English constitution is concerned, the only point on which I am clear is that there is absolutely no consensus on the shape that it ought to take. I stood at the Dispatch Box often enough during the previous Parliament, answering questions from both sides of the House, and being told, “This is what we need”, and I rarely heard the same proposition twice. It is for that reason that, if we are to have a written constitution, we must first have a constitutional convention, because we will never build the necessary consensus for this sort of constitutional change merely within Parliament. That was the experience with Scotland’s constitutional convention in the 1990s, and it was then the lesson of the Smith commission and, before it, the Calman commission.
While the right hon. Gentleman opposes those doubts, does he not accept that, given that we are now in the process of changing our constitution and meeting the wishes of the Scottish people, we in England will probably not have to wait as long for opinion to come together on what England needs as the pioneers had to wait to get justice for Scotland?
I am heartened by the right hon. Gentleman’s optimism in that regard; I always think that achieving consensus in these matters is much easier to talk about than to get. Frankly, that is a debate that England now needs to have for herself. It is certainly not for us to intervene in it, any more than we would have welcomed the intervention of the English, Welsh or Northern Irish in the constitutional convention discussions of the 1990s. I wish the English every bit as much joy with it as we have had in Scotland with our constitutional debate over the years.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) has tabled a new clause proposing a constitutional convention, and there is a great deal in it that I find worthy of support, particularly the requirement that it be convened within a month of the Bill becoming an Act, because I do not think that these matters become any easier by being left. I am also impressed by the fact that it has a reporting date, which I suggest would serve to concentrate minds.
Speaking as a Scottish Member, I think that the hon. Gentleman’s proposal has the further benefit of allowing a constitutional convention to go ahead; we would be saying today that it is something that is going to happen, but it would not in fact delay the passing of the Bill. In order to hold faith with the 55% of the people of Scotland who voted no last September, I think that we should proceed with the Bill with all due dispatch. I do not think that it would be acceptable for the passing of the Bill to be somehow contingent on constitutional arrangements being refined elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
I would have preferred—inevitably so—to see included in the remit of the proposed constitutional convention the question of electoral reform, for which I think there is now greater support in the Labour party, but I would not let that omission stand between me and supporting the Bill today.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the case he is making in his usual eloquent and persuasive way. Many Members on both sides of the Committee will welcome the fact that he is here and will want to express our support for him and tell him how much we hope that he is successful in standing up to the Scottish National party Members sitting in front of him, who clearly want to create a one-party state in Scotland and whose supporters engage in the most disreputable bullying tactics in order to silent any dissent in that country.
I will take support anywhere I can find it, but I am not entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman’s remarks are germane to the matter that is before the Committee.
Amendment 89, which was tabled by the Scottish National Party, will facilitate a debate on the concept of full fiscal autonomy. I shall listen with interest to the hon. Member for Moray and others in their exposition of that, and I shall reserve my remarks on it until the end of this string of amendments, when I know I will be able to catch your eye, Mr Hoyle.
New clause 3, which stands in my name, would deliver full fiscal autonomy, real home rule and a Scottish Parliament in control of everything save defence and foreign affairs. I am only a Back Bencher and I do not have the assistance of Government officials, so if the new clause is defective in technical detail, I apologise. If it were voted for tonight, however, it would establish a clear principle and a way forward.
The contention is clear: the new clause would deliver full fiscal autonomy. The Scottish Parliament would have full freedom to raise all taxes as it liked. It would not be restricted to fiddling around with bands; it would control all thresholds and all VAT dividends, and it would have full freedom to spend that money as it liked. That is what real Parliaments do, and that is why they are responsible.
The Scottish Parliament is constructed in a manner that is inherently conducive to the culture of grievance, and that would still be true even if the Smith commission proposals were adopted. The Scottish Parliament will raise only 50% of what it spends. Worse, under the 30-year-old, discredited Barnett formula, which even its conceiver condemned towards the end of his life, Scotland’s block grant will be based not on needs but on English levels of spending. No matter which tartan is chosen to clad the Scottish purse, the purse strings will still be controlled by England. That, I believe, has to change.
Following reports by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, it has been said that Scotland faces a £7 billion black hole. Presumably, however, the SNP wanted independence in the next year. We cannot have an independent Parliament that does not have full fiscal autonomy, so let us have a real, informed debate about the figures.
