House of Commons
Wednesday 17 June 2015
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Committee of Selection
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Heidi Alexander, Mr Alan Campbell, Jackie Doyle-Price, David Evennett, Anne Milton, Julian Smith, Mark Tami, Owen Thompson, and Bill Wiggin be members of the Committee of Selection until the end of the current Parliament.—(Anne Milton.)
Question put and agreed to.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
As this is the first Wales Office business since the election, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome new and returning Members, especially new Welsh Members. I look forward to working with them all over the next five years in the best interests of Wales.
On the EU referendum, I have been listening to what people and businesses across Wales have to say, and what they want is a less intrusive, less costly and less burdensome membership of the EU. We intend to secure that and deliver an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The Labour party fought its entire election campaign by scaremongering about the EU referendum, showing that it was wrong on that issue, as on so many others—wrong in Gower, wrong in Cardiff North and wrong in the Vale of Clwyd.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that it is important to have an objective assessment of the implications for the people of Wales of pulling out of the EU. Will he therefore commission an objective report on the issues and publish the results?
The right hon. Lady makes an extremely useful and important point. We want the people of the UK to make an evidence-led decision. It is not for the Wales Office to commission such a report, but I suspect that many other independent organisations will be looking at such evidence, and we look forward to seeing the results.
The provisions of the European Union Referendum Bill that relate to the dilution of purdah would apply no less to the Welsh Assembly Government than to Her Majesty’s Government. Will the Secretary of State please undertake to mention that to his right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe so that the people of Wales can expect a fair referendum?
I welcome the Secretary of State and his team back to the House, and I offer the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), who has been detained on urgent personal business.
Given that more than 150,000 jobs in Wales depend on our membership of the EU, can the Secretary of State say whether any members of his ministerial team belong to or support the Conservatives for Britain group? What does he have to say to sceptical Government Members about the benefits of EU membership for Wales?
I am absolutely clear: I want to approach the EU referendum campaigning for Britain to stay in a reformed EU. We have huge support from people and businesses across Wales for the Prime Minister’s strategy of seeking a less costly and less intrusive membership of the EU, and one of the most useful things we can do in this House is give him our full-throated support in those renegotiations.
The Government’s long-term economic plan is clearly working for the Welsh economy. The UK is the fastest growing nation of the G7, and Wales is the fastest growing part of the UK. Our long-term economic plan has achieved some of the highest levels of employment in our history.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Having hauled my constituency out of the hands of Labour dominance after 109 years, I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees that the general election result demonstrated clearly what we knew all along, which is that the Labour party, together with its failing chums in Cardiff Bay, was consistently on the wrong side of the economic argument.
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. His success in Gower was one of the most remarkable across the United Kingdom. His presence here is testament to the economic success of the Conservative Government. To his credit, he has played a significant part in lobbying the Government on major infrastructure projects that will benefit his constituency, such as electrification of the Great Western main line all the way to Swansea.
Cutting the Severn bridge toll should be an integral part of any plan for the Welsh economy, because we have the highest tolls in the UK, and they hit bridge users in south Wales particularly hard. Yes, VAT will come off the toll in 2018, but that is not nearly enough. Can the Minister confirm that he will be lobbying the Secretary of State for Transport extremely hard so that we get a much fairer deal for Severn bridge users?
The hon. Lady has raised that matter on several occasions. I am sure that she was pleased to hear the Chancellor announce that VAT will no longer apply, but she is right that we need to go further. We are abolishing category 2 so that white vans and pink minibuses will pay the same price as a light vehicle, unlike the way it was left by the Labour party.
I very much welcome any rise in employment in Wales, but more than half of all households with children in Wales, many of which include people working in low-income jobs, rely on tax credits to make ends meet. What reassurance can the Minister give to those Welsh families that his Government’s long-term economic plan does not include cutting their child tax credits?
The Government’s long-term economic plan is taking people out of poverty and bringing them into work. The hon. Lady should welcome the unemployment data that were announced today, which show that more than 100,000 private sector jobs have been created in the Welsh economy. Unemployment is falling and investment is growing. I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome that.
Indeed, I did welcome that. Yet again, there were no real answers from the hon. Gentleman; perhaps he is practising to be Prime Minister. Families across Wales who are going out to work and doing their best for their children will be very worried by that answer. If he cannot give full reassurance that his Government will protect tax credits, will he at least speak up and try to stop his fellow Ministers giving a kick in the teeth to working families while passing laws to protect millionaires from tax rises?
I am surprised that the Labour party is still pursuing the wrong priorities. It is on the wrong side of public opinion. The public rightly demand that we reform welfare and incentivise people to work. That policy worked over the past five years and I hope that she will welcome its continuation over the next five years.
Welsh Government Funding
The Secretary of State may be aware that my constituency had the terrible news yesterday that Dobson & Crowther in Llangollen had gone into administration. Will he assure me that he will work with the Welsh Government on that? Does he agree that the £50 million of in-year cuts to the Welsh Government’s budget that the Chancellor has brought in are a very bad thing and that we cannot have the same thing again, because we need to be working together for the people of Wales?
We are aware of the situation in the hon. Lady’s constituency. We stay in close touch with Jobcentre Plus and the Welsh Government to find ways to support those who face uncertainty over their jobs. We have just been through an election campaign in which responsibility over finances was at the heart of the debate. The fact that she is standing here today, saying that the Welsh Government should somehow be immune from shouldering any of the responsibility for getting on top of our national finances, shows that she has learned nothing from the past five years.
I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. HS2 is a strategic project that will benefit the whole United Kingdom. It will benefit Wales, not least through the new hub station at Crewe, which will increase the potential for electrification in north Wales. On that basis, there is no argument for a Barnett consequential.
Does the Government’s failure to eliminate the deficit in the last Parliament not mean that Wales faces further significant cuts, which will be deeper than those we have had so far? Why should the people of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney pay for the Chancellor’s broken promises?
The hon. Gentleman risks repeating the mistakes that his colleagues made throughout the five years of the last Parliament, when they set their face against responsibility and failed to support any of the measures that we took to get on top of the national deficit. Something that they might want to learn as they review their election defeat is that people up and down the United Kingdom support financial responsibility.
12. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Welsh Government should be held more financially accountable to the Welsh taxpayer for the money they spend? Will he consider including in the anticipated Wales Bill the devolution of income tax without the unnecessary block of a referendum? (900281)
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend about the need for the Welsh Government to assume greater responsibility for raising money, as well as just spending it. I hear his argument about the referendum, and other people are making similar arguments. However, if the Welsh Government are not up for the challenge of greater financial responsibility, any discussion about whether there should be a referendum is academic.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. There are many mysteries about the way in which the Welsh Government operate their finances—we could point to others. The important thing to remember is that at the general election the people of this country gave a strong mandate to this Government to get on top of our deficit and fix our national finances. It is beholden on every Department, where taxpayers’ money is spent, to play its part.
The historic underfunding of Wales is not in doubt. Has the Secretary of State given any further attention to commissioning an urgent report, by someone such as Gerald Holtham, into the precise figure of that underfunding, so that we can act accordingly?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. One of my first conversations after being reappointed as Secretary of State was to meet Gerry Holtham to talk about his analysis of Welsh funding. He agrees with me that we do not need to commission any independent new evidence. The work has been done and we need to crack on with introducing the fair funding floor. We are committed to doing that.
Both Labour and Conservative parties have cynically sought to redefine what constitutes fair funding for Wales, with both parties seeing it as a funding floor rather than putting us on an equal footing with Scotland. Will the Government join the people of Wales, 78% of whom believe that Wales should be funded to the same level per head as Scotland?
Plaid Cymru had one single theme and policy during the general election campaign: funding and seeking parity with Scotland. [Interruption.] A voice behind her asks what about the north-east of England. The trouble with seeking parity with Scotland is that one would have to start dividing up the whole pie. The important thing is that we are delivering on a fair funding floor for Wales that will correct the way the Barnett formula operates for Wales, and she should be supporting that.
Borderlands Line Rail Franchise
I have met the Under-Secretary of State for Transport to discuss aspirations to upgrade north Wales’ rail infrastructure. On the franchise, the Wales Office is working closely with the Department for Transport and the Welsh Government to agree which services will be devolved. Specific proposals will be consulted on in due course and I hope the hon. Gentleman will play his part.
I thank the Minister for that answer. He has highlighted the difficulties in implementing some of the practicalities of devolution. Will he meet me and interested bodies from both sides of the border to discuss the practicalities, and how my constituents can be best represented during this process?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question; he makes an important point. Rail passengers just want smooth services on both sides of the border. Administrative boundaries should be there to support rather than to hinder. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s involvement in any discussions.
Many Welsh passengers use railway lines, such as the Great Western line, that are under the control of the UK Government. They are concerned about suggestions that the Government are going to break up and privatise parts of Network Rail. Will the Minister rule that out?
That is, of course, a matter for the Department for Transport, but I will take no lessons from the Labour party on electrification. When the Labour party was in government it left Wales languishing with Moldova and Albania as one of only three nations in Europe without a single track of electrified railway. Some £1.5 billion has been invested in the electrification of the main line right the way through to Swansea. I would hope that the hon. Lady welcomed that.
The new franchise offers a golden opportunity for extra routes connecting north Wales with England and the Republic of Ireland. Does the Minister agree that it is important that we look at the new European structural funds, so that we can have trans-European networks going from Dublin to London, via north Wales?
Air Police: Dyfed Powys
6. What plans he has for the future of air police services in the Dyfed Powys area; and if he will make a statement. (900275)
The National Police Air Service plays an important role in keeping the people of England and Wales safe. Operational capability decisions regarding the provision of police air support remain the responsibility of the strategic board.
Maps produced by NPAS show that about half of the Dyfed Powys police force area will fall within 30 minutes’ flying time from a helicopter base, despite NPAS wanting to reach 90% of the population of Wales and England within 20 minutes. Is the Minister content with this extension of response times and with the fact that parts of Dyfed Powys will still not be reachable even within the extended 30-minute timescale?
The hon. Gentleman has a strong record in scrutinising such changes—the Westminster Hall debate just last week was testimony to that—but I also pay tribute to the police and crime commissioner, who is seeking to improve cover and save money at the same time. Any money saved, of course, will create an opportunity to support more officers on the beat.
Anyone looking at the proposed NPAS division will come to the conclusion that the residents of Dyfed Powys will receive a second-class service compared with the dedicated police helicopter service currently enjoyed. Considering that the commissioner is powerless to act, will the Minister join me in calling on the Home Office to hold an urgent review of the situation in Wales, and Dyfed Powys in particular, as it is doing in the north-east of England?
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to meet the police and crime commissioner, who has said he is more than happy to meet him to discuss such issues. There is an opportunity, however, not only to save money but to improve cover. At the moment, the station he talks about operates limited hours, whereas the NPAS proposals would operate 24-hour cover and also provide access to more helicopters and added resilience.
My hon. Friend will know how rural an area Wales is, and the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) is absolutely right to raise this point, but what consideration has the Minister given to combining the Wales police force covering the hon. Gentleman’s constituency with north Wales police in order to provide a better service?