When the hon. Gentleman uses the term black hole, does he mean a deficit? When people talk about the UK’s deficit, they say “deficit”. When they talk about Scotland’s deficit, they say “black hole”. Why the use of pejorative language?
It can be referred to as a deficit. We have listened to the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Office for Budget Responsibility, so now let us have an informed debate.
I want to make it clear, by the way, that I am not in favour of cutting Scotland loose. I am in favour of United Kingdom solidarity, and I am in favour of a new grant mechanism, if the need for one is proven. My aim is not to trap the SNP, call its bluff or reveal its timidity. I genuinely want to give the Scots what they want: the freedom to run their own affairs and not to blame others if things go wrong, but all within the buttresses and safety of the United Kingdom. I am a fervent Unionist.
Will the hon. Gentleman concede that Scotland has contributed more than the rest of the UK in tax per head of population in each of the last 34 years, and that Scotland with full economic powers would be able to deliver prosperity and social justice for the people of Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman can vote for my new clause, if that is what he believes. That scenario is on offer tonight, and he can vote for it. As a No. 10 spokesman said helpfully over the weekend—it is not often that No. 10 spokesmen have supported my new clauses, but I am grateful to him—the new clause
“is the acid test for the SNP over whether they will back their own policy”.
A Labour party spokesman helpfully said over the weekend, “They can have full fiscal autonomy by 10 o’clock tonight if they want to vote for it.”
Those of us who have a Eurosceptic point of view, as my hon. Friend does, have always been very cautious about fiscal autonomy without monetary autonomy. Would his amendment also enable the Scottish Parliament to have monetary autonomy?
As my hon. Friend made that point last week, I was waiting for it. If he will be patient for a moment, I will finish a couple of sentences and come directly to him, because this is the kernel of the matter.
Under my proposals, the Barnett formula would be scrapped and an alternative formula based on need would be created. In the modern world—in modern finance—we create formulas based on need.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there will not now be the automatic application of the Barnett formula to solve all the many money issues between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, but there has to be a fundamental renegotiation of the block grant and an attribution to Scotland of revenues by some formula? In practice, the whole financial settlement is in the melting pot anyway, so it will be very interesting to see how the SNP respond to his proposed further development.
Absolutely; we are a united kingdom. For instance, Lincolnshire gets more money in its educational grant because of the sparsity factor. All these things can be worked out in a constructive manner between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government so that there is a fair support mechanism based on need that takes account of issues such as declining oil revenues, the sparsity factor that I mentioned, declining heavy industries, or an ageing population. The grant should be determined by these matters, not by some ageing formula based on what the United Kingdom spends.
My personal view, for what it is worth, is that if we are to create a sustainable Union we must, in effect, create full fiscal autonomy for Northern Ireland, for Wales, for Scotland and, ultimately, for England. This almost imperial Parliament would remain determining the support mechanisms to ensure safety. So, yes, in that sense I am a federalist.
Barnett is a gift to those who want to break up the Union. It is also incredibly expensive for the English, with £1,680 more a year spending per head in Scotland than in England because Scottish spending is inextricably linked to English spending. When that is cut, SNP Members quite understandably—I do not blame them for this; they are good politicians—can cry foul, as they did last week, and say, “The Scots people didn’t vote for austerity but it’s being imposed on us.” They can vote on every education and health measure, and say, “What you spend in England on health and education is going to determine what we spend.” We then get a crazy situation whereby if some taxes in Scotland are raised the grant will go down. This simply does not work. It is not a recipe for preserving the Union or for a sustainable future.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the Barnett figures. He will of course point out, for completeness, that Barnett is only about two thirds of total spending. For further completeness, he will also point out, I am sure, that the Barnett figures for London and Northern Ireland are higher than those for Scotland.
I do not want to get into a sterile debate about whether London subsidises Scotland or vice versa; I simply want to be fair and open. I am happy for Scotland to have all its oil. It can determine its oil policy and its level of taxation, and as the oil revenues decline, if they do decline, I am happy for the United Kingdom Government to step in and increase its grant.
Might not the hon. Gentleman be entering into this debate a note of unpleasantness that need not be there? Is it not in the interests of those of us representing English seats that whatever settlement is made for Scotland is durable, taking into account, at some stage, that it will have repercussions for how we settle the English question. Should not we approach this subject as generously as possible because we want it to succeed, not to fail? The more it succeeds, the more we answer the question when we get on to our own requirements for an English Parliament.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has been a good personal friend of mine over many years, for summing up the situation. I am not trying to play party political games; I really want to be helpful. I want to create the durable settlement for which Scottish people voted: they want to stay part of the United Kingdom. They want to have that buttress if there is a catastrophic shock, as happened in 1929 and 2008, but they also want to run their own affairs.
I believe that, if we maintain the current Smith formula, combined with English votes for English laws, we will create a toxic mixture that will propel the Union towards collapse. As I said on Second Reading, we are making the same mistakes that were made on the Irish question in the 19th century: we are giving too little, too late. One thing our parliamentary forefathers did get right, however, was to not create two classes of MPs. They simply intended to reduce the number of Irish MPs with full home rule, but, sadly, the great war intervened and the rest is history.
Under the Smith commission, I think we are where we were with the Irish question in the early 20th century. I do not believe it is possible to dribble out complex tax powers such as thresholds, VAT and airport tax while also maintaining support for the Union. The Smith commission was a rapid scissors-and-tape job in response to a vow that was hastily put together by panicked Unionist politicians in the last days of the referendum campaign. Perhaps it was adequate for its time, but I have read it very carefully—it is not that long—and it has now been overtaken by events.
As my close personal friend and one of the most articulate Unionists, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, said recently in the other place—[Interruption.] I thought I might lose a bit of support with that, but he is a personal friend of mine; I stayed with him over the weekend. He said:
“All the unionist parties stood on a platform of bringing in the proposals of the Smith commission and we ended up with three seats out of 59. This is not a credible position; it has been rejected.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 June 2015; Vol. 762, c. 194.]
I say to the Government that there is such a thing as democracy. The Smith commission has been rejected. We cannot just plough on regardless. We have to listen to what the people have said.
May I thank the hon. Gentleman for the spirit in which he is presenting his argument? I also heard his speech on Second Reading and agreed with the analogies he drew with Ireland. If we are to move to a form of, as the hon. Gentleman describes it, benign fiscal freedom for Scotland, surely that requires a degree of transition, given the scale of the UK deficit and the unique circumstances post-2008. Therefore, the issue of division between us is the transitional arrangements, not the issue of fiscal freedom itself.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and nobody is suggesting that, even if my new clause 3 were passed tonight, full fiscal autonomy would start immediately. Of course there has to be a discussion and, inevitably, if oil revenues are declining, there has to be some sort of support mechanism from the United Kingdom Government. I say to SNP Members that they can have this new clause. Parliament is a democratic Assembly. I do not want to overplay my importance—I suspect the Whips might ensure that my new clause is defeated—but this is an historic opportunity to give full home rule to, and to establish that principle for, Scotland, which is what the Scottish people want.
We seem to be very happy with the hon. Gentleman’s new clause at the moment, but he talks about support mechanisms as though they are unique to Scotland. Will he concede that the UK has itself been reliant on support mechanisms since 2001 and that it has not raised the taxes to match its expenditure since then?
I am afraid we are getting into the historic arguments of who is to blame: is it the UK Government? The Scottish Government face a fundamental problem, in that spending is 20% higher but tax revenues are, inevitably, lower. That is a fundamental problem that SNP Members have to—[Interruption.] Well, I have lost them there—fair enough.
We can have that debate, but let us not get too bogged down on that. They want independence; they can have it—[Interruption]—full fiscal autonomy.
The fact is that the SNP’s capture of all but three of the Scottish seats is an even greater victory than Sinn Féin’s in Ireland in the 1918 general election. Then the Unionists managed to secure 22 of the 105 Irish seats. We have to listen: this is actually a very serious issue.
I will make a bit more progress, because I want to get to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). He has been very patient, and I will get to him eventually.
Like then, everything is different now. What will happen if Smith stays? Can we sustain a permanent settlement that prevents Scotland from setting the initial threshold for income tax or from changing universal credit? What will happen when the Scottish Conservative party promises in its election manifesto to cut taxation? How credible will that be if it affects the block grant available from the United Kingdom? All these issues have to be discussed.