There are no proposals to merge the police forces, but co-operation between them is one way of saving money and operating a much better service. [Interruption.] The reorganisation of the helicopter service under NPAS provides the opportunity for 24-hour cover, which will be much better, as we all know that offenders do not restrict their activities to daylight hours. [Interruption.]
I am grateful for that reply. Will the Secretary of State ignore any siren calls there might be for the repatriation of health policy? Does he agree that this is not a matter of a war with Wales or of Offa’s Dyke being the border between life and death, and will he put the responsibility where it lies—with the Labour Governments who have reorganised health and tolerated the situation in north Wales for far too long?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that all those looking across the River Severn enviously at the shorter waiting times and better ambulance response times under the Conservative-run NHS in England have an opportunity for change next May, when they can vote for a Conservative Government in the Welsh Assembly?
As ever, the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee speaks truth and wisdom. It is not healthy for Wales or the Welsh Labour party for the latter always to assume it will be in power in Cardiff Bay. A non-Labour alternative to running the Assembly would do the Welsh health service the world of good.
Many constituents receive excellent cancer care from Velindre hospital. Is there not a danger when the NHS is used as a political football of diminishing the great work done in such hospitals by the fantastic professionals in the Welsh NHS?
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the fact that the Welsh Government are ignoring calls for the provision of a cancer drugs fund in Wales, thus putting my constituents at a severe disadvantage in comparison with those on the other side of Offa’s Dyke?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. On doorsteps throughout Wales during the election campaign, people expressed anger and frustration about their inability to gain access to the life-enhancing cancer drugs that are available to patients in England. A petition calling on the Welsh Government to introduce a cancer drugs fund has been signed by 100,000 people in Wales, and I cannot for the life of me understand why the Welsh Government are being so stubborn.
Engineers have highly adaptable skills that are valuable across the whole economy. Thanks to the priority that the Government have given to nationally significant infrastructure, there has never been a better time to work or train as an engineer in Wales, or, indeed, throughout the United Kingdom.
I am delighted to note that Renishaw is developing excellent industrial links with Wales, but does the Minister agree that we need more science, technology, engineering and maths and more STEM pupils in the pipeline, so that we can make a proper effort to generate more careers in engineering?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Renishaw, which is in his constituency, is doing exceptionally well in Wales, including, I should add, in my constituency. It is providing the higher engineering skills and investment that we are seeing across the United Kingdom and beyond.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about STEM subjects. He will welcome the establishment of the STEMNET UK-wide network of volunteer ambassadors to support STEM careers. Additional funding of £6.3 million has been provided to support the network.
Wales’s output per head amounts to 70% of the United Kingdom average, which explains why we have the lowest wages in Britain yet some of the largest cuts. What is the Minister doing to ensure that we have our fair share of investment in engineering, in order to boost productivity, boost wages, and boost family incomes for once?
I am surprised to hear that question from the hon. Gentleman. After all, it was his party that left Wales the poorest part of the United Kingdom. Since then, it has become the fastest-growing part of the United Kingdom, and the UK is the fastest-growing nation in the G7. He ought to welcome that, along with the fact that wages and gross domestic household income are growing faster in Wales than in any other part of the United Kingdom. However, we will further improve both productivity and wealth through significant infrastructure spending.
Cross-border Road Links
I met the Department for Transport and Highways England last week to express my concern about the delays to the A483/A55 roadworks at the Posthouse roundabout. The Government have invested £6 million in that complex scheme, which will deliver significant benefits to road users on both sides of the border. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman supports such investment to improve passenger journeys, tackle congestion and clear the way for business investment in the cross-border region.
But the Government told me in February that the work would be completed by April, by the time of the general election. That has not happened, and the Wales Office did nothing before then to get this work done. Will the Minister assure me that it will completed by 28 June?
Although the hon. Gentleman called for an improvement in the network for many years, his party did nothing in government to bring that improvement about. It was only when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the scheme as part of the pinch point programme in 2011 that action was taken to improve the network. We are now working closely with the Department for Transport.
The hon. Gentleman must be the only Member who calls for roadworks and then complains when that construction is under way.
Great Western Cities Devolution
Last week I brought together council leaders from across the Cardiff capital region to hear their views on an emerging vision for an ambitious city deal for Cardiff that will create new economic opportunities for the wider area, including the great western cities region.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response, but obviously my concern is Bristol rather than Cardiff. How does he see a cross-border initiative such as this fitting in with the agenda for city regions, combined authorities and everything else that is going on?
I know that the Secretary of State shares my excitement about the Cardiff city deal. It has huge potential for Cardiff and it really will deliver for south Wales. Does he share my view that all parties should come together constructively to ensure that Cardiff does not miss out on this opportunity of a generation?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to him for the leadership that he has shown in driving forward a Cardiff city deal proposal. I am clear in my mind that a Cardiff city deal will work only with the Welsh Government, the UK Government, local partners and, crucially, the business community all working together.
The Prime Minister was asked—
The Prime Minister is in Italy and I have been asked to reply. This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in the House I shall have further such meetings later today.
Under this Government’s leadership, the construction of social rented homes has fallen to a 20-year low, but since 2010 the amount of housing benefit paid to private landlords has risen by £1.5 billion. Does the Chancellor understand the connection, or would he like to come to my next advice surgery so that my constituents can explain it to him?
Of course we are aware that there is an acute housing shortage in London, which is why we need to build more homes, but I can tell the hon. Lady that we built more council housing in the last five years than was built in the entire 13 years of the last Labour Government. I am very happy to come to Lewisham, where we will talk about the fact that today the claimant count is down by 25% over the year and long-term youth unemployment is down 45% in the last year. The economic plan in Lewisham is working.
Q2. Pensions are a really important issue to my constituents, and the Government have delivered on their side of the bargain by giving savers the freedom to access their pensions. Will the Chancellor do all he can to ensure that the industry lives up to its side of the bargain and delivers on those freedoms? (900371)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The pension freedoms that we introduced in April are delivering the fundamental Conservative principle that people who have worked hard and saved hard all their lives should be trusted with their own money, and 60,000 people have accessed their pension savings. There are clearly concerns, however, that some companies are not doing their part to make those freedoms available. We are investigating how to remove the barriers, and we are now considering a cap on charges. I am asking the Financial Conduct Authority to investigate. People who have worked hard and saved hard deserve a better deal.
May I begin by congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment as First Secretary of State?
It was reported this week that Talha Asmal, a 17-year-old from Dewsbury, blew himself up in an ISIL attack that killed 11 people. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree that we need to do everything we can to prevent our young people from travelling to Iraq and Syria, so will he tell the House whether the Government now have an agreement in place with all the airlines to raise alerts when unaccompanied minors travel to known Syrian routes, and whether our police are being notified by the Turkish authorities when British citizens arrive at transit points to Syria?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and I welcome him to his place. I think his father would have been extremely proud to see him leading for the Labour party today. Speaking for those on this side of the House, we are extremely relieved to see that there is no Benn in the Labour leadership contest but plenty of Bennites.
The right hon. Gentleman raises the very serious situation around ISIL, and I think everyone in this House is shocked that a 17-year-old citizen of our country can become radicalised and, apparently, become a suicide bomber on the other side of the world—of course, we also have had the distressing reports of the families from Bradford. So we are taking a number of steps. First, we want to work with schools, mosques and other community institutions to help prevent the radicalisation—there is a new statutory duty to do that. Secondly, we are working with the airlines, including getting in place those agreements that the right hon. Gentleman talks about and providing training at the borders, to stop people travelling to countries such as Syria and to remove their passports if they attempt to do so. Thirdly—this will be an issue in this Parliament—we also need to make sure that our security and intelligence services have the powers they need to track people who are trying to get back into this country. I look forward to cross-party support on that issue.
I am grateful for that reply. I think the House would appreciate an update on the progress of those discussions with the airlines, and I noted that the right hon. Gentleman was not able to respond to the question I asked about the Turkish authorities. This is a very serious matter and we need to know where things have got to.
We know that, for some time, a growing number of young people have been groomed to travel to Syria and Iraq. Last November, the Intelligence and Security Committee criticised the Government for not giving the Prevent programme sufficient priority and concluded that
“counter-radicalisation programmes are not working.”
Why does he think that is?
Frankly, I do not accept all those conclusions, and there has been a disagreement about the Prevent programme. In the past, there was a confusion between the programmes that supported integration and the programmes that tried to prevent radical extremism. As a result, certain organisations that should never have got public money did so under the last Government.
The Prevent programme is doing its work, but we have also passed a very important law in this Parliament that now ensures there is a statutory duty on public authorities such as a schools, universities and the police to develop the Prevent strategy and the counter-radicalisation strategy. Where I think we agree—after all, on an issue such as this let us try to find areas where we agree—is on the need to try to do more in these communities to prevent this radicalisation from taking place in the first place.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he will, of course, have the full support of Members on the Opposition Benches on measures that are taken to try to deal with this problem. But can he assure us that community-led Prevent programmes are now actually being implemented in places such as Dewsbury and elsewhere, including by providing appropriate training to teachers and other workers in the public sector, as the new public sector duty to which he has just referred comes into force in two weeks’ time?
I can confirm that that training is taking place—indeed, we have provided additional resources. In the spirit of this constructive conversation, may I say that we have an extremism Bill in the Queen’s Speech which goes further in seeking to disrupt groups that are plotting either to commit offences here in this country or to travel abroad and become further radicalised? I hope the Labour party looks seriously at that Bill and offers its support to the Government.
It is now clear that right across the middle east and north Africa, the common enemy is ISIL. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that our strategic objective must be to continue to bring together all of the countries affected, in the region and internationally, to put aside other differences and co-operate to confront ISIL?
I of course completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that. Britain plays a leading role in bringing together the various allies that are delivering the impact against ISIL. Indeed, we have had some welcome news of prominent terrorist leaders, not necessarily in ISIL but in other organisations, who have been killed in the past couple of days. If those reports are correct, it is a very welcome step forward in the global fight against terrorism.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; ultimately, the Iraqi Government and the Syrian people are going to have to find a way to take greater control of their own security. In Iraq, we work with the legitimate Government there. In Syria, we support the moderate Opposition, continuing to support and train them in the tasks that they undertake.
Turning now to how we resolve that crisis, which, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, has seen the largest movement of refugees since the end of the second world war, can he tell the House what expectations he has for the new round of talks that UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura is holding in Geneva?
First of all, the right hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the displaced persons, particularly in countries such as Jordan and Turkey, which are bearing an enormous burden. That is why Britain has such a massive aid contribution. Across this House, we can be incredibly proud that the parties in the recent general election stood on a commitment to deliver 0.7% of our national income in development aid. That is not just a humanitarian effort but to make sure that we are able to help in situations such as this. When it comes to burden sharing across the region, of course we want to help, but we must be realistic. We cannot take large numbers of Syrian refugees into our country.
Finally, as more and more people gather in Libya to try to cross the Mediterranean, HMS Bulwark is doing an extraordinary job in rescuing frightened people. But we learned yesterday that its deployment is under active review. Having made a grave error last October in withdrawing support from the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operations, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Government will continue to save the lives of those in peril on that sea?
Of course I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that we will continue to play our full part in the search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean. As I understand it, essential maintenance needs to be carried out on HMS Bulwark, which is clearly an operational issue, but no one should doubt Britain’s determination to play its role in helping with this situation.