Under the Smith proposals, universal credit will remain a reserved matter. Holyrood will be able to vary the frequency of payments and the way it is paid, while the power to vary the remaining elements of universal credit remain reserved, but I would ask why. I have read the Smith commission. Why?
Universal credit has been reserved because if Scotland decided to make it more generous, the issue would arise of how it would pay for that. What we find with fiscal independence is that we have to delegate both sides of the equation—the raising of the money and the spending of it—and then it can decide how much it wants to spend.
Full fiscal autonomy results in full responsibility. That is what real Parliaments do.
Responsibility for bereavement allowance, bereavement payment, child benefit, guardian’s allowance, maternity allowance, statutory maternity pay, statutory sick pay and widowed parent’s allowance will all remain reserved and administered by the Department for Work and Pensions. Why? The Smith commission further proposes a complex system for sharing responsibility for income tax. Why? That is all affected by an oscillating block grant. As I have said, how can SNP Members promise lower taxes in an election or higher spending unless they are masters of their own fate?
What are the objections to full home rule? What are the real objections to full fiscal autonomy, apart from the fact that we appointed a Lord Smith—with lots of no doubt very worthy people—to produce a report, which has been overtaken by events? We are told that full fiscal autonomy will result in tax competition within the Union. What is wrong with that? That is what keeps the American states vibrant and competitive with one another and continually innovating. Do we not insist that our taxes in Britain compete with those of Europe? We are told that tax competition would create downward pressure on taxes. Well, I am sorry about that. Why should the Scottish Parliament not be able to lower or raise air passenger duty? It can do whatever it likes. I know it has had that power and it will be allowed it under Smith, but if that power is allowed, why not powers for other things?
On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset said that a single currency requires fiscal and monetary union, with the implication that that is proved by the Greek experience. Surely he is not suggesting that the Scots are Greeks, or that the Scottish economy is as different from England’s as Germany’s is from Greece’s. No; Scotland can thrive with full fiscal autonomy because Scotland has the will and the skills to do so. It has universities, research, manufacturing, logistics, light manufacturing, oil and gas, food and drink and a flourishing creative sector. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] Vote for my new clause.
I agree with all the wonderful things my hon. Friend has been saying about Scotland, which are so clearly and self-evidently true. The point I was trying to make is that if a country has fiscal autonomy and issues debt in a currency other than its own, it may well get squeezed in the way seen not only in Greece, but in Italy and Spain, and in countries across Asia during the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s. For a country to have fiscal autonomy without its own currency is a recipe for economic failure. To go back historically, the same was true of the gold standard in the 1930s.
That is a very fair point. I agree that that is a matter for debate. I have already made the point that Scotland’s situation is very different from that of Greece. I am actually suggesting that we remain a United Kingdom, with a sharing of the national debt. Nothing is more debilitating in this whole debate than saying, “That bit of the national debt is yours, or this bit is mine.” We are back to the same dreary arguments about who is responsible for spending and when. My hon. Friend makes a serious point. If we achieve full fiscal autonomy, which I believe is inevitable—whether it happens now or in five years time, it will happen—the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government will have to act responsibly and live within their means. I have confidence that they will do so.
I can feel the sap rising at various points in the hon. Gentleman’s speech. When he said that Scotland is where Ireland was in the early years of the last century, I felt obliged to check the record, because last week he said we were
“where Ireland was in the 1880s.”—[Official Report, 8 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 965.]
We seem to have advanced 20 years in a week. Does that mean that in a week’s time, we will be where Ireland was in the 1920s?
That is an amusing point, but the right hon. Gentleman knows exactly what I am trying to say. This is a very serious point; it is not just a debating point. We have a responsibility to learn from history. What I was saying last week, and what I believe, is that we were wrong to abolish the Irish Parliament, wrong to delay granting Catholic emancipation, wrong not to listen to Gladstone in the 1880s, and wrong not to implement full home rule at the outset of the great war. We were wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong again. We need to have an element of statesmanship and vision in these affairs. The right hon. Gentleman, with all his debating skills, can laugh at what I say, but I assure him that I genuinely believe in what I am trying to do.
If we had granted home rule in the 1880s or implemented the home rule Act in August 1914, it is very probable that Ireland would have remained in the Union or become a dominion. Of course I regret the fact that Ireland chose to break free. There was a tragic civil war. That will not happen in Scotland, but the history of Ireland is one of tragedy and missed opportunities. Nobody is suggesting that we will go down that route with Scotland, but let us learn from history and try to be creative in these matters.
I am a little puzzled. Just for the record, will my hon. Friend confirm that he is not equating the subjugation of the Irish and the tragic history of Ireland from the Norman period right through to the 20th century with Scotland, which, as part of the United Kingdom, is a modern, liberal democratic country with a successful economy?
I am absolutely not. I do not want to overplay the analogy. As a fervent, almost romantic Unionist, I believe that Scotland has benefited enormously from being in the Union, which has been a Union based on trust and shared responsibility. I would not in any way suggest that the Scottish people have suffered in the same way that the Irish people suffered in the 18th century. If I gave that impression, I apologise, because that was not my aim at all. The only point I was trying to make was that we have to realise, in these debates, when there is a certain inevitability. If we know that full fiscal autonomy is going to come, it is better to have a serious discussion now on how to achieve it.
An important point has been made about opportunity. It is a real sadness that Scotland has lost a net 2 million people through migration over the past 100 years. One reason why we want powers over our economy is so that we can grow Scotland and ensure that we do not see tens of thousands of our young people being educated in Scotland and then emigrating and contributing to countries abroad. We need to grow the Scottish economy. That is why we need the powers over our economy.
As one of the only Irish or Northern Irish people here, I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman confirm that he sees Northern Ireland as part of the Union. I accept that many of the Scots came our way. We see ourselves very much as part of the Union. I am concerned that we are moving forward before we have thought not just about Northern Ireland, but about Wales. We need a convention so that we know where we are going. I am concerned that we are going to put ourselves into a form that we cannot come back from. In Northern Ireland today, we have very nearly got ourselves into a totally dysfunctional Government that we cannot come back from. I am nervous that we are going too far, too quickly.
Again, that is a very fair point. I do not mind having conventions, but we, as politicians, have to decide what we want. We should decide the principles and then, once we have decided, by all means employ distinguished people such as Lord Smith, accountants, tax lawyers and so on to work out how it is done, but let us not just push this into the long grass and have a convention of the great and good lasting for years with wall to wall lawyers. Let us, in this House, decide what we want.
This is an historic opportunity to cut through the negativity of the £7 billion black hole doomsayers. Give Scotland control of its oil revenues and taxes and let it decide its own priorities on encouraging exploration and how to tax it as the oil runs out. Then we will be one Union, based on solidarity and need. The UK subsidises Northern Ireland to preserve peace. Why should we not, on the basis of need, subsidise Scotland? I am very happy with that. Are we not brothers and sisters in this Union? Should we not help each other, if needed? Our principles should not be the politics of fear, but the statesmanship of hope.
New clause 3 delivers what I think Scotland wants: power to run her own affairs, but with the consolation of knowing that there is a secure foundation stone against catastrophic shocks, such as those in 1929 and 2008. I wish for there to be solidarity on pension liability and national debt, and for it to be shared. We should not be saying “This is your bit of debt.” We should say that it is our debt. To ensure peace and security, we should share a single defence and foreign policy; not a division based on the auld alliance of the times before James I and VI rode south, but the Union that has given us 400 years of shared identity and prosperity. Those who want slowly to leak this power and that function are setting a trajectory, however slowly, towards independence.
There is one part of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, which he may well be coming on to, that did strike me as slightly curious: the part on keeping treason reserved. Is there a modern day William Wallace or Mary Queen of Scots in our midst that means he sees the need to keep that power reserved?
I took advice from the Clerks. All right, I will surrender treason if they want, particularly to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond). [Laughter.]
The Smith commission itself admits:
“A challenge facing both Parliaments is the relatively weak understanding of the current devolution settlement.”
What a glorious understatement!
“This is not surprising”—
its report further concedes—
“given what is a complex balance of powers.”
A complex balance of powers has been created and I do not think there is a single Member of Parliament who actually understands what is going to happen under Smith. We need to move to a more federal arrangement whereby the four nations have broadly equal powers. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should have devolved legislatures, with the English MPs at Westminster deciding the same for England, then acting as a pan-European Parliament alongside MPs elected from the devolved countries as well.