May I end on this point? Taking people out of the water and rescuing them is essential—we are a humanitarian nation and we need to deal with those issues—but, in the end, we must break the link that enables someone to get on a boat and then claim asylum in Europe and spend the rest of their lives on the European continent. That is what draws these people. They are aiming for a better life, but circumventing proper immigration controls on the European continent. We should work across Europe to break that link. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman’s role in helping us do that.
Businesses in Kent need capable school leavers and graduates to employ. Will my right hon. Friend explain what the Government are doing to ensure that pupils study the most important academic subjects, such as maths, which employers value?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary set out really important education reforms yesterday. The introduction of the EBacc, which will increase rigour in our schools, will ensure that children are learning the essential subjects they need to get great jobs. Of course, today—this has not been much talked about yet, but perhaps will be later in this Session—we should reflect on the fact that unemployment is down again in our country, employment is up, and long-term unemployment is down. For the first time, wages are growing faster than since the great recession. That shows that our economic plan is working.
The Iraq war a decade ago and its aftermath have been an unmitigated disaster. The Chilcot inquiry into the causes of that war has now been running for six years at a cost of £10 million. Is it true that the Chilcot report has been delayed until next year?
The Chilcot inquiry is completely independent of Government, and we do not determine when it publishes its conclusions. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it has been a long time coming, and people are running out of patience, as they want to see that report. I make a broader observation, which is that there was a cross-party alliance between the Scottish nationalists and the Conservative party when we called for that inquiry to be set up earlier than it actually was. If it had been, we would have the conclusions now.
It is worth remembering that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister both voted for the war that we were led into by the then Labour Government. Does the Chancellor feel that he has no moral or political responsibility to get to the bottom of the reasons why we went into this catastrophic war in the first place, and what is he going to do about it?
That responsibility was fulfilled when we voted to create an independent inquiry. We want to see the results of that independent inquiry. Those involved in Chilcot will have heard the view of the House of Commons today, and indeed the public concern, about how long the inquiry is taking, but ultimately it is an independent inquiry. If it was not independent, people would question its motives and the basis on which it had been set up. It is independent, but it should get on with it.
The tunnel boring part of the Crossrail project is now completed. The route will run through my constituency at Harold Wood. Will the Chancellor join me in congratulating everybody who has been involved in this most amazing feat of engineering, of which this country must be truly proud?
My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to one of the great engineering marvels of the world—the fantastic Crossrail tunnel that has been built under one of the oldest capital cities on the planet. [Interruption.] Hon. Members ask, “How much did it cost?” It did cost money, but I tell you what: this Government are investing in the infrastructure to provide the jobs in the future, and if we were not making the savings in the Government budget elsewhere, we would not be able to provide for our children. [Interruption.]
Q3. It is both sad and disturbing that the number of reported rapes in Greater London has risen by 68% in the last 10 years. Sexual crime is up by 35% in the last year. Will the Chancellor commit the extra resources to the police to ensure that they catch and jail the perpetrators, and that they continue to support organisations working with women in the most sensitive manner? (900372)
Of course we continue to provide that support. Indeed we have, through the operational independence of the Metropolitan police, seen the police focusing more on these heinous crimes. One of the better pieces of news is that there has been increased reporting as well, and women coming forward who have been victims of this horrific crime, but I am always prepared to look at extra requests for resources if there is more we can do to help.
Q4. In my constituency, in Watford, in one year alone in the last Parliament, the number of apprenticeships doubled. They were among more than 2 million apprenticeship starts in the country as a whole, and clearly very beneficial to businesses and young people alike. Would my right hon. Friend confirm that a further growth in apprenticeships is an important priority for this Government? (900373)
I can confirm that 3 million apprenticeships is the objective of this Government in this Parliament, building on our success of providing 2 million apprenticeships in the last Parliament. I think the whole House will want to congratulate my hon. Friend on becoming the apprenticeships adviser to the Prime Minister. He has a very important role to play, because there are many great companies who run great apprenticeship programmes, but not enough companies do have apprenticeship programmes. I hope they will receive a knock on the door from my hon. Friend.
We will have the proper environmental standards around the exploration of shale gas, but I think for this country to turn its back on one of these great natural resources, which other countries are using, would be to condemn our country to higher energy bills and not as many jobs. Frankly, I do not want to be part of a generation that says, “All the economic activity was happening somewhere else in the world, and was not happening in our country, and was not happening on our continent.” So we should get on with the safe, environmentally protected exploration of our shale gas resources.
Q6. In recent months, Jodrell Bank successfully secured the future of the globally significant Square Kilometre Array telescope project at its site, and over £12 million in heritage lottery funding to highlight its unique science heritage. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is further evidence of the importance of science in his compelling vision of a northern powerhouse? (900375)
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the success that Manchester University and Jodrell Bank have had in securing the international headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array experiment. I visited Jodrell Bank in the middle of the election campaign—I dropped in to congratulate them on the achievement, which was achieved during the purdah period but under instructions issued by the previous Government. It is the world’s largest science experiment. It is an incredible collaboration across nations, and I am extremely proud that its headquarters are in the northern powerhouse.
Today sees a mass lobby here in Westminster of people who are demanding urgent action on climate change. Since coal is the most damaging of the fossil fuels, does the Chancellor agree that as well as phasing out coal, we in this House have a responsibility to divest our parliamentary pension fund from fossil fuels, as has been done in Norway very recently?
It is way above my pay grade to interfere with the parliamentary trustees of the pension fund here, and I leave the decisions on investments to them. I agree with the hon. Lady that the lobby of Parliament today is important and the Paris talks at the end of the year are a real opportunity to get a global commitment to binding standards and carbon targets. Britain will play its full part. What we want to achieve is dealing with those greenhouse gas emissions and meeting our international obligations on climate change, but doing so in the cheapest way possible for the consumers of electricity here in Britain.
Q7. After years of undeserved neglect my city, Plymouth, is beginning to enjoy some infrastructure investment and realise its brilliant potential. We can see that from today’s jobs figures, which show an unemployment fall of almost half since this Chancellor came in. A most important step in that is our Hitachi trains deal. Will he please clarify where we are today with that? (900376)
My hon. Friend is already doing a great job in speaking up for the city of Plymouth, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile), and as a result we have major investments in transport in the south-west, such as the upgrade of the A303 and the new trains on the Great Western line down to the south-west. I can confirm that we are in active discussions to provide those new trains and we hope to have further good news later this summer.
Q8. According to the Women’s Aid annual survey last year, on one single day there were 132 women aged 18 to 20 living in refuge after being attacked, assaulted and in some cases raped. Will the Chancellor guarantee for me and those women that those living in supported accommodation like refuge will not be included in his Government’s plans to remove housing benefit from those aged 18 to 21, or will he see 132 women who have been abused return to their violent partners every day? (900377)
We made it very clear when we set out our proposals on housing benefit that we would protect particularly vulnerable people, such as those that the hon. Lady refers to, and I welcome her to the House.
I would make a broader argument about welfare reform. This country faces a very simple choice. We have 1% of the world’s population and 4% of its GDP, but we undertake 7% of the world’s welfare spending. We can either carry on on a completely unsustainable path or we can continue to reform welfare so that work pays and we give a fair deal to those on welfare and a fail deal to the taxpayers of this country who pay for it.
Does the Chancellor agree that today’s elections to chairmanships of Select Committees are a great success story for Parliament as a whole? [Interruption.] Particularly for me—[Interruption.] I am very grateful for that further gesture of support from the whole House of Commons. Since those elections are a success, and particularly if the Prime Minister is going to miss a few Wednesdays, will my right hon. Friend suggest to the Prime Minister that he appear before the Liaison Committee more than three times a year?
I will certainly pass on the request. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the success of these elections, which did not exist before the Conservatives came into office. I am not sure that his own election is the best possible example, as I think he is unelected and unopposed in his own election.
Q9. I, too, want to add my tribute to CAFOD, Christian Aid and the thousands of others who are outside today making the case for a tough deal on climate change. Will the Chancellor explain what the Government are doing diplomatically to support a tough global deal and to ensure that there is a level field for carbon-efficient companies in the UK, such as Celsa Steel UK in my constituency, so that global emissions are not simply increased by being offshored to places such as China? (900378)
That, of course, is why a global deal is so important. We are actively engaged in these negotiations; indeed, the Prime Minister was speaking to the French President about the matter only last week. We are absolutely determined that Britain should play a leading role along with our colleagues in Europe in delivering that binding global target so that individual parts of the world cannot opt out.
Q10. Employment in Crawley is at a record high level, with companies such as Creative Pod having created extra jobs. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what additional policies the Government can introduce to ensure that small and medium-sized companies can flourish further still? (900379)
Small and medium-sized businesses, of which around three quarters of a million have been created in the past five years, are the engine of growth in our economy, and they are one of the reasons why the claimant count in my hon. Friend’s constituency is down by almost two thirds. Even more encouragingly, the long-term youth claimant count is today down by 75%. We will go on doing things such as providing the employment allowance, which helps small businesses to employ more people. Of course, what would be disastrous would be to abandon the economic plan and borrow and spend more, because the worst thing for a small business is economic instability that puts them out of business.
The Chancellor will be aware of the appalling incident last Thursday at Dixons Kings Academy in my constituency, where a pupil is accused of stabbing his teacher, Mr Vincent Uzomah. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing its shock at this horrifying incident, and in wishing Mr Uzomah a swift and full recovery. Will the Chancellor tell the House what steps he is taking to tackle knife crime in our schools?
The hon. Lady speaks for the whole House in sending our sympathies to Mr Uzomah and to the pupils and staff at the school. Our hearts go out to them. The leadership in the school dealt with the situation incredibly well, and I know my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has spoken to the headteacher. What we have done is to give teachers powers to search pupils’ bags and the like, but if there is more that we can do as we learn the lessons of this incident, of course we will.
Q11. Figures released today show that the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in my constituency has dropped over the past five years by nearly 60%. May I thank my right hon. Friend for his recent letter, and may I ask him to agree that further rail investment to Weymouth and Portland will increase jobs and prosperity in my constituency? (900380)
My hon. Friend has raised with me the case of the particularly slow rail service to Weymouth and Portland, and we will look into it. We are making a massive commitment to the south-west—a £7 billion programme, which is the biggest ever commitment of infrastructure to the south-west—and I will look to see what we can do to improve the rail service for his constituents so that we properly connect up the south-west.
We did commit to that hospital project, and provided that it continues to represent value for money, which I am pretty clear that it does, we will go on providing that support. What we have done is to commit to the Simon Stevens plan for the national health service—an additional £8 billion of NHS spending —which we can only do if we have our public finances in better order and we are growing our economy, which is precisely what we are doing.
Q12. Since my right hon. Friend became Chancellor, unemployment in Derby has fallen by 64%, and our city recently topped a list of 138 cities, towns and counties as the fastest-growing economy in the UK. This will come as no surprise to the Chancellor, who recently visited my constituency and spoke about the midlands being Britain’s engine for growth. Does he agree that we should do even more to support small business across the midlands to create more jobs and better skills, and boost our economy even further? (900381)
I very much enjoyed visiting the engineering firm Garrandale in my hon. Friend’s constituency a couple of weeks ago. It is an outstanding example of a successful medium-sized business growing in the east midlands and exporting around the world, and we want to see more of that in our country. That is why we have a policy that delivers economic security for our nation in uncertain times, more jobs, more infrastructure, and more support for small businesses—all so that we can back the working people of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to Talha Asmal from my constituency, who is alleged to have become the UK’s youngest-ever suicide bomber. Will he agree to convene a meeting between myself and Home Office Ministers to discuss a review of counter-terror policy, particularly with reference to tackling radicalisation?
Home Office Ministers will be very happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituents. Of course, we want to work together to try to prevent other tragic cases like this one; and of course, let us not forget the victims of the suicide bomb as well as the suicide bomber. That is going to be a great generational task for us. It is clear that Islamic extremism and the radicalisation of our young people is not going to be something that we solve in space of a week or a month, or even, potentially, in this Parliament. We need to work across party divides. We also need to work with all the different public services to make sure that we prevent these young people from thinking that somehow their life, or their death, is better on the other side of the world.
Q13. Today’s employment figures are good news for my constituency of Havant, where the number of people out of work is down by 895. During the election, the Chancellor set out his plans for the south coast. Will he update the House on what steps he is taking to deliver on those commitments, which will deliver aspiration and growth for my region? [Interruption.] (900382)
First, I very much welcome my hon. Friend to the House. Is it not extraordinary that after 32 minutes of this session there has been not a single question from Labour on jobs, and when an hon. Member stands up to talk about the good news in his constituency, he gets shouted down by the Opposition? The truth is that the long-term youth claimant count in his constituency is down by 50%. We are going to go on investing in the south coast. At the general election, Labour wanted to cancel the improvements to the A27; that spoke volumes for its long-term vision for our country. We are going to go on investing in that vital road on the south coast and the other key infrastructure we need—road and rail and broadband—across the south of England.
Q14. Is the First Secretary aware of the concern among authors that the calculation of public lending rights is being distorted by the increasing number of public libraries being run by volunteers because of the huge cuts in local council spending? Will he ask the Culture Secretary, who is extremely knowledgeable in these matters, to ensure that this is rectified and that writers can reasonably expect the rewards to which they are entitled? (900383)
Today’s unemployment figures provide further compelling evidence of the strength of the United Kingdom’s economic recovery, thanks in large measure to the long-term economic plan for this country. But given the strength of that recovery, may I lodge an appeal to my right hon. Friend that we now commit to spending 2% of GDP on our defences, both to plug the military capability gaps we have had to sustain and, in these troubled times, to assure our principal ally, the United States of America, that so long as we have a Conservative Government, defence of the realm will be the No. 1 priority of this Government?
First, I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for the economic plan that is delivering those jobs in Aldershot. Of course, the military and defence industries are an incredibly important employer in his constituency. He is absolutely right that we cannot have strong defence without a strong economy, and he is right to link the two. We are spending 2% of our GDP on defence. We have made a big commitment to the future equipment programme for defence, and we will set out our future plans at the spending review.
Since my hon. Friend raises a military matter, I will, if I may, Mr Speaker, at the end of this session, say that this is the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMT Lancastria. It was the largest loss of British lives at sea in the history of this maritime nation. Some of the survivors are still alive today, and many of course mourn those who died. It was kept secret at the time for reasons of wartime secrecy. It is appropriate today in this House of Commons to remember all those who died, those who survived and the families who still mourn them.
[2nd Allotted Day]
Skills and Growth
I beg to move,
That this House notes that improving education is imperative for the future economic growth of this country, that gains in productivity play an instrumental role in achieving high growth and better living standards, and that in order to prevent a recurrence of the deficiencies in the previous Government’s strategy for 14-19 education, the Government should initiate a cross-party review of 14-19 education, as recommended by the Confederation of British Industry, to cover exams, educational institutions and the curriculum in order to take full advantage of the increase in the participation age to 18.
As Opposition Members know only too well, we are holding this Opposition day debate in the aftermath of a general election which, if we are honest with ourselves as politicians, did little as a campaign to rehabilitate the standing of politics in this country. Too many important issues such as climate change, foreign policy and reform of the European Union were too absent from the campaign debate. The motion seeks to put the bleak functionalism, the harrowing terrain of Crosby Textor behind us. Instead, it contains a big idea for the big issues facing the English education system.
I want to make it very clear from the beginning that I am sincere in seeking Government support for the motion and in beginning to explore proposals for a cross-party review of 14-to-19 education. Let us make no mistake, there will be plenty of time for the convention of opposition over the coming weeks as we scrutinise the various education Bills going through different parts of Parliament. Even at this stage, five days before Second Reading, I will be delighted to give way if the Education Secretary wants to step up to the Dispatch Box and explain her definition of “coasting schools”—the first words of the first clause on the first page of the first of those Government Bills. I fear that she and her Ministers still do not know what a coasting school is, even as we are asked to vote on the Bill.
Before I outline why I think we need a radical overhaul of upper secondary education, let me first explain why it is so vital. Of all the issues given too scant attention during the election, perhaps our deep-seated malaise on productivity is the most serious. The statistics are dire. Output per worker is still lower than before the financial crash—a stagnation that the Office for National Statistics has called
“unprecedented in the post-war period”.
Our productivity is well over 20% lower than that of the United States, and we trail every G7 nation except Japan.
I know that nobody in this House seriously believes that that represents a true reflection of the efforts of British workers or the enterprise of British business. Neither do I mean to imply that the roots of our productivity challenge can be explained entirely by the economic policies of the current Government. Poor productivity, however, affects our economy and our society. It affects our competitiveness, our prosperity and our standing in the world. That is why the Labour party was so keen right at the beginning of this Parliament to have a day’s debate on productivity and how we deal with the productivity challenge. Given the direct link between productivity and economic growth, the scale of the measures needed to restore the public finances to good health is not an inconsiderable concern for this Parliament to address.
What is more, if we look into the causes of the productivity puzzle, we find many of the issues that Labour Members raised during the general election campaign. Despite today’s welcome news on wages, there is still a low-wage cost of living crisis in the UK. Of the 15 initial members of the EU, only Greece and Portugal now have lower hourly wages.
Too many of the recent jobs created have been of too poor a quality and low-skilled, particularly in the low growth regions of the north and the midlands. The structure of our finance industry is not delivering the right conditions for long-term business investment or the necessary access to start-up and growth capital. In so many parts of the country, working people have not seen living standards rise for over a decade. We are still simply too unequal, over-reliant on financial services and property for creating wealth and still not encouraging enough business investment. According to a shocking OECD report published last month, we have the biggest skills gap of all countries surveyed.
In 2013-14, apprenticeship starts in Enfield North fell from 710 to 590. While I agree that the focus on apprenticeships is welcome and necessary, I do not think it should be at the expense of adult skills training. The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London in my constituency faces an unprecedented 21.2% cut in funding, losing some 40 posts. Is this a coherent strategy, given that a large proportion of students—
Order. Interventions must be brief. Although this debate is not hugely subscribed, 14 Members want to speak and I would like to try to accommodate all colleagues. Consideration from Back Benchers and indeed from Front Benchers is of the essence. These debates are mainly about Back Benchers and not about shadow Ministers or Ministers.
Adult skills budgets have faced a 24% cut under this Government, and that will not do anything to meet the productivity challenge in Enfield and right across the UK. I am wholly in agreement with my right hon. Friend on that.
We have the most unequal skills and education system in the developed world and it is our productivity performance that best provides the index for that continued structural failure. The purpose of the debate is to explore the role that education must play in tackling our poor productivity. That is not to deny that the purpose of education is far broader. What is more, the productivity challenge cannot be solved by higher skills alone. Arguably, Governments of all stripes have overly focused in the past on pushing the supply side of the equation, yet at a very basic level our education system must seek to equip all our young people with the skills they need to thrive in this most competitive of centuries.
More and more, our economic strength will come to be defined by the quality of our human capital. The Royal Academy of Engineering forecasts that the UK needs an extra 50,000 science, technology, engineering and maths technicians and 90,000 STEM professionals every year just to replace people retiring from the workforce.
As usual, my hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech. He has raised the very important question of STEM. I started out as a computer programmer. Does he agree that we must take advantage of new technologies, have a much better national strategy for the next generation and reskill people for digital jobs, including in programming? As more than 90% of our programmers are men, there is also a gender dimension to the problem.
My hon. Friend is totally right. One of the cross-party achievements of the previous six or seven years is the state of English education in computing science and the move away from the drawbacks of the information communications technology world and the qualifications surrounding it. We are world leading in some of the qualifications we are now developing in computing science.
In my constituency, we have the Vauxhall car plant, which, time and again, has risen to the challenge of global competitiveness. That has been done by the employer’s working in partnership with the trade union. Does my hon. Friend agree that partnership with trade unions is a vital part of rising to the challenge of productivity?
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. One of the issues with the productivity challenge is the need for management to ensure continual training on the job and not just in the initial state of the skills. Trade unions play an important role in that. We will get through the productivity puzzle by ensuring that at every stage—from education to skills to employment—we work out how we can get more from our human capital. The link between higher skills and rising productivity is well established.
At a time when the Labour party is saying that it needs to be more business friendly, what message does the hon. Gentleman think it sends out when he criticises the jobs created by the private sector? Will he concede that it is far easier to move jobs if a person already has a job and has work experience?
I do not think that I criticised any jobs. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is making sure that those working in the potato industry in his places of employment are getting the necessary training, support and growth.
We are failing miserably to provide young people with an education that spreads enough opportunity and excellence for all. The long tale of underperformance—the bane of practically every Government for at least the past 30 years—remains a stubborn reality. You will not be surprised to learn, Mr Speaker, that I believe that the Labour party education manifesto contains some excellent measures that could have boosted our education, skills and training system. For a start, we would have protected further education, sixth-form colleges and sixth forms from the round of cuts already heading their way. We would have thought it rather curious that private schools continue to get tax breaks whereas sixth-form colleges have to pay VAT. That is not what we would call fair. The Government chose to spend £45 million on the Westminster academy free school, while we would have supported education and training in the communities that need it most. That is simply the great moral and ethical difference between the Labour party and the Conservative party.
I strongly encourage the Government to match our manifesto investment in dedicated independent careers advice for young people. By reallocating some £50 million from the universities’ widening participation fund, which, as far as I can see, has not done nearly enough to widen participation, we could have funded effective careers guidance. Our labour market is particularly weak in matching skills supply with demand and there is some evidence that misallocation is a component of our productivity challenge. We need to be more ambitious.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that well-meaning Governments have increased year on year the target for the number of people going to university without giving any real thought to whether there will be suitable jobs for them when they leave?
One of the interesting components of both the rise in the popularity of apprenticeships, which I know the hon. Gentleman is doing a great deal to support, and some of the costs associated with university is that we have a much greater insight into the relative success of an apprenticeship compared with a degree. I think there is more realism about what young people can get from each institution. The hon. Gentleman has a point and I would take it right back to the mass conversion of polytechnics to university status. I am not sure that that was necessarily the best initiative introduced by the Conservative party, but we can also think about that 50% target being the best use of some of the human capital.