The Prime Minister promised Scotland
“the strongest devolved Government anywhere in the world”
and the Scottish people rejected full independence. I suspect that they want full home rule. But will those who have argued for full fiscal autonomy now vote for it, or will they vote for further delay or deeper fudge? Will they go on blaming the United Kingdom Government for what goes wrong, or have the courage to grasp what they say they want? Full fiscal autonomy is inevitable.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hoyle. I welcome you back to your role. I wish to speak in support of amendment 58, which stands in my name and in the names of my hon. Friends.
The Scottish National party has submitted a series of amendments to the Scotland Bill based on the three-pronged commitment outlined in our manifesto for the UK general election: first, delivering on the Smith agreement in full; secondly, devolving additional powers in priority areas such as job creation and welfare protection; and, thirdly, enabling the Scottish Parliament to move to a position of full fiscal autonomy. This approach was backed in record numbers by voters in Scotland in May, giving the SNP a clear mandate for change, which the UK Government must recognise and must act upon.
The UK Government must live up to the words of the Prime Minister on 10 September 2014, when he said:
“If Scotland says it does want to stay inside the United Kingdom then all the options of devolution are there and are possible”.
If all options are possible, it is the duty of the UK Government to respond to the clearly expressed desire of the Scottish people for more powers in the Scotland Bill. The SNP amendments include effectively entrenching the Scottish Parliament—that is what we are discussing now—placing the Sewel convention on a meaningful statutory basis and giving the Scottish Parliament the legislative competence to remove the reservation on taxation, borrowing and public expenditure, enabling the Scottish Parliament to legislate to deliver full fiscal autonomy. The SNP also proposes amendments for further priority powers at later stages in the Bill, including powers over tax, setting the minimum wage and taking responsibility for welfare decisions. In this first group of amendments, I will speak on issues relating to the permanence of the Scottish Parliament, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) will speak shortly on full fiscal autonomy.
Amendment 58 relates to the permanency of the Scottish Parliament and Government. Paragraph 21 of the Smith commission report stated:
“UK legislation will state that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government are permanent institutions.”
However, in its analysis of the draft clauses published by the UK Government, the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee raised two main issues. As I stressed in the previous stage, that was an all-party Committee, involving members from the Scottish National party, the Scottish Labour party, the Scottish Conservative party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Green party.
It is important to get it on the record that Alex Johnstone MSP has made it perfectly clear that his participation on the Committee is not to be conflated with the SNP press release issued at the time of the Committee’s report. He clearly supports the Committee’s report, but not the SNP’s attempt to distort that report.
It will no doubt be a relief to you, Mr Hoyle, that I will confine myself to the words agreed by all Committee members, including Mr Johnstone, when he signed up to the report.
That cross-party Committee found that the form of words on permanency proposed in the Scotland Bill was a weaker formulation than stating simply that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government were permanent. We agree with the view of the Committee—and of Mr Johnstone—in paragraph 47:
“The Committee is of the view that the inclusion of the words ‘is recognised’ in draft clause 1 has the potential to weaken the effect of this clause, which would be unfortunate given the all-party agreement to this recommendation as part of the Smith Commission, and the views expressed to us by the former Secretary of State for Scotland that he perceives that the permanence of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government is guaranteed.”
The Committee was also told by the former Secretary of State that he was open to reconsidering the wording of draft clause 1, but changes were not made in the published Bill. This suggests that the Government might be open to the amendment.
Paragraph 49 of the report agreed by Mr Johnstone and all other Committee members states:
“In evidence to the Committee, the former Secretary of State for Scotland commented that he was ‘open to thinking about different ways in which…permanence could be achieved’. The Committee welcomes the openminded approach of the former Secretary of State with regard to this issue. The Committee therefore considers that there is scope to further strengthen the permanency provisions.”
The Committee’s analysis of the published Bill, however, confirmed that there was no change between the draft and the final clause.
The Committee called for additional protection in paragraph 50 of its report, supported by Mr Johnstone and all other members:
“The Committee considers that the effect of the clause on permanency, as currently drafted, is primarily declaratory and political rather than legal in effect. The UK doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty makes achieving permanence problematic. The Committee recommends that the Scottish electorate should be asked to vote in a referendum if the issue of permanency was in question, with majorities also being required in the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament.”
That is the purpose of the SNP amendments, which we will be moving.