We need to be more ambitious when it comes to developing an institutional pathway for advanced technical skills, whether they are called national colleges or institutes of technical education. We need far more stringent and demanding apprenticeships, which I know the hon. Gentleman supports. Indeed, I would suggest that what we need on apprenticeships is not dissimilar to the dramatic reduction in the number of semi-vocational, grade-inflating, GCSE-equivalent qualifications following the Wolf report—arguably the Government’s most important achievement in education over the past five years. Far too many children in communities such as Stoke-on-Trent were put on courses with little or even no labour market value, and yet there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a similar, gallery-pleasing numbers game is developing with the re-badging of short-term, low-quality workplace training as apprenticeships.
We have to be very careful about the argument that there are too many young people going to university. In areas such as mine, where long-term youth unemployment is three times the national average, not enough young people are going to university, doing apprenticeships or advanced apprenticeships, or continuing to study at all.
My hon. Friend is totally right. He has made the case in Dudley—and the same is true of Stoke-on-Trent—that we need many more young people to be doing level 3, 4 and 5 qualifications. I would like to see a much more amphibious relationship between our universities and apprenticeships, so that young people can move in and out of them and at each stage go up the value chain with the qualifications they need.
Does my hon. Friend agree that each young person needs to be offered the right opportunity, whether it be vocational or academic, and that it should be about whatever is right for the individual? Does he share my concern that, under the last Government, there was a big increase in apprenticeships for older people, but not for 16 to 19-year-olds, and does he agree that we must target that latter group if we are to address the skills issue highlighted by his proposal?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I urge the Government to move on from playing the fatuous numbers game of highlighting 2 million or 3 million apprenticeships. They should think about the quality of the apprenticeships, rather than just re-badging Train to Gain. They should think about what these people are actually learning and focus on quality as much as quantity. At the moment we are not seeing that kind of focus from this Government. Indeed, the Government’s plan to solve the problem—Alice in Wonderland-like—is not to work to improve the quality of apprenticeships. The Skills Minister has said instead that they will establish in law that apprenticeships are equal to degrees, as if such statist hubris and a Whitehall edict will solve the problem.
I do not want to get bogged down in party political bickering. As an early sign of our bipartisan approach, I am willing here and now to support the Education Secretary’s new ministerial edict on stopping children swinging on their chairs, which follows on from her predecessor’s edict on having children run around playing fields as punishment—which I think she reversed. What is more, I am happy to endorse the Education Secretary’s appointment of Mr Tom Bennett as the anti-low-level classroom disruption tsar. Who knows? One day the Conservative party might think that teachers need to be trained and qualified to teach in a classroom, but we are not quite there yet.
We have far too unequal a distribution of skills, and our young people have poorer levels of literacy and numeracy compared with their older contemporaries. We need a serious shake-up of secondary education, to broaden the skills base and boost productivity, and so that it values what people can do alongside what they know and prepares young people for the rigours of the modern workplace by nurturing their character, resilience and wellbeing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the need to improve secondary education. My constituency has some of the very best levels of primary education, but those children who leave the secondary system at year 11 do not do so with anything like the grades they should be getting when compared with those with which they entered secondary school. Is that not the challenge for us—to make sure that they are pushed to do their very best throughout the whole system?
My hon. Friend is furiously ambitious for his constituency and the children in it. He is exactly right. The key to that is great teaching and strong leadership, making sure that young people are focusing on their academic subjects in order to get the basics right and then pursuing other academic or vocational routes.
One of the reasons we are disappointed with the Education Secretary’s approach in her new Bill is that it seems too indicative of an exhaustive, target-driven, bureaucratic, central-command approach. It is a 20th-century answer to a 21st-century problem. In the words of Steve Hilton, a great guru for the Conservative party, this marks a backwards and “Soviet” approach to education.
Higher ambitions require more substantial reform, and I am convinced that in England that requires us to explore the merits of a 14-to-19 baccalaureate system of upper secondary education, particularly now we are raising the participation age. There is an emerging consensus on that idea, and it demands closer inspection.
The Schools Minister says there is not, but he should listen to the CBI and leading headteachers, including those on the Headteachers’ Roundtable, and to one of the great Tory Education Secretaries, Lord Baker. There is a far broader consensus on the need to rethink the purposes of upper secondary education in the light of the continued inability of the current high-stakes, teach-to-the-test, exam-factory model in order to tackle our long tale of underperformance.
I do not expect the Government to commit to that today as a point of public policy. I accept, as we did during the election, that the short-term priority is to provide heads and teachers with a degree of curriculum stability, given the rather, shall we say, frenzied pace of recent reform. Now is the time to launch—as the CBI, the voice of business, has requested, alongside the Labour party—a broader cross-party review.
Disappointingly, prior to the election the Education Secretary walked out on the cross-party talks that the Royal Society had convened to introduce some stability to the curriculum process. Now that she is back in office, I hope she will take a slightly more mature approach and support a CBI-endorsed cross-party review to look into a more ambitious settlement for secondary education that can stretch the more able students, challenge the damaging snobbery towards creative, technical and vocational pathways, and tackle our seemingly intractable low skills problem, which so cripples our productivity.
In the light of the radical skills shift required by the industrial revolution we see all around us, with the move towards a digital society, we need to answer the deeper question of what skills, knowledge and attributes our young people now need to thrive and succeed in the 21st century. Until we have a clearer answer to that question, I fear we will not find a long-term solution to the productivity woes.
I hope the Government will give serious consideration to backing this bipartisan motion, and I commend it to the House.
This debate provides a great opportunity, in contrast to the doom-mongering of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), to set out the reforms and progress that the Government have made in the area of skills and growth. Every time he speaks, the hon. Gentleman seems to collect people whom he wishes to offend. First, it was nuns; today, he offended anyone working in the potato industry, such as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), who runs a successful business employing many hundreds of people.
Conducting a root and branch review of 14-to-19 education of the sort the CBI advocated in its report is exactly what we have been doing for the past five years, ensuring that every young person, wherever their talents lie, has the opportunity to succeed in modern Britain. As ever, the hon. Gentleman managed to be a torrent of sound and fury—but little else, unfortunately.
He certainly was not pithy.
The skills and qualifications of 14 to 19-year-olds should not be the subject of the hon. Gentleman’s sound and fury. I wait with bated breath for the day when he acknowledges the 2.2 million apprenticeship starts and the fact that more young people than ever are going to university, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and that over 70% more pupils are taking GCSEs in the core academic subjects that will help them to get on in life.
May I take the right hon. Lady back to the start of the shadow Secretary of State’s opening speech, when he asked for the definition of a coasting school? Does she recognise that coasting schools include not just schools that are underperforming at a low level, but schools at a higher level that are not pushing children as hard as they should be or as far as the children are capable of going?
Although I do not want to cover the ground that the House will cover on Monday when we come to the Second Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that coasting schools need to be challenged, including schools that do not stretch pupils of all abilities. That is why we are moving to the Progress 8 measure. I hope that he will speak on Monday, and perhaps play a full part in the Committee proceedings too.
As was clear from Question Time, nobody on the Opposition Benches wants to talk about the successes of the Government’s long-term economic plan. The most relevant of those successes to this debate is the fact that the youth unemployment count has come down by 115,000 over the past 12 months. That is a record that I am proud to defend.
On that very point, according to records produced this morning, youth unemployment in my constituency is at its lowest level on record: only 70 young people there are claiming jobseeker’s allowance, compared with 365 young people in April 2010. The credit for that must go not only to the further education institutions and business, but to the coalition Government. Of course, there is more that we should do, so will the Secretary of State say what steps are being taken to increase the quality of apprenticeships for 16 to 24-year-olds?
I welcome my hon. and learned Friend to the House. This is the first time I have been in the Chamber when she has spoken, and she did so eloquently. She was right to recognise the fall in youth unemployment in her constituency and across the country. I will come on to the steps that we will take to ensure that apprenticeships are highly valued by employers and give every young person the best start in life, which is what the Conservative party is all about.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the quality of apprenticeships. The average length of stay on an apprenticeship, as described by the Government, is 10 months. Would she allow somebody with 10 months’ training to build an extension to her home?
I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point, because there is a statutory minimum of 12 months for apprenticeships. He may well be talking about the programme-led apprenticeships that were introduced by the last Labour Government.
Let us remember what we inherited in 2010 from the Labour party: standards were falling and vocational qualifications were debased, which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central did have the grace to recognise. Indeed, at the heart of many of his problems is the fact that he agrees with an awful lot of what the Government have done. Even he has admitted that he failed to persuade his former party leader to take much interest in education during the election campaign.
Young people and students were failed by those debased vocational qualifications. Young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were told that academic qualifications were not for them, and those who wanted a vocational qualification were sold short by qualifications that were not backed by employers and did not lead to a job. Schools in England were stagnating in the international league tables, going from seventh to 25th in reading, eighth to 28th in maths and fourth to 16th in science.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, with female employment at a record high, we need to ensure that maths teaching in particular continues to improve so that we can encourage girls to follow a maths education right through their careers? I speak as a woman with a maths degree—a rare bird, I admit.
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. I welcome her to the House; this is the first time I have heard her speak. She put her case passionately. I am delighted to hear about her maths degree. I hope she will take the opportunity presented by her position in this House to visit local schools and encourage all students, but particularly girls, to study maths to the highest possible level. We know that the higher the level at which people study maths, the greater their earning power. The subject is important in tackling issues such as the gender pay gap.
I was talking about the legacy of the Labour party on equipping young people with the skills they need to succeed. Despite the daily dose of painstaking soul-searching that the Labour party is subjecting us to, it simply has not learned its lesson when it comes to education.
When the Conservative party came to power in 2010, work experience was a common feature of the work of secondary schools and that was supported by education business partnerships. The last Government removed work experience and cut the funding for EBPs. I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the use of EBPs and to work in co-ordination with business to get work experience back into schools, because businesses value work experience and say that it prepares young people for the world of work. Taking forward the skills agenda must be a fundamental part of our efforts to address the productivity gap.
I know how passionately the hon. Gentleman feels about work experience. He raised it with me in the last Parliament as a member of the Education Committee. The issue is that even if something is compulsory, that does not mean it is of high quality. Young people were going on work experience weeks, but were gaining no skills at all. That is why we are focusing on high-quality, meaningful work experience post-16, the age at which students can acquire those skills. There are other ways of gaining meaningful interactions with the workplace that inspire young people before they hit the age of 16. Many employers were also reluctant to offer work experience because of the red tape surrounding it. We have taken that away.
Education gives every child the chance to reach their full potential, so it is the key to delivering true social justice. It is through good education that we can ensure that all young people are prepared for adult life and sustained employment in an increasingly global world. Good education also lies at the heart of a strong economy. Our analysis, which is backed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, shows that the increased number of pupils getting good GCSE grades since 2010 will add more than £1.3 billion to the country’s economy. Achieving five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including in the vital subjects of English and maths, adds £80,000 to a student’s earnings over their lifetime.
In that context, I ask the Secretary of State to consider the position of disabled young people. The Government have introduced education, health and care plans, which have been widely welcomed, but there is no obvious link with the employment prospects of those young people. What will she do to ensure that the ambitions that our schools and colleges have for disabled young people relate not only to their education, but to their employment prospects?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I am glad to hear that there is cross-party agreement that education, health and care plans are welcome. They offer an opportunity for various services, including schools, to support young people with disabilities. At its heart, the issue is about inspiring young people about all the options, making sure that no barriers are put in place, and ensuring that nobody else makes choices for young people about what they can and cannot do. I would welcome any thoughts or suggestions that the hon. Lady has in that area, as would the Minister for Children and Families. I want all young people to fulfil their potential—and that, of course, includes anybody with disabilities.
We need to ensure that young people master the basics at primary school and go on to develop deep understanding in secondary school. Under the party of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, one in three children left primary school unable to read, write or add up properly—a figure that we have reduced to just one in five, with further still to go. Until age 16, there is a fundamental core of knowledge and skill that all young people need to access.
As I said, it is the most disadvantaged who always lose out when anyone says that a core education is not for everyone. A rigorous academic curriculum until age 16 is the best way to ensure that every child succeeds regardless of their background and allows us to be ambitious for everyone, to keep options open and horizons broad. We have revised the national curriculum to make it more rigorous and it now provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said, and helps to develop an appreciation of culture, creativity and achievement.
The new curriculum sets expectations that match those in the highest-performing education jurisdictions in the world, challenging pupils to realise their potential in an increasingly competitive global market. We have reformed GCSEs, so they are more rigorous and provide a better preparation for employment and further study. GCSE students taking modern languages will now have to translate into the target language accurately, applying grammatical knowledge of language and structures in context. GCSE students in maths will have to know how to develop clear mathematical arguments and solve realistic mathematical problems. The new English literature GCSE requires students to study whole texts in detail, covering a range of literature including Shakespeare, 19th-century novels and romantic poetry. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman’s books are not on that list.
Well, that’s debatable. [Laughter.]
This is what the top performing countries in the world expect for their children and we should settle for nothing less. Yesterday, we announced that every child starting year 7 this year will be expected to study core academic subjects that make up the EBacc. This means studying English, maths, sciences, history or geography and a language right up to GCSE.
We want every child to be studying the EBacc subjects. There will, of course, be some children for whom that is not the right thing. There might be particular special needs, in which case there will need to be some flexibility in the system—I appreciate that. The hon. Gentleman, who wants to mandate things, will find that much harder to do with the profession. Safely for all of us, he is not on the Government Benches and is not having to work with the education sector.
There is no suggestion that arts subjects are in any way less valuable. Good schools, such as King Solomon academy, which I visited yesterday, show that there does not need to be a false choice between an academic or arts-based curriculum. Children can do them both and they can do them both well. There is time for most pupils to study other subjects in addition to the EBacc, including technical disciplines which set them up for apprenticeships or further study, but the academic core of the EBacc is something we think every school has a duty to provide and every child has a right to study.
A core curriculum needs to be backed by strong accountability. From 2016, the existing five A* to C English and maths headline measure will be replaced by Progress 8, a measure based on the progress a pupil makes from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school compared with pupils who had the same starting point. Schools with tough intakes will be rewarded for the work that they do, and schools with high-attaining intakes will—rightly, as I said earlier—be challenged to help their pupils achieve their full potential. Above all, the measure will remove the obsessive focus on the C/D borderline and instead place a premium on those schools that push every young person to reach their full potential.
The Progress 8 measure will come into force beforehand. What we are saying with the EBacc is that students starting year 7 in September will be taking the EBacc subjects when they reach GCSE. They will sit alongside each other. I think they are both extremely valuable.
Above all, we need great teachers. Evidence from around the world is clear that the single most important factor in determining how well pupils achieve is the quality of the teaching they receive. We are hugely fortunate to have many thousands of dedicated and hard-working professionals in classrooms throughout our country. Teaching continues to be a hugely popular career. Almost three quarters of new teachers now have an upper second or first class degree, which is 10% higher than was the case in 2010. We have a record proportion of teacher trainees and 17% with first class degrees. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I trust headteachers to hire the best teachers for their schools, rather than proposing to sack more than 17,000 of them from our classrooms.
Having mastered the basic core at 16, we then want to give young people the chance to choose the future path for them. High quality post-16 education is vital for ensuring that every young person will leave education capable of getting a good job, a place at university or an apprenticeship.
For some young people an academic path will be right. We have reformed A-levels. Giving universities a greater role in how A-levels are developed has been an important part of the Government’s plans to reform the qualifications. Their involvement will ensure that A-levels provide the appropriate foundation for degree-level study.
I will make some progress. If I have some time towards the end I will certainly give way, but I want to allow time for Back Benchers. I do not want the Front-Bench speeches to go on and on.
We have introduced linear A-levels, of the sort the hon. Gentleman is on the record as having once supported, to make sure that young people spend less time in exams and more time learning and studying.
For other young people, professional and technical education will be the route they take. Until 2010, this critical provision was neglected for far too long. Thanks to our reforms, we are no longer selling students or employers short.
Records show that youth unemployment in Taunton Deane is today at a record low, but that is not to say that we should not still invest in the skills to get the right students coming forward. I am very pleased that there is now an emphasis on vocational qualifications, which I think my right hon. Friend will go on to talk about. I am thinking particularly about subjects I am very interested in and were sadly neglected by the Labour party: agriculture, horticulture, the environment and conservation. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is bringing this in.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House. It is the first time I have heard her speak. I know she will be a passionate advocate for Taunton Deane. She is absolutely right that, while it is very welcome that youth unemployment continues to fall, there are still many employers who are identifying skill shortages. There are sectors and industries that continue to need more people and a younger workforce, and she has mentioned some of them in her intervention.
Under Labour, students were encouraged to study hollow vocational qualifications that were not valued by universities or employers. It is notable that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the Wolf reforms. I am delighted. It is absolutely right to take away qualifications that were not valued by universities or employers. Young people were being asked to study qualifications and then finding they were not worth the paper they were written on. That is why Alison Wolf concluded that 350,000 young people were let down by courses that had little or no value. The flagship Tomlinson diplomas under the previous Labour Government turned out to be the greatest white elephant in the history of education—universally rejected by colleges, universities and employers.
May I recommend the latest Manpower report to the Secretary of State? It talks about how businesses in Yorkshire are very keen to take on more staff, but are struggling from skills shortages and a worsening crisis—something that has happened on her watch. I recently visited an engineering firm in my constituency, Wakefield Acoustics. It has jobs, but is struggling to take on qualified engineers, particularly younger people. I recommend the report and I would like the Secretary of State to address this issue.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I will certainly look at the report. [Interruption.] I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for helpfully prompting me, but I am able to tell when I have heard female Members of Parliament from both sides of the House make excellent contributions. As I was saying, I will certainly look at the report.
The overall point that the hon. Lady makes about a skills shortage is absolutely right. Those seeking employment or looking for engineers would have started their education under the previous Labour Government, but she has made her point and she is right to identify that we need more highly skilled young people, particularly in engineering.
The Secretary of State and I get on well, and she knows I have a high regard for a lot of what she does, but we have to get away from this sterile debate in which she claims that everything was terrible under the last Labour Government and that everything is brilliant now. The truth is that we did not do nearly well enough and the current Government are not doing nearly well enough either. We face a long-term crisis in the quality of education and skills, so we need to drop this ridiculous habit of dressing up relatively minor differences as huge ideological chasms. We need a royal commission so that we can agree as a country that education and skills are the No. 1 priority and to set cross-party, long-term goals enabling every child to fulfil their potential.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we get on well. We have had some interesting conversations—I am not sure that is good for his career in the Labour party, but I do not think he is standing for anything in the upcoming Labour party elections, so perhaps it will not be too damaging. He and I agree on the importance of academies and the success they bring, so it is a great shame that, as we will probably hear on Monday, other Labour Members are rowing back from the reform introduced by a Minister in the last Labour Government. A royal commission would mean more hot air and time. We have made enormous progress in the past five years in giving young people the right skills, providing more apprenticeships and getting people into university, and I am grateful for his support for that.
I want to make some progress, because I know that other hon. Members want to contribute. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central talks about being pithy, but he did not typify that today when he spoke.
We have stripped out 3,000 poor-quality qualifications so that the only vocational qualifications are those backed by employers that lead to a job. In addition, we have put in place rigorous 16-to-19 tech levels endorsed by employers and leading to a technical baccalaureate for the most talented. Every qualification for which young people now study, be it academic or vocational, will be demanding and rigorous and provide a clear route to employment. English and maths are critical to successful progression to employment, which is why all students now have to continue studying them if they do not get a good GCSE.
The quality of apprenticeships is rising too. Every apprenticeship now needs to be a paid job in the workplace, to last 12 months and to include meaningful training on and off the job. Employers can design the standard an apprentice must reach, and the reformed funding provisions mean that the training apprentices receive follows the needs of their employers. New traineeships are helping young people who need extra work experience, as well as English and maths education, to move on to a lifetime of sustained employment. Let us not forget that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central went into the election promising to scrap level 2 apprenticeships.
It is not often I agree with the TUC, but on this occasion I wholeheartedly agree with Unionlearn that scrapping apprenticeships in key areas, such as construction and plastering, would be a disaster for the young people for whom this provides their opportunity. Young people need resilience and character to get back up in the face of adversity. If we are to have high expectations for every child, we have to create the right conditions for those high expectations—conditions in which a love for learning can flourish—so that, when young people leave school, they can bounce back from the knocks life throws at them. That is why I announced at the end of the last Parliament £3.5 million in character grants to support work to develop civic awareness, resilience and grit in schools, and it is why we will offer any young person who wants it the opportunity to participate in the National Citizen Service.
There is more to do, however. The rising participation age gives us the chance to ensure all young people are on the right path to the world of work. We will ensure that the routes are clear and that all young people have options leading to outcomes with real labour market currency. There will be no dead ends. We are developing a comprehensive plan to increase to 3 million the number of apprenticeships in this Parliament. That will include more work with large employers, more support for small businesses and a greater role for the public sector. We will put in place the right incentives and support to ensure that everyone is earning or learning, including support for young people who are not in education, employment or training or at risk of not being—I am pleased to say that the number of NEETs is already at a record low. Catch-up support will also be in place to provide a stepping stone to employment.
We want to ensure that in every area of the country there are strong institutions making available a full range of specialisms to every child, based on collaboration between different providers and institutions. University technical colleges and studio schools are unique in how they develop their education around the needs of local employers, and I would like to send my congratulations to UTC Reading on being the first to be judged “outstanding” by Ofsted.
I am proud to defend the work of the last Government on improving the knowledge, skills and life prospects of the next generation. Now, as part of our commitment to securing real social justice, we are determined to ensure that the reforms of the last Parliament—the innovation and progress we unleashed—reach every young person in every part of our country. If governing for one nation means anything, it is ensuring that the education we provide—be it academic, professional or technical—gives every student the chance to realise their full potential and to be all they can be. We will be asking the House to reject the motion this afternoon.
Mr Speaker, right hon. and hon. Members, I am grateful for this opportunity to deliver my maiden speech, and on such an important subject.
I am honoured to represent East Dunbartonshire. For those who do not know my beautiful constituency, Dunbartonshire is an ancient land, and one that has always fascinated outsiders, from the Romans to Margaret Thatcher. It is said to be the Scottish constituency that fascinated the late Prime Minister above all others. “How could it be”, she used to ask her Scottish Ministers—younger Members might not know that there was once a time when the plural tense could be used about Scottish Conservatives—“that such a prosperous constituency, with more than its fair share of douce hooses and perhaps the highest percentage of graduates in the whole country, keeps returning non-Conservative MPs to the Commons?” Not for the first time, Mrs Thatcher misunderstood Scotland. The Prime Minister who believed that the reason the Good Samaritan attained lasting fame was that he was rich enough to become a philanthropist—who, indeed, visited the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to labour that point in her Sermon on the Mound—did not realise that East Dunbartonshire rejected Conservatism for many reasons, and not least precisely because it had one of the highest percentages of graduates in the country. It is a thoughtful place.
Mr Speaker, you well know of the towns of Bearsden, its name shrouded in mystery, and Milngavie, bane of a thousand newscasters who have fallen into the “Milngavey” trap. You will have heard of Lenzie and Kirkintilloch, of Westerton and Bishopbriggs—a town, as the name suggests, with pious origins, having been granted to Jocelin, Bishop of Glasgow, in the 12th century by King William the Lion. The Caledonians, the Picts and the Vikings battled it out for control of my constituency’s fertile soil and ancient sandstone hills.
Some claim the Romans called Dunbartonshire the province of Vespasiana. Perhaps; in any event, it was a place they could not hold. Running across Dunbartonshire to this day is the Antonine Wall, named after Antoninus Pius, who ordered its construction in AD 142 to defend the mighty armies of Rome from the locals. The Antonine Wall was the northern-most point of the Roman Empire. Having fought and conquered Hispania, Gaul, Germania and, of course, Anglia, the Roman legions were halted in East Dunbartonshire, just outside Bearsdenia—as it might have been called had they been allowed to stay. We underestimate my constituents at our peril.
It was not just the Romans who found the locals difficult to woo. More recently, my MP predecessors have often been reminded of just how tough the locals can be. Over the past few decades, East Dunbartonshire and its earlier incarnation, Strathkelvin and Bearsden, have been represented by MPs from all the major parties. Margaret Bain was one of three outstanding nationalist women to represent Scotland in this House in the 1970s, the others of course being Winnie Ewing and Margo MacDonald. Maggie snatched the constituency in 1974 with a majority of just 22 votes. She went on to lose at the next election, but she left a legacy of respect and affection. Norman Hogg, John Lyons, and the late lamented Dr Sam Galbraith held my seat and its predecessor for the Labour party. Michael Hirst was an inclusive Conservative whose misfortune was to be in situ when Scotland turned against the Tories. My immediate predecessor, Jo Swinson, held this seat for 10 years, arriving as the baby of the House, before—famously and rightly—bringing her baby to the House. She was, as many Members will know, tenacious. The lesson is clear: East Dunbartonshire voters are not sentimental when it comes to political defenestration. I am acutely aware of the lessons of that history.
Many think of East Dunbartonshire as a prosperous place, and it certainly has many advantages. It is the constituency with the longest life expectancy in the country, and it is also a constituency with excellent state schools, which may explain the large number of graduates.
I find myself agreeing with the central tenet of the motion. We all know how vital education is to growth, not just for the benefit of the economy but for the individuals who, of course, benefit from it. Education has transformed the circumstances of my own family. Like all her relatives, my grandma, Janet Stant, left school at the age of 12—in her case, to go into domestic service—and was self-conscious for ever thereafter about her reading and writing skills. My mum left school at 14. because she had to go to work to support her family when her dad was killed in a shipyard during the Clydeside blitz. From my earliest years, I heard from both of them, and from my dad, about the importance of education. They did not care what I studied; all they cared about was that I should study. I went to university, the first member of my family to do so, first to Glasgow and then, with a scholarship, to Harvard. Such privileges would have been impossible dreams for my immediate forebears.
For me, and for many people of my age, free education was key. As an SNP politician, I take immense pride in the fact that my party has championed free tuition north of the border. For me, it was immensely depressing to see some of my contemporaries—on both the Conservative and the Labour Benches, sadly—who had themselves benefited from free education voting to pull the ladder up and away from future generations. Unfettered access to education and training is, for me, the mark of an improving, ever more civilised society. It is also, of course, the key to social mobility.
Earlier in my speech, I mentioned some of the benefits of living in my constituency, but it would be a mistake to think of it as a place of uniform privilege. In recent decades, post-industrialisation has brought pain in the form of unemployment. Kirkintilloch is one of several places in the constituency that have been hit hard. A fine market town with ancient roots and a legacy of outstanding architecture, it was a hotbed of the industrial revolution. It had a booming textile industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, but in the 20th century shipbuilders were the principal employers. Until 1984, the town made the iconic red phone boxes and red pillar boxes which are known around the world. As in other areas, however, manufacturing jobs were lost, and successive Westminster Governments gave too little thought to what would replace them. That apathetic detachment in the face of radical social and economic change planted the seeds which led to the seismic political events of last year and this year in Scotland.
The radical tradition is not a new development in my constituency. The great Thomas Muir, sometimes described as the father of Scottish democracy, had his home at Huntershill, which, tragically, is now under threat from its unappreciative custodians on East Dunbartonshire council. A champion of parliamentary reform and a leading light of the Friends of the Scottish People Movement, he was shipped to Botany Bay as a punishment for inspiring the people with his dream of a democratic franchise. Undeterred, he escaped to France, where he was lauded as the foremost proponent of a Scottish republic.
In the House this week, we have found ourselves debating the Scotland Bill, the latest in a long and sorry sequence of Westminster attempts to appease Scottish national aspirations. It is as inadequate as its predecessors. Events north of the border on 7 May have deep roots which are, I suspect, little understood in this place. The SNP is engaging with the current proposals in order to improve them, as we promised our electorate we would. We have made it clear that we want to see the findings of the Smith commission delivered in full, and then some. That is the only appropriate response to an unprecedented election that has seen Scotland return a national movement: 56 SNP Members of Parliament were sent here with 50% of the popular vote. That is a mandate that the Prime Minister could only dream of.
The Prime Minister promises that he will listen. He promises that he will respect Scotland and its Government. We shall see whether he matches fine words with deeds.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let me welcome you back to the Chair.
I listened carefully to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson), and I commend him unreservedly for the articulate and eloquent way in which he told us about his constituency and some of the issues there. Having heard what he said about the constituency, which I must confess I have never visited, I think that he may have been wrong when he said that the Romans had been held there. From the sound of it, they may have found it so nice when they got there that they decided that they might as well stay and enjoy the food and the view; but, whatever the reason, they decided to stay. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is descended from the Romans, but, having seen him on television and having heard him speak today, I wish him a long and prosperous career. I am sure that we have not heard the last of him.
I shall try to confine myself to eight minutes as you asked, Mr Deputy Speaker. I shall restrict my speech to two specific issues, one of which I think is key to the development of skills among younger people. I refer to the development of university technical colleges. Contrary to some of the partisan comments that are made regularly by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), UTCs are a classic example of a project with a cross-party foundation. I commend both Lord Baker, a former Conservative Education Secretary, and Lord Adonis, a former Labour education Minister, for the help that they gave me with the setting up of a UTC in Watford. The Watford UTC is chaired by David Meller, a non-executive director of the Department for Education who is very well respected. It opened just 14 months after we had dreamt it up in a café in Watford, which shows that bureaucracy, like everything else, can be overridden with determination.
What struck me most during a conversation that I had with Lord Baker and Lord Adonis at the outset was a statistic that they have often produced. Apparently, 40% of people who work in bars and cafés in London are university graduates. I am not one to undermine universities; like many Members of Parliament, I was the first member of my family to go to a university, and it was a huge thing for me. The fact is, however, that many people have been driven to go to university without really thinking of it as part of a future career. Somewhat depressingly, I nearly always agree with the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), and I thought he was absolutely right to say that not enough young people either go to university or take up other options.
The response that people give on television quiz shows when they are not quite sure of the position is “Ask me one on sport.” I may be able to give the hon. Gentleman an answer after listening to the debate on Monday, but perhaps I can help him for the future by saying that he might have asked a better question if he had asked whether I agreed that children who go to UTCs should not really be the kind of children who would consider going to university. I do not agree with that at all.
The advantage of the UTCs is the practical education that they provide. Their pupils are thinking about careers at the age of 12 or 13, which is really good. They can combine an academic education, studying for GCSEs like everyone else, with learning specific skills. The UTC in Watford is geared towards hotel and hospitality management, an area in which there are lots of good skilled jobs available, as well as IT skills, the need for which is universal. It is commendable that there are already 30 UTCs in England, with nearly 6,500 pupils, and by September 2016 there will be 25 more. I have met the principals of various UTCs, including Emma Loveland, the principal of the one in Watford, and their view of education is based on their belief that this country is under-skilled and that conventional education—notwithstanding the academies, which are very good—has been producing quite a lot of children who are either unskilled or not in a position to become skilled.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the preparation for the world of work needs to involve the acquisition not only of practical or academic skills but also employability skills? Students need interpersonal skills that include good manners and good timekeeping. They need to appear interested and look as though they really want the job when they go for an interview. That is all part of getting on to the first rung of their career ladder.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. I am pleased that the UTCs are leading the way for the education system now to include ways of getting a job in the whole process, rather than that being an afterthought at a careers fair, as it used to be in the sixth form.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I am an evangelist for the UTC programme. Does he agree that we need a massive expansion of the programme, so that we have a UTC in every town? They should become part of the fabric of education so as to give more young people the opportunity to learn in a vocational setting. Every child in the country should have that choice, not just the ones in Watford and the other towns that have UTCs at the moment.
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to learn that I agree with every word he has said. It is important that Members on both sides of the House should champion UTCs in their constituencies. Their development is driven by individual people, whatever the Government policy might be. The Baker Dering Educational Trust is really good, but in the end, one individual has to drive the development of a UTC. If the local Member of Parliament could be that individual, or find that individual, it would help tremendously. That is how the academy programme started. Lord Adonis found individuals and talked to them over lunch—which they usually paid for, I might add—to persuade them to establish academies. So I think that engagement is okay.
I am conscious of Mr Deputy Speaker’s guideline time of eight minutes, but I hope that he will allow me to deduct the time I spent congratulating the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire on his maiden speech, because I want to talk a little bit about academies. [Hon. Members: “Cheeky!”] Well, I have learned that we can speak in this place until they tell us to shut up—that is for the benefit of new Members—although Mr Deputy Speaker is far too gentlemanly to say that. [Interruption.] I am not going to talk about academies. He has given me the look, so I shall go straight on to apprenticeships.
I think there is consensus that apprenticeships are the key mechanism for getting skills into the workplace where they are needed. Unfortunately, for a lot of people of my generation and above, apprenticeships still carry the image of some bloke who could not get into any form of education lying around in a boiler suit with a spanner. I commend the coalition Government for taking steps to show that that was a ridiculous and ignorant assumption. The first apprentices I ever met in my constituency were doing what used to be called bookkeeping—it is actually business administration—which I confess appeared to me in my ignorance to be completely unrelated to apprenticeships. The number of apprenticeships achieved under the last Government—2.3 million starts, according to the Secretary of State—is commendable. I am sure everyone would agree that apprenticeships are becoming much more sophisticated, and the announcement by Ministers of a comparison with degree level education is absolutely right.
In the time remaining, I would like to concentrate on two things that we need to overcome, both of which are related to sentiment. A lot of work still needs to be done to enhance the status of apprenticeships. The first thing relates to schools: I do not believe that they do enough to promote apprenticeships. That is based on my experience in my constituency. The teaching profession is very much geared towards graduates, as most of its members are graduates. [Interruption.] Will you bear with me for one minute, Mr Deputy Speaker? [Interruption.] Okay, two minutes—[Laughter.] I’ll take five if you like.
The second point relates to the status of apprenticeships among young people. Will the Minister have another look at the original proposal for a royal college of apprenticeships? Under such an arrangement, everyone graduating from an apprenticeship at whatever level would have an independent certification. That would do a lot to help employers to change their sentiments towards apprenticeships, and it would certainly mean a lot to the apprentices if they could become members of the royal college.
It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on your re-election. I also congratulate the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson) on his maiden speech. I was interested to hear what he said about his constituency. In terms of policy based on his party’s mandate, I believe that the Government should look at giving Scotland full fiscal responsibility. They should take the ball and run with it. They need to do this properly, and they should take some advice on the matter.
I would be very happy to vote for it. The Government should take responsibility for what they have said.
I have a huge interest in apprenticeships. I left school with CSEs—many people probably do not know what they were—but I was fortunate to get an apprenticeship through what was then the Engineering Industry Training Board. I spent my first year doing off-the-job training, then I was lucky enough to be picked up by Delta Metals, as it then was, to do my apprenticeship.
Further education colleges are a hugely important asset to people like me who did not take the academic route, as they enable us to follow the vocational route. More importantly, they provide a basis for people who have not been able to get the vocational qualifications in school that they need to prepare themselves for their lives. The colleges are the last door for those people who want to move forward and get on in life. The focus for colleges is to enable people of all ages to get qualifications and skills and to help them to get into jobs.
I want to talk about funding. Colleges have had a 24% cut in their 19-plus funding. We have heard about the provision for 16 to 19-year-olds, and about the agenda for 14 to 19-year-olds, but there is a real issue for apprenticeships, because they are necessary to give people the life chances that they need. The Government announced the 24% cut in March, and it will take effect when the colleges’ financial year starts on 1 August. That has given them very little time to prepare. This will hit 16 to 18-year-olds as well as those of 19 and over, because courses are often planned to include both age groups. In certain specialist courses, the age groups are often combined to provide the educational support and funding that they need, in order to make it worthwhile for the college to run the course.
Students who are 19-plus are in college because they have failed to gain qualifications in schools, are two or three years behind and need to play catch-up in their studying. Most people who want to take the step necessary to get to that level are dedicated, because they realise that perhaps they have been let down and the support they needed was not there for them. They have decided to take the baton themselves in order to move forward. It is important that we look at this issue and see how it can be dealt with.
A significant number of adults who come into college have few or only basic qualifications and need to gain others in order to get into a job or to get to a level where they can get an apprenticeship. We need to help these people to move to those level 2 apprenticeships. That is a real issue in many inner-city constituencies such as mine and that of my Front-Bench colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne). Our constituencies have historically had a high level of unemployment, which they have not been able to address for at least the past four decades, and putting this sort of funding burden on the colleges makes it even more difficult for us to address it.
I am lucky that my constituency has the EEF Training college, which is doing well—it is oversubscribed. It is predominantly funded by the EEF, but it faces a funding problem because it seeks to provide the hardware needed to bring engineering apprenticeships into effect. That requires a huge amount of kit. I am talking about traditional kit for the engineering industry, such as lathes, millers and welders. Computer numerical control lathes and millers cost a huge amount of money. When I went to Garretts Green College to do my apprenticeship, all colleges across Birmingham had this sort of equipment and so that training was provided.
My constituency is also blessed with having the advanced manufacturing zone in Birmingham, which means we need more support from people such as EEF. It is also blessed with two colleges, South & City College and Birmingham Metropolitan College, which are working hard to move this agenda forward. The normal further education colleges have moved away, by and large, from that type of engineering training, although some facilities are now being provided at South & City College. Again, it costs a huge amount to put that together, so it is important to see what additional funding we can provide to the training providers and colleges that are actually able to provide that sort of training. If we do not do that, all this talk about the manufacturing recovery and the engineering recovery will amount to very little. I am very determined that we examine those issues and see how we can do that. It is important for all of us if we are to be, as Birmingham and the west midlands has always been, at the forefront of engineering development.
We are very glad that Jaguar Land Rover has its new plant in Wolverhampton and we are glad about all the engineering works we are getting. At the moment, one of the world’s leaders in submarine hull valves, a huge speciality area, is working with Birmingham University to try to develop it. A lot of the employers are moving towards working with universities to try to get this support, but we need the trainers to have support from the Government in order to provide the funding for the equipment they need; it is not just about the current funding that colleges have. I am determined that we ask the Government to support 19-plus funding to do that.
Another area of funding has been restricted, again to our detriment: funding for ESOL— English for speakers of other languages. If we are trying to get unemployment down in our inner-city areas, we need to look seriously at that issue. It is not good enough to say that we cannot fund this any more—colleges are under huge pressure not to fund it. Funding is available from employment-type grants and from the Department for Work and Pensions, but if we stick to the current funding reductions for ESOL providers, particularly for colleges in the inner city of Birmingham, we will not be able to move these people forward and lower unemployment in those areas. People in those areas have the skills in most instances, but they do not have the English to match their skills and therefore to be placed into jobs. It is important that we look at ESOL and how we fund it, particularly where inner-city unemployment is high. People want to work and move forward, so it is important that we provide ESOL and fund it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who is not in her place, talked about people with disabilities. There needs to be a recognition in further education of funding for disabilities, because if we do not have that, those people will be isolated and left out, and they need real additional support.
It is important for us to provide the right sort of support in areas such as Birmingham and my constituency if we are to move forward and allow people to get back into employment and into apprenticeships, which is what we and employers in my constituency want. I hope the Minister has taken notice of that.
I, too, would like to congratulate the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson) on his maiden speech. I thank the House for allowing me the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech during what is such an important debate, given my training and development background. It really is an honour and a privilege to speak in this House as the Member of Parliament for Derby North.
First, I would like to thank my predecessor, Chris Williamson, who has a long history of being involved in Derby, as a councillor, as council leader and, subsequently, as the MP. None who met Chris could deny his passion for and knowledge of Derby North. For me, winning on 7 May was a tremendous victory—with a very respectable majority of 41 votes. I am honoured to be elected to serve the people of Derby North, the only seat to change hands in the east midlands. One of the first notes of congratulations I received was from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight). His note read:
“Well done, an excellent result!
Congratulations on becoming only the second Conservative MP to represent Derby North since the seat was created.
The first Conservative MP ever to be elected in Derby North”.
I am delighted to be the second Conservative MP for Derby North, the first female MP for Derby North, and the first Conservative MP for Derby North in 18 years, in what has otherwise been a Labour-held seat. Winning by 41 was a little tense, I have to admit, but the House can rest assured that I plan to double that in 2020.
I want to note the amazing work that my team did, throughout the campaign and the years of hard work leading up to it; throughout the day, when they came back exhausted, and I asked them to go out one more time and they did; and then throughout the very long night and morning, standing firm in their resolve at all of the four counts, to secure a Conservative win. I especially want to thank my campaign manager, Miles Pattison, for his immense effort, companionship and sense of humour, which kept me going in the hardest times.
While victory was hoped for, it certainly was not a given, but increasingly we were getting a consistently positive message on the doorstep. People believed we needed to have a Conservative Government to ensure that the country continued to thrive; it was a genuine concern that we would take a step back if Labour won. As has been said many times, we are a nation of aspiration, and nowhere has that been shown more than in Derby North.
I have always had a keen interest in politics, but it is only recently that I had the courage to pursue my dream of serving the people in Derby North. As I stand here among so many people, of all political persuasions, whom I have admired for so long, I feel very humbled. I am also a little scared, as I know my brother will be having me streamed live into his office, delighted by my success. Since arriving, I have been notorious for getting lost, though now I can exit a broom cupboard with such confidence and dignity that it looks like I was meant to be there in the first place!
I do not have a degree or any A-levels that I can talk about, but I do have common sense and a business background. The economy is of paramount importance, with regeneration, production and growth at its centre. My background in retail and manufacturing has given me the opportunity to experience at first hand the impact of good management. We are the only party that can truly manage this country’s economy and growth.
Derby is a thriving city, built on its long-standing engineering and manufacturing pedigree. It was with great delight that we received the Chancellor two weeks ago in stunning Darley Abbey. As he visited one of our rail engineering firms, he announced that the midlands is Britain’s engine for growth, and I can tell Members that Derby North is the heart of the midlands.
Derby North has long been the unsung hero of industry. As an example of our industrial heritage, we have an amazing regeneration project in Darley mills, which was originally powered by the Derwent. Established by Jedidiah Strutt, it is one of the most complete cotton mills complexes, which now houses all types of businesses, including IT, photography firms and independent gyms.
In Derby North, unemployment has fallen by 64% since 2010. We have a whole host of small and medium-sized enterprises, which continue to grow and thrive as a result of hard work, vision and ambition. I plan to support all opportunities for growth and to help add even more apprenticeships to the 1,200-plus apprenticeships that have been created so far in Derby North.
Derby has many reasons for being well known. Joseph Wright the artist lived there. We have an ever-growing number of microbreweries, one of the most haunted pubs in England—it is probably haunted by my husband trying out one of those ever growing number of microbreweries—and pyclets, a small oat cake, which I recommend to all Members of the House. Derby is also noted for its straight talking, and I hope to bring some good Derbyshire straight talking to this House.
We also have the tremendous football team of Derby County, or the Rams—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but we do. Recently, Mel Morris was appointed the new chairman. Mel, as Members may know, is a local businessman from Littleover in Derby North. As one of our great innovators, he created Candy Crush, which we are very fond of in Derbyshire, as my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) can confirm.
I also know how important community is. Having worked for Help the Aged—now Age UK—I am even more convinced that we must support elderly people across the country to live with dignity. Having been involved with the Prince’s Trust and latterly the YMCA, I recognise that there are times when some young vulnerable people slip through the net, and I will be working to provide some real solutions to that problem.
When I was 17, I was unable to stay in the family home, and friends took me in for a while, which was really good. We must ensure that people are not left uncared for. Mental health is a personal issue for me. My mum suffered from depression, prescription drug addiction and alcohol abuse throughout her life. It was tragic to watch this beautiful and vibrant woman succumb to the illness. I have also experienced first hand the tragic loss of my gorgeous and fun-loving cousin to suicide. He took his own life at 36 because he thought that he had no other option available. This cannot go on. We need to be serious about the problem, and I am fully committed to helping us tackle mental health issues head on, as it is a subject that we must not ignore.
There is much to do in Derby North, which has business at its heart, and so much needs doing in the community, which has compassion at its heart. I made a promise on election night that I would do my utmost for the people of Derby North. I look forward to many years of fulfilling that promise.